Getting close means never having to admit you’re sorry

Mark Bell Spectator’s Eye

September 26, 2013

Three weeks into the season and the average margin of victory is less than a field goal for 80 percent of the games. How in the world can you predict anything with that tiny fraction to work with?

In the past, when I’ve been stymied by the league’s competitive balances, I’ve used a coin flip and even my wife’s opinion – both methods of equal randomness – and found no satisfaction there because I never learned anything from the exercise.

So I went back to banging my head against the nearest proverbial wall, also known as the upcoming schedule. Then it hit me. How do we learn? Answer: Always the hard way.

Welcome to the NFL, which this week stands for “Never Feel Lofty.”

49ers at Rams – Thursday night’s opener is not adding up to what we saw last year, and is not likely to constitute a repeat of that wildly anticipated matchup of well-coached squads on an upward climb which finished with the most unusual result of an actual tie and then an overtime win by St. Louis at home. (Diagram that sentence, if you dare!)

Maybe the Rams were looking past Dallas and toward this game when they all but tanked it last week. Whatever the reason, almost no one showed up in visiting blue ready to play.

The Niners are struggling with the loss of some key offensive components in the passing game, so Colin Kaepernick is trying to do way too much on his own, but the defense doesn’t appear vulnerable to the likes of Sam Bradford at the moment.

How then to judge this apparent recipe for disaster? Usually it would be one of those “home team” things, but this gut feels that’s just wrong. The Niners are still standing quite a bit taller on the talent meter.

Ravens at Bills – Buffalo at home is due for something good to happen. Baltimore is just competent enough in all phases of the game to lose a close one to an inspired home team. So far upset picks have not been panning out, but nothing ever succeeds quite like persistent stubbornness. (Pause a moment to consider the subtle but painful truth of that last phrase.)

Cardinals at Buccaneers – Tampa Bay remains in such total disarray that what once was a gift of a game like this (a not-particularly-good west coast team comes east for an early start) bodes nothing but trouble.

Arizona’s loss of significant defensive players to injury is a concern, but backup rookie QBs are such an unknown quality that it’s hard to do anything other than totally discount them. This is another of those “home team” defaults that just feels all wrong, so let’s get out our Larry Fitzgerald replica jerseys and look for some snacks that are not popcorn because this is serious.

Steelers at Vikings – Probably the two biggest mysteries of this young season are how these two squads are standing deep in the pit at 0-3. The last time something similar existed I think Huey Lewis had a hit on the pop charts. I’m sure all the good NFL fans across the Atlantic just love us serving up winless teams at 100 British Pounds a pop (or something like that).

Who said Anglo-American relations were on a downward slide. John Kerry and Prince Charles may be up in the skybox comparing stories of all the Heinz they know; or maybe ketchup stories (who really knows with those two).

As for the game itself, Big Ben needs a running game. Nobody’s sure if he’s got one coming or not. Without it, Jared Allen will make this day another miserable one for sure. My guess is that Coach Tomlin comes up with something, at least for this week. Coach Frazier just looks frazzled.

Giants at Chiefs – Welcome to this week’s version of the NFL soap opera called “The World’s Turned Upside Down” as the winless blue visits the undefeated red. KC has definitely found a spark and lit it. Meanwhile NY’s sparking all over the place and getting no where because their kindling is all wet. So naturally, I smell an upset in the wind.

This is just the situation where Coach Tom Coughlin has his guys ready and Eli Manning makes a play whenever one is needed. And besides, Kansas City at 3-1 is still a lot better than we thought.

Colts at Jaguars – One of these days someone will come to their senses and get Tim Tebow back home in Jacksonville where at least the locals will have a reason to buy a ticket a couple of times a year just to say hello. As long as Coach Chuck Pagano keeps pushing the heavy meat wagon offensive approach, Indy’s future looks positively Pittsburghian. Jaguar fans are already flying white flags – and at half-staff.

Bengals at Browns – So far this season, Cincinnati has played its usual brand of mistake-prone ball. However, unlike previous seasons, their opponents have managed to do just a little bit worse each week. It certainly keeps things exciting, but you just have to rue the day when somebody shows up who refuses to beat themselves.

Well, I don’t really think Cleveland is that bunch, but the Bengals had better watch themselves and take this game seriously. One thing last week showed was the Browns take themselves seriously, and they are getting close enough that we just may have to start doing the same.