It’s All Worth It For 17
12:35 PM EST on December 28, 2023
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here.
Drew is out this week, so filling in for him is Victoria Zeller, a writer and reformed podcaster from Buffalo, New York. Her debut novel, One of the Boys, is forthcoming.
The week of the 2018 NFL Draft was a very strange time for me.
I was a college sophomore dealing with an unplanned major change—I dropped journalism, becoming the first person in history to upgrade their major viability by switching to English—but I was also living my life under a Lame Duck Identity. I’d long since realized I was trans, but the plan was to come out that summer, meaning I was stuck in the awkward genderless in-between. My friends knew my real name, but in public, they had to call me the old one. I excitedly broke the news that the Buffalo Bills signed A.J. McCarron to my afternoon poetry workshop, and I did it while wearing cargo shorts and a trans flag bracelet. There are many embarrassing things I’ve admitted to on the internet, and that’s near the top of the list!
That last week of April, I went shopping for women’s clothes with a friend on Monday, taking a shot of vodka before leaving the house so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. On Tuesday, I came out to the last of my close friends. On Wednesday, I had work of mine published under the name “Victoria” for the first time. Even if the hard work wasn’t done yet, that week signaled the start of something new and terrifying. Book 1 of Victoria’s Life was over, Book 2 had yet to be written. To say I was all over the place, emotionally, would be an understatement.
On Thursday, my stupid goddamn Buffalo Bills drafted stupid goddamn Josh Allen.
For a lot of people—including me and you, most likely—Josh Allen was an avatar of everything stupid and wrong and bigoted about the NFL draft process. In the same year Bill Polian suggested former-Heisman-future-MVP Lamar Jackson should consider converting to wide receiver, America was told this guy—this guy!—should go in the first round. This human-shaped lump of marzipan had one single Kinda Good season at Wyoming, so he should go before the reincarnation of Michael Vick? Before Josh Rosen?!? Did you see how many stars were next to Rosen’s name coming out of high school? Be serious!
I mean, I was ready to order the Josh Rosen jersey on draft night. When Roger Goodell called the wrong Josh’s name, I was so furious I went on a five-mile walk. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, changing in real time, becoming something new and exciting and different, but the team I saw lose 30-29 to the Tennessee Titans on New Year’s Eve when I was 8 years old would stay the same forever: making the same stupid mistakes, drafting the same idiots, spinning in circles until the heat death of the universe. Dick Jauron might be gone, but his spirit lives on.
Nearly six years later, of course, we live in a world where Josh Allen is a two-time All-Pro and a perennial MVP candidate. The sentient marzipan log matured into a football-throwing marzipan golem, and people much smarter than me have given up on trying to understand how it happened. He tricked Kyle Shanahan into spending three first-round picks on Trey Lance, and it was so long ago that Trey Lance is now a Dallas Cowboy. Both he and the Bills have been good for long enough that you, a neutral fan, are likely tired of seeing them in primetime, tired of seeing them in the playoffs. He’s been great for so long that it’s probably weird for you to remember a time when he really, really wasn’t.
Sometimes, when I watch him, I can’t help but think of that 19-year-old version of me furiously stomping through the streets of suburban Buffalo. There was so, so much she couldn’t see.
Josh Allen plays football with pure, unbridled joy. He has personalized handshakes with each of his teammates. He might spend a make-or-break football game reciting the same joke 900 times. He’ll make a smart adjustment at the line one play and run you over the next. He might take a taunting penalty if he beats your ass badly enough. Sometimes he picks fights with linebackers. He’s taken the Bills to heights I never thought I’d seen them reach in my lifetime. He is everything I could’ve possibly hoped for when I was 8 years old, watching J.P. Losman on Christmas Eve, or when I was 19 years old in the middle of a week that changed my life in so many more ways than I could ever imagine.
And five years ago, he was THIS.
Of course, it’s not perfect. Nothing is. The Bills have a knack for losing The Game Of The Year every year, and 2023 hasn’t gone according to plan. Josh Allen’s still good for one or two Moron Games every year. But even when I’m mad at Brandon Beane for giving him one (1) capable pass-catcher, it’s worth it for 17. When I’m gnawing my arms and legs off over Coach 9/11’s most recent clock management masterclass, it’s worth it for 17. As the Bills have dragged themselves back into the playoff race and all but locked in another two years of the Sean McDermott administration, all I can think is: It’s worth it for 17.
Before the New Year, I’d like to share with you a lesson that Josh Allen has helped teach me: Human beings have an endless capacity for growth and change. Ironically enough, that is what I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see the night my team drafted him. And about Josh Allen’s ~shocking secret to success~? He just fuckin’ worked at it, man. You can always remake yourself if you’re willing to take a step back, reassess, and fix what isn’t working. It’s already in your hands. There’s no magic sauce. Everyone has a Josh Allen Leap ahead of them.
One last dope play, as a palate cleanser:
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Jets at Browns: Now is when I activate my trap card and reveal to you all my true agenda. You’re being accosted by the flannel-wearing hipster at the record store. You cannot close this tab. I’m inside your house. I’m behind you right now. Let’s begin!
Beginning in earnest with changes to pass interference rules in 2004, the NFL has slowly dismantled the defense’s capability to Do Anything. Legislating helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game? An obvious good. But the expansion of roughing the passer penalties, increasingly arcane pass interference rules, and the gray area that tackles like Jawaan Taylor operate in have tilted the scales hard in the offense’s favor. It’s not hard to understand why: There is an erotic appeal (in the artistic sense, settle down, boys) to seeing big numbers on the scoreboard. When Josh Allen uncorks a nuke, the camera sharply pans left, and you realize all at once that he’s about to go over the top of two deep safeties? That’s cinema, baby. Of course the league wants to encourage that.
However, to the great chagrin of people with “fantasy football” in their Twitter bio, defense—despite the deck being stacked so thoroughly against it—has the upper hand in 2023. Thanks to the widespread adoption of Cover 4/Quarters and pattern match coverage (don’t worry about it, boys), offense is lagging behind for the first time in years.
But here’s the thing: Defense is not a junior partner in this arrangement. Defense is not here for the offense’s character development. You’ve been brainwashed by Big Offense to think you can only have fun watching football if the defense is constantly engaging in Looney Tunes-style hijinks, but that’s not true.
Good defense is just as capable of beauty as good offense. Ever watch a safety just immediately sniff out a screen and send a poor running back directly to God? You know that moment when a defensive end turns the corner on the quarterback’s blindside and everyone in the galaxy knows the quarterback’s about to be strip-sacked except the quarterback? You’re glimpsing something special. All good art can show you flashes of the divine. Don’t deny yourself this joy because Numbers Small. You deserve more than that.
The Browns and Jets have two of the best defenses in the game, statistically speaking, but I’m not gonna rely on numbers to make my case. Numbers are boring and I’m trying to make defense Cool, after all. Instead, I’d like to direct your attention to some of My Guys in this game that make both these defenses so fascinating.
Quincy Williams, Jets: Playstyle can be best described as Cokehead Pterodactyl. Plays the game with a unique malice for humanity and mankind. Outrageously fun to watch if your team isn’t the one getting obliterated.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Browns: Adderall Pterodactyl. Undersized genius who makes up for it with speed and coverage ability. Dresses like this.
Jordan Whitehead, Jets: Plays with so much speed and aggression that he makes spectacular plays and spectacular mistakes at a roughly equal pace. Picked off Josh Allen one million times in Week 1.
Maurice Hurst, Browns: Another Disruptive Little Freak who’s had a great bounce-back season under Jim Schwartz. Has one of the prettiest Big Man Picks you’ll ever see.
Bryce Huff, Jets: Possibly the greatest one-trick pony pass rusher in the NFL. Face-melting speed and finesse.
Myles Garrett, Browns: Noted Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast.
Additionally, this game will feature the best quarterback to play for either the Jets or Browns in the past four years! And it’s not Zach Wilson!
Dolphins at Ravens: The league leader in passing offense squares off against the league leader in rushing offense and it’s a mere four throwgasms? Gentle reader, I’m biased.
I despise the Miami Dolphins. I may have grown up hating the Patriots, first and foremost, but the Dolphins have leapt up to fill that void. I hate their goofy-ass coach. I hate their stable of certified Fast Guys more than I hate life itself. I hate Tyreek Hill for actual justifiable reasons, but the rest of them? Your crime was putting on that goofy-ass helmet. You know the dolphin on the original Dolphins helmet isn’t even wearing the Dolphins helmet, right? Good lord. What an unserious franchise.
In 2023, they’re also Major Frauds. They’ve attempted to counter this narrative by beating up on the other most fraudulent winning team in the NFL, and the Miami Dolphins mediasphere has responded, predictably, by being very annoying.
To this I say: no. I’m a hater. Hating isn’t logical. The narrative isn’t dead until I’m dead. The Dolphins are frauds. Beat the Ravens and prove me wrong. And if you beat the Ravens, I’ll demand you beat the Bills to prove me wrong. The second you beat the Bills, I’ll move the goalposts again. You’re not my dad, Adam. You’re not the boss of me.
Lions at Cowboys: Smells like a first-round playoff exit!
Bengals at Chiefs: So this game doesn’t have the shine we thought it would, huh? You can go ahead and blame defense for discovering that two-high safety coverages exist if you want, or you could blame Brett Veach for deciding his supernova of a quarterback could win a Super Bowl with a gang of future Best Buy employees as his receiving corps.
Packers at Vikings: I must take a moment to give Brian Flores his flowers. Look at this iconoclastic madman.
Is this Good or Smart? Friend, you’re asking the wrong question. It’s interesting!
Saints at Buccaneers
49ers at Commanders: Sam Howell has become a fascination of mine. He somehow fell to the fifth round in a league where Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond are worth top-70 picks, first of all, and he’s producing at a Baker Mayfield-adjacent level. He has individual throws that make you say Oh, shit! I could almost certainly cut up the film and convince you he’s a real-deal Sunday Player the ‘Manders should build around. He’s also thrown 17 interceptions and just got benched.
What I’d like to discuss, though, is Howell’s unique inability to navigate the pocket. He’s been sacked 60 times in 2023. Sadly, this doesn’t put him on pace to break David Duke Carr’s blistering 76-sack 2002 campaign, but Sam has an ace up his sleeve: On 60 sacks, he’s lost 416 yards. This is, statistically speaking, a fuckload. While David Duke Carr was sacked 76 times, he lost a measly 411 yards in comparison. Howell’s doing something special here, and benching him in two consecutive games is robbing him of a chance to chase history! Why are you afraid to be great, Ron Rivera?!
Titans at Texans
Raiders at Colts
Rams at Giants
Falcons at Bears
Steelers at Seahawks: Do you ever see a cross-conference game and get this deep sense that something is Wrong? Like, the two implicated parties are technically in the same league, but it feels like they exist in different timelines? This game feels like that to me, and I’m not even sure why. These teams have played in a Super Bowl in our lifetimes! Still, my body rejects it like a poorly transplanted limb. No, thank you!
Other matchups that fall into this uncanny AFC/NFC valley:
Bills-Buccaneers. These teams shared a league for over 30 years before the Buccaneers first played a game in Buffalo. Evil!
Browns-Panthers. Just the sound of it makes your skin crawl, right?!? Gah!
Jaguars-Cardinals. A shiver just went down my spine, for real.
Texans-Giants. Jesus, I feel like I’m gonna be sick. Let’s move on.
Panthers at Jaguars
Patriots at Bills
Chargers at Broncos
Cardinals at Eagles
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“You Can Have The Crown” by Sturgill Simpson! I grew up in the North around adults who considered themselves Good Liberals. If your upbringing matches mine, you probably grew up with a hatred of country music. The Good Northern Liberal brain requires the great Other—the Southern Republican Moron—to form its identity in opposition to. I’m not racist. After all, I voted for John Kerry and I don’t listen to Toby Keith. I carried this deep-seeded revulsion at country music with me my entire life. After all, the stuff they play on the radio is garbage, and it’s probably all like that, right?
In recent years, I’ve discovered I’m a Country Person. This jolted me almost as much as realizing I was trans did, and I’m not exaggerating. The first time I listened to Tyler Childers’s Purgatory, I felt like a Jedi discovering secret Sith texts. Am I allowed to know this exists?! Can this be for me?! Fuck yeah, it can. There is so much good country being made right now, I promise you. Follow me down the yellow brick road, Good Northern Liberals. I’ll have you wishing you could smoke darts in Saskatchewan with Colter Wall in three months, tops.
(This song has also been covered by Post Malone and it goes unbelievably hard. You’ve been warned.)
Eric Adams’s Lock Of The Week: Conscientious Objection
As a Western New Yorker, it’s my right to pretend New York City doesn’t exist. As such, I abstain from this segment. We have our own evil mayor, thank you very much!
2023 Record: 8-7
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2023 chopping block:
Josh McDaniels – FIRED!
Frank Reich – FIRED!
Brandon Staley – FIRED!
Bill Belichick (but just his GM privileges)
This is my own personal Coach Firing Big Board, even though I recognize it’s not particularly realistic. Mike McCarthy and Sean McDermott aren’t getting fired, and I’m not sure they’d even really deserve it. That doesn’t mean I don’t dislike them enough to pull the trigger right now if you gave me the power to do so.
Arthur Smith just narrowly avoids this list. Don’t worry though, buddy, I’m sure Drew will have you right back on here next week!
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Labatt Blue! This is, to me, the trademark beer of Western New York. Some will argue the merits of Genesee Cream Ale, and while I hold much love for Genny Cream in my heart (and for Genny’s Ruby Red Kolsch; if you know, you know), this beer just Tastes Like Home to me. Josh Allen has an endorsement deal with them. When Bills Mafia pillages a new city like a band of orcs, that city tends to sell out of Labatt Blue with quickness.
Best drank at room temperature out of your friend’s backpack a month before high school graduation, or frosty cold out of a Garage Fridge with a middle finger magnet on it. Ideal food pairing: cigarettes.
Gameday Existential Play Of The Week For Panthers Fans
Waiting for Godot! Time to put my English degree to good use. If you can’t find a local showing of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 classic on New Year’s Eve, Panthers fans should consider the masterful filmed version linked above. Godot has a reputation for being hard to understand and artsy, but it’s one of the funniest pieces of literature I’ve ever experienced. Panthers fans, imagine Estragon is Bryce Young, Pozzo is David Tepper, and Godot is a winning season. It’ll all add up.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
I have no great affection for The Simpsons, so I’ll defer to my editor here. [Ed. note: Uhhh, how about “Eat my shorts”??] Happy New Year, everybody!