With Labor Day in the books, and summer all but dead, dried up, and desiccated like a long forgotten cat turd, American thought naturally turns toward an event that promises to dramatically shape all of our lives — no, not the presidential election, you dolt! I’m not even registered. No, I’m talking about the upcoming NFL season. And who better to preview it than William Shakespeare! (Right? Who’s with me? Anybody?)
Now, I know what you’re thinking — didn’t Shakespeare die in like the 17th century? Well, apparently not. Dude e-mails me all the time with NFL wagers and fantasy football tips. I straight up asked him if he was the real deal Bard and he was all like, “Geeze, first people say I didn’t write all those plays and now this. Come on man, it’s me — Shakespeare! We’ve been on-line friends for like four months! Now send me that cash so I can pay off my bookie before he breaks both our legs.”
Me and Shakespeare, we’ve got gambling problems.
1. New York Giants
“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.”
Translation: It’s easy to forget that last year’s Giants played their way to an underwhelming 9-7 regular season before surging through the playoffs and nabbing their second Super Bowl in five seasons. They also have issues at offensive tackle and lost some important players in free agency. But Shakespeare reminds us that, as the great Kanye says, “Everything I’m not made me everything I am.” Prognosticators rarely foresee champion results for the perennially undervalued (and always humble) Giants — but every few years they have a knack for proving everybody wrong.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”
Translation: “Dream Team” or massively over-hyped disappointment? While the Eagles were certainly the latter last year, they are still a superbly talented squad when firing on all cylinders: QB Michael Vick is always dangerous, LeSean McCoy might just be the best back in the NFL, and the defense is stuffed with high profile playmakers (Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Nnamdi Asomugha, etc.). Shakespeare is decidedly leery — he’s got them making the playoffs, but when push comes to shove, he sees them unable to deliver the goods. Or, as he put it, he thinks they’ll “wilt faster than a painfully self-conscious Hamlet trying to get it up on prom night.” His words, I swear.
3. Washington Redskins
“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we hear it cry;
But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.”
Translation: Sure, Redskins fans probably feel pretty sorry for themselves about playing in one of football’s toughest divisions, but if you had finished in last place four years in a row, you probably would too, right? Fortunately, Shakespeare sees an upward swing with the addition of RG3 — welcome to 3rd place, guys!
4. Dallas Cowboys
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
Translation: The time for this team to make a serious Super Bowl run has come and gone: QB Tony Romo’s struggles to perform in the clutch seemed to have spread to the entire franchise. The offensive line is “Hulk Hogan sex tape” bad. The receivers are banged up. Their defensive coordinator looks like the kind of dude who sneaks a joint into an REO Speedwagon concert. They lack defensive playmakers. “This thing is falling apart faster than the third act of Titus Andronicus,” said the Bard, still remorseful over that particular bit of ham-fisted folly.
1. Green Bay Packers
“But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes.”
Translation: After Aaron Rodgers & Co. brought home a championship in 2010, they expected more of the same in 2011. Although poised for another title after a 15-1 season and an impressive MVP campaign from Rodgers, they disappointed with a loss in their first playoff game to the soon-to-be champion Giants. Shakespeare believes this bitter loss, as well as a defense bolstered with rookie additions, bodes well for a more successful Packers season in 2012.
2. Chicago Bears
“The golden age is before us, not behind us.”
Translation: While there is reason for some concern due to an aging defense (stalwart linebacker Brian Urlacher missed the entire preseason with a knee injury), the Bears are actually primed for their best season in years, thanks mostly to the welcome addition of Brandon Marshall. B-Marsh will reunite with former Bronco teammate Jay Cutler in a move that promises to dramatically improve this offense. As long as the defense holds up, expect the Bears to contend.
3. Detroit Lions
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
Translation: Lions fans have understandably high expectations after QB Matthew Stafford’s dazzling 2011 campaign led the team to their first playoff appearance since 1999. But for all their offensive firepower, they play in a hotly contested division and feature a defense with more liabilities than an after-hours drunken romp in a greased-up Chuck E. Cheese’s. In addition, an offseason full of disciplinary issues has many believing that Coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t have a firm grip on this rowdy bunch.
4. Minnesota Vikings
“The soul of this man is in his clothes.”
Translation: With an unproven QB (Christian Ponder) and a franchise star recovering from a torn ACL (Adrian Peterson), expectations are cellar-level low for the Vikings. But, those uniforms sure are snazzy! The Bard sayeth that the purple and gold look much better on the Vikes than those dastardly Lakers.
1. Atlanta Falcons
“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Translation: The Falcons know what they’ve been, an above average team that’s lost in their first playoff game each of the past two seasons. What they don’t know is how much potential rests within them. Will they be perennial first-round knockouts, or do they have the talent to make a deeper run? There are plenty of offensive weapons at QB Matt Ryan’s disposal, but questions about the offensive line and defense linger. While the Saints off-the-field struggles opens the door for the Falcons to dominate the division, the Giants, Packers, and 49ers stand in the way of greater glory.
2. Carolina Panthers
“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
Translation: Cam Newton was a revelation last year, posting some of the best rookie QB numbers ever seen. If his ascent to NFL superstardom continues, and if he receives enough help from a revitalized defense boosted by the returns of Jon Beason, Ron Edwards, and Thomas Davis, the Panthers could be legitimate playoff contenders sooner rather than later.
3. New Orleans Saints
“True is it that we have seen better days.”
Translation: You just may have heard a little about the Saints this past offseason — something about a bounty program or other resulting in the banning of celebrated coach Sean Payton, as well as some assistants and defensive players. How dramatic! The tables are set either for an against-the-odds run for the Super Bowl (the Saints are still loaded offensively) or a ruinous Macbethian collapse. Only time will tell if the SparkNotes themes for the 2012 Saints will contain the terms “perseverance, victory, and resilience” or “grief, persecution, and punishment.”
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”
Translation: Bucs fans are smarting after a wildly disappointing 4-12 season last year, but they have reason to be hopeful after wooing highly regarded Rutgers coach Greg Schiano to right the ship. However, it’s going to take time; the defense is still a work-in-progress and we have no idea what to expect from capricious QB Josh Freeman.
1. San Francisco 49ers
“They say, best men are moulded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better,
For being a little bad.”
Translation: The 49ers are far from perfect: Alex Smith is little more than a “game manager” (a backhanded compliment for a QB if there ever was one), their offense scored the least points of any NFC playoff team, and it seems nearly impossible for them to recreate last season’s shocking 13-3 performance. However, they’ve added some potential big guns in WR’s Mario Manningham and Randy “I smoke weed once in a blue moon” Moss, their division really sucks, and that defense is still very intimidating. When I pressed Shakespeare to elaborate on the above lines from “Measure for Measure,” he candidly responded, “Man, sometimes I don’t even know what the hell I’m talking about.”
2. Seattle Seahawks
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Translation: They’re not very good, but they’re not that bad either — they’re the same Seahawks team they are every year. So just stop thinking about it already.
3. St. Louis Rams
“To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first.”
Translation: After a 2-14 season, things can’t get much worse — new coach Jeff Fisher has the benefit of lowered expectations. Young QB Sam Bradford will need to show marked improvement in his 3rd season, but that will be a challenge without a significantly improved offensive line.
4. Arizona Cardinals
“I am not bound to please thee with my answers.”
Translation: A QB-controversy between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton? Yikes. “Uh, news flash — THEY BOTH SUCK!” says a particularly saucy Sass-speare. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has his hands full this year.