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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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Filed under media issues, outrage culture, sports

Second Chances, Learning From Past Mistakes, And The Return Of The XFL

America likes to claim that it’s the land of second chances. People, in general, are often willing to grant second chances to those who have made mistakes, failed, or were just the victim of bad luck. Some end up needing more than second chances, but we’re willing to give them to those who prove they have a vision.

We do it in our personal lives as well, giving second chances to those we love. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, the first step, and arguably the most important, is giving that chance to someone, even when you haven’t forgotten the extent of their mistake.

That brings me to the XFL. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way to effectively transition to this topic. I know the title alone sounded like a jumbled compilation of random thoughts from someone who talks about everything from sex robots to superhero movies. I promise I’m going somewhere with this. I also promise it’s both relevant and applicable.

To those who haven’t heard the big news, the XFL is back. A full 17 years after this eccentric, over-the-top league that inspired the likes of “He Hate Me” and glorified brutal hits is making a comeback. Vince McMahon, the colorful personality who turned wrestling into a billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut, is taking another shot at creating a new football league to compete with the towering Goliath that is the NFL.

As a self-professed football fan whose picks for this past season were dead wrong, I’m genuinely intrigued by this news. I won’t let myself get too excited about it just yet, given how badly the XFL failed the first time, but I am willing to give it my attention, as well as a second chance.

The story of the first incarnation of the XFL is an amazing story. The fact that it also involves exceedingly sexy cheerleaders doesn’t hurt it’s appeal either. Just last year, ESPN did a documentary on that story called “30 For 30: This Was The XFL.” If you want a comprehensive take on what happened to this over-the-top league, this I highly recommend you check this out.

By the end, you’ll appreciate why giving McMahon and the XFL a second chance is such a big deal. It may even give you a better appreciation of why second chances are so hard to give at times. In a sense, this second incarnation of the XFL may end up being a case study on the underlying merit of second chances or the lack thereof.

Whether it’s to a professional athlete, an ex-lover, or an employee, second chances are hard because our brains are wired to remember failures more vividly than successes. The whole notion of “once bitten, twice shy” has actual biology and evolutionary forces behind it. Failure in nature can sometimes mean failure to survive.

The last time the XFL failed, it cost both McMahon and NBC $35 million each. The greatly inflates the price of a second chance, to say the least. Why, in that context, should we still give it one?

Well, I can only speak for myself. I’m not a sports expert any more than I’m a brain surgeon. However, in the spirit of second chances and learning from past mistakes, there are a few I think are worth considering with both the XFL and life in general.


A Second Chance Can Prove You’ve Learned From Failure (And Are Able To Learn In General)

This is as valuable a skill in helping the new XFL succeed as it is for anyone who has ever screwed up in life, which covers pretty much everybody. This is probably the most important aspect of second chances. It gives an opportunity for someone to do more than just claim they’ve learned. Now, they can show it.

Say what you will about Vince McMahon and a lot has been said. He’s an entertainer and a businessman. He wants to make money and, if his net worth is any indication, he’s pretty damn good at it. You do not get that rich by never learning from your mistakes.

It’s hard to say for certain what McMahon will do differently at this point. However, if the content of his announcement is any indication, he’s very much aware of why the XFL failed the first time. He’s ready to take those hard, not to mention expensive, lessons and try again.

Given the breadth of McMahon’s success, he’s someone who can make more out of second chances than most. That’s why I’m going to give him this one, even if I find his persona annoying.


Second Chances Reveals Opportunities Otherwise Not Seen

It’s a common theme in business, romance, and everything in between. Both failure and success create opportunities. The failure of “Batman and Robin” paved the way for “Batman Begins.” The success of the iPhone paved the way for the booming smartphone business.

One failed relationship can also strengthen another. The many failures of other football leagues have only served to strengthen the dominance of the NFL. However, sometimes success can have pitfalls. The past few years have not been kind to the NFL, to say the least. Given the sheer size of this entertainment behemoth, it’s an easy target.

In that respect, the XFL’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s coming along at a time when fans are somewhat disillusioned with the NFL, but have little alternatives beyond the hopelessly corrupt NCAA. The XFL could finally give the NFL the kind of competition that is necessary for any product, service, or art to innovate.

Let’s face it. We humans are a competitive species. If someone is doing something better than us, be it football or underwater basket weaving, we want to match and exceed them. It drives us to be better. It helps make us better people.

Football needs that right now. The NFL needs that. The XFL has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. Combined with the lessons of their first failure, they have much more going for them now than they did in 2001.


Greater Risks Bring Greater Rewards (And Greater Lessons)

This is probably the most important aspect of second chances for both the XFL and for life, in general. Everything that’s worth doing, whether it’s creating a new football league or finding the love of your life, requires a certain degree of risk. Some aren’t willing to risk that much, but those who are have a chance to achieve much more.

I say this as someone who avoided taking major risks until much later in life. Looking back on how I carried myself in my youth, I regret not taking more risks. Hindsight has revealed that I missed out on some pretty big rewards, both material and personal. Sometimes, you really have to do what your brain says is insanely risky to get those kinds of rewards.

What Vince McMahon is doing qualifies as exceedingly risky. He’s putting up $100 million of his own money to make the second incarnation of the XFL happen. He’s also taking on an organization in the NFL with obscene levels of influence, both economically and culturally.

At the moment, most people probably think he’s crazy and bound to fail. Those people aren’t willing to take the risk, but none of them have a shot at the big reward that McMahon is seeking. Even if the chances of the XFL succeeding are less than one percent, it’s still greater than zero and that’s all the chance you need with a second chance.


A Second Chance Can Also Help Fix Broken Or Flawed Systems

This is the part of the new XFL that has me the most intrigued, as a football fan. That’s because, as it stands, the system for developing players for the NFL is basically a cartel wrapped in a monopoly. The NCAA is the cartel. The NFL is the monopoly. If you want to make a living playing football, these are the sole gatekeepers.

It’s a system with many flaws, which have been documented on more than one occasion. The problem is there’s no incentives to fix those flaws. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL have any pressure to do so. They wield total power over all things football and can be as unjust as they want.

The XFL can change that. They can shake up a system that does plenty to screw over college players and professionals if they fail to make it in the NFL. They can provide a new path, bring new ideas to the table, and take chances that a cartel and a monopoly don’t even think to take.

It wouldn’t be the first time a monopoly got broken up. In most peoples’ lives, they either avoid situations where someone has all the leverage or work to subvert it. We do that with the people we work with and the people we love. Again, it often requires that we take risks and chances. However, it only has to work once to affect change.


It’s still not clear just what the new XFL will bring to the table or if it will succeed. For now, it has many forces working against it. However, as both a football fan and someone who sees the merit of second chances, I’m willing to give it one.

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Filed under Current Events, Reasons and Excuses, sports

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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