Pitch that game: NFL Week 2, 2015

Hello everyone and welcome to America’s favorite game show that… has never actually happened before and no one has heard of it… it’s Pitch That Game!

Here’s how it works. As your host, I have one minute to pitch a sporting event to someone who is not a sports fan. If, after my pitch, they’re interested in watching, I get a point! That’s it! Why would we play such a game? Well, it’s a good way to quickly learn about a set of games to see if you’re interested in following any of them. It’s also a great way for me to learn from you about what may or may not make a sport interesting to a layperson.

Our guest for this episode is Sonja Boet-Whitaker, a graduate student in City Planning, accomplished baker, aspiring driver, and also my partner. I pitched the five NFL football games available to people in the Boston area during the second weekend of the NFL season on Sunday September 20 and Monday September 21. For my thoughts on the other games, read on below the audio player.

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, September 20, 2015 1 p.m. ET

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings

Ah, the Lions and the Vikings. Both of these franchises have proud histories, but you have to be over the age of 35 to remember them. For the past twenty years or so, both teams have been lovable at times and laughable at times but always, always, losers. Sure enough, both teams lost in embarrassing fashion in the first week of the season. The Lions gave up 30 straight points in their loss to the San Diego Chargers and the Vikings were embarrassed against the San Francisco 49ers on national television. A win in this game will give their fans hope that this season might be different. A loss, and it’s going to feel like the same old shi…..ndig.

Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears

This game has all the makings of a win for the Cardinals. Arizona’s very good offense against Chicago’s bad defense and Chicago’s talented but questionable offense against Arizona’s potentially dominating defense. That said, even if things worked out that way, it could be a highly entertaining game. Chicago has enough talent and pride and desperation having lost their first home game to the Green Bay Packers, to fight for this one tooth, nail, claw, and fur — they are Bears, after all.

Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns

This game is going to be the second game in Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota’s career. It will also be the second game in a row that he’s faced a heisman trophy winning quarterback. Mariota won the heisman trophy, given to college football’s best player, last year. A worthy candidate on the field, his record was augmented by the fact that he seems to be a good person off the field. That’s different from the previous year’s winner, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston, who has been accused of sexual assault and it’s different from Cleveland Browns quarterback Jonny Manziel whose problems with alcohol have been well documented. Mariota looked amazing in last week’s big win over Winston and the Buccaneers, and it should be fun to root for him again against Manziel and the Browns.

Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers

The quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton, is 6’5″ tall, 250 pounds, and such an incredible athlete that he’s simultaneously the team’s best quarterback and best running back. Even he may not be able to survive the onslaught of the Houston Texan’s defensive line. The leader of that line is J.J. Watt — who’s such a force that his nickname is simply J.J. Watt — and he’s supported by underachieving but still full of potential Jadaveon Clowney and long-time Patriots defensive leader Vince Wilfork. I, for one, will be tuning in hoping to see the three of them harass Newton throughout the afternoon.

San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers

It wasn’t just the fact that the 49ers won their first game, that made it the single most surprising part of the NFL’s first weekend, it was the way they won. Everyone was expecting the 49ers to be a shell of their former selves this year after losing their head coach, two best linebackers, best defensive end, best wide receiver, long-time running back, and two members of their offensive line over the summer. Turns out that doubt can be a powerfully motivating factor. The 49ers came out and physically dominated their opponents in their first game. Whether that same formula will work against the Pittsburgh Steelers who lost their first game to the defending champion Patriots, is another story.

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals

If Phillip Rivers, quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, had the type of skilled players surrounding him at the running back and wide receiver positions that his counterpart on the Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton has, the Chargers might never lose another game. On the other hand, if the Bengals had a quarterback three quarters as good as Rivers, they might never lose another game. This matchup provides a clear example of a perennial problem. If you can’t have a great quarterback and great players surrounding him, which do you choose?

St. Louis Rams at Washington Redskins

This game has a wonderful plot. Three years ago, the Washington Redskins traded a slew of draft picks to the St. Louis Rams in order to move up in the draft and choose a player when the Rams ordinarily would have. That pick was quarterback Robert Griffin the third, who has not worked out for the Redskins. Since that time, the Rams coaches and players have seemed to live only to beat the Redskins, to show them that team matters more than a single star player. It’s a nice message, and one that continues to provide motivation for the Rams, even long after anyone would argue that the Redskins got the better of the deal.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

It’s the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and I recently read a wonderful article by Wright Thompson about the city’s efforts to recover and how important a role the Saints played. If that weren’t enough to have me rooting for them, their opponent in this game is the Buccaneers, a hapless franchise that gave away its lovable loser element when it drafted Jameis Winston, who was accused of and is almost definitely guilty of rape. Go Saints.

Sunday, September 20, 2015 4:30 p.m. ET

Baltimore Ravens at Oakland Raiders

The Ravens are who the Raiders should aspire to be. They are a defense first, highly adaptable team that seems to be able to continue to win no matter what players they lose because of free agency or injury. Unfortunately, the Raiders insist on trying to be the Raiders — a team that takes risks on other team’s cast-away players and tries to throw the ball way down the field more than any other team. It’s a formula that worked in the early 1980s but it hasn’t worked in this millennia and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be working any time soon.

Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars

Football “experts” have all been assuming that Miami was a team on the rise and Jacksonville a team on the… well, I guess you’d say the float? A terrible team that’s not getting much better. Miami won their first game and Jacksonville lost, which you’d think would confirm that suspicion, but Miami looked so bad in winning and Jacksonville showed just enough oomph, even in a losing effort, that the so called experts will be on the edge of their seats to watch this one. If you like chaos and comeuppance, root for the Jaguars.

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