Friday, December 15, 2017

My Top 20 TV Shows of 2017, #15 - 11

15.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX - Season 12)


There's a sad tinge writing about Always Sunny right now. It premiered very early in the year, and it may be a while before it is back, with or without Glenn Howerton who is unsure about continuing. Can't blame him. I'm sure no one more than him, Rob and Charlie thought they would get 12 seasons to tell their story. What is amazing is how when so many shows get stale when they cross even a 4th season (see Veep), the 'Dumb Seinfeld' show decided to get better, or at least more inventive. Somewhere around Season 7, when Mac got fat, the show has never been the 'watch five hilarious friends tend bar.' And while there may be some longing to those more simple days, seeing the creators actually create has been amazing. In the 12th season, they did a brilliant parody of The Jiux, a sharp look at black vs. white life experiences, a very serious look at whether hate speech has any nuance, to character studies of Rickety Cricket and finally Dennis himself (and Charlie less so who finally beds the waitress). To have creative imagination twelve whole years in is just ridiculous. They even did give us all our candy with one episode simply title 'The Gang Tends Bar' for those who longed for the day when they tended bar.


14.) Fargo (FX - Season 3)



Through maybe 5 or 6 episodes, this was quite a bit further down the list (as in towards the bottom quarter), but pretty much following the moment the bus crash occurs through the end the season caught life. The beginning half of the season was like a bleak facsimile of the brilliant show it used to be. The second half was right up there with those first two seasons. It was mostly Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character coming to life, assisted by Mr. Numbers from the first season, one of the two deaf henchman, coming back to take their revenge. It almost seemed as if Noah Hawley realized midway through that the supposed stars of the season, the twins played by Ewan McGregor, were fairly milquetoast, and the stars were David Thewlis and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, even moreso than Carrie Coon's detective Gloria Burgle. The plot was more streamlined than in past seasons, less strange diversions (great moments from the previous two), but the end-game was worth waiting for. Also, I really did enjoy the strange third episode where they left the Minnesota setting for once and had Gloria go to Los Angeles, and that was thrilling. Creator Noah Hawley has been ambivalent about bringing the show back (and is spreading his auter seed a bit further with Legion - personally found a bit too ambitious and overrated), and there are some diminishing returns, but the last three episodes, and the character arc of Nikki Swango were fun enough to rope me in to a potential fourth season.


13.) Silicon Valley (HBO - Season 4)




For the first time in the four years that Silicon Valley has preceded Veep, I found the former better than the latter. Sure, it is mostly about Veep falling off a bit and losing itself in plot, but I think Silicon Valley had a really strong season, mainly because an aggravated, relatively neutered Gavin Belson is a great Gavin Belson. The odd pairings made this season work quite well, whether it be Gavin and Richard, or Jianyu and Monica, or the continued greatness of Gilfoyle and Dinesh. Sure, the show hit reset over and over again, as it has always done and will continue to always do, but there seemed to be more joy in it this year. I can't see the show going much longer than this, and certainly losing Erlich will hurt, but with the growth of other characters they are better set to absorb it now. The show stretched credulity a bit this season, mostly with the ludicrous plotline of Big Head teaching a class at Stanford, but it was all in good fun, something the show sorely lacked at times in recent seasons that got a bit too far down before Pied Piper inevitably broke back. My largest criticism of the show is the emotional hearstrings have been pulled so many times their worn out at this point. If they can refocus on what they still do well: tremendous, quick humor, it can remain a great show for the planned duration.


12.) 13 Reasons Why (NETFLIX)




There are four shows on this list that feature non-adults (or at least majority non-adults). The first was Dear White People. The last two are still to come. 13 Reasons Why was the darkest, the most serious. One of the great elements of shows with kids and/or young adolescents is the unbridled joy whether in the performances or the environment. 13 Reasons Why was not that. It was the long story of a girl killing herself to start and unwrapping why she did. It is a great set-up for a show (and a novel which it was based off of). My only real complaint with the show, in truth, is that they built up to the idea that the tape about Clay would be so horrifying and dark, and in reality it wasn't nearly the worst of the offenses. What really impressed me about the show was how well acted it was given how dark the source material was. Katherine Langford, who plays Hannah (the victim), was brilliant. The actors playing Tony Padilla, Jessica Davis and Justin Foley were all strong. The adults in the room were also great (forgot how good Kate Walsh can be). The source material was interesting in the current climate too, uncovering how all the 'let teenagers be teenagers' can lead to some really dark places. I don't know if any show asked more questions than this one. There were enough critical thinkpieces to avoid talking about them, but I'll say it made me rethink what went on even at my high school. I have no need for the show to continue, which it seemingly will. I have no real expectations for that season. This was good enough for me.


11.) Game of Thrones (HBO - Season 7)



If not for the incredible stretch of reality that the second to last episode (the great Wight heist), Game of Thrones would be far higher up. Color me fairly intrigued for the penultimate season. We finally got so many great pairings that we all waited four or five years for, like Jon & Dany, or the Lannisters and Dany, or the great return of Tyrion to King's Landing. My favorite moment was when Dany's envoy (without her) and the Lannister meet in King's Landing and seeing all the old pairs from seasons past acknowledge each other (Brienne & Hound, Brienne & Jamie, Pod & Tyrion, Pod & Brienne). The big action sequences were so well done, from the 'Loot Train Attack', to Dany's various display of dragon bad-asserry. Even if the final R+L=J confirmation was more or less known for years, having it happen in reality was meaningful. What Game of Thrones has perfected is spectacle. As we head away from small moments, or random pairings driving storylines (everything with Arya and the Hound), we have started to rely on spectacle even more. The sheer amount of plot moving needing to take place over these 7 episodes and the next 6. But my lasting memory of the season will probably be the slow-played drama that took place at Winterfell, with the living Stark children reuniting after years in teh wilderness, and deciding to kill the scheming person who set this all up.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 15 Power Rankings & The Rest

AFC

The "We Started Planning for the 2018 Draft Years Ago" Duo

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-13  =  197-335)
15.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-10  =  212-343)

The Browns lost probably their best chance to win a game, but at least showed some moxie in the first game in the wake of their firing GM Sashi Brown. For the two clearly worst teams in the conference, they actually have some positives. The Browns have a boatload of picks and talent at places (especially defense). The Colts don't, but should, let's all damn hope, get Andrew Luck back next year, which is a better position than most 3-10 teams.


The "Mild, and I Mean Mild, Spoilers" Quinto

14.) New York Jets  (5-8  =  266-311)
13.) Houston Texans  (4-9  =  312-335)
12.) Denver Broncos  (4-9  =  229-315)
11.) Miami Dolphins  (6-7  =  236-318)
10.) Cincinnati Bengals  (5-8  =  226-271)

The back-half of the AFC is just sad. None of these is really any good. Ironically, two of them scored big wins last week (admittedly, Denver's came against one of the other in the bunch). They all have games that could screw over much better teams, but I have little faith in any of them. I think the Bengals are the best of the bunch, and if you turned 3-4 things around they may have been in the thick of the playoff race, but that listless loss to Chicago was almost stunning in its noncompetitive-ness. If you want to list a positive for each, I'll try. The Jets have shown great improvement at skill position and cornerback this year. The Texans have DeShaun Watson and JJ Watt waiting for 2018. The Broncos still have a defense that at its best can win games on its own. The Dolphins are actually still alive for the playoffs (but may be the worst playoff team in a long time if that happens), and the Bengals have the talent of an 8-5 team, and hopefully that embarrassing loss spells the end for Marvin Lewis. I like Marvin, I do, but it is just time.


The "Wild, Wild Fodder" Trio

9.) Buffalo Bills  (7-6  =  240-290)

8.) Oakland Raiders  (6-7  =  264-304)
7.) Tennessee Titans  (8-5  =  273-294)

Technically, this group includes the two current wild card teams if the playoffs start today, but I don't buy them, nor Oakland. The Bills are technically the 6th seed due to strength of victory (a far down tiebreaker), but the QB situation is getting dicey with them going back to Tyrod Taylor. That point differential is also pretty stark for a potential playoff team. The Raiders have the talent, but seemingly lost whatever cohesive drive that worked so well last year. They have an outside shot at the playoffs if they can run the table, but the chance of that emotionally flat team doing so is fairly low. The Titans likely need to win just one of the remaining three games, but that doesn't seem so easy now that the 49ers are reborn with Jimmy G, and the Rams and Jags likely have things to play for in the other games. With Mariota's injury lingering, that team is far less exciting to watch in a potential playoff game. Only silver lining if they get there is to wipe away one of the remaining streaks of years since making the playoffs (last done in 2008 for Tennessee).


The "It's kind of Sad the AFC West Came to This" Duo

6.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-6  =  329-289)
5.) Los Angeles Chargers  (7-6  =  298-225)
If we go back to Week 2, the AFC West seemed like the strongest division in the NFL The Raiders were an impressive 2-0. The Chiefs an even more impressive 2-0 (beating New England and Philadelphia). The Broncos might have been an even more impressive 2-0 after hammering Dallas. The Chargers were 0-2, but lost both games by a field goal or less. Fast-forward 12 weeks and that division turned into a mess - almost guaranteed to provide the worst record of any division winner. The Chiefs may have righted themselves with a commanding win over the Raiders, and the Chargers have quietly been among the best teams in football since their 0-4 start, including having a clear Top-5 defense all of a sudden. I think both teams are better than their record, but it is a shame the record has fallen this far.


The "They may just do it Again!?" Uno

4.) Baltimore Ravens  (7-6  =  318-246)
Man, had the Ravens held onto that lead they would be looking mighty scary right now, with a great defense, excellent special teams, and an offense that had started to wake up. Where was the Joe Flacco that played against Pittsburgh before? Where did this vintage Joe come back from? If that guy continues and the Ravens sneak in (not impossible - sweeping three winnable games more or less guarantees them that spot) they may be quite dangerous. The loss of Jimmy Smith seems like it will be felt, as the Steelers abused the Ravens depth secondary. Then again, not every team is as equipped to do so.


The "Secretly, are they the best AFC Team" Uno

3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (9-4  =  329-202)

Who has the best point differential of any AFC Team? Jacksonville. Who has the best pythagoreon win record? Jacksonville. Who has the best single unit of any AFC team? Jacksonville, with their monstrous defense that has help opposing QBs to a 66.4 passer rating, 13 TDs to 19 INTs, and sacked them 47 times. Even the offense has kind of stabilized recently, with Blake Bortles putting together a few nice games (and a legitimately good one against Seattle) and a healthy Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars path to a 1st round bye is fairly clear: win out and have Pittsburgh beat New England (or New England win, and Pittsburgh lose another game). If they do, I don't think anyone, including potential #3 seed New England, wants to go there and play that defense.


The "Openly, one of us is the best AFC Team" Duo

2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (11-2  =  320-251)
1.) New England Patriots  (10-3  =  368-250)


Then again, 13 games in we are exactly where we thought we would be: the Steelers and Patriots are the best two teams in the conference and the winner of their head-to-head will be the #1 seed. No real surprise there. The Steelers grade out better in teh analytics than the eye test, with the Patriots being the opposite. Luckily for New England, the opposite generally can mean more.


NFC


The "Scouting for 2017 Began Right Now" Uno

16.) New York Giants  (2-11  =  199-321)

So looks like putting Eli Manning back in the starting lineup wasn't going to be a panacea. The Giants are a mess, they've cleaned house, but they have to throw out Eli as well. Not saying Eli can't be a decent QB somewhere else (Jacksonville jumps out), but its not happening in New York. They have to clean house completely, not try to hang on to vestiges of an era that was anyway just hanging on the vestiges of the real window that closed in 2012.


The "Evaluating the Future" Trio

15.) San Francisco 49ers  (3-10  =  228-314)
14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (4-9  =  264-312)
13.) Chicago Bears  (4-9  =  224-274)

These three teams are not good, but all have interesting questions going forward, whether it be these last three games, or into next season. The 49ers seemed to have found their QB in Jimmy G. Two strong performances with him and already there seems to be a connection with Kyle Shanahan's scheme. If anything, it seems fairly certain this trade will work out better than the last time a team traded a 2nd round pick for a Brady backup (Chiefs with Cassel). The Buccaneers seemingly have their QB, but Jameis has regressed mightily in his third season. I still believe in him as a leader and player, but it seems his ceiling may be Cam Newton with a lower ceiling, or Roethlisberger with a lower ceiling. The Bears have their QB seemingly in Trubisky, but the main question is do they need to change coaching staffs? I believe they do, that the game has passed John Fox, and Trubisky won't flourish under him. But games like last week when they house Cincinnati may pain that a bit to where the Bears are fooled into keeping him.


The "Mild Spoilers" Duo

12.) Arizona Cardinals  (6-7  =  231-317)
11.) Washington Redskins  (5-8  =  285-344)

Neither of these teams is making the playoffs (luckily in the NFC we can make these declarative statements about 6-7 teams), but both provide enough matchup challenges to their opponents. They actually play each other this week, but the Cardinals have a chance to spoil Seattle's season in Week 17. The Redskins are playing no one with playoff implications, but the question for them becomes Kirk Cousins future. If they were a well run franchise, the Cousins decision would essentially be decided by now, one way or the other, but the Redskins are not one of those.


The "One of us could just sneak in!" Trio

10.) Green Bay Packers  (7-6  =  285-302)
9.) Dallas Cowboys  (7-6  =  316-294)
8.) Detroit Lions  (7-6  =  338-329)

Every team here on out is making the playoffs, or may make the playoffs plus wouldn't be a fraudulent wild-card fodder team if they do. The Packers seemingly will bring Rodgers back, throwing him to the fire knowing they have basically zero margin for error. I can foresee a situation where if he gets hit a bit, they lose the game, see their playoff chances willow away, and they site Rodgers the last two weeks. However, if they do run the table and sneak in.... For Dallas, the schedule is tough, but hte path is there with Zeke Elliott coming back after next week. The Lions to me have the strongest current resume, already have a win over the Packers, and have a high enough ceiling to go there. I give them the least chance to make noise if they get in, but I do feel people are understating their chances.


The "NFC's only hope to return ANYONE to the playoffs, and it may be the #6 seed" Duo

7.) Atlanta Falcons  (8-5  =  294-261)
6.) Seattle Seahawks  (8-5  =  314-252)


There is a very good chance the NFC only returns one of the six playoff teams from last year. The five teams ranked ahead of these two are all currently making the playoffs and didn't make it last year. The three teams in the previous group all made it last year, along with the Giants. This hasn't really happened ever. Given the Redskins slipped away, at the very least one of the teams is returning, and most likely it is one of these two. The paths are rather clear. They can afford to lose one game (but probably not two). They even have decent shots at winning their division. However, most likely they are the #6 seed in one of the most topsy-turvy seasons for a conference we've seen - surprisingly not impacting how good the top of the conference does seem.


The "Great NFC South Race... That's Probably Decided" Duo

5.) Carolina Panthers  (9-4  =  300-262)
4.) New Orleans Saints  (9-4  =  370-263)

The Panthers will not go quietly into the night for that division, and are ready to, no pun intended, pounce on the Saints hold if they slip up. Both teams have fairly clear landmines to slip up, including the Saints visit to Tampa (a place they've been so-so in historically) and hosting the Falcons, while the Panthers host the Rodgers-helmed Packers and travel to Atlanta. Both teams are validated playoff caliber teams, and I want them both in and wouldn't mind a round 3 in this rivalry on Wild Card Weekend.


The "Three Great Teams, Three Great Questionmarks" Trio

3.) Los Angeles Rams  (9-4  =  396-265)
2.) Philadelphia Eagles  (11-2  =  404-250)
1.) Minnesota Vikings  (10-3  =  309-235)


Man, that Carson Wentz injury really screws with things, huh? I think Foles will be acceptable at QB, and that the team isn't going to fall apart, but the NFC had a clear best team, and now they have three teams that by resume are the three best, but have significant questions. For the Rams it is can they beat the good teams. Their point differential is excellent. Their DVOA tops the league, and is Top-5 in each of offense, defense and special teams. But they've also lost their big statement games to Philadelphia, Minnesota and Seattle, and if they can't fix that and beat Seattle next week they can slip into Wild Card territory. For the Vikings, their resume is stellar, but questions are now coming back about Case Keenum after the loss to Carolina. Personally, they need to stick with Keenum. It's to late to change for 2017.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  13-3
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  12-4
4.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  9-7
5.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6
6.) Baltimore Ravens  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Minnesota Vikings  =  13-3
2.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3

3.) New Orleans Saints  =  12-4
4.) Los Angeles Rams  =  11-5
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  11-5
6.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6 


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Denver Broncos (4-9)  @  Indianapolis Colts (3-10)  (TNF - NFLN)
15.) Arizona Cardinals (6-7)  @  Washington Redskins (5-8)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Two Bad Games with Two Bad Teams" Thursday and Sunday, as when you get this deep into the season, ranking games gets really cut and dry. Games between two teams with no playoff hopes are pushed to the bottom. These two don't even have any interesting side-story going for it.


14.) Baltimore Ravens (7-6)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-13)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) New York Jets (5-8)  @  New Orleans Saints (9-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Houston Texans (4-9)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)  @  Minnesota Vikings (10-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)  @  New York Giants (2-11)  (1:00 - FOX)

9.) Tennessee Titans (8-5)  @  San Francisco 49ers (3-10)  (4:25 - CBS)
8.) Atlanta Falcons (8-5)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)  (MNF - ESPN)

7.) Chicago Bears (4-9)  @  Detroit Lions (7-6)  (Sat Night - NFLN)

I call it "One Bad Team vs. One Good Team" Saturday, Sunday and Monday, as the next set is the games between one bad team with no playoff chances versus one that does. I had no idea how to rank most of these. The dour Cleveland gets last place. Then comes a whole host of games with teams that are more or less locked into the playoffs against bad ones. Finally, three games where we get teams that are not assured of the playoffs against a worse opponent. Interesting one is Tennessee, who is playing nothing like an 8-5 team against a 49ers team on a 2-game win streak with their shiny new QB in Garroppolo. Finally, the Lions who are clinging to life against the reborn Bears looking to pull a 2nd straight spoiler-riffic upset. Also, Saturday football is back!


6.) Miami Dolphins (6-7)  @  Buffalo Bills (7-6)  (1:00 - CBS)
5.) Dallas Cowboys (7-6)  @  Oakland Raiders (6-7)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Loser Leaves Town" Sunday, as we get two games between playoff contenders where the loser is more or less done (maybe not Buffalo, but probably even them too). The Dolphins and Raiders get their shot at going back to .500, but are probably underdogs in these games. The Cowboys seemed to have righted the ship just in time to welcome Elliott back next week, but need to get over this trap game to make that even matter. Cowboys @ Raiders can be an interesting night game in a season of night games that looked great before it started. Very few lived up to the hype, and while this game featured teams that were 13-3 and 12-4 last year, the game retained a lot of meaning.


4.) Green Bay Packers (7-6)  @  Carolina Panthers (9-4)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The Triumphant Return or the End of Such Things" Sunday, as Aaron Rodgers is eligible to return. It seems clear he wants to come back, and any shot of a playoff push rests on his shoulders. Brett Hundley did an admirable job going 3-4 in his action, but the last two wins were in OT against bad teams. That won't beat Carolina, who solidified thier spot last week. If anything, Carolina is a team that can beat a Rodgers-led Packers team, and especially get after him with a Top-5 pass rush. It will be interesting to see if the Packers bite the bullet, knowing a loss here more or less ends their chances anyway.


3.) Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)  (Sat Night - NFLN)
2.) Los Angeles Rams (9-4)  @  Seattle Seahawks (8-5)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "LA Dreaming" Saturday and Sunday, as we get two really nice games that can go a long way to settle the winners of the West divisions, featuring the LA teams playing on the road. The first game may settle the division. A Chiefs win gives them head-to-head sweeps over both LA and Oakland, and puts them a win away from clinching. I don't have the math PhD necessary to tell you what happens if the Chargers win, but gives them a great position. The real great game is the Rams @ Seahawks. Somehow, despite their woes, a Seahawks win at home gives them the season sweep and an inside track to a home playoff game. A Rams win more or less settles the division, one they deserve to win anyway. I'll be pushing for the two LA teams. I'm sure they won't both win. Hopefully one does.


1.) New England Patriots (10-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "One of the biggest Regular Season Games in Years" Sunday, as instead of trying to break it down (its Patriots vs. Steelers, the Pats will win like always), I'll try to come up with the most recent regular season game that was more important. Some for historical reasons could be pushed up, like any team that reached this point 13-0 and had games to threaten perfection (The 2011 Packers losing in this spot, or the 2015 Panthers losing the following week). But neither of their opponents were playoff contenders. The closest that came to mind was the Week 16 game in 2008 with the 11-3 Panthers playing the 11-3 Giants in New York, where the winner would clinch the #1 seed. There was a 2015 game in Week 16 where a 11-3 Bengals team played a 10-4 Broncos team. That ended up deciding the #1 seed, but at the time seemed it would decide the #2 seed, but the Patriots would blow the Week 17 Game in Miami. There's really no recent comparison excluding win-and-you're-in Week 17 games or games chasing perfection, since that 2008 Week 16 game.

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Top 20 TV Shows of 2017, #20-16

20.) Dear White People (NETFLIX - Season 1)



The reason I had to expand the list this year to 20 (up from 15 the last two, and 10 the first year I did this) was for shows like Dear White People. I watched it on a lark, hearing a few people compliment it on twitter. It was an easy watch, 10 episodes, 30 minutes. It was one of a few great NETFLIX shows that showed young adults/adolescents, and while not the best, it was the lightest. The show focused on the life of a select group of black students at a largely white, prestigious Ivy-League type university. The stakes never got too high on the show, but beautifully detailed the small issues of racism that can pervade even a liberal environment. What the show also did was touch on homosexuality, playing to normal cultural customs, pressure of institutions of higher learning, all the while being so darn fun. It never got deep enough in any one area to make a lasting impact, but the show was well acted, well written and well manufactured.


19.) Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO - Season 9)



Larry David said he would only create more Curb if he had a good enough idea. After this, I do wonder what his other ideas he discarded were, because while the show was still funny, it didn't really have a lasting plot. The show is only on this list because when you get a group of that many funny people together, having them shoot the shit is still hilarious. There were certain moments of magic, like Larry claiming he never though Sammy was anything special in music, or any moment between Larry and Richard Lewis or Ted Danson, but the show never really drove towards anything. Weirdly, I honestly was more disappointed Curb decided to come back than Arrested Development way back when. If anything, we all yearned for more Arrested Development. No one needed more Curb. We got it, it was still really good at times, but I did leaving, "why did we need this?" The Finale I thought was excellent, the actual glimpses of the potential Fatwa musical were inspired, so much so I wish more of the season were dedicated to the play. Apparently there can be a further season, not sure if it is needed, but it ended on enough of a high note, and the characters are so inherently funny themselves it won't not be entertaining.


18.) Veep (HBO - Season 6)



So, two years ago I had Veep at #1 - it was their 4th season that had Selina as President throughout. Two years later, it is dropped. Partly because a huge number of shows have premiered since then (8 of the 16 shows above it weren't around two years ago), and partly because the show just isn't as good. Much like Curb, the characters, and the actors behind them, are too funny and good to not make the show worthy of the list, but more than anything, I think the show swung and missed with Selina as an ex-President, especially since it ended with Selina deciding to run again. Some of the storylines were interesting, like Selina's long goal of getting the Library open, but others flopped. Again, the characters are funny enough, and I loved Jonah's brief run in congress, but I do fear the show lasted a few years too long at this point. I will still say the one criticism I don't buy about Veep is that the characters have gotten too mean. I don't think that is true. They've always been mean. Just they haven't been as funny, and the plot, which has always mattered on Veep more than on many comedies, has been way too wayward.


17.) iZombie (TheCW - Season 3)



iZombie remained one of the most fun shows on TV, if a little lost at times with plot. Like Veronica Mars before it, iZombie packed a ridiculous amount of plot in a case-of-the-week model, and the plot itself didn't work as well as the first two seasons, but what absolutely did was expanding the zombie universe - having everyone in on the secret. It opened up so many new relationships and pairings. This season gave us better arcs with Clive and Major than in previous seasons, especially Major dealing with being and then not being a zombie. The 3rd season ended at a great point, and I have high hopes for a 4th season where the secret is out to the world. It remained my favorite guilty pleasure TV show, really entering the pantheon of that category. It helps to have such great characters. Blaine has mastered his Spike from Buffy impression. Liv herself is such a joy with her changing styles week to week based on the brain she eats. Even Payton had more to do this year apart from being the love interest. The overcomplicated plot actually made Season 2 better than it should have been, but I found it a bit too overwhelming in the shorter 3rd season. I just want time with these characters and the joy they have more.


16.) Sneaky Pete (Amazon Prime - Season 1)



I have a hard time ranking Sneaky Pete, the show about a con artist who essentially pretends to be someone else, gaining entry into the family of his ex-cellmate, conning both them and running a long con with the mafioso (played brilliantly by Bryan Cranston) who put him in jail in the first place. The acting on the show was superb, from Giovanni Ribisi as the lead, to Margo Martindale and Peter Gerety as his Aunt and Uncle, to the long list of character actors making up Bryan Cranston's Vince Lonigan's team. The reason I knock it down a peg was the plot was a little too confusing and circuitous to really follow. Especially the long con with Lonigan's poker game, which played out as a less understandable version of the Ocean's 13 plot. Sure, the quick cuts at the end were particularly pleasing, to see our underdog take such revenge, but it was somewhat of a slog to get there. There are a few shows on this list that plot wise don't really deserve it, but acting wise should be in the Top 10. Sneaky Pete is one of those. If they can simplify and better modulate the plot in Season 2, it could fly up the list - assuming there aren't 10+ new shows in 2018.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Favorite Guilty Pleasure Movies

I thought about this during my flight from London back to New York yesterday on United. America's Most Hated Airline (tm) had a surprisingly long movie collection, including many old classics and new. I started the flight by putting on There Will Be Blood. A movie I have, somehow, not ever seen. About 10 minutes in, I switched from that to Deadpool - a movie I had seen. Ultimately, I watched parts of Deadpool, Argo and Ocean's 11, all movies that I have seen before, while also watching parts of John Wick 2 and Moonlight, two I had not. I started thinking why I was inclined to watch these movies I had seen before, and it ended up on that while flying I want to be entertained more than anything, but not have to give 100% attention (I may be eating on too small trays, or trying to get some sleep, etc. And then I thought of those movies that I can just watch and watch and watch.


None of these are true classics (obviously, I could rewatch The Godfather or Goodfellas hundreds of times), but all are movies I have watched at least five times, if not more, either on flights or lazy Saturdays. Here are my guilty pleasures and most dependable turn-to movies when I just want to be entertained.

= Ocean's 11

Let's start with the easy clear answer. I've probably watched this movie more on flights than any other. Part of that is how lasting it is, but also how easily I will turn to it. Ocean's 11 is just a perfect time waster movie. The cast is brilliant, they are having so much fun, the chemistry explodes. Sure, after seeing the movie a bunch the actual heist is more or less meaningless, but it is such a joy to watch that cast. It is fun to try to decipher what the hell Don Cheadle is saying at any time, or what accent Carl Reiner is trying to use. It really just comes down to how good that cast is working with each other, with smiles plastered on their faces the entire time - specifically Pitt and Clooney. So many great small moments as well, from the entire reveal of the heist, to Pitt eating in nearly every scene, to the moment when Clooney and Damon realize they have to change the batteries in the detonator. What really helps the movie shine is the tone that anyway was focused on just creating a damn fun film, plot and drama be damned. It hit that target easily.


= Crazy, Stupid, Love

I called some of these as 'Guilty Pleasures' as I wouldn't readily admit how many times I've seen them, and the classic example is Crazy, Stupid, Love. Sure, the plot is a bit silly, and the whole piece of the son's lust for Jessica was a bit creepy (especially her giving him the nude photo at the end), but the movie has some great performances by the adult characters, specifically Julianne Moore and, most importantly, Ryan Gosling. This isn't the only Gosling vehicle on this list, but this was the more surprising lead role. Gosling is so good turning from the shmarmy womanizer, to his role as Steve Carrell's mentor and guide, to him finally falling for a girl. Very random, but I am a total sucker for the climax scene of the movie (in my mind) with the 'Who's On First?' routine in the Weaver's backyard where all the different lusting relationships come to a head. Finally, I'm almost obligated to note how beautiful the scene is where Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore reconnect on the phone while Carrell pretends to be at his apartment telling Moore how to fix the water heater (which she isn't doing). These great moments, and the lead performances, are so energetic, and the movie matches fun and sacharrine better than most romantic comedies I've seen.


= Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

To me, this is something like Ocean's 11 for older British. The collection of talent in this cast was absurd, and they did so well to tell the hell out of a small story. It's hard even to pick standouts. My favorite performance was either Tom Wilkinson as the old barrister trying to come to terms with rediscovering the lost love that society stripped away, or Diane Rigg trying to find herself after years of being a housekeeper in England. Still, even the more cliched roles, like Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie as playing dueling hounds looking to relive their primes. The story on the Indian side is a bit rougher, with one of the more one-note Dev Patel performances, but the mother picks that side up as well. Of course I am a bit biased being Indian, seeing a more uplifting view of India than what the West normally sees (namely, Slumdog Millionaire), and the movie itself just flies along. I haven't mentioned Bill Nighy's performance, but the fun he infected that role with was such veteran brilliance. The movie as a whole was great, and really wants me to see Hollywood make more of these with actors in the Golden Years.


= Love Actually

People of my generation are in one of three camps with Love Actually. Either you openly love it, openly hate it, or secretly think it is a fantastic film. That third camp is really damn sizable, and I'm very much a part of that group. The movie is just damn well made. The performances are great, even in the thinner sub-plots. Actually, let's just do a quick ranking of Love Actually sub-plots:

9.) Colin goes to America - yeah, this is mostly useless, especially when in its climax you get a British actor who would go on to have a pretty useless career supposedly laying two future stars in Cuthbert and January Jones
8.) Juliet, Peter & Mark - I never really cared about the creeper who somehow ended up getting a kiss from Keira Knightley after being exposed as a fetishistic creep
7.) John & Judy - these were the two body-doubles that found love while actng out a nude scene. Honestly, this was perfect time-wasting fodder - in a good way
6.) Sarah & Karl - Laura Linney did her best to make this work, but out of the actual meaningful plots this one didn't really work, especially since the Karl character was really thinly drawn
5.) Daniel & Sam - The only parent/child relationship works because Neesom was great, but man that kid was a creep, no? Also, a bit fantastical with the scene of him evading security
4.) David & Natalie - Hugh Grant was amazing as the prime minister, and kudos for that brilliant little scene with him and Billy Bob Thornton playing himself turned up to 11
3.) Jamie & Aurelia - It took a while to get going, but Colin Firth's run through Portugal, and the hilarious bit where Aurelia's dad thinks he's after the other, fatter, sister is more than worth the wait
2.) Henry, Karen & Mia - I love that it is never stated if Rickman's character actually slept with Mia or not, but either way it was really powerful work by two great actors in the future Professors Snape & Trelawney
1.) Billy Mack & Joe - Has to be right. Nighy was, again, just amazingly fun in his role, and the actual reveal of the slow realization that his manager was his one true friend was perfectly revealed


= Straight Outta Compton

I haven't watched the full movie ten or more times. I have watched the first half about 20 though, and to me that evens out. Straight Outta Compton to me is the African American Rap version of Goodfellas, in that the first hour or so of the movies are just perfect. In Goodfellas, it is everything up until Henry goes to prison, and here it is everything up until the end of their first tour, when Ice Cube leaves. Before that moment though, the movie is magic. It is built off of the three brilliant performances of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube. The movie would have never worked unless all three were cast well, and they were all brilliant, even the little bit of stunt-casting in using Ice Cube's son to play him. The guy who played Dr. Dre is a superb actor, and the same for Eazy-E. The music was great, the rapping high quality, but the best part was showcasing the growth of the band within racially-charged LA. They weren't over-the-top with the racism of the LAPD and LA in general. They weren't too easy on the guys in the group. Those early scenes of Lonzo's Club, or recording Boyz-n-the-Hood for the first time, or the concert where Heller brought the three record execs. Every bit worked perfectly. The whole movie was effortlessly packed with energy. There are valid criticisms that the movie left out the 'dark-side' of the members of the group, but it is what it is. The movie was one of the best biopics and best music-related movies I have ever seen.


= John Wick

The first time I heard someone tell me that John Wick was actually a really good movie, I laughed it off. I had basically mentally written off Keanu Reeves from my life. But I had multiple people whose opinions I trusted tell me that no, really, it is a good movie. So then I watched it. And you know what... John Wick is fucking good. Sometimes it is just really fun to watch one guy kill a bunch of people in increasingly outlandish and badass ways. The movie ostensibly has some ridiculous plot about killing dogs and revenge and The Continental Hotel and rules and whatnot, but the movie really is just about killing MFers. And Keanu is damn good at that. I can't tell you one specific thing about the movie really, but I can just say anytime I see it come across the TV, or on a flight, I have to put it on and imbibe some assassin creed shit.


= The Nice Guys

Gosling time again! In reality though, while Gosling is his usual fantastic self, it is Russell Crowe's bad-cop that makes the movie, especially his gradually endearing relationship with Gosling's daughter. The movie is at times needlessly confusing, but like almost all the movies on this list, plot isn't really all that meaningful unless it is straight up dumb (and even then, that didn't stop Love Actually). I never really cared about the big reveal that Amelia's mother was in on it. In reality, I just wanted an hour-long extended scene at the house party, full of Gosling's daughter chatting up whores, and Russell Crowe getting into fights and Gosling swimming in fish tanks. Gosling's shrieks get funnier each time, and I love the little small notes of Crowe's character, like him carrying up a case of Yoohoo to his apartment after Gosling's daughter offers him one. This was fully a plane movie, as it was one of the handful of movies Air Canada showed on its Embraer E175/190 jets that I took way too often from Toronto to New York, so I watched it in pieces a lot and was never not entertained. I'm usually not a guy who wants a sequel of things, but I wouldn't mind getting two more hours of Gosling, Crowe and Anguaray Rice (who plays the daughter, figure I should give the actress a shout-out at least once).


= Argo

I feel bad putting Argo here given it did win Best Picture for the 2012 movie season, but I don't think anyone considers this one of the better or best Best Picture winners ever. Also, I don't watch it because of its great filmmaking or acting or any of that stuff (for instance, why I watch Amadeus, which is too reputed to put on this list). I watch it because it is so damn entertaining. The whole scheme, the whole way Affleck's character sells it, the way Goodman and Arkin are so well cast and played, the way the various famous CIA agents are so good in their cameos (Cranston and Chandler). What makes the movie is the climactic, somewhat played up, ending with the guys in their plane taking off while the Iranian police try to track them down on the runway. For so many reasons, this should not work on repeated viewings. First, it is a contrived situation. Second, it is a true story so we know the hostages make it out of Iran (in reality, without much real fuss at the airport), and third because suspense scenes like this shouldn't really hold up. But this one does. I saw Argo in theaters, and was a bit surprised when it won Best Picture (I thought Django and Lincoln were both better), but overtime I've grown to love it.


= Pitch Perfect

Finally, my initial guilty pleasure movie. The first time I saw it was on my flight from New York to Johannesburg, the one that launched my Round the World Trip. This might be the most quietly entertaining films of the last decade. The entire movie is such an amazing joy. Each performance is great. The dynamic of the two 'seniors' on the team in Anna Camp and Brittany Snow are great. The girls that make up the Bellas are all so well put together, and while Rebel Wilson stole a lot of scenes, quietly so did Alexis Knapp (the slutty one), and Ester Dean (the lesbian). Kendrick is great as well, and her slow romance with Skyler Astin's Benjie is well played to give the movie some emotional weight. I never really bought the fake drama that the third act gave, but it did end up with two fantastic scenes, first the moonlight practice session where they finally let Anna Kendrick's ideas run wild, and then the final performance that was a damn good performance. Also, everything about that riff-off scene, down to it being the first time I heard 'No Diggity' was amazing. The sequel was mostly useless, but the original Pitch Perfect is one of the more rewatchable, entertainment-only movies I've seen in recent years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 13 Power Rankings & the Rest

Tier I - The "Scouting Sam Darnold Since Yesterday" Quadro

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-11  =  166-289)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-10  =  187-284)
30.) Miami Dolphins  (4-7  =  174-289)
29.) New York Giants  (2-9  =  172-267)

The bottom two have essentially been the bottom two all season long, so no real need to linger with them. The Dolphins were at one point 4-2. At that point they were the worst 4-2 team I've ever seen. Even five losses later, they may be the worst 4-7 team I've ever seen. If not for some magic dust leading them to a 10-win season last year, we would really start to question this Adam Gase regime. Worse was their defensive fall-off without Vance Joseph - their pressure rate has sharply fallen. The Giants are notable because they are finally, maybe, turning the page with the news that Eli Manning will sit next week. I have no real idea why they will play Geno Smith instead of Davis Webb, but whatever. It was time. I'll always have a soft spot for Eli since if not for him (and Justin Tuck and others), the Patriots would have 7 Super Bowls, and I'm really interested to see where he goes. My hopes: Jacksonville, or Arizona (if Carson Palmer retires).


Tier II - The "Can We Move On" Duo

28.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-8  =  195-300)
27.) Chicago Bears  (3-8  =  177-252)


Both these teams will be forever stuck in neutral until they cut the cord on their current coaches. Chuck Pagano has skated by way too long wasting Andrew Luck's career. The Bears haven't had John Fox for nearly as long, but I do think the game has passed him by. It better happen this year. If somehow Pagano survives and Luck comes back healthy, they may return to 9-7 or 10-6, but that is still hiding a terrible team behind a great QB. With the Bears, if Trubisky steps up, Fox too will have an out. Better to get them out sooner rather than later, and let someone come in to blow things up in Indy, and a better, more modern defensive coach to work with the Bears talented front.


Tier III - The "Bad Spoilers" Trio

26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (4-7  =  223-262)
25.) New York Jets  (4-7  =  228-257)
24.) Denver Broncos  (3-8  =  197-280)

There are a ton of teams in that mediocre to decent range. Some of them have outside playoff shots. A couple would be in the playoffs if it were to start today. These three bring up the rear in that group, with no real playoff shot, but can easily play spoiler. The Bucs have righted the ship the last few weeks, and with Jameis potentially coming back they could make noise in a division with a lot of inter-division games to play. The Jets have been frisky all year, and their young skill position players, headed by Robbie Anderson, can collectively steal a game if their D-Line continues to play well. Denver is in free-fall, but that defense will probably put together two more classic performances this season. In a quiet year, Von Miller still has 8.5 sacks.


Tier IV - The "Not as Bad Spoilers" Duo

23.) Arizona Cardinals  (5-6  =  203-278)
22.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-6  =  248-270)


If these two were in the AFC, we would say they have a shot (anyone at 5-6 or better does). In the NFC, they are basically dead and buried. Then again, they have negative point differentials, are missing key players (David Johnson and Palmer for Arizona, Zeke for the Cowboys). The Cowboys almost have to improve, but it is a glaring sign when they can't score 10 points in the three games since Elliott's suspension began. The Cardinals point differential is terrible, but the defense is getting healthier and can steal a game or two, especially at home.


Tier V - The "Man, it Could've Been So Much Different" Duo

21.) Houston Texans  (4-7  =  283-285)
20.) Green Bay Packers  (5-6  =  232-261)


This whole season will either be defined by the really good set of top teams (we may have a historically strong group of positive point differential teams), or it will be defined by the QB injuries. It will likely be the latter, and the two biggest probably have been DeShaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. The Texans have been bad without Watson but the defense has improved the last couple weeks, and they may be slowly morphing into the teams that went 9-7 the last two years. The Packers played inspired against Pittsburgh, but there is a cap to their ability without Rodgers. I was impressed by Hundley's markedly improved pocket presence in that game. Rodgers may be back, and there is a small route to the playoffs if they run the table, but honestly I'm not sure it is worth it for him to do so.


Tier VI - The "Token Inexplicable Playoff Team" Uno

19.) Tennessee Titans  (7-4  =  242-269)

Every year we have one of these. The team that somehow won 9-11 games, despite being outscored or close to it. That team almost always loses their first playoff game, well unless they have Marshawn Lynch. The Titans are that team. Their schedule even lines up favorably, with vsHOU, @ARZ, @SF, coming up on the schedule. This average team with Mariota playing really poorly and their exotic smashmouth not really working, can easily be 10-4 if they take care of business. I so don't want them anywhere near the playoffs, but it seems quite likely given that schedule and the rest of the AFC. That all said, Mariota could get out of his pick-happy funk, the team could gel again, and maybe they would be a dangerous wild card weekend upset pick.


Tier VII - The "Good Spoilers" Duo

18.) Cincinnati Bengals  (5-6  =  199-215)
17.) Washington Redskins  (5-6  =  258-276)

These two teams probably could have held this spot last year as well. The Bengals have a slightly better shot at the playoffs given their being in the AFC. Their tough schedule probably precludes them from doing so, but Andy Dalton has been playing well as the O-Line finally gelled, and their defense has been quietly good all year. The Redskins are the NFC equivalent. Every piece is there, but they are just not as good as the sum of their parts. Kirk Cousins has been playing very close to the line of whether they should re-sign him or not. That may be one of my favorite under-the-radar storylines of the rest of the season.


Tier VIII - The "Bloated Middle of Semi-Contenders" Quinto

16.) Los Angeles Chargers  (5-6  =  249-202)
15.) Detroit Lions  (6-5  =  294-264)
14.) Oakland Raiders  (5-6  =  225-261)

13.) Buffalo Bills  (6-5  =  224-260)
12.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-5  =  272-236)


This is an interesting group. The two best teams seem to be the two that are 5-6. The Chargers are 5-1 in their past 6 (the one loss being to New England, when they did stupid things like run backwards on punt returns that become safeties). The Raiders are 3-2 in their last four, and are 5-4 when David Carr starts and finishes the game. The other three are 6-5 but in various levels of disarray. The Chiefs I still believe in in the long term, but are now 1-5 in their last six, and there is talk of Alex Smith getting replaced - something I find ridiculous. Why? Because we just saw what happens to fringe contenders that bench their starting QBs in the Bills, who may have turned back from that bit of lunacy just soon enough. Finally the Lions. Oh, the Lions. I guess they can still make the playoffs, but that defense has started to crater, finally feeling the impact of Ngata's injury. In totality, all five of these teams are quite good, All have taken interesting paths to get there. All still have shots (the Chiefs and Bills are in the playoffs as of today). I can't see any more than two of these five making it.


Tier IX - The "Token One Team No One Wants to Make It" Uno

11.) Seattle Seahawks  (7-4  =  266-212)

There's always that team. In past, it's even been Seattle, as recently as 2015, but that year they weren't really in any danger. The best example might be the 2010 Packers, who were a lot better than this Seahawks team. They did sneak in. Anyway, Seattle still has zero running game, and even with some stabilization of the OL, Russell Wilson is being asked to do way too much at this point - to the degree where he leads the NFL in attempts. The defensive injuries are just crushing as well. The front seven is as good as ever - Bennett and Wagner have been as good as ever - but having no secondary depth is really hurting them. If they Seahawks can bandy their way in, they will be scary, even if the division leaders are all quite formidable.


Tier X - The "Broncos Did it in 2015?" Duo

10.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (7-4  =  269-168)
9.) Baltimore Ravens  (6-5  =  236-187)

While we all were laughing at Joe Flacco, the Ravens suddenly turned into an almost as good as the Jaguars version of the 2015 Broncos. Bad offense, with scatter-shot QBs, But incredible defenses. The Jaguars pass defense has been historically great this season. Baltimore's full defense has been excellent, now #1 in Football Outsider's DVOA. The Ravens also have the league's top Special Teams - no real surprise there. All year I lauded the Jaguars and hated on Baltimore, but in reality they are the same. The Ravens have had the good fortune of playing a spate of backup QBs (EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, Tom Savage), but have dominated each one thoroughly. The Jags need to reign Bortles in - he had been playing fairly well until these last three weeks.


Tier XI - The "Great NFC South Chase" Trio

8.) Atlanta Falcons  (7-4  =  265-230)
7.) Carolina Panthers  (8-3  =  248-207)
6.) New Orleans Saints  (8-3  =  322-222)

Oh Man, what a division. What I really love is the number of games against each other left. The Panthers have to play at Atlanta and New Orleans still, after beating the former and losing to the latter at home. The Saints have the aforementioned Panthers game this week, and then two games against Atlanta the next two after that. The Falcons obviously have the reverse of the other three. You have to imagine that is where the division is one. All three have one game each against Tampa Bay. The Saints have the easiest non-NFC South schedule left, with one game against the Jets, while Atlanta has Minnesota and Carolina has Minnesota and Green Bay (potentially with Rodgers). I would still favor the Saints, but we've somewhat seen this story before when Carolina stole the division in 2013, and a less-good version of this when Carolina again stole it at 7-8-1 in 2014. Thankfully, 7-8-1 already isn't good enough. 11-5 probably won't be good enough. There is a path for two of them to finish 12-4 (though it will be tough given the head-to-head games still left). I can't wait.


Tier XII - "Don't Tell Me There are No Great Teams" Quadro

5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (9-2  =  258-193)
4.) Los Angeles Rams  (8-3  =  329-206)
3.) New England Patriots  (9-2  =  325-220)
2.) Minnesota Vikings  (9-2  =  271-195)

So much this season I've heard how the level of play is bad, how the season has no great teams. That's all bullshit. This season has more really good teams by point differential and record than in most past years (2015 comes close). It's just not, largely, the teams we all expected. In this foursome, and including the one to come, are two AFC teams everyone expected, and three NFC ones few did. The Rams are on pace to score 479 and allow 300. The Patriots to score 473 and allow 320. The Vikings to score 394 and allow 284. The Steelers a relatively soft 375 and 281. Quickly, two teams already passed in New Orleans and Jacksonville are already above +100. These four teams are all really good (Pittsburgh has a really high DVOA). This season has great teams. Just not one's we expected. Also what it has is really balanced teams, aside from New England.


Tier XIII - "This Could be Something Special" Uno

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (10-1  =  351-191)

And the best of those teams is the Eagles, who are on pace to score 510 points and allow 278. That potential +222 point differential, especially with such low points allowed is quite rare. They can join a very select group of teams in what I like to call to 500/200 club, score 500+ poimts and allow between 200-299. Only six teams have done this. The 2007 Patriots (589-274), 2001 Rams (503-273), 1999 Rams (526-242), 1998 Vikings (556-296), 1994 49ers (505-296) and 1984 Dolphins (513-298). The Eagles are truly on one right now (the 2015 Panthers come close, by the way,,scoring 500 and allowing 308. The Eagles recent games are an incredible run. The defense is awesome. The offense is nearly as good. There is nothing they can't do right now.


Projecting the Playoff Field

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  12-4
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  11-5
4.) Los Angeles Chargers  =  9-7
5.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6
6.) Buffalo Bills  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  14-2
2.) Minnesota Vikings  =  12-4
3.) Los Angeles Rams  =  12-4
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  12-4
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  11-5
6.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) San Francisco 49ers (1-10)  @  Chicago Bears (3-8)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) Denver Broncos (3-8)  @  Miami Dolphins (4-7)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)  @  Green Bay Packers (5-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Cleveland Browns (0-11)  @  Los Angeles Chargers (5-6)  (4:05 - CBS)

I call it "Thankfully there are only four of these" Sunday,


12.) Indianapolis Colts (3-8)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) New York Giants (2-9)  @  Oakland Raiders (5-6)  (4:25 - FOX)
10.) Los Angeles Rams (8-3)  @  Arizona Cardinas (5-6)  (4:25 - FOX)
9.) Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)  @  New York Jets (4-7)  (1:00 - CBS)
8.) Houston Texans (4-7)  @  Tennessee Titans (7-4)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" Sunday,


7.) New England Patriots (9-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (6-5)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Why has God foresaken me?" Sunday,


6.) Detroit Lions (6-5)  @  Baltimore Ravens (6-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
5.) Washington Redskins (5-6)  @  Dallas Cowboys (5-6)  (TNF - NBC)
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "There's a lot to play for" Weekend.


3.) Minnesota Vikings (9-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (7-4)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Man, the NFC is Great" Sunday,


2.) Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)  @  Seattle Seahawks (7-4)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "No, Seriously, the NFC is amazing" Sunday,


1.) Carolina Panthers (8-3)  @  New Orleans Saints (8-3)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Please believe me, the NFC is on one right now" Sunday,

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 12 Power Rankings & The Rest

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-10  =  150-159)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-9  =  174-260)
30.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-7  =  179-280)
29.) Chicago Bears  (3-7  =  174-221)
28.) New York Giants  (2-8  =  162-247)
27.) Miami Dolphins  (4-6  =  157-254)
26.) Denver Broncos  (3-7  =  183-259)
25.) New York Jets  (4-6  =  201-222)
24.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (4-6  =  203-228)
23.) Green Bay Packers  (5-5  =  204-230)
22.) Buffalo Bills  (5-5  =  208-250)
21.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-6  =  176-254)
20.) Houston Texans  (4-6  =  267-262)
19.) Oakland Raiders  (4-6  =  204-247)
18.) Los Angeles Chargers  (4-6  =  221-196)
17.) Cincinnati Bengals  (4-6  =  169-199)
16.) Washington Redskins  (4-6  =  238-266)
15.) Tennessee Titans  (6-4  =  222-253)
14.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-5  =  242-242)
13.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-4  =  262-220)
12.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-4  =  242-199)
11.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-5  =  213-171)
10.) Detroit Lions  (6-4  =  271-234)
9.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-4  =  231-210)
8.) Carolina Panthers  (7-3  =  213-180)
7.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (7-3  =  245-141)
6.) Los Angeles Rams  (7-3  =  303-186)
5.) Minnesota Vikings  (8-2  =  247-172)
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (8-2  =  227-165)
3.) New England Patriots  (8-2  =  290-203)
2.) New Orleans Saints  (8-2  =  302-196)
1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (9-1  =  320-188)


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  13-3
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  12-4

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  10-6
5.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6
6.) Baltimore Ravens  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3
2.) New Orleans Saints  =  13-3
3.) Minnesota Vikings  =  12-4
4.) Los Angeles Rams  =  11-5
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  11-5
6.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next's Weeks Games

16.) New York Giants (2-8)  @  Washington Redskins (4-6)  (Thanksgiving - NBC)
15.) Cleveland Browns (0-10)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (4-6)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Denver Broncos (3-7)  @  Oakland Raiders (4-6)  (4:25 - CBS)
13.) Miami Dolphins (4-6)  @  New England Patriots (8-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Tennessee Titans (6-4)  @  Indianapolis Colts (3-7)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Chicago Bears (3-7)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (9-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
10.) Green Bay Packers (5-5)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2)  (SNF - NBC)
9.) Seattle Seahawks (6-4)  @  San Francisco 49ers (1-9)  (4:05 - FOX)
8.) Los Angeles Chargers (4-6)  @  Dallas Cowboys (5-5)  (Thanksgiving - CBS)
7.) Buffalo Bills (5-5)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Carolina Panthers (7-3)  @  New York Jets (4-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
5.) Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3)  @  Arizona Cardinals (4-6)  (4:25 - CBS)
4.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6)  @  Atlanta Falcons (6-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
3.) Houston Texans (4-6)  @  Baltimore Ravens (5-5)  (MNF - ESPN)
2.) Minnesota Vikings (8-2)  @  Detroit Lions (6-4)  (Thanksgiving - FOX)
1.) New Orleans Saints (8-2)  @  Los Angeles Rams (7-3)  (4:25 - CBS)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 11 Power Rankings & The Rest

Tier I - The "Worst of the Worst" Trio

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-9  =  143-240)
31.) New York Giants  (1-8  =  150-238)
30.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-9  =  174-260)

There's a clear set of worst teams and set of best teams halfway through the season. What is surprising is that the group of worst teams isn't that large. These three really have done some amazing work separating themselves from the pack. The Browns have a good chance to go 0-16 here. Honestly, we've just seen the Astros win a World Series, after losing 106 games in 2011, then 107 the next year, and 111 the next. Sometimes things do get really dark before they get better. The Giants have to be one of the greatest disappointments of all time, doubly so now as it seems most of the team has essentially quit. I'm interested to see when the 49ers plug in Jimmy Garroppolo. Beathard looked OK, but they need to see if this investment will have some early dividends.


Tier II - The "They Aren't as Good as their Record, and The Record Isn't That Good Anyway" Quino

29.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-7  =  179-280)
28.) Miami Dolphins  (4-5  =  137-224)
27.) New York Jets  (4-6  =  201-222)
26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (3-6  =  173-208)
25.) Chicago Bears  (3-6  =  150-194)
I honestly don't know how much better this set of five teams is than the three in the previous group, they just happened to win some games. The Colts are mirroring 2011 pretty well with slightly more competence, hanging around in a few games, but also getting blown out every third game. What's interesting at this point is how well that Jacoby Brissett trade ended up being. The Bears have shown suprising strength on defense, but I haven't seen anything special from Trubisky at this point. The Dolphins and Jets are easily two of the worst 4-win teams I've seen midway through a season ever. The Buccaneers need to use these last few weeks to evaluate a lot of their pieces, they have some huge decisions coming up this offseason.


Tier III - The "Big Soft Middle of the NFL" Septo

24.) Houston Texans  (3-6  =  236-241)
23.) Denver Broncos  (3-6  =  166-239)
22.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-5  =  155-223)
21.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-6  =  149-182)
20.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-5  =  190-171)
19.) Green Bay Packers  (5-4  =  204-207)
18.) Los Angeles Chargers  (3-6  =  167-172)


I hate grouping this many teams together, but I had an even harder time separating them. We have a mix of three formerly decent-to-good teams missing their starting QB (Houston, Arizona and Green Bay), a team snake-bitten like no other (Chargers), one of the least impressive teams with a positive point differential I've seen (Baltimore), and two of the biggest disappointments (Denver, Cincinnati). All seven have some upside (particularly Green Bay if they can stay afloat until/if Rodgers gets back - given the strength of the NFC, this seems unlikely). The Broncos and Bengals are good enough on defense to challenge a few teams here-on out. The Chargers can compete in any game, and their defense is holding up well with Joey Bosa turning into a monster. There's a lot of teams who will beat 2-4 teams over the rest of the year and significantly impact who makes the playoffs.


Tier IV - The "Clinging On to Dear Life" Qunto

17.) Buffalo Bills  (5-4  =  184-196)
16.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-4  =  233-205)
15.) Detroit Lions  (5-4  =  244-210)
14.) Washington Redskins  (4-5  =  207-232)
13.) Oakland Raiders  (4-5  =  196-214)

Here we have five teams that are good enough to have legitimate postseason thoughts, but the margin of error is shockingly slim. The Redskins, given they are in the NFC, have almost no shot, but I actually think they are the best of these five (maybe Oakland, with Carr). The Bills defense has struggled mightily after the Dareus trade, and while the move made sense to clear cap room going forward, its impact could ruin their playoff shot. It now seems finally likely that Elliott misses six games (five more). That coupled with Tyron Smith's injury likely ruins them. The Lions are humming along, but are just in a deep race The defense needs to improve, particularly in pass rush. The Raiders have little margin to error, which hurts given they have trips to LA and Kansas City along with the Patriots game upcoming.


Tier V - The "Somehow, Still in good position" Duo

12.) Tennessee Titans  (6-3  =  205-213)
11.) Atlanta Falcons  (5-4  =  197-179)


It's hard to really trust ether team, as the Titans may be 6-3, but have a negative point differential for the year, and the Falcons who had one until this last week. The Titans schedule lines up well for them, but what they really need is consistency from Mariota, which they haven't gotten all year. The Falcons need that defense to keep up its level. They won't face totally overmatched LTs each week. The offense still isn't in peak form. Even in that game they were merely good. They have had just one game in truth where they looked like the group from 2016, their Week 2 opener against Green Bay.


Tier VI - The "Something is Still Off" Duo

10.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-3  =  211-165)
9.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (7-2  =  187-148)

I wouldn't be shocked if these two teams meet in Super Bowl LII. I also wouldn't be shocked if Seattle misses the playoffs and the Steelers are wild card fodder (hard to envision any scenario they miss the playoffs). The Seahawks defense has to live without Richard Sherman (something they've never really had to do), and that offense is making Russell Wilson throw more than basically every QB in the NFL. He's good enough to make it work, but it puts a strain on that already bad OL The Steelers... I just don't know. Every time I want to take them for real and see them go on a run, they play down to some worse team. That was an entirely predictable slow start against Indianapolis. The Steelers defense is still playing great, but those were some worrying coverage breakdowns to keep the Colts hanging around.


Tier VII - The "Trust Issues" Trio

8.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (6-3  =  226-134)
7.) Carolina Panthers  (7-3  =  213-180)
6.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-3  =  253-208)

When do we fully jump on board? The Jaguars have the league's best defense - quietly a historically good pass defense. They have an offense that has played better than people realize, but still turned the ball over twice in the 2:00 warning last game. They're good enough to overcome that though. The Panthers started 4-1, then lost two games, and now have won three games. They are a really good team in my mind, and the trade of Benjamin perversely helps them by opening up the offense. The Chiefs are in the worst position now being seen as a clear #3 in the AFC, but the schedule gets fairly easy on the way out, and if they can go 12-4, they have a great shot at a first round bye, but their biggest issue is solving their defense. Put aside Eric Berry, the pass rush has gone quiet the last few weeks. They need that to step up with Berry gone.


Tier VIII - The "The Sleeping Giant is Waking Up" Uno

5.) New England Patriots  (7-2  =  257-195)

I don't want to talk about it. Only thing I will say is when they are getting a kick-off return for a TD, and a blocked punt and a muffed punt, things are going to get real hauntingly scary very soon.


Tier IX - The "Man, the NFC is So Much Better This Year" Quadro

4.) Minnesota Vikings  (7-2  =  217-165)
3.) Los Angeles Rams  (7-2  =  296-162)
2.) New Orleans Saints  (7-2  =  268-165)

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (8-1  =  283-179)

This top end of the NFC is frightening. The worst team is Minnesota, a team with a +52 point differential, with a still great defense with playmakers at each level. Their only issue is navigating this Keenum vs. Bridgewater dilemma. The real loser here is Bradford. They would be really terrifying had he not gotten hurt. The Rams are on pace to score 526 points and allow 288. Only four prior teams have ever scored more than 500 and allowed less than 300, the 1998 Vikings, the 2007 Patriots, and the 1999/2001 GSOT Rams. It's time to start taking Jared Goff's MVP season somewhat seriously. He leads the league in Y/A, and has had a truly great season. The Saints had the scariest win of the week, scoring 47 on the road in a tough place to play without needing Drew Brees to do anything but hand off. The defense continues to be great. If we take away the first two games of the year, they have the best defense in the NFL. Finally, the best team in the league - another team with an outside shot of a 500/200 season. If they get Lane Johnson back form his concussion the last hole on the team is covered.


Projecting the Playoff Field

AFC

1.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  12-4
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4

3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  11-5
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  11-5
5.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3
2.) New Orleans Saints  =  12-4
3.) Los Angeles Rams  =  12-4

4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  11-5
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  11-5
6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Carolina Panthers (7-3), Indianapolis Colts (3-7), New York Jets (4-6), San Francisco 49ers (1-9)

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)  @  Miami Dolphins (4-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Arizona Cardinals (4-5)  @  Houston Texans (3-6)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Thankfully there's only two of these" Sunday, as we're getting to the point in the season where games between two bad teams start to really stand out. These two aren't that bad in that sense (helps that three of the bye teams are among the worst), but the Battle of Florida is a disaster (somehow that shit Dolphins team may go 5-5), and the Cardinals and Texans is a great 'what could have been' - just depressing to think about that game had it been Carson Palmer vs. DeShaun Watson.


12.) Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)  @  New York Giants (1-8)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-9)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "One Good vs. One Bad" Sunday, as we get only two games where we have good teams playing terrible ones. I guess it helps slightly that the bad teams are at home, but the environments in New York and Cleveland are so dire to ruin any game. The Chiefs and Jaguars should easily go to 7-3, and continue stratifying this league even further this year.


10.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-6)  @  Denver Broncos (3-6)  (4:25 - FOX)
9.) Baltimore Ravens (4-5)  @  Green Bay Packers (5-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
8.) Detroit Lions (5-4)  @  Chicago Bears (4-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Buffalo Bills (5-4)  @  Los Angeles Chargers (3-6)  (4:05 - FOX) 

I call it "The muddled mess of the week" Sunday, as we get a foursome of games that are just average. Not actively bad. If I was forced to watch any of them I wouldn't complain. There are some nice aspects. Bengals vs. Broncos can be a nice nostalgia affair to when these teams were good. Ravens and Packers will at least give us another look at Brett Hundley and the Ravens great defense. The Lions can go to 6-4 and continue their desperate Wild Card push. Same with the Bills, who get to play Philip Rivers. Any game with Rivers should be cherished at this point.


6.) Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (5-4)  (SNF - NBC)
5.) Tennessee Titans (6-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2)  (TNF - NBC)


I call it "Genuinely kind of interesting Primetime Games for once!" Thursday and Sunday, as we get two quite nice primetime games. Sure, the Eagles @ Cowboys game would be better if Zeke was playing (and Tyron Smith, who seems about 50/50 at this point), but even then we have the best team in the league getting a chance to prove it on primetime. The Titans and Steelers is a nice game, plus features an intriguing storyline: NBC will be heavily using the robo-cam that they previously used in the FogBowl Pt. 2 out of necessity. As an ex-longtime Madden player, would be good to see a game where most plays are shown with that angle.


4.) Washington Redskins (4-5)  @  New Orleans Saints (7-2)  (1;00 - FOX)
3.) New England Patriots (7-2)  @  Oakland Raiders (4-5)  (4:25 - CBS)


I call it "Elimination Sunday for the worse team?" Sunday, as we get two 4-5 teams, clinging to playoff hopes, needing to pull off an upset to re-ignite a 2nd half push. The Redskins and Raiders need to beat teams with 7-game and 5-game win streaks to have any real shot. I would think Oakland has a better chance being at 'home', but in this case home is Mexico City and they are bringing arguably the worst pass defense to this fight. The Saints are beatable, I guess, and the Redskins have generally done a good job against a run, so seemingly they might have a better chance.


2.) Atlanta Falcons (5-4)  @  Seattle Seahawks (6-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
1.) Los Angeles Rams (7-2)  @  Minnesota Vikings (7-2)  (1:00 - FOX)


I call it "Man, the NFC is just better" Sunday and Monday, as we get two games that just show how much better the NFC is. My highest ranked AFC vs. AFC game was at #5. These two are clearly in my mind the best two. First we get a nice rematch from a few playoff meetings, with two teams trying to right the ship back towards their best play. Seeing Atlanta's defense last week is a great sign ahead of this game. With the Rams and Vikings, we get the first of many great NFC games down the stretch between these top teams (Rams vs. Saints / Saints vs. Panthers / Panthers vs. Vikings / Rams vs. Seahawks all left to still play).

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Roy Halladay, The Last Workhorse



I first saw it in an onimous tweet from Brandon McCarthy simply saying 'Please don't be Roy'. Immediately I knew something bad happened. Very quickly I learned what did happen. Roy Halladay died piloting a single-passenger aircraft in the Gulf of Mexico. While his playing career ended four years ago, his personal life had many great years left. Years to be a husband, a father, eventually a grandfather, and other titles. Years to speak at the Hall of Fame, years to be around the game. Years to experience his joy of flying even more. All that was taken away.

The general reaction across baseball, both from in-the-game players/managers/coaches/front office types, and outside-the-game journalists and fans tends to all agree. He was a fantastic pitcher, but a better person. Forget no one having a single negative thing to say, everyone has loads of positive things to say. This is a baseball tradegy, not only because Roy Halladay was the best pitcher for a decade, and the last pitcher of his kind, maybe ever.

Roy Halladay threw 266 innings in 2003, when he won the Cy Young at 26 with Toronto. That was not a surprise. He was a top prospect. He was a stud. He was on a mediocre team where their main joy was watching this young brilliant pitcher pitch. But at that time many other pitchers approached that level of innings. When Halladay threw 250 innings in 2010, winning his 2nd Cy Young at 33 with Philadelphia, that was unheard of. Roy Halladay was the last pitcher we could trust to throw 7+ innings each time out, to not tire, to not need to pulled 3rd time through the order. Baseball pitching now has a standard operating procedure. Halladay broke that.

Roy Halladay the pitcher had such an interesting career arc. He was a top prospect that had a laughably awful 2001 season, with a 10.64 ERA in 67 innings. He was sent all the way down to Single-A in early 2002, rebuilding his mechanics, rebuilding his baseball mind. He emerged late in 2002, had a great 2nd half, won a Cy Young and it was all set.

Then he had a very interesting stretch in the middle of his career. Great results, but weird process. Halladay started throwing tons of innings (aside from injury riddled season in 2004, and a broken leg that ended a likely Cy Young season in 2005), but not striking out many players. In 2006-2007, Halladay went 32-12, 3.46 ERA (131 ERA+), with 445 innings, but struck out just 271 batters.

Then, all of a sudden, Halladay decided to start striking out batters against. In his last two seasons in Toronto (2008-09), he went 37-21, 2.78 ERA (155 ERA+), with 414 Ks in 485 innings. In his final two healthy seasons, his first two with Philadelphia, he went 40-16, 240 ERA (165 ERA+), with 439 Ks in 484 innings. Halladay was peerlessly good during that 2007-2011 stretch.

Beyond just the strange K/9 trends, or the high inning counts, what stood out was his ability to go deep into games. Halladay threw 67 complete games in his career. No one that started around his time has thrown anything close to that. Justin Verlander, probably the only other player that could come close to Halladay's innings counts has thrown 23. We threw hosanna's when he threw a complete game in Game 2 of the ALCS. Halladay threw two 10-inning complete games in his career. Clayton Kershaw has thrown 25. CC Sabathia has thrown 38. Halladay crushes them.

When looking back at his career, I will remember Halladay the Blue Jay. I really liked his pitching style, his exacting delivery (something multiple players, including Game 7 hero Charlie Morton tried to copy), the way his sinking fastball moved, the way his cutter darted. And the way he gave so much hope to that franchise that was trapped behind Boston and New York for the decade. In that division, facing those two teams who regularly put up 900+ runs, Halladay shut them down time and time again. He gave Toronto hope.

I feel bad concentrating on Halladay's playing career so much, despite how brilliant it was, given how great a person he seemed to be as well. Multiple players/journalists have used the great line that he was 'your favorite player's favorite player.' Everyone who came in contact with Halladay seemed to be enamored with his work ethic, his approach to pitching. Everyone also seemed so taken away by Roy the person, the niceness that hid behind a gruff, serious demeanor that gripped his face, though a face that was photographed with a giant smile quite often. Halladay seemed to have left a perfect reputation within and outside the game. Even when the Phillies held an LGBTQ-support forum in 2011, Halladay was one of the Phillies to attend and speak. There's no holes in that resume.

Seeing any athlete whose entire career you followed die is always a shock. I'm still young enough that those who have died normally did in a tragic way. Halladay's sudden tragic death impacted me more than I imagined. I was a fan of his, loved watching him pitch, but he wasn't even my favorite 'Roy' who pitched during that era. But I really wanted to see him get into the Hall of Fame - something that seems very likely to happen now. He will re-set the expectations for starting pitchers to get into the Hall of Fame, a lasting gift to 21st Century Pitchers for the last of the 20th Century ones.

Every player should want to have Halladay's career, leave a lasting positive impact on every team, every fanbase, every player, every journalist, every person he interacted with. Roy Halladay didn't live nearly as long enough as anyone who lived as good a life as him deserved to.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 10 Power Rankings & The Rest

Tier I - The Awful Teams

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-8  =  119-202)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-9  =  143-239)
30.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-6  =  162-260)
29.) New York Giants  (1-7  =  129-207)


Halfway through the season, we have seen some needed stratification - bouyed by a couple blowouts last week. We have a clear bottom foursome in my mind, though we can argue this gets expanded. But these four are clear bottom. The Browns and 49ers are obvious. Two of the three wins the Colts have are against the bottom two teams. The Giants have lost a lot of close games, but you can't avoid the awful negative point differential at this point. Also, we really do have to start looking at whether it is worth giving someone other than Eli a shot.


Tier II - The Slightly Less Awful Teams

28.) Chicago Bears  (3-5  =  134-171)
27.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-6  =  158-198)

The Bears have a competent defense, and a great running game, with no QB. Trubisky has done nothing so far to impress me. But even the formula so far seems to resemble John Fox's early Carolina tenure, when they went 7-9 in 2002, the year before breaking out in 2003. The difference is I don't know who plays the Steve Smith role and that type of no-offense approach doesn't really work in 2017. The Bucs are just a disaster, now having to shut down Winston for a few weeks. I never really much liked the Dirk Koetter hiring. They started 8-5 last year, but are just 3-8 since.


Tier III - The Sad-Sack QB Teams That Won't Sign Colin Kaepernick

26.) Green Bay Packers  (4-4  =  181-191)
25.) Houston Texans  (3-5  =  229-208)
24.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-4  =  139-201)
23.) Miami Dolphins  (4-4  =  116-179)

All four of these teams would have a shot, a real shot, if they had their QB. I realize there is a lot of sorry QB situations in the league. Most of the time I don't agree. There are always bad teams. What really sucks is when great QBs go down, which we have these four. The Cardinals and Dolphins had the worst of the four QBs, but also had the least to lose. The Stanton/Moore replacements can keep them competitive. The Packers and Texans however? They're more or less screwed. Bill O'Brien not only doesn't have the defense that carried them to the 2015-16 AFC South Titles, but a better division than in previous years. The Packers are just ruined - and I hope for Aaron Rodgers sake they don't try to rush him back. They need a re-set.


Tier IV - What The Hell Happened

22.) Denver Broncos  (3-5  =  150-198)

The Broncos have been the same team for three years now. A great defense with no real QB. The best QB they've had the last three years are early-2017 Trevor Siemian, or late-2015 Brock Osweiler. That is not great. What really hurts them is their defense is showing signs of fading for the first time. It is so hard to keep a great defense together, especially when it was so personnel-heavy instead of scheme-heavy (like Pittsburgh or Baltimore).At this point, I have no idea why they don't try Paxton Lynch. If this isn't the right setting for him then that is truly a wasted 1st round pick, a troubling sign for Elway who also wasted a 2nd round pick in 2012 on Osweiler, and a 2nd and 3rd round picks over the years on RBs (Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman).


Tier V - The Bod Teams with Decent Records

21.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-5  =  190-171)
20.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-5  =  129-158)
19.) New York Jets  (4-5  =  191-207)

18.) Los Angeles Charges  (3-5  =  150-152)

None of these teams are very good. But all somehow have life. The race for the Wild Cards in the AFC will be a strange one. We have three 5-3 teams (one of which being the current AFC South leader) where none seem like truly safe bets, and then this host of 4-5/3-5 teams. The Bengals and Chargers on paper are the best two teams. The Jets have to be excited about the growth of a lot of younger players, and are actually the team out of the four that might be in teh best position going forward. For Baltimore, their defense/special teams is good enough to get to 8-8 somehow, but serious questions have to start being asked about the longterm structure of the team (Flacco/Harbaugh/Newsome). They've danced around it a bit with a very good 2014 season and a ride to nearly winning the division in 2016, but its harder to escape now, especially when the ramifications of the Flacco deal are starting to play up more.


Tier VI - The Good Teams with Decent Records

17.) Washington Redskins  (4-4  =  177-194)
16.) Atlanta Falcons  (4-4  =  168-159)
15.) Detroit Lions  (4-4  =  206-186)

These three teams are, to me, all better than the four AFC teams I just covered. Problem though, is the NFC competition is so much higher. The current wild-card teams are 6-3 (Carolina) and 5-3 (Seattle/Dallas), but all three have a resume and/or experience to go on. The Falcons have looked like garbage for a good month now. The Lions are promising, and have a truly easy schedule coming up, but it is still hard to picture them catching or passing one of those three. The Redskins are to me the least likely of the three, but have a competency that will keep them around .500 all year. The middle of the NFC is just a lot more competent and trustworthy than that of the AFC.


Tier VII - The Good Team with a Bad Record

14.) Oakland Raiders  (4-5  =  196-214)

The Raiders are the one team below 5-3 that I think can make a run at the playoffs. First, they get one more game against KC and a potential season sweep. They have a tough schedule, with New England coming up (in Mexico City), and trips to Kansas City and Philadelphia, but Philly might have stuffed locked up by their Week 16 date. The Raiders top level is quite high, and they are unlucky to not be 5-4 at this point with injuries and close losses. Having Lynch back and productive really helps.


Tier VIII - The Good Teams with Good Records

13.) Tennessee Titans  (5-3  =  181-193)
12.) Seattle Seahawks  (5-3  =  189-149)
11.) Buffalo Bills  (5-3  =  174-149)
10.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-3  =  226-178)

And now we get to the clear top of the league. Out of these 13, 12 can make the playoffs. 12 currently are in the playoffs (Dallas/Seattle tying for the #6 seed in the NFC). The chance of the 12 playoffs teams coming from these is low, but not too low. The Titans have strange losses, but very good health at this point and an easy schedule. The Seahawks are the opposite, but history tells us they get better in the 2nd half of the season, and still feature a Top-5 DVOA defense. The Bills may have been playing over their heads, but still can pretend to have their sights on the division with both New England games left. Dallas is somewhat similar with having both Philadelphia games left, and have been great after their bye. Any of these four teams deserve to be in the playoffs, and I wouldn't mind watching any. We might be in a year of 'no-top-teams', but I don't know if there's been such a deep set of good teams this late into a season in a while.


Tier IX - Defense First

9.) Carolina Panthers  (6-3  =  168-159)
8.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-2  =  179-135)
7.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (5-3  =  206-117)

All three teams have great defenses. All three have defenses that are healthy. The Vikings have been a great defense. The Jaguars have been a scary one. The Jaguars are on pace for 70 sacks, 20 interceptions, and are giving up a QB rating of 63.5. Their once porous rush defense has given up less than 100 yards in 3 of the last 4 games. The Vikings defense hasn't been as crazy good, but as strong as always. The Panthers have shown a few holes, but lead the league in yards allowed for the old-timers, and have had three games giving up less than 10 points, should have had a 4th (Chicago scored 3 points on offense), and multiple games where they gave up garbage time points. They're on pace for 56 sacks. The problem with all three teams is obvious: their offenses. The Jaguars have a QB they can't trust. The Vikings have QB issues. The Panthers have had OL issues and traded away their supposed #1 receiver. Oddly, the way I have them ranked has it in opposite direction of how high I think each team's ceiling is. Just I have more faith in their defenses staying great with JAX>MIN>CAR than their offenses suddenly turning a corner.



Tier X - Offense First

6.) New England Patriots  (6-2  =  216-179)
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-3  =  253-208)
Two teams that are the exact opposite of the three above, and since offense is slightly more consistent than defense, they get ranked higher. I still think NE's defense is trash, despite their relatively light points allowed total which belies things like 6 missed field goals, a hilariously stupid overturned TD, and multiple 4th down stops in plus territory, all during their 4 game win streak (4 games where their offense also dropped a level, but no one wants to mention that). The Chiefs defensive issues are also coming out in force. The loss of Eric Berry is being felt, but their run defense has been fairly porous in their losses. Offense can keep and sustain them but they are plying with fire.


Tier XI - The Solid All Around Very Good Teams

4.) New Orleans Saints  (6-2  =  221-155)
3.) Los Angeles Rams  (6-2  =  263-155)
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-2  =  167-131)
I think the reason people perceive the league to be down right are mostly due to the best teams halfway through the year not being the ones that we thought it would be. It isn't Dallas and Green Bay and (arguably) New England. Only Pittsburgh is a preseason favorite that has lived up so far - and even they have faced questions while quietly fielding the league's 2nd best defense and an offense that seems ready to break out. The Saints and rams are very good teams. The Saints defense has been excellent for 6 games now. They have regained some semblance of home field. The Rams have been better. They are on pace to score 526 points... the same total they scored in their 1999 Greatest Show on Turf heyday. If anything the defense should get better and pick up for any inevitable dropoff the offense has.


Tier XII - The Current Clubhouse Leader

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (8-1  =  283-179)

The Eagles lost in Week 2 to the Chiefs. They then won their next two close over the Giants (27-24, a crazy game that was 14-0 at the start of the 4th quarter) and 26-24 over the Chargers in LA. That is not a truly impressive 3-1 start. Their last five games? Dominant. Huge wins over the Cardinals, 49ers and Broncos. A solid, not as close as it seems, win over the Redskins. And then another solid win in Carolina. Granted, four of those five were at home, and four of their next five are on the road (DAL, SEA, LAR, NYG). How they do in those four should give a better indication, but right now there is nothing to complain with for a team that is starting to resemble the 2015 Panthers.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  13-3
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
3.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5

4.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  11-5
5.) Buffalo Bills  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3
2.) New Orleans Saints  =  11-5
3.) Los Angeles Rams  =  11-5

4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  11-5
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  10-6

6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Baltimore Ravens (4-5), Kansas City Chiefs (6-3), Oakland Raiders (4-5), Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)

14.) New York Giants (1-7)  @  San Francisco 49ers (0-9)  (4:25 - FOX)
13.) New York Jets (4-5)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "When do pitchers and catchers report for the Mets and Yankees" Sunday, as the Jets and Giants have given New York very little. The Giants @ 49ers game is about as bad as it gets. The Jets, for their part, have been surprisingly good so far, and they have a solid chance to get to 5-5 for the year. Honestly, if they finish 7-9 or better, Todd Bowles deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year. People assumed that team was literally tanking and he's made them stunningly competent.


12.) Cleveland Browns (0-8)  @  Detroit Lions (4-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)  @  Tennessee Titans (5-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) Green Bay Packers (4-4)  @  Chicago Bears (3-5)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "This is what happens when three interesting teams are on the bye" Sunday, as we just have three games I don't care about. With the Browns, I guess this is one of their last shots to get a win? In reality, the first four teams may be among the league's least memorable, interesting franchises in the last 15 years. Then we get the rivalry that, with Rodgers out and the Bears bad, doesn't really matter.


9.) Seattle Seahawks (5-3)  @  Arizona Cardinals (4-4)  (TNF - NBC)
8.) Miami Dolphins (4-4)  @  Carolina Panthers (6-3)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "back to SOP for Primetime Games" Thursday and Monday, as man these are some very sad night games. NBC gets into the Sunday Night Football action for the first time with a not great game. The Seahawks and Cardinals have played some classics over the years, but those have involved Carson Palmer, not Drew Stanton. This could be a good 'get-right' game for them. The Dolphins, the leagues worst .500 team, goes to Carolina which could turn really ugly if the Panthers defense is on its game.


7.) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (3-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Houston Texans (3-5)  @  Los Angeles Rams (6-2)  (4:05 - CBS)
5.) New England Patriots (6-2)  @  Denver Broncos (3-5)  (SNF - NBC)
4.) Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "One Good vs. One Bad" Sunday, as we get four games that feature one top team face off against one of the league's lesser lights. It's sad to get so many of these, but these games generally start to pile up the longer we go into the season. Each has some reason for intrigue. Can the Steelers not lay an egg against an eminently beatable team? Can the Rams continue to roll? Can the Patriots not do what they normally do in Denver? Can the Jaguars win a game against an offense that might make Blake Bortles have to make a play? The way its listed is in ranking of how likely I think an upset is possible.


3.) Minnesota Vikings (6-2)  @  Washington Redskins (4-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) New Orleans Saints (6-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

1.) Dallas Cowboys (5-3)  @  Atlanta Falcons (4-4)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Just plain old solid good football games" Sunday, as we get three games that are, simply put, rather nice. The Redskins are probably not in the class of the five other teams in this group, but they have a sneaky high ceiling if they can protect Kirk Cousins, though that will be tough against the Minny defense. The Saints @ Bills is just a really nice intra-conference matchup. The Saints have beaten up on a soft schedule so this will be a nice test, likely their toughest game since Carolina in Week 3. The Cowboys @ Falcons should have been a marquee game, and a Falcons win could get them started on a run, but really it is a great test for two NFC teams moving in opposite directions at the moment.

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.