Football is not so much "America's pastime" as it is "The only thing America gives a shit about for 17 Sundays and the playoffs." The NFL has become so grotesquely popular over recent years that it wipes out whatever else is going on in the sports world. As summer turns to autumn and training camps and preseason games intensify, the prospect of football—ACTUAL FUCKING NFL FOOTBALL—becomes almost unbearable. The games are scarce, the important games are scarcer, and as a result nearly all NFL coverage is prediction and anticipation and postmortems and blather. People need to talk about the NFL, they have an almost reptilian urge to know what is going to happen, to read and dissect and be outraged by rankings. This is a long way of saying: Look, we know it's futile and sort of dumb to do an NFL preview—players will get injured, teams will surprise, two months from now our predictions will look pathetic and amateurish. But we want the NFL to come just as badly as you do, we're as eager to watch this insane, intensely American circus as you are.
So here is our NFL preview. It contains some analysis, some honest attempts to figure out what is going to happen, but mostly it's an attempt to look around the league and pick out a theme song for each team, a sort of musical aura. Some franchises are best summed up by bone-crunching metal anthems, others by very sad songs sung by famous heroin addicts. Up first: the AFC East.
New England Patriots - DJ Zirk, "Mind Blowin'"
The exact point at which the New England Patriots started riding around in the all-black jerkmobile is indeterminate, but at some point in the last decade they went full villain and landed on the Teams We Hate list. Sports hate is nine-tenths confirmation bias: With our allegiances in hand, we go out in search of things that irritate or anger us about teams and players we're supposed to dislike. If we're being honest, the players and teams we root for are about as annoying and enraging as any other.
The Patriots are an anomaly in that they've embraced sneering dick-dom with aplomb. This isn't something that permeates the roster—Vince Wilfork seems lovely—but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are going on 15 years together and "Patriots" is synecdoche for "Brady and Belichick." Belichickian grimness is a brand at this point, but despite affected media-handling hardassery from his many disciples, Belichick is still the only one who's any good at it. (It's a Thor's hammer-type thing, apparently.) Brady, meanwhile has gotten grumpier as he's aged (or refused to age), to the point that he has now calcified into a mean, perma-handsome golf pro.
Part of the Pats' aesthetic is that they don't care about aesthetics, but if they did, they would be into Memphis doom-trap circa 1995. That scene around the time Three 6 Mafia were becoming cultishly popular on a national scale was all plodding, proto-drill thump. DJ Zirk's "Mind Blowin'" is representative: Stick-up boys trying to sound like they're from hell and more or less succeeding.
The 2014 Patriots might be truly scary. They've been getting by on guile and inventiveness for a while, but threw the checkbook at Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and a few others this offseason in a bid to be able to stop other teams for the first time since Adalius Thomas could still bowl over offensive linemen. Part of Belichick's genius is knowing that his genius has limits. He's given himself some extra ammo this go-round. The rest of the league should run and hide.
Miami Dolphins - Major Lazer, "Get Free"
The new offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins is a Chip Kelly disciple named Bill Lazor, but this isn't simply a Lazer/Lazor connection. No sir. This is textual analysis, son. Look at the limitations of Mike Sherman's offense that the Dolphins were saddled with last season, and listen to what Amber from Dirty Projectors sings on Diplo's track here:
Look at me/ I just can't believe/ What they've done to me/ We could never get free
Have you seen a Dolphins game in the last few years? They've had some talented dudes on the team, and a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who could rightfully be described as a talented dude. Yet they were frequently very, very boring, brief glimmers of promise aside.
I just wanna dream
Tell me about it, Amber from Dirty Projectors. Tannehill is the most-likely-to-be-able-to-do-this-QB-thing-all-respect-to-Chad-Pennington guy the Dolphins have lined up under center since Dan Marino. That's not saying that Ryan Tannehill is Dan Marino, it's an indictment of the Cleo Lemons and rusted-out Daunte Culpeppers that were thrown out there at Sun Life Stadium nee Pro Player Stadium nee Joe Robbie Stadium and asked to beat the Patriots or the Jets. But now Bill Lazor is going to install some of that Chip Kelly style, and they've got Knowshon Moreno (and he's actually really good), and Mike Wallace is there, and Brian Hartline is above-average when he lines up out of the slot, and hey, maybe Braden Albert and Dustin Keller have bounce-back years. The point is, the Dolphins, for the first time since Joe Philbin quit acting under the name Richard Jenkins and became the Dolphins coach, have the potential to be exciting. Tannehill has some legitimate offensive weapons, and the defense has some bright spots. It looks like the Pouncey on the offensive line isn't going to jail, so Tannehill and Moreno will get the protection and blocking they need to do their thing. They're still going to have to play above their heads to avoid finishing at the bottom of the AFC East, but they'll only have themselves to blame if they fuck up.
All of my life been wadin' in/ Water so deep now we got to swim
Wrong, Amber. Now we got to play football.
Buffalo Bills - Solange, "Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work"
Some things never seem to fuhh-ckin' wo-oooork.
Buffalo is a much-shit-upon city and not a place in which many choose to live, with its whipping wind winters and dearth of stuff to do. You are born there or have Buffalo thrust upon you. Even Bills owner Ralph Wilson lived in a rich-guy community in Michigan when he didn't absolutely have to be in western New York. The NFL should stand by Buffalo because Buffalo has done right by them—up until a few years ago, the stadium was packed every week to watch teams that had no realistic playoff hopes—but the free market ain't loyal. It wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bills left town.
Whenever a professional sports franchise looks as if it might relocate, the city cleaves to it like a toddler wrapped around a mother's ankle as she's trying to get out the door for work. This is especially true of smallish municipalities. Chicago would still be very Chicago-like without the Bears, but what is a Packersless Green Bay? Detroit—the bankrupt burg famous for the abandoned buildings and the smells—recently found a way to give the Red Wings $260 million for a new arena. This is gross and misguided, but understandably so. Teams are, for better and often for worse, civic identity markers.
But here is the thing: The Bills have been bad-to-mediocre for a long time, and what makes Buffalo great—or acceptable, or at least not Binghamton—is not the habitually lousy team that plays next door in Orchard Park, but the particularities that make any city great, or acceptable, or at least not Binghamton. Apologies for the Leslie Knope-ish aphorism: Buffalo is its people, and that's unchangeable.
The Bills aren't necessarily destined for Los Angeles or Toronto, but Buffalo residents would do well to keep a resigned breakup track in their back pockets in case of emergency. Meanwhile, they should enjoy their not-great football team, because a not-great football team is enjoyable enough, provided you've got cold beer on hand and people to commiserate with. But know this, Buffalo: You don't need the Bills. Even if some things never seem to fucking work, others always will.
New York Jets - Bob James, "Angela (Theme from Taxi)"
No sitcom from the 70s or 80s embodies the spirit of the New York Jets quite like Taxi, a show about lovable misfits working through their problems together. The Jets are trying to get to a Super Bowl like Tony Danza was trying to be a boxer, or Jeff Conaway was trying to get a part on Broadway, or Marilu Henner was trying to enter the world of Manhattan art galleries. The subtext of the show was, These people probably are not going to make it, at least not the way they want, and the subtext of every Jets season is, similarly, We don't really have a shot, do we? There have been some decent Jets teams in the past few years—they played in the AFC Conference Championship Game in 2010, remember?—but mostly they've been outclassed by more talented, sleeker, more explosive teams that have had that special something the Jets have lacked, that special something being a quarterback who isn't a liability.
The parallels between Taxi and the Jets run deeper, of course, and they become clearer and clearer the more you listen to the do-do-DOOOO-DOOO-DOO-do—do-do-do-do-DOOO-do-do part of the intro to the theme song over and over again. Rex Ryan is, of course, the analog to Danny DeVito's character, the rough-around-the-edges guy who runs the shop. Eric Decker is as pretty as Conaway's wannabe actor, Sheldon Richardson is as brash and confident as Danza's boxer…
Shit. Who were the other Taxi people? Michael Vick is trying to start the next chapter of his life, just like Henner's divorced mother character was. Geno Smith's luck swings wildly, just like that of Christopher Lloyd's acid burnout. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a steadying presence at left tackle, just as Judd Hirsch's driver was always there for the other cabbies. That leaves Chris Johnson as Andy Kaufman's Latka Gravas, I guess? An incomprehensible foreigner who lives in his own surreal world?
Fuck, Taxi had a bigger cast than I remembered when I started down this path. Sorry everyone. Anyway, the Jets will be surprisingly OK this year.