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For fans of playoff clarity, Sunday was not your favorite day. For fans of NFL parity, however, Sunday was a gift from the football gods.

With just six weeks left in the regular season, Sunday's results created a whole lot of playoff intrigue. "If the playoffs started today" is a term we in the industry like to use to give readers a sense of order. If the playoffs actually did start today, order would be thrown out the damn window.

 

Little AFC Clarity

The AFC is particularly muddled, especially with the AFC West all but assured of taking up two playoff spots with Denver and Kansas City jockeying for the division title in the season's final six weeks.

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The NFL has a complicated relationship with its fans.

Every issue in the NFL is not just news, but big news. National news. There is no such thing as a small locker room scrape without the 24-hour news cycle grinding it up and exhausting every angle the story has to offer, upside-down and inside-out.

With so much interest in the sport, there is bound to be a difference of opinion. Heck, even issues of racism in the NFL have people taking different sides. The NFL has gotten too big, with a fanbase too diverse and too invested in the product to let anything slip by unnoticed or ignored.

How can the NFL be all things to all people? How can the NFL cater to such an enormous fanbase, while still staying true to its loyal core?

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Can you imagine how incredible a 68-team college football playoff would be? 

Sure, people may balk at the watering down of the product and the regular season becoming marginalized to mean almost nothing, but watching four of the Top Five teams in the country—Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas—battle in an early season hardwood classic on Tuesday had to make fans wonder what college football would be like if teams scheduled games like they weren't so damn afraid to lose.

With 11 minutes left in an epic matchup between Kansas and Duke that saw the Jayhawks pull away in the final minutes, ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale put the early season action in perspective.

"This is November 12th. Are you serious? This is November 12th."

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Finally a man named Blackmon made headlines in Jacksonville for the right reason this season.

Will Blackmon—yes, the other Blackmon, who is actually still on the field for the Jaguars—literally stole the ball out of the hands of Titans backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for a "strip-six" that put Jacksonville too far ahead for a late Tennessee comeback on Sunday. That gave Gus Bradley this first win of his head coaching career and, finally, something to celebrate.

The real difference in the 29-27 score? A safety on a holding call in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.

Whatever works, Jags. Whatever works.

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The NFL routinely, and somewhat inadvertently, challenges our collective system of values.

Week after week, game after game, we resoundingly cheer on aggression and power. We laud our favorite team when it exudes physical, mental and organizational supremacy. We boo it when it tries but fails.

Off the field, it's not that simple. We treat NFL players like warriors and gladiators when in the game, but as soon as the final whistle blows, we expect—no, demand—they assimilate back to our traditional social constructs.

See that field with painted boundaries? Go over there and be a savage. Put on this armor and do whatever you can to thwart the invaders from another city. You have three hours, and maybe a little extra time if a winner of that battle has yet to be determined.

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There have been 44 different quarterbacks to begin an NFL game this season—45 after Josh McCown officially gets the nod for the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.

Through nine weeks of the NFL season, nearly one-third of the league doesn't even know who is going to start at quarterback each week. Nobody has any clue who is going to star.

Nick Foles had the game of his short career against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, throwing for 406 yards and seven touchdowns in a laugher for Philadelphia. Last week, Foles was out with a concussion he suffered against Dallas in a game where he looked like a college freshman playing against an NFL defense.

The week before that? Foles had another game of his career against Tampa Bay.

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The NFL will not be beaten by demons.

Justin Blackmon is a talented wide receiver who is watching his career slip down the drain, unable to control issues in his private life that have negatively impacted his ability to catch footballs for a living.

Demons. Blackmon has demons. That's the term we've been authorized to use in this profession when we watch a player with immense talent waste it by grabbing a bottle, a pipe, a vial or whatever vice one might choose to unravel an otherwise positive trajectory in the sport and, by proxy, in life.

Blackmon's demise should be a cautionary tale for other players in the NFL. His situation should be a warning for those players struggling with their own issues to get help before it's too late—to not let the demons win. But it won't be. It never is.

10 Rules That Are Haunting the NFL

By on October 31, 2013

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In 2013, Halloween officially marks the start of the second half of the NFL season—a nine-week journey to separate the league's superheroes from the living dead.

(True story: One year for Halloween, a friend and I dressed up like the guys from Bosom Buddies, but at the last minute he got cold feet and changed costumes to trick or treat as a football player. He was Tom Rathman, eye black and all. I stayed in my dress. Half the houses thought I was just a girl who forgot to wear a costume.)

With that horrifying skeleton out of the closet, let's ring the bell back to the here and now. The NFL is more popular than ever—even more popular than a time when boys dressed up like blocking fullbacks in exchange for candy—but the league is far from perfect.

There are a lot of rules in today's NFL, and while most attempt to make the game better, some have no rhyme or reason for existing, while others actually serve to make the game worse.

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The 2013-14 NBA season is comprised of two separate and increasingly independent crusades. Some teams—the handful of star-laden clubs with the talent to fight for a title—are vying to dethrone the Miami Heat.

Other teams are left fighting for something different, mired in a battle to procure the next king.

The only way to win the crown in the future is to lose as much as possible in the present.

The 2013-14 NBA season has become a split campaign, with some in the league trying to win by winning, while others have no choice but to win by losing. 

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As the NFL season rounds past the midway point of the schedule, which teams are better or worse than their records, or than we think?

There are still nine teams in the league with two or fewer losses, while eight teams have just two or fewer wins. The other 15 teams are all living in midseason purgatory—somewhere between three to five wins with somewhere between three to five losses, in a season that's too early to be lost, but for some, too late to be a contender.

Remember, the NFL is in the business of mediocrity. The league wants as many teams as possible to have a chance at the playoffs as the season winds to a close. This season, however, the plan may not be working.

The NFL already has a page on its website called "if the season ended today," and by the looks of the teams slated for this year's postseason tournament, there aren't a lot of open slots left.