One thing that’s useful to remember about the NFL is that it is the most successful, most watched, and longest running television show in history. Sure, the action on the field is exciting and it’s the point of the whole exercise, but it’s the ongoing storylines that keep us coming back year after year. The big one this year is going to be the continuation of the Brett Favre soap opera. The original tag-line went something like this: “NFL’s biggest star fights Father Time as he makes an end-of-career push for a second Super Bowl ring.” Something like Bill Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character from The Unforgiven, reluctantly drawn back into his violent past and triumphing, finding redemption (in Favre’s case, his place in NFL history) along the way. Favre believes he needs that second ring to be considered one of the greatest of all time.
But the story changed when the Packers, looking out for their future, altered the script to the Steve Young/Joe Montana story. Since then, the drama has turned out more like that of a classic mid-life crisis tale. Favre and the Packers are happily married high school sweethearts until Favre starts making eyes at the hot neighbor lady, the Vikings. She’s got a sweet defense, and that running back can’t be real, right? But it’s a messy divorce. There are kids involved (Aaron Rodgers, Tavaris Jackson), and the jilted Packers basically shame Favre into moving out of the neighborhood (the NFC North). Soon, he takes up with the Jets on the rebound, but nobody really believes that’s going to work out. They’re right. But wouldn’t you know it, he can’t stay away, and pretty soon he’s back in the neighborhood driving his sexy trophy wife, the Vikings, around town in his new Corvette. They’re the gal he really left the Packers for, and now they’re together, for good or bad. He treats her pretty badly, too, making her show how much she loves him every year just to keep him around. Everyone shakes their head as he rolls past, saying, “He used to be such a stand-up guy, but now he just looks ridiculous.” All the married men nod in agreement around their wives, but secretly they understand the lure of a hot piece of ass. Favre doesn’t care, he’s thinking about history. And sweet, sweet ass.
Meanwhile, in the less salacious and certainly more family-friendly storyline, the Saints and Drew Brees’ tale of redemption and resurrection plays like a Hallmark family movie of the week. In any drama, the more obstacles the protagonist has to overcome, the more special the triumph. So it’s even more compelling to paint the Saints as the brain-damaged kid who’s tuned his life around since the accident. Until the end of last season, I hadn’t heard so much “Ain’ts” talk in the media since the Mora era. That was ancient history, but I guess it plays better nationally.
But part of this story just doesn’t jibe. You see, Brees is not a nice man. Of course he is off the field; he’s a philanthropist, leader of great causes, a beacon of goodness to the people of the Gulf South and beyond. But on the field? He will kill you. He will absolutely shoot you dead and then cut up your corpse with a knife. Then he’ll post your head on a stake as a warning to the rest of the league. A couple of weeks ago, I saw Brees walking down the street with two of his QB understudies following him like young ducklings. He didn’t walk anything like his family-friendly, nice guy image. He was strutting. Not with pride, like Vinny Barbarino, but with a “Hey, somebody mess with me please, I’d love to kick a little ass right now” kinda swagger. He’s more like Robert DeNiro in The Untouchables. This guy doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder; it’s a boulder, and he’s daring anyone to knock it off.
The Favre and Brees storylines intersected in last year’s NFC Championship game; I’m not going to recap it here, we all saw what happened (to relish it, see the above clip). Tonight’s game isn’t a playoff game, but the outcome will probably help decide playoff seeding at the end of the year. So it’s as big as the first game of the regular season can get. But more importantly, it becomes the jumping off point for the new season of football predictions based on Madden 2011! Here’s my prediction:
Week 1 MIN @ NO—It turns out to be a defensive battle, with Adrian Peterson rushing for a TD and catching another. Although the Saints defense can’t stop Peterson, he puts the ball on the ground at a crucial moment. Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Schiancoe take advantage of Malcolm Jenkins and Jo-Lonn Dunbar down the seams. The Vikings control the clock for a maddeningly long time. Brees is punished in the pocket, and the run game has trouble finding traction early. But Shockey is clutch—five catches including a TD before going out with an ankle injury (Madden hates Shockey!). Evans and Bush start slowing down the pass rush with catches in the flats. Favre throws two interceptions while Player of the Game Pierre Thomas matches Peterson with 4 catches for 35 yards and a TD, and 12 attempts for 57 yards and another TD, as he keeps the chains moving in a close 21 – 14 victory.