Hey, NFL, Welcome Back! …A Preseason Primer

nfl training cmap

We typically use the word addiction only in the context of a harmful substance like alcohol, drugs, nicotine and porn. But when I arranged my entire weekend around being in front of a TV for the NFL’s Hall of Fame game this past Sunday, I started to wonder if football addiction could be a real thing.

Meriam-Webster defines addiction as the “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

I would certainly say my love of all things NFL is an ongoing and irresistible urge, but do I know it’s harmful? Is it harmful?

Let’s see. With the way I watch football, there is usually a healthy decrease in my work productivity and the quality of my social life. Gambling losses are almost always part of football season for me (not to mention losing money on fantasy leagues, pick ’em leagues, suicide pools and more). Anger, sometimes taken out on a remote control, laptop or a wall, is consistent with my NFL viewing. There’s no situation where my fiancee rolls her eyes and storms into the other room more often than when I refuse to give up the good TV because football’s on. Sure, let’s go with harmful.

To put it another way, if instead of watching and reading about football these past 15 years, I had spent all that time studying medicine, I’m 100% sure I would have cured…[checks the internet for the latest “in” disease]…Ebola!

But, hey, if you’re going to have an addiction, probably better that it’s an addiction to watching football than doing heroin, crack or child pornography, right?

And why does this football obsession have to be so harmful anyway? I’ll have you know not only did I watch every snap of that riveting preseason game between the Bills and Giants, but I also placed a bet on it, and came away with my first gambling win of the 2014 season.

If nothing more, that Hall of Fame game at least launches us into the part of the NFL calendar where we might finally start reading on-field news. Even though the league does a great job dominating the headlines during the offseason, I get pretty sick of days like these (captured from espn.com’s headlines in early July):

nfl headlines

Concussions, stolen championship ring, accused murderer transferring jails, interventions through the media, contract dispute, same person on the receiving end of that intervention charged with DWI, 3rd overall pick from 2013 Draft suspended, lesser-known wide receiver banned at least one year, random offensive lineman suspended four games…and some story about a Redskins blogger hired to defend the Redskin name quitting (sorry, didn’t know how to be more concise on that one).

That’s a fuckload of bad news. Free agency and the Draft is always a fun time, but the June/July lull is killer.

And that’s why late July was so exciting…training camps officially arrived.  Suddenly we got the real football headlines. Let’s see there were…ACL tears, Achilles ruptures, Lisfranc injuries, guys getting suspended a full year for being stupid with pot while other guys get suspended two games for committing an actual crime…there was the daily report on how many squares of toilet paper Johnny Manziel used to wipe his ass, and of course we had those ground-breaking sound bytes about how every single player in the league came into camp this year in the best shape of his life.

But finally, FINALLY, the calendar turned to August and actual football has taken over. August marks the time where I transition from just dipping my toe in the water of football preparation to going in hard with a cannonball from a 20-foot diving board. It’s go time!

Let’s celebrate the official “LESS THAN ONE MONTH TIL OPENING NIGHT” milestone by running through some random thoughts about the upcoming season, shall we?

  1. I just want to begin by thanking DirecTV for giving its subscribers a special sort of “kickoff” to the NFL season in the form of the June 10th email reminder that they will begin taking an additional $40 from us for the next six months. I believe what DirecTV does to me every year with this NFL Package is the exact definition of “holding someone hostage.” But it’s still the best $240 I spend each year.
  2. I looked back on the past 20 years of the Hall of Fame game. Turns out neither team that plays in that opening preseason game has gone on to win the Super Bowl in that same year. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.
  3. I’ve never been to any of the sports Hall of Fames, but the NFL totally has me by the balls. I am in on the whole Hall of Fame induction weekend whichever year Tom Brady gets in. Cost won’t be a consideration.
  4. If the NFL permanently moves the extra point attempt from a 19-yard try to a 32-yarder, what are we expecting to happen? The success rate drops from 99.5% to 98.5%? Sure, let’s spend more time thinking about that rule change though.
  5. Michele Tafoya told us during Sunday night’s broadcast that the refs are now equipped with wireless mics in order to better communicate with one another during the game and get the calls right. Sorry, not buying it. The quality of NFL refereeing has tanked big time over the past few years. In fact, I’m willing to bet all my winnings from Sunday’s game on there being a Twitter-exploding referee debacle at some point this season. In 2012 we got the fake hail mary in Seattle that royally screwed Green Bay out of a #2 seed in the playoffs. Last year it was the amazingly inept Clete Blakeman crew that singlehandedly boned the Patriots out of the #1 seed with the picked up flag on an obvious penalty in the final seconds of New England’s loss at Carolina. What will it be this year? My fingers are always crossed that the Super Bowl is decided on a blown call so that the NFL will finally review the state of officiating and do something about this obvious problem.
  6. The truth is the refs might not even be the ones to blame. They’re just trying to figure out the NFL’s mind-boggling rules like we are. Breathing heavily on the quarterback’s helmet is a big penalty. A defender who attempts to hit the ball carrier in the shoulder but then has the unfortunate luck of that ball carrier lowering his head—resulting in a helmet-to-helmet hit—gets slapped with a penalty & fine. It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists. Securing a catch may involve making a “football move” but don’t forget to keep the ball secure while you fall to the ground, but if the ball touches the ground and doesn’t move, it’s OK, but if the ball moves even slightly when it hits the ground, no catch. Nothing confusing going on here.
  7. Let’s go a little broader for a minute here…I tend to constantly write about the NFC vs AFC discrepancy (no doubt you’ll be seeing lots of this from me throughout the year), and it’s a very real thing. According to Bovada’s Super Bowl odds, eight of the nine worst teams in the NFL are from the AFC. To put it another way: The NFC’s second worst team would have a good chance of making the AFC playoffs.
  8. Peter King from theMMQB.com has the top four teams in the NFL all coming from the NFC. He also has two teams you don’t associate with being a contender, Arizona and St. Louis, ranked higher than the 4th best AFC team (San Diego, by the way).
  9. If the NFL had the same level of yawn-inducing predictability as the NBA, we’d be in for a pretty disappointing season in the AFC. It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots and Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.
  10. The next tier down from those three just doesn’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.
  11. Thankfully the NFL is chaotic and unstable. I’m guessing we’ll see some surprises in the boring AFC.
  12. Over in the NFC, there’s some real intrigue among the perceived elite: Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Green Bay and (possibly) Chicago. I can see any of those teams getting the #1 seed or the #5 seed, or possibly missing the playoffs all together.
  13. I’m going to wait until we’ve gotten through the first three preseason games to get deep into my predictions for division winners, playoff seedings and Super Bowl matchup, but right now I’m leaning towards the Saints earning the NFC’s top seed. They’ve got a top QB and coach combination. Their defense improved greatly last year and added some key pieces in the offseason. They can’t possibly be as bad on the road as they were in 2013. And they don’t have to play in the NFC West, which is a HUGE advantage over expected juggernaut and defending Super Bowl Champ Seattle.
  14. As for my totally random, not at all statistically-driven, call it a hunch prediction for who will win the Super Bowl this year: The Philadelphia Eagles. Seriously, I have no idea why I think this, but I always put my money where my mouth is. I have a betting slip in my wallet from the Aria in Vegas where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.
  15. Problem is…I made that bet in March, when Desean Jackson was still on the team. Their current odds according to Bovada? 25-to-1. I apparently got robbed.
  16. Back to the AFC side of things…I’m trying my hardest not to predict the Patriots to go 16-0. If they had as easy of a schedule this year as they have the past few years, I’d probably go for it. The defense could be incredible (possibly seven or eight first rounders starting by midseason) while the offense will somehow reach their usual “top 5” status (amazingly, last year they ranked 3rd in points per game, but you probably just remember how awful the receivers were, how bad Stevan Ridley was holding onto the ball, and how Tom Brady set career worsts in several categories, including “amount of times staring daggers through his overmatched receivers). As a New England fan, I’m back to being my overly optimistic and giddy self.
  17. Gun to my head without doing all my research, if I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs (there are always five), I’d go with Chicago, Washington,  Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That will likely change by the time I release my full 2014 predictions in a couple weeks.

That’ll do it for my broad preseason primer. Stay tuned later this week for an article breaking down Preseason “speak” and mythology. Then starting next week we’ll go division by division and look at the most important questions heading into the season. And finally, a couple weeks out, it’ll be time to lock in each team’s win total for the year along with the usual predictions for Super Bowl winner and individual awards.

Football’s Back!