Flock & Tingle is John Teti’s interim column about pro football.
The second half of the NFL season—the true test of a team’s metal
Matthew Tabeek is the “digital managing editor” for the Atlanta Falcons, which presumably means that he edits digital content, and not that he is himself digital, but who can be sure. Whether he is a robot or not, Tabeek authors “Straight From The Beek” on atlantafalcons.com, a Q-and-A column that aims to capture the mood of the team’s far-flung fanbase. With a 4-4 record, the Atlanta Falcons have assembled a perfectly mediocre half-season of football, yet the correspondents bubble with optimism in this week’s “Beek.” That symmetrical win-loss number conceals a narrative: The Falcons started 1-4, so their 50 percent success rate, achieved last Sunday against Washington, constitutes a rising from the ashes.
“Beek. What a win! Good to see four quarters of football,” effused Sloane from Melbourne, Australia, in reference to the 2018 Falcons’ habit of switching to a different sport during a game. (Quarterback Matt Ryan often lapses into water polo.) Along similar lines, Ray from Asheville, N.C., was delighted to watch the Falcons “keep the metal to the pedal.” So maybe he’s a robot, too. Maybe they’re all robots, but the point is, they are excited. Nicholas from Delhi, Calif., pinpointed the reason why the 2018 season holds such promise. “Last year, we hit the skid late,” he reflected. “This year, early.”
Ignore the rational fallacies behind Nicholas’ every-team-gets-one-skid theory, and focus on the underlying wisdom that NFL narratives depend a great deal on our irrational response to arbitrary timing. If the Falcons had lost every second game to arrive at the same record, The Beek’s mailbag would likely be a chronicle of ennui. An aimless mix of wins and losses does not stir the spirit. A run of failure followed by sustained victory feels like a story. We all accept this intuitively, because self-deception is part of the fun.
The timing of Week 10 is such that most teams, and their fans, can still find reason to believe. For instance, the Dallas Cowboys’ prospects look grim with a 3-5 record and a listless scoring attack, but their NFC East division is full of equally uninspired, hollow-eyed teams who possess no sense of destiny, or even identity. In this milieu, the Cowboys could shamble their way to a division title yet.
In fact, the statistically minded writers at Football Outsiders run simulations to calculate teams’ odds of making the playoffs, and according to their marvelous computer, even a woebegone squad like the 2-6 Arizona Cardinals still has a 0.1 percent chance of advancing to the postseason. Granted, that’s just a one-in-a-thousand shot. A one-in-a-thousand shot pays off sometimes, though, or else they would call it a zero-in-a-thousand shot. Which, as it happens, is the probability attached to the Raiders and the Bills on the Football Outsiders chart.
So you are permitted to abandon all hope, Raiders and Bills fans, but take solace that you’ll soon have company. Week 10 is when the window of optimism begins to close in earnest. From here on out, each Sunday will break a few more hearts as the math of the 16-game schedule forecloses on one aspiring champion after another. A sports season is a contrived structure, a storytelling mechanism, and I love watching the wheels turn at this time of year, when the NFL’s narrative machine is ramping up to its highest gear. If your team is still alive, enjoy the ride and keep the metal to the pedal.
Your Week 10 FuturePicks™
Flock & Tingle is the only interim football column with FuturePicks™, an NFL prediction system that employs temporal quantum-tunneling technology to compress all of human existence, indeed all of time itself, to a single point. The result is a weekly slate of football game picks that are guaranteed to be correct because, from the perspective of FuturePicks™, they have already happened.
NOTE: Foreknowledge of the future necessarily alters the future. Flock & Tingle is not responsible for any disruption to causality that emerges as a result of sentient persons viewing the FuturePicks™ in advance of Sunday’s pro football contests. Please do not read the picks.
Week 9 games within acceptable parameters: 8
Week 9 divergences from FuturePicks™: 4
Overall FuturePicks™ integrity in 2018: 60.2 percent (41-27)
Here are the Week 10 picks. Do not read them.
SUNDAY — EARLY GAMES
Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears (Fox): Chicago 21, Detroit 18.
New Orleans Saints vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Fox): New Orleans 45, Cincinnati 25.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Cleveland Browns (Fox): Atlanta 34, Cleveland 20. Also in this week’s “Straight From The Beek,” Travis from Kaiserslautern, Germany writes in with concern that this game against lowly Cleveland is “the ultimate trap game” for the Falcons. “Trap game” is among my favorite pieces of NFL lingo—it means that when a good team plays a lesser team, the members of the good team might fall into the “trap” of thinking it will be an easy game and thereby let their guard down. I like the idea that the Browns have spent the last couple decades sucking as hard as they possibly can just so that now, in Week 10 of the 2018 season, they can finally spring the TRAP!!! and earn a nigh-meaningless victory against Atlanta. Suddenly the Hue Jackson era makes more sense.
Washington vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Fox): Tampa Bay 28, Washington 21.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (CBS): Indianapolis 23, Jacksonville 21.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Arizona Cardinals (CBS): Kansas City 38, Arizona 9.
Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets (CBS): New York 13, Buffalo 8. Jets legend “Broadway” Joe Namath met current Jets head coach Todd Bowles before last week’s game, and throughout the whole conversation, Namath only asked Bowles for two kisses.
SUNDAY — LATE GAMES
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders (Fox): Los Angeles 8, Oakland 0. That’s four safeties, mind you.
Miami Dolphins vs. Green Bay Packers (CBS): Green Bay 31, Miami 19.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams (CBS): Los Angeles 30, Seattle 23.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles (NBC): Philadelphia 27, Dallas 17. Sunday Night Football fulfilled the graphical promise that I teased last week, broadcasting a handful of ornate visual packages to hype up the fact that Tom Brady, an excellent quarterback, was playing football against a team featuring Aaron Rodgers, who is also an excellent quarterback.
Before the teams kicked off, Michele Tafoya narrated a blissfully incoherent presentation about the “numerology of the number 12,” which is the number worn by both Brady and Rodgers. She took it slow, first considering each digit in turn. “One is a prime number,” Tafoya noted, wrongly.
Tafoya eventually arrived at the number 12 itself. The big kahuna. The top of the clock. The dirty dozen. She observed that a “number 12 person” has many generic qualities, such as “dynamic” and “preferring to be around people” (as opposed to robots). If you’re wondering how Sunday Night Football’s artists garnered these insights—what august numerological authority was consulted—they did what any high school junior on a deadline would do: They performed a Google search for “numerology of 12” and plagiarized liberally from the first result.
NBC also created a montage of great quarterbacks who didn’t play against each other very much. Brett Favre played Peyton Manning twice, is a thing we know now.
The production highlight of the evening came not from Photoshop wizardry but rather from that more reliable source of entertainment: the humiliation of animals. Sunday Night Football put Rodgers and Brady jerseys on two goats and then encouraged them to hate each other. The goats, understanding that QB matchups are not truly head-to-head affairs since the two players never take the field at the same time, objected to the premise and mostly stood there looking at each other with mutual respect, as quarterbacks and even-toed ungulates will do.
But they did half-heartedly fight with each other a couple of times to humor the director. In conclusion, the institution of high-minded American sports broadcasting is alive and well.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
San Francisco 20, New York 10.
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