We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Nate Jackson
To: Drew Magary, Tom Scocca
Trying to figure out how the season will shape out after one game is like trying to figure out how a relationship will end after one night. Don't go running off to Vegas. The feelings will change, especially considering the general strangeness of the lockout-dominated offseason. There did seem to be a bit of a continuity advantage for teams that retained their quarterbacks and coaches, but nothing overwhelming. The 49ers, led by new coach Jim Harbaugh, beat the Seahawks, but then, the Seahawks had a new QB and the Niners didn't. The Bengals, with a new QB, beat the Browns, but the Browns had a new coach. The only two teams (three if you count Minnesota) with both a new head coach and a new quarterback lost, but all of them were competitive and could have easily won. So none of this shit means shit.
Or almost none. There were a few things from yesterday that could play into the narrative for the entire season.
One, the entire Colts franchise revolved around Peyton Manning far more than anyone could have imagined. He served not only as the team's best player, but he was the offensive coordinator, defensive consultant, motivational speaker, and spiritual guide. When something happens on a practice field or in meetings, the eyes of the youngsters fall on the veterans. In Indy, all eyes were on Peyton always. His word was the word of God, and with God now gone for at least half the year, Indianapolis is Sodom and Gomorrah.
Chicago kicked the shit out of a well-prepared Atlanta Falcon team, and the Bears appeared to have been motivated by the disappointing end to last season. The unwarranted heat that Jay Cutler took in the media also seems to have lit a fire under his ass, and maybe it even endeared him to his teammates. The man tore his MCL, and the football world didn't believe him. That type of collective ignorance can unite a team and put some things in perspective.
The modern NFL is constructed by the media, so much so that some players buy into the media narratives, affecting the chemistry of the team. Chicago's entire team is solid, and now that the Bears know just how full of shit the storyline is, they can get to work, with an us-vs. them mentality.
The season will not be won in the first week, or the fourth, or the ninth. As the old adage goes, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. But the experts lead us to believe the opposite as they go around on the weekly carousel, pumping the egos of football men up and down. The sprinter who closes his eyes and enjoys the music of a solid three-game start, settling into a narcissistic slumber, will wake up in week nine with a 4-5 record to find his admirers have moved on.
It's dangerous territory, getting too high too early. The NFL, proxy soap opera for dudes, needs radical highs and lows to sell itself. The Dallas Cowboys are a perfect example of a team that will never be consistent because they're obsessed with their own image. It takes too much of their time and energy to manage. Each week, they are either dead and buried or exalted, and they swing back and forth between the two, afraid of what it would mean to be neither. Turn on the television this morning, and the Steelers are dead and buried, too. So are the Colts. So are the Chiefs. So is Matt Ryan.
After tonight, there'll be a few more burials. Each week is a totally exclusive saga, seemingly unrelated to the season as a whole. And that's why we all love it. But on the inside, the weekly crowning of a new king adds a dimension that is terribly difficult to navigate.
Because winning in the NFL is hard enough as it is. Every week coaches are having to reconfigure their teams due to injuries, and if they don't have a solid crew of backups, they will not win late in the season—or even early in the season, as we saw with St. Louis. Philly was very beatable, but the St. Louis offense fell flat without Steven Jackson. They need to have a plan in case of his inevitable demise, but it seems they may not. Indy sure didn't have one for Peyton. But then, how could you use a high draft pick on a young quarterback prospect when Peyton hasn't missed a start in 43 years?
Considering all of this, my hope is that a few teams who have dealt with shittiness in past years will break out this season. Based on yesterday's performances by the Lions and the Bills, that's a possibility. Who wouldn't want to see both of those teams playing in January while the Steelers and Patriots had losing seasons and Bill Belichick got fired? (Not Mike Tomlin, he's cool.)
When all is said and done, and you can take this one to Vegas, it will be Ryan Fitzpatrick hoisting the Lombardi trophy in February, having narrowly beaten a resilient Lions team in Super Bowl XLVI—held in godless Gomorrah, Indiana—and once-venerated teams and coaches will scatter the roadside, left for dead by the Trey Wingos and Mike Florios, who will be telling you they told you so.