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The Hangover: Black Monday coming down

One last round before the playoffs.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Hangover is a fevered attempt to collect thoughts on the NFL and anything else stuck in the craws of the brain the day 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.


Black Monday came early, not unlike the Black Friday nonsense that creeps further and further into the Thanksgiving holiday and crushes family dinners with no remorse. I tried Black Friday once with a friend down in Savannah; a hop into Best Buy around midnight. I don't know if he actually saved anything of note, but he grabbed a bunch of DVDs he never would watch and I got a graphics card for about 5% off. We stood in line for 2 hours. A screaming child shit himself somewhere along the line.

Right. The 49ers didn't wait for a calendar change to rid themselves of Jim Tomsula. This is the Right Move, but there's a good question as to why Jim Tomsula was even thrust into this position to begin with. He was in way over his head from the moment he took the job, and many outside San Francisco felt remorse for the guy along the way, partially because they recognized the hopeless nature of the venture and the fact that he had all these quirky hobo-esque life hacks and small time jobs. Exempt was Jim Harbaugh, who threw the shadiest of shade.

But the dysfunction of the 49ers just puts more doubt upon their ownership. One would like to think that the 49ers are in a position to hire a great head coach, and depending how you feel about him that could be true/untrue in the rumors that they want Chip Kelly (or maybe Sean Payton). But in the purely cynical realm, what motive does Jed York have to sink more money into his team? He has Levi's Stadium now, and Super Bowl 50 along with it. He has vast prices to gouge those who dare come to games, who sink their livelihood into sports in this manner, or just happen to be a rich Silicon Valley fast-talk mogul taking their kids to the game to watch football and gibber about disruption. All it takes it a little hype and cynicism each year and a few visiting fans. They can afford empty seats at the end of the year as long as there's enough hope sold wholesale before the season starts. That's easy to do in today's NFL. Fire the bum coaching the team. Replace the quarterback. Get a rockstar first round draft pick. Rinse. Repeat.

And this is potentially the endgame for all these teams rushing to make it to Los Angeles. Unless the ownership is truly invested, what purpose do these teams serve once the new stadium is erected, the taxpayers on the hook for the majority of it all and the lease is set? With Kroenke's mind removed from doing anything useful with the Rams in St. Louis, why change the course once he's got a stadium in Los Angeles and everything's paid off by the taxpayers and he's undoubtedly rewarded with a future Super Bowl? At this point, they don't need to sell all the tickets even. There's enough incentives to get the new stadium that it offsets the desire to put marketing to any reality in winning.

If you want a situation where these sort of deals have gone completely off the rails, look no further than Sunrise, where the NHL's Florida Panthers get paid to remain in their current abode.

And the NFL is right there helping them in all this. The NFL used to despise the notion of their owners relocating teams because of the slew of bad publicity it brought when Art Modell gives a middle finger to Cleveland or when Robert Irsay moves his team out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Now it's the grand circus. You hear it on the broadcasts: the NFL Network and all the rest talking about what a tragedy it is that these teams might be playing their final games in their cities, but Nothing Can Be Done About It. But be sure to tune in during the January programming so you can feast on the circus and find out which team(s) will get the great fortune of moving to a Los Angeles market that's probably apathetic to the state of all three hapless franchises currently vying for the honor.

You ready Eddie?

Sure enough, it's another Peyton Manning entry into the Hangover. He can't stay away from The News, except when the news was about the HGH his wife reportedly was ordering for delivery like so many Papa John's pizzas. No sir, that wasn't Interesting, according to the powers that be. Just as the NFL needed to do to maintain The Damage Control, everything got swept out of the spotlight rather quickly, and it was in part thanks to a very stubborn media in awe of their idol, and they all decided that there's No Need to Investigate.

Sure enough, as the Broncos struggled Sunday to secure a first round bye against the soon-to-be-vagabond Chargers, there came in from the sidelines the conquering hero, gleaming and orange. Brock Osweiler got The Bench and Peyton Manning gave a few handoffs, a few short yardage high percentage completion situations, and yes, a duck or two that savaged the Chargers defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in protecting against the pass.

The media howled with joy and The Narrative wrote itself about how Peyton Manning did the thing, Inspired The Team to victory and all that jazz. The Broncos might be silly enough to convince themselves that this is the case, foregoing years of experience knowing how Peyton Manning does in the cold in January. But in this case, I don't know enough about the alternative either. First look wants to tie this back to Aaron Rodgers constantly slaving away in the shadow of Brett Favre's constant returns, but Brock Osweiler doesn't look to be anything like Rodgers in the moment. It's a precarious situation the Broncos find themselves in, with the AFC playoffs suddenly littered with hot teams. Hope for a Texans victory, I suppose.

Until they're eliminated, expect the same tired hero worship that's engulfed the NFL media when it comes to Peyton Manning. To listen to NBC or CBS or Fox crews talk about Manning is to hear them in awe of a god. Any attempt to talk about the potential flaws of his play at this age are quickly denounced as heresy, just as the HGH accusations were.

Just Win Baby?

Kellen Moore racked up 435 yards in a tortured loss to Washington on Sunday. That team is going to the playoffs and plays a flailing Packers team in the wild card; the Cowboys sit pretty with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Any belief that Kellen Moore proved himself on Sunday to be The Winner Guy that Dallas needs is silly. The Washington defense ranks near the bottom of the league in efficiency and in total defense. With the division wrapped up, there was little reason to expend too much on stopping Dallas, and Kirk Cousins ensured the defense just needed to play to the score anyway as they never trailed despite all those yards put up. I was under the impression that Kellen Moore Just Wins, but I guess now it's the stats that matter more than the winning.

There's a lot the Cowboys need at quarterback. Tony Romo is fine right now, but many believe his window is closing, and given the way we've come to expect Romo to play and fail in late game situations, the narrative may win out on this one. There's rumors flying that Johnny Manziel may return home the conquering hero and leave behind the shattered ruins of Cleveland's dysfunction, and the Cowboys are certainly in a position to draft a quarterback if they see fit (the quality of this year's quarterback crop is still suspect).

Dallas, by the way, thinks Kellen will do just fine as the backup.

Just End The Season

What happened to the Jets was expected but tragic at the same time -- and amusing for those who delight in the downfall of all things relating to New Yorker-related. This is to be expected now from the Jets, who just lost to the man who was run out of town and now delights from his throne of winter in Buffalo in the chaos and anarchy he has caused for his former team. Rex Ryan, Chaos God.

But there was nothing the Jets could have done differently. They followed the same game plan that got to them to double-digit wins, but it was all for naught. You could point to Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing interceptions if you want, but the kicker is that's pretty much the deal when Ryan Fitzpatrick is your quarterback. He's going to throw interceptions. The Jets staved off this brutish reality right up until the end, when the gunslinger's pistols misfired repeatedly. But what else could they do? Chris Ivory was lucky to belt off even that one run against a stout Buffalo front seven.

Is it still amusing to watch the Jets Jet, or has it become sad? Even after freeing themselves of all the trappings that made them so very much so Jets, they're still not able to reach the promised land. They could taste it in their mouths and hope filled the New York fanbase, only to be blasted away by the brutish reality of upstate living.

But their loss is many's gain. Antonio Brown will be in the playoffs. Rejoice.

Luck and injury

The Chiefs, Seahawks and Steelers are all making the playoffs, and they're all doing it without their star running backs. The Seahawks will potentially have Marshawn Lynch back in time for the wild card game -- the Steelers and Chiefs will certainly be without Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell, respectively.

Yet, in each case, when the team lost these running backs, they continued to purr and hum on offense. The Steelers in particular transformed into a high-flying air attack, while Russell Wilson dominated the day for the Seahawks. The Chiefs haven't lost since the middle of October.

It's hard to say that these teams are better off without their star ground attack weapons. At the same time, they've clearly prospered, rather than falter without them. In the case of the Seahawks, they plugged in Thomas Rawls without a hitch for a good while, and when he got hurt too they kept winning. They just sand-bagged the Cardinals, a team that most thought to be nigh-invincible going into these playoffs. The Steelers may be in a similar situation: DeAngelo Williams must undergo a MRI on his sprained ankle.

Perhaps it becomes psychological with the coaching staff to change the plan when seemingly deprived a top weapon. Advantages are found where once they weren't thought to be found, playbooks are opened up, flexibility found anew. Perhaps it's a simple matter that running backs are now far more interchangeable in the league, even when one is talking about three bonafide stars. In the moment, it's hard to pinpoint the cause. Conventional wisdom says that these teams should be better if they had their stars, but they're not. I don't believe in the Patrick Ewing Theory, but I do think that teams find flexibility when you open their mind to new possibilities after facing a scarcity. These three teams are testament to that. Perhaps. New narratives will be found after the time of the Wild Card.

Nah, that's fine

Now for some draft news.

Notre Dame's Will Fuller declared for the draft over the weekend, foregoing his remaining eligibility in South Bend and joining a throng of Fighting Irish who hope to join the ranks of the League come April in Chicago. It's another signal to the end of this particular Notre Dame run, fraught as it was with quarterback controversy and injury but loaded on the offensive line and with key skill positions humming, of which Will Fuller was one such. If ever the Irish needed a weapon for the deep pass, there was Big Bill and his big plays. Of course, not all of that was enough to overcome a spurned Ohio State juggernaut, and the Irish have failed again to capture a major bowl title.

In the case of Will Fuller, anger surrounds him, given that he previously stated he would return to Notre Dame rather than declare. This sent a certain segment of the Notre Dame fanbase -- the same that posts to the cesspool known as NDNation -- into a tizzy, screaming about betrayal, greed, loss of college principles, all the jazz. It's particularly fascinating when it happens with Notre Dame, a place whose sports fans have always boasted about The Right Way of handling college athletics and education, even in light of repeated academic scandals.

The college system is broken in many ways, and the fans reflect this at times. The concept that they feel a sense of ownership over free labor, over the decisions made by men who have a choice to go out and get a job. Nothing compels you to remain in college beyond the three years mandated by the NFL to separate yourself from your high school graduation. Nor is the door closed on college: a player who leaves as a junior can return and complete his degree whenever he wishes.

You do not owner your favorite college player. By the virtue of recruiting, he has chosen to play for your school of his own will, and he is free to leave after his mandatory waiting period is over. If one wants to keep these players for a set period of time, there is such a thing as a contract -- no, a real contract, not a scholarship.

Rumors also abound of a more dire situation that can befall a college player at any time: Notre Dame outside linebacker Jaylon Smith went down in the Fiesta Bowl. His injury will undoubtedly put a dent in his own draft stock, which will cost him money and earning if he slips. If Will Fuller believes he can make the money, why come back and subject himself to those sort of injuries, some of which could be potentially end a football career outright? This doesn't need that involved of a cost-benefit analysis to determine.

Cool heads prevail among other portions of the Notre Dame fanbase, but the notion that Will Fuller must be held to past decisions and not change his mind seeing how the wind blows is ridiculous. I don't know where he'll go in the draft; although his play has been fine, he won't rank at the top of wide receiver prospects at the moment. Nevertheless, he clearly has confidence to declare and try to make his mark on the professional football realm. That's respectable no matter how you approach it.

Good reading

John Urschel, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, has a great piece about the supposed parity of the NFL and how that factors into labor relations over at the Player's Tribune. You should read it if you're the one to like numbers and want to explore the two subjects in depth.

We need a new name

Starting after the Super Bowl, I'm intending to change the headline of this mess to the Offseason. What we do in that column is still up for debate, but you're not going to get me to talk about seven months of NFL offseason news. I'll probably branch out to other things that tickle my fancy. Perhaps a few other sports, pop culture oddities. I don't know. If you want to see something, let me know. This is for the people, after all.

Likewise, I was never really inspired to call this the Hangover, but that came over me in a moment of panic when I needed to headline this potpourri of football nonsense. I'm picking my brain and I'm liable to change it once September rolls around again, but as this is a dictatorship-masquerading-as-democracy, if you have a suggestion for a name, let me know. I can't guarantee a prize. But there might be one. Probably not. Find out.

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