The NFL begins the 2013 season with a confusing image problem.
How about Riley Cooper dropping the "n-word" at a Kenny Chesney concert?
Is it those players who show up each week on the never-ending list of PED suspensions?
How about the mug shot of Aaron Hernandez?
Could it be the helmeted head and pony tail of Samantha "Sweet Feet" Gordon, she of You Tube and Wheaties box fame? Gordon was last seen mugging with commissioner Roger Goodell at the Super Bowl just a commercial break or two before the lights went out.
Answer: All of the above, and more.
Image is less than nothing, with apologies to those Sprite ads.
The notion of the NFL as just a game, just entertainment for its audience and a vehicle for its players and owners to become rich and famous, has become as antiquated as the two-way player and drop kicks. The NFL has become an economic force that creates nearly $10 billion in revenue. Under the current CBA, NFL teams are required to spent at least 89 percent of the salary cap on player contracts, which adds up to $3.503 billion based on 2013's cap of $123 million per team. Most teams pay out a much higher level.
It's a cultural presence that carries as much influence on society as any other entity that cannot enforce laws, levy taxes or guarantee an afterlife. The day of its championship game is an unofficial national holiday. Last February's game drew only 108.4 million viewers, making it the third most-watched TV show in American history, behind the previous two Super Bowls.
Last season ended with a Super Bowl blackout and a guy once accused of murder before coping to an obstruction of justice plea praising Jesus Christ as he ended his career with another Super Bowl ring.
The NFL has seen 37-and-counting arrests of its players since the end of last season, for charges ranging from DUI to murder. Last season closed with even more tragedy, as Jovan Belcher killed himself and the mother of his child on Dec. 1. Just a week later, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent allegedly drove drunk and crashed his car, killing front-seat passenger and teammate Jerry Brown.
According to USA Today, NFL players been arrested or charged with crimes at least 395 times during Goodell's term as commissioner. No wonder Tim Tebow can't find a job in this league.
The league also has the dubious claim of having two men once accused of murder - Ray Lewis and Hernandez - play in consecutive Super Bowls. Maybe Whitey Bulger can do the coin flip for Super Bowl XLVIII.
Opening night in Denver picked up on the NFL's Super Bowl blackout with a 30-something rain/thunderstorm warning delay at the start of Thursday night's Broncos-Ravens game. With the Super Bowl being played on Feb. 2 in New Jersey, karma [along with the Old Farmer's Almanac] has a blizzard in the New York metro-area forecast for that weekend.
Perhaps we'll get a storybook ending this season on the Frozen Tundra of East Rutherford. Imagine, for a minute, Brady holding up the Vince Lombardi trophy for the fourth time with a flurry of flakes coming down and the fading skyline of New York off in the distance. He then carries Gisele off the field right to their waiting Gulfstream G650. He then jets off to their palace in Pacific Palisades, never to be seen on a football field again.
Meanwhile, coach Bill Belichick takes a final hoodie-clad victory lap, complete with his iPhone shooting video of thousands of disgruntled New Yorkers giving him a one-finger farewell salute.
Sounds insane for sure.
About as unbelievable as someone who once won a BCS championship and the John Mackey Award; who caught 175 passes for the Patriots, scored 18 touchdowns, played in the Super Bowl and signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension with New England, spending the rest of his life in jail for murder.
Or Bruno Mars performing at halftime of the Super Bowl.
Crazy times for sure.
Here are this week's rankings. We've invited boston.com Patriots blogger and "Going Deep" columnist Erik Frenz (@ErikFrenz) to join us this season.
His "Going Deep Thoughts" team rankings will be listed after our comments.
3. Patriots - Tom Brady has made a career out of turning receivers like Wes Welker into Wes Welkers. If Danny Amendola gets out of the tub and into the lineup, he might look good someday, too.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Seahawks
4. Seahawks - Russell Wilson was on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine for their football preview issues. There has to be a curse in there somewhere.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Patriots
6. Packers - Here's what Aaron Rodgers did during the offseason.
Never understood why Norm was a Bears fan?
Going Deep Thoughts: Packers
7. Bengals - Highlight of "Hard Knocks" this season was watching former Steelers' linebacker and still Patriot hater James Harrison avoid the HBO cameras each week. His presence during the season will be much easier to spot on your television.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Texans
8. Texans - In J.J. Watt's latest commercial he can do anything, but stop Tom Brady.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Falcons
9. Ravens - For Joe Flacco's sake, let's hope the check for his $52 million guaranteed contract cleared before Thursday night's season opener.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Redskins
10. Steelers - Better than expected this season, could be the third team in from the AFC North.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Ravens
11. Colts - For a team that terminated Peyton Manning's contract, they certainly lucked out at quarterback.
-Going Deep Thoughts: Saints
12. Redskins - RGIII is back, and he was the first person to let you know about it. In his latest commercial, the football field actually blows up. Blows up as in Bane's entrance to Gotham.
"Blow up last season," the Redskins quarterback says in the voiceover. "Every win, every loss. Blow it all up. 'Cause all that matters is what you do next."
"Blow up last season." The Red Sox could have used that motto about six months ago.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Colts
13. Cowboys - Tony Romo has more apologists than Kim and Kanye. He's actually a really good quarterback in the fourth quarter, so says Atlantic Monthly, and has a QB rating over 101.9, which apparently makes him a better clutch player than either Manning brother, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Brady. Of course, those QBs have one little thing Romo is lacking, [at least one] Super Bowl ring.
In the words of the Hoodie: "Stats are for losers."
- Going Deep Thoughts: Cowboys
14. Giants - Depending on how things go Sunday night, these might be flipped next week.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Giants
15. Saints - Sean Payton is back. $500 for a good head shot. $1,000 for a torn ACL. Any takers?
- Going Deep Thoughts: Dolphins
16. Dolphins - "This is the year in Miami." - Dolphins Fans since 1975.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Steelers
17. Lions - Plenty of talent on offense, plenty of talent on defense. A slow start will put Jim Schwartz.on the pre-Halloween NFL coaching hot seat. That's if he can survive Devil's Night.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Bears
18. Rams - Haven't they moved to London?
- Going Deep Thoughts: Vikings
19. Bears - Highlight of the season - see return of SNL "Da Bears" characters above.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Lions
20. Vikings - "AD" or "AP"? Glad we finally got that one straightened out. [It's "AD" as in "All Day"]
- Going Deep Thoughts: Panthers
21. Chiefs - Literally, there is no way this season could be worse than last season.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Rams
22. Chargers - They've added a squad of fake cheerleaders as part of rookie Manti Te'o's contract. The rookie inside linebacker has not practiced since Aug. 8 with a foot injury and will likely miss Monday's opener. But he will be there in spirit for sure, along with Lennay Kekua.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Browns
23. Bucs - Of all the mediocre teams in the NFL, this one is the most uninteresting.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Chiefs
24. Panthers - Someday Cam Newton will get to play on a real pro team again, like he did at Auburn.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Bills
25. Cardinals - They have one of the league's most compelling stories in 60-year-old rookie head coach Bruce Arians, who filled in for cancer-stricken coach Chuck Pagano in Indanapolis last season. "Bruce is Rex Ryan without the bravado," kicker Jay Feely told MMQB.com. "Accountability is his big trait. He knows exactly how to get his point across." Great stuff.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Eagles
Of their brawl at practice on Thursday, which Mike Vick had to break up [Vick breaking up a fight, that's how far he has come] Philly.Com wrote:
Williams used a racial slur during the incident, according to an Eagle that was near the altercation. According to the player, Williams said to Cooper more than once, "I'm not a n- you [mess] with." The scuffle occurred during one-on-one individual drills. The players got mixed up and fell to the ground. Cooper got up and went at Williams, who responded with punches. "Just one-on-ones," Cooper said. "Both being super competitive, going for the ball, and we were tangled."
- Going Deep Thoughts: Chargers
27. Titans - Best of the worst.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Jets
28. Browns - The Browns didn't have a kicker on their roster until they signed Billy Cundiff this week. Between Cundiff being back in the NFL and Keith Olbermann being back at ESPN, there's always hope for Bobby Valentine in Boston.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Cardinals
29. Bills - The state of Florida has one QB in the AFC East this season, but he isn't Tim Tebow. It's Florida State's E.J. Manuel, who gets his first crack at the NFL against the Patriots on Sunday.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Bucs
30. Raiders - Just when, baby.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Titans
31. Jaguars - If they signed Tebow to be their mascot they'd sell out all their home games.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Raiders
32. Jets - All they need is A-Rod to make this season perfect.
- Going Deep Thoughts: Jaguars
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