FOR ALL THE ways NFL management misunderstands the attitudes of the general public, the league does grasp this: Scarcity undergirds the sport's appeal. The games last only from September until early February, and by summer the absence of the sport breeds genuine anticipation.
In turn, that longing spawns America's favorite preseason commodity: hype.
In a more sensible world, NFL fans would spend every moment from the Super Bowl until the Week 1 kickoff catching up on, I dunno, contemporary literary fiction. But to hell with that—bring on the hype! Here are the six stories you see every season, and their 2017 versions:
1. THE TEAM THAT DRAFTED A QUARTERBACK IN THE FIRST ROUND: QBs often get bumped up draft boards for their intangibles, for their brilliant smiles, for what they indicate about a front office's hunger to win. So even though the 2017 draft class was considered light on stud signal-callers, three went before the 13th pick. Mitch—excuse me, Mitchell—Trubisky was taken second overall by Chicago after just one season starting for North Carolina.
Perhaps Trubisky will become the best Bears passer since Sid Luckman. But the odds are against it. Of the 26 quarterbacks selected in the first round from 2007 to '16, only seven have career winning records as starters. And two of them are Mark Sanchez (also on Chicago's depth chart) and Tim Tebow (starting leftfielder for the St. Lucie Mets). Check back in on the Bears three years from now, and not a moment sooner.
2. THE TEAM THAT HIRED AN OFFENSIVE GURU: What's management to do when a top quarterback pick bombs? The team could cut its losses by signing a veteran free agent (a Brian Hoyer type—preferably Brian Hoyer), or it could bring in a coach with a new offense. One approach involves the admission of failure. One doesn't. Which would you expect a team to choose?
There are only six offensive coordinators who were in their jobs during the 2014 season. Teaching is hard; coming up with good new ideas in a 97-year-old league is harder. Anyway, best of luck to Rams coach Sean McVay and OC Matt LaFleur in their attempt to fix Jared Goff.
3. THE TEAM THAT RESTORED ORDER BY HIRING AN OVERBEARING COACH: Tom Coughlin, a hard-ass as Giants coach for 12 years, is head of football operations in Jacksonville now, and he and new head coach Doug Marrone took the Ping-Pong table out of the Jaguars' locker room during the offseason. Not to be outdone, new Bills coach Sean McDermott removed the locker room's pool table, air-hockey table and the video game setup.
Such behavior demonstrates nothing more than a coach's humorlessness. That said, if the Jaguars and the Bills meet in the AFC championship game, and both teams credit the absence of locker-room distractions, I will gladly let a red-faced Coughlin berate me for hours.
4. THE TEAM THAT POSTED A MISLEADING RECORD THANKS TO CLOSE WINS: A blowout reveals which team is superior. Not so a tight finish. The 2015 NFC champion Panthers went 6--1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. In '16 they went 2--6 in games of that margin.
This year's Carolina is Oakland. The 2016 Raiders, led by Pro Bowl QB Derek Carr, went 12--4 but only outscored opponents by 31 points. (The Broncos were 9--7 and outscored theirs by 36.) Another 12-win season is unlikely if that point differential is repeated.
5. THE TEAM THAT MADE THE RIGHT MOVES IN FREE AGENCY: In football the best players rarely hit the open market. Those who do generally fit into one of two categories: the veteran with only one or two good years left, and the younger player whose limited success leads to a large guarantee from a team that didn't draft him.
The Jaguars added players who fit into both groups. The team signed former Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who will be 31 in Week 1, and ex-Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye, who had hardly played before a breakout season in 2016. Bouye may well be the real deal, but Jaguars fans would be forgiven if they are reminded of '15 free-agent cornerback signee Davon House, who lasted little more than a season in his starting job and was cut in March. Jacksonville went 8--24 the past two years.
6. THE JAGUARS: They have qualified for hype items 1 through 5 at various points in their 22 seasons. It doesn't matter. It never matters. Until they present convincing evidence otherwise, this ruling holds: They stink.
Consecutive no-hitters at the Little League World Series by the Greenville, N.C., team, the first U.S. club to do so in the event's 71 years. The North State All-Stars also threw just the fifth perfect game ever, beating South Dakota 6--0 last Friday.
Point differential in the Lynx's 111--52 victory over the Fever on Friday, shattering the WNBA record of 46 that had stood since 2010. Minnesota scored 37 straight points in the first half, the most in league history.
Consecutive games with a strikeout, through Sunday, for Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge, setting a single-season record and tying the overall mark set by pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971 and '72.
Faces in The Crowd