The NFL is, in many ways, just about the most successful sports league imaginable. The games are widely watched and obsessively scrutinized; ratings and revenue and interest have never been higher. But even the NFL is not immune to peer pressure, and with college football's bowl season approaching its apex, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell realized that he could no longer sit idle. His plan was simple: replace the stodgy, linear NFL playoffs with a chaotic and bafflingly sponsored bowl system that does not really settle anything in any concrete way. This was discussed last season, and is being somewhat hastily rolled out this year. "It was time," Goodell said. "This is the National Football League. It's my job to make sure the Outback Bowl doesn't keep beating our asses."
Kevin Harlan and Pep Boys Present The Make It Right Bowl
Washington Redskins at Houston Texans
The season shouldn't be over for these two teams, and so it is not. David Carr has graciously volunteered to quarterback both ball clubs, even though he's said many times that he "doesn't need to be doing this anymore" and that he "has children." But he believes in the project.
The game, which ushers in the first NFL Bowl Season, will last eight quarters. Play will obviously stop after each whistle per the usual, but coaches and fans will be allowed to stop play, too, at any time, for added instruction and fundamentals for players, and also to scold them. Gary Kubiak has been invited back to coach the Texans, although his limbs will be controlled by Mike Tice, who will "wear" Mr. Kubiak in a large pair of coveralls. London Fletcher has opted not to finish his career this way.
New Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who saved Penn State's football program, will be allowed to deliver remarks whenever he wants as per his contract, to which Joe Buck must say, "If there's been a more dignified speech in NFL history, I've not heard it. Dignity. He didn't forget to pack it when he left Happy Valley."
Dan Snyder reserves the right to enter the playing field in a mustard yellow remaindered baseball hat at any time, for any reason. He has also announced that if the Redskins win, he gets to use the name "Texans" to get everyone off his case. So then there will be a D.C. area football team named the Washington Texans. Maybe the PC police would prefer that? The Washington Texans? They probably want the team to be called the Washington Considerate Cuddlers. They probably want the team to be called the Washington Pajama Boys.
Also the game will also be played on a rickety footbridge similar to the one in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But it will obviously contain sod and yard markers and stuff. It's still a football game. It's just a football game on a dangerous bridge with David Carr quarterbacking both teams.
Oh, and the referees will all be styled to look like the Pep Boys themselves, and will be encouraged to call the game "in character" as Manny, Moe or Jack, in order to allow fans and players an opportunity to better engage with both the game and the Pep Boys brand.
Papa John's Delivery Bowl
Jacksonville Jaguars at Denver Broncos
Jacksonville played Denver pretty close in their first meeting. This time around, Roger Goodell has made it clear that he would like to see Jacksonville "really get spanked," and that "it would be a shame if we all didn't collectively continue to exhaust all measures of humbling Blaine Gabbert." All positive statistics by any quarterback will count towards Peyton Manning's regular season records. Jacksonville's defense will play in London while Manning controls his offense in Denver at whatever Mile High Stadium is called now.
It works like this: Manning goes to the line of scrimmage and, via Skype on stadium scoreboard, asks Jacksonville's defenders, "So what would you guys do now?" And then the Jaguars have to act it out all the way and make ghost-karaoke tackles and Manning gets to say, "Cool. But I was actually going to throw a screen to Montee Ball on that play, so it probably would have gone for like 31 yards, so let's move the chains." It will go on like this until Papa John Schnatter, who will be broadcasting the game alongside Jim Nantz and "Major Dad"'s Gerald McRaney, decides that he's seen enough.
Every household that tunes in for this game will also be sent a Papa John's pizza, although they will have to pay for it. On this evening, Papa John wants to break some records of his own, and believes that by leveraging the popularity of the NFL and premium quality green peppers and "100 percent real meats" he could break the Most Pizzas Delivered In One Afternoon record set by Little Caesar's in 2010. (Schnatter has long held that Caesar's record is "a farce and a lie" because Little Caesar's delivered three pizzas for every pizza ordered, in what it maintained was an accident.)
The Papa John Delivery Bowl is the first act in what Schnatter called on his The Papa Diaries tumblr, "The Year Two Thousand Papa-Teen." There, in an uncapitalized post illustrated with GIFs from "The Big Bang Theory", Schnatter lays out plans to "buy the cleveland browns and punish them," get appointed to the Senate, "get to 2nd base with markie post from night court" and become the first man to sprawl out in a tanning bed in each of the 50 states. He also wants to enter a tanning bed in outer space. And operate the foremost chain of outer space tanning facilities by 2025.
The Michelob Ultra PerformanceAleTM Foam Bowl
Green Bay Packers at San Diego Chargers
Both teams acknowledge that it will be difficult for them to "play much defense." So the night before the game, each team will have a "lifeline" that allows them to have one lucky fan as the "Michelob Ultra 12th Fan." Team representatives and mascots will comb the taverns in their respective geographic area and choose one lucky fan for the honor, and that fan help their side by wielding a board or board-like object, so long as it does not have nails driven into it. The "fan" does not have to be sober, or even technically be a fan of the team. The "tavern" can also be a prison. Michelob Ultra is the only sports beer that helps you to drink and be your best, whether in the bar or at the gym. Michelob Ultra, America's Oddly Rice-Flavored Performance Intoxicant.
One hour of halftime will be devoted to an original stage drama entitled "Why We've Lost Sight of the Manti Te'o Redemption Narrative." It will be hosted by Bob Costas' troubled nephew Kevin Costas, and feature a piece of on-field musical theater with Annie Lennox and Amanda Palmer both playing Manti and Lennay and also The Sports Fan Public. It will hold a mirror up and show us ourselves, and the problematic and contradictory ways that we love the games we love. Except for the Amanda Palmer parts, which will mostly be about Amanda Palmer.
The Miracle Whip Extra-Mild Indianapolis Bowl
San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts
Jim Harbaugh has revealed nothing except that he thinks this is "second-tier bullshit" and that at the end of the game he might "go after" Chuck Pagano. Harbaugh also claims he can, "bottle my rage in such a way that I vomit." He added that he's never had to use that tactic on the field yet, but if no one continues to listen, he might.
During the game, Frank Gore will also just run through various things, including a vertical sheet of mayonnaise, a giant church bell, pulsating mud from the Amazon, the Stanford Cardinal marching band, a flurry of shredded OfficeMax circulars, a whale carcass, and (while dressed as the Kool-Aid Man) a stucco wall. Halftime entertainment is Andrew Luck's band SHUCKS, which only knows how to play "Hey, There Delilah."
There will also be, for the first 1,000 children in attendance, a treasure hunt in a large replica of Andrew Luck's beard. Lucky winners will locate sliced green olives, corn, old Mazda keys, Chex Mix, a cassette copy of Prince's Around the World in a Day, and tiny, stray dolphin teeth.
The Prilosec OTC Big Bowl Of Prilosec Bowl
Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid is lying in a twin bed. Eyes closed. Eyes open. Glasses fogging up. He's tossing. He's turning. Andy Reid looks over at the night light. It's a little train conductor, or rather a cartoon character version of a train conductor. The train conductor is winking.
Andy Reid rises. He looks in his closet. There's a rack of red, belted Chiefs winter wear, basically tents for your body the color of cherry Starbursts. One after the other. He puts on the snow pants. He puts on the jacket. He climbs back under the covers. He reaches over and unplugs the train conductor, but it is hot and so it burns his fingers. He drops it. Then he uses a Kleenex to pick it up and inspect it for damage. He sets it down and worries that the Kleenex might catch fire. So, to be safe, he slides it away from the train conductor night light, dimmed and already cooling. Then he slides it a couple more inches away. It's 3:06 in the afternoon.
There is no other information available about this game at present, except Chip Kelly has sketched all of the above on flashcards and, when shown to his offensive unit, those all mean huge bombs to Riley Cooper for touchdowns. Cooper will also take the field with a country musician on his shoulders. That country musician will not be Kenny Chesney, who would like to wait until the Eagles get into a bigger bowl before appearing and pretending he's always been a huge fan of the team.
The Connecticut Muffin Bran Bowl
Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots
Ever see a slot receiver in construction boots and no shoulder pads, who is allowed to smoke Basics on the playing field? Unless you watched the Raiders in the ‘80s, the answer is almost certainly "no," but NFL Bowl Season is about making history.
This week, the Patriots will only be Tom Brady and 52 guys named Rick signed mid-week. Some of the Ricks are on crutches. Some are senior citizens. A significant number are commercial fishermen. Some cannot eat tomatoes because it's hell on their joints. Some will play in old tucked in Richard Seymour jerseys and starchy, efficient, "I'm not trying to make any trouble" jeans.
Bill Belichick wants to change football, in part by replacing top-caliber athletes with stumpier and more virtuous specimens. Where other coaches see Charles Schwab employees with serious nut allergies and anger issues or Korean War veterans who only read Bill O'Reilly's books about historic assassinations and refuse to eat any kind of fruit for political reasons, Belichick sees raw materials that in the right climate and with the right gardener/shepherd, could blossom into a Super Bowl champion. This is the game Peter King will be at, smiling happily, periodically tweeting things about the ways in which various Ricks are out-working Cam Newton, and chain-eating Sucrets. A Word document is already open on his computer, with one sentence written: "Wow."
The Adult Arby's NiteBeef Bowl
Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns
Both teams committed to the NiteBeef Bowl, the first NFL game played in a parking lot since 2006, before firing their coaches. Per the bowl's rules, interim coaches were chosen through an online poll, ensuring that the Browns will be coached by Kanye West and the Lions will be coached by Your Mom. West, in a 33-minute speech to the team that he released as the I Am Excellence EP, laid out his approach to the game: "Y'all understand this fame shit is just a methodology, right? That my art, my design, my decision to manifest in physical form instead of as vapor or pure energy -- because I could be speaking to you right now as an app or a sunset, okay, I could be communicating with you as a bathrobe made entirely of stained glass, I designed that -- you all understand that all this is just a way to insert more truth into the globe? That's what most of y'all don't get, what y'all won't get probably for generations, is that it's difficult to be the vessel through which the absolute essential is disseminated, okay? It's very stressful. I'm a portal, for one thing. I'm a perfume that smells like Gene Hackman, okay, I'm Karl Lagerfeld in a Derek Anderson Browns jersey. I'm Wolf Blitzer in a crew-neck sweatshirt with his own face on it. I can't expect you to get it. This is why I say I'm Steve Jobs or Nike. They both had to deal with the same sort of issues, just in terms of communicating their vision."
The parking lot in which the game is slated to be played is located outside the Adult Arby's on Cleveland's Euclid Avenue. This is one of several pilot restaurants that Arby's has started in order to compete in the Adult Casual Meat Experience segment currently ruled by chains such as Buffalo Wild Wings. The goal is to offer a more sophisticated customer experience than the typical Arby's visit, with soda fountains retrofitted to dispense mojitos and Budweiser Black Crown and an updated menu that features Arby's familiar ribbons of pinkish-brown meat served on smaller-than-usual plates; the popular Horsey Sauce has been rebranded as Stallion Sauce. NiteBeef is Adult Arby's "premium 'after dark' signature meat."
"Our goal is simple: to give customers the same food that they've become more or less inured to in an environment with better lighting, probably some weirdly sweet dipping sauces, and, like, square plates," Arbco CEO Duncan Arby said in the NiteBeef Bowl's press release. "We feel that the NFL's brand-goals align with ours in this regard, and also we weren't going to let Beef ‘O' Brady's steal another bowl game from us. Not again. Not on Duncan Arby's watch."
This preview was written by David Roth and Jeff Johnson.