The New Parents’ Guide to the 2021 NFL Season – Introduction

It’s August, which means it’s time to start inaccurately bloviating about the coming NFL season! In some ways, this is the most exciting time of the year to be a pro football fan. Your favorite team has yet to be decimated by injuries to key players (with apologies to any Colts fans reading this). Those of you who enjoy the occasional prop bet or seven have yet to see your bank accounts reduced to ash; similarly, no one’s fantasy team is so far gone that anyone needs to watch the games with scrunched assholes in fear of whatever quasi-sociopathic punishment awaits them for finishing last in their league. And, regardless of your rooting interests, this is our final opportunity this calendar year for us to pretend that pro football is fun, despite all evidence to the contrary. Once the season starts, we’ll be subjected to the horrific realities of terrible, game-swinging officiating and dispiriting, Antietam-esque injury reports and excruciating mewling about what is or is not a catch and the perpetual bafflement of nationally televised Giants games. Enjoy this feeling now, before it disappears for good.

There is no finer way to highlight this essential cognitive dissonance than making predictions about the season to come, despite knowing that many if not all of a said predictions are doomed to be wildly, laughably incorrect. In the same way that this is our last chance to pretend we legitimately enjoy watching football, so too is this our last chance to discuss the sport with any degree of authority, before the events of the season lay waste to whatever remaining faith we had in our cognitive faculties. To live in the United States with any degree of intellectual clarity is to acknowledge that seemingly no one in this failing state believes anything for real reasons anymore, if they ever did in the first place. Factual evidence, when considered at all, is cherry picked beyond recognition, but at this point I’m often happy when I see it used, at all. Expert testimony is discredited simply for coming from, well, experts and not some ignorant jackoff with an axe to grind. The less said about whatever warped, funhouse-mirror-ass version of “discourse” happens on the internet, the better. People just decide to believe things for whatever stilted, self-interested motivation(s) they choose, and this is seems unlikely to change even as the actual, physical country begins its alarmingly rapid descent into the actual fucking oceans while the rest burns.

Pre-season football prognostication is the epitome of these exact forms of non-reasoning, but since there are no stakes involved, this lack of epistemic responsibility makes it a fun diversion instead of a nightmare reflection of societal decadence. No one, not even people who are paid to make these kinds of predictions, is any good at doing so, because the only real evidence available for informing these predictions is performance from previous seasons, and maybe, in some of the more reputable corners of the football intelligentsia, statistical projections based on those performances, paired with savvy analysis so that those projections are sensibly hedged and properly contextualized.

Even when done intelligently, the limits of this kind of reasoning are self-evident: every NFL season is different from the one that preceeded it, often drastically so. Teams go from worst to first in their division regularly, aging (or young, but over-utilized) superstars see their play fall off a cliff, quarterbacks get injured, and an uncategorizable amount of other weird bullshit goes down on a weekly basis. Hell, sometimes catastrophic, team-altering injuries happen in training camp, weeks before any meaningful football is played. (Again, sorry Colts fans.) There can be no purely accurate predictions under such inherently chaotic conditions. Inevitably, making predictions about the coming season involves considering what scant evidence is available and deciding what to believe about how the season will go down, whether those beliefs are informed by that evidence or not.

But that, along with the giddy rush of anticipating the season before said season inevitably goes to seed, is what makes these predictions fun! They’re fun to read, they’re fun to argue about, and they’re fun to shove out into the world if you have the means to do so. It is in this spirit of vaguely informed, vaguely irresponsible mass guessing that I offer The New Parents’ Guide to the 2021 NFL Season, my second NFL season preview in as many years.

Why is this The New Parents’ Guide to the 2021 NFL Season? Why, it’s because I’m a new parent, which is the perfect excuse to fall back on when my predictions inevitably prove ruinously incorrect. I have no time for any of this shit! I couldn’t tell you anything detailed about the 49ers’ quarterback controversy or how Robert Saleh is settling in as a head coach or the Titans’ position battle at place kicker that you could not find yourself by giving your Twitter feed a once-over. I don’t have time for this shit! I have bottles to clean and onesies to put on and gloopy yellow poop to wipe off of my fingers. I don’t even have the time to do so much as drive down to Spartanburg, attend Panthers training camp as a normal, paying customer, and write down what I saw.

Heck, even before my child was born, I had no small amount of preparatory responsibilities, many of which were somehow more harrowing than midnight crying sessions! I had to select no small amount of baby equipment based on minimal information and move furniture and install the car seat and so on and so forth. Paying real attention to OTAs or whatever was never in the cards, because I had baby shit to do before there was even a baby! The final result of all this is that, to the extent I have prepared for this season preview at all, I have done so by keeping my ears somewhat-but-not-really-all-that-low to the ground, and by reading most of the reliably excellent Football Outsiders Almanac. I don’t know much, but I know enough to have an opinion, and as I’ve already established, that’s all that matters for this purpose. Therefore, this will be a guide to the coming NFL season by a new parent with no time on his hands for new parents with no time on their hands.

Like last year, I’ll be previewing the coming season with brief but hopefully insightful write-ups for all 32 teams, split into eight articles (one per division) that will begin running next week, at a rate of two per week. Also like last year, I will be predicting each team’s place in their division, and, in the case of division non-winners, whether a given team will snag a Wild Card or not. On top of that, since I am planning to run the weekly Confidence Pool column this year and not deciding to run a weekly Confidence Pool column a whole entire week after the last minute I could sensibly make such a decision, this year’s preview will also provide the Max Points for each team. The Max Points listed for each team represents the most points I find it sensible to give said team if you’re picking them to win in your weekly Confidence Pool, regardless of opposition, and the justification for my assignment.

For example, if I list the Max Points for the Cardinals as 7, this means that I cannot rightly advise putting more than 7 points on the Cardinals in any weekly pool, even if they’re playing the likes of, say, the Texans. Not only will this get everyone hyped for Confidence Pool picks, it will also be a fun way for me to express how high I am on each team outside of the context of their division. (Please note that this example is mostly hypothetical; while I’m not sure I’ll settle on a Max Points of 7 for the Cardinals, I can assure you the Max Points for the Texans will be 1.) There shall be no fantasy football-oriented content, whatsoever; I don’t even care about my own fantasy team, let alone anyone else’s. If that’s what your into that’s cool, but I simply cannot be bothered to cater to that interest (except to say that, while this may be a long shot, I think Priest Holmes has a great chance to shine in his new role as a feature back for the Chiefs, and you should also give serious consideration to grabbing Az-Zahir Hakim in one of the later rounds.)

New division previews will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next four weeks, and will run in the order specified below. I’ll be starting with the AFC South this Tuesday – it’s easily the most depressing division in the entire sport, both for football and non-football related reasons, and the sooner I can stop thinking about it, the better – and concluding with the NFC North on Thursday, September 2nd, that my resigned, Cousins-shaming Vikings takes may be saved for last. Any and all changes to this schedule made necessary by circumstances either unforeseeable (a meteor crashing into my house) or foreseeable (collapsing from the sheer exhaustion of daily 4 AM diaper changes) will be announced in this space as they occur. See you Tuesday! Get vaccinated!

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