Tuesday, October 10, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 6 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking the 32 Teams

Tier I - The Clear Worst Teams

32,) Cleveland Browns  (0-5  =  77-124)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-5  =  89-120)
30.) Chicago Bears  (1-4  =  78-124)
29.) New York Giants  (0-5  =  82-122)
28.) Miami Dolphins  (2-2  =  41-67)

27.) Los Angeles Chargers  (1-4  =  99-115)

The middle tier of the NFL is so large this year that the true worst teams have easily separated themselves from the rest. Maybe one of the teams not included in this group gets a lot worse and falls back, but I can't see any of these six - including the as of now .500 Miami Dolphins - doing anything. Let's start with Miami, the worst 2-2 team of all time (if not them, then the Jets from last week). Their offense is so incredibly terrible with Cutler leading it. The other teams gives us three 0-5 teams. Only one is not a surprise, though maybe we all overrated the Browns. I sitll believe in what their model is, to gobble up as many picks as possible, but we are a year or two away from seeing if it works. The Giants are really set-up for a disaster given the injuries they just incurred. They are not far away from 3-2, but given the record and the injuries, this could get real ugly. For the Bears, I was somewhat intrigued by Mitch Trubisky as the Vikings are a tough test, but that team probably shouldn't have scored a TD. That last interception was a classic rookie mistake, assuming that the DB couldn't close off that route. Finally, the Chargers got their win, but needed a few things to go their way to beat a similarly bad 0-4 team that lost every receiver.


Tier II - The Worst 3-2 Team Of All Time

26.) New York Jets  (3-2  =  92-106)

Looking back, maybe we should have seen this coming. The Jets certainly had a schedule that made it possible for them to win three of their first five games. They got a Tannehill-less Miami team, the Jaguars and then the Browns. The schedule turns quickly, and I would not rule out a 1-10 type finish to the season, but the Jets have shown a competence I was not ready for. Josh McCown's idea to throw basically 4-5 yards each throw is not a dumb one. The defense is decent. They have some pieces. That all said, this is by far the worst team to start 3-2 I have ever seen.


Tier III - Can those QBs Get Healthy Quick

25.) Indianapolis Colts  (2-3  =  97-159)
24.) Tennessee Titans  (2-3  =  110-142)

With reports that Andrew Luck is still not ready (at this point I would be somewhat happily surprised if he plays at all this year) we get two teams that might easily win the AFC South if their QB just gets healthy, Mariota should be back this week, which in my mind makes the Titans the best team in the AFC South - but then again they lost 57-14 with mariota playing much of the game last week. The Colts are just an unknown. They have the worst point differential in the sport, yet were darn close to being 3-2 right now. If Luck were to come back next week, they can win the division. More likely, they go 4-12 or 5-11 with him missing the full year - another year of Luck's prime down the drain.


Tier IV - Teams worse than their close to .500 record but can improve

23.) Arizona Cardinals  (2-3  =  81-125)
22.) Houston Texans  (2-3  =  144-130)
21.) Baltimore Ravens  (3-2  =  90-97)


All three of these teams are around .500, but have had some really noticeable flaws and mostly looked really bad. sure, the Texans had that 57-14 beatdown, and the Cardinals played the Cowboys really tough, and the Ravens had defensive dominance in the first two games, but on the whole, they are close to .500 and have looked worse. The Cardinals are already well behind the rest of the pack in the NFC, but Houston is just one game behind Jacksonville and the Ravens are tied for first place. Both have a chance here. Quick word about JJ Watt. I feel so bad for him. In my mind, if he decides to retire this offseason instead of come back, he should already be a Hall of Famer. Injuries suck man, and I hope he can come back and dominate in 2018, but by that point he would be three years removed from his last full healthy season.


Tier V - Teams better than their close to .500 record but are they real?

20.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (3-2  =  139-83)
19.) New Orleans Saints  (2-2  =  93-78)

Now we have two .500 or so teams that have actually been, on the whole, impressive. The Saints defense shut down a Carolina attack that rolled in back-to-back games, and then shutout the Dolphins. Now, shutting out 2017 Jay Cutler seems like something destined to happen multiple times this season, but still, for a defense we all joked about without relent through two games, this is serious improvement. With Jacksonville, we have evidence they still are what they thought with the loss to the Jets and Blake Bortles overall terrible play, we also have ample evidence that defense is quite good. Tennessee wore them down, but they've generated incredible pressure, morphed into a ball-hawking force, and Jalen Ramsey has been a star. Not sure if either team lasts, but both have been surprisingly competent through five games.


Tier VI - One of these may make a god run

18.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-3  =  125-132)
17.) Cincinnati Bengals  (2-3  =  84-83)

I think most in the public would think Dallas is the better team here, but are they? Dallas Week 1 win over the Giants becomes less meaningful each week, potentially the same with their closer than the score win over Arizona. The Bengals looked awful in Week 1, but probably should have won in Week 2 and almost definitely should have beaten Green Bay in Week 3. In a weird way, the outlook for the Bengals is a bit better. Dalton has started getting better protection and the defense has been solid each game this year and held opposing QBs to a 73.3 rating. That defense is for real. For Dallas, it seems like they just are a less effective version of last year's team, one that is basically the same on defense and just a bit worse on offense.


Tier VII - The Mire of the AFC

16.) Oakland Raiders  (2-3  =  108-109)
15.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (3-2  =  99-89)

For Oakland, it is simple. If Derek Carr comes back next week like Jack Del Rio expects they should be fine, and if they can beat Kansas City two Thursday's from now in Oakland they are right back in the thick of things. For the Steelers, the questions are deeper. Primary question is if Ben Roethlisberger is still a top QB. He was playing off before his 5-pick disaster, airmailing throws he used to hit easily. His accuracy and efficiency on deeper throws has plummeted this year. The rest of the offense has been fine, as has the defense, but something looks very wrong with Ben, especially since he is seemingly healthy.


Tier VIII - The Mire of the NFC (which is way better than the same in the AFC)

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-2  =  85-83)
13.) Washington Redskins  (2-2  =  91-89)

I'm not really sure what to think of these two teams. In a way, they are the classic 8-8 or 9-7 teams. They are good enough to beat the bad teams on their schedule, and just quite not good enough to beat the bad ones. Granted, for the Redskins their two losses are to teams that are 4-1 and 5-0, and the defense has improved a lot. And granted for the Bucs, if their kicker was actually competent they likely beat New England, but those easy reasons or scapegoats hide real problems, like Jameis's continued inaccuracy and the Redskins inability to hit big plays anymore.


Tier IX - The Wild Cards

12.) Minnesota Vikings  (3-2  =  99-93)
11.) Buffalo Bills  (3-2  =  89-74)
10.) Los Angeles Rams  (3-2  =  152-121)
9.) Detroit Lions  (3-2  =  123-97)
8.) Denver Broncos  (3-1  =  98-74)

All of these teams are above .500 deservingly, but still a lot of questions. The Vikings are scary if a healthy Bradford gets back but they've found a decent success strategy with Keenum at this point and that defense is still great. The Bills defense is still special but injuries are starting to take their toll on offense. Sean McDermott is recreating Carolina north on defense but this might be the 2012 Panthers or 2014 unit, rather than the 2013 one. The Rams, in a weird way, impressed by hanging with the Seahawks pretty well. They won't end up the top ranked offense, but even in his worst game Goff didn't look lost. The Lions could easily be 4-1, but you have to wonder about that defense. For the first time they didn't get takeaways and were quite poor for most of the game. The Broncos need to keep Siemian upright, but if they do they have a good offense especially with the growth from AJ Derby.


Tier X - Can Tom Brady just retire, please!

7.) New England Patriots  (3-2  =  148-142)

Like honestly. Just retire. Or at the very least play like a 40-year old. What I do find fascinating is the Patriots have changed their offense fairly radically. They are running way deeper routes than previously, and Brady, much belittled for his inability to throw deep, has performed excellently. However, their OL has troubles holding up for these deeper routes to develop, ending up with a lot of series where the Patriots have to convert 2nd/3rd-and-long. Not sure it holds up over 16, but definitely an interesting approach.


Tier XI - The 2nd Level NFC Teams

6.) Seattle Seahawks  (3-2  =  110-87)
5.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-1  =  104-89)

Seattle is here mostly on reputation, understanding they usually improve as the season goes on anyway. But let's not fret around, they easily could have lost the game against the Rams, and their play so far has been middling outside of 25 minutes against a Jacoby Brissett-led Colts team. Still, the defense is strong and the potential is there, the OL has played better the last two weeks. Atlanta is somewhat of reputation as well as their record could easily be 1-3, but the bye came at the right time, with hopefully Julio Jones and Muhammad Sanu getting healthy. Both teams could get a lot better as the season goes on, and those banked wins may really help in playoff positioning.


Tier XII - The 1st Level NFC Teams

4.) Carolina Panthers  (4-1  =  105-94)
3.) Philadelphia Eagles  (4-1  =  137-99)
2.) Green Bay Packers  (4-1  =  137-112)

Man, it really feels like the NFC is far better right now. The AFC may have the best team, but I feel all three of these would give KC a good run (Philly already did). The Panthers and Eagles test out which goes to 5-1, but even the loser is in great shape. The Panthers and Eagles defenses have been great, and both Cam and Wentz have looked better recently. The Eagles offseason pickup of Alshon Jeffery has paid divedends, and he's gained a good rhythm with Zach Ertz. The Packers are just the Packers, solid, winning games they have lost in the past, and running clear in that division despite injuries. The Panthers get their shot at Philly this week and Packers later (in Carolina). It should be an interesting chase going forward.


Tier XIII - The Last Survivor

1.) Kansas City Chiefs  (5-0  =  164-111)

To be honest, I slept when it was 39-20, so not sure how those last 14 points were scored by Houston, but that was another great performance. At this point, the Chiefs are offense heavy. We've never seen THIS from a good Alex Smith team, but here we have it. The defense is still good enough and have nicely compensated for Eric Berry's absence with better play from the corners, but the offense is so good right now. Those intermediate routes that have been emphasized this year are really paying off.


Projecting the Playoffs

AFC

1.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  13-3
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  10-6
4.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  10-6
5.) Buffalo Bills  =  11-5
6.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  10-6


NFC

1.) Green Bay Packers  =  13-3
2.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
3.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  11-5
4.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6
5.) Atlanta Falcons  =  11-5
6.) Los Angeles Rams  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Schedule

Byes: Buffalo Bills (3-2), Cincinnati Bengals (2-3), Dallas Cowboys (2-3), Seattle Seahawks (3-2)

14.) Cleveland Browns (0-5)  @  Houston Texans (2-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Chicago Bears (1-4)  @  Baltimore Ravens (3-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Bleccccccchhhhhhh" Sunday, as we get thrash. I guess having two rookie QBs in enticing, (three if Kizer starts), but what we'll end up with is a bad Texans team going 3-3 and a maybe worse Ravens team going 4-2.


12.) New England Patriots (3-2)  @  New York Jets (3-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "I can barely type out the words 'Battle for the First Place in the AFC East'" Sunday, as yes the winner will be 4-2 and a half-game up on the Bills who are on a bye, but let's be real: this is no battle, and the winner is very obvious. I don't remember a game this late into the season with teams with the same record that are more unevenly matched than this one.


11.) Indianapolis Colts (2-3)  @  Tennessee Titans (2-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
10.) New York Giants (0-5)  @  Denver Broncos (3-1)  (SNF - NBC)
9.) San Francisco 49ers (0-5)  @  Washington Redskins (2-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Slightly more interesting than the 'battle for 1st place in the AFC East'" Sunday and Monday, as these games are not good, but I guess slightly better than that fake 1st place battle. Colts @ Titans would be fun if Andrew Luck was healthy, but alas I'm not expecting that statement to be true until 2018. The Giants @ Broncos may be the worst SNF game of the year, especially when flex scheduling starts up soon. The Redskins game may be interesting just because the 49ers have been playing competitive games so far each week.


8.) Miami Dolphins (2-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (3-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
7.) Los Angeles Chargers (1-4)  @  Oakland Raiders (2-3)  (4:25 - CBS)
6.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)  @  Arizona Cardinals (2-3)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "semi-interesting games on a lousy week" Sunday, as these games at least have some decent aspects. The Dolphins are a disaster, so I will watch to see whether the Falcons can beat down a bad team for once. The Raiders should be getting Derek Carr back so it will be interesting to see how their offense performs after a rough stretch and whether Amari Cooper can get untracked. Finally, the Bucs and Cards is an intriguing game of two 7-9 to 9-7 type teams. The Buccaneers to me are slightly better, but these are the type of games they have to win, against a bad opponent on the road.


5.) Los Angeles Rams (3-2)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Amazing this is a top-5 game in a week and kind of deserves to be" Sunday, as in fact that is a top matchup. It would've been a bit better had the Rams beat the Seahawks and Jaguars beat the Jets a week back - both easily could have happened. That would have been ridiculous, a 4-1 vs. 4-1 matchup. Anyway, two surprise 3-2 teams. The Rams offense vs. the Jags defense. Seeing if Blake Bortles can complete a pass! So much to be interested in.


4.) Detroit Lions (3-2)  @  New Orleans Saints (2-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Amazing this is a top-4 game in a week and definitely deserves to be" Sunday, as this is actually a good game, especially with a reborn defense on the Saints side. The Lions defense has been really good this year at generating turnovers but now plays a team that hasn't thrown an interception yet. The Saints defense gets a multi-faceted offense with a live QB and a good OL, things that weren't true of Miami (QB) and Carolina (good OL).


3.) Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Game looked a lot better a week ago" Sunday, as the Steelers are officially somewhat depressing. We've seen them lose easy-on-paper road games like they did in Chicago plenty of times. We rarely see it at home, especially with them so far off. Roethlisberger, by advanced stats, is not too far off from last year but he definitely seems to be floating the ball way too much, which is an issue against this secondary. Maybe the Steelers keep in the game with their defense, but their rush defense has been an issue recently as well.


2.) Green Bay Packers (4-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (3-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
1.) Philadelphia Eagles (4-1)  @  Carolina Panthers (4-1)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "The NFC On Display" Thursday and Sunday, as we get two really nice NFC games. Seems like Bradford may not play, but even with Keenum that team at home is tough. The defense has played Rodgers well in the past, though I can see him torching Trae Waynes. The Eagles and Panthers is just a really nice team built in similar ways with top defenses and risk-reward offenses that aren't as consistent as you would like. The rare really great Thursday game.

Monday, October 9, 2017

12 Long Years



12 years ago, my team made the NLCS. That was the second straight year they did it. 12 years later, they finally got back. To be more accurate, this time it is the ALCS, a sign of the red-headed stepchild nature my team inhabited for much of that interim time - ultimately used as a trade-chip to get 15 teams in each league. Much of my life has changed in those interim 12 years - from 9th Grade to my fifth year of working. From watching tv live on a standard definition small-screen in my basement to following the game on Gameday and Twitter while taking work calls. But as my team heads for its first chance at a World Series in a dozen years, a lot of this feels familiar.

It felt most acute these last two games in Boston. The first two in Houston went about as good as I could've asked. The Astros were never truly threatened, taking early leads in both games. It was a celebration, if anything, of what the team had become. It was Jose Altuve hitting three home runs, Alex Bregman hitting another, and Justin Verlander having a nice start all the while massacring Chris Sale. Game 2 was more of the same, but with my boy Carlos Correa starting the game off with a monster home run, one with an exit velocity of 109.8 MPH (a statement that would have been entirely foreign to a 2005 baseball fan). The games in Boston were different

I watched Game 3. I watched my boy hit another home run, if anything this one was more amazing, with him launching a home run to dead center withoiut even making great contact. But then I watched it all go wrong. The Red Sox offense, dormant all season, wake up with hit after hit after hit. A managing fiasco where 'lefty specialist' Francisco Liriano promptly giving up a home run to left-handed Rafael Devers. I watched and watched them get hammered 10-3. And then I got afraid - the official feeling of a baseball fan in October.

It started almost as the Red Sox were making their comeback. It was all bad news. The Red Sox bats were waking up. They would get Game 4 at home with 'the momentum'. They would get their ace on the mound in Game 5 in Chris Sale (in the end, no, since he pitched in relief in Game 4). What are the chances he would have two terrible starts in a row? The Red Sox, after all, are a Boston team, and teams from that city, particularly one pigskin-related outfit, have made a habit of ruining my life.

The biggest difference in 12 years is not these feelings. I was, of course, equally scared in 2005 when my team had to play St. Louis in the NLCS, and when they blew Game 5 to the Home Run Heard Around Houston by Albert Pujols. The biggest difference is what happened next. 12 years ago, I was there sitting alone in basement running through rounds of fingernails as the Astros won Game 6. 12 years later, I was either flying to San Francisco, in a car, or on a call, when my team battled Boston and took Game 4. The game, from all accounts, was a wild one. The Astros led early, the Red Sox tied, the Astros took a 2-1 lead, the Red Sox took it back against Justin Verlander, with Andrew Benintendi hitting a home run. The Astros then took the lead back with Alex Bregman hitting a home run off of Craig Kimbrel, a usually unhittable closer. The Red Sox nearly came back in the 9th with Rafael Devers hitting an inside-the-park home run. All this happened. I didn't see it.

In a way, not sure if I would have wanted to watch it. Over the years, my patience for these 'thrill of the game' moments has been battered out of me - mostly in games relating to Peyton Manning and/or the Patriots. Not in baseball as much mainly because my team hasn't been close (for reasons I can't remember - probably work again - I didn't watch the Astros collapse in Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS), but I get too nervous, too invested, too down, too agitated. This ended up working much better.

Now that they are there, I can begin to dream. I can imagine Game 1 on Friday, either in Cleveland setting up a matchup between historically good starting pitching (Cleveland) vs, historically good offense (Houston), or one in Houston against the Yankees. I can begin to remember what being part of an NLCS is like. The Conference/League finals just feel different, like a Semifinals in tennis or a World Cup. I feel there is a huge difference between being one of the last 8 vs. last 4. And this time the last 4 is a great opportunity.

It's been an incredibly taxing 12 years as an Astros fan. First came true disappointment, with a team from 2006-2010 that wouldn't accept its fate as a franchise in disarray, clinging to hope way longer than needed. Then came embarassment, as the Astros did in the MLB what the 76ers would do in the NBA, having the worst three year stretch maybe ever. But I was there in 2014, when the team 'surprised' in going 70-92, and Sports Illustrated ran a cover saying 'The Astros: the 2017 World Series Champions.' And I was there in 2015, when the team started hot, called up a future superstar in Carlos Correa, and then struggled late but held onto a Wild Card. I was there for that, for the relative disappointment of 2016, and for their success this year.

It's been a tiring 12 years at times. but the next 12 feels so much brighter. The core of the team is still young. Carlos Correa just turned 23, and if he didn't get hurt he might have stolen the MVP from Jose Altuve, who himself is just 27. George Springer is 26. Alex Bregman is 23 and had a great second year. The pitching staff needs help, but they have money to spend and seemingly a future ace in Forrest Whitley in AA. The teams future is bright as anything, but forget the future, there is still life in 2017.

To turn to a weird comparison for a minute, this series win, against a Boston team (for good measure), reminds me of what Tyrion Lannister told Daenarys Targaryen late in Season 6, 'You're in the Great Game now.' This is real, the trip to the ALCS, the matchup against either the best team in the AL (Cleveland) or the best franchise (Yankees). The bright lights, primetime games (something, hilariously, they did not have in the entirety of the ALDS). The real season starts now. I want to tell myself that this season doesn't matter. They have many great years left, but its right here for the taking, just as it was 12 years ago.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

MLB 2017 Playoffs: Previewing the DSes

(A1) Cleveland Indians  vs.  (A4) New York Yankees

This could be an interesting series, even though the Indians have gone 33-4 in their last 47 games. By the way, that breaks out to 11-3 even after their 22-0 streak ended. The Indians run has been just incredible. The Yankees though? They might be one of the best Wild Card teams in recent memory. They showed exactly what makes them so good in the Wild Card Game. Their dominant bullpen (which didn't even use Dellin Betances), and their offense power. The series will likely come down to which weakness is hidden the best - the Yankees starting pitching, or the Indians offense. Of course, the Indians offense is not really a 'weakness' especially in the second half of the season. Their offense is more or less as deep as the Yankees in better than league average players (100+ OPS+), though the Yankees have the two superstar bats in Judge and Sanchez.

The Yankees can hide their starting pitching by going to the bullpen more, but if Girardi overuses this tactic it could backfire - see what happened to the Indians late in the World Series after many of their relievers had been overused. I imagine Girardi's hook won't be nearly as quick in a 5-game series vs. the Wild Card Game. I think the Yankees have a good shot at this series, but the Indians are just not a good matchup. They can, more or less, match the Yankees bullpen depth with one of the best, by WAR, starting rotations in history (seriously), and an offense more or less as deep. The Indians hitters also strikeout very infrequently (only Houston was lower) which should work well against a strikeout heavy Yankees pitching staff. In the end, the Indians are just slightly too good, but I'm sure they aren't happy having to play this good of a team in the ALDS.

Indians in 4


(A2) Houston Astros  vs.  (A3) Boston Red Sox

Look, obviously I'll be somewhat biased. Despite my hatred of most things Boston sports, that doesn't really extend to the Red Sox given the Astros are new to the AL. But there's always a nice time to start. Despite the Astros seemingly being disappointing the last few months, they end up just a game behind Cleveland and three behind the Dodgers, and after they got Carlos Correa back healthy more or less returned to being the best offense in many, many years. The Astros offense is incredible. Alex Bregman was the 6th best Astros hitter, and he finished the year with a slash line of .284/.352//475 (129 OPS+). The top four have OPS+'s of 165 (Altuve), 160 (Correa), 150 (Marwin Gonzalez) and 145 (George Springer). They had incredible power and low strikeouts. The Indians pitching staff could easily control them - the Red Sox is probably less likely. It doesn't help the Red Sox two best pitchers are left-handed (Sale, Pomeranz), and the Astros best hitters are all right handed. What really pushes the edge to Houston in this series is the difference in offenses.

The Red Sox entered the season with a lineup that should have challenged Houston's for the best in the AL. Instead, it struggled all year long. Remember Bregman and his 129 OPS+? Well, no Red Sox starter had an OPS+ that high. The Red Sox matchup edges are either slight (their relative defensive strength, though the Astros have a better infield) and potentially better relief pitching. But the Astros key there can be converting many of their plethora of #3/#4 starters into long relievers, like Joe Musgrove and maybe even Lance McCullers, if they want to go that route. The only game the Red Sox expect to have a pitching advantage is Sale vs. Verlander, and even there given Sale's recent struggles it might not be that easy. The Red Sox were a very good team. The Astros were a great team, and they are fully healthy. The key for the Astros was getting Keuchel back and healthy (which he is now), and more than that getting Correa back healthy - and he ended the season red hot. In baseball, anything can happen, but the Astros shouild be fairly comfortable favorites.

Astros in 4



(N1) Los Angeles Dodgers  vs  (N4) Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are a really good team. Now, they come into this series with a bit of more questions than expected with their pitching, with Zack Greinke struggling mightily in the Wild Card Game and them using Robbie Ray for some reason (the guy expected to start Game 1). That said, the offense is great (made better by a brilliant pickup of JD Martinez) and they have the inherent knowledge that they play the Dodgers really, really well. Sure, head-to-heads are not meaningful, but they went 11-8 against the Dodgers, and outscored them by a bunch.

Of course, focusing on the Diamondbacks is unfair given the team they are up against. The Dodgers were good enough to suffer a 1-16 stretch and still end up with a 103-59 record. The Dodgers were never as good as their 91-36 start, but not as bad as 1-16. Outside of Clayton Kershaw (and to be fair, Kenley Jansen) there is no true standout, but a bunch of great players. In that sense, they have the depth advantage, a 7-deep lineup with a healthy Justin Turner as the anchor, and six good starting pitchers and a fine bullpen. Depth will matter, especially since the Diamondbacks had to waste Robbie Ray. The D'Backs stars are good enough to win a couple games, but the fact that the Diamondbacks will have to probably start Patrick Corbin (119 ERA+) in a potential Game 5 is an issue - compared to having the Dodgers throw out Clayton Kershaw (180 ERA+) or Yu Darvish (124 ERA+). To me, that is the difference here.

Dodgers in 5


(N2) Washington Nationals  vs  (N3) Chicago Cubs

I'm so excited for this series. These are two great teams, especially with the Cubs strong finish to the season. They rediscovered their offense, to the point that Kris Bryant ended the year with a very similar season to his MVP year from last year. They get to face the best SP lineup in the NL, with Scherzer, Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez getting four of the five games. Scherzer will get all the headlines, but Strasburg quietly had an amazing year, with a 175 ERA+ (same as Max). He only had 175 IPs, but his performance in those innings was incredibly strong. The Nationals have advantages over the Cubs, purely based on 2017 performance, in their starting rotation, and their offense. But some of those edges are not as pronounced. The Cubs offense from teh 2nd half, particularly after Anthony Rizzo woke up, matches up fairly well with the Nationals.

Where the series will really turn for me is the bullpen. The Cubs for the season were better, but the Nationals have recovered really well after having a horrendous start to the year. Their deadline acquisitions of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle have paid off tremendously. The depth still is not there, but they can protect leads with far more confidence than they used to be able to earlier on in the season. The Nationals to me are sligthly better, and have home field advantage, but it is hard to make accurate comparisons given how different the Cubs were from the first to second half. The second half version of the Cubs are really close, but I do think their flaws are a bit more pronounced.

Nationals in 5

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My 32 Favorite International Cities

The last time I did this was in 2015, and since then I've added a few more cities to the list. Not as many as you would think, but enough to warrant another go at it. I didn't have 5 more to add, but a couple and I'm really opposed to dropping anything off, so I'm just going to go to 32.

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The last time I did this was late in 2013, following my Round the Trip world. I don't know why I'm choosing now to update the list, but it is now expanded to 30 cities, and adds four new places that I've visited the last two years, and then an additional forgotten gem from my Round the World Trip.

I’m going to rank my top-32 cities to visit that I have been to. Take this more of a recommendation list, as in I would recommend the cities in the following order to someone who hasn’t visited them based on my experience visiting them. With that, obviously, only cities I have visited make the list, and visited means more than two days. I’m rating them on the following criteria: the places to see in the city, the ease of access of the city (public transport – much more important internationally when renting a car is more of a precarious idea – and the city’s airport or entrance system), their joi de vievre (a fancy way of saying ‘how would this city be to just chill out in), their weather and overall appearance, and some other factors. There’s no formula here, though.
This is heavily weighted by the amount of time I’ve spent in a city, and what age I was when I visited there. These rules hurt London, while help Madrid, because I’ve spent all of three days in London as a person of legal age, while spent more time in Madrid. It really hurts some other European cities, like Frankfurt, Zurich, Rome, Milan, places I’ve been to as a kid of 9-11.

Again, these are ranked as cities I would visit (all of them I have visited), not where I would live. I would live in Geneva, but probably not visit again because there isn’t much to do, it is cold, and some other reasons. There are places that I wish I could rank because from what I’ve heard from family/friends that have been there they seem really good, like Moscow, Berlin and Hamburg, and when I visit them, I will update this list. Also irrelevant is the ease of getting to this city. Singapore isn’t hurt because it is the farthest commonly visited location from NYC than any other place, and London isn’t helped because it is 6 hours away.

A city includes sites and destinations that are a reasonable distance away, so Barcelona won’t get credit for the Playas that are 2-3 hours away (and are closer to Valencia), and Athens won’t get credit for Ephesus which is 3 hours away, but London would get credit for Stratford (or whatever it’s called where Shakespeare is from, or Oxford – and Rome gets credit for the Vatican, which for being a different country, is totally part of Rome) which is reasonably close.


32.) Da Lat (2013)



The little hamlet high above the Vietnamese hills, Da Lat was probably the most pleasant surprise of any place on my trip. The city itself is modeled after European cities, with parks, downtown circles and even a model Eiffel Tower. The surrounding areas houses more traditional Vietnamese fair, like temples, Buddhas, waterfalls and even roller coasters, all underneath a cool mountain air. Da Lat's hills hide many nice restaurants, bars and clubs. It isn't nearly as loud or as famous as Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang or Hanoi, but Da Lat may be the most pure mix of Asia and Europe that I have seen. Also, it has an incredibly nice airport given the just six flights that fly there each day.


31.) Penang (2013)



There are positives and negatives to Penang, and depending how important the positives are relative to the negatives to you, Penang could rise or fall on your rankings. Personally, food and culture are really important to me, and Penang has both in spades. It may be a little overrated with food, but the seafood night markets that litter both Georgetown (the main city) and the beaches (all within an hour or so from Georgetown) are wonderful. The Nyonya food in Penang is far better than that in Kuala Lumpur. There is enough to see, including a nice little trek in Georgetown to some interesting historical buildings (the Cheong Fat Tze is a nice highlight). Of course, Penang is also very crowded, slightly dirty and the beaches themselves are quite barren. In the end, I find this fair for what I still consider a great eating spot.


30.) Hong Kong (2003)



Hong Kong has little to do in terms of historical sights. With a couple countries claiming ownership of Hong Kong, they have done a nice job removing any ties to any country. Still, it has arguably the best skyline in the world (though after the new WTC complex is finished in all its glory, NYC will have a good claim to that spot), and being situated in front of and on a mountain gives it some excellent views. Their airport in universally hailed as great, and the gambling capital of Asia (Macau) is just a ferry ride away. But still, picking a place to be higher than 15th given its total lack of history, or its lack of any particular brand of brilliance other than its propensity to build really tall buildings just feels wrong.


29.) Udaipur (2013)


Our first new city on the list is my 2nd Indian city on the list. As somehow who hated traveling in India, picking a city that is in one of the hottest areas in the country, and a city I visited during their hot dry season, this high might seem surprising. Well, I can't recommend Udaipur, along with Rajasthan as a hole, enough. The city has some beautiful scenery being built on a far more hilly area of the country than you would expect. They have famous lakes that hold famous hotels built on famous castles. They have nice food and street shows that line the corridors of the inner city. THere's the strange love for the movie Octopussy, where screenings are shown nightly. There's a beautiful palace inside the city. And I'll stretch my 'sites withing 1.5 hours count' rule by saying that the Jain Temple at Ranakpur was incredible - and in any modern country it would be within 1.5 hours.


28.) Florence (2003)



I’ll admit that Florence should probably be higher on this list, but it is my list of favorite cities that I would recommend. This is a strange combination, because personal favorites are wholly subjective, while cities that you recommend should be somewhat objective. Anyway, my problem with Florence is I’m not really into art, and if you aren’t than there is little to do in Florence. If you like art, specifically really detailed portraits from the renaissance era, then you will love Florence. If you don’t, then it will be something of a bore to a disappointment.


27.) Munich (2000 & 2009)



I have a strange history with quite a few international cities, and Munich is another one. I had both my 9th and 18th Birthday in Munich (in related news, I’m pretty sure where you can find me on April 7th, 2018). The first during my initial trip to that part of the world, and the 2nd on the penultimate day of our Orchestra’s tour of Austria (we flew out of Munich). Berlin is supposedly a great, modern city, but out of all the cities I have been to in Germany, Munich is by far the best. It is incredibly modern, and getting increasingly so, with modern architecture abound. It is the only European city with a skyline that can compare to those in the US (not a crucial factor, but still nice). The downside is there is little to see and that German food isn’t that good. Either way, Munich will always be the place to spend any birthday that is a multiple of nine, and for that alone, it gets on the list.


26.) Split (2017)



Both of my two new cities are coastal Croatian outposts, and first comes the bigger of the two cities, in Split. There is so much to like about Split, be it the sprawling old town with enough sites and small alleys lined with shops and restaurant to keep you busy way too long, or the modern clubs and restaurants, or the sites from its hills. I guess in theory I can include the island of Hvar as well as that is within a 1-hour boat ride away, which adds beautiful beaches and mountains to this as well. Split as a whole might be a little too commercialized - they had a lot of stalls selling the normal tourist fares that aren't always appreciated, but the city truly is a beautiful slice of culture deep in Croatia. I do love how varied the drink and food scene is there as well.


25.) Paris (2006) 



There’s obviously a ton to see in Paris, and the city center around the Eifel Tower, on either side of River Sein, is beautiful. Paris is a probably a city that certain people would love, but I am not one of them. Of course, I liked it enough to put ahead of some damn good cities, mostly on the ridiculous amounts of things to see alone. I actually don’t remember much of my Paris trip, which is strange given its relative recency, but I do remember thinking one day in the Louvre was far from enough, and the city center of Paris containing some of the best architecture of any European city. A lot of these European cities are impacted by my like or dislike of footballers from that region (I know, that sounds stupid, and it is), and Paris gets a boost for being the hometown to Zinedine Zidane.


24.) Mexico City (2014)


I put 2014 there, but I went to Mexico City two different times, staying in two different areas of that expansive, massive, festive city. Far safer than most areas of Mexico, La Cuidad is incredibly impressive. There are tons of historical sites, like the entire Zocalo, the Chapultepec, and La Reforma. Mexico City also has a wealth of food options, with incredibly authentic Mexican fare from around the country, including the incredible Oaxacan food. Really fun night spot as well. Mexico City blew me away also with its strange, mysterious beer culture. The City is a sprawling testament to how secretly, behind the dangerous cartels that line the exterior, the soft interior of Mexico is a gorgeous, cultural attraction that is bettered by so few cities.


23 & 22.) Prague/Budapest (2000)




These two are kind of blended together for me. I visited them essentially right after each other, both 13 years ago so my memory of each is a little hazy. I remember both for mainly positives. They are both beautiful cities, with lovely rivers running through them. They have some stuff to see, but not a whole lot. They are more affordable than the major cities in Western Europe, which is a plus (but also English –at least then – is not very transferrable to there). Budapest has some great food (Goulash!), while Prague is a pilgrimage for Catholics.


21.) Phnom Penh (2013)



I lied when I said that Da Lat was the biggest surprise of the trip. Phnom Penh was. I wasn't expecting too much from Canbodia's capital, but the mix of history, good and bad, food, nightlife and surprising urbanity made Phnom Penh a real highlight for me. I really loved Cambodian food, and it was at its best in Phnom Penh, a perfect mix of Malay and Thai cuisine. Phnom Penh itself embraced its own history, not shying away from the terrible acts of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, maintaining multiple areas in the city to pay tribute to those who died. The rest of the city pays tribute to the rich culture of Cambodia that preceded the destruction, with large pagodas in beautiful parks and nice museums. Phnom Penh also has a nice riverfront area that is really, really lively at night. Add into all of this that the currency of choice in the Dollar, and you get a really nice, underrated city.


20.) Panama City (2012)



My highest ranking Caribbean city probably could be higher, but I’ve been to a lot of great European cities so I don’t want to get crazy. I went to Panama with really low expectations, and I was blown away. It has a really impressive skyline, one that holds its own even if you forget that it is a poor latin country. It has great food of different cuisines. It has a ton to see, with the Panama Canal and the rainforest both falling into its sights. Other than Calgary (which I talked about in the last list) I don’t know if any trip I’ve gone on has been such a surprise as Panama, the Caribbean’s only truly modern city.


19.) Berlin (2014)


Berlin is the only German city I've gone to as an adult, and from what I read it was a good one to pick. The city is sprawling, and has covered it's whole 'we had a giant wall' thing with some really modern buildings and a few nice memorials. But what it also hides is an incredible city. The main squares, or platzes are all incredible, including that entire stretch between the Brandenburg Gate, through the Tiergarten, and ending with the Berlin Island. There are various areas of the city with incredible churches, restaurants, bars (and bars, and bars) and historical buildings. The city houses some fascinating museums that touch on the long, varying history of Germany is a country. Berlin as a city is too big to do in 3 days like I did, but it is definitely alluring enough to go back.


18.) Melbourne (2013)



Melbourne could be a Top-10 city to spend four or five days in. There is not too much to do, but enough to keep you occupied. If you like sports, which I do, then it is even better. Melbourne tries to lay claim to the Sporting Capital of the World, and when you mix together one of Tennis' four main tournaments with the 2nd most famous Cricket Ground (and most famous Aussie Rules ground) in the world right next door, it is hard to argue. Melbourne's riverfront is a beautiful area, with amazing views of the city around it. It's food options are endless, with really good Asian cuisine throughout the city. The nightlife seemed nice enough. It also has some really beautiful scenery around an hour of its boundaries, with beautiful parks, wine regions and the Great Ocean Road. Add into that Philipp Island, which just hits the cutoff to be included with Melbourne, and you get a solid, Top-15 city.


17.) Turin (2015)


I was close to picking Parma, as then I could include the Parma cheese factories, but picking Turin allows me to count the Piedmont wine country, and those little towns that dot it. Turin the city though, is a understated version of how incredible Italy is. It has the requisite churches and squares, but also has the open palacial squares and river-fronts that you normally associate with other countries in Europe. It has some incredible little hamlets of food, with great options for eating throughout the day (some excellent tea joints). My favorite place in Turin actually wasn't one of the two main squares, but Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one that borders the river with an amazing view of the city behind it. It was the last place we went to in Turin, an incredible capper to an unexpected amazing day in a great city.


16.) Tokyo (2013)



As a tourist, I don't care what the work and life culture are of the people in the city, and good thing, because if I did I may hate Tokyo. To see people in full suit in the subway at 11 PM coming home from work is jarring. But this isn't about any of that, it is about Tokyo the city, and it is a really fabulous metropolis. Tokyo is sprawling, in a way that makes New York seem small. There are really bustling regions like Shinjuku, really fun late night spots like Roppongi. There is a ton to see, and great food options. The food may be more corporate than traditional and homestyle in Tokyo, but that isn't all bad. The biggest complaint with Tokyo is just the size. It is so big that it is tiring to navigate at times, getting from one end to the other. Even with the reliability and the local JR Train lines, it takes time to get around. Good thing that most regions have enough to do to spend half a day there anyway. One last point, I thought Times Square was bright, until I went to Ginza.


15.) Vienna (2000 & 2009)



The 2nd time I went to Vienna was on my high school’s Orchestra’s tour of Austria during my Senior year, and much of my high ranking for Vienna is based on that trip. There is a ton of history in Vienna, with the music scene being located there (Mozart and Beethoven’s houses), with the adjoining arts scene with a bevy of theatres. If you like classical music, then Vienna is heaven. I am including the adorable little town of …… where we performed, which was half an hour outside Vienna. The best part of Vienna is how modern it is. The city center has some of the largest streets and public squares of anywhere in Europe, with grand architecture all around. The food isn’t great, but it is no worse than Germany and Switzerland, and Austria is generally less expensive. It took a second trip to get acclimated with Vienna’s charms, but they are there, and plentiful.


14.) Bangkok (2003 & 2013)



Here’s the gist of what I remember from Bangkok: nice Wats to see, incredible food, up all night, eating all the time. Bangkok is a food-lover’s paradise, especially for those who like Thai food. Bangkok is also close to areas where you can do all those Asia type things like ride elephants and see the jungle. The weather is surprisingly decent for a city in Southeast Asia, and from what I remember it is pretty easy to navigate. My thoughts regarding Bangkok have indeed changed with my one-plus day visit. The city is better than I remembered, with sprawling malls, an advanced metro system, and new urban centers. The weather isn’t quite as good, as it is still hard to get to different parts of the city, but the city center of Bangkok is about as good as any I’ve seen in Asia.


13.) Goa (2011 & 2013)



Yeah, yeah, yeah, my initial ranking of Goa was a little ridiculous. It was built off of an admittedly awesome trip to Goa in 2011, but that was a perfect storm. We were staying in the best part of Goa for a first timer who loves food on beaches at 2 AM. I was fresh off of an alcohol cleanse (which of course came after the opposite of an alcohol cleanse), and was greeted with $0.50 beer. Goa still has all those things, but I quickly realized upon my second visit that the area of Goa you stay in makes a huge difference. Stay too far South and you get isolated beaches, which I am sure are nice to some, but they don't have the same nightlife and food options littering the beach. Instead, they have litter littering the beach. Stay in the right part of Goa and it is amazing, the wrong part and it is merely OK. Still, it is unlike anything else in India, and for that it will always be in my part.


12.) Dubrovnik (2017)


My expectations were raised on Dubrovnik from a number of friends and families had already visited, and oh man was it great - matching everything I would have hoped for. Dubrovnik, like many cities that line my top half of the list, aren't huge sprawling metropolises, instead smaller, untouched little power-packs of culture and beauty. The actual structure of the town reminds me of a European Cape Town, with the old town and fort replacing the V&A Waterfront area, and the hills of the newer part of the city similar to East Cape Town, and the hills in hte background, fixed with their own version of Table Mountain, being, well, Cape Town's Table Mountain. The history in Dubrovnik is amazing, with the old town such a beautiful array of nooks and crannies, with steep stairs on alleys down to the water. Within it contains history, and amazing restaurants, and, of course, Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik is one of the gems of the Adriatic Sea, right there with the other great ports of the Mediterranean.


11.) London (1999, 2000, 2010 & 2017)



I probably should just go to London more, because both my Dad and my Sister, who lived there, swear by London as an incredible city. But again, I’m not ranking this by how livable they are, but how good they are as tourist destinations. London definitely has enough to see, including the nicely compact Royal stuff (palace, parliament, other stuff), and a neatly packed city center (West End, Trafalgar Square, other stuff I’m forgetting), but it is a little too big. It’s subway system is clean, but doesn’t have the expansiveness that it needs (something I give huge credit to the NYC Subway System for, no matter how dirty it is). Of course, it is damn expensive, and the weather is mostly lousy. It may get better with more trips, but I think London is too big for its own good, and a little too confused, as it tries to be both Rome and New York.

**So I went here in 2017, and really have nothing more to add. I think what I wrote back then is more or less accurate**


10.) Krakow (2014)


By rule I like smaller cities over sprawling ones. Well, while there are expanses to Krakow that extend in all directions, almost everything worth seeing in the city is in a 10x10 block radius circling the best city square (Rynek Glowny) I have seen in Europe. When you get a city that has (their claim) more bars per capita than any in the world, combine that with amazing open space and roadside/streetside restaurants, and an economy that does not use the Euro and is far cheaper than comparale cities in Western Europe, you get a pretty fantastic city. Also, you want history near its borders, you get Auschwitz about 2 hours away. Krakow is an incredible secondary city, arguably the best secondary city I've ever been to. The beer, food and endless beautiful women makes it Top-25; the sites, easily walkable goegraphy, and amazing history (Copernicus lived there too) makes it Top-10.


9.) Kyoto (2013)



Kyoto is the 3rd biggest City in Japan, but resembles so little of Tokyo (the biggest city) that makes it seem like a different country. Sure, the food options and the bustle is still there, but Kyoto, in some ways, is like a supersized Siem Reap. The real highlight of Kyoto is the ridiculous amounts of Temples and historical Japanese buildings. All of these are encircling the downtown area of Kyoto. Of course, that downtown is quite large, with beautiful malls, tall buildings with summer beer gardens (umlimited beer buffets for $30) and plentiful up-scale food options. Kyoto even has the most expansive Geisha area of Japan. Kyoto is the perfect city to experience what people's idea of Japan is, temples and pagodas and sushi, oh my!


8.) Rome (2003)




Speaking of Rome, history’s most famous city checks in next. I haven’t spent any time in Rome as an adult, but I don’t think Rome is the type of city that would change much from an adult’s perspective. It is good for its history and sites first, and if you like Italian cuisine, the food second. If you include the Vatican, and as a Catholic I do, in Rome, then there is even more to see, as you have two different parts of history, the formation of the Catholic Church in the awe-inspiring Vatican grounds near and inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Roman history which is very well kept up. I can’t remember how their public transport was, and we went in December, so the weather was bad, but I don’t think it is a very big city. And then there is that food. I don’t want personal biases like my ambivalence towards Italian food to sway this. Many do like Italian food, and the city is even better for those people. That said, what hurts Rome in my book is I think it is too dependent on the sites, and if you aren’t there on a religious pilgrimage, I can’t imagine the allure of going to Rome more than once.


7.) Athens (2010)



So Athens is very much like its historical partner, Rome, with a few less sites, a lot less crowds, less expensive, and with better weather. So does that whole equation spit out a better city? In my mind, it does. Part of this has to do with visiting Athens at the perfect time (19, during March) and Rome not (13, during December), but Athens has it all. It has a lot to see, but not so much that sightseeing takes over the trip. It has a city that is hard to navigate by car and by walking, but has an adequate subway system. It has excellent food, and a great environment that bursts with fun and enjoyment. Just a grand old time in Athens, as I’m sure it was 2,500 years ago.


6.) Singapore (2012 & 2013)



Singapore is one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. There is no city any cleaner. There is no city as tightly situated while having enough external attractions. There is no city better built for a short stay. What doesn’t Singapore have? It has a theme park for kids. A bird park (highly recommended) and a night safari for kids and adults. It has a brand new casino for adults. It has a centralized bar/pub/club area near the waterfront. It has a preponderance of food from really, really cheap to really expensive. It has livable weather year-round. It also has the most interesting and enjoyable airport I’ve ever been to (there is a pool and gym that everyone can use for free in it!), and the cleanest, best organized subway system I’ve seen. So why is Singapore only #3? Because there isn’t that much to do, and Singapore’s not cheap enough to just sit around and eat/drink/do nothing. The sights have no historical resonance, and are replicated in other cities. Still, for a period less than a week, there is no better city to visit.


5.) Sydney (2013) 



Take the weather and leisurely attitude of Australia, combine the waterfront facade of a Chicago, add some pub and club nightlife of any city in Europe and you get Sydney, a city that combines the great aspects of every major city I have been too. It doesn't have a true culture of its own which hurts it in my mind. What I really mean by that is, much like the problems I have with England, there are too many similarities to the US. You don't really feel you are in a foreign city too much. Of course, that all changes when you walk towards the Opera House, or go to the night spots with the Australians out partying, or eat great meats. Sydney is a wonderful city, probably the most livable of any in the Top-10 (of course, it is helped by being English-Speaking), but sometimes I would sacrifice livability for uniqueness, which is why it isn't any higher.


4.) Barcelona (2007)



I really want to go to Barcelona again, because it could easily be #1. All the ingredients are there. Pristine weather. A people who don’t care about life, making the tourist experience more fun. Good beaches within reach. Stuff to see. An airport that is easily reachable and a city that is easily maneuverable. My issues with Barcelona (other than my dislike for the Blaugrana) are simple. There isn’t a lot to see in terms of history, mainly because the Catalans want their own history so they destroyed or shunned any Spanish national history. Barcelona is a nice city in terms of seeing the sights for a day or two and then doing nothing the rest of the time, but I do want more from my cities. 


3.) Istanbul (2007)



Istanbul is kind of a secret still, but there is really nothing to complain about. It has a waterfront, an easily accessible city center, a lot to see (the palaces, the Bosphuros, the Red & Blue Mosques). Istanbul also has a brilliant food scene, with both Muslim and Meditterannean influences but all sorts of bases (including a ton of seafood). There is little to separate any of the cities this high in the list. My only knock on Istanbul would be the public transport is lacking without a proper Subway (this could have changed since my last visit). Overall, Istanbul combines the palate and affordability of Asia, with the energy and cleanliness of Europe, the best of both worlds.


2.) Cape Town (2013)



I've been wondering whether doing Cape Town first helped increase my perceptions of it. I was at my most curious and excited at the start of the trip. Then, I remember everything amazing about Cape Town, like the incredible scenery and breathtaking views, the active harbor and Long Street areas (for the youngsters among us), the great food of every type and the wine region to one side with the Cape of Good Hope below it. Cape Town is a special place on the total other side of the word (laterally speaking). I've really never been any place quite like it, which is why I want to go back there more than any place in the world.


1.) Madrid (2001 & 2010)



I’ll never forget Madrid. It was where I turned 10 years old, in April of 2001. It was where I saw my first naked woman in real life, as I saw two nude woman near the pool in Madrid (given my age and their age, this wasn’t a good thing). It was where I first traveled alone, and where I learned the inherent joy of visiting a place a 2nd time. Barcelona might be more ‘fun’, but I can’t think of a place that combines everything I want from a city more than Madrid. Madrid has a dependable airport, and a dependable subway system. More than that, the city is small enough in its center that you can easily walk from the Prado side on the East, to the Palace on the West and not break a sweat. It has some of Spain’s best museums. There is more than enough to see. And, of course, you are still very much in Spain. It isn’t as relaxed as Barcelona, but is just as Spanish, with open squares, easy food and drink,  a lot of youngsters (and a lively area for them at night). This wasn’t a criteria, but a lot of people speak English there to boot. Madrid is basically a perfect city. Small enough to walk, with enough sites to not get bored, enough food to not go hungry, and a relaxed, but not too relaxed nature that you won’t ever get tired of doing nothing for an afternoon or two.

NHL 2017-18 - Season Predictions

Metropolitan Division

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins
2.) Washington Capitals
3.) New York Rangers
4.) Philadelphia Flyers (WC1)
5.) Carolina Hurricanes (WC2)
6.) Columbus Blue Jackets
7.) New York Islanders
8.) New Jersey Devils

Atlantic Division

1.) Tampa Bay Lightning (1)
2.) Boston Bruins 
3.) Toronto Maple Leafs
4.) Florida Panthers
5.) Montreal Canadiens
6.) Buffalo Sabres
7.) Ottawa Senators
8.) Detroit Red Wings


Central Division

1.) Nashville Predators
2.) St. Louis Blues
3.) Chicago Blackhawks
4.) Minnesota Wild (WC1)
5.) Winnipeg Jets
6.) Dallas Stars
7.) Colorado Avalanche

Pacific Division

1.) Edmonton Oilers (1)
2.) Anaheim Ducks
3.) San Jose Sharks
4.) Calgary Flames (WC2)
5.) Arizona Coyotes
6.) Los Angeles Kings
7.) Vancouver Canucks
8.) Vegas Golden Knights



Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference

1st Round:
(M1) Pittsburgh beats (WC1) Philadelphia 4-2
(M2) Washington beats (M3) New York Rangers 4-3
(A1) Tampa Bay beats (WC2) Carolina 4-1
(A3) Toronto beats (A2) Boston 4-2

2nd Round:
(M1) Pittsburgh beats (M2) Washington 4-3
(A1) Tampa Bay beats (A3) Toronto 4-2

Eastern Conference Final:
(A1) Tampa Bay beats (M1) Pittsburgh 4-3


Western Conference

1st Round:
(C1) Nashville beats (C4) Minnesota 4-2
(C3) Chicago beats (C2) St. Louis 4-3
(P1) Edmonton beats (WC2) Calgary 4-2
(P2) Anaheim beats (P3) San Jose 4-1

2nd Round:
(C3) Chicago beats (C1) Nashville 4-3
(P1) Edmonton beats (P2) Anaheim 4-3

Western Conference Final:
(P1) Edmonton beats (C3) Chicago 4-2


Stanley Cup Final
(A1) Tampa Bay beats (P1) Edmonton 4-2

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 5 Power Rankings & The Rest

Tier 1 - 0-16 Watch is On!

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-4  =  63-107)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-4  =  66-94)

There are two other 0-4 teams, but I think the Browns and 49ers have singled themselves out. The Browns are seemingly worse this year than last. It looks like DeShone Kizer was definitely rushed to the starting QB role (hey, maybe they could have used Kaep?). The defense is injured, and while they have that trove of picks you have to start at least questioning their talent evaluation. The 49ers were probably more expected to be terrible, and while they were good the last three weeks, they still have that unsightly week 1 result on their books, and an offense that scored 39 points in one game, and 27 in the other three combined.


Tier 2 - The Awful Teams with Interesting QB Questions

30.) Chicago Bears  (1-3  =  61-104)
29.) Indianapolis Colts  (1-3  =  71-136)
28.) Miami Dolphins  (1-2  =  25-57)

The Bears win over the Steelers will forever confound me. They are not a good team in any real way, but at least now they will test out #2 pick Mitchell Trubisky. Their OL has been better than I expected so I don't fear that they are feeding him to the lions. The Colts may finally get Andrew Luck back in two weeks, and while they have been on the whole quite bad, they still are just one game back in the division with all six division games still to come. Out of any team in this bottom three tiers, they have the best chance of turning things around by default. The Dolphins clearly do not. Jay Cutler seems like a failed experiment at this point. Maybe putting your hopes with a guy who displayed questionable commitment previously and making him come out of retirement wasn't a good idea. More depressing is how bad that offense is given the talent inherent on it.


Tier 3 - Who Knows?

27.) New York Giants  (0-4  =  60-95)
26.) New York Jets  (2-2  =  75-92)
25.) Los Angeles Chargers  (0-4  =  72-93)

The plight of the two New York teams is one of the more unexpected developments in recent years. For the team everyone expected to compete for a playoffs to be 0-4, with the team often called one of the worst rosters of all time at 2-2 is hilarious. Of course, the Jets beat two bad teams, and the Giants have lost to good ones. The Chargers are 0-4, and I fear their close losses may start spiraling into just a bad team. There's been a number of teams in recent years that started 0-3 or 0-4 with close losses and then just lose motivation and fall apart. Guess that is a risk for New York as well.


Tier 4 - The 2-2 Morass

24.) Baltimore Ravens  (2-2  =  60-80)
23.) Tennessee Titans  (2-2  =  100-1260
22.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-2  =  109-74)
21.) Arizona Cardinals  (2-2  =  74-91)
20.) Minnesota Vikings  (2-2  =  79-76)

It seems like way too much of the league is 2-2, and I really can't say anything worthwhile about these teams. The Cardinals and Vikings haven't played a totally bad game, so that's why they are leading this group, With the Vikings, I am starting to worry about their ability to keep pace as long as Bradford is out. The first three teams have all been blown out and blowed another team out. The Jaguars might be the weirdest, with two dominant wins and then a giant loss. I have no idea about these AFC South teams.


Tier 5 - The Saints, defenisve juggernaut?

19.) New Orleans Saints  (2-2  =  93-78)

The Saints have given up just 13 points in the last two games. They have held QBs to well under 300 yards, which is amazing given how both Bradford and Brady whooped them the first two weeks. The Saints defensive correction is so absurd. Who knows if it will last. Certainly Miami is not a real test at this point. But man, it would be interesting to see what exactly changed.


Tier 6 - The Fringe Playoff Contenders

18.) Cincinnati Bengals  (1-3  =  64-67)
17.) Houston Texans  (2-2  =  110-88)
16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-1  =  71-64)

I think the Bengals are a fringe playoff contender, because it is always nice to have one 1-3 team to look out for, and the Bengals are my pick. They could fairly easily be 3-1 right now. They handled Houston apart from the one broken TD run by Watson. They really choked away the Packers game. The Bengals defense has been really good all year. For the Texans, it might be an overreaction to that game, but with Watson they've looked really good on offense the last two weeks. I worry about Watson's week-to-week consistency, but this is a scarier version of any previous Bill O'Brien Houston team. Buccaneers showed some good resolve in coming back after blowing the lead, and more than anything they get a chance to make a statement on Thursday against the Patriots. Let's re-evaluate them after that.


Tier 7 - It Wasn't Supposed to Happen That Way

15.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-2  =  94-97)
14.) Oakland Raiders  (2-2  =  91-79)
13.) New England Patriots  (2-2  =  129-128)

All three teams lost games on Sunday. All three were preseason favorites (the Patriots deeply so) and all three have shown some serious flaws. The Cowboys passing offense has been very up and down and the defense hasn't held up well when they don't get pressure. The Raiders running game has been hit or miss, and the weapons suddenly don't look as scary. My guess is all three course-correct to some degree and each end up around the 10/11/12 win mark, but the questions on them right now are very real.


Tier 8 - The Meat of the NFC

12.) Washington Redskins  (2-2  =  91-89)
11.) Los Angeles Rams  (3-1  =  142-105)
10.) Seattle Seahawks  (2-2  =  94-77)
9.) Detroit Lions  (3-1  =  99-70)

There's a lot of just good teams through four weeks, that either had a lot of early-season buzz, have played well and/or have lost their games to good teams. The Redskins have two impressive losses, losing close games to a 3-1 Eagles team and 4-0 Chiefs team. The defense has made a massive upgrade from last season. The Rams, in a vacuum, may be the most impressive team so far, and if 2017 Jared Goff is the real Goff, this could get really exciting. The Seahawks are living in this air mostly on reputation, but they've always been rather slow starters. The Lions have been maybe the most impressive team not named the Rams given they were an inch or so to 4-0. That all said, there are questions on all these teams. For the Redskins, it is Kirk Cousins consistency. For the Rams it is the idea this is all a mirage (that team is not scoring 568 points). For the Seahawks it is the OL. For the Lions, it is a defense who's rise seems a bit too sharp.


Tier 9 - The Defensive Stalwarts

8.) Denver Broncos  (3-1  =  98-74)
7.) Buffalo Bills  (3-1  =  73-54)
6.) Philadelphia Eagles  (3-1  =  103-92)

The Broncos, Bills and Eagles all have 12-4 potential (yes, even the Bills) on the strengths of their defenses. The Broncos pass defense has actually slipped slightly, but now they just feature the best run defense in the NFL again. The Bills defense has been the league's best so far, and they really proved a lot going into Atlanta and slowing the Falcons down so well. The Eagles defense has given up some garbage time points, but their DLine has been dominant all season so far. The teams will likely o as far as their QBs can take them, and my level of confidence in each of the three QBs is reflected more or less in the order I put the team.


Tier 10 - The Top of the NFC

5.) Carolina Panthers  (3-1  =  84-70)
4.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-1  =  104-89)
3.) Green Bay Packers  (3-1  =  102-81)

The top of the NFC is packed, with the last undefeated team gone. The Falcons are 3-1, but definitely seem more tenuous then other teams given they were a technicality away from 2-2, and a Jordan Howard drop from 1-3. Then again, they dominated Green Bay, and probably beat Buffalo if Jones and Sanu don't get injured. Luckily the Jones injury doesn't seem too serious. The Panthers offense finally woke up, and if that game was a sign of things to come, the NFC should be scared. Finally, Green Bay keeps trucking on, with a chance to make a real statement in Dallas this next week.


Tier 11 - The Great AFC Race

2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (3-1  =  90-59)
1.) Kansas City Chiefs  (4-0  =  122-77)

The Steelers are good enough that a 3-1 with start with a healthy point differential and a recent dominant win over their biggest rival on the road seems like somewhat of a disappointment. In a way, I understand it. The offense, particularly Roethlisberger, looks slightly off. The Chicago loss is still a bitter reminder of how the Steelers can play down to their competition 4-5 times a year. Still, the defense is among the league's best, and can make up for any slippage on offense. The Chiefs really showed a lot on Monday Night. That was the type of game they lost last year, when they dropped winnable home games to Tennessee and Tampa Bay. It didn't end up really costing them last year, but easily could've. The Chiefs will have to continue to prove it to get people to see them as a dominant team, but their whirlwind offense is still explosive, Alex Smith is still throwing deep more often and with more success than ever before, and the defense hasn't been exposed at all after the loss of Eric Berry.


Projecting the Playoff Field

AFC

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  13-3
2.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  13-3
3.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
4.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6
5.) Denver Broncos  =  10-6
6.)  Buffalo Bills  =  10-6


NFC

1.) Green Bay Packers  =  13-3
2.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
3.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
4.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  10-6
5.) Atlanta Falcons  =  11-5
6.) Los Angeles Rams  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Atlanta Falcons (3-1), Denver Broncos (3-1), New Orleans Saints (2-2), Washington Redskins (2-2)

Kind of a rough set of bye-week teams, as the Falcons, Broncos and Redskins are three of more exciting teams this year, and it would be interesting to see if the Saints defensive resurgence could have continued.


14.) San Francisco 49ers (0-4)  @  Indianapolis Colts (1-3)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) New York Jets (2-2)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
12.) San Diego Chargers (0-4)  @  New York Giants (0-4)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Nice to get the 0-4 teams grouped together" Sunday, as we get two of the 0-4's against each other, and the other two in what actually seem to be reasonably winnable games. The 49ers on recent play should beat Indianapolis. The Jets are maybe the least respectable 2-2 team ever. With the Chargers and Giants, this game is just depressing, given the QBs involved and the heights these two teams used to play around in.


11.) Tennessee Titans (2-2)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Honestly, screw the AFC South" Sunday, because honestly, fuck the AFC South. So in Week 1, the Jags kill Houston. Then in Week 3, Tennessee kills Jacksonville. And then in Week 4, Houston obliterates Tennessee. I know this has nothing to do with the games above, but who cares. I hate the AFC South.


9.) Minnesota Vikings (2-2)  @  Chicago Bears (1-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
8.) Baltimore Ravens (2-2)  @  Oakland Raiders (2-2)  (4:05 - CBS)

I call it "Nothing really to say about these games" Sunday and Monday, as I have just nothing to say about these games. I guess watching Trubisky's first game may be fun??


7.) Buffalo Bills (3-1)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Arizona Cardinals (2-2)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Is the new guard better than the old?" Sunday, as we get two new-age top teams in Buffalo and Philadelphia get to play two of the old 2010-2016 (more actually 2013-2015) top dogs. The Bengals and Cardinals were my personal picks to rebound slightly and neither has. Instead teams like Buffalo and Philadelphia have taken their place. The Bills have a chance to really get off to a great start, and the Eagles really should win this game. But discounting the old guard is never a great idea.


5.) New England Patriots (2-2)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)  (TNF - CBS)
4.) Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)  @  Houston Texans (2-2)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "pretty nice night games in reality" Thursday and Sunday, as sometimes the primetime games just work out well. The Buccaneers get their chance to make a national statement, start out 3-1 and send New England to its worst start in the Brady/Belichick era (not counting 2000). And then the Chiefs get to play the new flavor of the week in DeShaun Watson. This game looks a lot better than it did even three weeks ago.


3.) Seattle Seahawks (2-2)  @  Los Angeles Rams (3-1)  (4:05 - CBS)
2.) Carolina Panthers (3-1)  @  Detroit Lions (3-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
1.) Green Bay Packers (3-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (2-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "NFC Movement" Sunday, as we get three really nice intra-NFC games. We have two games where 3-1 teams play the two most pedigreed 2-2 teams in the conference, and then one game between two surprising 3-1 teams. I honestly don't know which is bests. It will be first interesting to see how the Seahawks play this version of the Rams given how much trouble they had with the Jeff Fisher led unit. It is also a great test for the suddenly incredible Rams offense. The Packers and Cowboys is a great, blue-blood matchup and it will be good to see if Dallas can get back on track - for the Packers they get a chance to get another huge NFC win (this and Seattle in Week 1). Finally, Carolina and Detroit may not be sexy, but two 3-1 teams against each other is always a treat in Week 5.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 3 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking the 0-2 Teams

9.) New York Jets  (0-2  =  32-66)

What is annoying to me is that Todd Bowles is going to be excoriated for how bad this team will be. The Jets are not a good team. That is very, very intentional. This is not Todd Bowles's fault. If anything, they looked relatively competent for 29 minutes yesterday. The question I ask, is why does it seem like Mike Maccagnan is safe? He should go down with this ship for building a terrible 2016 roster. Tanking 2017 shouldn't automatically save him.


8.) Chicago Bears  (0-2  =  24-52)

Why are they not committing to starting Mitch Trubisky? I get that they may think the OL is so bad it could turn Trubisky into a David Carr type, but honestly for each David Carr that was forced into an untenable situation, many worse similarly on paper forced into that situation ended up fine. I would go with Trubisky tomorrow. Playing Mike Glennon is not accomplishing anything other than allowing GM Ryan Pace to claim some ROI on giving Glennon $18.5m guaranteed.


7.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-2  =  12-35)

We laughed at that Week 1 performance, and similarly laughed at their Week 2 performance on offense, and can certainly chide them for playing Brian Hoyer instead of Kaepernick, but quietly the 49ers defense has been really good. They controlled Carolina and Seattle fairly well. Sure, it is easy to point to the quality of the team's they've played offensively, but the 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage against Seattle in a way they haven't in the past.


6.) Cleveland Browns  (0-2  =  28-45)

That was a classic Browns game in Baltimore. They play fairly well, hit some big plays the Ravens usually don't allow, and still lose by two touchdowns because their QBs throw 4 INTs. So many times they came close to scoring TDs, or at least field goals, but Kizer and/or Hogan threw awful INTs. The future is still relatively bright, but we aren't away from Browns-y-ness just yet.


5.) Indianapolis Cots  (0-2  =  22-62)

What's odd is these rankings by record are tough because from a macro perspective, this season has gone fairly according to plan. If I told you all the teams that are 2-0 were 2-0, none would be too surprising with the possible exception of Baltimore. Same with the 0-2 crowd - especially a Luck-less Indy team. The Colts played reasonably well, but their botched QB situation cost them a clear win. They should have a better backup QB option than either Scott Tolzein and/or Jacoby Brissett. I am so done with the Chuck era.


4.) New Orleans Saints  (0-2  =  39-65)

It is staggering how the Saints defense is atrocious every year. Like every year. Oddly, the last time they made the playoffs in 2013, their defense was actually a relatively stronger unit than the offense. That is not true at all in 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2017. When does Sean Payton get criticized for this. He's still hailed as this offensive genius, but that's not the point. At some point, an inability to hire a good defensive coordinator and come up with any cogent plan on defense will ruin you.


3.) Cincinnati Bengals  (0-2  =  9-33)

When I said it was not surprising that the 0-2 teams were 0-2, I was wrong. I am still surprised Cincinnati is 0-2. I actually think the Bengals played fairly well on Thursday. If not for one broken play of magic by DeShaun Watson they would have beaten Houston. Yes, the lack of offense is extremely disturbing, but the defense has played really well so far. I don't think they can make the playoffs, but if any team climbs out of 0-2 to make it, other than a sudden return of Andrew Luck, I would still pick the Bengals.


2.) New York Giants  (0-2  =  13-43)

The Giants first two games have been heavily disappointing, with an offense that looks totally lost, continuing a hidden trend last year. The Giants are basically reliant on their defense playing great, and their offense maybe getting a healthy Odell Beckham back at some point. Somehow, the Giants are in a relatively good position for an 0-2 team, in a division where all the other teams are 1-1. They better turn it around soon, though.


1.) Los Angeles Chargers  (0-2  =  38-43)

On one hand you have to feel bad about how close these losses have been. By the way, I'm sure I wrote that in 2014 and 2015 (and 2010, and 2011, and 2012). They are so snake-bitten. But at some point it becomes about the coaching and the players. Philip Rivers has become the master of throwing for 300 yards and having his team struggle to get to 20. I feel most bad for the kicker. In that division, they're already in a massive hole, but the Chargers will be a major spoiler for some team. I think the eventual winner of the AFC West will be the team that does best against San Diego.


Ranking the 1-1 Teams

13.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-1  =  45-44)

Well, the Jacksonville renaissance went well, right? I still believe in that defense. I don't believe it in when they have to play on the field basically the entire game. There's a reason why they gave up 6 points in the first half and 31 in the second. And it isn't because the defense it is bad. It is because Blake Bortles is still a disaster, and they may miss Allen Robinson more than we think.


12.) Houston Texans  (1-1  =  20-38)

I like DeShaun Watson. I loved him in college, and he showed a confidence in the NFL that impresses me so far. I think a lot of the rest of that team, particularly the offense outside of Nuke Hopkins, is a mess, but Watson is a keeper. I really hope he can rid himself of noted QB guru Bill O'Brien who has done nothing but be in the presence of Tom Brady and make Christian Hackenburg so decent enough to screw the Jets out of a 2nd round pick. Quietly, JJ Watt looked a lot better in Week 2 by the way.


11.) Buffalo Bills  (1-1  =  24-21)

I am finding it very hard to judge the Bills. On the one hand, they are semi-tanking after trading away a bunch of good players and waffling about using Tyrod Taylor. On the other hand, the won their week 1 game and almost won in Week 2 in Carolina. Personally, I think they are closer to the tank team. That win over the Jets was probably the least impressive win in Week 1, and they were only in that game at the end against Carolina because of Cam missing a couple throws. This is not a good team, but they do have a good defense.


10.) Los Angeles Rams  (1-1  =  66-36)
Well, the Rams renaissance went well, right? Turns out playing a corpse of a team is far easier than playing a real team. Jared Goff looked awful yesterday, and yet that probably still was his 2nd or 3rd best start of his career. Gurley had his best game in a while, at least. Aaron Donald wasn't 100%, and as he gets closer to that the defense should improve even more, but unless Goff can grow up this team isn't going anywhere.


9.) Arizona Cardinals  (1-1  =  39-48)

Well, we had a clear winner for the least impressive winner in Week 2. The Cardinals eeked out an overtime win against a Jacoby Brissett-led Colts team after falling behind 13-3 late in the 4th quarter. Carson Palmer looks totally done, even if he can unleash perfect passes like his TD to JJ Nelson. On the whole, that is the biggest issue with the team. The defense also is getting too blitz happy which they don't need to given the strength of the D-Line.


8.) Washington Redskins  (1-1  =  44-50)

I thought that was one of the least interesting wins I've seen. The Redskins are what they are, a team that will go 7-9 or 8-8, beat a lot of bad teams and get beat by good teams. Kirk Cousins is perfectly average. Their cadre of running backs work well enough. The defense has enough game changers to beat up bad OLs and make a splash play or two. Let's just move on.


7.) Tennessee Titans  (1-1  =  53-42)

A week after losing fairly easily at home, the Titans returned to being who we thought they were. The Titans week 1 loss looks a lot better now with the Raiders continuing their strong play. The defense has been solid and absolutely dominated that Jagaurs team, with the final score actually flattering Jacksonville, if anythnig, Their rebuilt secondary has done really well so far. The offense still hasn't reached peak levels, but Mariota is getting the protection needed. The results should come.


6.) Minnesota Vikings  (1-1  =  38-45)

If Bradford were healthy, the Vikings would likely be further up. Unsurprisngly their offense struggled with Case Keenum, but even then they blocked reasonably well enough - which will be the key when Bradford does end up coming back. The defense is still really strong, but I'm surprised how much Trae Waynes is still struggling. The cornerback group behind Xavier Rhodes really is a weak link right now on a defense with so few of them.


5.) Green Bay Packers  (1-1  =  40-43)

The Packers seemingly alternate healthy years and injured ones, with relatively healthy years in 2014 and 2016 surrounded by injured years in 2013 and 2015. Well, the trend calls for injuries this year and that is what we've seen so far. Hopefully for them neither Nelson or Daniel's injuries are too serious, and that they get one of their two great OTs back shortly. Rodgers is starting to emulate the 2015 version of him. To be fair, I don't think any team has had a tougher first two games.


4.) Dallas Cowboys  (1-1  =  36-45)

I'm not going to overreact to one lousy game. Any team is entitled to one, and strong teams have looked foolish going up against the Denver defense in recent years - check Green Bay's performance in 2015 against them. That said, Dak has looked off this year and showed that if he isn't getting solid run game support they are vulnerable to bouts of ineffectiveness - much like we saw in their 2nd loss last year in New York. Dak needs to improve his consistency, but most likely there will be very few games where Zeke and the run game is that ineffective. If this becomes a more common occurrence I'll start getting more concerned.


3.) Seattle Seahawks  (1-1  =  21-26)

The only reason not to panic is we've seen Seattle's offense have awful starts to seasons before. Hell, just last year they barely beat Miami 12-10, and then went touchdownless in Los Angeles losing to the Rams. The defense is back to being fantastic and while I'm sure they were more porous against the run than they would have wanted, the pass defense is ridiculous right now. My worry is with Wilson that he hasn't recovered from the beatings he took at times last year. The OL issues seem to be affecting him more than they used to.


2.) Philadelphia Eagles  (1-1  =  50-44)

The Eagles played well but lost. That will happen when you go on the road to play one of the best teams in the NFL. The Eagles defense was fantastic for 90% of that game, but had one bad play which the Chiefs took advantage of with Hunt hitting the long run. The Eagles have all the tools to be a really competitive team, especially with that DL playing the way it is (Vinny Curry has been fantastic).


1.) New England Patriots  (1-1  =  63-62)

We all rightfully didn't overreact to their loss to Kansas City, but let's also remember not to overreact to a win against one of the most abhorrent defenses of all time. As good as Brady and the Patriots offense was, the Vikings offense was arguably better against the Saints. What was encouraging was the play of all the running backs this week, and Gronk looked great after being pretty silent in Week 1. The Patriots will be fine, but the one warning is their schedule looks to be a lot more difficult, drawing the AFC West and NFC South, than originally thought.


Ranking the 2-0 (or 1-0) Teams

10.) Miami Dolphins  (1-0  =  19-17)

Well, for one week the Jay Cutler experiment worked pretty well. In reality, the team was fairly average, but made some key plays. Cutler dinked and dunked but overall seemed far more reserved and in control than ever previously. The team has to lean on Ajayi for success and while they may easily overuse him through the season, right now the are humming with him.


9.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-0  =  29-7)

As I said before, all the 2-0 teams are ones that wouldn't seem too surprising to start 2-0. The Buccaneers had a great first game, but a few signs of caution. First, the Bears may be terrible and they got a lot of help with Glennon self-destructing at times. Second, Jameis was inaccurate and erratic - the Buccaneers really could have scored more. The Bucs defense looks to be very strong, Mike Evans is still ungaurdable and on the whole the Buccaneers have the tools. Whether it comes together long term has a lot to do with Winston's continued development.


8.) Baltimore Ravens  (2-0  =  44-10)

The defense is fantastic, but I'm getting some flashbacks to last year. The Ravens started 3-0, including a Week 2 win over Cleveland, and then lost four straight. Now, those Ravens held off Pittsburgh almost all year and came one tackle away from stealing the division, but they were never all that good. The offense is very hit or miss - Flacco quietly had a nice first two games. The defense is great, but they won't get 5 turnovers every game. After a trip to London, the key will be those next two games, home to Pittsburgh and at Oakland. Real tests for them.


7.) Detroit Lions  (2-0  =  59-33)

That was a strong performance for a team whose defense looks a lot better than expected. The Lions in 2016 had a terrible defenses that graded out in 32nd place in DVOA. I wouldn't call it good, but with a healthy Ezekiel Ansah, and growth from some of their younger guys, they are mediocre. Stafford has been controlled as well. Amazing to think, but Jim Caldwell as really shown himself to be a quality head coach during his time in Detroit.


6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (2-0  =  47-27)

Something still looks off to me. The Steelers got Cleveland and then a Bradford-less Vikings team and didn't really dominate either one. Roethlisberger looks fine, but apart from deep bombs there's rarely been consistency when throwing to anyone not named Antonio Brown. The defense is good, but I don't fully trust them against better offenses. The schedule is easy, but the Steelers always have 1-2 duds against bad teams. Color me not fully on board yet.


5.) Denver Broncos  (2-0  =  66-38)

On the other hand, Denver looks fantastic. Even after a series of departures on defense it still has the top flight ability to make offenses look basic. No one has done that to Dallas. The real key was the rush defense showing up. I don't think Siemian will look that good week-to-week, but through two (home) games he's been fine. Just like Baltimore, tough, let's remember Denver started 2-0 last season as well.


4.) Carolina Panthers  (32-6)

This ranking is somewhat hopeful that Cam Newton starts playing better the more he gets into the flow after missing essentially the whole offseason with his shoulder injury. To me his throws look fine from a velocity standpoint, but he definitely sailed a few. What is a good sign is the WRs look good, with both Benjamin and Funchess looking better than they did previously. Of course, we have that defense. 6 points allowed in two games. Neither opponent crossed 250 yards. They absolutely humiliated a Bills offense that put up 400 yards in week 1.


3.) Oakland Raiders  (2-0  =  71-36)

The Raiders need to stop blitzing so much. They generally played well against the run, and held up reasonably well in coverage. That was not true when they blitzed. Their DL is improved and they are generating more pressure, so I don't know why they are blitzing so much. The offense is really good and so damn well controlled. Derek Carr notably changed plays to the run a lot. He's not going after stats, or equality, giving all his TDs this week to Crabtree. Right now they are humming but the defense will make or break them and I think it would help to stop blitzing this much and leaving average linebackers and corners in man coverage with little help.


2.) Kansas City Chiefs  (2-0  =  69-47)

That was a well played game. I really liked the Chiefs adjustments - not that I can really tell what they were, but they were getting dominated upfront early by the Eagles DL. That can happen. But the Chiefs retooled a few focuses and ended up with three TD drives in the second half. The Chiefs offense so far has been the star of the team. I do worry about the defense without Berry, as Wentz and Co. attacked quite a few holes in the intermediate areas.


1.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-0  =  57-40)

I guess it is hard to judge the Falcons defense given how injured the Packers were at times during that game, but man do they look fast. The corners are really what make it to me though, so few easy throws on Alford and Trufant - and even that Poole guy that they uncovered from somewhere. Anyway, the offense looked close to its 2016 version, but I do worry about that OL. Anyway, two games in, they are right back where they were last year, in a brand new beautiful stadium that has some really strange lighting going on.


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Cleveland Browns (0-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) Los Angeles Rams (1-1)  @  San Francisco 49ers  (0-2)  (TNF - NFLN)

I call it "Exhibit A for the people that say the quality of play is shit" Thursday and Sunday, as already in Week 3 we have some awful games. One of them is a Thursday Night Game, which I hate. I personally am a defender of TNF as a concept, and the slate this year is better than most (we get NE @ TB, PHI @ CAR, KC @ OAK, TEN @ PIT, WAS @ DAL later this year), but man is this bleak. For the Colts, they better win this game. If Luck comes back around Week 6, they still have some type of shot of the AFC South, but they have to steal 2-3 wins without him.


14.) Baltimore Ravens (2-0)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)  (9:30 - Yahoo!)

I call it "Why is this happening early morning on Yahoo!?" Sunday, as I have some questions. Is this game only available on Yahoo? Meaning you can't get it on normal TV? If so, I absolutely won't watch it. I know they did this two years ago with the Titans and Jaguars, but I don't remember the all-Yahoo game last year. Anyway, let's just move on. This game is a disaster, and for a second straight year, the Ravens look to be one of the most uninspiring 3-0 teams ever.


13.) Miami Dolphins (1-0)  @  New York Jets (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)  @  Chicago Bears (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) New Orleans Saints (0-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Undefeated vs. Overdefeated" Sunday, as we get three games between a winless team and an undefeated team (there is a 4th one further up). This year seems to have more of these matchups. None of the games figure to be all that close, but I wouldn't be shocked if two of these are closer than you think. Particularly the Jets in their home opener, or Bears taking advantage of more Steelers lackadaisical play.


10.) Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)  @  Green Bay Packers (1-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
9.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Games that should've been better than they will be" Sunday, as we get two depressing games that should've been more. Bucs @ Vikings with a healthy Bradford would've been a really nice game. Without Bradford that loses a lot of luster, though watching the Vikings defense against the potentially high-powered offense of Tampa should be good. The other game is our national 4:25 game of the week, which is even more sad. The Bengals should not be this bad, and seeing a Bengals team that can't score a TD against an injury-ravaged Packers team is not a prime watching opportunity.


8.) Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Buffalo Bills (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
7.) Houston Texans (1-1)  @  New England Patriots (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) New York Giants (0-2)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Semi-interesting games... and that is all" Sunday, as these are three intriguing games. For the Broncos, I'll be interested to see if their offense travels against a pretty good Bills defense. Then, to see if the Patriots offense is really back or was last week more about how bad the Saints are. Finally, the Giants and Eagles. I think the Eagles are significantly better than the Giants, but the Giants are one win away from being right back there in the division.


5.) Dallas Cowboys (1-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (1-1)  (MNF - ESPN)
4.) Oakland Raiders (2-0)  @  Washington Redskins (1-1)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "You know what, not every primetime game needs to be two marquee blue-blood franchises" Sunday and Monday, as we get our SNF and MNF to be perfectly good matchups that aren't the ones you normally see on them. Cowboys @ Cardinals looks better now that the Cowboys were hammered and the Cardinals squeaked out a win. For all the hate the Cardinals are getting, they haven't played a home game yet. The Raiders get a good road test against a good offense. Another opportunity to show that the defense has grown. They passed the Week 1 test of beating a good team on the road, and the Week 2 test of dominating bad teams. Week 3 they get another: can you beat a decent team on the road in primetime.


3.) Atlanta Falcons (2-0)  @  Detroit Lions (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)  @  San Diego Chargers (0-2)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Perfectly Really Good Games" Sunday, as we just get two good games. Falcons @ Lions a couple years ago would've been lousy, but it becomes our only 2-0 vs. 2-0 game. The Falcons looked great and will give the Lions rebuilt, recharged offense a great test. The Chiefs and Chargers have played a bunch of memorable games over the years, and while 2-0 vs. 0-2 on paper isn't great, divisional rivalries, especially ones that have been as lively as these two, are exceptions.


1.) Seattle Seahawks (1-1)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "The weirdest top ranked game I've ever had, probably" Sunday, as I really like this game even though on paper it is meaningless. First, Tennessee really impressed me last week (granted, Jaguars are awful) and I really want to see the Mariota-led offense against Seattle. Also, their DL should dominate Seattle's OL and keep the game close. Random games speak out to me every now and then, but I can't imagine there was a less marketable game I've rated as my top game of the week.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.