Josh Allen, Tom Brady, and the 2022 NFL Narrative

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 1 - The 2021 NFL season was the tale of the Los Angeles Rams making a heap of all their winnings, risking it all on one toss, and strutting away as champions.

The 2020 NFL season was the tale of Tom Brady setting off in search of new worlds to conquer and finding them. The 2019 season was about Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid pointing the NFL toward a bold new future, even if the empire struck back quickly the next year.

The 2018 NFL season was the tale of old sensei Bill Belichick swatting away brash upstart Sean McVay, perhaps as prologue to the next decade's saga. The 2017 NFL season was a truly Philadelphian tale of misfits and palookas banding together to punch the powerful in the face. The 2016 season was the fifth installment of a horror franchise: the one where you find yourself cheering for the monster and laughing at the gruesome fates of the victims. The 2015 NFL season was the last hurrah for an over-the-hill action hero, with his supporting cast handling all the stunts.

And what will the tale of the 2022 season be?

  • The culmination of Josh Allen's hero journey and exorcism of nearly six decades of Buffalo Bills demons?
  • Aaron Rodgers snapping his fingers and bending the universe to his warped cosmology?
  • A Godfather II-like tale of a man so twisted by his need for power and control that he wins another Super Bowl, only to return to a home empty except for a Dear Tom letter?
  • Lamar Jackson silencing the last of his critics, or at least forcing them to move the goalposts so far back that they tumble off a cliff?
  • Mahomes or McVay re-staking their claim of dominance in the post-Patriots era? Bill Belichick cackling atop the graves of those scoundrels (whomever they may be) who claim that there will ever be a post-Patriots era? Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, or Trey Lance kicking off the NFL's Zoomer Era? Russell Wilson's liberation? Matt Ryan's redemption? Howie Roseman or Mickey Loomis ushering in the age of the auteur general manager? Something involving, I dunno, Kirk Cousins?

Whatever the tale of the 2022 season turns out to be, it will turn out to be a tale. A narrative.

"Narrative" has become a dirty word. It's often Internet-speak for I dOn'T liEk wHatZ haPpeNiNg sO U mAdE iT uP. It's football-speak for the candy-coated, overstated, form-fit version of events sold to all those "casual" fans who don't engage the game through DVOA, sportsbooks, fantasy sites, inscrutable film breakdowns, and week-long Reddit-thread debates.

Sometimes, the superimposed, manufactured narrative is easy to spot: Jimmy Garoppolo as the jilted husband in Trey Lance's bushes, Dolphins nation's effort to help Tua Tagovailoa win America's Got Talent. Often, however, the narrative is the very fabric of the NFL's appeal. If you think narratives are modern contrivances, I've got some bad news about the Steel Curtain Steelers, America's Team Cowboys, Bad Boy 1970s Raiders and 1980s Bears, and even Vince Lombardi as a secular philosopher/saint. Those tales began as truth but grew taller each time Howard Cosell, the Sabol family, or an old-school columnist retold them, with Pete Rozelle smiling like Stan Lee over the modern-day mythmaking business.

Aaron Schatz created DVOA in the early 2000s in an effort to challenge a narrative: establishing the run, particularly as such wisdom was applied to Brady and the Patriots at the start of their dynasty. I arrived late in 2004 as a bad-boy blogger eager to use analytics to upend any and all "narratives" cluttering the newspapers and airwaves. But twenty years later, the relationship between the numbers and the story appears far less adversarial.

Analytics are, in fact, an important tool for identifying and correcting false storylines. But analytics also help inform and reinforce narratives: every mathematical tool with any merit predicts that the Bills will be awesome this season. Analytics also shape narratives: the Chargers or Ravens going for broke on fourth downs or two-point conversions, top contenders assembling low-cost running back committees instead of drafting the next Saquon Barkley.

Analytics now even create their own narratives of varying quality. Two Deep Safeties are Patrick Mahomes' KRYPTONITE is little more than The Cowboys are 73-0 when Emmitt Smith Rushes for over 100 yards wearing a pocket protector. The Rams bought a Super Bowl may be a false narrative, but so was the analytics-endorsed Trading draft picks for veterans causes nothing but ruin and cooties. Heck, Josh Allen's whole Horatio Alger tale is built atop the derision of the analytics community and its adjuncts such as Draft Twitter and GIF-thread scouting.

Statistics, drunks, lampposts, damn lies, and so forth. Once boiled down and spiced up for public consumption, analytics become just another narrative medium: the NFL's science fiction.

That's not to say that analytics are unscientific or valueless: the best science fiction is loaded with facts, informed speculation, and valuable lessons. It simply means that the data paints an incomplete, ever-changing, highly nuanced, and often-confusing picture of football. Narratives, meanwhile, are fun and satisfying. And like religion, mythology, or secular philosophy, narratives can be true (or very false) at a more fundamental level than scientific results. There's no giant turtle carrying the cosmos on its back, but Aaron Rodgers is on record as being a hot kettle away from talking to one at any time. Both the Rodgers of probabilities, percentages, and projection, and the preternaturally gifted pain-in-the-ass are equally "real," and it's beneficial to look at Rodgers through all available lenses when trying to project what will really happen during the 2022 season. The same goes for all the primary characters in the NFL cinematic universe.

The start of the NFL season is a natural time for me to reflect on my role as journalist/jester/huckster/scholar in a world where gambling is mostly legal, fantasy ubiquitous, analytics nearly mainstream, analysis instantaneous, and the opinion market oversaturated. Should I tell more jokes or fewer? Be more numbers-oriented or less? Lean into the wagers or away from them? What do you want to read? What do I want to write?

I don't know the correct answers to those questions. But I do know that whether we never stray one-hundredth of a decimal place from the data or shout from the rooftops about elite quarterbacks, we are all mere storytellers of various merit. And in 2022, like every other year, there will be heel turns, face turns, faceplants, moments of tragedy and come-uppance, humble Nick Foles/David Tyree types going full Samwise in the final reel, and a hundred B-plots about returns, revenge, rebuilding, and redemption.

DVOA and our other tools will tell a dispassionate version of the story. Our numbers will keep us honest, reveal hidden secrets, offer some oracular riddles for us to interpret. The numbers will also draw us into the tale through gambling and fantasy. Do we wager and play fantasy because they are shrewd investments? Because math is fun? Of course not. WE DO IT BECAUSE IT MAKES US FEEL LIKE PART OF THE NARRATIVE. When we build that fantasy roster/stack, make the perfect trade, or finally assemble the +900 parlay that hits in Week 17, we become the winners, the champions, the storytellers.

So off we go into a new season with a mostly familiar cast of characters and what we hope will be some new twists on hoary tropes. Walkthrough will do its best to balance the data with the tape with the point spreads with the news with the rumors with the personas with the running gags. The result, I hope, will be a narrative of its own that plucks as much truth and entertainment value as possible from both data tables and pregame-show debates without taking anything too seriously. After all, this is only a game, and even the most seasoned tellers of the NFL's tales never know what's about to happen next, or how the story will end.

Walkthrough 2022 NFL Season Questions and Answers

Time to do a little housecleaning and self promotion!

When will Walkthrough appear this season?

Walkthrough will publish on Football Outsiders every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Monday column is the "tentpole," with all the news about Sunday's action, just like last year and when I wrote Monday Morning Digest for Bleacher Report.

Will Friday's Walkthrough be game previews?

No. Derrik Klassen will be writing game previews for Football Outsiders this year, and they will be FO Plus exclusive content, so make sure you are a subscriber.

Derrik's previews will be more film-focused and tighter to your fantasy/wagering/deep dive needs than my previews were. My Friday Walkthrough will be analytics-oriented and focused on a particular team, player, or trend. Some of the gags I used to write for game previews will migrate to Wednesdays and Thursdays, which is usually when those gags are written (and fresher) anyway.

Will you be appearing on Football Outsiders Livesteams?

Yes! Ian O'Connor and I will be breaking down all of Sunday's action on a Monday livestream; if you like me well-rested and prepared during the week, you will LOVE me on three hours of sleep and 40 ounces of coffee on Mondays.

Aaron Schatz and I return every Thursday to highlight next Sunday's action. The Football Outsiders livestream channel is overflowing with other content. Make sure you subscribe and do all the other little things that cost so little (or nothing) but mean so much in this attention economy!

Will you be appearing on the Football Outsiders Discord on Sundays?

ICYMI, what used to be "Audibles at the Line" is now moving to Sundays, with Football Outsiders writers and readers like you chatting on our Discord channel and Bryan Knowles both blogging throughout the day and posting our most piercing insights on the site. It's a great chance to interact with us and each other in real time. Think Twitter, but with only smart, well-informed, generally well-intentioned people instead of, um, Twitter. Or Audibles, but you don't have to wait until Monday at noon to find out what we thought of Tua's back-to-back pick-sixes before 1:30 on Sunday.

I plan to stop by the Discord on Sundays when I can, though the Monday Walkthrough eats up most of my time. When we chat during "big" night games, rest assured I will be there. But of course, you are in great hands with the FO team, and with each other.

Still writing for the New York Times?

Yes, every Wednesday. Last year I ticked off Steven King. This year I am aiming for Cormac McCarthy. No way that ends poorly.

Will there be a Carson Wentz Victimization Index this year?

Folks, I know when a joke has been beaten into its grave. And yeah, I often beat them into the grave on purpose to try to bring them around to being funny again. But Wentz gets a fresh slate this year. I am workshopping something along the lines of Tua Tagovailoa's Timeshare for 2022. Let's see how Week 1 against the Patriots goes.

Early Contender for Worst Commercial of the Year

Walkthrough proudly presents the 2023 Hyundai Palisade: the SUV for truly awful humans!

Scene: Interior of an SUV.

DAD: Nothing like the hometown charm of the county fair!

DISAFFECTED SON: (mumbling) If you say so.

DAD: (using an intercom to speak to someone about 5 feet away). What was that? Huh? Huh? That's right, son. I plan to ride you HARD every time you mutter something under your breath for the next five years with the help of this Orwellian technology. That's how to foster healthy communications with a teenager, at least if you want him to grow into an adult who screams at Little League umpires! And I am going to look down at a panel and take one hand off the wheel while driving to do it!

SON: Whatever. I'll go back to playing what appears to be a game console designed for two-year-olds.

Scene: The line for a snack stand, where the parents are creepily pushing their teen and preteen children forward as if their daughters will run off with face-tattooed carnies the moment they let their guard down.

MOM: Do you have anything … healthy?

SERVER: Of course not, you extreme-maintenance harpy! It's a freakin' COUNTY FAIR. Did you really come here expecting a light garden salad? I mean, there's probably an acai bowl stand just off camera—this is 2022, after all—but you waltzed up to the stand with the deep fried corn dogs and buttered bacon donuts on all the signs.

Seriously, you're a grown woman! Is this how you get your jollies? By archly asking a funnel cake vendor about the calorie content of his fairground snacks and then posting self-righteous Facebook posts? Caveat emptor, fellow soccer moms: you may not know it, but the county fair is childhood obesity waiting to happen! No wonder your children want to run screaming from you the moment you let go!

Scene: A Gravitron ride.

DAD: I'm making a puke face.

MUSTACHE DAD: Me too! Imagine us, two grown men who have never gone on a theme park ride and don't know whether they make us sick! Most American humans of all socioeconomic classes figure out by about age 10 whether or not they like spinny rides, but not us! We were raised by Luddites on a windswept island off the coast of Nova Scotia!

And of course neither of us were obligated to go on these rides, since your kids appear to be about 10 to 15 years old and there's an adult on the ride next to me. If only we did what normal parents do: watch and wave from the side, or even give our cellphone-aged children some space while we listen to country rock tribute bands in the beer garden. Oh, but your wife is probably ticked off that she cannot get non-alcoholic Long Island iced teas in the beer garden. Just don't ralph all over me, OK asshole?

Scene: A mirror-maze attraction.

DAD: I cannot stop crashing directly into my spouse!

MOM: Nor can I! Even though there are no mirrors or other obstacles in our path, I am hopelessly lost. Perhaps we should not have taken the kids to the county fair so soon after our recent head injuries.

KIDS: Go that way! That way! Also, why are we watching you play in the attractions? Is this really how you think a day at the fair is supposed to go? Maybe we should just leave our parents in an escape room until they starve!

Scene: The parking lot.

DAD: Oops, the head fell off one of the two giant stuffed animals we won. That's right: off camera, we totally nailed it shooting free throws or throwing baseballs at cans or something, twice! What a triumphant family moment that must have been! That's the sort of wish fulfillment that sells SUVs! But let's dwell on the stupid glass maze instead.

Also, county fair prizes are cheaply made: another Funky Winkerbean-worthy misery-soaked observation. Either that, or one of the kids is now so screwed up that they decapitate stuffed animals just to make themselves feel alive.

MOM: Sorry dear, I cannot hear you. You know how this is supposed to be a car commercial? Well, I am opening all the doors and hatches so viewers don't even get a good look at the car.

DAD: Come to think of it, this stuffed animal business draws attention away from the vehicle, which is mostly off camera and at an unflattering angle. And it's not like I'm seen loading the prizes into the back to spotlight how spacious this vehicle is or anything. So not only are we terrible people, but terrible salespeople too!

Quick, video editor, cut to a blink-and-you-miss it exterior shot of the car which was clearly added after Hyundai execs yelled at the ad agency for forgetting to show the product in the commercial!

Scene: Interior of the car.

SON: That was actually fun!

YOUNGEST DAUGHTER: We should go again.

DAD: Sorry kids. You would think that the point of this trip—and this commercial—was for our family to bond during this delicate period when you naturally begin to grow apart from us, thereby subconsciously activating the anxieties of our most likely customers and offering them a solution. But Mom couldn't find quinoa and we needed to speed-dial our marriage counselor during our second hour in that maze, so we're going to selfishly deny you the chance to go back, even if it means undercutting the message about how this SUV is supposed to make family trips fun and convenient.

KIDS: In that case, we'll spend tomorrow in the basement chatting with strangers on the Internet and smoking meth!

MOM AND DAD: And we won't have to drive anywhere. Hooray!

Hyundai: for when you don't care enough about your family's safety to splurge for a Subaru.


25 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2022, 9:20pm

#1 by KnotMe // Sep 08, 2022 - 10:03am

What's funny is it looks like they filmed that at a budge amusment park rather than an actual county fair. (fairs are always portable things set up in big fields, not paved with lines painted between the vendors). 

What you need is a measure of narrative quality. Something like Narrative Effective Value Over Replacement. I hope that NEVOR happens. 

Points: 0

#3 by BroncFan07 // Sep 08, 2022 - 11:32am

Agree. I want the column to go… twisting, turning, through the NEVOR. 

Points: 0

#15 by Mike B. In Va // Sep 08, 2022 - 5:18pm

In reply to by BroncFan07

Well done.

Points: 0

#2 by IlluminatusUIUC // Sep 08, 2022 - 10:54am

I'm gonna need some analytics on the effects of adding this to your Tinder profile.

Points: 0

#4 by Raiderfan // Sep 08, 2022 - 12:08pm

“What do you want to read? What do I want to write?”

My vote is more writing on the 99.9% that is the rest of the NFL, and less on Belichek and Brady.  Sadly for me, analytics say it will be the opposite.

Points: 0

#5 by Pat // Sep 08, 2022 - 12:12pm

The Rams bought a Super Bowl may be a false narrative,

Am I missing something? How is it a false narrative? It's waaay closer to the truth than not. Certainly much, much closer to the truth than "analytics says trading draft picks for veterans is bad" (which... I don't know how you would ever show anyway).

Points: 0

#10 by mehllageman56 // Sep 08, 2022 - 12:55pm

There are ways to circumvent it; just ask the New Orleans Saints.  You can outspend your opposition in a given year, but not over a period of 5-10 years.

Points: 0

#13 by Pat // Sep 08, 2022 - 1:50pm

What mehllageman56 said, but cap resources aren't the only resources a team has. Cap-wise the Rams have zero dollars on a 3-year basis (but still more than the Saints!) and that assumes they fill the team with rookies next year. Draft-wise they spent their 1st/2nd round picks and next year's 1st early.

I'm not saying it was a bad plan - absolutely not, when you've got a strong team of course you want to pull resources from the future when you're less likely to have as strong a team. But it's a much different situation than, say, a team that just lucked into a Super Bowl victory.

Points: 0

#6 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 08, 2022 - 12:34pm

Analytics now even create their own narratives of varying quality.

The narrative that running backs are useless fungible meat is one that costs actual human beings millions of dollars.

Analytics absolutely has its own narratives and its own set of ever-growing legends divorced from their original context and caveats.

Points: 0

#7 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 08, 2022 - 12:38pm

Should I tell more jokes or fewer?

Fewer, but better.


Be more numbers-oriented or less? 

More, but use Roman numerals, so they look like words.

Dallas was XII-V last year with a DVOA of  XXXS*****.

going full Samwise in the final reel

Samwise is the only person who ever carried the ring and then rejected it.

MUSTACHE DAD: Me too! Imagine us, two grown men who have never gone on a theme park ride and don't know whether they make us sick! Most American humans of all socioeconomic classes figure out by about age 10 whether or not they like spinny rides, but not us! We were raised by Luddites on a windswept island off the coast of Nova Scotia!

Luddites are actually general okay with carnivals, which tend to be agriculturally-focused and based on 19th-century mechanical tech.

You'll see Mennonites and Amish happily enjoying carnivals, which tend to be mechanically-driven or generator/gasoline-powered.

Incidentally, carnivals inhabit a very different subset of the amusement industry than theme parks do. The theme park version of a carnival is pretty heavily bowdlerized.

Points: 0

#17 by nat // Sep 08, 2022 - 6:34pm

Samwise is the only person who ever carried the ring and then rejected it.

Tom Bombadil?

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#19 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 08, 2022 - 8:23pm

The ring had no power for or against Tom, so his rejection of it was meaningless. There’s no moral hazard. Samwise is fully susceptible to it, but gave it away.

Tom’s also arguably not a person.

Points: 0

#22 by nat // Sep 09, 2022 - 2:38pm

I said “Bombadil” not “Brady”.

But your point is taken. Nerd-cred restored.

Points: 0

#9 by mehllageman56 // Sep 08, 2022 - 12:53pm

"There's no giant turtle carrying the cosmos on its back, but Aaron Rodgers is on record as being a hot kettle away from talking to one at any time."

If  Rodgers ends up being a Gamera truther, I'll have to root for him, even if he is a Kenny.

Points: 0

#12 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 08, 2022 - 1:50pm

There is no real controversy about the turtle.

The pertinent question is whether you have faith in the presence of the elephants or if you're a dirty heretic.

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#14 by Kaepernicus // Sep 08, 2022 - 5:11pm

I am rooting for him to read that insane schizophrenic manifesto about the "Time Cube" and spending the next 20 weeks of pretentious McAfee monologues explaining why if you read it on ayahuasca it all actually makes sense. The bigger question is will he continue expanding the volumes of his "9 credit hours of philosophy between marketing classes" book club this year? I am waiting for him to discover solipsism and try to apply the philosophy to playing football. 

Points: 0

#16 by KnotMe // Sep 08, 2022 - 6:30pm

Gotta admit. Rodgers post football career could be even more entertaining than he is on the field. 

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#20 by Stendhal1 // Sep 08, 2022 - 11:36pm

I’d say Rodgers is closest to Gaos.  Certainly, unlike Gamera, he is not a friend to all children.

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#18 by sully87 // Sep 08, 2022 - 7:08pm

Mike, been reading you for years and  this is bittersweet because I will miss your weekly previews.  But I will enjoy more of your articles (here and elsewhere.)  Is there anywhere you will be giving your weekly picks?   Humor aside you are one of the best in the biz at it.  Thanks again for all the content



Points: 0

#21 by Alex@ // Sep 09, 2022 - 9:25am

finally assemble the +900 parlay that hits in Week 17

And then, because the 2020s, go on to lose it all in Week 18.

Points: 0

#24 by liquidmuse3 // Sep 10, 2022 - 1:14pm

It was poignant Mike broke down the NFL as a deep passion play, & himself & his colleagues as the Greek chorus. In hopefully my last Tebow reference 🤦‍♂️ & even maybe last Aaron Rodgers reference, that’s why when I looked at Mike as probably one of the good guys, it was so frustrating for him & others to paint those 2 as villains. It was like he was C-3PO with a sense of humor constantly talking down to Han Solo as he’s attempting something weird & glorious & mostly succeeding (as he’s still learning!) I think with Tim it was “he’s a hateful Christian so he’s not a hero”, or with Aaron it was “he’s endangering people’s lives”, but I think Tim might actually be repressed so he comes off as a sympathetic character; & Aaron not only was tested everyday so he may’ve been the safest dude in the building, but looking at African-American vax rates, you really think his teammates didn’t support his stand? Meanwhile, Mike & some of his ilk are tossing grenades at both characters in the not-so-secret hope they’ll just go away, thereby proving his & others’ narratives correct. Shitting on both dudes to me was being anti-fun & pro-“do as I say”, when the hero traditionally fights against all that.

Points: 0

#25 by ImNewAroundThe… // Sep 10, 2022 - 9:20pm

... are you TALKING about?

Points: 0

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