For the next 21 or so weeks, America is about to get 20 percent more American. Billion-dollar stadiums—constructs of steel and glass hulking at the edges of our major cities—will overflow with screaming, costumed fans frightening in their tribalism. Young men, muscled and disciplined and serious, jacked up on drugs designed to make them faster and stronger and impervious to pain, will pour out onto fields specially demarcated by white lines. Fireworks and smoke will fill the air. Tanned women with impossibly smooth skin will kick and gyrate as the young men crash into each other. Bones will break, ankles will twist, players will lie limp on the field before being carted away to be cared for by teams of physicians. Each instance of athletic violence committed in service of moving a ball forward will be filmed for study later by dozens of experts. The achievements in these games will be translated into numbers, which will be painstakingly recorded and disseminated to the general populace. After each contest there will be rituals of celebration and atonement by the winners and losers, respectively. Men will speak words into nests of microphones and cameras. The same plays will be shown over and over and over. People will crowd into bars that are plastered with high-definition television screens. The games will be interrupted by images of helmets crashing into each other and exploding and robots playing electric guitars. This will happen every Sunday. The NFL, in all its horrifying, incomprehensible, violent glory is here.
Professional football is played at speeds too fast for the viewer to fully follow what is happening. The games are too long and the stop-and-start action is constantly interrupted by homophobic, misogynistic beer ads. The rules are bizarre. And the game destroys the lives of too many people who play it. I know the NFL is probably a bad thing, but I’m going to watch every weekend and love it because it’s so intense and insane and over-the-top. Pretty much every game has at least one moment where athleticism and timing combine to produce a “HOLY SHIT DUDE” moment, and those moments can come at any time. The season is short enough that every game is important, and every play is potentially a pivotal moment. When you’re watching the NFL the right way—with a bunch of screens in front of you so you can follow multiple games at once—you aren’t watching football so much as you’re letting its adrenaline and joy wash over you. If you can get into it, it’s the best sports-watching experience you can have, and now it’s back. This is so exciting to me that I’m starting a weekly feature that previews the games and picks them against the spread too, because why not?
Dallas (+4) at the New York Giants
Fun fact: The Giants won the Super Bowl last year. I know! It seems like Green Bay or Pittsburgh or some other “actually good” team won it, but nope! That’s two titles in five years, which is weird because the Giants’ regular-season record is only 49-31 during those five years, while the Patriots (who the Giants beat in both Super Bowls) have a record of 64-16. Either Eli Manning is (ugh) a “clutch big-time gamer” or whatever, or the Giants just got lucky, because chance determines all of our lives in this universe devoid of meaning.
PICK: New York
Indianapolis (+9.5) at Chicago
Speaking of luck (haha), it’s always fun when rookie quarterbacks like Indy’s Andrew Luck enter the league because no one has any idea how good any of them will be. Alex Smith got drafted before Aaron Rodgers, for instance, and that was a totally reasonable decision to make at the time. That’s one of the reasons handing out “grades” to teams right after they draft (like Mel Kiper does) is bullshit. On the other hand, I guess if you were a professional analyst and you said, “Andrew Luck will probably be good, but I dunno,” you’d get fired. Feed the monkey, you know?
Philadelphia (-8) at Cleveland
Two very appropriate team names square off: The Browns are indeed as interesting as the color of poop, and the Eagles, like the animal that they took their name from, oscillate between being great and terrible at football.
Buffalo (+3) at New York Jets
Tebow. Tebow Tebow? Tebow Tebow Tebow Tebow TEBOW Tebow Tebow. Tebow! TebooOOooowww….
Washington (+9) at New Orleans
Redskins owner Dan Snyder is a colossal piece of shit, while some of the New Orleans Saints could face criminal charges for putting bounties on opposing players. Whooo! Football is back!
PICK: New Orleans
New England (-6) at Tennessee
Tom Brady, doing God’s work by introducing NFL fans to the bizarre world of magazine fashion shoots:
PICK: New England
Jacksonville (+4) at Minnesota
Here’s my LOCK OF THE WEEK: I will not watch this game.
PICK: All the players will have fun
Miami (+12) at Houston
I’ve always enjoyed the Dolphins’ logo. He’s wearing a little helmet! None of the other logo critters have helmets, but they should because it’s adorable. Man, can we get dolphins to play some version of water football? That’d be cool, but I guess it’d also be animal cruelty.
St. Louis (+8) at Detroit
The Detroit Lions offense is going to be fun to watch. But also, let’s remember that the Lions also have a giant insane person playing defensive tackle for them and he’s basically trying to kill people out there. Man, football.
Atlanta (-3) at Kansas City
I know Atlanta’s on the road, but this line seems low. Are the Chiefs good now? Or are the Falcons bad? Oh shit, I should have done more research. The Vegas guys who set the lines know what they’re talking about, right? The Chiefs are probably OK.
PICK: Kansas City
San Francisco (+5) at Green Bay
It’s actually really, really hard to put together a good football team, what with all the positions you have to fill with good healthy players and drawing up the plays and schemes and whatnot. So, matchups between two actually good teams don’t happen that often, and are exciting. This is basically the best offense in the league (Green Bay) versus the best projected defense (San Francisco). If you want to try out this whole “watching football” thing, start with this game.
PICK: San Francisco
Carolina (-2.5) at Tampa Bay
Ronde Barber is 37 years old. He’s made 200 straight starts, played for Tampa Bay his entire career, and is switching from cornerback to safety. He won a Super Bowl back in 2002. He’s the only player in league history with at least 25 sacks and 40 interceptions. We talk about quarterbacks and wide receivers and shit all the time and ignore a bunch of positions and great players as a result, and that’s unfortunate, because Barber is a great player, a generational one. Too bad his team is dog crap.
Seattle (-2.5) at Arizona
Huh. I googled “Who is Seattle starting at quarterback?” and the only result I got was an old Geocities page that had a bunch of photos of horses. That doesn’t seem right…
Pittsburgh (+1) at Denver
Back in 2006, then-coach of the Broncos Mike Shanahan benched Jake Plummer after he lost two in a row but nonetheless led the team to a 7-4 record, for Jay Cutler. Cutler then lost a bunch of games and then they missed the playoffs. They missed the playoffs the next couple years, fired Shanahan, hired Josh McDaniels, who traded Cutler basically because he didn’t like Cutler’s face. By 2010, the Broncos were terrible and McDaniels was drafting Tim Tebow in the first round. He got fired before the year was over and left a mess for new coach John Fox, who ended up starting Tebow in the most miraculous, amazing, overcovered 8-8 season in football history that ended in three straight regular-season losses. What I’m trying to say is, I’m not sure this Peyton Manning signing will work out.
Cincinnati (+6) at Baltimore
Like every other TV show set in Baltimore, this game will be gritty and realistic and make you rethink America’s drug policies.
San Diego (-1) at Oakland
San Diego should probably beat a team like Oakland, but they always fuck up somehow. I don’t care either way, I’m just happy football’s back. Football’s back!