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How AFC Teams (And The Mannings) Are Foiling Our Football Logic

First, an announcement. This is the last episode of this iteration of Hot Takedown. We’ve enjoyed talking about everything in sports (and the lack of sports over the pandemic) and hope you’ve enjoyed going down some truly weird rabbit holes with us, too! 

We start this week with the NFL and its many unexpected upsets. The Bills falling so inexplicably to the Jaguars should probably be the most concerning to fans — now the AFC East race is dangerously close regardless of whether the Patriots are actually good. But the AFC North is also a wide-open race, much to the Bengals’ chagrin after losing two weeks in a row. Over in the NFC, the Cowboys are probably fine and so are the Packers, although Aaron Rodgers may come to regret lying about his unvaccinated status and securing his team’s loss against Kansas City when it comes time to settle who gets a playoff bye. He may come to regret a lot of what he said a lot sooner, too, although the NFL will likely take a light hand against last year’s MVP. The real winners out of this week were the Cardinals, who put up a very convincing win against what is, admittedly, a bad 49ers team. But to do so without so many of their key pieces was very impressive. 

NFL predictions

Related: Our 2021 NFL Predictions

Next, we turn to college basketball, which has returned. On the men’s side, Gonzaga is justly favored again this year, given the melding of experience on Mark Few’s team with the addition of some very impressive freshman recruits. But for as much of a feel-good story as it would be for Gonzaga to finally capture a title, the pressure is mounting. It’s no longer a question of whether they could win a title, but what is stopping them from doing it. On the women’s side of the ball, South Carolina is the favorite and will face its first test in its opening matchup against No. 5 N.C. State. Dawn Stately has a stacked squad, but so do Stanford and, of course, UConn. We may not have true parity with the Huskies still as dangerous as they’ve been for the past decade, but we’re lucky enough to finally have something like it. UConn is one of a group of great teams and no longer the only game in town, which is great for women’s college basketball.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil breaks down what, exactly, the odds are behind the ManningCast curse and that the Josh Allen of the Jaguars would defeat the Josh Allen of the Bills. Much like supposed bad luck from being featured on Sports Illustrated or the cover of a Madden game, the players unfortunate enough to end up talking to Eli and Peyton on Monday Night Football were picked because they were playing at notably high levels at the time of their appearance, and it’s perfectly natural to then expect a bit of regression to the mean. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun as fans to buy into the idea of curses — and if we were the Ravens, we would keep Lamar Jackson far, far away from it. 

What we’re looking at this week: 

Who’s the most chaotic fictional football coach? | FiveThirtyEight

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.