And lo, there shall come a time when men will be made infants, and wives will be made widows, and much will be said and done over small oblong objects made from the skins of dead pigs…
Sure, we got the appetizer last weekend with college football kicking off, but now the main course arrives as the 2015 NFL season begins tonight with Tom Brady getting attention for doing something related to actually playing football for a change. It’s that wonderful, hopeful time when everyone’s team is 0-0 and has as much of a shot at the Super Bowl as any other team. Which should all go away for half of us about thirty minutes into most of the games on Sunday.
Because last year, half the teams in the league were under .500. One of those teams actually made the playoffs because, well, someone from the NFC South had to, but nobody was picking the Panthers to make much noise once they got there (which they promptly didn’t, getting smoked by the Seahawks). For every Patriots and Seahawks fan who was tossing back champagne in late January, there were hundreds of Titans and Raiders and Bucs fans who’d started looking forward to 2015 before Thanksgiving. And who were probably also tossing back champagne. And much harder stuff. And for very different reasons.
This year, it seems like there are a handful of haves who have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, a whole lot of maybes, and a whole lot more who can start penciling in draft choices. If you pressed me, I’d say it’ll be Green Bay and New England playing for the title. Green Bay because they damn near beat the Seahawks last year, and it’s going to be very hard for Seattle to get back to the big game three years in a row. New England because the last time they were pissed off about being caught cheating — sorry, allegedly cheating — they took it out on everybody and went 16-0. Seattle and Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and Dallas will probably make some noise, the Dolphins could be a surprise, and there are some doubts about New England’s defense and Green Bay’s offense without Jordy Nelson, but my guy keeps coming back to the Pats and the Pack in the end.
As for my Bucs? Well, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Jameis Winston, although it’s been an admittedly limited sample. Not so much his stats — rookie QBs are going to make mistakes, it’s part of the process — but his attitude. He looks like he belongs in an NFL huddle. He takes command, looks confident, shakes off mistakes, and just seems like he’s in command of things when he’s out there. Mistakes can be corrected; attitude can’t. Of course, if his offensive line David Carrs the guy like it did during the pre-season, none of that will matter. But on the whole, this time reminds me a little bit of the early Tony Dungy Bucs teams, only with an actual franchise quarterback on hand. The defense looks solid and stands to improve, and while I’m thinking a 6-10 record seems likely, I think they’ll be playing much better football in the back half of the season than in the beginning. If the offensive line gels and Winston gets it a little more quickly, maybe nudge that to 7-9 or 8-8, but I’m guessing the real window for this team opens next year.
Whatever happens, it’ll be exciting and nerve-wracking to watch me proven right or wrong over the next five months. The off-field problems aren’t going to go away completely, nor should they, but at least the league will likely be making more news from what takes place on the field for a little while. We’ll gather ’round on Sundays, gorge ourselves on Thanksgiving, and sit through all that silly football to watch commercials on Super Bowl Sunday.
All the whistle did blow, and the kick did off, and all was right with the world.