Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 4 Power Rankings & The Rest

The Power Rankings

The "That Escalated Quickly" Uno

32.) Chicago Bears (0-3  =  46-105)

The fire-sale has begun, but this is the rare fire sale where they aren't even getting anything back. The Bears are just a disaster right now, especially while Jay Cutler is out. The rare times he leaves makes you realize that for all his faults, Jay Cutler is better than Caleb Hanie (2011), or Jimmy Clausen. Good on the defense for showing up at least.

The "Remember Week 2, That was Fun!" Trio

31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-2  =  49-91)
30.) Cleveland Browns  (1-2  =  58-72)
29.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-2  =  49-80)

All three teams won in Week 2 in wins that gave quite a nice outlook, but a week later maybe don't look nearly as good. For the Browns, the Week 2 win was legitimate, but it just underscores how weird the decision was to move back to Josh McCown. For the Jags and Buccaneers, maybe the teams they beat in Week 2 are just bad. The Dolphins are a mess right now, and the Saints were with a partially injured Drew Brees. All three may have a future because of their young QBs, but these are the lumps you have to live through.

The "Remember 2012, That was Really Fun!" Trio

28.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-2  =  45-93)
27.) Washington Redskins  (1-2  =  55-59)
26.) Houston Texans  (1-2  =  56-60)

Let's go back to 2012 for a second. The Texans started out 11-1. The 49ers made the Super Bowl with a QB that was so exciting it made Ron Jaworski call him the most talented QB of all time. The Redskins had an ever more exciting offense and finished the season 7-1 to win the division for the first time since the 20th Century. Well, three years later things have gone to shit everywhere. The 49ers have reached the true bottom - even stranger since their Week 1 win was a reasonably good facsimile of a Harbaugh-era win. The Redskins had a nice two-day period where people called them a trendy NFC East pick (of course, that still may be in play). Finally, the Texans are winning the most ugly games possible, and apart from JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins have nothing going for them. Things move really quickly in the NFL.

The "Two Teams Trying to Play a Style that they need the QB from the Third Team to Play" Trio

25.) Philadelphia Eagles  (1-2  =  58-63)
24.) Tennessee Titans  (1-2  =  89-77)
23.) Miami Dolphins  (1-2  =  51-74)

The Titans have Marcus Mariota, who has looked really good playing a style that is incongruous to what he was doing in college. He was tasked with being a more conventional drop-back QB, and look what we have here: a good conventional QB. Of course, the Eagles apparently wanted to trade for him because he fits Chip Kelly's system, seemingly. And the Dolphins are trying to use a lot of Kelly's system in their team with Bill Lazor as offensive coordinators. I'm sure Miami outwardly would say they are fine with Tannehill, but they too would love to trade for Mariota. Of course the irony is the one team that Mariota is the team people felt shouldn't draft him because he doesn't fit the drop-back passer which Whisenhunt wants... and he's doing just fine.

The "Surprising 0-3 Parade" Trio

22.) New Orleans Saints  (0-3  =  60-84)
21.) Detroit Lions  (0-3  =  56-83)
20.) Baltimore Ravens  (0-3  =  70-84)

Seems like Drew Brees is coming back this week. Of course, the team looked not much worse without him, but it looks like Brees was injured for a lot of the Week 2 loss. The Saints haven't lost badly in any game. The Ravens really haven't lost badly in any game and are about just 10 plays away from 3-0. Of course, they've had to do ridiculous things to get there, like blitz all the time, sign Jason Babin, and hope Steve Smith can continue this for 16 games... and they're still 0-3. As for the Lions, who knows man? They still look competent in every area but they've struck me now for years as far less than the sum of their parts.

The "Week 1 Stars" Duo

19.) St. Louis Rams  (1-2  =  50-67)
18.) San Diego Chargers  (1-2  =  66-83)

Both teams looked excellent in Week 1. Both teams had a competitive loss. Both teams had a disastrous loss. Neither team is really that good, but both teams have the potential to be so much better. I wouldn't be shocked if either makes the playoffs, but I'll be less shocked if both finish 7-9.

The "Mid-Tier Somewhat Fun Teams" Trio

17.) Oakland Raiders  (2-1  =  77-86)
16.) New York Giants  (1-2  =  78-72)
15.) Kansas City Chiefs  (1-2  =  79-89)

This is by far the most fun Raiders team since 2002. They probably aren't as good as the 2010 team, or even the 2011 team at its best, but there's real hope. Amari Cooper is really good. Derek Carr is looking better. The defense has Khalil Mack. Pieces are there. Pieces are there for the Giants and Chiefs, but unlike Oakland those pieces don't stand to get too much better in the coming years. Both teams have strong points that will keep them competitive, but their windows are closing and the Raiders may pass them silently in that night.

The "Teams that are just OK" Duo

14.) New York Jets  (2-1  =  68-41)
13.) Indianapolis Colts  (1-2  =  56-80)

Not much to say here, let's just move along form the 7th and 8th best AFC teams.

The "I Know How You Feel" Duo

12.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-1  =  75-75)
11.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (2-1  =  76-52)

The Cowboys were 2-0 with Tony Romo and looked like a team that could compete at full strength with any in teh NFL. The Steelers were on the way to 2-1 with their one loss looking better and better by the week. Then both teams had their QB go down and it all went away. Both are lucky in that their QB is going to come back at some point. The Cowboys even luckier that they play in the NFC East. But both teams had a potential to get a first round bye and that is now gone.

The "Surprises and the Favorite" Quinto

10.) Minnesota Vikings  (2-1  =  60-50)
9.) Buffalo Bills  (2-1  =  100-68)
8.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-0  =  89-72)
7.) Seattle Seahawks  (1-2  =  74-61)
6.) Carolina Panthers  (3-0  =  71-48)

The Vikings are making a good case that Week 1 was a fluke; but Teddy better start actually playing better at some point. The Bills have shown that the offense is for real, but the defense has to be consistent each game. The Falcons are just good, but they have to stop falling behind in every game (and maybe reduce Julio Jones' workload at some point). The Seahawks showed that a little Kam goes a long way, but there are issues with that offense that people shouldn't overlook just because they made Jimmy Clausen look like Jimmy Clausen. And the Panthers have lost another key contributor, but have a great coaching staff and a Cam Newton that is intent on taking a leap. All five teams are good. All five could / should make the playoffs. All five have some key that error that would not make them a playoff favorite.

The "Two AFC Fighters" Duo

5.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-0  =  85-56)
4.) Denver Broncos  (3-0  =  74-49)

This is the fight for 2nd place in the AFC. Both teams have a good, solid footing in the division. The Bengals best competition is a team that will now be QBed by Michael Vick for 4-6 games. That is a perfect opportunity ot build an ever larger lead. If they stay healthy, they have one of the best rosters in the NFL. The Broncos have that argument as well (apart from O-Line), and if they can get a run game at all, they are really dangerous. The Broncos best competition, by the way, by record is the Raiders right now. Both will ultimately be sacrificed to Lord Belichick, but it is fun for now, I guess.

The "Let's Just Go To Week 16 Now" Duo

3.) Arizona Cardinals  (3-0  =  126-49)
2.) Green Bay Packers  (3-0  =  96-68)

Packers @ Cardinals; Week 16. Sign me up now. The Packers offense is incredible - the Cardinals offense in reality has been as good. The Cardinals are off to one of the best 3-0 starts in history. The Packers offense is showing again that if they get the #1 seed, there's no team out there that can run with them at Lambeau. The NFC has been on the whole a relative disappointment this year, but they have two damn strong horses leading the pack.

The "Just Give them the Fucking Lombardi Now Already" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (3-0  =  119-70)

I mean really. Why play the next 16 weeks.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes:  Tennessee Titans (1-2), New England Patriots (3-0)

Once again, the games are pretty bad this week. I don't know what it is about this season so far. Obviously the loss of Romo and Roethlisberger makes two good teams less interesting, but even though I like a lot of the storylines in the league right now, the slate the past two weeks has been garbage. Looking ahead, things do get slightly better the next few weeks, particularly in Week 6.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)  @  Washington Redskins (1-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
14.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (1-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The Winner May Actually be in First Place?" Sunday, as yes, assuming the Saints beat a Romo-less Dallas team, and the Falcons beat the Texans, the winner of these two games will be at worst tied for first place. If the Colts win, then it will be more like a good course correction. If it is either Philadelphia or Washington, then look out. For the loser of that NFC East battle, life at 1-3 won't even be too bad as they'll likely be just one game out!

13.) Oakland Raiders (2-1)  @  Chicago Bears (0-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Cleveland Browns (1-2)  @  San Diego Chargers (1-2)  (4:05 - CBS)
11.) Carolina Panthers (3-0)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it 'Meh' Sunday, as really, who gives a damn about these three games. There's a few interesting notes. The Raiders can start 3-1 for the first time since 2002, and them being favorites on the road is news by itself. The Panthers can stat 4-0 for the first time since 2003, though it will be a pretty unimpressive 4-0. As for Browns and Chargers, I have nothing interesting to say about that game.

10.) Houston Texans (1-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (3-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Green Bay Packers (3-0)  @  San Francisco 49ers (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Testing the 3-0's" Sunday, as the Falcons and Packers get interesting test. The Falcons face a team in Houston that should really test their new-found offensive line prowess. Of course, their defense will roast on that Mallet-led offense, but the Falcons offense vs. the Texans front is a good matchup. For Green Bay, they get a chance to lay a cathartic victory on San Francisco. Back in 2012-13, the 49ers beat the Packers four straight times, going 2-0 in each building, and winning with different QBs. Only the final game was particularly close. Now, the roles are completely reversed.

8.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
7.) Baltimore Ravens (0-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "How to get on-track? Beat a back-up QB" Thursday and Monday, as the weekend begins and ends with an 0-3 team looking to win their first game against a good opponent forced to play their backup QB. The Saints and Ravens should count themselves lucky. They likely lose if it is Romo and Roethlisberger in there, but alas it is almost like the NFL fixed that to give those sad 0-3 teams a chance to build some kind of momentum. Weird stat, Roethlisberger has missed 17 regular season games in his career. Somehow, seven of them have come against Baltimore, with the Ravens going 5-2 in those games.

6.) New York Jets (2-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-2)  (9:30AM - CBS)

I call it "London again asks, is this really the NFL?" Sunday, as we get a nice early morning treat, and I use treat in the loosest sense of the word. On paper, this looked like a competent matchup, but the Dolphins have been anything but competent the last two weeks. It might seriously help them that after that disaster last Sunday they get to play a 'home' game 4,000 miles from home.

5.) St. Louis Rams (1-2)  @  Arizona Cardinals (3-0)  (4:25 - FOX)
4.) Detroit Lions (0-3)  @  Seattle Seahawks (1-2)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "Games That May Just Be a Little More Competitive Than They Look" Sunday, as we get two seemingly one sided matchups, with the Cardinals and Seahawks facing lesser teams, at home no less, but the opponent has a chance. The Rams have the front to seriously dent the Cardinals deep-pass offense.The Lions have a team that is capable of shutting down the Seahawks offense with their ability to cover TEs. It probably won't happen, but I'm really trying hard to hype these games up this weekend.

3.) New York Giants (1-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (2-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
1.) Minnesota Vikings (2-1)  @  Denver Broncos (3-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Thankfully, There are Actual Good Games" Sunday, as we get three games that generally are good. The Giants and Bills is a fascinating matchup. We get that solid Giants offense against the Bills stout defense; the Giants opportunistic defense against a Bills team that may turn over the ball. The Giants get Victor Cruz back just in time to play a team with a deep secondary. The Giants are better than 1-2, so this is an even matchup. The Chiefs are also probably better than 1-2 and get to play Cincinnati. The Bengals started last season out at 3-0, too, before getting smacked by New England. Let's see if they can finally do a 4-0. And finally, another round of the 'Manning, the Septuagenarian QB' chronicles!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Can't We Appreciate Things

Later today, on Saturday, September 26th, 2015, in a meaningless late-season game between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, two teams that are not making the playoffs (it is, for the Giants, an odd-numbered year after all), a lot of the National baseball-loving community will be placing their eyes and attention on the ongoings at the Coliseum. Why, because for one last time, we can see Tim Hudson and Barry Zito on the same field.

Sure, it is a marketing ploy, sure it is a meaningless game with the matchup to serve fan interest, but I love it. Millions of baseball fans love it. Barry Zito is not an MLB-caliber starting pitcher. Tim Hudson is about to retire. But 15 years ago, they were teammates, they were titans, they were leading the charge of the early-00's Oakland A's. Behind the scenes of a Moneyball and OBP-loving front office was three great pitchers who were the #1, #2 and #3 reason the Giants made the playoffs every year from 2000-2003. Now, we get to celebrate that one last time. Baseball cares about tradition, it cares about remembering these glorious days past. I love everything about the spectacle of Zito vs. Hudson. I just wonder why can't football have a similar sense of remembrance and joy.

Let's look at exactly what Zito and Hudson represents. They represent the two lasting memories of a small-market team that rose up and for four straight years made the playoffs. They also, almost as notably, lost every year in the playoffs in the ALDS. The first two times it was to the Yankees, a team no one beat back then. But then it was to the Twins, and finally the Red Sox. The A's went 0-4 in playoff series - and while that is a common retort for Billy Beane haters, no one cares. No one is calling Hudson and/or Zito chokers or the whole spectacle of their matchup something that celebrates failure. Because baseball doesn't care. But football does.

As with most things, it comes back to Manning. Peyton Manning's team is 2-0 right now. His team just went on the road, against a division rival, to play a Thursday Night game. The last time the team he faced had a home prime-time game, they beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots 41-14. The Chiefs took a quick 14-0 lead, against a Manning-led offense that looked completely ruined. But then it happened... Manning happened. He slowly brought them back. He tied the game with a patented 2:00 drive, which ended with a perfectly thrown, perfectly weighted and perfectly arced pass to Emmanuel Sanders. The defense, that great defense, finished off the comeback, but it was another patented Peyton Manning game - and no one seemed to care. Why? Because Manning sucks right now, of course.

We can't appreciate an all-time great in his waning years. Everyone is taking Manning's drop in play this season to spin that into their own thinking. We've seen pieces on why Manning should retire. We've seen pieces on why this proves Manning is worse than Brady, or that Manning is hurting his team, or that his team is ruined. No, we can't appreciate a guy who clearly is physically lacking still playing well enough to win football games. But we've never been able to appreciate anything about Peyton Manning - because in football you can't appreciate anything except for the playoffs.

Obviously, incredible seasons can outweigh the playoffs, like how Manning's '04 and '13 seasons will last despite playoff losses where his teams scored single-digit points. But what about his 2012 season. In March, 2012, Peyton Manning was cut by the Colts. He basically built the Colts. He basically increased Jim Irsay's net-worth ten-fold, but now he was unemployed. In his press conference, he fought back tears and said 'no one loves playing football more than me.' He worked so hard to come back from those neck surgeries, from being so bad at throwing a ball Todd Helton cried when watching him, and he returned. And not only did he return, but in his first year back with a new team and new set of teammates and coaches, he was the best QB in the NFL and his team was the best team in the regular season. And then his team lost a playoff game because a safety decided not to play safety and none of it mattered.

Why can't that stuff matter in football? Why are we so beholden to the postseason that basically for the last five or so year's of Peyton Manning's career, no matter how well he plays, the response from the media is 'none of it matters until January'. No, that is incorrect. September through December matters, and if anything it should matter more.

In baseball, October matters, sure, but so does April to September. Baseball is the only American sport where the regular season is more important. It is almost guaranteed most baseball fans can more easily name the league MVPs from 2005-2010 than the World Series MVPs in those seasons (Joe Crede, David Eckstein, Mike Lowell, Pat Burrell, Hideki Matsui, Cody Ross). Baseball has it right, it learned how to care about October, but realize that the long slog through the regular season is more important. That's why there are no 'Is Madison Bumgarner better than Clayton Kershaw' arguments. That is why we can celebrate Tim Hudson and Barry Zito resembling a team that won in April and won in September, and didn't win in October.

NFL 2015: Week 3 Picks

Week 2: 8-8

Year-to-Date: 16-15-1

Washington Redskins (1-1)  @  New York Giants (0-2)  (NYG -3)

In 2013, I was god awful at picking Thursday games. In 2014, I was far better. So far I'm 1-0 in true Thursday games and I think I have a good handle on this one. There is a common strategy to take 0-2 teams in their third game when they are either a team that is in a weak division where they still have good playoff chances, or a team that was expected to be competitive or good and has struggled early. The Giants really fit both criteria, as with the Romo injury everyone is back in play in the NFC East. The Giants are better than Washington. I don't care about the random praise they've gotten after two games, the Redskins are still the Redskins - and Kirk Cousins is still Kirk Cousins. There is good value here for the home team on a short week.

Redskins 17  Giants 27  (NYG -3)

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)  @  New England Patriots (2-0)  (NE -14)

The Patriots are not good at covering really high lines, being just 11-23 at this in the Brady era, including the '07 season. They generally win these games, but covering one-third of the time is not a good trend. Maybe it is a back-door cover, maybe a Patriots team looking ahead to their bye, maybe just a slow performance, much like their game last year in Week 3 as a double-digit favorite against the Raiders. I'm not going against history here.

Jaguars 17  Patriots 31  (JAX +14)

Oakland Raiders (1-1)  @  Cleveland Browns (1-1)  (CLE -3.5)

One of these teams will be 2-1! One of these teams will have some hot-taek-artist write about how they are going to be a surprise contender for the entire season. Of course, none of that really will come to pass because both teams at best are 1-2 years away. Still, this is an interesting game. Both teams lost badly in Week 1, and then won in Week 2. The Raiders beat a seemingly good Baltimore team in a close game, and the Browns beat a likely worse Titans team in a comfortable win. The Raiders have to fly out east, but I don't like the move back to Josh McCown. I'll go with the Raiders, but I'm not really confident here.

Raiders 20  Browns 16  (OAK +3.5)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)  @  Houston Texans (0-2)  (HOU -7)

This line doesn't make sense. The Texans are 0-2, losing both games that were not as close as the score indicates. They've played two QBs so far and neither have been good. I guess Mallet is getting the start here, but he looked like a disaster. I think the line is still overplaying the Buccaneers putrid Week 1 performance. They were good in the Dome. If the line was closer to 4 I would probably go with the 'desperate' Texans who are still just one game back in division, but this line is really bad value for the Texans. I also like the Buccaneers defense against a Texans team that struggles to go deep. We just saw what happened when Mallet played a team that ran a lot of zone and the results were awful.

Buccaneers 17  Texans 20  (TB +7)

Atlanta Falcons (2-0)  @  Dallas Cowboys (2-0)  (ATL -2)

Man, if Romo was healthy this would have been a really nice game. The only game between two teams at 2-0, a game with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and Romo and Witten, et. al. Of course, with Romo out and Weeden in and Cassel lurking in the shadows, the game's draw has cratered. The Falcons have matchups advantages on offense all over the place (no one on Dallas can really stop Julio Jones). They have a chance here to make a statement. A team that wants to shoot up and compete for a Super Bowl doesn't drop a game like this to Brandon Weeden. I think the Cowboys will survive without Romo, much like the Packers did without Rodgers in 2013, but even that Packers team started the Rodgers-less era struggling.

Falcons 27  Cowboys 16  (ATL -2)

Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)  @  New York Jets (2-0)  (NYJ -2.5)

This line changed about 5 points from before Week 2. Now, that is partially an overreaction to the Jets defense looking dominant on Monday, and the Eagles offense looking the inverse on Sunday. The Jets defense can really exacerbate the issues the Eagles offense is currently facing. The Eagles o-line is playing awful... well the Jets have one of the best d-lines in the NFL. The Eagles passing game is relying heavily on YAC and short crossers... well the Jets have a set of well-tackling linebackers. On the other side, the Eagles defense is reasonably good, but they have no one to really cover the Jets outside players. As bad as it looked last week, this is a worse matchup. Maybe the desperation principle will hold, but a low line for a team with all the matchup edges seems too clear to pass up.

Eagles 16  Jets 23  (NYJ -2.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)  @  St. Louis Rams (1-1)  (PIT -2)

This may be the best game of the early slate. A lot of interesting matchups. The Rams dominant front that plays up at home against the Steelers offense. The return of Le'Veon Bell. The Rams fire-away offense against that psychotic Steelers defense. I really have no idea what to expect, and for either team, a 2-1 start is so much better than 1-2. The Steelers have struggled in these types of spots, and I can see them starting off slowly here. The only question is whether the Rams pass rush can hold up and win against a good Steelers offensive line. Personally, I like the Rams side a little more and people may overstate how bad they were in Week 2, a game that came down to essentially two big runs.

Steelers 20  Rams 24  (STL +2)

Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (IND -3.5)

The Colts may be many things right now, a team with a coach vs. GM feud, a team that has significant flaws on both sides, a team with a QB who is starting to feel heat for the first time in his career. That all said, they lost to two teams with good defenses that played well, and if Vinatieri doesn't miss a 30-yard field goal and if Frank Gore doesn't fumble at the 1-yard line they probably beat the Jets. The Colts have dominated the AFC South, going 6-0 in division for each of the past two years. If they lose this game, to a rookie QB when they have to win, then we have serious problems. I would have loved the line a -2.5, but even Vegas knows that the Colts still are the better team and the desperate team and they just own that division.

Colts 34  Titans 20  (IND -3.5)

San Diego Chargers (1-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-1)  (MIN -2)

Potentially fun game, and more than that potentially a game that can end in 120 minutes. The Chargers have long drives and Philip Rivers is basically deciding to stop throwing incompletions. The Vikings run the ball a lot and also have a lot of long drives. This is a really hard game to pick as we have two teams that nicely stack up as potential 2nd-tier contenders in their respective conferences. The game will really come down to whether the Vikings front that showed up in Week 2 shows up again. Rivers struggles with pressure up the middle, and the Vikings have the tackles to impart some of that pressure. I think the Vikings will impart that pressure; and I think they'll also run it well enough with Peterson to limit the possessions and take the game.

Chargers 20  Vikings 24  (MIN -2)

New Orleans Saints (0-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-0)  (CAR -8)

I hate this game now with Brees out. It is a complete stay-away for me. I hate when the line reacts so heavily to a QB being out. The Saints are not a good team, especially so with Brees out, but the Panthers are not built to blow teams out on the regular. They have the ability, and the defense can squeeze a McCown led Saints team big time, but it is hard to have confidence in that. I'll take the Saints to cover in a loss, but I wouldn't bet this game for any money as I really have no idea how they'll react to that loss.

Saints 13  Panthers 20  (NO +8)

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0)  @  Baltimore Ravens (0-2)  (BAL -3)

Interesting that the line is indicating that Vegas views this team somewhat equally. Of course, the line is adjusted by both the Ravens being a really good home team (of which they haven't had a game at home yet), and the Ravens being in a desperate situation. For a team that is 0-2, the Ravens should have a reasonably good outlook. Suggs isn't coming back, but if they win the next two games they're basically right there in the division. The Ravens have to have this game - if they drop it it will be a sign that the Suggs injury is just something they won't come back from.

Bengals 20  Ravens 27  (BAL -3)

Chicago Bears (0-2)  @  Seattle Seahawks (0-2)  (SEA -15)

This line can't get high enough really. Nothing will top the Broncos being -26.5 against Jacksonville two years ago, but this game probably should reach 20. Despite being 0-2, the Seahawks do have a track record of just routing teams, especially at home (they're another team not to have played a home game yet). Oh, and of course, the Bears are starting Jimmy Clausen. The Seahawks are also desperate; and they are also getting Kam Chancellor back. If they don't win this game write them off. If they can't cover a two-touchdown line, then probably write them off too.

Bears 10  Seahawks 31  (SEA -15)

San Francisco 49ers (1-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (2-0)  (ARZ -6.5)

This is probably the highest the Cardinals have been favored in a game against a non-dreadful team in a long time. The 49ers looked bad last week, but they looked equally good in Week 1. The Cardinals have looked professionally great in each of their games. Football Outsiders DVOA has them as the best team through two games since the 2007 Patriots. They're probably not as good, but with a two-game cushion currently against Seattle, they'll want to maintain that edge. The 49ers are a team that is not built to compete with the aerial show of the Cardinals, and I think they'll take it as the Cardinals are generally better at home anyway. Love the line being right below a TD also.

49ers 17  Cardinals 28  (ARZ -6.5)

Buffalo Bills (1-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-1)  (MIA -3)

Fun game, and I'm thankful CBS in New York is showing this rather than the chosen 4:30 double-header game of Bears @ Seahawks (yup, Nantz and Simms will be calling that disaster). The loser of this game will be in last place in the division. The winner will be right there with the Patriots and Jets (especially if it is Miami, having not have played either so far). The line has them as essentially even, which I think is fair. Rex is a great coach, better than Philbin, but I think he's been dealt a losing hand this year with a team that is good but not good enough. I can see the Dolphins coming out a bit in this game, where Suh dominates the Bills bad interior OL, and gets repeated pressure on Tyrod Taylor, who creates pressure for himself half the time anyway.

Bills 16  Dolphins 24  (MIA -3)

Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Detroit Lions (0-2)  (DEN -3)

I'm going to keep taking Denver when getting value. The Broncos are 2-0, having beat a preseason Super Bowl pick and a trendy sleeper pick. The Lions are 0-2, losing to two teams that lost their other game this year. The Broncos under Manning are great on SNF (8-2 so far). This line should not be this low. There is still general overreaction on Manning's ills and not on the Broncos potentially best-in-the-league defense.

Broncos 30  Lions 14  (DEN -3)

Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (2-0)  (GB -7.5)

A line right over a TD is where I would put this. The Chiefs have lost by more than 7 just four times under Reid, and only once on a prime-time game. They play up for these games, and have natural advantages like their edge rush against the Packers offense. The Chiefs offense is also well built to play against this Packers offense, with a big matchup edge at TE, and with the Packers lack of natural pass rush. I still think the Packers win, but I wouldn't be shocked with an upset, and here's a nice little pick: the Rodgers 'no INTs at home' streak ends as well.

Chiefs 20  Packers 27  (KC +7.5)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 3 Power Rankings and The Rest

The "Only Truly Shitty Teams That are Now Also On Their Second QB" Duo

32.) Chicago Bears  (0-2  =  46-79)
31.) Houston Texans  (0-2  =  37-51)

I didn't like the Bears before the season, but for 5 quarters they were competent. They didn't get embarrassed by Green Bay, and they were in the game against Arizona. Then Cutler threw a pick, got injured on the return, and now they're the worst team by point differential, and about to play an angry 0-2 team in Seattle with Jimmy Clausen. For the Texans, I'll just say this: Bill O'Brien has pretty much wasted all the positive response he garnered from Hard Knocks. He seemed to handle the QB competition ably on the show, but it's been madness in reality. He know shows he won't trust Hoyer and his other option is such a scatter-shot thrower it makes Rex Grossman look accurate.

The "Awww, that's Cute, You Got a Win" Trio

30.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-1  =  32-40)
29.) Cleveland Browns  (1-1  =  38-45)
28.) Oakland Raiders  (1-1  =  50-66)

Neither of these three teams is good, but they all followed up bad Week 1 losses with nice Week 2 wins. The Jaguars and Raiders played seemingly good teams and beat them legitimately (as in without turnovers or random special teams plays). The Browns played a mediocre team, but handled them well. None of the three will have many positive Sunday's this year, but they also had a win that featured the single thing that makes their future at least somewhat positive: good play from their young QB. Bortles had arguably the best game as a pro. Johnny Manziel definitely had his best game, and Derek Carr had a game that had a top-flight QB done it, that performance would be praised for weeks. Good stuff by all three.

The "Team With College Implications" Trio

27.) Philadelphia Eagles  (0-2  =  34-46)
26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-1  =  40-61)
25.) Tennessee Titans  (1-1  =  56-42)

While Jamies Winston showed he belongs in the NFL with a calm, composed performance in his first road game, and Marcus Mariota showed he still belongs but it may take a little time, Chip Kelly showed that those who think he is closing in on a return to college may not be too far off. That offense was pathetic. It was so predictable, so lazy, so arrogant. I love that his plan to do the most random thing possible at RB failed against the team who is the test case for showing that the RB is only as good as his OL. For the Buccaneers and Titans, the Week 1 game will likely be the worst performance of the season for one and the best for the other, but in Week 2 they showed they'll stay entertaining even when the results are reversed. Quick thing, though, Titans: cover people downfield just a little.

The "Utterly Boring Mediocre Middle" Quatro

24.) Washington Redskins  (1-1  =  34-27)
23.) New Orleans Saints  (0-2  =  38-57)
22.) Detroit Lions  (0-2  =  44-59)
21.) New York Giants  (0-2  =  46-51)

I have nothing good to say about any of these teams, but I will try. For the Redskins, their defense is legitimately good. They might have days that go badly if the offense puts them in bad positions, but it is a nice unit that has good pieces. And that's it. I have nothing good to say about the rest of them. The Lions still have a pulse defensively, but they have QB issues and something seems wrong with Calvin. The Saints are like the Broncos, but actually worse in that they're losing and it is more sad and depressing than anything else. The Giants are screwing me again, knowing that they are so close to being 2-0 in a division where 9-7 may win it. Somehow, the winner of Giants-Redskins on Thursday may legitimately have the best case to win the NFC East. Actually, I have something good to say about the Giants: the OBJ is just insane.

The "That's Why Week 1 Teaches You Nothing" Quatro

20.) Minnesota Vikings  (1-1  =  29-36)
19.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-1  =  38-46)
17.) St. Louis Rams  (1-1  =  44-55)
So, the Vikings and 49ers played that pathetic game last Monday Night. The 49ers looked like a reasonable copy of what they were from 2011-13. The Vikings looked drunk. Well, one week later the 49ers decided to basically not cover anyone beyond 15 yards downfield, and the Vikings played like we expect the Vikings to - with a stout defense and a good game from Bridgewater and Peterson. As for the Rams, who knows man? Their Week 1 win showed so much promise, but they were lifeless in Week 2. Maybe we'll look back and say that was a hiccup, and that the Redskins were frisky, but that was the 2011-13 Rams: great one week, lifeless the next.

 The "We Are Close to Time to Panic Time" Duo

17.) Miami Dolphins  (1-1  =  37-33)
16.) Baltimore Ravens  (0-2  =  46-56)
15.) Indianapolis Colts  (0-2  =  21-47)

The Dolphins and Colts coaching staffs are basically on high alert the rest of the season. The Dolphins have legitimate playoff hopes - legitimate enough to fire Philbin if they don't make it, and they've failed to show up through two games. The Colts are a mess right now. Of course, if Vinatieri makes a 29-yard field goal, and if Gore doesn't fumble at the 1, they probably beat the Jets, and of course they are in the AFC South so they'll almost definitely make the playoffs but people should panic if Luck's play doesn't rise from the last two weeks. As for the Ravens, they need to learn how to play without Terrell Suggs quickly. That was abhorrent. The Ravens still have a Top-10 defense in terms of talent, and they can't piss away the games where Flacco and the offense plays well. Their schedule gives them an immediate chance to recover in the AFC North, but they'll need to figure out that OLB rotation to do anything.

The "Let's Not Fall Off the Edge Too Much" Trio

14.) Buffalo Bills  (1-1  =  59-54)
13.) Kansas City Chiefs  (1-1  =  51-51)
12.) Seattle Seahawks  (0-2  =  48-61)

All three of these teams had chance to make statements in Week 2. The Bills had a chance to put an early dent in the Patriots defense. The Chiefs had a chance to kill most of the surviving heads of the Manning Hydra. The Seahawks had the chance to go to Lambeau and basically say, '"you know what, the NFC is still ours". None of that happened. I really don't know which loss was the worse. Probably the Bills, as that was the type of loss that is more likely to have lasting implications. The Chiefs lost a tough game, but they showed enough to still feel positive, especially in their pass rush and passing game. For the Seahawks, it is still early and they haven't even had a road game yet, but they need to figure out how to involve the guy that they gave up a 1st round pick and their starting, pro-bowl, center. People will concentrate on the loss of Chancellor, but the defense was good enough against Green Bay. The offense was clearly not. If Marshawn Lynch gets just 41 yards AND Jimmy Graham is held to one catch, they won't win.

The "New Divisional Rivalry That We'll All Care About This Year" Duo

11.) Atlanta Falcons (2-0  =  50-44)
10.) Carolina Panthers  (2-0  =  44-26)

Look, the Falcons could easily be 0-2 and the Panthers were not all that impressive in either game, ut they're both 2-0 with the potential to get better. The Falcons defense is still figuring out this Dan Quinn defense and Mike Shanahan offense. The Panthers will likely get better as Devin Funchess gets more reps and the o-line gets more time together. And they've already banked two wins. The Panthers defense is playing at a special level right now, which will only improve once Kuechly gets back. I realize they've played no one, but giving up just 4.1 y/a through two games is insane. The Falcons have Julio Jones, and I really like the signing of Leonard Hankerson. That offense will get better. I really can't wait for their two matchups.

The "Contenders: AFC Division" Quatro

9.) New York Jets  (2-0  =  51-17)
8.) San Diego Chargers  (1-1  =  52-52)
7.) Cincinnati Bengals  (2-0  =  57-32)
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (1-1  =  64-46)

At least one of these teams will miss the playoffs (unless the Broncos and/or Patriots miss the playoffs) because teh Colts will sleepwalk to 9-10 wins and win the South. That said, through two weeks they've all looked good. The two losses they've had as a group are a loss to New England where Pittsburgh shot itself in the foot in what was in reality a winnable game, and a Chargers loss to one of these four teams. The Jets defense is amazing, but won't get 5 turnovers a game for 16 weeks. Philip Rivers is amazing, but these short passes don't always work even if you are completing 80% of them. The Bengals are solid, but you know Dalton + Playoffs = The Sads. And the Steelers are really good, unless they have to play another really good team and then decide not to prepare how to play defense. They all have flaws, but they all also have really significant, impactful strengths. I still think top-to-bottom the NFC is better, but if you limit it to just 'top' it may be the AFC.

The "We Know How You Feel" Duo

5.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-0  =  47-36)
4.) Arizona Cardinals  (2-0  =  79-42)

The Cardinals were 6-0 last year in games that Carson Palmer started. They were 11-3 in games that Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton started. They were 0-3 with Ryan Lindley, which killed their season. The Cowboys may go 8-1 in the games Romo starts, but they now have to play 7 games with Brandon Weeden and/or Matt Cassel. The Cowboys, like the Cardinals last year, have a style of playing that few have and can likely do better with a backup than most, but it is just sad. Let's pour one out for the Cowboys. Before Romo got hurt, they looked like the best team in the NFC. Now they'll have to hope to tread water in seven games to have a chance to make a run late. For the Cardinals, they are now 14-2 in the last 16 games started by Carson Palmer. Now I'm not a proponent of QB Winz, but it shows that since mid-2013, when the Cardinals get average play from their QB, they are an elite team.

The "This Week in the Manning Has A Noodle-Arm" Uno

3.) Denver Broncos  (2-0  =  50-37)

I get it, I get it, Peyton Manning is terrible. But can we give them even a shred of credit of coming back from 14-0 down, in a tough place to play, against a divisional rival, on a short week. No? No, we can't? Ok, I guess Manning really does suck then.

The "Why are we Playing the Next 19 Weeks" Duo

2.) Green Bay Packers  (2-0  =  58-40)
1.) New England Patriots (2-0  =  68-53)

I mean really, why even play the rest of this season, let's just have these two play now.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Quick note: the games seem pretty awful this week. Granted, you never know when you'll get a good game, and who knows, 11 weeks from now random games like Atlanta @ Dallas may have huge seeding implications, but yeah, this is not good.

16.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)  @  New England Patriots (2-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Is there a line high enough" Sunday, as when the Patriots are up 21-3 with two minutes gone in the 1st quarter and Gronk is spiking a ball into the end zone, we'll all ask ourselves why we didn't just take easy money with Patriots -14.

15.) Oakland Raiders (1-1)  @  Cleveland Browns (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)  @  Houston Texans (0-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Isn't Fun two of these teams may get their 2nd win" Sunday, as one of the Raiders and Browns will start 2-1, and if it is the Raiders that is actually a reasonable resume through three weeks. For the Buccaneers, if they win they'll also be 2-1 and start putting that laughable Week 1 game behind them. Also, let's see if Bill O'Brien turns to Tom Savage before, during or after this game. I really wish Hard Knocks continued to see his whole thought process behind what he's done with his QBs.

13.) Chicago Bears (0-2)  @  Seattle Seahawks (0-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "This is America's Game of the Week... Well, America likes violence, right?" as this is the game most people will see at 4:25 PM EST on Sunday, better known as the prime slot for CBS and FOX. Obviously, given that it will be Jimmy Clausen playing in Seattle against an upset Seahawks team, this is also a 'there is no line too high' situation, but even if Cutler was healthy, FOX really thought this was the best game this week.

12.) Washington Redskins (1-1)  @  New York Giants (0-2)  (TNF - CBS)
11.) Atlanta Falcons (2-0)   @  Dallas Cowboys (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The NFC East Factory of Sadness" Thursday and Sunday, as the Giants get a chance to finally get a win, or alternatively to lose in excruciating fashion again, and the Cowboys get a chance to start Brandon Weeden. I will say this, both the Giants and Falcons have played exciting games each of the first two weeks, so maybe that will continue as well. Quick note on the Falcons, what if they pull at 2010 or 2012 and go 13-3 for some inexplicable reason? Is that really out of the question?

10.) San Diego Chargers (1-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Detroit Lions (0-2)  (SNF - NBC)
8.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (2-0)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "AFCW vs. NFCN Challenge" Sunday and Monday, as we get three games with the Top-3 AFC West teams (sorry, Oakland), and Top-3 NFC North teams (not so sorry, Chicago). It's not like vs. like (the Broncos / Lions one is particularly a mismatch if Stafford is out), but in a week with a lot of divisional games, this intra-division competition is nice. I like when the schedulers do random things like this in any given week.

7.) Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)  @  New York Jets (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Eagles Schaudenfreude Day?" Sunday, as we get the Eagles, with their bad o-line, bad running game, and bad QB going up against the league's best defense through two games. The Jets defensive line is monstrous, their LBs are good in coverage, and their corners are great in coverage. The one thing they lack is edge rush, but that's not too important against Philadelphia. This could get ugly, which for people who find Chip Kelly an aggressively arrogant jack-off really exciting.

6.) Buffalo Bills (1-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
5.) Cincinnati Bengals (2-0)  @  Baltimore Ravens (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
4.) Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
3.) New Orleans Saints (0-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) San Francisco 49ers (1-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (2-0)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "DIVISION..... Division!" Sunday, as we get five interesting inter-division games. The Bills and Dolphins get to see which team coming off a disappointing loss get more disappointed and which go right back to 2-1 and in happy-ville. The Bengals and Titans get a chance to drive a stake into a division rival very early, which for Tennessee would be extra nice given recent history. I guess the Panthers get to do that as well, but personally I think they are going after bigger things this season. I want to quickly note the Panthers started 2-0 last year as well before a sullen home loss to Pittsburgh, so they'll hope that doesn't repeat. Finally the Cardinals, a team I had way too high on my watchability rankings, but they've somehow almost been more watchable than that. They'll likely by Top-6 each week they play.

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)  @  St. Louis Rams (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

The "Does This Say More About the Week 3 Schedule, or More About What I Like To Watch" Sunday, as yes, I think this is the best game. The matchup of the Steelers offense against that awesome Rams d-line (which plays better in St. Louis) and the Rams offense against a defense that could be had. This game has so many possible outcomes really. Peeking ahead to Week 4, there are better games on the way, but I legitimately think this is a good game.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 2 Picks

Quick picks this week, as I'm writing something later about Manning's odd two weeks.

Last Week: 8-7-1

Year-to-Date: 8-7-1

Denver Broncos (1-0)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)  (KC -3)

The Broncos have owned the Chiefs in the Manning era. The Manning has owned the Chiefs in the Manning era. Getting points is great value as I think there is a general overreaction to what happened in Week 1. Getting points with Manning is rare, but I think it is always a sign that the world is overreacting to Manning's age (more on that later)

Broncos 27  Chiefs 20  (DEN +3)

Tennessee Titans (1-0)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-1)  (TEN -1)

Who honestly cares about this game apart from fans of either team or fans of watching Marcus Mariota. I can see a fall from Mariota, and Mike Pettine's defense is generally good at confusing inexperienced QBs. Again, good value to bet against a rookie QB in his first road games as a favroite.

Titans 16  Browns 20  (CLE +1)

Houston Texans (0-1)  @  Carolina Panthers (1-0)  (CAR -3)

Ryan Mallet is getting the start - a quick change that kind of seems like it made the entire QB storyline of hard knocks pointless. This is a rough spot for Mallet against a defense that looked all kinds of good in Week 1. The Panthers may struggle on offense at well, but this is good value. I would buy a half-point here likely cause I can easily see this being a field goal game.

Texans 13  Panthers 17  (CAR -3)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-1)  (NO -10)

This is a high number, but I can see the Saints pulling a big number out this week at home after a Week 1 loss. Then again, last year the Buccaneers should have beaten the Saints in the Superdome. Again, high line but let's roll with it.

Buccaneers 17  Saints 31  (NO -10)

Arizona Cardinals (1-0)  @  Chicago Bears (0-1)  (ARZ -2.5)

This is a lot of trust in Arizona, but I kind of like it. In the Arians era, they don't drop these games against bad teams, even on the road. The Bears were better than expected in Week 1, but I don't like their defensive matchup against a team that loves to go deep.

Cardinals 24  Bears 16  (ARZ -2.5)

St. Louis Rams (1-0)  @  Washington Redskins (0-1)  (STL -3.5)

This line makes no sense - more that Washington is just not that good. These two teams played last year in Washington and the Rams won 24-0. What's changed since then is the Redskins have gotten slightly better on defense, while the Rams have gotten better everywhere. This seems rather easy.

Rams 27  Redskins 14  (STL -3.5)

Atlanta Falcons (1-0)  @  New York Giants (0-1)  (NYG -2)

The Falcons won a game they could easily have lost, and the Giants lost a game they definitely should have won. The line is low which is nice because I think we are getting some good value with the Giants here. I can't see them dropping this game as they generally play well against Matt Ryan and the offense should do well against a bad pas rush.

Falcons 20  Giants 24  (NYG -2)

San Francisco 49ers (1-0)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)  (PIT -6.5)

This is a high line for a team that lost in Week 1 against a team that looked great in Week 1. I understand some of it, though. The 49ers played late Monday and are now going on the road against the Steelers who have had extra rest. Still, this line just seems a little high. I can see the Steelers going up and the 49ers coming back.

49ers 20  Steelers 24  (SF +6.5)

Detroit Lions (0-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (0-1)  (MIN -3)

Both teams were less than impressive in Week 1, but the Lions at least had a pulse on offense. If the Vikings lose this games things can go downhill for a trendy preseason playoff sleeper. I personally like more from what I saw from Detroit, and I think they'll stop Peterson and take this game again.

Lions 23  Vikings 13  (DET +3)

San Diego Chargers (1-0)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)  (CIN -3.5)

Interesting, subtly good Week 2 matchup between two teams that looked impressive in Week 1. The Bengals played better but against a far worse team. The Bengals also were on the road. This could be a shootout, but it rarely is with these two teams. I actually like the Bengals, but the line is a little high. I'll take Cincinnati, but have little confidence in that pick.

Chargers 24  Bengals 31  (CIN -3.5)

New England Patriots (1-0)  @  Buffalo Bills (1-0)  (NE -1.5)

What a game here. The Line has corrected a bit towards the Patriots end, but I think the line is fair. The Patriots had a long break, but this is a tough spot. They've not always been their best in Buffalo recently, and Rex Ryan knows how to make Brady uncomfortable - just take last year's two games as any indication. I think the Bills do just enough, but again little confidence here.

Patriots 17  Bills 20  (BUF +1.5)

Miami Dolphins (1-0)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)  (MIA -6.5)

Honestly, who cares?

Dolphins 27  Jaguars 16  (MIA -6.5)

Baltimore Ravens (1-0)  @  Oakland Raiders (0-1)  (BAL -7)

Again, honestly, who cares?

Ravens 24  Raiders 13  (BAL -7)

Dallas Cowboys (1-0)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)  (PHI -5)

While I'm not excited about the only game in the late window being another NFC East game, ther are some interesting storylines in this one. The Cowboys won in Week 1, but I feel people think the Eagles did. The Cowboys are missing Dez Bryant, but the Eagles defense was average in Week 1. The Eagles are at home, but that hasn't seemed to be an advantage for them in the Kelly era. This line indicates the Eagles should be viewed as the better team overall, which I can't really get behind. I think this is good value for Dallas.

Cowboys 31  Eagles 23  (DAL +5)

Seattle Seahawks (0-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (1-0)  (GB -3.5)

I'm sure I'll hear during the game the stat of Russell Wilson's record against Brady (1-1), Manning (2-0), Brees (3-0) and Rodgers (3-0). Amazingly, just two of those games were played outside Seattle - the two Super Bowls. This is the first time he's had to play any of those in their own building. The game will probably still be low scoring, and matchups do favor the Seahawks. They should be able to run all over the Packers. It really comes down to can their defense limit the Packers, and I think it will enough to cover this.

Seahawks 20  Packers 23  (SEA +3.5)

New York Jets (1-0)  @  Indianapolis Colts (0-1)  (IND -7)

High line, but the Jets probably played worse than their score, and the Colts are just better at home. Their offense has matchup advantages against the Jets with their TEs, but if Hilton is out things may look bad for the Colts against the Jets secondary. On the other side, the Colts defense plays well against these types of offense. My real concern is can they beat the number. I don't think they do, but I think they win.

Jets 19  Colts 24  (NYJ +7)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 2 Power Rankings & The Rest

Looking Back at Last Week's Picks

Patriots (-7) over Steelers  (PUSH  =  0-0-1)
Jets (-3.5) over Browns  (CORRECT  =  1-0-1)
Panthers (-3) over Jaguars  (CORRECT  =  2-0-1)
Redskins (+4) over Dolphins  (WRONG  =  2-1-1)
Colts (-3) over Bills  (WRONG  =  2-2-1)
Texans (pk) over Chiefs (WRONG  =  2-3-1)
Packers (-7) over Bears  (CORRECT  =  3-3-1)
Rams (+4.5) over Seahawks  (CORRECT  =  4-3-1)
Raiders (+3) over Bengals  (WRONG  =  4-4-1)
Buccaneers (-3) over Titans  (WRONG  -=  4-5-1)
Cardinals (-2.5) over Saints  (CORRECT  =  5-5-1)
Lions (+3) over Chargers  (WRONG  =  5-6-1)
Broncos (-5) over Ravens  (CORRECT  =  6-6-1)
Cowboys (-6) over Giants  (WRONG  =  6-7-1)
Falcons (+3) over Eagles  (CORRECT  =  7-7-1)
49ers (+3) over Vikings  (CORRECT  =  8-7-1)

Power Rankings

The 'Well, that was in no way unexpected' Sexto

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-1  =  10-31)
31.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (0-1  =  14-42)
30.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (0-1  =  9-20)
29.) Oakland Raiders  (0-1  =  13-33)
28.) Chicago Bears  (0-1  =  23-31)
27.) Washington Redskins  (0-1  =  10-17)

No one expected any of these teams to be good... and they weren't. Only one really came close to winning. In my preseason power rankings, I had these six teams among the worst seven (the other was Tennessee, more on that in a minute). For the Browns, Manziel provided a second of fun before disaster struck. The Bucs didn't even get a second of fun. The Jaguars are a depressing mess. The Raiders are more of one. The Bears still have not learned how to do anything against Aaron Rodgers. And finally, the Redskins almost won!

The 'Well, that was in all the ways unexpected' Trio

26.) Houston Texans  (0-1  =  20-27)
25.) Tennessee Titans  (1-0  =  42-14)
24.) Minnesota Vikings  (0-1  =  3-20)

Over the course of hard knocks, I actually thought the Texans were intriguing. I guess Hard Knocks make you think that. I gained a lot of respect for Bill O'Brien. Well, after that game I lost all of it. His team looked absolutely utterly unprepared for the Chiefs, and now he's already waffling on his QB. The Titans won big, but there's no way they're repeating that game again. Finally, the Vikings were a trendy playoff pick, but my God was that whole team terrible.

The 'Remember how much fun 2013 was!" Trio

23.) New Orleans Saints  (0-1  =  19-31)
22.) Philadelphia Eagles  (0-1  =  24-26)
21.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-0  =  20-3)

In the 2013 season, these teams were seeded #3, #5 and #6. A year later none made the playoffs. A year after that, they still may not make it. The Saints lost in basically the same way they lost a lot of their nine games last year, with sketchy red zone play and awful defense. The Eagles were a schadenfreude gold-mine for a half. The 49ers were impressive, but let's see them play a team that didn't implode first before we say they're back.

The 'Maybe there is life' Trio

20.) Detroit Lions  (0-1  =  28-33)
19.) New York Giants  (0-1  =  26-27)
18.) Cincinnati Bengals  (1-0  =  33-13)

Most people didn't expect these teams to be great this year, with the Lions and Bengals common picks to miss the playoffs after making it, and the Giants mired in their Giant-ness. Well, all three were to some level good in Week 1. The Lions and Giants had harrowing losses (especially the Giants - how do you not know to take a sack there?), but at least played well. I don't think many expected the Giants to even be in a winning position, and the Lions were impressive going up 21-3 before letting Rivers complete 20 passes in a row. Finally, those darn Bengals. We can't judge them too much because, you know, Raiders; but they really know how to look good winning games in September.

The 'Can you win with one half a team' Trio

17.) New York Jets  (1-0  =  31-10)
16.) Arizona Cardinals  (1-0  =  31-19)
15.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (0-1  =  21-28)

The Jets showed life on offense, but they really capitalized on turnovers, and at some point the league figures out Fitzpatrick every year. The Cardinals can pass the ball well and defend the pass well, but they can't do anything else. The Steelers have a great offense, getting better with Le'veon Bell coming back (and Martavis Bryant eventually). All three of these teams have great strengths, but really clear weaknesses. Those types of teams generally end around 8-8, which would anyone be surprised if that is where all three end? Of course, Bruce Arians has made a habit of having teams play well enough to go 8-8, but somehow end up 11-5.

The 'You guys know you need to play 60 minutes' Trio

14.) Kansas City Chiefs  (1-0  =  27-20)
13.) Miami Dolphins  (1-0  =  17-10)
12.) Atlanta Falcons  (1-0  =  26-24)

The Dolphins decided to sleepwalk for a half. The Chiefs decided to basically stop playing for a half. The Falcons REALLY decided to stop playing for a half. All three ended up winning, the Dolphins and Falcons escaping and the Chiefs resting on the laurels of a great first half. But guys, if you want to take that step up from the 6-9 win range to the 10+, you can't take halves off. You can't lose your defensive intensity after 30 minutes, or forget how to play offense for 30. And, for goodness sakes Miami, go actually dominate a bad team for once.

The ' Hope Our Fatal Flaw Doesn't Get Exposed' Quinto

11.) Baltimore Ravens  (0-1  =  13-19)
10.) Buffalo Bills  (1-0  =  27-14)
9.) San Diego Chargers  (1-0  =  33-28)
8.) Carolina Panthers  (1-0  =  20-9)
7.) St. Louis Rams  (1-0  =  34-31)

All these teams were thought of highly and/or had good week 1 performances, but their flaws got exposed as well. The Ravens lost their best, most consistent defensive player in Suggs, just an awful loss. The Bills offense probably can't depend on those types of Tyrod Taylor performances each week and their running game looks iffy at best. The Chargers need a defense. The Panthers need an offense (then again, Cam just makes stuff work), and the Rams need to stop turning the ball over. All five teams have the potential to make the playoffs, but flaws will ultimately doom them if they do.

The 'We're Still Favorites, right?" Trio

6.) Dallas Cowboys  (1-0  =  27-26)
5.) Indianapolis Colts  (0-1  =  14-27)
4.) Seattle Seahawks  (0-1  =  31-34)

The Cowboys won but if 10 things don't happen (like a declined off-sides on the 1st down throw to OBJ that if it didn't occur that would have kept the clock running) they lose. The Colts and Seahawks (a pretty common Super Bowl pick) both lost. But let's not jump off the bridge too quickly. The Colts and Seahawks lost on the road to two potential playoff teams - those losses may look better in retrospect a few weeks from now. For the Cowboys, as long as they stop giving turnovers away, will be fine, as their run game still looked good and the o-line will stop anyone from touching Romo. These teams will be fine - just remember the Patriots lost in Week 1 last year too.

The 'Team It Won't Be Fun To Be' Uno

3.) Denver Broncos  (1-0  =  19-13)

Yes, Peyton was bad. He looked bad. But then again, they still won. If that same game happened in 2003, and it was 2003 Tom Brady playing QB, he would've gotten praised. It would be some sweet irony if the Broncos win with an average Peyton season and a great defense. After all the flak they took this week, it is hard to remember that winning is the only thing that ever matters. Right?

The 'Let's Just Play Super Bowl 50 Already' Duo

2.) Green Bay Packers  (1-0  =  31-23)
1.) New England Patriots  (1-0  =  28-21)

The Champs are the Champs and the Pack are the Pack, no matter how average to bad their defenses look.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Baltimore Ravens (0-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (0-1)  (4:05 - CBS)
15.) Miami Dolphis (1-0)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)  (4:05 - CBS)
14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Detroit Lions (0-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
12.) Tennessee Titans (1-0)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Houston Texans (0-1)  @  Carolina Panthers (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) St. Louis Rams (1-0)  @  Washington Redskins (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Arizona Cardinals (1-0)  @  Chicago Bears (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "It Looks Like the League Scheduled It This Way" Sunday, as we get eight games on the Sunday slate that are all a variation of good team playing bad team (or in the case of the Buccaneers and Saints, maybe two bad teams). None of these games seem that interesting, a weird situation for Week 2. Of course that means there are a lot of good Week 2 games.

8.) Atlanta Falcons (1-0)  @  New York Giants (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) San Francisco 49ers (1-0)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
6.) New York Jets (1-0)  @  Indianapolis Colts (0-1)  (MNF - ESPN)

 I call it "The Whole Surprise Week 1 Winner Plays Against the Desperate Week 1 Loser Deal Again, Huh?" Sunday and Monday, as we get three games where surprisingly competent Week 1 teams have to now see if their shit sticks on the road in Week 2. The Giants, Steelers and Colts are all desparate for a win, as it is hard to come back from 0-2 starts. Out of the three, the Colts up against that defense is another test for their offense and a chance to perform against a good defense for once. The 49ers get another chance to take on a bad defense and show their Week 1 offensive performance wasn't a fluke. Finally, the Giants get a chance to make up for that Week 1 disaster.

5.) San Diego Chargers (1-0)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "There's Always That Game You Like For No Reason" Sunday, as the Chargers and that wizard Philip Rivers go to Cincinnati and play arguably the most dominant team in Week 1. There's also some history here, as this is a rematch of that harrowed Wild Card game two years ago, when the Chargers upset a legitimately very good Bengals team in Cincinnati - the worst playoff loss out of all of them in the Dalton era.

4.) Dallas Cowboys (1-0)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)  (4:25 - FOX)
3.) New England Patriots (1-0)  @  Buffalo Bills (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
2.) Denver Broncos (1-0)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "Key Division Games are a Thing in Week 2, right?" as we get a chance for three home teams beat their current division masters. The Cowboys go injured to Philadelphia, the scene of their division stealing win last December. The Bills get a chance to further the '09 Jets comparison with a win in Week 2 at home against the Patriots, and we get an early test of the Rex Ryan Bills. Finally, on Thursday Night, the Chiefs get to play Denver as the favorite for the first time in the Manning era. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if the road teams go 3-0, but 0-3 might be as likely.

1.) Seattle Seahawks (0-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (1-0)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Key Conference Games are a Thing in Week 2, right?" Sunday, as we get a rematch of the NFC Championship Game, this time in the other location. We also get to see if the Seahawks can continue their run of beating Super Bowl and MVP QBs. People will often throw out the stat of them being 8-1 against Manning, Brady, Brees and Rodgers. Of course, they are 8-0 in Seattle, and 0-1 outside (the Super Bowl loss last year). We'll see if their magic continues in their first true road game. Also, a Packers win here and you can probably hand them home field advantage - a sad state for a conference in Week 2.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 1 Picks

Pittsburgh Steelers  @  New England Patriots  (NE -7)

In Week 1, really only the professionals win money (then again, that is not that different than any other week). Because of that, I'm only going to bet small amounts in real life, and even here I'm not going to put too much time into any of these. In this case, already the defending Champion has an advantage (they've won all but one season opener); and the Patriots have always had an advantage against the Steelers when the Steelers had a good defense. I'm not super high on either team, and I don't think this game will really teach us about either team.

Steelers 20  Patriots 34  (NE -7)

New York Jets  @  Cleveland Browns  (NYJ -3.5)

There are seven games at 1:00, and all but one of them has the road team as favorite (the other... a pick). Don't know if the NFL planned it that way, but we may end with a lot of disappointed home fanbases. This game is interesting. Neither team has a great QB, and both are built in similar ways. That said, the Jets are just far more talented. If their run defense holds up with Richardson out, they should dominate the Browns offense. I think the Jets are just better anyway, and Cleveland isn't really a place known for its home field advantage.

Jets 23  Browns 13  (NYJ -3.5)


Carolina Panthers  @  Jacksonville Jaguars  (CAR -3)

I hate having this many road favorites, and this many that are low lines to make it enticing to take the favorite. You just know this many road favorites cannot all possibly cover. The Jaguars are a trendy upset pick here, but I really don't see it. Again, there is just a huge matchup advantage for the Panthers defense against the Jaguars offense. Kuechly, Thomas and Co. should just swallow the Jaguars passive offense. The other side should also be a tight affair, but I trust Cam to build 20 points out of magic more than I do Blake Bortles.

Panthers 20  Jaguars 10  (CAR -3)

Miami Dolphins  @  Washington Redskins  (MIA -4)

This is another reason I don't bet big in Week 1; this is a line that I really like the Redskins, but what does that mean exactly? I am really willing to put money on Kirk Cousins against potentially a great defense? Well, at this point that is still a potential - and potential is built into the line. The Dolphins may be a very good team and the Redskins are not a good team, but in Week 1 weird things happen. I can see the game being close, and mainly because I am opposed to picking ALL the road favorites, I will take the Redskins to cover in a close loss.

Dolphins 24  Redskins 21  (WAS +4)

Indianapolis Colts  @  Buffalo Bills  (IND -3)

I feel like this line is trying to tell people that Tyrod Taylor maybe good. What I do know, though, is the Colts defense is good against marginal offenses (which Buffalo's likely is). They play awfully against good offenses - even beyond their issues with New England, but they can dominate average to mediocre offenses. The Colts offense will have a hard time blocking the Bills, but the strength of their o-line is the interior, and they have enough WRs to challenge the depth of the Bills secondary. The line is low that you are more or less picking a Colts win, which I will do.

Colts 27  Bills 17  (IND -3)

Kansas City Chiefs  @  Houston Texans  (PK)

Really tough game to pick; hence the pick 'em line, I guess. The Texans have looked good in preseason and are getting Clowney back, if in limited form. Then again, the Texans offense is relying on Brian Hoyer. The Chiefs defense will not have Sean Smith (hello Mr. Hopkins!) but may have Dontari Poe. I think the teams are about equal overall, and injuries/suspensions point this towards Houston for me.

Chiefs 16  Texans 20  (HOU PK)

Green Bay Packers  @  Chicago Bears  (GB -7)

This game has not been close in recent years. Take away the game Aaron Rodgers got hurt in (the Bears won 27-20), the Packers have won the last 9, and seven of those wins were by more than seven points. The Bears are probably worse today than they were at any point in those last nine meetings. I don't get this line, which concerns me. Maybe some odd belief in John Fox and Vic Fangio turning a defense that was bad in a 4-3 to a reasonable unit as a 3-4. Doesn't seem all that plausible. The Packers just own this matchup. I fear for the life of American's with their eventual Thanksgiving Night beatdown too.

Packers 31  Bears 20  (GB -7)

Seattle Seahawks  @  St. Louis Rams  (SEA -4.5)

The most interesting unit vs. unit matchup of the whole week to me will be the Rams D-Line vs. the Seahawks O-Line. Despite already not being that great, they shipped off Max Unger and let James Carpenter go. Now they face the scariest front in recent memory. That alone could shift the score in this game. Of course, the Seahawks defense themselves are quite good and may shut down the Rams, but I have slightly higher expectations for Nick Foles than most. This line seems high, and this is my overall upset special - then again I've lost a lot believing in Jeff Fisher's Rams.

Seahawks 17  Rams 20  (STL +4.5)

Cincinnati Bengals  @  Oakland Raiders  (CIN -3)

Week 1 may have more late-window games than any other week, as seen by the two games in Week 2. This starts us off with a game that could signal two teams heading in opposite directions. Already, the line is lower than you would think from a team coming off four straight playoff appearances against a team that is named the Raiders. Oakland signed Aldon Smith right before this game, and while it is not confirmed that he will play, he could make a difference. The Raiders are in good position to pull off an upset here, the key will having anyone to cover AJ Green. What helps the Raiders is the Bengals total lack of pass rush. I may really regret this, but I think the Raiders will squeak one out.

Bengals 20  Raiders 23  (OAK +3)

Tennessee Titans  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (TB -3)

The game of the two rookie QBs. A really interesting matchup of two teams that have a few similarities, including trying to force players on defense into specific schemes that may not match their talents, and weapons that may not get with their QBs strengths. Of course, both of these two teams were 2-14 last year, but the Buccaneers were closer to being respectable. I really have no idea about this game as it depends so much on two QBs who have never played a competitive game, but I think the Winston side wins the first matchup.

Titans 16  Buccaneers 21  (TB -3)

New Orleans Saints  @  Arizona Cardinals  (ARZ -2.5)

Another low line - it is like Vegas wants to win money! I'm surprised the Cardinals are favored, given the Saints long time status as a public team. It makes a lot of sense, though. The Cardinals are an awful matchup for Saints. The Saints can't really rush the passer, which is the Cardinals weakness on offense. With Carson Palmer back the offense may be a little rejuvenated early in the season as well. The Cardinals defensive losses are off-set by the Saints personnel losses on offense. The Cardinals always struggled against TEs, so the Saints trading Graham hurts them here. The low line is just screaming a Saints upset, but I think the Cardinals cover, if ever so slightly.

Saints 24  Cardinals 27  (ARZ -2.5)

Detroit Lions  @  San Diego Chargers  (SD -3)

I don't know why, but I kind of like the Lions here. I think they found a way of playing on defense last year that should retain some of its value even with Suh in another place. I like the matchup of Haloti Ngata against the Chargers weak interior line. On the other side, I'm not really sure who is covering Calvin or Golden Tate. The Lions are definitely a hard team to trust, but I like their matchup here, especially against a Chargers team without Gates. The Chargers like to establish some run game, but that may be difficult against a top rush defense as well.

Lions 24  Chargers 20  (DET +3)

Baltimore Ravens  @  Denver Broncos  (DEN -5)

I'm surprised this line is so high as the Ravens are a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, and the Broncos are seen as the opposite. I would not bet on this game if I had unlimited funds as I really don't know what to expect from the Broncos offense. I believe they'll be good, but even if the Broncos offense is fine, the Ravens defense poses challenges. This line is about right even if both teams were at their natural good state. The Broncos have been great at home in recent years, and both Kubiak in Houston, and Manning in his whole career, have been good against the Ravens defense. What I really like though is the Broncos defense against the Ravens. They've always been good against the run, and their secondary should win the matchups against the Ravens receivers. I really hope the Phillips lets Chris Harris, who is better than Talib, take Smith, but even if he doesn't the Ravens have the edge in that matchup.

Ravens 17  Broncos 26  (DEN -5)

New York Giants  @  Dallas Cowboys  (DAL -6)

I'm really surprised this line is so low - in fact surprised and concerned enough I have a feeling Vegas knows something here. It seems so easy right. The Giants defense is missing a ton of pieces and wasn't all that great anyway. The Giants offense is good, but trying to beat the Cowboys in a shootout is likely not a good plan either. It is really hard to see the avenue for the Giants to win, or even cover, here unless it is a back-door variety. But I keep getting caught up with that line. What is the thought process here? This is why betting is hard. I'll take the better team at this point, but I have serious concerns about what is going on here.

Giants 21  Cowboys 30  (DAL -6)

Philadelphia Eagles  @  Atlanta Falcons  (PHI -3)

The world seems to have gone full circle on the Eagles. First, Chip was a genius. Then he had an aimless, hard to explain offseason and suddenly there were thinkpieces of him running back to college. Now, the Eagles seem like a trendy statement Super Bowl pick. I have always had the belief that never buy into the preseason. What strikes me as really strange is the Falcons are a trendy pick to win their division, and they're getting really no love here. I actually like the Falcons. First games with new coaches generally have a motivational boost tied to them (see: Chip Kelly's first game with the Eagles), and the line is great value.

Eagles 24  Falcons 31  (ATL +3)

Minnesota Vikings  @  San Francisco 49ers  (MIN -3)

For the first time since 2011, the Chargers are not involved in the late game. Instead, the 49ers are. Of course, this is also the first time since 2011 the 49ers are not in the National Doubleheader game - which is a great sign of how far they've fallen so quickly. This is also a weird line given a lot of the love for the Vikings is dependent on potential, whether it be the potential of Bridgewater or the young defensive players improving.  The 49ers have been told all offseason how much of a disaster they are, so I can see them come out fired up, but the talent is just not there. We have two road favorites on MNF to close the weekend. I think they go 1-1, so to split the difference, I'll take the home team to cover the low number each time and also hope to go 1-1.

Vikings 17  49ers 21  (SF +3)

Enjoy the games; seriously just do. Just try to forget this infamous, unforgettable (in the worst way possible) offseason.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Is the NFL Treated Unfairly?

I've been very interested in how the NFL has been treated by the media over the past 15 months, essentially since the Ray Rice stuff broke. Player discipline has long been an interesting topic under the Roger Goodell commissionership. Back in the early days, it was more feigned outrage and almost hilarity at the way he essentially suspended both Pacman Jones and Chris Henry for not leading a good life off the field, the infamous 'player conduct policy'. Even through Spygate, Bountygate, the Roethlisberger suspension and the Mike Vick dogfighting times, it was seen more as a quirk of his reign, but that all changed with Ray Rice.

I don't want to get into that argument again, because comparing what Ray Rice (or Adrian Peterson, or Greg Hardy) did to what Pacman Jones did is pointless, but in the wake of the latest legal defeat, and the even more latest round of  'Is this what sinks Goodell?; questions, I think it is an appropriate time to look more holistically. Is the NFL being treated fairly in this case - is it fair that so much is made of their player discipline policies compared to other sports. Why are the treated differently? I wanted to look at those questions a little deeper. I don't profess to have even some let alone any of the answers, but wanted to at least think this through a little.

Before we start, I will say the one NFL scandal which they deserve to be roasted for is their handling of concussions in the wake of mounting evidence that the NFL was dangerous; however that particular matter precedes Goodell's time, and the real nefarious behavior was under Rozzelle and moreso Tagliabue along with the alignment of 28-32 owners. That issue aside, why is the NFL treated differently?

Some of this is the outcome of just being a higher profile sport. In this country, the highest profile sport. All stories are bigger when they touch the NFL's mighty reach, whether it be positive on the field news or sordid off the field scandal. But still, that does not explain why every single player discipline or off-the-field, or on-the-field issue is magnified, is dissected, is approached with every angle and every hot take imaginable.

There's a couple issues I see that are not in the NFL's favor. First, the loss of a game is just far more meaningful. A four-game suspension can ruin a season. Every Sunday, every game, is of heightened importance, so suspensions that are handed out just seem so much more impactful. Second, no sport has gone to the lengths to make off-the-field issues a bigger story when it comes to on-field discipline as the NFL.

Certainly, it was a different era, but there was never any real call to suspend Kobe Bryant during his rape case, or Brett Myers when he punched his wife in public. There was no external call, but no internal call either. This is the real outcome of Goodell being so hard on personal conduct early in his tenure. He tried to clean up the game (not the first commissioner to do so; see: Stern, David), and in that set a dangerous precedent that ruined him.

The NFL, as in the commissioner and 32 owners, are heavily at fault here as well. It was their power-hungry desire to impose discipline that creates so many of these stories in the first place. It was them trying to circumvent legal processes. Then again, the media has been unfair both accusing of the NFL acting before or against courts (Roethlisberger suspended when not even charged), or accused of waiting for courts to rule (Ray McDonald). But let's not act like the NFL is the only league to act irrationally or inconsistently; they're just the only one that is the subject of national think pieces when it happens.

Major League Baseball suspended Alex Rodriguez for 180 games, ostensibly for taking steroids. The MLB tests for steroids, which Alex Rodriguez did not fail. They have a set penalty for failing a first offense, a penalty of 50 games. They decided to give Alex Rodriguez a suspension that was 360% longer than the rules dictate. While A-Rod did threaten to take MLB to court, ultimately he accepted the penalty. Why was the penalty so much longer, what was MLB's justification? It was Bud Selig implementing the 'best interest of baseball' clause - essentially the MLB version of what Goodell used to suspend Brady.

Yes, baseball is a sport diminishing in popularity, a minnow compared to the Blue Whale that is the NFL, but the steroid story can compete with the NFL. It was a story big enough to get congress involved, it was big enough to compete with any scandal in NFL history. It was big enough MLB took the step to implement a 50-game policy. When they wildly overstepped their own penalty, there was a little furor, but not even 10% as much as it was for Brady.

The NFL has, comparatively, not even had the biggest scandals in recent years (again, apart from anything related to concussions). Now, it is the fault of the NFL for turning mild scandals into 7-month investigations and processes, but the NBA dealt with a crooked referee and major questions about the legitimacy of its officiating. MLB dealt with the whole steroid issue. But the NFL gets criticized more for having the nerve to suspend a player for doctoring equipment?

The NFL has the highest level of scrutiny partly because it takes it upon itself to impose justice at a higher rate, partly because it's players seem less capable of accepting guilt, and partly because the media is unfair. I am sure of that. The NFL is no more or no less inconsistent and impulsive than any other sport.

I always chuckle when so many of the current generation of sports-writer slams the NFL for all its deserved missteps, and then at the same time tries to push soccer as a viable alternative and growing sport. Soccer, the sport who's governing body is so corrupt it makes the NFL look like the moral equivalent of a 16th Century monastery. Soccer has basically all US sports scandals rolled into one, including absolutely pathetic concussion protocols, constantly corrupt referees and players, and performance-enhancing issues, not to mention the plethora of issues that (so far) haven't felled US sports, like the supporting insane human rights violations in awarding the 2022 World Cup, to shady business practices with minors in the transfer market. Yes, that is the sport of the 21st Century in the US?

I'll end it with the one sport that I haven't talked about yet in comparison to the NFL: hockey. The NHL has a department dedicated to player discipline (granted, of the on-ice variety) - a weird office that has taken its share of flak, especially when it was run by Colin Campbell. That's another interesting contrast, and area where the NFL helped bull the sword it is being stabbed with - no other sport has their commissioner so actively involved in on or off field discipline. But anyway, one of the rare times a player was suspended on the wishes of commissioner Gary Bettman was the weirdest player discipline incident in recent times.

In the '08-'09 season, Sean Avery made a comment targeted towards Calgary Flames' defenseman Dion Phaneuf, that he saw it had become common for NHL players to date his 'sloppy seconds', in regard to Phaneuf dating his now-wife Elisha Cuthbert. Because of this comment, Sean Avery was suspended. First indefinitely, then limited to 6 games - essentially equivalent to a 1-game suspension in the NFL. That actually happened. Sean Avery was suspended because of a non-racist, non-discriminatory, if misogynistic comment directed at a fellow player. Before you say if the NFL is treated differently or not, just imagine a world where Roger Goodell suspended someone for that? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

NFL 2015: AFC Preview

AFC East

1.) New England  =  10-6 (4)

Who's In: (TE) Scott Chandler, (DE) Jabaal Sheard, (CB) Robert McClain, (CB) Bradley Fletcher, (RB) Travaris Cadet

Who's Out: (CB) Darrelle Revis, (CB) Brandon Browner, (CB) Kyle Arrington, (DT) Vince Wilfork, (RB) Shane Vereen, (RB) Stevan Ridley, (LB) Akeem Ayers

That's a lot of churn for our defending champs, who will now have the services of Tom Brady for all 16 games; to me too much churn to really think they're going to be as good as last year. After years of not being able to play press man, they were able to do so much defensively last year. But all of that is gone now. Brady is still very good, and Gronk is still a monster, but their WRs still rely on slot guys, and the defense lost its best feature. I've been wrong a lot about the Patriots over the years, but I do think there will be some slippage.

2.) Miami  =  10-6 (6)

Who's In: (DT) Ndamukong Suh, (WR) Kenny Stills, (WR) Greg Jennings, (TE) Jordan Cameron, (C) JD Walton, (DT) CJ Mosely (CB) Brice McCain

Who's Out: (WR) Mike Wallace, (RB) Knowshon Moreno, (WR) Brian Hartline, (TE) Charles Clay, (G) Daryn Colledge, (C) Samson Satele, (DT) Randy Starks, (DT) Jared Odrick, (LB) Danell Ellerbe, (LB) Phillip Wheeler, (CB) Cortland Finnegan

The Dolphins had one of the most active offseasons in recent memory, especially in the amount of depth they lost in the 'out' area, and the amount of high-end talent they got in the 'in' area. Picking up Ndamukong Suh changes your defense - a defense that was already in that #12-#8 range last year. Suh can help fix their run defense almost by itself. They've lost a lot of their other pieces in the front 7 and that LB core is downright pathetic, but Suh is a defense-maker. On the other side, if Tannehill can't lead them to 10 wins this year, and a Top-12 offense, they should probably cut bait. There are few weaknesses, and the Landry / Stills / Jennings trio is quite nice. They should be good, and for Joe Philbin's employment prospects, they have to be.

3.) Buffalo  = 8-8

Who's In: (QB) Tyrod Taylor, (RB) LeSean McCoy, (WR) Percy Harvin, (TE) Charles Clay, (G) Richie Incognito

Who's Out: (RB) CJ Spiller, (TE) Scott Chandler, (G) Erik Pears, (LB) Kiko Alonso, (LB) Brandon Spikes, (S) Da'Norris Searcy

I don't actually think the Bills are going to be worse, and it wouldn't shock me if they make the playoffs much like the '09 Jets did, but how much better can their defense be? Rex Ryan is a master, but let's not act like Gregg Williams (2013) and Jim Schwartz (2014) did a bad job of coaching the hell out of that defense - especially the 2014 version that was arguably the best defense in the AFC. On the offense side, it really rests on Tyrod Taylor working behind a make-shift line; a combination that rarely works. At least the '09 Jets could lean on a great o-line with a prime D'Brickshaw and Mangold and a top run game, the '15 Bills? Not so much.

4.) New York  =  6-10

Who's In: (QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick, (WR) Brandon Marshall, (T) James Brewer, (G) James Carpenter, (DT) Stephen Bowen, (DT) Kevin Vickerson, (LB) Erin Henderson, (CB) Darrelle Revis, (CB) Antonio Cromartie, (CB) Buster Skrine, (S) Marcus Gilchrist

Who's Out: (QB) Michael Vick, (WR) Percy Harvin, (CB) Kyle Wilson, (S) Dawan Landry

The Jets used that ample cap space to go on an all-time spending spree. I know Rex Ryan wishes the Jets were as active last offseason when they had similar cap-room. The big coup is getting Revis back, but also Cromartie and Skrine creating a top-3 at corner, the Jets weakest position last year. There a couple concerns on that defense, still without an end-rusher for the nth-straight year. Also, that offense still isn't fixed with an average run game and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing passes. No matter how good Fitz may be he is still Ryan Fitzpatrick.

AFC North

1.) Baltimore  =  12-4 (2)

Who's In: (CB) Kyle Arrington, (S) Kendrick Lewis

Who's Out: (WR) Torrey Smith, (TE) Owen Daniels, (DT) Haloti Ngata, (DE) Purnell McPhee, (CB) Antoine Cason, (S) Darian Stewart

The Ravens, like they have so often during the Ozzie-Newsome led era, started filling holes a year or two in advance. Recent draft picks are ready to step into the place of Haloti Ngata and Purnell McPhee (Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan). The place where they may suffer (relative term) is on offense trying to replace Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels, but with the combination of two rookies (Brashad Perriman, Maxx Williams) and the offensive mind of Marc Trestman, they can probably replace most of that value. Overall, this could be the best defense in the AFC, and will likely be at worst Top-3; combine that with solid offense (the AFC's best o-line), great defense and good Special Teams like always, they should be really good like always.

2.) Pittsburgh  =  10-6

Who's In: (RB) DeAngelo Williams

Who's Out: (WR) Lance Moore, (DT) Brett Keisel, (DE) Jason Worilds, (CB) Ike Taylor, (CB) Brice McCain, (S) Troy Polamalu

Much like the Ravens, the Steelers didn't do much in terms of getting new players. Their problem, though, is that they didn't more because they couldn't. The Steelers had a really nice season in 2014 mainly because it all came together on offense. That is already not the case with Maurkice Pouncey on IR-designated to return. The offense should still be really good, but I can't see them being as good as last year. The defense shouldn't be as bad, I guess, but that's more hope than anything. The Steelers are good, they could easily be a playoff team, but I think they'll fall just out.

3.) Cincinnati  = 7-9

Who's In: (DE) Michael Johnson, (LB) AJ Hawk

Who's Out: (TE) Jermaine Gresham, (T) Marshall Newhouse, (C) Mike Pollak, (CB) Terence Newman, (S) Taylor Mays

One of these years, the Bengals are going to fall a bit. In a way, I don't know what I want from the Bengals. If they go 10-6 again and lose another playoff game, it is hard to say that is unsuccessful - they are still a team that has been consistently competitive. But that's more running in place. If the bad parts of these teams show up, they could finish around .500 or below. The defense still does not have pass rushers, and the secondary lost a few pieces. They need 2013 Geno Atkins to show up again. The offense is still good, but they'll too need to play their best level to approach last year's 10-5-1 record. I do think this is the last stand for Marvin Lewis. It is easy to say it is about time for Marvin, but it is also the sad end for a guy who kept a moribund franchise competitive for a long time.

4.) Cleveland  =  2-14

Who's In: (QB) Josh McCown, (WR) Dwayne Bowe, (WR) Brian Hartline, (DT) Randy Starks, (CB) Tramon Williams

Who's Out: (QB) Brian Hoyer, (WR) Miles Austin, (TE) Jordan Cameron, (NT) Ahtyba Rubin, (DE) Jabaal Sheard, (CB) Buster Skrine

You learn something quickly when doing this exercise and trying to get the W-L record of all teams add up to 256-256: some teams have to do really bad. You should never predict a team to go 2-14; but then again you have to make the records add up (most projection systems will never have a team over 12-4 either). The Browns are a bad team, their offseason makes them a little worse losing some of their defensive depth. They still are without Josh Gordon, and I don't think replacing Brian Hoyer is any improvement when the replacement is Josh McCown. It is sad to say that the Browns are just in a never-ending cycle. The only thing that will change that is getting a franchise QB - not sure if any of those are in the 2016 draft or not.

AFC South

1.) Indianapolis  =  12-4 (3)

Who's In: (RB) Frank Gore, (WR) Andre Johnson, (G) Todd Herremans, (DT) Kendall Langford, (DE) Trent Cole, (S) Dwight Lowery

Who's Out: (RB) Ahmad Bradshaw, (RB) Trent Richardson, (WR) Reggie Wayne, (WR) Hakeem Nicks, (DT) Corey Redding, (LB) Shaun Phillips, (DE) Ricky Jean-Francois, (S) LaRon Landry

In the last year before people start getting paid, Ryan Grigson did what he is wont to do and signed a lot of guys. However, unlike in past year's where he signed average players to long deals, now he signed good, if aging, players to short deals. Personally, I think all these deals made sense. Gore should do well in the running game - actually everyone does in the Colts running game aside from Trent. Johnson is a better replacement for Wayne. Cole and Langford are better than the people they are replacing. We can overstate their issues because what New England does to them no one else seems to. They are a top team, with a tough schedule, but with Andrew Luck all is possible. What I will say, is that despite all the talk about 'building a monster' and being a different type of team, the Colts just built the same version of the Manning-era team.

2.) Houston  =  7-9

Who's In: (QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick, (RB) Chris Polk, (WR) Cecil Shorts, (DT) Vince Wilfork, (S) Rahim Moore, (S) Stevie Brown

Who's Out: (QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick, (WR) Andre Johnson, (C) Chris Myers, (DE) Brooks Reed, (S) Daniel Manning

The Texans were a surprising 9-7 last year, capitalizing on an easy schedule. This year is not as forgiving. I actually think Hoyer is a downgrade from Fitzpatrick. I also think losing Andrew Johnson is more meaningful than most. They still have JJ Watt, which is a defense all its own, but I do worry about the rest of that defense, especially them all staying healthy. The offense has a few playmakers, but I worry about their o-line and not having Arian Foster, who does so much for them is an issue. 7-9 isn't a bad season, and I hope Texans fans understand that if it does happen. By record, it would be a step down but it isn't really.

3.) Tennessee  =  6-10

Who's In: (WR) Harry Douglas, (T) Byron Bell, (LB) Brian Orakpo, (S) Da'Norris Searcy

Who's Out: (QB) Jake Locker, (WR) Nate Washington, (T) Michael Roos, (T) Michael Oher, (CB) Perrish Cox, (S) Bernard Pollard, (S) George Wilson

The Titans pick here is basically two things: I think Marcus Mariota will have a good rookie season, and I think the defense will take another step with Orakpo adding to a pass rush that should improve. The Titans, as they've been forever, especially since Fisher left, are exceedingly boring and nameless, but with Mariota that goes away. The Titans are slightly more interesting, and with Delanie Walker, Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright, there are some interesting options for him as well. The Titans are a few years away, but this could be the beginning.

4.) Jacksonville  =  4-12

Who's In: (TE) Julius Thomas, (T) Jeremy Parnell, (C) Stefan Wisniewski, (DT) Jared Odrick, (CB) Davon House, (S) Sergio Brown

Who's Out: (DT) Red Bryant, (LB) Geno Hayes, (CB) Alan Ball

The Jaguars season has promise, but there's a dark glow after two of their biggest offseason moves had their season stunted. First was the more crushing one, with Dante Fowler Jr. tearing his ACL in mini-camp. The second was Julius Thomas now missing the first few games. They shored up the line a bit which should help Bortles, but losing Thomas for the beginning, and basically giving up on Justin Blackmon will not help. On defense they have an underrated pass rush, but not a great defense in the other levels. If Bortles is good they'll be fine long term, but the team hasn't really made it easy for him through two years.

AFC West

1.) Denver  =  12-4 (1)

Who's In: (TE) Owen Daniels, (DT) Antonio Smith, (DT) Vance Walker, (G) Shelley Smith, (TE) James Casey

Who's Out: (TE) Julius Thomas, (G) Orlando Franklin, (DT) Terrance Knighton, (S) Rahim Moore, (WR) Wes WeLker

There's certainly more questions around Denver this year than the last couple. Forget Manning, but will the young o-line come together? Will that offense mesh with what Peyton does? Personally, I think Manning and Kubiak are good enough to mesh, and if they both bring what they've done before (Manning turn any collection of 5 guys into a competent pass blocking line and Kubiak doing the same with run blocking). What really helps the Broncos though is that defense could be really, really good. Wade Phillips has already made magic with Ware, and now he gets Von Miller as his new play-thing. I like the Antonio Smith signing as well. The secondary is still good. The defense can carry them through a rough spot if the offense takes some time to come together. To me, they remain the team to beat in the AFC West.

2.) San Diego  =  10-6 (5)

Who's In: (WR) Stevie Johnson, (T) Joseph Barksdale, (G) Orlando Franklin, (CB) Jimmy Wilson

Who's Out: (WR) Eddie Royal, (C) Nick Hardwick, (LB) Dwight Freeney, (RB) Ryan Mathews, (CB) Shareece Wright, (S) Marcus Gilchrist

The Chargers have been between 7-9 and 9-7 for the past four years, and I think they break out of that malaise, just barely, in the good direction. They still employ Philip Rivers, who when he is on is a Top-5 QB in the NFL (as recently as 2013, he was probably the 2nd best QB in the NFL for a season). The o-line is still in flux (personally think Orlando Franklin is overrated), and a receiving core that needs a comeback year from Keenan Allen combine for an offense that looks better on paper, but their defense could make up for some of that. The Chargers are also a well coached team that only occasionally fails to show up, hence the good but not great record.

3.) Kansas City  =  8-8

Who's In: (WR) Jeremy Maclin, (G) Ben Grubbs, (LB) Joe Mays, (S) Tyvon Branch

Who's Out: (WR) Dwayne Bowe, (C) Rodney Hudson, (DT) Vance Walker, (TE) Anthony Fasano

The Chiefs were probably the best non-playoff team last year - beating both the Super Bowl participants and having the Pythagorean record of an 11-5 team. That said, I think they'll take a slight step back. The defense doesn't have the depth of personnel they once did (I don't like this Poe injury given how critical he was previously), and their o-line has bled personnel. I still like some of their pieces, and think Jeremy Maclin will help boost that awful receiving core, but you can only do so much in a tough division, with a tough schedule.

4.) Oakland  =  5-11

Who's In: (WR) Michael Crabtree, (C) Ray Hudson, (DT) Dan Williams, (LB) Malcolm Smith, (S) Nate Allen, (RB) Roy Helu

Who's Out: (RB) Darren McFadden, (WR) James Jones, (G) Kevin Booth, (C) Stefan Wisniewski, (DT) Antonio Smith, (LB) LaMarr Woodley, (CB) Tarrell Brown, (CB) Carlos Rogers, (S) Tyvon Branch

How does a team with so much cap room lose so many players? Anyway, I see a slight improvement for the Raiders because of their young guys starting to perform. I think Derek Carr can approach average and I really like what I've seen from Amari Cooper. I completely forget they signed Michael Crabtree, and there are some intriguing weapons here. The defense will go as far as their old veterans will take them, not a bad approach to take short-term deals on older players while they draft the next wave. Khalil Mack is the current wave already, a guy who could have a Von Miller type season. The future is brighter than what it was last year, something that is rarely said about the Raiders.

Playoff Picks:

Wild Card Weekend:

(A6) MIA 20  @  (A3) IND 30
(A5) SD 27  @  (A4) NE 24

Divisional Weekend

(A5) SD 17  @  (A1) BAL 27
(A3) IND 20  @  (A2) DEN 34

AFC Championship Game

(A2) DEN 24  @  (A1) BAL 21

Super Bowl L (50)

(A2) DEN 31  vs  (N1) GB 21

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.