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Jack Fisher’s Predictions/Picks For The 2018 NFL Season

NFL Combine Football

It’s finally that time of year when we can definitively answer the question that Hank William Jr. loves asking so loudly.

Are you ready for some football?

Yes, Mr. Williams. Yes, I am. I know football has not exactly been a squeaky-clean enterprise lately. I’m well-aware of the long list of bad press it has generated over the past year and before it. I don’t doubt that there will be plenty of controversies to come, some more egregious than others.

For now, though, I want to set aside all the outrage, grand-standing, and whining for a moment and focus on real, actual football. Last year, I made a series of predictions and picks for how I thought the 2017 season would play out. I was dead wrong. I had the Panthers and the Steelers in the Super Bowl. One didn’t make the playoffs and the other got knocked out in the second round.

I’m not an expert, nor am I psychic. I freely admit that. However, I am a die-hard football fan who follows multiple teams, right down to which knee-ligament they injure. As such, I’m going to share my gut predictions for how the 2018 season will pan out, minus the inevitable controversies.

Like last year, I can only assume so much before the first game. Injuries, front office shake-ups, and player suspensions are likely to upend any predictions. For now, though, here are my picks for the division winners and the outcome of Super Bowl LIII.


AFC East

Once again, this is the easiest division to pick in football. It has been for nearly two decades now. It’s not just that the Patriots are that good with Bill Belichick as a coach and Tom Brady as a quarterback. Every other team in the division just keeps finding ways to fall behind.

The Buffalo Bills ended a 17-year playoff drought last year, only to ditch their starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. The Miami Dolphins thought they could win with Jay Cutler and the less said about the New York Jets’ struggles to replace Joe Namath, the better. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for these three teams to overachieve this year. I’m just saying they have a lot working against them.

As long as Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots should win their division with ease. The Dolphins are the only wild card, but that depends on Ryan Tannehill’s ability to recover from a torn ACL and an offense that traded away its best receiver to Cleveland. The Patriots dynasty will end at some point, as all dynasties do. It just won’t be this year.

Winner: New England Patriots


AFC North

This is another easy division to pick, but one that might not be as easy as usual. As of now, the Pittsburg Steelers are the most complete team. They have the best receiver in football in Antonio Brown. They have a two-time Super Bowl winner in Ben Roethlisberger. They have an all-pro running back in Le’Veon Bell. They have what it takes to win the division and make a run at the Super Bowl.

As good as the Steelers are, though, their age is showing. Roethlisberger has a lengthy injury history and Bell seems to be getting impatient with wanting a long-term deal. Every other team in the division is catching up to them, including the Cleveland Browns. However, until the Browns can prove they can win at least one game, they’re a long way from competing.

Both the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals have improved. The Ravens are getting Joe Flacco back healthy and they’ve gained a few offensive weapons. Unlike previous years, the Steelers will not run away with this division early. They’ll have to fight for it, going into December.

Even with the improvement of their rivals, though, I think it’s still the Steelers’ division to lose. Roethlisberger understands his window for another Super Bowl is closing. The team got blind-sided last year by the Jaguars and they’re going to make a hard push for one last run before their core starts to fracture.

Winner: Pittsburg Steelers


AFC South

Unlike the previous two divisions, this one might be the most competitive division in football. You could easily make a case for any one of these teams winning the division and not seem crazy. This division was one of the tightest in the league last year and it’s going to be even tighter this year.

In the end, though, I believe the Indianapolis Colts will come out on top. I know that assumes a lot about Andrew Luck’s health. He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2015 because of a shoulder injury. However, I believe that just means he’ll be well-rested and able to re-establish the Colts as a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

It won’t be easy. Both the Huston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars will fight them for the division. While I think the Texans will get a boost with the development of Deshaun Watson, I don’t think he’s ready to overtake Luck. It’s easy to forget that just a few years ago, Luck took a scrappy Colts team to the AFC championship. The team he has around him is much better and I think that’ll be the deciding factor.

Again, this could come down to the last week of the season. This division may end up producing two wild card teams. At the moment, though, I believe Luck’s return will be the deciding factor.

Winner: Indianapolis Colts


AFC West

This is a tough division to predict. It’s one of those divisions that doesn’t have a really dominant team, but it doesn’t have any really bad teams either. All four of them have talent on both sides of the ball. All four could get hot at just the right time and make the playoffs. For the moment, I think the Oakland Raiders have the best chance.

That’s not just because of the return of Jon Gruden as their coach. I believe they have a solid core with Derek Carr as their quarterback and Khalil Mack as their top defensive player. Yes, I know Mack is in the middle of a contract hold-out. I don’t believe that’s going to last too deep into the season. This team has too much going for it.

I know the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos have top-tier defenses, but I don’t think that will be enough to carry them through. Patrick Mahomes and Case Keenum just aren’t going to provide enough balance. I believe Philip Rivers could certainly carry the Los Angeles Chargers to the division if the team gets hot, but that whole team is in flux right now. I don’t see it having enough to overtake Oakland this year.

Winner: Oakland Raiders


NFC East

This is probably my most ambitious pick. I know the New York Giants finished dead last in the division last year, which led to the end of Eli Manning’s consecutive start streak and the end of Ben McAdoo’s tenure as coach. However, this division is almost always in flux and I think the time has come for the Giants to reclaim it.

The Philadelphia Eagles may be the defending Super Bowl champs, but I also see them taking a step back. I’ve seen a pretty sloppy team throughout preseason. Carson Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and Nick Foles has not shown that he can carry over his astonishing playoff performance that led the team to their first Super Bowl. The team will still be good, but it won’t repeat.

The NFC East, historically, has not let teams repeat. It’s just too competitive and the teams around the Eagles are too hungry to let them do it again. The Washington Redskins keep stocking up on defensive talent and the Dallas Cowboys, despite losing Dez Bryant, still have playmakers on both sides of the ball.

What will carry the Giants beyond them, though, is their investment in Saquon Barkley, their fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. He is, by far, the best running back the Giants have had since Tiki Barber. He will provide the Giants offense with the kind of balanced attack that helped propel it to two Super Bowl victories.

I believe the Giants of 2018 will use the same script as the Cowboys of 2016, following a rookie running back into the playoffs. While I don’t think they’ll go all the way, I believe they have the tools they need to overcome their rivals, at least for this year.

Winner: New York Giants


NFC South

This is another division that always seems to be in flux. Every year seems to birth a dominant team. It was the Carolina Panthers in 2015. It was the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. It was the New Orleans Saints in 2017, thanks to two rookie running backs that carried their offense. This year, though, I believe the Falcons will once again rise to the top.

Beyond the fat new contract they just gave Matt Ryan, I believe the Falcons have a good blend of defensive talent to go along with offensive weapons that include the likes of Julio Jones. Last year, they kept things close and managed to make it into the playoffs as a wild card team. They just didn’t make enough plays when it mattered.

I believe they’ll fight a little harder this year after seeing the Eagles upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I also believe that the Saints, Panthers, and Buccaneers did not do enough to improve in the offseason. I can see one of those teams making it as a wild card team, but I think the Falcons will eventually pull away with the division.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


NFC West

This might be an unpopular pick, especially after the Los Angeles Rams surprised everybody last year with their record. Plus, most saw how hot the San Francisco 49ers got at the end of last year and think Jimmy Garoppolo is the second coming of Joe Montana. I believe both those teams can make a case for winning the division this year, but I’m still going with the team that has a Super Bowl ring in this decade.

The Seahawks really faltered last year and they’ve steadily lost the core that won the Super Bowl in 2013. However, they still have Russell Wilson, who had to single-handedly win games last year. They also have the most stable coaching staff with Pete Carroll and a fresh crop of defensive talent to build on.

They’re not going to be as dominant as they were in previous years, but I think they have what it takes to reign in the Rams and 49ers. Both of those teams are on the rise, but they still have a way to go before they can be true contenders. It’s hard to say whether the Arizona Cardinals will be in the mix with journeyman Sam Bradford as their quarterback. In a division like this, though, stability counts for something.

At the moment, the Seahawks are the most stable, consistent team in the division. They’re losing ground to the 49ers and Rams, but so long as they can avoid the flood of injuries they had last year, I think they’ll still come out on top.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks


NFC North

This could very well be the most exciting division in all of football. This division, alone, will help make the 2018 NFL season worth watching. Each team has a capable quarterback. Each team has playmakers on both sides of the ball. Each team is hungry for a Super Bowl. This is one of those divisions that will make for the most drama that doesn’t involve Colin Kaepernick.

The Chicago Bears surprised me last year with how well Mitch Trubisky played. The Detroit Lions surprised me by how competitive they were in so many games. Even the Green Bay Packers surprised me with how well they played in the absence of Aaron Rogers. None, however, were as surprising as the Minnesota Vikings and not just because of that last-second miracle play against the Saints in the NFC Divisional round.

The Vikings accomplished that feat with Case Keenum, who is now in Denver. Since then, they landed the biggest offseason prize in recent memory with Kirk Cousins. Seeing the numbers he put up with the Redskins behind mediocre talent at best and the Vikings are officially poised for a Super Bowl run.

I can still see either the Packers or the Lions overtaking them. I can even see the Bears over-achieving at some point. However, in terms of talent and depth, the Vikings are the most complete team. I believe they’ll eventually win the division. It’ll come down to the final week of the season, but their depth and talent levels are just too great at this point.

Winner: Minnesota Vikings


Super Bowl LIII Predictions

I’m not going to speculate on how the playoff seating or wild card teams will shape up. Those kinds of specifics are just pit stops on the way to the Super Bowl, which is the goal for all 32 teams last I checked. When all is said and done, there can be only two teams on Super Bowl Sunday and I believe those teams will be the Steelers and the Vikings.

I believe the Steelers are poised for a run. That devastating loss against the Jaguars last year hurt, but that’ll only motivate them even more this year. They were just a few plays short in 2017 and I believe they’ll make those plays in 2018. I also believe the Vikings will make enough to finally get to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976.

Both teams have a solid balance of offense and defense. Both teams have quality quarterbacks with a solid group of playmakers. I think the Vikings are better defensively while the Steelers are better offensively. On paper, both teams are as evenly matched as you can get.

In the end, I predict that the Steelers will inch out am overdue Super Bowl victory. They have too much experience with Roethlisberger and too much talent with Antonio Brown. I believe that’ll be just enough to carry them past the Vikings in a close, but decisive game.

Super Bowl LIII Final Score: Pittsburg Steelers 28, Minnesota Vikings 27


There you have it! Those are my predictions for the 2018 NFL seasons. They’re probably dead wrong, but that’s what makes football so much fun. You can be wrong and still enjoy the game.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, sports

Defending The NFL In A No-Win Situations

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Are you excited for the start of the 2018 NFL season? Actually, let me add a caveat to that question. Are you excited for the 2018 NFL season despite all the recent controversy? That’s probably the more relevant question these days, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Let’s face it. These days, nobody seems to be talking about whether Tom Brady’s age will finally catch up with him or whether the Cleveland Browns will actually win a game after their historically bad season last year. Instead, anytime football or the NFL is mentioned, it’s usually in the context of a major controversy or social outrage.

First, it was the NFL’s weak stance on domestic violence after the Ray Rice situation.

Then, it was the NFL’s policy on the nation anthem in wake of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest and the subsequent clash with the President that followed.

Then, it was the NFL’s declining ratings and the various reasons why.

Then, it was the NFL’s handling of multiple scandals involving the treatment of its cheerleaders.

Then, it was the NFL’s implementation of rule changes that many are saying will destroy the game.

In the midst of all of these controversies/scandals, the NFL is also dealing with an emerging health crisis involving player safety. Concerns about concussions and serious injuries, like the one Ryan Shazier suffered, are doing more than just making football look dangerous. It’s creating a cultural divide, of sorts, where people are distancing themselves from the sport and the violence it requires to play.

In this web of convoluted circumstances, the NFL rarely comes off as looking good. In fact, some are going so far as to put the NFL on the same level as the tobacco companies as an organization that willingly sells a dangerous product. At that point, the NFL comes off as less a professional sports league and more an evil corporation.

Now, here’s the part where I’m sure I’ll upset plenty of people, but that’s kind of the underlying point here. That’s because I’m about to defend the NFL. I’m also going to defend NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, to some extent. I know that’s akin to saying nice things about Monsanto these days, but I’m willing to take that chance.

I do this as someone who loves football and is genuinely excited about the upcoming NFL season. At the same time, I’m not blind to all the controversies and outrage the NFL has generated over the past few years. However, I feel it’s necessary to put things into a proper context.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the NFL, Roger Goodell, and everyone involved in the infrastructure of football are in the ultimate no-win situation. Take a moment to think about the decisions they’ve had to make over the past few years.

If they chose to discipline Colin Kaepernick for his anthem protest, they would’ve upset a huge contingent of people who supported his message. By doing what they did, they still upset a huge contingent of fans who did not agree with him.

If they chose not to implement the recent rule changes, then they would be criticized for undermining player safety. By doing what they did, they’ve been accused of undermining the game.

When it comes to ratings decline, any side can take credit and cast all the blame on the NFL and Roger Goodell. Those on the conservative side will take credit for lower ratings over the anthem protests. Those on the liberal side will take credit because of concerns about concussions and violence. Never mind the fact that the ratings decline coincided with an overall trend in TV viewing. It’s still all the NFL and Roger Goodell’s fault.

Even when they come out and apologize for a mistake, nobody even accepts it. After the debacle surrounding the Ray Rice incident, Roger Goodell came out and issued an apology. These are his exact words:

“At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Break that down and imagine anyone else saying it. How rare is it these days to hear any public figure admit they got something wrong? It still didn’t matter, though. People just didn’t buy it, claiming Goodell was just saying what he needed to say to stop the outrage.

That may have been true to some degree, since he is the face of a very popular, very profitable organization. However, by assuming that he and the NFL are completely insincere, it creates a no-win situation. For any person or company, especially one built on the win/lose nature of sports, that’s an impossible standard.

Honestly, and I’m being sincere about this, what could the NFL possibly do to placate everyone at this point? They’re not a government, an army, or your best friend. They’re a professional sports league. Yes, they’re the most popular and profitable sports league in the United States, but they’re still limited to what they are.

Is it really reasonable to expect the NFL to be on the front lines of serious issues like domestic violence, police brutality, and what constitutes patriotism? Again, they’re a professional sports league. They can only control the rules, regulations, and business of their sport.

In that sense, it’s reasonable to expect them to make the game safer. That’s exactly what the new rule that so many says will destroy football is intended to do. Considering that college football already has that rule, it’s not like these changes to the game are unprecedented.

This isn’t even the first time significant rule changes have been bemoaned in the NFL. There was a time when a simple rule change involving how defensive players could operate was going to ruin the game and destroy the league. That time was in 1978 and football only went onto become more popular after that.

Even if injuries are a reasonable concern, do those caused by football warrant more scrutiny than other sports? Statistically speaking, skiing is much more dangerous in terms of actually killing people. In terms of injury and head trauma, boxing has a much higher risk. Why aren’t there any ongoing efforts to condemn those sports for their violence and physical harm?

Some of that has to do with the NFL being so big. Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, once said “Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.” He’s half right in that the size and influence of an organization can make it an easy target. The NFL is just so visible compared to other leagues. Anything that happens to it is bound to gain attention, both the good and bad kind.

The problem is the bad tends to be a lot louder in the era of social media and outrage culture. That further raises the impossible standards even higher because it means those dissatisfied with the NFL’s decision, no matter how much a minority they are, will still make plenty of noise and generate plenty of headlines.

Is that a fair standard for a professional sports league? Is that a fair standard for anyone? If the NFL can’t meet those standards, then what incentive do they have to even try? Why should they be responsible for player safety or social issues if people are just going to be upset with them regardless of what they do?

At the end of the day, the NFL is a business. They still want to make money entertaining people with their sport. They have plenty of incentive to protect their players. New advances in helmets and pads will make the game safer. Advances in medicine are already mitigating the effects of concussions. It’s not going to happen all at once, but if anyone has the resources and clout to make it happen, it’s the NFL.

Now, none of this is to imply that the NFL or Roger Goodell don’t deserve criticism. They certainly do. Up until 2015, the NFL was a tax-exempt organization. It’s history of overcharging fans and screwing over injured players is well-documented. They have their flaws. All people and organizations do.

That’s all the more reason to hold the NFL to a reasonable standard with reasonable expectations. They’re still going to screw up every now and then, but that’s also why we should make an effort to accept their apologies. That’s also why we shouldn’t panic every time there’s a rule change.

The NFL, like all sports leagues, is evolving. The latest rule changes aren’t going to destroy the game. Football is still going to be popular because it’s an entertaining game. People are going to gravitate towards fun and entertaining things, despite or even because of their concerns.

At the end of the day, football is a sport and the NFL is a professional sports league. They want to entertain us. We want to be entertained. Why complicate that with impossible standards and no-win situations?

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Quality Life Lessons From The Cleveland Browns And Their Fans

NFL: SEP 18 Ravens at Browns

Even though I often say that the world is getting better by most measures, I don’t deny that it’s not improving for a sizable part of the global population. There are parts of the world still racked with disease, poverty, and despair of all kind. The unfortunate people in these parts deserve our respect, sympathy, and support.

However, there’s one particular part of that suffering population I want to focus on. While 2017 might have been bad for quite a few people, there’s one group of people whose anguish is unique in terms of its breadth and context. That group is the Cleveland Browns and their long-suffering fans.

Being a football fan, who often finds himself defending the unflattering situations in which the NFL often finds itself, I follow most major news stories surrounding the NFL throughout the season. Few stories have been as disheartening as those involving the Cleveland Browns, who became only the second team to lose all 16 games in 2017.

In terms of a major sports team in a major American city with a rich sports history, you literally cannot get worse than the 2017 Cleveland Browns. Between their long-standing issues at quarterback, a terrible track record in the NFL Draft, and a high turnover of coaches in the past several years, the Cleveland Browns have set a solemn standard for ineptitude.

It doesn’t matter how disappointed you were with your favorite team this year. It doesn’t matter how upset you were when they got eliminated from the playoffs, lost to a hated rival, or made a bone-headed play that made you ashamed to be affiliated with them. Cleveland Browns fans had it worse. There’s just no way around it.

However you feel about the city of Cleveland, their sports teams, or LeBron James, you can’t help but feel bad for the fans of the Browns. They are a very passionate bunch, one whose history includes big names like Paul Brown, Jim Brown, and Bernie Kosar. Given the heartbreak they’ve endured over the years, this latest news is just salt in the wound.

I’m sure there are plenty of Browns fans out there who could talk for hours about how rough it is, being a Browns fan. Up until 2016, being a Cubs fans was the only fair comparison. Now, the Browns are very much alone in their solemn state. It’s a modern tragedy that seems downright masochistic to some.

That’s exactly why the decision by some fans to hold a parade to celebrate their ineptitude is so remarkable. It wasn’t a prank or an elaborate joke, either. This parade really did happen and it managed to draw over 2,000 people.

To some, it seems funny that a team that had such a historically bad season is worth celebrating. To others, it may seem like an elaborate form of therapy, holding a parade instead of just wallowing in the misery of being such a historically bad team. Personally, I see it as an important life lesson, of sorts, that we would all be wise to heed.

Losing in any capacity is hard, whether it’s a major sports team or just losing your keys. There’s actual psychology behind it that is wired into us, even as children. Losing, especially dealing with it, can be downright painful for some people. It’s like suffering a nasty wound and having that wound fester.

That’s why coping skills are so important. Most of us who aren’t billionaires or Tom Brady are going to endure our share of losing in life. Our ability to cope and learn from those losses help shape the kind of person we are. There’s a right way to cope and many wrong ways. Too many wrong ways risks breaking someone mentally or just making them an asshole.

When it comes to the coping skills of Cleveland Browns fans, throwing a parade and celebrating the absurdity of their team’s ineptitude is actually pretty damn healthy. Unlike the fans who riot when their team loses a championship game, this parade caused no real property damage.

It didn’t involve people angrily lashing out, which has been proven to be bad for you. It didn’t involve angry protests, which can be hit or miss in terms of effectiveness. It was a parade, one in which Browns fans overtly acknowledged their team’s failures and essentially accepted it. From a psychological and societal standpoint, that’s pretty damn healthy.

There’s even some real philosophy behind this concept, one that goes beyond sports and their fans. It’s called absurdism, the idea that in order to cope with the struggle to find meaning in a seemingly-meaningless world, we must embrace the absurd condition of life in general. We should even celebrate it.

Some philosophers cite the story of the myth of Sisyphus, the man doomed to endlessly push a boulder up a cliff for all eternity, only to fail every time. However, through the lens of absurdism, Sisyphus is actually the happiest guy in the world because he ascribes meaning to his meaningless act. He doesn’t see what he does as futile. He sees it as purpose and he celebrates it, as such.

The situation for the Cleveland Browns may not be as hopeless as Sisyphus, as many bad teams have gone from worst to first before, but the fact that fans are celebrating the struggle reflects strange comfort our minds find in absurdism. We know the situation is bad and it literally can’t get much worse, but we accept and embrace it. As such, it doesn’t’ destroy us. It actually makes our collective psyche stronger.

 

This is even more useful in sports because, even after such a historically bad season, things are pretty much guaranteed to get better for the Cleveland Browns. They literally cannot get worse. They enter the 2018 season with a new general manager, abundant cap space, and multiple high draft picks. They will get better. The history of bad NFL teams makes that a given.

Until that improvement comes, though, holding a parade to celebrate the rock bottom of such a proud franchise is both fitting and healthy. It’s an act from which we can all derive lessons. Sure, we all have bad days and some of them are worse than most. However, things do tend to improve when we know how to cope.

For the Cleveland Browns, such good coping skills will make future victories and championships feel that much sweeter. It may take a while. It may take a long while. As Red Sox fans and Cubs fans can attest, though, it’s worth the wait.

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Jack Fisher’s Picks For The 2017 NFL Season

It’s almost here! It’s been seven long months for football fans. Sure, I’ve found ways to pass the time, talking about annoying millennials, surviving fascist governments, and all things Wonder Woman. In all that time, I often checked my calendar, counting down the days until the NFL season started again. Finally, I can stop counting.

I’ve made my love of football clear before and now, that love has returned. My heart and my loins are in overdrive with anticipation. I’m sorry if that gives some of you a disturbing mental picture, but I stand by it. I’m just that excited.

I know football has made the news for all the wrong reasons recently. Some are saying football is in decline. I’ve countered that sentiment in my own sexy way. For now, that debate can take a back seat because the first kickoff of the season has arrived and I’m ready to build my Sundays around football again.

Whether you’re a fan of football or just hate Tom Brady’s smug, perfectly chiseled face, it’s a big moment for sports here in America. I’m ready to embrace it like party at the Playboy Mansion.

As such, I’d like to do something I’ve never done on this blog before. I would like to take the same energy I use to write about sexier topics like orgasms and sleeping naked, channel it in a new way, and break down the upcoming NFL season. At the moment, every team is undefeated. Every team has a chance to make this year their year. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns too.

Before the first play can be run, I’m going to look at each NFL division, make a few predictions, and offer my take as to who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I know people don’t always come here for sports talk, but I promise I’ll get back to talking about sexier topics. For now, here’s Jack Fisher’s official analysis for the 2017 NFL Season.


AFC East

This is probably the easiest division for anyone to break down. It has been for nearly two decades now. It’s basically Tom Brady vs. everyone else and Brady still has the advantage. Love him or hate him, he’s the best. Last year’s Super Bowl performance proved it. He has five Super Bowl rings, more than any other quarterback to ever play the game. That’s all you need to know about the AFC East.

That’s not to say the Patriots’ reign is safe. Tom Brady is 40 and the list of quarterbacks who dominate that age is exceedingly short. On top of that, he lost one of his best receivers, Julian Edelman, to a season-ending ACL injury. That came after one of their best defensive players, Rob Ninkovich, retired.

Even with these losses, though, the competition in their division is limited at best. Only the Miami Dolphins pose a meaningful threat and they now have to rely on Jay Cutler to get them back to the playoffs, despite his noticeable decline during his final years in Chicago.

While Miami has a balanced team, they’re still a work-in-progress while the Jets and the Bills are so lacking in talent that they would need to overachieve to a historic degree to threaten the Patriots. That is as unlikely as Ryan Leaf making a comeback, but stranger things have happened in the NFL.

Jack’s Pick: New England Patriots


AFC North

This is a division that has been in flux in recent years. After the Cincinnati Bengals won a few division titles, it looked like they were going to leapfrog over the Steelers and the Ravens, who have dominated the division for a decade. Then, the Bengals took a nose-dive last season, the Ravens got slammed by injuries, and the Browns were the worst team in football.

At the moment, the Steelers have the most firepower with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. That was enough to carry them to the AFC Championship game last year, but that run took a toll on Roethlisberger, whose lengthy injury history is starting to catch up with his toughness.

Their ability to make it back to the AFC Championship game depends primarily on how well the Ravens and Bengals rebound. Both teams added new talent in the off-season and the Steelers did not keep pace. I suspect it’ll be a much closer battle this time. However, the Steelers still have the edge.

Until I see signs that Roethlisberger can’t do it anymore, his team has the advantage. I wouldn’t be surprised if the division title came down to the last week of the season, but so long as their core players stay healthy, which is big if, the Steelers will come out ahead.

Jack’s Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers


AFC South

This division, more than any other division in the AFC, is up for grabs, albeit for all the wrong reasons. It’s a division that got too used to Peyton Manning dominating it for over a decade with the Colts. For a while, it seemed like Andrew Luck would continue that tradition. Then, he started taking too many hits. Now, he’s dealing with a shoulder injury that has kept him out of the Colts’ entire offseason program.

With each year that passes, Luck seems to get unluckier. Conversely, the Titans and Texans seem to get better. That continued this year with the Texans drafting Deshaun Watson, the hero of the NCAA Championship game earlier this year. The Titans also loaded up on defensive players to supplement their evolving offense, which has steadily grown under the hand of Marcus Mariota.

Last year, the Texans managed to win their division with a guy named Tom Savage at quarterback and with J. J. Watt, arguably the best defensive player in football, on injured reserve. Watt is back this year, but so is Mariota. These two teams will likely be in a dogfight until the end of the season, with the Colts and Jaguars struggling for relevancy.

In the end, though, even if the Texans decide to play Watson, I can’t see their defense bailing them out this time. The division is changing and I think until the Texans fix their quarterback situation, they won’t be able to ascend much higher.

Jack’s Pick: Tennessee Titans 


AFC West

This is another division in flux. It was dominated for several years by Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Then, Manning retired and the division became a free-for-all. One week, the Broncos were the best team. The next, it was the Raiders. Then, it was the Chiefs. You would never even expect that the Chargers still have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Phillip Rivers under center.

Last year, it seemed as though the Raiders were emerging as the dominate team in that division. Derek Carr led his team to the best record in the AFC for a while. Then, he got hurt and was out for the season. That injury effectively derailed the Raiders’ chances at overcoming the established power of the Steelers and Patriots.

Now, Carr is healthy, but it’s hard to say whether he’ll be the same player he was last year. At the same time, the Chiefs are a team on the rise. Andy Reid has what might be one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. His team isn’t flashy, but they get the job done. In a division without a dominate force like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, that’s all you need.

I know the Raiders are a popular pick to keep on rising. I know they have more talent at the skill position. However, I’m not yet convinced that they’ve taken the necessary steps to compete on a larger stage. I’ve also never been convinced that the Broncos can win another playoff game with Trevor Siemian as their quarterback.

Jack’s Pick: Kansas City Chief


NFC East

This is definitely my favorite division in all of football and not just because I live in between the passionate fan-bases of the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants. Every year, this division seems to attract some level of upheaval. Many times, it involves the Dallas Cowboys. If it were a soap opera, it would be the biggest show that didn’t feature dragons, incest, and a naked Emilia Clark.

Last year, the Dallas Cowboys dominated the division, effectively coasting their way to a division title. They’re favored, by many, to do it again. However, history is not on their side. No team has won back-to-back division titles in the NFC East in over a decade. On top of that, the Cowboys have a nasty tradition of regressing after a year of dominance.

It’s worth noting that the one team they couldn’t seem to beat, the New York Giants, is in their division. It’s also worth noting that the Giants made the playoffs last year under a first-year head coach and with Odell Beckham Jr. being a distraction, no less. Like it or not, Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings and the Cowboys have only two playoff wins in this millennium.

The Cowboys have a rough schedule ahead of them. The Eagles and Redskins are also teams that are growing, in terms of talent and experience. With so much drama in Dallas, along with the ongoing Ezekiel Elliott situation, it’s hard to see how they would manage a tougher schedule. They may still make the playoffs, but their lack of experience keeps me from giving them much confidence.

Jack’s Pick: New York Giants


NFC North

This is another division that has been dominated/plagued by one team and one all-time-great player. The Green Bay Packers are that team and Aaron Rogers is that player. Tom Brady may have more Super Bowl rings, but Rogers has more skill with a supporting cast that isn’t nearly as loaded as New England. He got into a major rut last season, but still managed to get hot and take the Packers deep into the playoffs.

Rogers and the Packers have been the bane of every other team in this division and that was before Adrian Peterson left Minnesota. At the moment, the only team that has even close to the amount of talent needed to threaten the Packers are the Detroit Lions. They have a solid quarterback in Mathew Stafford and solid skill players, but they’ve yet to show they can regularly compete against the Packers.

With the Bears rebuilding and the Vikings unable to go very far with Sam Bradford as their quarterback, there isn’t much of a threat to the Packers’ dominance this year. That said, Rogers’ propensity to get into ruts while his team struggles around him has become more common in recent years. If that keeps happening, then sooner or later, it’s going to catch up with them.

I’m not saying that’ll happen this year. I’m also not saying it’s impossible for a team like the Lions or the Vikings to shock the Packers and end their reign. At the moment, though, it’s unlikely.

Jack’s Pick: Green Bay Packers


NFC South

This division confounds me more than any other division. It’s not because it’s full of bad teams. It’s quite the opposite. Every team in this division has the potential to be a champion. I can easily see every one of these teams getting hot and making a deep playoff run.

The Saints have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees. The Panthers have an all-pro in Cam Newton. The Bucs have a rising star in Jameis Winston. It’s almost shocking to remember that the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl last year and were just a quarter away from winning it. This division may very well be the strongest division in football.

While the Falcons have proven they can make it to the Super Bowl, they lost their offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, in the offseason. They also lost key contributors on their defense while their rivals in Carolina and Tampa Bay improved. Given the Falcons’ history with struggling to sustain their success, I think there are many forces working against them.

Picking a winner here means picking a team that has just one more player who can make one more play than the other guys. I don’t think the Saints, with their aging roster, have that player. However, I do think the Panthers got that player this spring when they drafted Christian McCaffrey. While I still think the race will be close, I think Cam Newton being healthy and having a potent new offensive weapon will be the deciding factor.

Jack’s Pick: Carolina Panthers


NFC West

Every division has good players. Every division has at least one good team that can compete with the best. Every now and then, though, one particular division seems to decline for a wide variety of reasons. Since the Seahawks lost Super Bowl XLIX, the division has hit more than a few rocks.

The Seahawks are still the most complete team. Russell Wilson is still the best quarterback in that division by a wide margin, but the Seahawks have found ways to struggle over the past few years. Their defense has not been able to dominate like it did when it guided the team to back-to-back Super Bowls. It also no longer has dominating players at the skill positions like Marshawn Lynch.

At the same time, the rest of the division is trying to reorganize itself. The L.A. Rams have a new head coach in Sean McVay, who has a young quarterback in Jared Goff to develop. The San Francisco 49ers also have a new coach in Kyle Shanahan, who was part of the Falcon’s Super Bowl run. Both teams seemed to bottom out last year and are ready to ascend, just as the Seahawks’ dominance is waning.

Arizona might still be the biggest threat to the Seahawks, but Carson Palmer’s age and a lack of skill players outside of Larry Fitzgerald makes me skeptical that they can keep pace. Arizona is one of those teams that only ever seems to do well when they get hot. Unless that happens and other teams improve, the edge is still with Seattle.

Jack’s Pick: Seattle Seahawks


Super Bowl LII Pick

At the beginning of every NFL season, it’s next to impossible to pick who will end up in the Super Bowl. For every hot pick that lands, there are a hundred more that fail miserably. It’s part of what makes football great. It is possible for a seemingly unbeatable team to get beaten, as the 2007 Patriots found out. It’s also possible for a team to go from 4 and 12 to the Super Bowl, as the 1999 St. Louis Rams found out.

There’s a non-zero chance that both could happen this year. There’s also a chance that everything goes exactly as the experts predict. The fact that both chances are equally unlikely is what gives football so much excitement.

It’s with that little prelude that I predict the following Super Bowl LII results

Carolina Panthers Defeat The Pittsburgh Steelers By A Score Of 31-27

I know the Patriots are the popular pick and the Cowboys have a lot of momentum, but I think Cam Newton rebounds this year, having played most of last year hurt. I also think Christian McCaffrey is the X-factor that will push the Panthers past the competition.

The Steelers have a lot of firepower, especially in wake of the injuries and retirements suffered by the Patriots. However, Roethlisberger’s age and injury history is just too much to ignore. I think they can still make a run, but the Panthers have just a few more play-makers that’ll put them over the top.

That’s my pick. They may be dead wrong, but I look forward to finding out as the 2017 NFL season begins.

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What The NFL Draft Can Teach Us About Finding Romance

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It was an eventful weekend for NFL fans. The 2017 NFL Draft is complete. Many are still buzzing, hung over, or complaining about what they’re team did, what they didn’t do, and how closer or farther they are from winning the Super Bowl. Ask any fan outside of Cleveland and they’ll probably say they’ll be playing for a Super Bowl at the end of the year.

To those of you who don’t give a damn about the draft and don’t get the appeal, take a deep breath. It’s over now. You don’t have to hear about trades, mock drafts, or guys named Mike Mayock for at least another eight months. Trust me, those months will go by fast though.

As an ardent NFL fan, which I’ve made clear on this blog before, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the draft. It’s always been more style than substance for me. I see my favorite teams picking players and I know in the back of my head that few of these players are going to make a lick of difference. Getting worked up about it feels like energy that could be better used telling more sexy stories.

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That’s not to say it has no value. The NFL Draft is the raw ore from which the NFL’s players are forged. Whether they’re first round picks or undrafted, they become the iconic athletes that help make any sports league a success. Given the NFL’s $13 billion in revenue last year, it’s pretty damn clear that they’re doing something right.

In watching the NFL Draft, though, I found myself making some unusual connections between this bawdy spectacle and my own personal endeavors. Specifically, I saw a distinct parallel between the NFL Draft and it relates to our efforts at finding romance or telling kinky stories.

I know. That sounds like an odd collection of thoughts, especially from someone who talks a lot about sex robots on his blog. Bear with me. I promise there is some substance to these thoughts and it’s relevant to more than just aspiring erotica/romance writers.

The NFL Draft, at its core, is an elaborate job interview coupled with an investment opportunity. A finite number of teams looks at the vast pool of applicants and tries to determine which among them is worth development. That development costs time, money, and sometimes frustration. Any sport, be it football or jump rope, is going to involve wins and losses. It’s just part of the process.

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In that sense, there are some uncanny similarities with how we go about seeking romantic partners. It’s not like just hiring a prostitute or having a one night stand. That’s more akin to hiring a plumber for a service. Finding a romantic partner is like finding someone you’re willing to share a home, a bathroom, and bank account with. There’s a lot more at stake.

In seeking romantic partners, you can’t just look at someone and determine whether they’re worth the emotional investment. Even if someone has tits the size of basketballs or a dick the size of an elephant’s tusk, you need to know more about someone to determine whether you want more than a one night stand.

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NFL scouts, and the teams they work for, don’t get much value out of one night stands. They want to find players that will be part of their respective teams for the long haul, working hard for them and producing for them on the field. That’s why no scout will ever just look at a prospect on the service and decide on the spot whether they’re a fit for their team.

For those seeking meaningful romance, they need to be every bit as thorough as a competent NFL scout. They need to study a prospects measurables, immeasurables, and everything in between. It’s not enough to know whether someone is capable of loving you back, just like it’s not enough to know whether someone can physically play the game of football. You need to know that the chemistry is there.

It happens in the NFL all the time. Sometimes, a prospective player will have all the skills and intangibles to be a quality player. Unfortunately, they end up going to a team that doesn’t fit them. The chemistry isn’t there and they end up languishing, like someone caught in an unhealthy relationship.

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One well-documented example in the NFL was Steve Young, a Hall-of-Fame quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Young was an undeniably talented player, but had the misfortune of being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a time when they were among the worst teams in the league.

Then, after an overdue breakup, Young was traded the 49ers where he eventually took over after the team’s other Hall-of-Fame quarterback, Joe Montana, left for Kansas City. It turned out to be a great match. Young thrived in San Francisco, eventually culminating in a Super Bowl victory in 1994.

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Looking at Steve Young’s story, you can draw some similarities to someone who ended up with someone in a place where it just wasn’t going to work. It took some effort from both sides to come together and an investment of resources to make something productive out of it. Replace football with love, passion, and having to share a bathroom and you’ve got yourself a template for forging a meaningful romance.

It’s also highlights something that a lot of NFL fans mistakenly believe about the NFL Draft. They’ll say it’s entirely a crap shoot. Some very smart and sincere people might even agree with it. If you look at the numbers, it seems logical. Even for first round draft picks, nearly a third of them end up leaving the team. For any pick below the fifth round, the odds are even worse.

However, to say the NFL Draft is a crap shoot is like saying love is only an anomaly. The fact that the NFL is so successful and finding love is such a prominent part of our lives is a clear indicator that there’s more than just random chance at work.

I don’t deny that there is some element of luck involved with the NFL Draft. Who knew that a sixth round draft pick from Michigan would go onto win five Super Bowls or that a number one overall pick from LSU would be better known for loving “purple drank” than throwing touchdown passes? Like finding love, sometimes you do need a bit of luck to be in the right place at the right time.

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However, luck only goes so far. Players like Tom Brady and Joe Montana had legendary coaches like Bill Belichick and Bill Walsh teaching them. It goes both ways too. Those coaches are legendary because they could mold these players into the champions they eventually became. They need each other and together, they achieve their goals.

In meaningful love, it goes both ways. Whether you’re playing the role of a scout or a prospective player, you both need to make an investment. Those investments need to complement one another. They need to be part of a good situation with all the right emotions and all the right desires.

Like the NFL draft, there will be mistakes and poor decisions. There are romantic equivalents of draft busts who seem like potential super stars, but turn out to be toxic. I’ve already talked about Lawrence Phillips in a previous post. There are other big busts like Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, and Tim Couch.

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These busts are akin to our misguided passions that lead us into relationships that are doomed to fail. There are NFL scouts who thought they could fix the flaws with players like Lawrence Phillips. There are just as many people who think they can fix the flaws in a prospective lover. Most of the time, those efforts fail.

Finding love and finding pro-bowl football players is hard, but the fact it’s so hard is part of what makes it so meaningful. That’s because when we find love or a pro-bowl player, the investments we make pay off in a big way. A football team has a player that can help them win. A lover can find someone who fulfills them on an intimate, emotional level.

It takes a lot of work. It often requires quite a few heartbreaks and draft busts. It can hurt. It can be costly. It can seem like you’ll never win that championship. Like sports, though, the hardship that comes with finding love is part of what makes it so meaningful when you win.

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What Lawrence Phillips Taught Me About “Evil”

Every now and then, I come across a story, sometimes fictional and sometimes non-fictional, that resonates with me in an unexpected way. Sometimes it’s a movie. Sometimes it’s a comic book. Sometimes it’s even a video game with a powerful story that actually gets me choked up at the end.

I don’t deny it. I’m human. I may be a heterosexual man, but I do get emotional at times. Sure, I’m not one to cry when Bambi’s mother dies in a Disney movie. Everybody responds differently to certain things. It’s part of what makes us such a diverse species and it’s part of what frustrates every single marketing department that ever lived.

With that in mind, try not to bust my balls too much when I say a recent sports documentary really struck a nerve with me. That alone might not surprise too many people. Sports fans can be an emotional bunch. Just ask any Eagles fan since 1960.

However, this particular documentary involved a guy by the name of Lawrence Phillips. Okay, now try even harder not to bust my balls.

Who is Lawrence Phillips and why should we give a damn? Well, anyone who has followed the NFL or college football over the past 25 years has probably heard his name at least once. He’s not so much an athlete or a football player anymore. He’s become the ultimate cautionary tale. Get football fan talking about him and they’ll usually talk about him with the kind of disdain they usually reserve for bullshit pass interference calls.

To be fair, Phillips earned that disdain in multiple ways. He was an insanely gifted athlete who helped the University of Nebraska go undefeated for two consecutive seasons and win two BCS National Championships in the process. After that, he was drafted 6th overall by the St. Louis Rams in 1996. This is the ultimate dream for a football player and Phillips, despite all his talents, proceeded to piss it all away.

It didn’t happen all at once, but in many ways, that just made it worst. This was a guy who seemed to get arrested every other week and kept finding excuses to beat up women. By the end, he was less respected by the NFL than Scott Norwood is by Buffalo Bills fans. He is now regularly cited as one of the greatest NFL Draft Busts of all time.

Now as a noted NFL fan, I fully admit that I saw Lawrence Phillips in this light. When I follow the NFL and I see someone get into serious legal trouble, a part of me rolls my eyes and things, “At the rate he’s going, he’ll be another Lawrence Phillips.”

That’s what happens when someone becomes a cautionary tale. They become a symbol for the flaws we see in others. As a result, that person ceases to be a person. We don’t even see the person anymore. We just see what he or she represents. It’s harsh, but it’s how we process certain concepts about ourselves.

Then, when we get a chance to actually learn about that person, we find out that just calling them a “cautionary tale” is kind of a dick move because it ignores a much bigger, much more complex picture.

That’s where this documentary comes in. It’s called “Running for His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story.” Even if you’re not a football fan, I highly recommend this movie. It accomplishes something truly remarkable. It peels back the layers of the cautionary tale that is Lawrence Phillips and reveals the man.

This isn’t a documentary that tries to make excuses. It does not try to glorify Phillips or gloss over his egregious flaws. It just explores the whole of a complicated, volatile, yet gifted man.

It spends a lot of time exploring where he came form and this is important because where we come from has a huge impact on who we are. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but his mother moved him out to California. He was estranged from his father and did not have the best relationship with his biological mother. His home life, to put it mildly, was anything but stable.

The documentary tells stories about the abuse he suffered as a child. It even recounts a story where one of his mother’s boyfriends held him down an urinated on him. Sadly, it gets even more disturbing than that.

After running away from home, Phillips became a ward of the state and bounced around foster homes. Along the way, he lived in a few group homes with other kids. The way the documentary describes this place sounds like something that would make Charles Dickens himself cringe. These are places where things like love and innocence go to die.

Eventually, Phillips did end up in a foster home with a loving mother who tried to help him. However, the damage had been done. The boy had been scarred in ways that never truly healed. The documentary described these scars as demons that he struggled to deal with. A lot of people claim to have demons, but let’s not lie to ourselves. Some are more powerful than others.

Despite these demons, Phillips still had insane God-given talent. The documentary make sit a point to highlight just how talented this man was. By every measure, he had all the physical tools of a gifted athlete. He did try to use those tools as well. Football helped him escape the rough, abusive world he came from. He could’ve been a success story like John Randall or Randy Moss. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

The documentary eventually starts to reveal just how dark a turn this man’s life took after college. It described a man who was cold, unloved, and did not know how to show love to others. The women interviewed described a man who just could not control his emotions and when there was upheaval, violence was his first, second, and third reaction.

This fits perfectly with the mold of someone who has an abusive personality. When women’s centers list warning signs, Lawrence Phillips checks most every box. He came from a world of abuse. Naturally, that’s the kind of world he forges around him.

However, the women also took the time to emphasize how good he could be at times. That good cannot and should not be completely ignored. It’s still not an excuse, but it does make clear that this man had other aspects to his personality. He wasn’t just the scary ex-football player who abused women.

This, in my opinion, is the most important message of this documentary. It’s also the most important lesson we can glean from the story of Lawrence Phillips. I’ve talked a lot about evil on this blog. There are plenty of people who would rightly call Phillips evil for the crimes he committed, one of which may have been the murder of his cell mate in prison. However, he was still a human being.

No matter what anyone thinks about Lawrence Phillips, whether he’s a cautionary tale or a violent abuser, it doesn’t change the fact that he was a person. He was a child once. He had a life and he tried to live it. We like to think about evil people as nothing more than monsters. It’s easy to just think of them as wannabe Biff Tannen’s from “Back to the Future.” That still ignores the person and the full story of their lives.

At the end of the documentary, there’s a haunting message about Lawrence Phillips that I think many of us can relate to. It talks of a man who was so physically gifted that he could outrun anybody, but he could not outrun his demons. At one point, an old friend of his said he was always running from his demons, but in the end, the demons caught him.

Whether you’re an aspiring erotica/romance writer, a football fan, or just a decent human being trying to make sense of this crazy world, it’s a message that’s worth hearing. It’s a message we shouldn’t forget. There may very well be another Lawrence Phillips-type story in the future, but let’s not make light of that story. In the end, they’re still people. As soon as we forget that, we cease heeding the lessons of that story.

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