I did something foolish this week, my friends.
Disregarding my doctor’s advice, I watched the first NFL preseason game. The Hall of Fame Game is the best example in the entire entertainment industry of a company having no respect for its audience. Preseason games are bad enough, but the game in Canton takes place about forty-five minutes after training camp opens. It’s unsuitable for human consumption.
It would be like Marvel putting out an Avengers movie showing all the stand-ins for their actors just blocking out the scenes, and expecting us to pay for it. Which still would probably be better than DC’s movies, but I digress.
With training camps open and the preseason underway, there are a lot of questions all around the league. This week, I’ll start with the few things I’m fairly confident that I know about the NFL.
1. The Cowboys will cave, and Ezekiel Elliott will get more money. The Cowboys are in a very tight window of time where their best players are still young enough to be on their rookie deals. That means they can be both good and cheap, which is basically that great dream Jerry Jones’ has where his team wins a Super Bowl with a low payroll, and he discovers oil in his backyard on the same day.
Without Elliott it all falls apart, and that makes him the only running back in the league with any leverage. If Jerry wants to really play hard ball, he could always send a low-round pick to Washington for Adrian Peterson, but I can’t see it. Look for Dallas to sweeten his deal, then continue to use Elliott like a rental car until he falls apart.
2. Some teams are tanking. It’s not as bad as in other sports, but I don’t know how you can look at talentless teams like the Giants and the Dolphins, and say they’re doing everything they can to win games in 2019. Subtracting Saquon Barkley, the Giants have the offensive firepower of a Daisy Air Rifle. And Miami has no one you’ve ever heard of. The two most popular jerseys at Miami games are still “Marino” and “Your Name Here.”
3. Cleveland is better, or maybe worse, and I can’t tell which. They sure seem better on paper, but I’m not convinced yet. And I’m definitely not buying in enough to make them a Super Bowl pick, or even to win ten games this season. This team has a ton of talent, but just like my TV resume tape has proven, past performances do not guarantee future results. Not meeting low expectations is bad, but raising them and then not getting there would be even worse for Browns fans. In the grand metaphor, Cleveland fans are Charlie Brown, and the Browns are Lucy, eternally snatching the football away before it can be kicked.
I know, it’s fairly obvious I grew up on the NFL and Peanuts cartoons. It’s not exactly a classical education, but it’s served me well so far in life.
4. The AFC is going to be thrilling. The Patriots have to learn to live without Gronk, but they’re still champs. The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes are fascinating, you can’t take your eyes off of them. With a healthy Andrew Luck, the Colts can grind out a win against anyone. The Chargers and Steelers are solid, the Browns and Ravens exciting question marks, and the Jaguars, Titans, and Texans are all dangerous, both to opponents and themselves. It’s wide open this year.
5. Carson Wentz is under a lot of pressure. When your ex-backup becomes a legend in your city while you start to get a reputation for being as reliable as a holster made out of Legos, it’s time to find a way to play all sixteen games, and then some.
6. I still don’t trust the Rams. Every season there’s a team that comes out of nowhere, impresses everyone, and then returns to their regularly-scheduled nowhere. In 2017 we all thought we’d be seeing the Jaguars and the Vikings in the playoffs for years. How about the Cardinals of 2015, who went 13-3 and got destroyed in the NFC Championship Game so badly that they still haven’t recovered? This Rams team has that same scent about them, especially after getting shut down in the Super Bowl and finding out Todd Gurley’s knee may have some non-moving moving parts.
7. Always bet the “under” in the Hall of Fame Game. Defenses are instinctive, and they’re ready to go weeks before offenses are in synch. The over/under betting line this year was 32.5, and those two teams couldn’t have scored that many points combined if they had played for sixteen quarters. Which I think would be a violation of the Geneva Convention.