In the wake of Week 16, Marc Sessler dishes on what’s hot — and what’s not — in the NFL:
1) Jan. 22, 1984: I am 10. Holding a slice of pepperoni pizza.
My parents sit nearby on the living room couch. The television booms.
I’m huddled near our kerosene heater, one of those popular ’80s portable warming devices my dad later discarded due to warnings of toddlers catching fire and bungalows burning to the ground. Consumer Reports issued a warning that the heater’s exhaust fumes posed “a serious health hazard to high-risk groups, including pregnant women, asthmatics, people with cardiovascular disease, children and the elderly.”
A rash of states banned kerosene heaters, but we clung to ours through that winter. I remember its warmth that Sunday night while staying up late to watch an event called the “Super Bowl.” Until now, pro football was something my dad observed while I obsessed over Super Friends, CHiPs and Dukes of Hazard. That night, though, a new type of hero pulled me in: a man — no simple man — dressed in silver and black and burning through a bewildered cast of enemies on a faraway field. Marcus Allen was his name. Faster than the rest. Stronger, too. My fourth-grade mind wondered if, in person, Allen might be larger than Chewbacca. More noble than even Luke Skywalker. He seemed all those things during Super Bowl XVIII, offing Washington in the third quarter with his frozen-in-time 74-yard dash to paydirt.
The 10-year-old me had zero concept of pulling guards or A-gap heavies, but I could detect that Allen was something special, reversing course in his own backfield, jolting forward, launching into the fray — and into glory.
I thought of that ancient moment watching Alvin Kamara on Christmas. I wondered how many young people might have been huddled around (government-approved) fireplaces having their very first experience seeing a human turn into something beyond imagination.
Six rushing touchdowns in a single game. How do you explain the set-apart nature of this performance to certain American children who live in a world where everything is automatic? When real-life football appears more Madden-esque than Madden itself, with Kamara seemingly the puppet of video-game-playing Football Gods determined to show off?
Friday’s game feels like four weeks ago — almost lost in the white noise of subsequent touchdowns, tweets and fantasy clashes — but Kamara pulled off a feat that hadn’t gone down in NFL circles since 1929, when Ernie Nevers piled up six rushing scores for the Chicago Cardinals in a 40-6 romp over the Chicago Bears. Ninety-one years ago. Mere weeks into the Great Depression. About 10 years before The Wizard of Oz was released. Roughly 15 years before D-Day. Exactly 33,265 days before Kamara did the same.
From another angle, 54 years, 1 month and 25 days before Marcus Allen introduced this typist to pro football. I wonder how many young people thought nothing of the sport on Christmas morning but fell into its tractor beam by nightfall. All because of Kamara.
2) I struggled to believe in last year’s Packers. Their 13-win regular season was impressive, but a 37-8 stomping at the hands of San Francisco in November raised flags. That same Niners team would prove Green Bay’s kryptonite two months later. This time around, I’m sold. Sunday night’s blasting of the Titans showcased a Packers attack doubling as an unstoppable beast when MVP-deserving Aaron Rodgers mind-melds with the game’s finest receiver in Davante Adams. Adams is just the third player in NFL history with 100-plus catches and 16-plus receiving scores in a single season. He joins Randy Moss and Cris Carter in that lofty grouping — but he needed just 13 games to get there. With this version of Adams in January — paired with Aaron Jones and the emerging AJ Dillon on the ground — I don’t see an NFC team capable of topping Green Bay in the snow squalls and whipping winds of Lambeau Field.
3) Buccaneers fans will sneer at the copy above, suggesting the version of Tom Brady we saw in a slaughter of the Lions is enough to down any challenger. Tampa is a saucy, streaky team that switches between quarter-long naps and on-field crushings of opposing secondaries. When clicking, the Bucs are a handful to the ninth power. I also see a team that could deactivate at the wrong hour and tumble ingloriously to whoever “wins” the NFC East. I know one thing: I don’t trust this group to beat the Packers in the cold. Green Bay’s winter-time environment — assuming they seal up home-field advantage — is a tremendous future factor against New Orleans, too. Juiced-up throngs raising Cain likely won’t be allowed, but Mother Nature can swing her sword if she favors Aa-Rod and the boys.
4) Still, let’s not overlook the resilience of the Saints. The Super Bowl runs through New Orleans if they topple Carolina on Sunday, paired with a Green Bay loss to Chicago and a Seahawks win over the Niners. As noted by beat writer Nick Underhill, the Saints are in this position despite Drew Brees and star wideout Michael Thomas playing just 10 quarters together. While Coach of the Year chatter centers almost exclusively around Brian Flores in Miami — and, prior to Sunday, Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland — I don’t see an equal to Sean Payton. He’s the league’s top play-caller, a quality matched only by the never-say-die nature of the teams he leads. The banged-up Saints have waltzed to hell and back this autumn and remain in play for the NFC crown. If these are the final weeks of Brees, trust this squad to battle with the fervor of a mother protecting her child from a pack of frothing bugbears.
1) Ever been in one of those relationships where you spend most of your time pondering how to exit the situation? … I have.
A much younger version of this blogger once went on a vacation with my then-girlfriend and her parents to a section of forest in the American Southwest. A day into the trip, everyone was getting along fine as we embarked on a five-mile hike. Her parents were delightful, but she and I were two ships passing in the night. I could feel something pulling us apart. The signs were everywhere, but a much spunkier (and dangerously naïve) version of myself was determined to make it work. Anyway, our hike brought us to a natural pool of clear, sunlit water that tourists had turned into a wishing well. Hundreds of copper pennies glittered below the ripples. When it was my turn to make a secret wish, all that came to mind was: Dear God, please allow ——— and I to break up peacefully. And make it happen ASAP, please.
Boyfriend of the year.
Splits are no joy, but you can feel them coming. That’s one reason why Washington’s release of 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins unfolded Monday without much surprise to anyone keeping score. Coach Ron Rivera, arriving in town this offseason, didn’t draft the quarterback, and he tried everything under the sun to avoid a long-term union with Haskins, overtly opting for Kyle Allen, Alex Smith and, on Sunday, even Taylor Heinicke.
Haskins did himself no favors with sideline selfies, gentlemen’s club-type adventures and forgettable on-field play. “This afternoon I met with Dwayne and informed him that we would be releasing him,” Rivera said in a breakup note released to the press. “I told him that I believe it benefits both parties that we go our separate ways.”
One more penny put to good use.
2) I don’t like what happened to the Browns on Sunday, but it’s in the past. Still, what happens in the postseason? It seems inevitable that a playoff team will lose star players in January. What if the Chiefs have their entire cast of wideouts dragged onto the COVID-19 list days before the AFC title game? What if none test positive, but loom as high-risk associates? What if Andy Reid gets tossed on the list? The Lions were forced to play Tampa on Saturday with interim head coach Darrell Bevell and multiple assistants watching from home. How would we feel about a Packers team forced to play a Divisional Round game with Rodgers and Adams out of the mix? Business as usual? Show must go on? TBD.
3) Twenty-two minutes into Wonder Woman 1984, I asked myself: Do I care to sit through the remaining 129 minutes of this presentation? I couldn’t do it.
4) This space is reserved for any outfit dealing with the Ravens between now and the end. Emerging from a midseason ultra-slump, Baltimore has ripped off four straight wins while averaging 37 points and 233.3 ground yards per tilt. Lamar Jackson has accounted for 83.3 yards of that weekly rushing average while chalking up a 100-plus passer rating in all four wins. They will clock the Bengals on Sunday and pose a tremendous danger to whoever comes next. The Ravens can beat the Chiefs. They can disarm and scatter anything in their way if this is who they are come January.
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