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Praying on Sundays

Sports fans are all too familiar with the concept of the pantheon of Athletic Gods.

The Baseball Gods, for instance, have been in full force over the last decade. Ending the Word Series droughts of the Red Sox, the Tigers, and The Royals while also paving the way to potentially end similar droughts brought upon the Cubs and Indians. 

The Olympic Gods granted forgiveness to Michael Phelps, allowing him to dominate these recent olympics and breaking an Olympic Record that was set 2 MILLENIUMS ago.

And even this past year, the Basketball Gods ended the pantheon’s long standing feud with the city of Cleveland by blessing them with the Holy Prophet LeBron James who have lead the Believelanders out of sports Egypt and into the sports Promised Land. 

But what of the Football Gods?

Believers of this mystical organization only seem to raise their arms in anguish with each passing season to the tune of complaints like “ANOTHER Patriots Super Bowl game?” or “Can’t the Browns keep just ONE quarterback?” Truly, believers in the Football Gods seem to still be wandering the desert as Moses of old instead of enjoying the fruitful redemption of favor as Saul  did. 

So, here am I, a mere mortal and football fan, making a plea to the Football Gods. IF you divine interveners are TRULY up there, you have a real opportunity to make the 2016 season something magical. If it is YOU who change the fates of our favorite teams and not hard work, good coaching moves, and the raw talent of athletes, I challenge you to prove your existence to me, a nonbeliever, in the following ways THIS season.

1) Smile upon the Jaguars or Titans

The AFC South is a mess, your Holyness(es). Andrew Luck has made a full recovery and seems to be carrying the entire Colts team on his back due the lack of a real defense. Suffering close fought battles to the Chargers and the Lions (teams who are not exactly well known for putting up great fights) the Colts have been laid waste to with injuries. LIke wise, the Texans have just lost their most explosive player to a back injury (probably from all that team carrying he’s been doing, which again, gives me worry for Mr. Luck) and are sporting an offense that just got manhandled by a Patriots team who have themselves been overly manhandled.

Which is why, I beseech you, to take a good long and hard look at Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Colts and the Texans have taken turns leading this division back and forth for long enough. The Titans are actually looking halfway decent, bringing in and effectively using Andre Johnson and DeMarco Murray. Mariota needs some work, but the pieces are there and they too have had some nail biters of games. With the division getting weaker every week, the Titans have remained shockingly healthy. This is a division where 7-9 could be a feasible enough record to make the playoffs. The Titans are facing a Texans squad that are coming off a tough loss that lacks their best player. A win against them (coupled with a Colts loss) could put this team in 1st in the division. 

The Jaguars, more so than the Titans, could really use a win. A team that was hyped into oblivion by many (myself included) has started off with an 0-3 record and many blown opportunities. Their young defense has been stout at times, Bortles arm seems to work just fine, and the AR-15 at wide receiver is as dangerous as ever. Why have you forsaken these majestic cats? For the Jaguars to remain competitive, I propose a shift in coaching. As the team is venturing into London (aka, the place where losing coaches go to die) perhaps a loss to the division rival Colts will be just the push this organization needs to abandon the Gus Bus. 

For the sake of us fans, instead of having us endure another close between broken Colts and Texans squad, grant us your grace and allow this race to be between the Titans and Jaguars just as it was in 1999 of old. These things are possible if you allow these teams to make the proper adjustments. 

2) Ending the Divisional Reigns of Terror

I can’t help but notice, your graces, that certain teams who are playoff staples as of late are NOT sitting atop their divisional thrones. The Packers, Seahawks, Panthers, and Steelers, respectively are not showing the dominance we have all become accustomed to as we roll our eyes waiting to see which poor hapless teams will sneak into the playoffs as wild cards.

While I understand that they might be no stopping the likes of New England or Denver, I can’t help but smile thinking we are transitioning into an era where teams like the Vikings, Ravens, Eagles, Raiders, Falcons, and perhaps even the Rams can present themselves as teams of the future. I know many are likely to fall and that the odds are stacked against them; but consider the following:

The Vikings are winning handily on the strength of their defense and a consistent passing attack while the Packers are needing to address their offense. Their offense. Seattle is going through their typical growing pains at the beginning of the season, but their offensive line aren’t protecting Wilson to a point where even he can’t seem to escape the pressure. The Panthers have lost as many games in the last 3 weeks as they did LAST YEAR including the Super Bowl while the Falcons power their way forward on an incredible rushing attack. The Eagles gamble on a rookie quarterback has paid off in dividends, the Raiders have a top 3 offense, and the RAMS…well, the Rams are an unproven commodity, but their LEADING the NFC West for now.

Football Gods, we seem to be facing a changing of regimes and I, for one, welcome it. We deserve to have the playoffs be interesting again.

3) Allow Aaron Rodgers at Least One More Ring

I at the risk of sounding ungrateful, most celestial ones, we’ve heard this song far too many times. We receive a once in a generational talent who either rescues or extends a team’s legacy and we watch their hopes and dreams dashed time and time again. We suffered through Favre, Young, and Warner each obtaining a measly one ring while others like Marino, Sanders, Kelly, and Tomlinson kept coming so close but walking away from the game empty handed. Even legends like Elway and Manning had to wait until the twilight of their careers to solidify their legacies with a second ring. 

Football is better when great talents stay that way and to do that, great talents need certain things. Apart from Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers is the most deserving of some extra, legacy cementing silver. The current record holder of the highest career passer rating, best touchdown to interception ratio, and typically held up as the best quarterback in the league despite that fact that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have played in his era. The things holding the Packers back seem to come as an unexpected hurricane with each playoffs that Rodgers is under. An overtime without getting the ball, playoff Eli Manning, a broken collarbone, the craziest final 2 minutes of a football game, ANOTHER overtime without getting the ball (after 2 beautiful Hail Mary throws), what more do you demand from Green Bay?

The solution for this squad is simple: Time to stop playing so conservatively, lean on Eddie Lacy more, and don’t simply assume that Rodgers will be magic every time he has the ball. Football Gods, allow the play callers in Green Bay to plan with ALL their weapons, and not just their cannons. Green Bay could be in for something special if they bank on the good things they had going against the Lions. Let their eyes be opened to the second half of that game where they allowed 24 points and only scored 3. Let the time of conservative play calling be over and grant THIS generational talent at least more ring. Do not let his talent be wasted.

4) Grant Rebuilding Teams Consistency

It is only week 3, omnipotent ones, but already some coaches are finding themselves under fire despite their relative newness. 2 time Super Bowl participant John Fox is feeling heat in Chicago, Rex Ryan has been threatened to be drowned in Buffalo Wing Sauce, even Chip Kelly in his first year at San Fransisco is being looked at with torches and pitchforks.

I know firing upwards of six coaches is your “thing”, but we must allow teams in these situations to trust their coaches. Is Rex Ryan a great coach? I don’t think so. But he has pulled magic out of Joe Flacco’s backup, utilized LeSean McCoy well, and his run defense looked stout against a Cardinals team it really should have gotten run over by. If Ryan is fired, a new starting quarterback will be relearning a whole new system and you will be putting the good people of Buffalo through further football hell. John Fox was given a lousy situation in Chicago which only got lousier following Cutler’s injury and is doing the best he can with what he has. John Fox has never immediately rebounded when inheriting a struggling team, grant the people of Chicago patience to work his magic. In regards to Kelly, I believe the man has proven that he wasn’t solely responsible for the wild ride that took place in Philly. It seems his strategy has been more on the “work with what you have” side this season which, admittedly, hasn’t panned out great so far, but it does build him some great leverage. Kelly inherited a mess and still pulled out a week 1 win and did some decent scoring against Carolina. 

Please do not hurl these coaches into the fire just yet. Might I suggest some other names to appease your sacrifice? Names like Mike McCoy, Gus Bradley, or even Sean Payton should their teams continue to not reach higher planes with all the time these coaches have been granted?

5) Have Mercy on the Cleveland Browns

How you have tormented this franchise, oh wrathful ones. Pulling them from their home only to send them to Baltimore and then plaguing them with quarterback after quarterback, head coach after coach, draft bust after draft bust, and for what? For nearly 50 years, this team has been through the fires of hell only to walk out more scathed and less feeling. This very season you have teased them with promising quarterbacks and an outstanding 1st round wide receiver, only to send them back through the fires of injury. And don’t get me started on the plagues you have thrust upon Josh Gordon, the promised Savior that Cleveland will now never have. Truly as the great messenger Mike Polk once said, FirstEnergy stadium continues to be a Factory of Sadness.

And yet Cleveland seems to be on the rise with hope. In spite of going 0-3, the Browns have looked, dare I say competitive in each game. Hard lost contests to the Eagles, Ravens, and Dolphins have not shown us “the same ol’ Browns” but instead a wealth of new talent and the idea that maybe Hue Jackson knows what he’s doing. For starters, in week 3, rookie quarterback Cody Kessler wasn’t terrible. Isaiah Crowley and Duke Johnson have exploded as a dangerous running back tandem. Joe Haden is already sporting 2 interceptions under his belt. And the biggest surprise of them all, Terrelle Pryor Sr has made a seamless transition from quarterback to wide receiver and is already starting to look like a legitimate target AND a clever trick as an occasional QB. Something that you didn’t plan for is happening in Cleveland. They’re believing again. 

Am I asking you to propel Cleveland to the top of the AFC North? No. Is it their time to finally make a Super Bowl appearance? I doubt it. But there is hope and optimism in the Browns locker room, something this franchise hasn’t felt since hours before “The Fumble” or “The Drive” happened. No, what am I asking you, if you truly do exist, is to let the Browns have this one. Let them earn a respectable draft position, let their team grow, let the new talent get excited, and grant the fans of this hobbled franchise the dignity of allowing real hype to finally build around this team. 

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