November 3, 2011

Unmasking The NFL

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While the partying and debauchery might have been kept to a minimum amongst NFL players and teams this past Halloweekend, there was no shortage of holiday spirit. In fact, the first eight weeks of the NFL season have served as a prolonged All Hallows Eve of sorts, with teams dawning masks of illusion to hide their true forms. Yet as quickly as fall turns to winter, so does the NFL landscape.

Last week served as the midpoint of the NFL season, and, moving forward, teams will unveil their true identities. It’s time to unmask the competition and set apart the contenders from the pretenders — but first, let’s pay homage to the season’s best costumes thus far. Remember, best in show doesn’t necessarily translate into a Super Bowl title.

The Slackers

32. Indianapolis Colts, 31. Miami Dolphins

Some people wait until the last minute to pick out a Halloween costume, when all the best ideas have been taken and the stores are left with merely scraps. Meet the Colts and Dolphins, who seem to have arrived too late to the NFL party this year and still find themselves winless as a result. Perhaps with a little bit of Luck (hint, hint), one of these two will find themselves on top of this list come next Halloween.

The Slutty Nurse, Maid, Princess, etc.

30. St. Louis Rams

The Rams are the NFL’s version of the Halloween slut in 2011. After seven weeks of winless football, it appeared the Rams had forgotten to find a costume like Nos. 31 and 32 on this list. Wrong! As it turns out, the Rams were saving themselves for one day of reckless abandon. St. Louis trounced the New Orleans Saints, 31-21, on Sunday and quickly became the darling of Halloweekend throughout the league. Don’t expect the wins to keep coming, though, with winter fast approaching the Rams are sure to ditch their risqué attire and bundle up with a few more losses.

The Living Dead

29. Arizona Cardinals, 28. Denver Broncos, 27. Seattle Seahawks, 26. Jacksonville Jaguars, 25. Cleveland Browns, 24. Minnesota Vikings

Serious question: What’s more watched on Sundays this fall? A game featuring any of these lifeless teams or an episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead?

The Far-Too Offensive

23. Carolina Panthers

For sake of space and making it by editorially unscathed, I’ll withhold examples here. But we all know what I’m talking about, those costumes that cross the line and go from funny to just downright distasteful. Of course, I’m not calling the Panthers distasteful. In fact, it’s a compliment to note just how offensive Carolina’s Cam Newton-led attack is this year (ranked No. 5 in yards per game). When the Panthers finally shore up that defense and special teams, the rest of the NFC might actually have reason to take offense.

The Wallflowers

22. Washington Redskins, 21. Tennessee Titans, 20. Dallas Cowboys, 19. Kansas City Chiefs, 18. Oakland Raiders, 17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is more of a metaphor for the people who go to a party, but never seem to talk to anyone. Though, it could be a creative (albeit boring) Halloween costume, as well. While the teams in this category are not necessarily pretenders, they have not played consistent enough to make any real noise in the league up to this point. But watch out! After all, this could just be a costume, and the true contenders could show their face at any moment.

Too Afraid to Trick-or-Treat

16. San Diego Chargers

Halloween is not everyone’s favorite holiday, and my guess is that Philip Rivers is on that list. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has looked scared at crucial points in back-to-back losses to the Jets and Chiefs in recent weeks, and the Chargers may stay stuck in the middle of the pack until he can overcome his fourth quarter fears.

Freaky Friday

15. Philadelphia Eagles, 14. Cincinnati Bengals

It’s always fun to dress up as someone else. Maybe that’s what the Bengals and Eagles decided when they switched bodies prior to the start of the season. Dubbed the “Dream Team” by one of their own, the Eagles were supposed to be 5-2 and playoff hopefuls come Halloween, but that spot belongs to the youthful Bengals. Will they switch back in time for the second half of the season?

The Vampires

13. New York Jets, 12. Atlanta Falcons

This genre is as tired and overused as is the mouth from which Rex Ryan speaks. Ever since their respective losses in last year’s playoffs, the Jets and Falcons have been hot picks to return to the playoffs for a Super Bowl run in 2011. Well it’s time to put up or shut up. Sweep the Buffalo Bills and beat the Patriots at home and the Jets might be baring their fangs in the playoffs once again, but falter and miss out on the postseason and Gang Green may risk forever being associated with the likes of the Twilight franchise. Atlanta may have a little longer to wait until it proves its worth, finishing off the season with back-to-back games against the two teams ahead of it in the NFC South standings.

The Group Costume

11. Chicago Bears

Notice how every group costume is dominated by one individual? There is always that one person that goes above and beyond to steal the spotlight. That’s kind of the case with the Bears this season. Sure, football is a team sport and all that jazz, but Chicago will go only as far as Matt Forte can carry them in 2011. Pay the man already!

Michael Myers and Co.

10. Houston Texans, 9. Buffalo Bills

Every Halloween slasher film is the same. We know the killer is on the attack, and yet we still jump when he finally goes in for the kill. If history repeats itself, we can expect the Texans’ and Bills’ seasons to unfold in similar fashion. In past years when these two teams have been in contention, they’ve never failed to find ways to drop themselves out. It’s as if we know a season-ending three-game losing streak is looming, yet the suspense remains all the same…

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

8. New York Giants

Anyone else find it odd that once Peyton Manning gets injured Eli Manning starts playing … like Peyton Manning?

The Trendy Pick

7. Detroit Lions

Each year has its trendy costume. In 2009 it was the Joker. In 2010 it was Four Loko. And in 2011 it’s the Lions. Detroit was a hot pick by experts to escape their recent futility and contend for a playoff spot, and thus far they are living up to the hype. Looks like the next great American holiday will have relevance in the NFL again, when the Lions host the Packers on Thanksgiving.

Three Nights, Three Costumes

6. Baltimore Ravens, 5. New Orleans Saints

Some people just can never choose what they want to be for Halloween, so they dress up as something different for each night of the weekend. The Ravens and Saints have been equally as inconsistent. Some nights they will be the life of the party and beat the likes of the Steelers and Bears, and other nights they will stand idly in the corner as the Jaguars and Rams steal the show.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

4. New England Patriots, 3. San Francisco 49ers

The Patriots and 49ers have done their best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impressions thus far. For the Pats, Mr. Hyde bares his cheerful grin in the form of an illustrious offense that smashed individual and team records through the first few weeks of the season. Unfortunately, Dr. Jekyll has played on the other side of the ball, leading a defense ranked last in the league. The 49ers are the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the Patriots’ own version of the duo, ranking in the Top-10 in defense and the bottom 10 in offense.

The Age Reversal

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

For the first few weeks of the season, Pittsburgh was dressed like the group of old men so many experts claimed it was. An always-entertaining costume for Halloween, the old man trick did not translate into much success on the field for the Steelers. After winning four straight, though, it turns out that the trick was on us. In its victory over New England last week, the Steelers looked far more like the team that represented the AFC in last year’s Super Bowl than the team that started this season 2-2.

The Costumeless

1. Green Bay Packers

The Packers are like the frat bro who is too cool to dress up for Halloween. Except instead of getting scoffed at by fellow costume-clad classmates, the Packers are praised for their unoriginality. Nothing has changed about the Packers since they stormed through the playoffs en route to their fourth Super Bowl title last season, and while other teams are left stripping from their costumes and searching for their true identities, Green Bay can be expected to continue its dominance in the second half.

Original Author: Dan Froats