Sunday, September 13, 2015

From Goodelland to Trumpistan

Fittingly, the NFL season kicked off on Thursday night in Foxborough, home of the New England Patriots. Not so much because it featured the defending Super Bowl champions but because a national audience watched Tom Brady celebrate his victory over NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as he first fist-pumped triumphantly onto the stage and then masterfully led his team to victory in front of fans celebrating his courtroom win every bit as much as his on-field exploits, waving signs demanding Goodell's dismissal and chanting "Where is Roger?".

Watching the scene an ocean and most of a continent away here in Poland it was hard to tell whether it was the sleep deprivation or the driving rain that made the whole scene seem so surreal. For the past decade plus, football has been my firmest link to the comings and goings back home in North America, but it seems as though even this tether is becoming frayed as the events that played out in a courtroom in a case that involved under-inflated balls were more important in determining the outcome of Thursday night's game than anything else. Even more amazingly, Deflategate has managed to distract a nation's interest from more serious issues that should make an NFL fan uncomfortable. Take your pick: CTE, violence against women and children, PEDs, wasting public money on private stadiums, being paid to promote war, or pretending to raise money for breast cancer by wearing pink gloves and shoes.

Adding to the hypnagogic effect was the fact the results on the field have become less important than those flashing across computer, tablet and phone screens around the world. Once a nerdy pastime for statistical fanatics, over the past decade fantasy football has transmogrified from a man cave event into a watercooler conversation, a sitcom, an obsession, and finally into a money-making bonanza. Every commercial break featured at least one ad luring the gullible into believing they can beat the system and win millions. Money for nothing but picking players, except it's not nothing, it's just gambling, and the house always wins.

The disconnect between perception and reality has never been so stark. I know it's time and distance blurring the edges, but could it really be that America might elect Donald Trump president? My time over here saw George Bush Junior named president by the Supreme Court while I was sampling tapas in Madrid, somehow re-elected during my palinka period in Hungary, while Barack Obama entered the White House and has remained there the whole time I've been living in Poland. Dopey was replaced by Hopey-Changey so why not Fuckface von Clownstick next? Much as Goodell has taken a league that seemingly couldn't be destroyed but is doing just that, America has given a country that was so far ahead of the rest to a bunch of charlatans intent on running it into the ditch.

Twin towers were toppled leading to a perpetual war on terror to fight ever mutating enemies being created to justify locking up and torturing potential terrorists abroad and trampling civil liberties at home. To aid the cause Americans were told to go shopping which seemed to work until their credit cards were rejected at Wal-Mart leading to a financial crisis caused by the yawning gap in wealth. Crackberries have risen and fallen making way for iPhones and Androids used to snap selfies to fill the gaps in everyone's TwitoogleBook feeds between news about Kardashians, Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat and Kimye.

The response to each disaster is inevitably to make it worse by throwing gas on the fire. Now, you could spend all day walking the streets of Poznan asking people if they've heard of Roger Goodell and never get an affirmative answer yet you'll inevitably come across some joker wearing a Raiders jacket or Patriots cap as American culture still seeps abroad. The name Donald Trump will illicit equally blank stares but you'll pass a half a dozen pawn shops which are multiplying thanks to the brand of crony capitalism that the Trumps of the world have created.

So, even though it's getting steadily easier to predict the winners and losers of an economic system rigged in favor of the rich, when it comes to predicting an NFL season winners, football is the ultimate crapshoot, a 16 game schedule to determine the best of 32 teams never has a chance of being true. In any case, let's give it a shot.

NFC East: Cowboys - Eagles - Giants - Washington football team

Dallas manages to cobble together a backfield just capable enough to run through the mammoth holes created by their offensive line. Dez leads the team in TDs but little Cole Beasley leads the team in receptions and the defense once again somehow manages to avoid being the worst in the league. Chip's Eagles set an NFL record for plays run, the three-headed backfield of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles combine for 2,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving but Sam Bradford can't stay healthy and the defense dies of exhaustion. Odell Beckham Jr. isn't able to carry the G-men past 7-9 while the league is forced to take over the Washington football team after the circus comes to town and switches places with the front office. Goodell unilaterally renames them the Griffins and names RGIII the starting quarterback for the rest of the year despite only having masking tape holding his knee together.

NFC North: Packers - Vikings - Lions - Bears (Oh my!)

Aaron Rogers is like, whatever, Jordy Nelson is out, RELAX, but Green Bay still comes back a bit to the, er, pack as they can't go 5-0 in one score games again. The resurgent Vikings have Adrian Peterson back to take some of the pressure off second year QB Teddy Bridgewater who becomes a top 12 signal caller thanks to targets such as Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace. The Lions make a late season surge thanks to the lethal WR Golden Megatron combo and the rookie Abdullah taking over as bell-cow back but the defense minus Suh isn't as dominate. Meanwhile the Bears are forced to bench Cutler midseason after a 1-7 start and go with Jimmy Clausen. Ugh!

NFC South: Panthers - Saints - Falcons - Bucs

The once mighty south has turned into a quagmire, each team has a glaring weakness that should preclude them from taking the division, yet someone has to so I'm making it the Panthers, last year's champs, by default. The defense carries the team who manage to put up 9 ugly wins despite Cam Newton failing to throw a TD to a wide receiver all year a la 2014 Alex Smith. Drew Brees throws for over 5,000 yards again but it's because the defense has too many new parts and question marks to effectively stop anyone, even the Panthers, forcing him to throw, throw, throw. Ditto for the Falcons as Julio Jones puts up an insane 2,000 yard year but new head coach Dan Quinn doesn't have the defensive talent to do what he was able to in Seattle. Despite across the board improvement and a shiny new #1 pick QB named Jameis Winston, I won't be suckered into picking the Bucs any higher than last again this year.

NFC West: Seahawks - Rams - Cardinals - 49ers

The headache the Seahawks wake up with from their Super Bowl hangover won't be bad enough to stop them from taking the west as Russell Wilson picked up a few new toys in the form of Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, and the defense, even minus holdout Kam Chancellor will still be good enough. Both the Rams and Cardinals will have improved quarterback play, remember St. Louis ran out Shaun Hill and Austin Davis for half a season each while Arizona was forced into starting the likes of Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley for more than half a season and the playoffs, but there's no guarantee Nick Foles or Carson Palmer remain any healthier this season, and no, Nick Foles isn't great as it is. However, the Rams defense carries them to a .500 record while the Cardinals finally lose a few close games. Meanwhile in San Fran, er, Santa Clara, the 49ers languish in the basement for the first of a few seasons.

Wild Card Weekend - Vikings beat the Panthers, Packers beat the Eagles

Divisional Round - Seahawks over Vikings, Cowboys over Packers

Conference Championship - Cowboys beat the Seahawks

That's right, we're talking about a deluded fantasy world so I'm taking the Cowboys. Off the field, the league will be engaged in a public relations battle for its life as the movie 'Concussion' will have been released Christmas Day across the nation. Those willing to listen will once again learn how those in power suppress the truth and keep the masses ignorant. In this case though, star power in the form of Will Smith will tell the story of how the NFL used the playbook of the powerful to delegitimize the research of a Nigerian-born scientist who discovered how deadly multiple blows to the head can be as they lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In our mixed up dystopian world whistleblowers and those who tell the truth are usually the ones who wind up demonized and destroyed instead of the truly wicked that they attempt to expose.

The off week between the conference championship and the Super Bowl in 2016 will feature the Iowa Caucus where we'll get the first real returns on who'll be running for president later in the year. Thanks to his lavish spending, Trump's campaign fund holding company will be forced to declare bankruptcy, making it the fifth such time a Trump company has done so. Thanks to the whole disconnect with reality thing, Greece will be forced to auction off its antiquity to avoid such a move but Trump's declaration will catapult him into the lead for the Republican nomination as he is able to cast himself as a victim of the system to the undecided voters. Because somehow it's a shrewd, calculated business move for a billionaire to screw his creditors but it's a moral hazard to free an entire nation from the thumbscrews of banksters.

Adding to the confusion for any non-American observer of the US presidential primaries will be the mass of people constantly surrounding a dowdy looking woman who isn't even running for office but whose name is constantly evoked by candidates looking to woo the religious fundamentalist vote, Kim Davis. Another name that no European recognizes, her face has been flashed on screens across America for months, often accompanied by 'Eye of the Tiger' as she's portrayed as a fighter for refusing to do the job she was elected to do because of her religious beliefs. Her supporters of course look upon Muslim immigrants with fear believing that they will bring and somehow impose Sharia law on the nation while championing a woman who refuses to follow a secular law because of what a 2,000 year old book supposedly tells her to believe. Yes, in their world religious beliefs should take precedence over national laws so long as it is their space fairy's beliefs that we are talking about.

Meanwhile, if the AFC...

AFC East: Patriots - Dolphins - Jets - Bills

Cheaters or not, Brady's Pats still rule the east, Gronk scores 15 TDs, no RB goes over 1,000 yards for the season but three different ones have 100-yard games while the defense bends but doesn't break. The Dolphins are improved again, QB Ryan Tannehill has targets galore and the defense should be stout enough to carry them to a wildcard bid. The New York football Jets won't score many points but they won't give up many either putting them on target for a .500 season. Look, the Bills defense almost can't be as good as last year, while the offense is reliant on an unknown quarterback to play better than Kyle Orton. While the rest of the league moves towards treating running backs as a replaceable part, the Bills gave away the store to pick up erstwhile injury prone LeSean McCoy after having done the same to pick up Sammy Watkins and EJ Manuel without doing anything to allow them to thrive.

AFC North: Ravens - Bengals - Steelers - Browns

Trestman was brought in to rev up a Raven offense that set a team record for points last year, but who will Joe throw to when Steve Smith Sr. is forced into a wheelchair by mid-season. So Forsett needs to have another amazing season to go with the usual stout Baltimore defense for the team to fulfill expectations. The Bengals have become the most boring slightly above average team in the league despite have superstars at wide out, AJ Green now locked up to long term contract, and in the backfield, 2nd year guy Jeremy Hill led the league in rushing over the final 9 games of the season. The defense looks great on paper too but Andy Dalton simply isn't an elite QB. The Steelers have become bizarro-world Pittsburgh with the most exciting offense in football led by perhaps the best RB and WR in the league, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown, but their defense is porous and one of the worst in the league. Shootouts galore. Sure, the Browns pass defense will be pretty good again but why would anyone need to get away from the run when the Cleveland offense can't put any points on the board. Johnny Manziel?

AFC South: Colts - Texans - Jaguars - Titans

The Colts want to win the Super Bowl. Now. They brought in golden oldies Frank Gore to lug the rock and Andre Johnson to catch it as well as drafting Phillip Dorsett to compete for targets. Luck's offense is loaded and keep in mind that in his first season, Indy reached the Wild-Card round; in his second, the Divisional Round; last year, his third season, the AFC Championship; following this pattern, Luck's a lock to reach the Super Bowl this year. The Texans may take a step back but smaller than the step forward the Jags take. Brian Hoyer leads an Adrian Foster-and-Andre Johnson-less team that will rely on a JJ Watt-led defense more than ever to win games. This season marks a high point in Jaguar optimism coming off a not-so-horrible rookie season from QB Blake Bortles. If rookie RB TJ Yeldon steps up along with emerging WR Allen Robinson and newly acquired TE Julius Thomas can get and remain healthy, their offense may be respectable next to a defense that seems set to be. Meanwhile, Tennessee should suffer the growing pains that accompany rookie QBs as Marcus Mariotta struggles to find his footing on a team bereft of superstars.

AFC West: Chiefs - Broncos - Chargers - Raiders

Seemingly the most interesting division in football sees the Chiefs overcome a fading Broncos team down the stretch in December. Alex Smith finally throws a touchdown to a wide receiver, most likely newcomer Jeremy Maclin, and Jamaal Charles stays healthy all year to lead the league in rushing. The Broncos offensive line isn't good enough to keep Peyton Manning healthy all year or CJ Anderson as the lead running back. Despite having a better defense than the Chiefs, the two teams swap identities from the end of last season and it is the Broncos who lose a few games they should have won. The Chargers may even pass Denver as they have upgraded the running game with shiny first round rookie Melvin Gordon and a healthy Danny Woodhead so long as the rest of the team can stay healthy; the Chargers trailed only the Giants in Adjusted Games Lost to injury last season. And the Raiders aren't the worst team in football, in fact, they may even be exciting to watch at times with ROY candidate Amari Cooper snagging passes from Derek Carr, Latavius Murray running wild and offensive and defensive lines that have been built big. But, they are still the Raiders.

Wild Card Weekend - Ravens beat the Broncos, Dolphins beat the Chiefs

Divisional Round - Colts over the Dolphins, Ravens over the Patriots

Conference Championship - Colts beat the Ravens

Super Bowl 50 - Dallas Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts

Yes, it's Super Bowl V repeating itself in Super Bowl 50. This time won't finish 16-13 either as points a plenty should be thrown on the board in Santa Clara, a seemingly apposite locale to celebrate the golden anniversary. See it's in Silicon Valley, and in fact just nine miles up the road from Apple's headquarters. Although Hollywood ran out of novel ways to distract the American public from the evil doings of her leaders, be they military, economic or judicial, the computer industry has more than filled the void. Thanks to our screen addictions, if Simon and Garfunkel were around today they wouldn't sing 'Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes', but instead 'Look around you all you see are apathetic eyes', er, well, if eyes can be apathetic I guess, but you get the point. We get the leaders we deserve and a people who can be fooled into believing bombing innocent people is a more effective peacekeeping tactic than signing peace treaties deserves to live in Trumpistan, cut off from the rest of the world by a 20-foot wall. If only it will do a better job of keeping the stupid in than keeping the immigrants out.