Sunday, November 17, 2013

Guesswork Is a Kind of Work

Dilemma the first for journalism as is follows: Reality is very complex, but people desperately want to believe it isn't.

Dilemma the second: Even if there was a market for complex reality, the human attention span means there's no medium in which one can transmit without putting everyone to sleep, the transmitter included.

Dilemma the first for journalism consumers: Journalists, being people of a sort, also to believe reality is simple.

Dilemma the second: Nobody keeps a job commentating by frequent use of phrase "We don't know, so why don't we wait and find out."

Want to see all four of these dilemmas brought to room temperature, folded into the blender, and melded into the ingredients of a bullshit souffle? Sunday's your day. If you're up early, you can watch the Washington political talk shows, where what happened this week is what will happen for all time to come. If you are a sensible soul who'd rather sleep late, then the NFL pregame shows are for you. Hours and hours of reasonable knowledgeable (well, some of 'em), well-paid, expensively clothed folk denying the central fact of the sport -- nobody knows a damn thing about how it's playing out, and so far in 2013, they know less than that.

As far as I'm concerned, the most telling fact about pro football this autumn (in terms of the game as a game , the true significant fact is that the fooball's violence and the mindset needed to cope with it are starting ever so slowly to turn people off) is that there's one undefeated team in the league, and not only is it not considered a favorite to reach the Super Bowl, no one, not even its own fans, is all that sure it's really a good team at all. I'm sure some clod on the Kansas City Chiefs has played the hackneyed no respect sonata in the locker room this week, but what's actually bugging him is the awesome power of conventional wisdom. Back in August, we didn't think this would happen. In November, therefore, it can't be happening and those standings are the product of a wicked illusionist.

It's easy to mock the football commentariat, whose love of straight-line projection equals that of their D.C. brethren. But pity them, too. It's not easy to be confidently assertive week in and week out when the prime reality of each week's games has been staggering levels of inconsistency.

Want a team for an example? Try those Colts. Indianapolis has victories against Denver and Seattle, those teams' only losses. They also got waxed by 30 at home by the Rams. Care to offer a prediction on the Colts' December? Don't bring money if you do.

Want a game for an example? Couldn't do better than the Pats-Dolphins tilt. New England was utterly incompetent for the first 30 minutes and equally invincible for the second. Which was reality, which the illusion? Who knows?

In a sane world, the commentariat would rejoice at the complexity of a season where nobody would bet a farthing on what's coming next. Suspense is kind of the point of spectator sports, isn't it? Instead, in sorrow more than anger, they murmur about how "there are no great teams this year" and then joyously resume straight-line projections based on the weekend's games that completely refuted their straight-line projections of the previous week.

Because they had a bye last week, the Patriots have been the beneficiaries of TWO weeks of straight-line projection, heaping mounds of happy assertions that since they humiliated the Steelers' defense, Tom Brady and his offensive mates are back in gear, and New England is ticketed for the AFC Championship game at least.

Maybe so. It's not a ridiculous guess. But it's a guess all the same, and a guess all the riskier for being made in the teeth of so much evidence that it's best to keep one's guesses to oneself in the NFL these days.

But what is a blog, any blog, it not commentary. I'm as stuck as the ones who get paid for it. But I'll try an observation rather than a prediction. The Patriots, while inconsistent, have been less inconsistent than most. This strikes me as about the most valuable NFL asset of 2013. Maybe it's the only one that matters.


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