NFL Week Nine: Musings On Underachievers and Accountability

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NFL Week Nine: Musings On Underachievers and Accountability

Step outside and listen carefully. What you are hearing is the sound of bookmakers all over America taking headers off tall buildings in the wake of the beating they took during NFL Week Nine.

Arizona blew out Chicago, Tampa Bay finally won a game, Houston put a scare into Indianapolis, San Francisco got lost in the fog blanketing the Bay—it goes on and on.

By my count, nine of 13 favorites, including the Patriots, failed to cover the spread this past weekend. I don't know whether Pete Rozelle is turning over in his grave or dancing on it.

This is not parity; this is not even the mediocrity that parodied parity. Have we come full circle? Or have we taken off into some strange, new direction that a scant handful of people predicted years ago?

That would be the general direction of the point of no return, where all good things wind up after they reach critical mass and implode into themselves.

Whatever it is, we are being robbed, my friends.

There are so many bad teams taking the field every weekend that you couldn't pay me enough to watch half of the games being played. Some of what I saw, I wish I hadn't watched.

We are lucky here in New England. We finally have a great owner in Robert Kraft, a guy who thinks like we do and knows what we, the paying customers, want.

And make no mistake, you might never have visited the Razor, but you are a paying customer.

We have a great coach in Bill Belichick, a man we can always trust to do everything he knows how to do, which is quite a lot, to craft a better product.

From Tom Brady to the practice squad to the ball boys, everybody in that organization works hard to give Mr. Kraft what we want.

What if I lived in Tennessee? Or Cleveland? What if I were a Tampa Bay fan or a Jacksonville fan? How long could I stand to watch the carnage?

On Friday, we published the weekly picks of a crew of generally well-informed and strongly opinionated New England Patriots fans, and I am here to tell you, some of us went down in flames.

We were not even picking against the spread because, um, we don't gamble. It was still not a pretty week any way you look at it.

Most of the time, I feel like a New England weather forecaster when I make my picks. It's a ridiculous job sometimes, and if I'm wrong, oh well. I get a fresh slate tomorrow and I get to make the same dumb mistakes without consequences. 

Much of the NFL has evolved into a league of entitled, underachieving multi-millionaires who show up, sort of, play the game, sort of, shower, tweet, and go home.

They shrug off questions, or they use stock quotes like, "We just didn't execute." No kidding.

Or they point fingers. Or they sneak out a side door and avoid reporters altogether.

Trying to predict what a team will do on any given Sunday has evolved into a contemplation of some truly finer points of the game. Who is playing in the final year of his contract, who is playing poorly because he is mad at his coach, who just signed a contract and is on cruise control—and that isn't even getting into the questions: Who should win this game? Who has the talent?  

If every team played to its potential every week, the "art" of prognostication would be so easily mastered that I wouldn't even feel as if I were sticking my neck out by indulging in it. What fun is that?

If every player earned his salary, if every coach and every team owner could be relied upon to use good judgment and make wise decisions, I wouldn't bother trying to predict the winner of any game.

Many of those things just don't happen. Or they happen inconsistently. The space between the lines needs to be read, and motives uncovered. We all have ideas about how games will be won or lost.

Going down the weekly NFL schedule, I feel like I'm back in college spending way too much time cutting class to go to Suffolk Downs to bet on old, broken-down horses handled by crooked trainers and ridden by small men sporting crops with battery packs in them. 

It was a real mind game, and if you knew the cast of characters pretty well, you could pick up a buck or two.

Push come to shove, just hang around under the tote board, wait for a ton of money to show up somewhere in the last thirty seconds before the betting windows closed, hit a window quickly and wait around for the end of the race to cash a ticket on a fixed race.

And here I am, half a lifetime later, using those same skills to try to predict the NFL: Try to understand who's thinking what, look for a cue, hit a window just as it's closing, hope my pick doesn't break down coming down the stretch.

Even at a good track, which Suffolk Downs was not, sometimes the best horse wins, and sometimes it does not. If it were as simple as reading a Racing Form, there would be no reason to run the race.

And so it is with the NFL. Oh, in the end, the cream tends to rise to the top, but in the weekly merry-go-round of games, nothing ever surprises me.

My picks last weekend were so bad, I think I would have done better with a dart board.

Among other miscues, I made what reasoned out to a fairly convincing argument for the Panthers to upend the Saints, and for about a half, it looked like it might happen.

In the end, of course, my prediction for the upset of the week went south as the Saints proved that they deserve to be 8-0 for the first time in team history.

The Panthers proved that they deserved to go home with their tails tucked between their legs because they could have won that game.

From owner Jerry Richardson to head coach John Fox to alleged QB Jake Delhomme to $1,000,000-a-game defensive end Julius Peppers, they should all be ashamed of themselves, but I can't imagine they are.

Peppers really earned his pay in Week Nine, with one tackle recorded on the day. That was a one million dollar tackle. My whole house and everything in it is not worth what Julius Peppers made for one tackle. Think about that.

People are starving, children have no health care, people are murdered by the thousands in faraway countries where life is more miserable than anything we can imagine, and Julius Peppers made a million bucks for one stinking tackle.

The bum, he's worse than the little men with their battery packs. At least they did what their employers expected of them.

I don't mean to get all sociological here, but I'm angry and you should be, too. Peppers is but one example of what is wrong in the NFL. There are too many others to count.

What is worse, I actually care.

With uncertainty looming over next season, we have to consider the possibility of a strike or a lockout—and then what?

Then the NFL shoots itself in the foot. One way or another, the owners and the NFLPA had best come to terms, because if they don't, I suspect that fans will abandon the game in droves.

But neither management nor players are accountable to us, no matter what I think.

And I am no more accountable for my lousy picks than a New England weather man is in calling for sunshine when the snow has already begun to fall.

However, I am willing to man up and say, hey, I was sadly mistaken. Give me the criticism I deserve.

Few people were paying attention to my argument for Carolina anyway, but to those who were, I can only say that sometimes I am right about these things. And clearly, sometimes I am not.

The same goes for a half dozen other lousy picks I made.

As I said to someone in the threads: What good is life if you can't go out on the occasional limb with a laptop in one hand and a chainsaw in the other?

My new motto.

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