The Hangover is a fevered attempt to collect thoughts on the NFL and anything else stuck in the craws of the brain on Tuesday after all football has burned out. All opinions belong solely to the author and all facts belong to that evil new war god of unfeeling thought.
Here we are again
There's too much going on in this latest episode of Peyton Manning for one to process. Confusion and chaos have been left in its wake, and all around ground zero a thousand gibbering mouths staking their grounds.
I don't know where to even begin on this. On one hand, I have no compunction against investigative media, and certainly not against Al Jazeera, and I'm keen to take an interest in journalism that does leg work that everyone seems to desire and crave so much, yet when it appears in our midst with news that shakes us to our core we're quick to scream and holler and denounce it as heresy.
On the other, there's a lot going on with this documentary that seems to already have it off on a bad start. Will Leitch covered the documentary and he outlines the biggest points about a piece of journalism that everyone seems quick to judge but no one actually bothered to watch.
Which strikes me as somewhat disturbing, that we'll blindly line up against a documentary without watching it. Everyone lined up alongside Mike Ditka so quickly to defend The Golden One and wavered near-Islamophobia at the mere mention of the name Al Jazeera. The only reason I can think that people would spout off ridiculous sentiments about a well-respected network* is if they haven't paid attention to the past 15 years at all and willingly refused to make any attempt to comprehend the English network's capabilities in covering certain subjects like this. Really, you would have had to have your head in the sand since the beginning of the Bush administration if you believe Al Jazeera is part of some grand terrorism-based conspiracy against...wait, it's Peyton Manning, what the hell are we even saying here?!
And yet, there are issues with the documentary. That cannot be denied. They're outlined in the Leitch piece above. It's still a shaky case; not just against Peyton Manning, but many in the documentary. I don't know where one of the sources is at even more, how many times he's recanted, or what those recantations even mean; they're certainly not absolute guarantees of judgment one way or another.
Now add into the gumbo this: our attitudes on PEDs have evolved from the steroid paranoia that nearly crippled baseball's supposed purity. It's particularly different when we talk about HGH versus the anabolic steroids of McGwire and Sosa and Canseco. Not only have our attitudes on the science changed, but the science has as well when it comes to what athletes use and must do to stay competitive and healthy.
Assume for a moment that it is all true. What we're accusing Peyton Manning of doing is far different than juicing up to hit more dingers. We're now accusing him of taking medicine. To heal. His neck was nearly destroyed. His career -- not just a career, but a passion, an obsession, an unwavering drive to continue competing at the heart of nearly every world-class athlete -- was going to be finished. The current form of HGH is not used to bulk up and get stronger but to recover from this bodily damage. And if Peyton Manning didn't use HGH to heal, he would have acquired other medicine in order to heal, because that's what he needed to do to continue to play.
But at the same time, there is also an argument to be made against going down this road. There's economic and long-term health implications of putting athletes in a position where they can take a potentially risky and unknown medicine in order to continue to compete or force them to retire. Of course, in the sport of American football, there's other issues that require our attention when it comes to the long-term health of these athletes.
So to recap: I'm appreciative of the investigative journalism and the news source is credible, but it seems like a shaky source at the heart of the documentary, at best. On the other side, I don't want to trust this all on Peyton Manning's reputation like so many others. I also believe that our attitudes towards PEDs have shifted and it shouldn't be a stigma, and perhaps our sporting rules need to catch up with new science, but I also understand arguments against them that aren't based on the base concept that it's cheating. And I don't know what to do with Peyton's innocence or guilt.
Can I just take all of that and let it cook a while longer? I don't want to pick a side. I just want more information. But perhaps, for the NFL's sake, it's best not to get mired down in another year-long scandal involving one of its biggest stars. The corporation should rather just hope this ends up quickly glossed over and forgotten like the deer antler spray.
*The asterisk is for some shenanigans that do happen when the two different sides of the organization -- its Arabic-oriented birth for Middle Eastern audiences and the English language network for global audiences -- have to intersect on Gulf politics. Because Al Jazeera is funded by Qatari royalty, there is some self-censorship on the former; but it certainly doesn't ascribe to the latter and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with a documentary about performance-enhancing drugs. That there is an editorial blind spot does not discredit an entire news organization on an unrelated subject; you can level this same accusation against CNN, BBC News or even -- yes, especially yes! -- ESPN.
Black Monday coming down
We're now days away from the grim time of year where we Blow It All Up, You Maniacs. Coaches will have their resumes together, the deck chairs will be reshuffled, and the same old gaggle of NFL Men will trade places. Coordinators become coaches, coaches become coordinators, bums become NFL Insiders and rules consultants, And All That Jazz. No one is really cast from the brotherhood that easily; they're just more apt to change scenery.
What the Jacksonville Jaguars will do is something to ponder, even if that notion may not make a lot of sense in the historical context of the franchise. Regardless of how one feels, this year the Jaguars are no longer the hapless band of the league -- not with the bevy of talent they've acquired on offense with Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and T.J. Yeldon. If their offensive line can create enough pass protection, that should be it to make this unit capable of fighting anyone in the AFC South. And by virtue of playing in the AFC South, they should be capable of standing with Indianapolis and Houston and Tennessee in the future to make a division title.
Which brings the story to Gus Bradley, the current head coach. There is, perhaps, an overall apathy when it comes to the Jaguars and their coach's record. After all, one might say, it's the Jaguars, they're just out there trying to kick the ball around, bless their hearts. It's the same kind gloves that continue to protect Gus Bradley from scrutiny in another year of Jaguars rebuilding. But if the Jags are reaching for new ground, they have to consider showing themselves more bold than the public.
There's multiple issues the Jaguars face under Bradley. Despite all the offensive talent we've seen on the field for them, it has not translated into wins; particularly not in this season, where the Jaguars played only five teams with winning records, two of those barely above .500 in Atlanta and Houston. And in spite of building a young core of offensive talent, the defense has remained stale and moldy, with no visible improvement in the past few years on that side of the ball -- which seems confounding given Bradley's background as a defensive coordinator.
For many other teams, a potential finish of 5-11 or 6-10 after a butter-soft schedule and three years of stagnation on defense would be enough for the critics in the national media. They would call for the bum to be out. But for the Jaguars, most are content to shrug their shoulders.
Roll the dice
The Broncos defeated the Bengals on Monday Night Football, which has helped to set up a curious scenario for their horse-based brethren in Indianapolis. The Colts are apparently in Vegas this week and doing what I do when I've had one too many Moscow mules, which is to play a ten-team parlay for God knows what reason; only their prize at the unlikely end is the playoffs and not a stack of hundreds that I'll never see anyway.
In the case where this gets pulled off, it means that Charlie Whitehurst, Ol' Clippy himself, will be a playoff quarterback; this would be saving us from watching either Brandon Weeden or Brian Hoyer instead.
There's been a lot made of the dismal state of quarterbacks in the NFL now that injury has plagued too many, and even my great heralded villain AJ McCarron can't help but fall victim to the ever-truthful ball. The names being trotted out on Sunday merit shame and despondence based on their reputations thus far. Help seems unlikely to be found, be they once-heralded saviors or heir-apparents or just hapless journeymen.
Almost one-third of the league will start a different QB this week than the one that started the season. pic.twitter.com/9LnGjrM1Ax— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 27, 2015
At the beginning of the season, the Wall Street Journal ran out an interesting piece on the current state of quarterbacks coming out from college and into the NFL, and called it a crisis. It's true that many quarterbacks coming up from the NCAA's ranks are just not ready to start, and in turn those that are kept around as backups aren't even that. It creates a shallow pool where the teams that do have quarterbacks that work just have to sit with the rosary and pray during Sunday that their god-child suffers no ill.
But in this case, the NFL can only find itself to blame. To start, college football's job is not to prepare quarterbacks for the NFL, but to win college football games. The offensive systems in college have long since shifted away from the pro-style system to achieve victory, and with it has come the priorities of a quarterback in those college systems. A college coach's career is based not on how his quarterbacks translate to the professional ranks, but how he wins on Saturday. And the NFL doesn't really have a say in a matter because they're getting all this development and training for free! If the NFL wanted to train football players in the style they wanted, exactly how they desire, they could put down the money and create their own semi-pro alternative to college football that teaches players the way NFL teams want them to play. But they won't put down that money.
The other reason why the NFL is reaping what it sows is the attitude of teams when it comes to their backups. The number of snaps a quarterback second or third on the depth chart sees with the first team offense is laughable, no matter if it's during the year or in training camp or preseason. Even in blowouts, many teams will continue to trot out the starter rather than give another quarterback meaningful snaps. They have no chance to develop once picked up by a team and are put in a position to stagnate on the sidelines and fail when plugged into the game on the whims of bodily injury.
For all that and a bag of chips, you'll get to enjoy some nigh-useless quarterbacks struggle in the AFC playoffs this year. AJ McCarron might be hurt now too, and if Andy Dalton isn't ready for the first round the Bengals may have to look to something called Keith Wenning.
The New York Jets overcame the New England Patriots Sunday in large part because Matthew Slater went out and got all tangled up trying to communicate on overtime rules. It could have also been, depending on who you believe, part of some Bill Belichick Master Plan. Bill claimed as much during his press conference, and the Jets Twitter account had some comments on that.
Agreed. https://t.co/LVQVwVZlsL— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 27, 2015
This has been a fantastic turnaround for team social media in a few regions, particularly in a sport where the Listerine and Dettol have to be used to scrub any semblance of fun out of the gums. The Panthers account in particular has been having quite a bit of fun, almost seemingly mimicking the team's own attitude (of course, even this has drawn some criticism).
Social media, particularly Twitter, is predicated on a certain currency invested in snarky behavior, which is absolutely fine. It's supposed to be fun. For sports team accounts this often find itself lacking, what with the need for #BRAND to be defended at all costs. 2015 looked to be a dark year for Fun's victory over Brand in this venue, when social media manager Chad Shanks was fired from his job operating the Houston Rockets account after posting horse and gun emojis following the team's dispatching of the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA playoffs. Thankfully, we seem to have gathered our senses about us and realized this is all supposed to be some good fun.
Just wish someone could get the memo to these guys.