An internet friend of mine turned me on to a short essay by Bill Morris called “Is Baseball What’s Wrong with America?” Morris turns his gaze particularly to the forced “redemption” of Josh Hader and the current state of racial politics in America, but the underlying characterization of baseball—that the sport is too mired in memories of a misremembered time—is nothing new. In fact, plenty of baseball fans would wholly own the nostalgia of their sport, even those of a political leaning. After all, there’s no shortage of conservative hack out there, be it George Will’s echoing psychosis or Dan McLaughin and his stupid f***ing Twitter avatar grousing over the Mets, who just can’t help but eat baseball up.
Maybe that’s why I could never embrace baseball fully, and yet what also keeps me coming back to football. Football has never sought to hide its grim bloodmeat form, unless you talk to some extremely deluded Big Ten/Notre Dame/SEC oldheads. It is violence personified, a gladiatorial sport that comes just short of releasing lions on the field.
And yet, faced with the interminable sins of football—the greed of inbred owners, the stubborn refusal to safeguard the sport’s own future, the abhorrent exploitation and disregard of athletes in the college system—the sport still seeks to find humanity in it. There’s still human beings out there struggling beneath the whole damn system, trying to make an honest wage before the violence takes them. For all the ruthless coaches out there, there’s real genuine inspirations, good men and women trying their damndest to coach in an atmosphere of oppressive toughness and the psychotic drive to win (Drew Magary wrote about one such admirable soul).
It’s a dumb, stupid and extremely flawed sport, and calling for its death is probably one of the more moral options. But I like to think there are few illusions about football that have yet to be shattered, and save for a few tiring boy scouts out there, we all know what a demon this sport can be. And yet, there is the humanity still. There’s a beauty when something is honest with itself, even if polite company would rather yearn for the clean, nostalgic soul instead.
This is all going to get me into trouble and I was supposed to write about gambling.
Last week’s record: 10-4-1
Denver +7 vs. Los Angeles
Kick me in the face and call me a mule, but I like Denver in this spot. The Rams are struggling to stop the run right now, Denver has proven a difficult place to play for road teams and weather should impact the Rams passing game. On top of that, Denver quietly has the most efficient rushing offense in the league, per Football Outsiders. That the Rams are handicapped for a full touchdown is criminal, and there’s value to bet Denver here.
Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh UNDER 52.5
Oh wow the Steelers beat up on a crappy Falcons team and handed me probably the worst loss on a pick last week, what a shocker. The Bengals and Steelers playing is a surefire recipe for the most unwatchable pro football game not being played in like, say, Serbia. Vontaze Burfict is back just in time, who could have guessed that? Anyway, a total north of 50 points in an event where players are more likely to break each other’s kneecaps than play a game of football is suspect.
Seattle -2.5 @ Oakland
Ohohoho, you’d think in a spot like this it might be clever to take the home dog, take the team desperate for anything to show this late into the NFL season, to pick up a second victory and ease fears and disappointment, and to do it all in Jack the Ripper’s London. Buddy we’re talking about the 2018 Oakland Raiders, disappointment is a byproduct of the diesel they’re burning. I’ve sold everything on this misbegotten organization. I can’t wait to see who is condemned with the first pick in the draft.
Arizona +10 @ Minnesota
We have three double-digit lines this week. Of them, I think Arizona is the most intriguing. Painful as it is to say for this Trojan writing this column, dear reader, Josh Rosen represents a curious unknown that could buoy this flagging Cardinals team, and I’m not convinced Minnesota is yet ready to completely put away teams. It’s a long shot, but I’ll take the numbers on the line here.
The thing with double-digit lines is that they generally work better on Saturday. You’ll often know who will win there, and it’s a guessing game to just handicap how close the final bloodbath looked. This the NFL, and since we’re not talking about the Raiders or the 2017 Browns then every team has a shot to win, let alone cover.
New England vs. Kansas City UNDER 59.5
Before I started writing these columns I hated thinking about the under. It represents a finality you wish for a game, a predetermined end you’re hoping for so that the undiscovered country of the over is not reached. In opposition, taking the over is rooting for infinity, limitless potential, hope. Whatever. I really wanted to take a spread in this game, but fear and paranoia stays my hand. Yet what the books have deemed to be a potential shootout, I see it more liable to go the opposite way.
Miami +3.5 vs. Chicago
An ungodly number of teams are home dogs this week. It’s distressing. I think both of these teams are utter frauds, but the hook-side of a field goal is one of my favorite places to be. If Miami decides it wants to wise up and give the ball to Kenyan Drake that would be excellent too, particularly for my fantasy team.
Baltimore -2.5 @ Tennessee
The seventh pick is always where I tend to give up on explaining. Just roll with it.
All the rest
Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta UNDER 57.5
Green Bay vs. San Francisco OVER 46.5
Houston vs. Buffalo OVER 41
Carolina +1 @ Washington
Los Angeles +1 @ Cleveland
New York -2.5 vs Indianapolis
Jacksonville -3 @ Dallas