Welcome back to our NFL preview. We looked at the AFC last week, and this week we're "tackling" (get it?) the NFC, which is the conference with all the good teams. Up today: the NFC East, the most loudly inept division in the league.
Philadelphia Eagles - Gonjasufi, "Candylane"
Football is not a sport, like basketball or soccer, that's usually discussed in artistic or philosophical terms. Maybe chalk that up to the complexity of the game, or just the sort of people who dominate its discourse. Tiki-taka is a sensibility as much as it's a strategy, but the West Coast offense is thought of not as a reflection of the unique way Bill Walsh understood football, but as a schematic. Player goes here, ball goes here, and try not to get killed by the linebacker.
Chip Kelly's Blur Offense is as minutiae-heavy as any other, but it's also uncomplicatedly polemical. If, during games, most teams spend a lot of time planning-Sean Payton poring over his Denny's menu of plays, Peyton Manning spending a half-minute flapping his arms at the line-the Eagles are about doing stuff quickly and instinctively. The idea is to do so many things in the space of a possession that their opponents miss something, which means kinda talented, definitely racist receiver Riley Cooper is behind the safety who's supposed to be covering him, hauling in a 24-yard completion, then self-consciously flipping the ball to the ref and not talking any shit, because Riley Cooper knows he's always on the verge of getting punched.
Also: Kelly's offense is cool. (It speaks to Nick Foles's inherent uncoolness that the Blur cannot make him cool.) The NFL does not brook cool. When Kelly arrived in Philadelphia last offseason, there was not a little haughty grumbling about how he would need to overhaul his gimmicky system in order for it work in this here National Football League. It turns out a slightly modified version of it functions just fine. Those same orthodoxy-humpers will tell you that the Blur might yet be found out, now that defensive coordinators have a season's worth of film on it. They could be right, but we should hope they're not. Rooting for the Eagles to fail is rooting for the Establishment. As a general rule, you should side with the subversives. They're not always successful, but they have more fun.
Washington Football Team - Minor Threat, "Guilty of Being White"
There's a backstory to this song: Ian MacKaye wrote it when he was a teenager about his experiences of getting beaten up for being white in a mostly black DC high school-he's claimed it's an antiracist song, and it was undoubtedly intended as one. But the lyrics are clumsy and shorn of context it can easily be embraced by the type of dudes who talk about "reverse racism" and "political correctness" and listen to Skrewdriver. Even if your heart is in the right place, whining that "You blame me for slavery/ A hundred years before I was born" is always a bad look.
Likewise, the original intentions behind the Washington football team's name and its historical context are pretty much beside the point. You can argue that some native chief used it to refer to his own people in an 1815 speech or whatever, but in 2014, that word is decidedly a slur unless the speaker is Native American himself. Protesting that the team shouldn't change the name because of "tradition" or "history" and bemoaning how "oversensitive" everyone has gotten are just signs of Advanced Aggrieved White Guy Syndrome, whose sufferers believe that not being able to use derogatory terms for populations that were basically wiped out by centuries of genocide and persecution is itself a form of persecution. Or, simpler: I can be an asshole whenever I like, but if anyone tells me to shut my fat fucking mouth that mean's he's the asshole.
Team owner Daniel "Walking, Talking Stack of Wet Garbage" Snyder has waged a PR war to try to persuade people that when he uses the racist slur his team is named after it's in a good way, but you sorta suspect that he's talking about it so much to distract from the actual football team. Washington has made moves to improve its sieve-like offensive line, but it's not clear whether the new group will be able to protect Robert Griffin III any better than the last gang. (Meanwhile, the Rams used the final first-round pick they got in the Griffin trade to get Greg Robinson, who looks like he'll be just the kind of beast at tackle Washington needs.) And when they signed defensive end Jason Hatcher to be the pass-rusher they lacked, he had to get arthroscopic surgery three months later. Washington's football team, whatever you call them, is going to be bad, and a few DeSean Jackson highlight catches will not save their season.
Dallas Cowboys - Emeralds, "Now You See Me"
The narrative swung the other way on Tony Romo last season: He was transmuted from a choker into a tragic Homeric frat bro. Basically, people stopped blaming him for everything the Cowboys do wrong. They realized it's not his fault his team is capped out and poorly managed, or that they started Barry Church at safety for all 16 games, or that Sean Lee can't stay on the field. In Week 5, Romo went up against Peyton Manning and played Manning to a draw until his only truly bad throw of the day turned into a fourth-quarter interception. Perhaps this was the moment it became apparent to the folks who control the sports discourse that Romo was being punished for being excellent but imperfect. We can now see him for what he is, which is the most plaintive QB around. The Romo of the imagination is cruising downtown Dallas, listening to forlorn electro, wondering how it got to be this way as a giant neon pegasus flickers to death in the background.
A couple years ago, the Cowboys were perennial would-be Super Bowl contenders who would invariably finish with a merely OK record, just squeaking into the playoffs or missing out altogether. Now the dream is dead. They might win a weak NFC East, but the consensus is they'll get smoked in the Wild Card round if that happens. One is tempted to make a prediction that contains the phrase "…and just when everyone counted Tony Romo and America's Team out…" but, nah: Count them out.
Emeralds's Does It Look Like I'm Here is an exhausted album, and "Now You See Me" is its epiphany that isn't-a climax that's actually a denouement. That's one way to look at this last year or two of Romo's Cowboys tenure. He'll be kinda-brilliantly running out the clock, getting busy living and getting busy dying all at once. He'll make some scrambling throws that only he can pull off, some boneheaded late-game mistakes, and it'll all be for naught, or a sub-.500 record. Sometimes it turns out the waiting was the best part all along.
New York Giants - Busta Rhymes ft. Swizz Beatz, "New York Shit"
Last September, I was in a Brooklyn sports bar when the Giants scored on a long touchdown pass to Victor Cruz to tie the score against Kansas City. All around me, people high-fived, and one particularly pumped-up dude bellowed, "Our season starts now, baby!" A couple hours later, the Giants had lost 31-7. Their season never really began and they finished 7-9 on the year.
I bring this up to illustrate that Giants fans, by and large, have the most misplaced macho confidence in the league. Bolstered by a couple of Super Bowl wins against the New England, Giants fans generally have the swagger of supporters of successful franchises, though in reality their team was a mess last season thanks to a porous offensive line and a turnover-happy quarterback in Eli Manning who led the league in interceptions. A stout defense and an easy schedule got them seven wins, but they've got to play the NFC West this year, don't have a competent running back on their roster, and are likely going to finish third in their division again. Giants fans should be glumly shrugging and adopting the wait-til-next-year pose patented by Jets loyalists.
The kind of New Yorkers (and New Jerseyans) who like the Giants don't have the capacity for pessimism, however. They're the dudes who will insist, loudly and repeatedly that New York hip-hop is the only true hip-hop. They'll wear expensive watches and tell you how much they spent on them. They'll stare you down when you bump into them on the subway, prepared to start a fight if you don't apologize profusely. They're the embodiment of Busta Rhymes pounding Hennessy while Sinatra's "New York, New York" plays in the background. They'll be talking about the playoffs when the team is 2-5, complaining about the refs when one of Peyton Hillis's four-yard runs gets called back for holding, and they'll be drinking shitty light beer the entire time.