On NFL Narratives and Trends Below the Surface


Derek Carr is a shining bright spot for the The Black Hole and Raiders fans everywhere. (Credit: Getty Images)

– Jim Bearor

Week 12 hit a lot of familiar notes.

On Thanksgiving, Detroit won the game in the fourth quarter, Dallas imposed their will on offense, and Scott Tolzien’s performance made us all appreciate the the player he was backing up just a little bit more. On Sunday, the Titans controlled the game against the Bears before almost losing it late (to the hands of Matt Barkley!), the Raiders pulled out another “gritty” victory, the Bills came awfully close to blowing a game at home to Blake Bortles, Matt Ryan is very good, Brock Osweiler is not so good.

This wasn’t the week for shattering identities or flipping scripts. I also don’t feel like “same shit, different week” quite applies. This was a week for character development, like a slow episode of that show you watch. Week 12 was like an everyday walk on the same route you always take, just this time a couple things stood out more than before, and you notice stuff you hadn’t before, and the walk ends up feeling more significant than you thought it would have been when you set out, even though nothing crazy happened.

New England won ugly against the Jets, and injuries were only part of their problem. Seattle’s offense no-showed again. The Giants offense struggled to control the game against the Browns, and yet again Jason Pierre-Paul and the defense had their back. These aren’t revelations. They’re trends, backed by statistics and box scores, and you only need eyeballs to recognize the ones worth keeping track of. Even the most casual  fans understand that Dallas has a dominant offensive line, and the Vikings have a bad one. Everybody knows that something ain’t right with 2016 Carson Palmer.

These types of traits are typically the conversation starters for each team, and more often than is ideal, it’s the whole conversation. For a bunch of different reasons, shit gets boiled down too much, to the point where the grey areas and intricacies of teams are overshadowed by one or two overarching themes or narratives that the general football media beats into the ground (myself included).

The less in-your-face traits of these teams are easily glossed over, and I think it makes sense that we don’t talk much about the Saints defense stepping up in recent weeks, or the fact that Philly has a sneaky-good ground game.We choose to fill our news feeds and highlight reels with big plays and superstars, because it fits better in the bite-sized packaging that we as a society are accustomed to, and if you’re going to oversimplify as much as possible, those are the parts of the NFL that fans want the most. I’m on board with all of that, but I feel like a football diet consisting of nothing but these made-from-concentrate tidbits leads to an inaccurate, caricature-like image in the mind of the viewer.

Watching sports like that is chill from an entertainment standpoint, but it’s bad for your football brain. You could end up thinking Aaron Rodgers is biggest problem with the Packers, and you might be confused when you see the name “R. Kelley” scroll by on the ticker. ESPN and the like are probably about to rehash the old “mediocre level of play” conversation because the Seahawks and Patriots both showed flaws. There will be a lot of Raiders hype and nothing but sunshine and rainbows for the Cowboys. Few will discuss subtle wrinkles they picked up on by closely watching a game this weekend, but coming away with a nugget like “Ryan Tannehill isn’t hesitant to step up into the pocket” can be valuable as hell to a true football fan.

Like a good slow-burn of a TV series, adding these layers of complexity makes it all the more special when things wrap up and those layers get peeled away. There aren’t loose ends in the NFL, and we’re going to get definitive answers about who was able to butter the bread at the end of 2016 and who wasn’t. You can choose to follow along with a surface-level understanding of the players and teams, or you can lean towards total immersion. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe you get out of it what you put in.

You’re not wrong if you think Derek Carr is playing at an elite level this year, but you get into trouble when you brush over all the other factors and point to him as the reason for Oakland’s success. I wouldn’t correct you, just like I wouldn’t correct you for referring to Ned Stark as Jon Snow’s father, but there’s a lot more at play than you’re probably aware of.

– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)jimbearor


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s