This is Doink-O-Rama!, John Teti’s column about pro football.
Those church bells you heard on Sunday could only have been for one thing: to ring in the glorious dawn of the 2021 National Football League season. NFL fans spent the summer waiting patiently as the very serious management of their local squad prepared the roster, arranging the team’s real-life action figures on the shelf. Only now is it time to take the muscle men out of their blister pack and see what they can do. “My quarterback has a cannon arm!” shouts one fan. “My defensive back has a kung fu grip,” cries another, “and my new left tackle has functional knee joints!” Everyone is like new! Everyone who wasn’t injured in training camp or preseason is like new! Hooray for new. New uniforms, new TV graphics, new facial hair on the State Farm guy.
Why, this very column is new! Old: “Block & Tackle.” New: “Doink-O-Rama!” Break it in. Put some linseed oil on it and tie it up overnight. You’re gonna like it. It’s got fussy punctuation like the old name, plus if you look closely, the word “doink” is in there. It’s near the beginning.
Plus, it’s a whole new me. Old: Washed-up football columnist. New: Washed-up football columnist with email newsletter. My wife told me I should use this portion of the new column to explain why the new column exists, and why I didn’t write anything last year. The last part is easy: I was way too fucking sad, you guys. I don’t know if you follow the news, but holy moly.
As for why Doink-O-Rama! exists in your mailbox right now, that’s a little more involved. I have a lot of fun writing the column, and people always seemed to have fun reading it. So sure, writing a new column for the 2021 season sounds like it would be—as they say in the football trade—a “slam dunk” decision—a surefire “ground-rule double” as they say in the football trade. At the same time I was worried I might be rusty—I might have lost my feel for the game.
There were days this summer where I was vibrating with excitement at the notion of writing about the NFL in public again, and days where the prospect made me so anxious I’d have to eat an Egg McMuffin and watch the 24-hour Bob Barker channel for a while. Ultimately I had to admit that I love football, and I missed football, and I love you, and I missed you. Thank you to all the readers (and Pop Mom listeners) who cajoled me to write again, especially my darling wife, Anna, whose cajolery was particularly stubborn and effective.
And now, a love story.
On New Hopes, New Love, and Old Al Michaels
Ostensibly, the Week 1 installment of Sunday Night Football was a fierce battle between the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams. What unfolded was more of a romance.
The narrators of this sweet tale: longtime NBC lead commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Thanks to a natural embalming process that has taken hold as a result of his vegetable-free diet, Michaels looks the same again this year, although his facial expressions seem a bit more chemically paralyzed than they used to be. And Collinsworth remains, as ever, a friendly horse.
Because Week 1 is theoretically a moment where every team carries high hopes, Michaels and Collinsworth dutifully laid out optimistic scenarios for both Chicago and Los Angeles, but their heart was truly in it for the latter. Collinsworth was practically bouncing out of his seat as he shared his hot scoop about some smiles he noticed. “We’ve been around the Rams facility quite a bit this week, and they’re all walking around with a little grin on their face, like they know a little secret. And I think that secret is Matthew Stafford.”
Look at our modern-day Detective Columbo over here, cutting straight to the heart of the "little grin on their face" mystery. But Collinsworth got it wrong on one count: Matthew Stafford is not a secret, since he’s way too big for that. I mean, you could conceal him in a tarp, I suppose. But jeez, then there’s a tarp running around the field, and how do you explain—? No, it just isn’t practical.
The secrecy is not the point anyway. Collinsworth’s anecdote was about the lofty expectations attached to Matthew Stafford, who is the new quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams (don’t tell anyone, though—it’s a secret). After 13 years with the Detroit Lions—a tenure that featured plenty of highlights but also an 0-3 playoff record—Stafford was traded to Los Angeles during the offseason. It was a rare QB-for-QB trade: In return for Stafford, Detroit received draft picks and quarterback Jared Goff, who was the starter on the Rams’ NFC Champion team three seasons ago.
Stafford welcomed a “change of scenery,” according to Collinsworth, and the move out to Los Angeles was a big change indeed. Not only did Stafford have to study a new offensive system under Rams coach Sean McVay; he also transitioned from wearing a helmet with a picture of a lion on it to wearing a helmet with rams’ horns painted on it—horns that make it look like Matthew Stafford himself is the ram.
That’s a lot for the 33-year-old veteran to relearn, but McVay has faith that Stafford is up to the challenge. “Not only does Stafford have an elite arm,” said SNF sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, “McVay says he has the experience and football intellect that often get overshadowed by his athletic talent.”
And a nation of Sunday Night viewers was properly chastened. When we fans stamp our feet, cry “Hubba hubba, feast your eyes on those biceps!” and generally allow our tongues to droop in a wolfish manner every time we see Matthew Stafford on TV, we forget how cruelly we are pigeonholing the poor guy. Here was Michele Tafoya to remind us: Matthew Stafford is more than a big, powerful, bulging, smooth arm that makes an “ah-woo-gah” sound effect go off in your head when you look at it. He’s got a football intellect, too, with football ideas about football Kant and football Heidegger.
Michele was right, and in short order Stafford showcased his freaking Howitzer of an intellect. On the Rams’ third play from scrimmage, Stafford took the snap, bootlegged out left, and applied his intellect to the ball 50 yards downfield. I mean, just look at that gorgeous throw. This dude can think.
Wide receiver Van Jefferson caught the pass and fell down. Then, aided by a Chicago Bears defense that seemed to believe social-distancing protocols were in effect for the play, Jefferson simply got back up and scrambled into the end zone to complete the first Rams touchdown of the Matt Stafford era.
“You know that guy from Detroit? He’s pretty good!” Michaels enthused. The hope was real. The narrative was alive.
And good thing, because Stafford was the only narrative in town. The Chicago Bears—the Rams’ nominal Week 1 opponent—played their usual brand of listless football, and while SNF mustered a few attempts to make hay of the Bears’ own quarterback situation, it never stuck. The question facing the Bears is whether their rookie first-round draft pick, Justin Fields, will supplant perennial also-ran Andy Dalton as the team’s starter. To explore this controversy, NBC assembled an elaborate graphic, billed “PUT ME IN COACH”—a title that, at worst, makes a startling demand and, at best, illustrates the importance of following the direct-address-comma rule.
The graphic showed that of 29 previous first-round quarterbacks who remain in the league, only three of those QBs spent most of their rookie season on the bench, as Chicago's rookie Fields conceivably could. But two of the three players in the benchwarmer category, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, are among the greatest ever. The awkward moral of the story, apparently, is that the Bears should make Fields the starter, or else he might turn into a Hall of Fame quarterback.
If SNF’s Bears storyline was confused, at least it was also irrelevant, on account of Chicago’s typically listless conduct on the field. Unlike the Rams, who have offensive weapons to complement their stout defense, the Bears cannot plausibly be sold by Sunday Night Football as a team that’s one quarterback away from making a championship run. Good lord, the Bears are dreadful to watch. Not because they are so terrible, which would be amusing in its own way, but because a Bears game is like watching someone go to the office. They punch in, they execute the task of football as prescribed in their job description, they punch out. Dalton or Fields? That’s a matter for human resources.
With the Bears failing to inspire, the hopes of the Rams were the only thing worth hyping, and SNF went where the mojo was. Before the game, in Tafoya’s intro segment, the budding romance between the Los Angeles coach and his new quarterback was a mere subtext. By the end, McVay and Stafford’s young love, with all its winning potential, had blossomed into the central storyline.
Late in the fourth, Stafford threw a touchdown that extended the Rams’ lead to 19 and allowed the Bears to grab a cup of coffee from the break room. When Stafford reached the sideline, McVay gave him one of those cute embraces, specific to football, where a relatively normal-sized coach tries to wrap himself around a giant athlete who’s encased in body armor and has a large plastic sphere around his head. Inevitably the coach ends up sort of hanging off the head-sphere—trapped, happily so, in that heady island of masculine affection that lies halfway between the attaboy pat-on-the-shoulder and the full-on hug. (If you take a trip to Half-Hug Island, be sure to visit nearby Butt-Slap Beach and the Bay Of Grabbing The Guy’s Helmet With Both Hands And Shouting Praise Into His Facemask—two more essential destinations on the Coach-Player Love Archipelago.)
“Sean McVay needed a partner, not a student. Now he has a partner,” said Collinsworth, in the manner of a dad beginning a toast at his son’s wedding. McVay and Stafford, he said, “each have this photographic memory—[they] can go play by play in games from 10 years ago, back and forth. I think they have a lot of fun together. Like brothers, they kinda can argue and fight a little, too!” It had become unclear whether Collinsworth was describing the actual McVay and Stafford or workshopping a screenplay he was writing about them. “Like I said at the top, maybe a match made in heaven,” Michaels said as he pivoted to call the next play on the field.
“Maybe a match made in heaven”—there you have the hopes and dreams of an NFL Week 1 distilled to a sentence. Note, in particular, Michaels’ shrewd inclusion of “maybe.” He’s always setting up the next chapter, that crafty old buzzard. Your average announcer can call the game; a top-tier national announcer like Michaels also knows how to call the season at the same time—weaving into his play-by-play patter the longer threads that he believes will keep viewers interested over the course of months as opposed to minutes. The vicissitudes of the former 16-, now 17-game slog are liable to complicate the McVay-Stafford love story—all the more reason for Michaels and Collinsworth to sing a song of sunshine now, to heighten the impact of the storms later.
As I watched those pictures of the triumphant Stafford exiting the game, with an ecstatic coach dangling from his cranium, I couldn’t help rooting for him. It was almost odd to see him have so much fun, since he seemed to have so little of it in Detroit. In other words, even I fell in a love a bit, because now I find myself hoping the perpetually woebegone Stafford really does end the season with a trip to the Super Bowl, or the next best thing, functional knee joints.
Your guaranteed-correct Doink-O-Rama! picks
The NFL football picks in Doink-O-Rama! are guaranteed to be correct. How is this possible?
First, ask yourself this. What do all previous football-game prediction systems have in common? That’s right. They are all based on observations of exciting pro football action made from the ground. As such, they’re subject to atmospheric distortions that even the most sophisticated filtering algorithms cannot eliminate.
When you consider it this way, the solution is clear. The football picks must be generated from space. Which, as it happens, is the primary mission of Doink-O-Rama! Pro Football Anticipation Satellite and Tip Calculator, or DORPFASTCALC.
With its high-speed gridiron imaging array, working amid the sparkling clarity of outer space, DORPFASTCALC requires only a nanosecond to predict the outcome of an NFL matchup to a degree of absolute scientific certainty, barring aberrations.
DORPFASTCALC orbits at the L2 LaGrange point and can divide a restaurant bill between up to eight guests.
DORPFASTCALC does not pick Thursday Night Football because DORPFASTCALC doesn’t feel like it.
We now present the predictions of DORPFASTCALC, and they are not to be questioned.
SUNDAY — EARLY GAMES
New England Patriots vs. New York Jets (CBS): New England 24, New York 20. New England fans are excited about rookie quarterback "Mac" Jones, whose strengths include great accuracy, a strong arm, and a user-friendly operating system whose point-and-click simplicity makes it a breeze to send an email or even play your favorite CD-ROM.
Denver Broncos vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (CBS): Denver 30, Jacksonville 19. I’m not buying what the Jaguars are selling, because when you buy something from the Jaguars, they hassle you to leave a review for weeks afterward, with those “Hi John, share your thoughts about The Jacksonville Jaguars!” emails.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Fox): Philadelphia 28, San Francisco 24.
Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins (Fox): Miami 25, Buffalo 23. One time, this website I worked for was purchased by a big TV company—the big company wanted to own a bunch of websites because [ERROR: REASON NOT FOUND]. I had to fly down to Miami to have a bunch of meetings with TV executives who used the word “linear” as a noun. At the end of the day, there was a drinks party on the pool patio of a lavish Miami home that belonged to the biggest executive—the richest and therefore smartest, the one who hatched this whole own-the-internet strategy. The strange luxury of the place and the endless supply of tropical cocktails make my memory of the party a surreal smear, to be sure, but I’m certain an actual peacock appeared at one point. Then I went back to my hotel room to get stoned and watch Thursday Night Football with my work husband. Sometime during the second half, I threw a stale cupcake off my balcony into the swimming pool. Okay, it was at least three cupcakes, and I’m sorry. All of this is to say, if the Buffalo Bills are anything like me, and I think they are, they will be in no shape to win a football game after spending a night in Miami.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Indianapolis Colts (Fox): Los Angeles 35, Indianapolis 22. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay paid a visit to one of the team’s practices this week, because he wanted to get Colts head coach Frank Reich’s thoughts on whether his blue golf cart clashes with this jacket.
Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns (CBS): Cleveland 41, Houston 14. Bad news for fans of Texas Federal Credit Union: I hate to break it to you, but the Houston Texans have named Texas Dow Employees Credit Union the Official Credit Union of the Houston Texans.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (CBS): Pittsburgh 21, Las Vegas 20.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Chicago Bears (Fox): Cincinnati 2, Chicago 0. Safety dance!
New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers (Fox): Carolina 27, New Orleans 18.
SUNDAY — LATE GAMES
Minnesota Vikings vs. Arizona Cardinals (Fox): Arizona 19, Minnesota 17. Have you seen the new Jamie Foxx commercials for having a gambling problem? I gotta say, they really make me consider having a gambling problem.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Fox): Tampa Bay 34, Atlanta 28.
Tennessee Titans vs. Seattle Seahawks (CBS): Seattle 35, Tennessee 20.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Chargers (CBS): Los Angeles 15, Dallas 15. Sure, let’s have a tie. Do not question DORPFASTCALC.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens (NBC): Kansas City 42, Baltimore 38.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers (ESPN, ESPN2): Detroit 28, Green Bay 20. Here, for the record, is the State Farm guy's aforementioned new-for-2021 scruff, alongside Aaron Rodgers' dismal blister of a man bun.
Keep on long snappin’
Thanks for reading the debut of Doink-O-Rama! It’s a free subscription for the foreseeable future. If you want to help me out, share Doink-O-Rama! with a friend who might like it.
Reach out with your questions, observations, or doink sightings by emailing: doink at ological dot net. (I think you can simply reply to this email, as well — not entirely sure how everything is hooked up yet.) I have a Twitter, too, but I like an email better.
I’ll see you with more football fun next week. Until then, as always, keep on long snappin’.