We’re 1/16th of the way through the NFL season and the regular referees are still not back, locked out thanks to stalled labor negotiations, during which the league owners refused to negotiate. The refs are demanding more money, but the sums being argued over are miniscule compared to the oceans of cash that the NFL brings in—by some estimates, the two sides differ by about $16.5 million over five years, and some individual players make more than that. The replacement refs aren’t all terrible, but they did manage to give the Seahawks an extra timeout in the game against the Cardinals, and they slowed everything down so much with late calls and referee conferences that the game was practically unwatchable, even more so than a Cardinals-Seahawks matchup would normally be.
Why don’t the owners just give the refs the small change they’re asking for? Many smart observers, such as Tom Scocca of Deadspin, say it’s because the owners are assholes and fuck them, and I’m inclined to agree. The refs control the flow of the game and are in charge of determining what happened when two or more giant men collide at high speeds, and though we don’t usually notice them unless they screw up, they’re a vital part of the game. It's hard to argue that they're not worth more money.
Not paying the refs what they’re worth is part of a trend: While football as a sport has been evolving for decades to become faster, more athletic, and incorporate more technology (radios in quarterbacks’ helmets, coordinators’ booths high above the field, cameras capturing every microsecond of every game for further study), the way the game is officiated has remained the same. They do review controversial plays now, but that’s a measure that’s made viewers’ experiences worse—as anyone who’s watched a receiver’s foot drag along the grass over and over again can attest to. Why don’t the balls come equipped with precise GPS chips that would indicate when they cross into the end zone? For that matter, why are the sidelines still chalk and not lasers that could sense when a player steps out of bounds? Why are these games being called by seven human beings on the field with only two eyes each when the job could (probably) be done by a bunch of cameras and a team of full-time experts in a booth somewhere? Sure, these wacky innovations would cost millions and require some kinks to be worked out, but the NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry and most of the owners are plutocrats. Make the refs full-time employees and pay them, but that’s only a start. By 2030, I want the games to be officiated by motion sensors and nanobots. And the cheerleaders should be replaced by 3-D holographic .gifs that summarize the most important news stories of the day. And the players will mostly be lizards. Anyway, on to picking games.
(I went 6-9-1 last week, so you’re probably better off just flipping a coin and following its advice.)
Chicago (+5) at Green Bay
Normally, Thursday night games don’t happen until later in the season, because it’s super exhausting for players to have to go through two NFL games in five days, but now the NFL is like, “Fuck the players, let’s get some weeknight primetime ratings!” Eventually football will be on seven nights a week and my social life will basically come to an end, since I like watching football better than I like most people.
PICK: Green Bay
Tampa Bay (+7) at New York Giants
Man oh man, did you guys see that season opener? That game was awful. No one could run the ball, there were 17 punts and negative eight touchdowns in the first quarter, and the score was 7-3 at halftime. Meanwhile, the Bucs beat the Panthers 16-10 in their first game. So the good news is if you like incomplete passes and punts, this game is for you!
PICK: New York, but no one will care because it will be boring.
Arizona (+13.5) at New England
I hope that one day a brilliant sportswriter does an in-depth biography of Bill Belichick. He’s one of the best coaches in NFL history, but incredibly secretive and by many accounts just plain nasty. Remember when he was named as the “other man” in a New Jersey divorce case? I’d love to know what motivates someone like him—a Michael Jordinian hatred of losing? A desire to humiliate his enemies? And does he refuse to give the media access to him because he hates reporters, or just because he doesn’t see the point? Finally, does he know how to smile? Here’s a picture of him “smiling”:
Close but no cigar, Bill. Your mouth is suppose to go up at the edges.
PICK: New England
Minnesota (-1.5) at Indianapolis
Watching this game is going to be like when you leave your iTunes on for a really long time and you’re not really listening to it as it goes through all the albums you’ve ever owned and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh fuck, New Found Glory! Why am I listening to this?” Then you get embarrassed and turn it off.
New Orleans (-2.5) at Carolina
NFL quarterbacks are INSANE. It’s like, “Hey, want me to throw this weird ball 60 yards? And target it so precisely it hits a world-class athlete running at top speed in the hands? And while I do this a bunch of other world-class athletes are trying to knock me down? And if I don’t do it perfectly every time, a bunch of fat dudes will call a radio station and yell about how bad I am at my job? No problem, sounds fun.” This doesn’t have anything to do with this game, but look at this Jay Cutler pass:
And Jay Cutler isn’t even that good. Drew Brees and Cam Newton are both probably better than he is. What a world we live in!
PICK: New Orleans
Kansas City (-3) at Buffalo
Kansas City has a reputation as being a boring town, but at least they have good barbeque. Or at least they’re supposed to. It’s one thing you can say when someone mentions KC in conversation: “Oh, Kansas City? Oh, yeah, heard they had some good BBQ in that town, yessir.” Buffalo, on the other hand, has no such positive associations. “Oh, Buffalo? You’re from Buffalo? Man… Sorry. I mean, shame about the unemployment and the cold and, uh, the heroin epidemic. Glad you made it out.” Buffalo, you need to get famous for some kind of food. Maybe tomato soup? Maybe a new kind of hamburger?
PICK: Kansas City, but cheer up Buffalo, your team is cool too.
Baltimore (+2.5) at Philadelphia
Last week, the Eagles barely beat a team that was quarterbacked by a dude who kept throwing the ball to the wrong team, or at the ground, or into the stands, or at the ghost of his disapproving father that only he could see. And they’re the favorite this week, because sometimes the Eagles look terrible and sometimes they look like they should win every game. You never know what you’ll get with them. It’s like living with someone who insists they are OK without their bipolar medication
Oakland (+2.5) at Miami
This game’s gonna suck real bad. Hey, remember the 70s? Remember when the Raiders did a bunch of drugs and wandered the streets chugging whiskey and sticking their scarred dicks in any hole that looked promising and were Super Bowl contenders thanks to the horse steroids they took? Remember when the Dolphins won every game they played and never threw the ball? Remember fucking Larry Csonka? You don’t even know who Larry Csonka is, man.
Cleveland (+6.5) at Cincinnati
One time I went to a gay bar in Cleveland. I didn’t know it was a gay bar because no one was wearing a bunch of sequins or anything—it was in Cleveland, after all. It looked like a normal, old school bar where a bunch of construction workers went after work to drink with their buddies and get away from their wives. There was a guy in jogging shorts but I figured he was just a jogger who decided to stop in for a drink. Which makes me wonder how many of those guys in Middle America who slip out for a drink to “get away from the wife and kids” are actually banging each other on the down-low. I bet a lot of them are.
Houston (-7) at Jacksonville
I’m going to introduce a new feature called BEHIND THE STATS that breaks down a game in terms a non-expert can understand. The first installment of BEHIND THE STATS: Houston is good. Jacksonville is bad. Arian Foster is cool:
Dallas (-3) at Seattle
Check out how excited Rob Ryan is for football:
Seattle Seahawk fans are the opposite of this .gif: demure, depressed, and hairless.
Washington (-3) at St. Louis
Here’s a story from the past week about a St. Louis man who was shot and killed over an argument about whether some meat was “pork steaks” or “pork chops.” All the details are amazing. In the shooter’s defense, he was right about them being steaks.
New York Jets (+5.5) at Pittsburgh
Mark Sanchez dated a high-school girl. Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of raping multiple women. But on the other hand, they can both throw a ball pretty good. (Well, at least Roethlisberger can.)
PICK: New York
Tennessee (+6) at San Diego
Look, this game is on the schedule, they’re gonna play it, it’s going to happen. Just saying, you could probably simulate this one with computers and no one would mind that much.
PICK: San Diego
Detroit (+6.5) at San Francisco
Hey, what if the California gold rush was in 1869 not 1849? Would the 49ers be the 69ers? Wouldn’t that be funny? “The 69ers can’t really get anything going out there tonight. They have to work on their technique.” Ha!
PICK: San Francisco
Denver (+3) at Atlanta
Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan! Micahel “The Burner” Turner! Peyton “What Neck Injury?” Manning! Julio “Justifying My Fantasy Value” Jones! A bunch of big fat dudes beating on each other! This is going to be a good game.
Previous week’s record: 6-9-1
Overall record: 6-9-1