To the extent that the National Football League is a metaphor for anything these days, today's instructive tidbit is that the defending Super Bowl champions have lost 3 ½ points in betting value and are now regarded as merely a coin flip in their opening game.
Lo, how the mighty have landed well short of the airport.
The Philadelphia Eagles, the people who vanquished Team Voldemort back in February, are a pick'em at many betting shops for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. This is clearly an affront to the dignity of a champion, and proof that the king is indeed vulnerable in the place that matters most.
Oh, the NFL is closing in on its 100th year of operation, and in many ways is still the big dog in an admittedly shrinking kennel. But that's the key – the kennel is shrinking, and that has been the theme of the entire offseason.
Between "Big Game: The NFL In Dangerous Times," the new explanation of why the league is testing the theory of "too big to fail" by Mark Leibovich, the resurgence of Colin Kaepernick, the shadow commissioner of the Anti-League, and the repeated failures of the 32 owners to get out of the way of the product, the league has been dented and repo'd and owned and dismissed. Like the polar ice cap, it is shrinking in relevance, and unlike the polar ice cap, it isn't nearly as important as it seems.
But Eagles pick'em at Falcons? Pick'em? If this isn't the text message from the apocalypse, nothing is.
Gambling is the latest lifeboat to pull up to the bow of the SS NFL, a potential stream of money that could provide cover for all the other problems the league has built for itself. Indeed, one wouldn't be surprised if the league didn't incorporate record against the line as one of the playoff or standings tiebreakers in the next few years. They're all in, kind of.
But that's the new NFL. It doesn't embrace anything except the short money, and even then only if it can get all of it with one inward sweep of the corporate arm. They repopulated Los Angeles with the Rams but ended up letting the Chargers move there as well because nobody could bear to say no to Dean Spanos and his Hello Kitty face. They opened up Las Vegas but did it with Mark Davis, the owner they would most like to financially choke, because he had the weird temerity to strongarm the goofballs in Nevada's state house out of $750 million.
They can't decide what to do on Kaepernick when the best solution has been in front of them all along, and now the demographic they crave most would rather see him in civilian clothes than Tom Brady in uniform. They loathe and dismiss and yet simultaneously cower to Donald Trump and his brain-bubble-fueled rantings. They get bigger and yet smaller at the same time, and they are trying to change the way their product is played while convincing angry skeptics that it's all going to better in, say, 20 years or so.
If they hadn't had a 50-year head start as the dominant sporting entertainment vehicle in America, they'd be Arena Football V, or whatever the new incarnation is.
So why not Eagles pick'em? It's the perfect way to say on behalf of the league, "We just don't know what to believe any more," not even the purity and might of the Lombardi Trophy. And when Vince Lombardi iconography cannot whip the nation in line, what's next?
As for me, though, I'll take the Eagles, but for a very different reason. It isn't that the NFL is getting goofier by the day, or that champions are built only to deteriorate, or any of that. The Eagles went from 3 ½ to even in a month because lots of bettors like the Falcons for some reason. Las Vegas thrives of the mistakes line movements, and I value the opinion of the masses like I do the new bagger at the supermarket. I vote Contrarian, to the over. And you? You're on your own, as always.