NFL Power Rankings - Week 18 Statement

Sat, Jan 7, 2023

No power rankings this week. Most of the power is concentrated at the top anyway and with the highly anticipated AFC showdown between the Bills and Bengals paused indefinitely with 5:55 left in the first quarter, there’s no sense in addressing the rankings until that epic battle sorts itself out. 

By now everyone in the world has probably seen Bills’ Safety Damar Hamlin tackle Bengals’ Receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter of the Monday Night Football game. I was watching in real time and to my eyes the collision looked relatively pedestrian, at least by NFL standards. But then Hamlin stood up and immediately collapsed. It was one of those where-were-you-when-this-happened? moments in sports that people will be talking about for years to come. 

The initial armchair diagnosis was a concussion. Ironically, in the same stadium where Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins set social media newsfeeds ablaze on a Week 4 Thursday Night game after a seemingly harmless hit, introducing the world to the post-concussive neurological phenomenon known as fencing. Another eerily silent yet pivotal moment on the gridiron this year. But when CPR was administered and an ambulance appeared on the 50-yard line, you knew this was something different. 

The professional and politically polished Monday Night crew on ESPN said all the right things: thoughts and prayers, something has to change, etc… Outwardly I was issuing similar heartfelt condolences. But inside there was another narrative unfolding. 

That was not a concussion. They don’t give CPR for concussions, do they? I wonder if this is a byproduct of Covid. Maybe the virus somehow mutated in his DNA and weakened his heart. Maybe he had a blood clot from taking the vaccine. He could have been smoking crack before the game. Lawrence Taylor smoked crack before games, and he was one of the most vicious defenders ever. Don’t forget about Len Bias of the Boston Celtics… All right, is this game gonna resume play or what? It’s been 20 minutes. They can’t just cancel it, can they? Playoff positioning is at stake. I need the Bills to knock off the Bengals so they’ll have a reason to play their starters next Sunday vs. the Patriots. Otherwise, the Dolphins won’t get a wildcard.

If you’re not a football fan, you’re probably thinking I’m a horrible person right now. Selfish, judgmental, conspiratorial. And you may be right. The jury is still out on that one. But I guarantee you the diehard fans in your orbit were thinking similar thoughts at some point on Monday night. It’s not that we don’t feel compassion for the Hamlin family. We’ve just been conditioned to view torn ligaments, traumatic brain injuries, and even occasional paralysis as occupational hazards. Next man up! We’ve been desensitized after years of watching this bone-crunching and sometimes bloody spectacle, this violent ballet otherwise known as the National Football League.

Which begs the question: What is the NFL doing to us?