Each week between now and the Super Bowl, Marc Sessler will scan the NFL landscape for people, places and things -- events both evil and just, noble and impure, delightful and inglorious, filled with wise men and anti-heroes -- that burn bright on his radar.
Here's this week's briefing:
ENTER THE JOY METER
Maybe it's just me, but the feeling of genuine, unabashed bliss is in short supply of late.
It becomes especially thorny when you waste time comparing your existence with other human beings on, say, Instagram: Devil-may-care, dangerously in-shape PERSON X is spending Tuesday morning with a cadre of 9s and 10s on the sun-sprinkled shores of Ibiza. YOU: Three heaping loads of unfinished laundry on the floor and 90-hour-old General Tso's Chicken destroying the fridge.
Thankfully, pro football can serve as a salve for the bruises and scrapes of day-to-day human existence. When properly administered, Sundays help us feel something tingly and communal when our favorite team drops a scenery-altering A-bomb on a hated rival. When that bomb lands on our side, certain personality types fling objects and smash fists through innocent television sets.
So how do we measure these feelings? What medicine works best for the patient? And what causes harm?
Fear not. I've cooked up a totally fictional piece of technology capable of quantifying the happiness derived from various NFL people, places and things: THE JOY METER.
Delivering results on a spectrum from 100 (waves of exultation) to 0.01 (hide in your room for days), THE JOY METER places a reliable figure on delight -- or the absence thereof.
See how five headline-generating storylines grade out below.
The Lamar Jackson Experience
Coming to grips with the greatness of Lamar Jackson was a process for the emotionally limited and fraught typist of this article: After three-decades-plus of following the Browns, it was a sucker punch to see the Ravens (unmercifully ripped from Cleveland's belly) rise up all over again as a post-Ray Lewis juggernaut.
I beg you to peer past personal devotions, though, to observe this surging force. Jackson is doing things with the human body we have never seen on grass or turf.
Highlight reels of Lamar roping between defenders, bobbing into the gap and charging suddenly forward with rocket acceleration extend beyond casual fancy: I need them played on loop in roaring dance halls of the north, projected onto walls of raves in the uncharted warehouses of Queens, microdosed before purchasing a cross-country bus ticket to morph the hills and highways and storefronts into previously hidden colors of the rainbow.
Jackson is our passageway to undiscovered lands. Get on board.
JOY METER READING: 98.2
Jon Gruden's Raiders: Year 2
Today, they're so much more than expected; alive and kicking in the AFC playoff race, thanks to next-level preparation by Jon Gruden, a coach who spent last season as a punching bag.
Future hope lies in what Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock are building. Oakland's starry rookie class is led by runner Josh Jacobs, who paces all teams' rookies in scrimmage yards and touchdowns, while first-year pass rushers Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell have combined for seven sacks over the past two games.
JOY METER READING: 87.2
Arizona's offseason quarterback switch
What the Cardinals are doing on a weekly basis with Kyler Murray at the motherboard is tangible proof that coach Kliff Kingsbury correctly pinpointed the right quarterback for his handmade offense. The rookie spent the offseason teaching the playbook to savvy veterans like Larry Fitzgerald while showing on-field command from the preseason on. The Cardinals would have been flogged by the press if Kyler had flopped, but fans can look past the 3-7-1 record at a club posting 25-plus points in six of its past seven games. The caveat here is seeing Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold struggle in their second NFL seasons after enemy scouts spent months studying their tendencies. Murray's tape will be looked upon with an offseason's worth of similar fascination.
THE JOY METER docked this topic 10 points due to the hapless circumstances of quarterback Josh Rosen in Miami. It took just three starts for the Fins to see enough from the second-year passer after Arizona hit the ejector seat on last year's No. 10 overall pick. Rosen is a candidate for a Groundhog Day-like offseason, when Miami's front office permanently demotes him or flat-out moves on after selecting the quarterback of their choosing in April's draft.
JOY METER READING: 77.7
The less-than-you-thought Philadelphia Eagles
My absurd August hot take went like this: Philly and Dallas would zoom to 6-0 starts before clashing in prime time come Week 7 as the NFC's two most complete operations.
It's nobody's fault that presupposed deep-threat DeSean Jackson barely played before landing on injured reserve, or that Alshon Jeffery hasn't been himself, or that no other reliable wideout seems to exist around quarterback Carson Wentz. The offense has largely roamed as a zero-fun, stuck-in-the-mud attack searching for an identity.
JOY METER READING: 50.0
The cuddle-free Bears
Bears fans drew the unlucky roll this autumn, ripped from Super Bowl fantasy lands into a rough-and-tumble campaign flooded with questions around the viability of Mitchell Trubisky. The third-year quarterback, who left Sunday night's loss to the Rams with a hip injury, has been ride-the-pine material all year after regressing before our eyes inside a shattered offense. Picking on Trubisky lost its originality months ago.
Still, Bears fans must feel woken into a world of hurt: You shudder to consciousness in the back of a moving van. Cardboard taped over the windows. Your hands and legs bound tight. Sleepy-time visions of Chicago's Super Bowl win over the Chiefs drift away as you focus on the musclebound female kneeling above you with a hammer in hand.
YOU: "Who are you?"
HER: "You can call me Princess Bee Sting. I'm a bounty hunter from the federal government, and you've been detained in a low-level but problematic money-laundering case. Your life is over as you know it."
JOY METER READING: 4.00
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you disagree with THE JOY METER's results, feel free to pen a rebuttal via postcard to the following address: JOY METER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT / No. 88 West Zhengyang Road, Youchegang / Jiaxing, Zhejiang / P.R.China