NFL Preseason: Half Mast or Half Staff Edition

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I am well aware that this is Ruthless. I’m not you, you’re not me, we aren’t all the same as each other, but the difference, it ain’t much at all. This really is, by the grace of God, a place where nihilists debate pornographers about pop culture (that’s not on the front page anymore; use the Wayback I guess, just don’t lie about it). My point is, I write for a very intelligent readership. All of you are well informed, much more so than the twiddlers and silly-hearts reading NFL gambling columns penned by other anarcho-pacifist attorneys. The last thing you need is yet another goon bloviating on the greater resonance surrounding the death of John McCain.

And yet!

Yeah, I know, I’m sorry.

But I have a point here. More specifically, an endgame. Quite frankly, I think all of us are owed exactly one pound of flesh, and with McCain’s passing, that bill has come due. The minute details will be spared. We all know them anyway.

For the sake of honesty, fine. John McCain sent thousands to die in what now appears to be an endless, unwinnable war, one of many that he cheered for at literally every opportunity. Of the infamous Keating Five, who cost the federal government $3.4 billion and associatively defrauded about 23,000 everyday people out of their life savings, McCain was the closest of them to Keating and the deepest in his debt. He supported Trumps cash-grab tax bill, and in fact voted in line with the positions of his hated enemy 83% of the time. He bailed on his first wife after a horrific car crash left her disfigured and wheelchair-bound, though he didn’t pull a Gingrich, instead waiting until she was out of the hospital – and he was engaged – before flexing for a woman who could have gone to high school with their son. And, of course, he objectively made this country a much much worse place to live when he gave the world Sarah fucking Palin, from whom you can draw a straight line through you-know-who, and cop-calling moms, down to today, when two Nazis are trying to out-Nazi each other in order to become the mayor of Hilton Head. Yes really, you betcha!

However, for the sake of nuance, he did fight against the confirmation of torture fetishist and living, breathing ghoul Gina Haspel as CIA director. Ever the drama queen, he made a huge production out of voting nay on the GOPs first attempt to repeal the ACA, though the aforementioned cash-grab tax bill eliminated the individual mandate, thus destabilizing the whole enterprise and rendering the nay vote essentially symbolic. A cynic might see those two acts as quite self-serving, given that he was a POW and had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, but they were still, theoretically, the right thing to do.

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And of course, two things are beyond reproach. When a woman seemingly sent straight from the Uneducated Seniors Terrified By What They See On Fox News Casting Office Inc., used Arab as a pejorative, he shut her down, albeit in an inartful way that positioned Arab and decent family man citizen as antipodes. He also declined early release from a Vietnamese POW camp when the Viet Cong found out his father was an Admiral, likely making him one of the only people on the face of the Earth that would choose to spend multiple years in a POW camp for the sake of ideology. Hell, if that had been me, I would have sold out, given an Otto Warmbier apology, and gone on to a distinguished career with the North Vietnam Tourism Board, arranging Gary Glitter concerts, shooting at John Rambo, and doing whatever else Marshall Murdock told me to do.

There are other examples, depending on how much slack you are willing to cut the singer of Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran. Therein lies the problem. I know damn well I should be kicking dirt on the bastard. Hell, I should have hit him with the shovel on the way down. But I cant. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m clinging to a concept of civility that is but a remnant of a bygone era (during which we bombed Iran). Twenty or perhaps even ten years ago I would have just assumed he was hell-bound, made some dumb jokes, and framed my lasting opinion of the guy around a 7 called something like John McBrainCancer that I bought out of the back of Profane Existence.

That said, if I don’t get to be that guy anymore, then neither does the president. So hereinafter I am not weaponizing the death of McCain so much as I am mandating that everyone follows the same laws, even in an age when the rule of law is tenuous.

Even if you are not a gambling columnist for a place where nihilists debate pornographers about pop culture, if you paid any attention at all to football during the off season, there was but one headline that dominated everything else. Rob Gronkowski placed in the Belmont Stakes! Is there anything that he can’t do? I mean, besides make Aaron Hernandez stop killing people?

Oh wait, there was another mainstream headline, involving Trump and the respectful civil protests during the National Anthem. Not the Eagles telling him to get fucked, which, while pathetically hilarious, was a byproduct of everything else. I’m referring to his outright attempt to muscle the entire league via Jerry Jones, telling him that [t]his is a very winning, strong issue for me. Tell everybody, you cant win this one. This one lifts me.

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Here again, the atonement. You know all of this. I know that you know all of this. We know that athletes of many colors are protesting the senseless killing of black people by police, tragedies that seem myriad, especially and not in spite of (literally uneducated) frauds like Charlie Kirk saying that only 13 unarmed black people have been killed by cops in 2018. Kaepernick spoke to Green Beret Nate Boyer, his friend in the military. This is not about the military. People in the military will tell you that this was never about the military. And, of course, Trump made it about the military.

That stops now. I will not listen to the greatest generation excuse from a man who tries to both-sides a conflict involving Nazis. And now that Trump is literally using the flag to disrespect a veteran, perhaps the cultures most visible veteran and thus, by proxy, all veterans, I will hear not one more word about how perfectly justifiable, Constitutionally-protected protests are somehow unpatriotic, as if any protest somehow requires deference to the target of the protest. At the end of a life riddled if not characterized by objectively good acts backed by questionable intentions, John McCain has left us with his last. John McCain ends the anthem arguments forevermore. Maverick, you just did an incredibly brave thing! HEY LOOK FOOTBALL!

We have one more barren weekend until we have a full slate of meaningful games, and the last week of the preseason generally brings about the dregs of the scrimmages. Don’t get me wrong, there is entertainment to be found, as a lot of guys are playing their hearts out to avoid the scythe. However, that means that guys are being put in or taken out for the sole purpose of watching position battles, and a lot of veterans, and rookies who have already nabbed a spot, wont even dress. If you have to gamble this weekend, play the college games. You can even parlay a bunch of FBS schools who are starting out with early-season cupcakes with a bridge jumper stake if you like. Just beware the specter of 2007 Appalachian State. Nothing is a certainty, after all.

This week I want to discuss two futures, because I think both are justifiable and they can be a fun way to put down a relatively small stake and give you entertainment all season long. As noted last week, futures are distinguishable from props in that a future is a bet placed on a game without knowing the participants. Granted, these stretch the definition a little bit, as obviously the whole season matters, but at some point, one game will decide who wins the division, the conference, the Super Bowl, and so forth.

Are futures a sound bet? Well, obviously, in any game of chance there are variables, and more than anything I’ve found that injuries tend to wreak havoc on futures. Just ask anyone who had the Packers going to the postseason last year before Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Future bets require some rumination on what-if scenarios, specifically involving injuries to skill position players. But hey, action is action, right? Some things are worth taking a chance on! So lets ignore my missteps with FatFlix, a streaming service based entirely around cooking shows and Chris Farley movies. While were at it, pay no mind to Muckles, my calorie-free meal replacement made entirely out of mustard and pickles. We are all about the here and now here and my crystal ball says:

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS TO WIN AFC NORTH

Yeah, no points for originality. This is on a lot of peoples lists and for good reason. The Steelers have won the division the past two years and more to the point, there doesn’t seem to be any competition coming from any AFC North rival. The Browns are improving, sure, but a .500 season would be a win with that fan base and I’m almost certain that Gregg Williams is a genius who has figured out how to use Hard Knocks as a vehicle to swipe Hue Jackson’s job mid-season. These actions do not portend mid-season stability. Beyond that circus, both the Bengals and the Ravens appear to be married to coaches that are more or less personified by slightly above average, defense-first teams that get mathematically eliminated right around Thanksgiving.

As for the injury thing I mentioned before, I am well aware that Big Ben is entering his 15th season. His pubes probably match his reportedly weird genitalia at this point. However, Landry Jones has been waiting to be the next guy for six seasons now, and his QBR has ticked up every year. LeVeon Bell is almost certain to show up at some point, just you wait. Either of those things would be a boon to the Steelers, who are about to be defined by consistent play on both sides of the ball anyway.

The Steelers have gone 11-1 against AFC North opponents in the past two seasons. Four consecutive playoff appearances. They almost never lose at home. The indispensable Football Outsiders has them at the top of the (very preliminary) board to win Super Bowl LIII at 13.8%, and while I wouldn’t go that far for a team that seems so willing to shoot themselves in the foot when its crunch time, I’m fine with, if not ecstatic about, two units at -230.

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ATLANTA FALCONS TO WIN NFC SOUTH

This team is just incredibly talented. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman, Calvin Ridley, Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant, and Ricardo Allen? Come the fuck on. They didn’t repeat their 2016 Super Bowl season due to being edged out by five thanks to the Eagles in mid-January, but consider what got them there. Consider specifically that defense, which now consists of homegrown guys about to outgrow their rookie contracts, and being coached by Dan Quinn, the architect of the legion of Boom in Seattle.

I will admit that I was not 100% sold on this pick until yesterday, when the Saints swapped a third-round pick to acquire Teddy Bridgewater from the Jets. If Bridgewater was just an insurance policy, they could have made that trade weeks ago, and I don’t think its out of line to suggest that Brees, now 39, might be a question mark in the offices of the Falcons closest competition, unlike his totes legit and mad sexy hairline. The Saints sit at +155 with the Falcons right behind at +185. I guess you can say the Panthers are within earshot, but the Bucs are already considered a lost cause due to a zero-star performance by an Uber passenger. Regardless, the shootout between the NOLA and the ATL should be a hell of a lot of fun to watch, so we might as well pick up some money while we do it, right?

Rooting for Atlanta also gives us a reason to watch the season opener against Philly, which is otherwise too close to call at present, given the 3-point line, since Foles is starting over Wentz, but dont forget the 5-0 preseason loss to the Browns, and thankfully, we get to worry about this stuff again! The season starts this Thursday, well talk then.

Good luck!

About J.J. Duquesne

J.J. is an attorney in New York City. He loves NFL Football...a LOT.