Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 3 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking the 0-2 Teams

9.) New York Jets  (0-2  =  32-66)

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

8.) Chicago Bears  (0-2  =  24-52)

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

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

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

6.) Cleveland Browns  (0-2  =  28-45)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.) New York Giants  (0-2  =  13-43)

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

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

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

Ranking the 1-1 Teams

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

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

12.) Houston Texans  (1-1  =  20-38)

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

11.) Buffalo Bills  (1-1  =  24-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.) Tennessee Titans  (1-1  =  53-42)

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

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

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

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

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

4.) Dallas Cowboys  (1-1  =  36-45)

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

3.) Seattle Seahawks  (1-1  =  21-26)

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.) Miami Dolphins  (1-0  =  19-17)

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

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

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

8.) Baltimore Ravens  (2-0  =  44-10)

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

7.) Detroit Lions  (2-0  =  59-33)

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

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

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

5.) Denver Broncos  (2-0  =  66-38)

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

4.) Carolina Panthers  (32-6)

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

3.) Oakland Raiders  (2-0  =  71-36)

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

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

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

1.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-0  =  57-40)

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

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Nostalgia Diaries, Pt. 8: Super Bowl XLVII - Ravens vs. 49ers

The weirdest part of this Super Bowl was I was at the same party I was at 5 years earlier. In the same house, with a lot of the same people, but so much was different. I was 22. I could drink. My other childhood friends weren't there. Instead of sitting with them upstairs as we watched the Patriots perfect season go down in flames (hooray!!), I was downstairs with the adults - including some of whom were my friends parents (this will all get explained shortly). The Super Bowl itself was a strange game. I was rooting for the Ravens, decked out in my black Ed Reed jersey. The game was at first a blowout, then a farce with a 30-minute delay by way of a blackout, and then a classic. But this isn't about the game, it is about the night, the experience, the strange feeling of hanging on to childhood memories.

One of the best aspects of the neighborhood I grew up in was there was a handful of other boys in my grade. They were all fairly cool, we were a pretty tight group, from chilling on the bus, to meeting up to play football. One of the kids, Jeff Reimann, was one of the best people I would ever know, a true mensch of a man. His parents were always truly welcoming to all of us. We spent many an afternoon there, and even a few Sundays watching NFL football in their decked out basement, replete with theater seating well before that become a thing. They even had a soda fountain in the basement, a novelty item that in all honesty was much better in theory than practice. That house was our Camelot. I watched many a Super Bowl there (definitely Super Bowl 40-43 in my memory), and a few other games. The first time I actually saw the Red Zone Channel in action was there, in 2007. Needless to say, there were a lot of great moments.

Fast forward four years, with me finished with school, a good three weeks before I would leave on my Round the World Trip. I was home in New Jersey. The neighborhood group was all out at their respective colleges and/or their parents had moved out of the neighborhood. There was a slow, sad exodus from the neighborhood, and it was just starting in 2012. But his parents were still there, and like always, Mr and Mrs Reimann threw a Super Bowl party, literally the most recent one I would ever go to.

By this point I was 22. I was an adult. I could drink. I could swerve past the soda fountain into their large fridge stocked with beer. Besides, this was in our neighborhood. Worst comes to worst, I could walk home - I still knew the backyard shortcuts to my house after years of practice. There were a cadre of adults from the neighborhood that I knew pretty well, either my friends parents (slightly awkward to drink around), or the parents of younger kids (less awkward). In the end, I had to grow up at that moment, I had to disassociate previous experiences in that house, in that basement, and become an adult guest to a Super Bowl party.

The game itself served as some nostalgia. Despite my love for Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams over Titans), the first Super Bowl I really remember watching was the Ravens domination of the Giants. That was Ray Lewis's moment. This was his final moment. Overtime, I grew to love the Ravens for what they represented (INSERT LINK TO ODE TO THE RAVENS), and grew to love Ed Reed as my favorite non-Peyton player in the NFL. That team beat my QB (Peyton), but then hammered my enemy (New England), and took the field in the Super Bowl. I was all in. It helped to have a connection, and a all-black Ed Reed jersey to prove it.

I remember parts of the game, but let's not beat around the bush. The lasting moment from that game will be the blackout. I remember where I was when it happened, crowded around the bar area of the Reimann's basement, chatting with the neighborhood men. We didn't really notice it at first, but overtime there were questions like "why isn't the game restarting?" or "why does it look dark?" At first, we weren't sure what was happening. The immediate thought was the worst - that this was connected to terrorism. Then it became more absurdity, that the NFL could ruin their spectacle by having there be a blackout. It lasted for 30 minutes, and if anything let the men eat and drink more.

Drinking shouldn't be such an important part of this piece, but it is more symbolic than anything. I don't even know what it symbolizes, but unshackling myself that day was important. My old neighborhood friends weren't there more by chance than anything - I had graduated a semester early and had little to do ahead of my RTW Trip. But it sadly represented one last hoorah.

I would posit that half of the people that I conversed with at the Super Bowl party have moved out of the neighborhood since - the hosts, the Reimanns, moved out later that year. My parents are still there, but even that connection is holding on by a tenuous string. My neighborhood was such as instrumental part of my childhood, and the connections I made still last today - and the fortification of those connections often happened at the Reimann's house. From Chris Leyden to Jordan Robinson-Williams, to Nikhil Lakhanpal, to, of course, Jeff Reimann. That grouped watched many a Super Bowl together. It only made perverse sense that the last time I would watch a Super Bowl at a neighborhood party, it would be with their parents, as I too was an adult.

I technically had a semi-party for the following Super Bowl (when the Seahawks ruined the Broncos), having a few friends over to my house. Other than that, I was cooped up at home, out of fear (Super Bowl 50), circumstance (Super Bowl XLIX) or forced indifference (Super Bowl XLI). But for Super Bowl XLVII, it was still in that perfect state where I didn't care too much. My QB, or my most hated QB wasn't in it. And I wanted a last hurrah with the neighborhood crowd. They were the people that, in a way, helped raise me, helped acclimate me, and, when the Reimann's are concerned, helped make me love football.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rafa's Sweet 16

When Rafael Nadal made a spirited run to the Australian Open Final, and got to play his old rival in Roger Federer, it seemed like one last encore for us Fedal tennis fans. Nine months later, those two gobbled up all four slams (had Nadal held off Federer in that 5th set, the gap in majors would be 18-17, instead it is 19-16). Nadal is the #1. Federer is the #2. For someone who grew up with tennis from 2003-2010, all seems right in teh world. And the rightest part is Rafael Nadal, king of New York, for a 3rd time and holder of now 16 Grand Slam titles.

Each of his three wins in New York cemented incredible seasons for different reasons. His first win in 2010 cemented him as an all-court all-timer. It completed his career slam. It made him the first (and to date, only) man to win a slam on clay, grass and hard court in the same season. In 2013, it completed his greatest ever comeback, returning from a serious knee injury that made him miss the 2012 US Open and 2013 Australian Open. He had a dominant season, and a dominant American Hard Court swing, winning Canada, Cincinnati, and then the US Open, locking up another year-end #1. Finally, in this year, it sees him just elevating his game to a ridiculous level. It was a vintage performance, with fleet movement that was reminiscent of his early days, to a hard-serve brought out of nowhere. It was pure Rafa.

More than anything, what this tournament, and the assured, confident way he played that mirrored him at his best, really showed was that Rafa is rightfully and fully back. The incredible run to the Australian Open final was a nice touch of nostalgia, especially seeing him beat members of the Lost Generation (Dimitrov) and the Next Generation (Zverev) in 5 sets. The French Open was his one last hurrah - a feeling I felt even though he dominated that tournament in a manner few have ever come close to doing. That was cemented when he lost to Gilles Muller at Wimbledon and lost relatively early at the Summer Masters events.

But then this happened. All year, I was wondering what the long term is for Rafa. I honestly never expected him to be playing this well at 31 years ago. Especially when he was struggling and 29 and 30. It was a long time coming. For some reason, this felt more earned, more important than his win in France. It had been nearly four years since he won a tournament on hard court. It had been four since his last major. Until this year, he had two full years of disappointment at hardcourt majors, the best result being blasted off the court by Tomas Berdych in the 2015 Australian Open quarterfinals. Outside of that, it was 5-set choke-job losses to Fabio Fognini, Fernando Verdasco and Lucas Pouille.

If anything, that was the real fear. That either losing the Australian Open final after leading 3-1 in the 5th set, or losing 15-13 in the 5th set to Gilles Muller at Wimbledon, would penetrate Rafa's psyche, turn him back into the unconfident loner that traversed the ATP tour in 2015-16. Instead, it only served to make him stronger.

Over the last three years, Rafa has opened up to the public, using us as his sports psychologist. I have rarely heard a player talk so openly about being nervous, about lacking confidence, about getting tight in big moments. Rafael Nadal at his best is the strongest fighter in the sport, the guy who has won the last 15 Major Semifinals he has played, and is lifetime 39-10 in major Semifinals and Finals. At his worst, he is the guy who hasn't even got to that stage more often than he should. As we head to the end of 2017, a good twelve years after he first won a major, he is squarely the guy at his best.

As we head into 2018, despite the incredible year Rafael Nadal has had he is no closer to catching Roger Federer. But I truly believe he doesn't care, and neither do I. This 2017 season, including a ridiculous 10th Roland Garros title, a 3rd US Open Title, widening the gap between him and Novak Djokovic. He will never catch Roger Federer, but he's showed a lasting power, a will to compete, a mental strength that seemed rather impossible at various times in his brilliant career.

When his career ends, it will be interesting to see that US Open should be his second most successful slam. It's hard to think given it was the last one that he conquered, but now he's done it three times over. It cemented his legacy as a Career Slam holder in 2010, as the owner of the greatest single-season comeback story in 2013, and now as truly, unquestionably, no worse than the 2nd best player ever in 2017. New York truly does love to crown kings, and in Rafa they got another opportunity to do so.

NFL 2017: Week 2 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking the 0-1 Teams

15.) Houston Texans  (0-1  =  7-29)

For each of the last two seasons I've never believed in the Texans as they were winning back-to-back AFC South titles. I'll be stunned if they make it three. There is some talk they may go back to Tom Savage, which is ludicrous. The OL is in tatters with Duane Brown still holding out. The defense seems off, with an incredibly leaky secondary and a clearly not yet 100% JJ Watt. The Texans are terrible, having easily the worst loss of any team in Week 1.

14.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-1  =  3-23)

I was never more sure of a team not scoring 10 points than the 49ers playing that Carolina defense. Kyle Shanahan's scheme is not player-neutral, with Brian Hoyer doing a terrible Matt Ryan impression. Shame about Ruben Foster who by all accounts was having a really nice game before he got hurt. It's a long process in San Francisco right now, the NFCs only true tank-tastic team.

13.) Indianapolis Colts  (0-1  =  9-46)

Obviously, ranking the Colts comes with an asterisk as that team wouldn't lose 9-46 with Andrew Luck at QB. Of course, at this point there is no real guess for when Luck is going to return. The Colts team outside of Luck (and maybe Hilton and a couple defenders) is garbage. It is amazing that in Year 6 of the Luck era, the talent on the team is arguably worse than it was during their 2011 disaster when Peyton went down. Irsay needs to hire a Team President and stay the fuck away from football decisions. He may have hated the Polian era, but at least his franchise wasn't a laughingstock.

12.) New York Jets  (0-1  =  12-21)

Both of the two 'tanking' teams acquitted themselves reasonably well in Week 1. Sure, the Jets had to play another team that is semi-tanking in Buffalo, but they didn't look dreadful. That defense still has some nice pieces, with Wilkerson and Williams having a better game than the stat-sheet would indicate. The offense has some nice young players in Robbie Anderson and Will Tye. Josh McCown is perfectly capable enough to keep them from going 2-14 which they probably should do.

11.) Chicago Bears  (0-1  =  17-23)

I'll be interested to re-evaluate that game a few weeks from now. The Bears defense is quietly solid having drafted well over the past couple seasons. Any team with Mike Glennon has a ceiling on offense, but Tarik Cohen is a perfect complement to Jordan Howard. The Bears showed they can compete with good teams in Week 1, but so often we see a team play surprisingly well in Week 1 only to end up being who we thought they were (e.g.: the 2016 Jaguars who lost 23-27 to the Packers in Week 1). I'm hoping we get Trubisky at some point because the Bears have an intriguing future and I'm not sure what holding him out accomplishes.

10.) Cleveland Browns  (0-1  =  18-21)

I have two seemingly incongruous thoughts about the Browns loss to Pittsburgh. First, they played really well given the Steelers scored their first points on a blocked punt for a TD. Second, the Browns are still a bad team. To me, that game showed more about Pittsburgh still not getting over their malady of playing 5-6 uninspired games a year. The Browns defense is legitimately decent, but the offense lacks any explosion. I like what I saw from Kizer, but his pocket presence needs to improve a lot. The Browns are no longer a doormat, and still have a bevy of picks, but they still need a lot of those picks to work out to seriously start competing.

9.) New Orleans Saints  (0-1  =  19-29)

The final stats looked nice, with Brees close to 300 yards, and no turnovers, and just one sack, but they were overwhelmed for much of that game, and the red zone performance was putrid. Adrian Peterson seems a terrible fit, as his lack of pass blocking ability makes him fairly unplayable. The defense looks as bad as ever. While they can at times generate pressure, the secondary is a disaster and doesn't look to improve at all.

8.) Cincinnati Bengals  (0-1  =  0-20)

The Bengals can go in one of two directions. They can either be the annual team that lays a stinker in Week 1 but ends up fine anyway (Falcons last year, or Minnesota in 2014), or the team that was supposed to compete but got exposed in a preview of things to come (2015 Colts). In a way, we should know following Thursday's opposite of intriguing Thursday Night game against Houston. They should dominate Houston. Dalton can't possibly worse and quietly the defense still looks good, but the ack of protection and quiet AJ Green performance is disturbing.

7.) San Diego Chargers  (0-1  =  21-24)

The Chargers probably could've stolen that game, but let's not forget they were down 24-7, with Rivers hovering under 100 yards passing, before some weird stuff late in that game. The Chargers offense looked good with the return of Keenan Allen, but Rivers seemed a bit off, and Antonio Gates seemed a bit slow. The defense was fairly strong, though they need to get more pressure to be consistent as Siemien had way too much time at times.

6.) Arizona Cardinals  (0-1  =  23-35)

I mentally had them a little higher up before hearing that David Johnson would be out at minimum a couple weeks and more likely a month or more. Carson Palmer looks awful. Maybe it is week one, and even in his good or average years he has a few clunkers, but he had no zip, wasn't reading the Lions defense well and just spraying passes. The defense looked good for most of the game but just collapsed. I still believe that the Cardinals defense will be good, and having the receivers all back healthy was nice, but if Palmer can't recapture even the 2013-14 version of himself, this team is fairly well doomed.

5.) New York Giants  (0-1  =  3-19)

The good news is the Giants defense is still really good. The secondary is my pick for the league's best (at least before seeing Denver again), and the front is still strong. The bad news is the offense is shot. Remove OBJ and there literally is no positional group where they aren't a bottom-10 unit. Even Eli is starting to look a bit old. He used to be really good at covering up patches of bad OL play, but know he's starting to panick and dump-off and just throw balls into the ground. This is not a good sign.

4.) Washington Redskins  (0-1  =  17-30)

I'm not exactly sure what the Redskins do well right now. They don't do anything badly, but the Redskins are fairly mediocre at everything now that DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon have left town. Josh Norman is really good, but the rest of secondary is middling. The pass rush has a few talents from 2012, but now those guys are a bit old. The offense lost its firepower, and Kirk Cousins can't get better than what he was in 2015. In that division, which is suddenly hyper-competitive, that just isn't good enough.

3.) Tennessee Titans  (0-1  =  16-26)

If you look at the box score, the Titans didn't play all that badly. They didn't turn the ball over. Mariota was only sacked once. The ran if decently well. They didn't give up too many yards. Problem is, none of it was nearly good enough. There's really nothing that jumps out about that loss other than the Titans played reasonably well and lost to a better team. Of course, the fact that the Raiders are clearly the better team is in itself a bit disappointing. For Mariota, it will take time to gel with all those weapons. The Titans seemed to be running a more conventional offense, and while we all laughed at Mike Mularkey when he unleashed his 'exotic smashmouth' maybe that is unique enough to work better than the milquetoast offense we saw yesterday.

2.) New England Patriots  (0-1  =  27-42)

I'm not going to say anything that will come back to haunt me three months from now when they are 10-2. I'll just say this, I find it hilarious how many people suddenly discovered very real and present flaws with this team after writing serious thinkpieces on whether the 2017 Pats were better than the 2007 version. The front seven needs a good dose of Belichick coaching magic, and maybe Julian Edelmen is more important than we realize. Though I will say that after watching Sunday's action, the Patriots offensive output in the opener might be one of the 5 best offensive performances of the weekend.

1.) Seattle Seahawks  (0-1  =  9-17)

Obviously, the Seahawks have very real flaws, including the one flaw they've had during the entirety of the Russell Wilson era since 2013 in their OL, but that loss showed why the Seahawks are still so scary. Their defense is probably the league's best right now, and with Earl Thomas back that secondary is scary. The offensive line is a disaster, but the receiving core is really good and Russell Wilson is a very capable improvisor. That was a very good team losing to another very good team. It could come back to haunt Seattle in terms of playoff positioning, but no real shame is losing a close, hard-fought game to Green Bay in Lambeau.

Ranking the 1-0 Teams

15.) Buffalo Bills  (1-0  =  21-12)

Someone had to win that Jets vs. Bills game - oddly enough taking 1st place in the division in the process. The Bills are not tanking as much as the Jets or Browns are, but they did trade away a whole host of players in the offseason. The defense still has a few good players, but what may keep them somewhat competitive is the continued success of their running game. Another 190+ yards in Week 1 and the Bills are starting right where they left off last year. This is not a good team. They had probably the least impressive win of any team in Week 1.

14.) Los Angeles Rams  (1-0  =  46-9)

Out of the teams that won a game, a few that had the largest wins by point differential looked to be fairly weak overall. The Rams right now have the best point differential in the NFL, but color me a bit skeptical until they show it a few more times, especially this new competent version of Jared Goff. What is great though is that defense. Sure, a Scott Tolzein-led Colts offense may be an opponent of preseason quality, but with the history of Wade Phillips taken over teams, and the impending return of Aaron Donald, there are potentially bright futures for the Rams.

13.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-0  =  29-7)

Do you know what really stood out for the Jaguars: the influence of Tom Coughlin. Blake Bortles is still not very good. The OL is still a mess. Leonard Fournette had a nice start but you want more from the #3 pick in the draft. That all said, they showed competence. They also showed a terrifying potential on defense. I would like to see it against an actual NFL offense, but they have been drafting and signing big names on that side of the ball for years now, including finally the debut of last year's #3 overall pick Dante Fowler, Jr. They will need Bortles at some point, but that division is wide open for the taking.

12.) Denver Broncos  (1-0  =  24-21)

The Broncos defense is still really good, but the depth is just not there. I realized this when Wolfe went down for a short period of time, and also when the Chargers doubled and/or chipped Von Miller on every play. They need a good Shaq Barrett season. Siemien looked OK, but he did the same thing at the beginning of last season as well. I'll hold off judgement for a bit until they play a better defense. The Broncos defense also probably can't rely on so much blitzing as they did against San Diego.

11.) Detroit Lions  (1-0  =  35-23)

Through one game, the ROI on that Stafford mega contract is looking pretty good. He started out slow, but ended with one of the top games of the weekend against what still looks to be a good defense. The defense played better than it did last year when it somehow ranked last in defensive DVOA, but maybe that is helped by playing a suddenly ancient Carson Palmer. The Lions will go as far as Stafford takes them, but for one week he is looking like a man who deserved that money, and getting big games from Tate and Galloday will always help.

10.) Philadelphia Eagles  (1-0  =  30-17)

It's interesting that in almost every case save a couple, the team I expected to be better on the season won their Week 1 game. That makes it both hard to rank, and hard to say anything interesting. The Eagles played pretty much exactly like I expected. Their defensive line can dominate any team. Their secondary can get exposed. Their offense will depend on the odd big play. Their remade receiving core can help elevate Carson Wentz, and coupled with that defense can be a devastating combination.

9.) Atlanta Falcons  (1-0  =  23-17)

Natural regression for Atlanta's offense was somewhat inevitable. Their offense, particularly the passing game, was historically good last yeaer, and aside from teams QBed by messers Peyton, Tom and Drew,keeping up historically great for multiple years is basically impossible. But still, it was surprising to see them struggle so much against the Bears. 6 three-and-outs is a high number. They took advantage of a busted play with the deep TD to Hooper, but take that away and their production looks pretty middling. The good news is the defense played up and that pass rush can be really good, but the offense, through one week, seems to miss Shanahan quite a bit.

8.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (1-0  =  21-18)

As I mentioned in the Browns entry, that was a strange game that I came out of disliking Pittsburgh more than liking the Browns. The Steelers should not be tied 7-7 late into the 1st half with the Browns, especially when those 7 points came from a blocked punt. The Steelers struggled to get anything going if the ball wasn't targeted to Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger looked fine, but there is a clear lack of timing with him and Martavis Bryant at this point. The defense looked good, but it is hard to really judge based off of one game against a rookie QB.

7.) Carolina Panthers  (1-0  =  23-3)

Cam Newton looked like someone who has barely thrown the ball the last six months. He was better in the 2nd half and I expect him to improve. What is nice is McCaffrey had a nice game, the OL looked better, and of course, they still have that defense. That was a suffocating effort on the road, with all the patented Panthers defensive elements, like a sack by Thomas Davis and a pick by Luke Keuchly and some dominant Kawaan Short play. If Newton gets right, their ceiling is quite a bit higher than this.

6.) Baltimore Ravens  (1-0  =  20-0)

I run the risk of overreacting to the Ravens effort. Last year, they held the Bills to 7 points in the opener, and while they were a good defense all year, they weren't great. But this year seems different. That was scary from Baltimore, at all levels. The DL hounded Dalton. The linebackers were flying around the field, particularly Mosely (pick) and Suggs (sacks). The secondary blanketed a decent receiving core. The offense did next to nothing and it bears watching if that improves, but the Ravens could be the best defense in the NFL if they stay healthy.

5.) Minnesota Vikings  (1-0  =  29-19)

I'm kind of pissed the Vikings took their foot off the gas defensively late in that game. They had a good shot at holding the Saints out of hte end zone. The pressure was there all game, forcing Brees into so many dump-offs. Bradford was great, and he should always be if he gets protection. That is the key for the Vikings. It is what ruined the team last year even after their 5-0 start. It did look better in Week 1 but that could be attributed to how godawful the Saints are on defense. The receivers also looked more cohesive as a unit. The Vikings could be scary, but this could also be a fool-me-once situation.

4.) Dallas Cowboys  (1-0  =  19-3)

Of all the potential outcomes of that game, I don't know how many people would have predicted the version where the Cowboys win a low-scoring affair. The defense looks good, and the offense looks really spotty. Now, a lot of that is probably just due to the team they played, with the Giants fielding a good defense and bad offense. I do worry about Dak Prescott's ability to lead this team if the run game is not working. Even in the big comeback in the Divisional Round, Elliott had a really effective game. Maybe Prescott never has to face that scenario, but it is a question on a team with few others.

3.) Oakland Raiders  (1-0  =  26-16)

The one thing the Raiders really never did was win a comfortable game on the road against a good team. Well, in Week 1 they did that. The Titans were a trendy pick, they were favorites, and the Raiders slowly, systematically beat them in a most business-like fashion. They didn't play their best game, but their B game is good enough right now to beat a contender. You would like to see less drops from Amari Cooper, more sustained pressure, continuing improvement of their coverage, but the Raiders right now are continuing where they left off in their growth plan.

2.) Kansas City Chiefs  (1-0  =  42-27)

The Chiefs and Raiders staged a great race for the AFC West last year, and they look dead set to do it again. The Chiefs ticked off each box on Thursday. Their pass rush was good, their coverage was good. Alex Smith and that offense hummed, perfectly mixing brilliant Andy Reid creations with conventional deep balls (for once). The injury to Eric Berry is a damper, but a defense can overcome one player, especially if the offense is going to become a juggernaut.

1.) Green Bay Packers  (1-0  =  17-9)

Oddly, what I liked more about the Packers performance was their offense. Rodgers looked great, as always, but both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb looked closer to their 2014 versions than their 2015-16 vintages. Ty Montgomery looked a lot more like a natural running back. The OL held up reasonably well, as a few of the 1st half sacks were coverage related rather than quick pressure. That was an incredibly tough test, and the Packers offense effectively wore them down. The defense looks great as well, but for the Packers if their offense can click like they did in the 2nd half, it won't really matter.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Arizona Cardinals (0-1)  @  Indianapolis Colts (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
15.) Houston Texans (0-1)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)  (TNF - NFLN)

I call it "we already have bad games in Week 2?" Thursday and Sunday, like honestly these games look abjectly terrible. Two of the most interesting players on either Arizona or Indianapolis are out, likely for a while, and the Colts fanbase is in full anti-Irsay and anti-Pagano mode. That will not be a fun place on Sunday. The Bengals and Texans match up two of the teams with the worst Week 1 performances on primetime for christ sake. I'm usually on the side that TNF isn't all that bad and the level of play is more or less as good as any other week, but this is not a great start.

14.) New York Jets (0-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (1-0)  (4:05 - CBS)
13.) Cleveland Browns (0-1)  @  Baltimore Ravens (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) San Francisco 49ers (0-1)  @  Seattle Seahawks (0-1)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Things could get a bit ugly" Sunday, as we get three games were losing Week 1 teams that are expected to be bad go play either one of two teams that are expected to be good, or another that had one of the more devastating displays on defense in Week 1. All of these games have high blowout potential. In fact, at least for Oakland and Seattle, if it isn't a blowout that says a lot about those teams. They should beat the Jets and 49ers down.

11.) Miami Dolphins (0-0)  @  San Diego Chargers (0-1)  (4:05 - CBS)
10.) Chicago Bears (0-1)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Found it really odd there are teams that haven't played a game yet" Sunday, as it will annoy me for a while that even after one week not all 32 teams have played the same amount of games. It is heartening that the Buccaneers feel comfortable to play at home, but I hope they aren't rushing things back home. For Miami, it will be interesting to get a first look at Jay Cutler in live action. For the Bucs, they should win this game if they really are a matured team.

9.) Tennessee Titans (0-1)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
8.) Washington Redskins (0-1)  @  Los Angeles Rams (1-0)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "bad games I really have nothing to say about" Sunday, as I really don't have much to say about these games. The Jaguars have a great opportunity to go 2-0 for what I assume is the first time since the first Tom Coughlin era. They maybe should, honestly, with that defense. The Redskins and Rams game is just a nothing for me. I would like to see if the Wade Phillips effect continues against teams not QBed by Scott Tolzein, and also if Jared Goff can continue his good Week 1 form.

7.) Buffalo Bills (1-0)  @  Carolina Panthers (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Detroit Lions (1-0)  @  New York Giants (0-1)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "decent games I really have nothing to say about" Sunday and Monday, I also have little to say about these games, but at least seem more decent. Bills at Panthers is easily the worst of the 1-0 vs. 1-0 games, likely because the Bills are probably the worst 1-0 team. It will be good to monitor if Cam Newton looks any healthier in Week 2. The Lions could fly under the radar again this year, and the Giants should be one of the more desperate 0-1 teams in Week 2. I'm hoping OBJ plays because that Giants offense is unwatchable without him.

5.) New England Patriots (0-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Someone is gonna be 0-2 and it won't be pretty... and it will probably be the team that has been 0-2 each of the last three years," Sunday, as we get two teams that should be desperate. There has been little 'On to New Orleans' type talk from New England this week, but the Saints should be an interesting test for that New England defense. Drew Brees at home is still usually a tough test, and the last time he got New England in the Dome he had a ridiculous day in one of the best regular season games for us Pats haters. If Tom Brady struggles in this game, well we might be looking at a Peyton in 2015 2.0 type scenario.

4.) Dallas Cowboys (1-0)  @  Denver Broncos (1-0)  (4:25 - FOX)
3.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) Minnesota Vikings (1-0)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
1.) Green Bay Packers (1-0)  @  Atlanta Falcons (1-0)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "There's some good stuff in Week 2 afterall" Sunday, as we get a nice spate of intriguing 1-0 vs. 1-0 games. Cowboys and Broncos gives us the best OL and Dez against the two-time 'Best Defense in the NFL' champions. Eagles and Chiefs is a nice game with Andy Reid against his former team (and protege in Doug Pedersen), with a good test for the Chiefs reborn offense. The Steelers look to shake off some rust against a suddenly very intriguing Minnesota team. It will be good to see if their defense travels well outside that dome. Finally, a nice little NFC Championship Game rematch with the Packers potentially getting their 2nd tie-breaker type win in two weeks. Also, any game with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, et. al. is worth the price of many admissions.

Friday, September 8, 2017

NFL 2017: Season Standing Predictions

AFC East

1.) New England Patriots  =  12-4 (2)
2.) Miami Dolphins  =  7-9
3.) Buffalo Bills  =  4-12
4.) New York Jets  =  2-14

I'm hedging my bets a bit with New England with the slight chance that Brady starts to drop-off. The history of QBs at 40 is not good, and while Brady was good at 39, two recent examples in Favre and Peyton were great until they suddenly weren't. If Brady does not drop off, this team likely goes 14-2. I'm very skeptical of their defense, a group that played a tissue-soft schedule last year that helped them lead the league in points allowed despite not being that great, and that was before retirements and injuries. The rest of the division is hot garbage. Brady can become 2015 Peyton and be terrible and it still may not matter. Honestly, the Jets are basically openly tanking and the Bills are close to that themselves. Miami would be intriguing, but replacing Tannehill with a quasi-motivated Jay Cutler is a significant drop-off.

AFC North

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  13-3 (1)
2.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  9-7 (6)
3.) Baltimore Ravens  =  7-9
4.) Cleveland Browns  =  4-12

This is the opposite of hedging my bets. This is assuming Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no lasting impact with Le'Veon Bell's holdout, the receivers stay healthy and not suspended, and more The Steelers should be great. The offense should be unstoppable. They haven't had a year where they just put everything together and I think that is coming. The Bengals were better than their 6-9-1 record last year. They outscored their opponents by 10. Their offense barely had any of AJ Green or Tyler Eifert. If those guys are reasonably healthy the Bengals are a great bounce-back candidate. The Ravens may be good if their defense comes together, but I have some doubts and the amount of injuries & retirements is staggering. The Browns are finally back on the upswing, but I think they are still a year or two away.

AFC South

1.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6 (4)
2.) Indianapolis Colts  =  7-9
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  6-10
4.) Houston Texans  =  5-11

My assumption is Andrew Luck misses 4-6 games. That could be way off. Maybe he comes back in Week 2 (unlikely), maybe he misses the whole season (equally unlikely). Either way, that team is not built to win without him. The Titans are everyone's darling pick, and I get it. They were the best team in that division last year, and Marcus Mariota should improve with the new weapons around him. I was very skeptical of Mike Mularkey's 'Exotic Smashmouth' actually worked. The Jaguars are doomed as long as they hold out hope that Blake Bortles can become a good QB, and the Texans are due to have a season that more closely mirrors their actual talent level. Football Outsider's DVOA had them as the 29th best team in the NFL last year.

AFC West

1.) Oakland Raiders  =  11-5 (3)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  10-6 (5)
3.) Los Angeles Chargers  =  9-7
4.) Denver Broncos  =  7-9

The Raiders were nowhere near a 12-4 team last year. I actually think if they go 11-5, and deserve to go 11-5, it is a natural improvement for a team that still has a wide-open window. Derek Carr is back, with his bevy of weapons (I can see Jared Cook quietly having a really good year), and that defense should at the very least be healthier. The Chiefs also were not as good as a 12-4 team last year. There are exciting aspects to the team with a full year of Tyreek Hill and hopefully more health on defense, but I think they take a small step back to their more logical talent-based 10-6 level. The Chargers, if they stay healthy, can easily challenge for a wild card (or division if OAK/KC drop-off). Rivers is still really good, and I think there may be some security in the team for once with teh San Diego stadium issues behind them. Finally Denver is lost until they fix QB, and their defense has taken a lot of attrition last couple years.

NFC East

1.) New York Giants  =  10-6 (4)
2.) Philadelphia Eagles  = 10-6 (6)
3.) Dallas Cowboys  =  8-8
4.) Washington Redskins  =  6-10

It's an annual tradition, dating back to my 2010 Season Predictions, to vastly overstate the Giants talent and pick them to win 10-13 games. The closest they came to that was actually last year when they went 11-5 with one of the league's best defenses. I like the addition of Brandon Marshall and hopefully the continuing growth of Sterling Sheppard. The Eagles honestly were a good team last year that with a little bit of growth from Wentz can easily win double-digit games. I also like the addition of Jeffery to give him another weapon. I expect some fall-off from Dallas, this assumes Zeke Elliott's suspension is not overturned and he does miss 6 games. The Redskins pick is more to make the numbers work of adding all team wins to 256.

NFC North

1.) Green Bay Packers  =  12-4 (1)
2.) Minnesota Vikings  =  8-8
3.) Detroit Lions  =  7-9
4.) Chicago Bears  =  5-11

The Packers are some variation of the same team every year, and for me this is one of the better versions of the team. I like Marty B coming in as a TE. I'm good with some more stability and running back and hopefully more health on the O-Line. The division is also a little down (I think). The Vikings defense will probably fall off a bit from last year. The Lions defense is likely to get more exposed this year than last and I can't imagine the team pulling off that many 4th quarter comebacks. The Bears are still rebuilding, though it will be interesting to see if Mitch Trubisky comes in and how he does.

NFC South

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4 (2)
2.) Atlanta Falcons  =  9-7
3.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  9-7
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  7-9

This might be my most outlandish pick, but I think the Panthers continue their yo-yo-ing for a 5th year (12-4 in '13, then 7-8-1, then 15-1, then 6-10). The Panthers were better than a 6-10 team last year. They have an easy schedule. I love the addition of McCaffrey in that offense, and that defense should be healthier and I expect a lot of growth from their now 2nd year corners. Similarly, for the Falcons, I think they'll have a season that somewhat mirrors what happened to Carolina last year. There's little chance their offense is nearly that efficient again, especially with the loss of Kyle Shanahan. The Bucs are on the ascendancy but I think the schedule is slightly too hard to make it work this year. Wouldn't be surprised if they go 11-5 though. The Saints are just continuing their long cycle of 7-9ness.

NFC West

1.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-3 (3)
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  10-6 (5)
3.) Los Angeles Rams  =  6-10
4.) San Francisco 49ers  =  3-13

The Seahawks, much like the Packers, are more or less the same team each year now. As their defensive players age we may see some drop-off (certainly did last year, though a lot of that was losing Earl Thomas), and we also saw a mediocre Russell Wilson. It may not be so start this time around, but I don't see them being much better this year. I expect the Cardinals to have a nice bounce-back season as well. They too weren't as bad as a 7-8-1 team. The Rams defense should be great given Wade Phillips track record (assuming Aaron Donald comes back) but that offense is a disaster. The 49ers are in the beginning of a lengthy rebuild process.


Wild Card Weekend

(A4) TEN beats (A5) KC 20-17
(A3) OAK beats (A6) CIN 31-20
(N5) ARZ beats (N4) NYG 23-20
(N3) SEA beats (N6) PHI 23-10

Divisional Weekend

(A1) PIT beats (A4) TEN 34-17
(A3) OAK beats (A2) NE 27-24
(N1) GB beats (N5) ARZ 30-24
(N2) CAR beats (N3) SEA 23-17

Championship Sunday

(A1) PIT beats (A3) OAK 30-23
(N2) CAR beats (N1) GB 27-23

Super Bowl XLIII

(N2) CAR beats (A1) PIT 28-21

Tuesday, September 5, 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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Random Musings on London

I've spent the last two days traipsing around London, getting to spend Memorial Day weekend in the city after going for work. Instead of a full review as I've done for other cities/vacations, I'm going to do this rambling style. There's a few reasons for that, one of which is that's how I reviewed the city the last time I went in 2010 - in the blog's infancy. I've flown through it once since, but haven't left Heathrow until now. Without further ado, here come some piping hot London taeks:

* Driving in London is abhorrently inefficient. Like absurdly so. For many reasons. First off, the roads are never straight, rarely more than one lane on each side, and the traffic lights seem to have no sense of coordination, meaning so often you get a green and then 100 feet later are stuck on a red. Second, and maybe most important, the drivers are awful. Complete lack of decision-making, such timid drivers, often taking up lanes when trying to turn. It all adds up to making seemingly short drives by distance into an aggravating series of stops and starts. Uber, luckily, is quite cheap, but going around by cab in London is just a nightmare even during non-rush hours (late night).

* Not all of these will be anti-London, but I find a lot of it a bit annoying. Their bars and clubs close way too early (to be fair, I'm a bit biased spending so much time in New York), and there were multiple places in Shoreditch, the trendy, hipster area I stayed in, that didn't allow single entry, which is some 3rd world shit. These weren't exclusive clubs. These were normal bars and lounges. In a city like London, places like that should trust their cache and clientele to allow single entry.

* Some positives, walking around London streets is about as good a time-waster as anything. The streets are lined with picturesque buildings, ornate decorations, good greenery, classical style architecture, and a good variety of designs. London streets are so much nicer than other big cities its size (mostly comparing it to the US and/or Canada - Toronto - here).  The city is stunning at times. My favorite part of the trip really was the walk from Abbey Road Studios to the British Museum and then to Parliament via Buckingham Palace. A never-ending series of surprises of varying aesthetic perfection.

* The British Museum was the highlight of my Sunday in London, a truly mesmerizing place. I probably could have spent twice as much time there as I did. The collection is that vast. Now, it should be said the collections aren't without controversy, as a lot of it made its way back to England at a time where the old British Empire raped and pillaged the world with impunity (might be a slight exaggeration), but if you look past that you see how incredible the collection is. The gems are probably the collection of Egyptian and Greek artifacts, statues and friezes, especially the Egyptian collection of statues, mummies and of course the Rosetta Stone. I spent a good three hours in the musuem, trying to see everything I could and I'm sure I missed a lot of good stuff still.

* The other site I visited in depth was the Royal Albert Hall, with a guided tour of that gem of a concert hall. There was a performance rehearsal going on, which lended a great atmosphere to the tour, including getting a first hand listen to the brilliant acoustics and facility that the English built in honor of Price Albert. The tour nicely covered both the history of the building, the way the hall could transform to hosting concerts, orchestra, ballet, plays, sumo wrestling, tennis and everything in between. It also included a trip to the Queen's Box and Queen's waiting room, which was furnished as aggressively regal as you would expect.

* My meals ranged from small and eclectic (brunch at 100 Hoxton in Shoreditch), to very fancy and exquisite (the tasting menu at Kitchen W8 in Kensington, a Michelin starred joint), to a mix of both (the dining hall at Harrod's - overpriced but you know what you're getting into). London is a food-lovers paridise, and the prices are no higher than New York (lower in many ways). Still, the cuisine often has to involve another ethnic influence (for example, Korean at 100 Hoxton), or be close to gourmet for it to work.

* I don't want this to come across badly, but the best part of London may be how accessible the airport is from the city. Having the Heathrow Express is such a luxury. Heathrow itself has improved quite a bit from my last visit, especially since I wasn't at Terminal 5 and didn't get to judge it at its best.

* Overall, it was a nice trip to London. Surely I was not planning to go, so when your flight and most of the lodging gets taken care of its changes perceptions. However, with some combination of cliched London weather, the inefficiency of driving around, the more inefficient Tube (rides take WAY too long - and that is with it working well), and its strange existence trapped between honoring the past like the great European cities and heading forward like a New York, I will say I am in no rush to go back. I now work for a company HQed in London so may be back again, but outside the trappings of a work trip, I'm not sure when I would make a trip back to London.

Trip Review, Serbia & Croatia, Pt. 3


Split forms a very interesting middle ground between Dubrovnik, a largely untouched tourist dream of a small city, and Zagreb, a bustling, Metropolis that loses some of the Coastal Croatian charm. Split is the middle ground. It has a large, if a bit too touristy (more on that in a minute) old town area that borders the waters, and a larger, bustling city center that is more or less charmless when walking through it - though nice looking from afar. Split is also close to a ton of different day trip destinations, including one of the more popular ones, a trip to the Island of Hvar, which we did on our last full day.

Split's old town is similarly structured to Dubrovnik, with a few key differences. First, it is mostly flat, as opposed to the quite high-banking topography of Dubrovnik. The old town is larger, with more shops and stalls, hiding a lot of gems around tourist attractions. The main open square is littered with restaurants with a bevy of outdoor seating. I stopped by one for a beer and appetizer one day. The food was good, but the view of people passing by was even better. It reminded me a lot of Krakow's main square. The old town also housed one of the best burgers I've had outside of the US, Mama's Burger Bar, nestled in a corner of one of the secondary squares.

The main attractions in the old town are St. Michael's Cathedral and the Dionecylsian Palace. Both well worth visiting. The Palace is more open and unstructured than most 'palaces' in Europe, but had some really good sightlines. The Cathedral was fairly ornate inside, but the real crown jewel was the Bell Tower that came with the ticket. The Bell Tower had a fair amount of steps that ranged between either really high (a good foot between steps), or narrow (for a 2-way staircase), but at the top was an incredible 360 degree view of the city. The only better view of Split came from the lookouts up Marjan Park. It is a decent little hike, with a truly spectacular view at the top.

Our dining in Split was more off the cuff than in Dubrovnik, with nothing approaching 360 Restaurant in scale and taste. Our best meal (other than the Burger place) was at one of the local Konoba's (restaurant in Croatian) that dot the outside of the old town. This one was a small, cozy little shop, but hid a good menu with great plating and good taste. I had squid ink risotto with octopus and a dish that consisted of roughly 40 grilled anchovies, each cooked well. The place also had local Croatian alcohols available for ~$4 per drink - make no mistake we had a few. Nightlife in Split is every bit as crazy as Dubrovnik, and if anything more varied with more options. The first night we spent it beach-side going to Bacvice Club, which is more of a large bar on the beach - something quite familiar to beach-side spots across the world. The other was Vanilla Club, with a DJ and laser lights and a great atmosphere with just enough breeze coming in from teh water. Vanilla Club lasted until 5AM, at least that's when we left. Who knows how much longer it goes to?

Split on the whole is a trumped-up version of Dubrovnik, a little more glitzy, a little more cliched in terms of catering to toursits. It also isn't as idyllic. But within the city is hidden a beautiful old town, great cozy restaurants and clubs to keep you dancing the night away. It is right up there with any Eastern European city, especially when you add in the bevy of day trips that chart out of its harbor and roads.

Lake Plitvice

Our last full day of the trip was centered around Lake Plitvice, a crown jewel of Croatia's vast, mostly empty, interior. The Lake is about three-and-a-half hours away from Split, mostly through winding roads up and downs hills and mountains with spectacular views of vast expanse of Croatian mountainside - an tableau far more impressive in scale and beauty than I imagined. It was a tough drive, mainly due to me being on little sleep after we were up until 5AM at Vanilla Club the day before. We made one pit-stop on the drive, to the random town of Neoric, in the middle of nowhere. We stopped there because we thought there was a cafe to get breakfast. It wasn't, it was a cafe that was mostly a bar, filled with the town locals in this random place. They didn't have food. The nearest restaurant they said was in a town a good 20 minutes away. They did have coffee, they were all mostly already drinking at 11AM on a Saturday. You got the feeling that most of the town was in that bar.

We finally reached Lake Plitvice around 2PM. They have a few different walking tour options, ranging from 3-8 hours (the higher gets you a tour of the entire Lake area). We picked a three hour option, and I think it was mostly perfect. The walking tour is well maintained, with alternating paths of wooden planks over and around lakes, and dirt paths up and down little hills. Each area gives you incredible views of lakes, waterfalls, forests, and expanse of Croatian beauty:

Lake Plitvice is in the middle of nowhere, but its quality more than establishes itself as a central destination in the tour of Croatia. The Lake also seemed to be the catalyst for everything going on in that region, including a host of roadside house-turned-restaurants that dot Highway 1 leading away from the Lake.

Lake Plitvice is a fascinating place, that combines the blue turquoise, pristine waters of the Caribbean, with the picturesque waterfalls of the rainforests, with the trees and forestation surrounding the lakes reminescent of Lake Louise and Banff National Park in Canada. Truly a mesmerizing combination.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trying to Get Up for NFL 2017

I started this blog in 2009. I had a few reasons for doing so, but the real driver, the catalyst for the entire thing, was to have a place to write about my thoughts on the NFL. It was the sport at that time in my life I cared about more than any other. I wanted a place to express my opinions, on who the best teams were, on what the real best players were, on how wins for QBs were useless, on how Manning was better than Brady, and on who I thought would win each week. Eight years later, more than anything else football has owned this blog. And for the first time, I think that isn't true.

In 2009-2011, I wrote a lot about football. In 2012, it went to a new level, for a few reasons. First, I got a job early that football season and could essentially relax and write more. Second, it was Manning's first year back from injury and was probably the last year I was truly invested week to week. Third, it was the year I started betting on football. Not a lot, not enough to where I was risking bankruptcy, but betting all the same. That year I started writing a piece each week called 'The Power Rankings & the Rest' where I not only ranked each of the 32 teams, but also ranked the games in the upcoming week. It was the apex of my love of the game.

Five years later, I have hit the nadir. I honestly have to work myself up to care about the upcoming season. I had a fantasy draft today in a league filled with friends who I knew back in the pre-blog days, where I would use our lunch table to expound on the game the same way I would on this site. In that draft, I caught myself numerous times thinking "who is this guy?" or "he plays for that team?" These are questions I wouldn't be asking myself even last year. For instance, I had no idea that Pierre Garcon now played for the 49ers. I would be stricken with fear if I didn't know this 10 years ago.

I wrote multiple times during the last season how my interest was waning, and that was true. The largest story for me was the rise of the Raiders, rekindling a love for my first football wife. The Patriots ended up winning the Super Bowl, in excruciating fashion, a game I did not watch, though mostly because I did not care to see the Patriots win another Super Bowl in ridiculously close fashion. Last year was the start of a new era, where I cared more about other things on Sundays, where I tried to follow European Football more closely (Hala Madrid!). I tried to avoid thinking about the NFL, which I knew was in a post-Peyton world. Sadly it was not yet in a post-Brady world.

I shouldn't say my lack of interest is totally due to the continuing dominant presence of the Patriots. Certainly, they were a dynasty from 2001-2007, a period where my interest in the sport only grew. Strangely, in that period, the Patriots owned my team, while I at least can take solace over the last handful of years, the Mannings have had more positive results against New England than anyone else. No, it isn't really just the continued brillaince of New England. It is also not just Peyton leaving. It is a whole era of players leaving.

My favorite games that I've ever seen were probably from the 2006-2009 timeframe, maybe add in 2011-13. It is stunning how few of the players who played in those games are still left. I know the NFL has a quicker, faster turnover than most sports, but still, when I load up the 2011 NFC Championship Game (NYG vs. SF), I am startled by how few of those players are still in the game today. Maybe it is a sign of age, but when all the good players are younger than you, or at most five years older (Rodgers), it makes you re-evaluate things.

I will never not love the NFL in an intrisnic, almost unconditional way. The strategy, the physicality, the settings, the beautiful tapestry it has woven across America. All those things resonate with me. But from a day-to-day following the league, well that has stopped. Maybe I'm stupid to live in the past, to spin up the 2007 NFC Championship Game and revel in a setting a decade ago, but that was the NFL I remember, not the game it is now where each QB is worth the highest salary in the league and each one throws for 4,000 yards unless they get hurt. I grew up in a very different league. The fundamentals may still be the same, but the result is not.

Ever since the Pats epic comeback, I've thought a lot about this upcoming season. On how I could better use my Sundays. On what the NFL really means to me. On if there is a path forward in my life as a sports fan without the NFL being a central element. And at least for one off-season there was. I didn't follow Free Agency at all. I only extremely tangentially followed the draft. I barely cared about training camps or preseasons. Again, I honestly did not know a lot of the offseason transactions around the league. And you know what... it's made me actually get excited for the season to come.

I have no doubt my love for the NFL has peaked and reached its plateau years ago. I think it ended its high period in 2015, when somehow the Broncos stole the #1 seed and won the Super Bowl, and the other conference was full of incredibly fun teams like Carolina and Arizona. Maybe it one day comes back. In some ways, it hurts that I am something of an NFL free agent. I still love the Raiders, my first true NFL love. Manning is gone, and I've come to realize my ties the Colts were tenuous at best - I care far more about the Colts fans, specifically the ones I came to know on 18to88.com, or StampedeBlue and Colts Authority, rather than the actual team. A man without a direction is not a good position to be in as an NFL fan.

Ultimately, come Sunday, September 10th, I'll probably still care (I'm going to avoid New England's opener like the plague), but I definitely won't care as much. I won't care enough for it to rule my Sunday's starting at 12:55 PM EST. I won't care enough to waste hours during the week scouring ProFootballTalk. And I feel for the first time, I won't care enough that the Patriots seemingly inevitable romp to a 6th Super Bowl won't impact my life too much. In reality, this is a better position to be in, but it does ultimately feel like something is missing. No matter how much I say my football loving phase is in the rear-view mirror, it truly won't ever escape me/. 

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.