Monday, November 30, 2015

The Top-20 QBs: #19 - Bob Griese

#19 - Bob Griese

Bob Griese was handed success on a silver platter in a way. He was given the luxury of playing with two great running backs, a great defense that consistently was near the top of the NFL in basically all defensive stats, and was given a truly legendary Head Coach in Don Shula. In many ways people will discredit his career for those reasons. And it is an easy argument to make. Don't we often do the same with so many other QBs? Try to say it was all their teammates, all the luxuries that they were given? Well, there is two reasons why despite being handled success, Griese deserves to be a Top-20 QB of all time. First, back in the 70s, loaded teams and franchises were all around; teams that ran the ball, played defense, and both suppressed the stats of their great QBs, and also stole a lot of their credit. And second, Griese was still the key piece of the success of the Miami Dolphins.

When you put the 1970s glasses on and take another look at the career stat-line of Bob Griese, you see a player who was consistently throughout his entire career 20%-30% above average. Let's remember that unlike in  baseball, where players are routinely 80%-90% above average (OPS+ or ERA+ in the 180's or so), that doesn't happen in football. QBs are more bunched together - and Griese stat-line and years above the 120 Passer Rating+ (same methodology), puts him in elite company. Bob Griese, when you remember he played in the NFLs version of deadball, was statistically a great QB.

Don Shula had a connection with Bob Griese that was more understated than his relationship with his other two all-time great QBs (again, two men who are further up the list). Shula called him the 'thinking man's QB', a player who was 'ahead of the rest of his peers.' Griese was not playing the mad bomb style of so many of his contemporaries, and that suppressed his stats more so than even. Bob Griese was not just a great QB, he was the best 'game manager' of all time in the best sense of the word.

For the decade of the 70s, the same decade that spawned the legacies of so many legends (including four different contemporaries to come), Griese ranked #3 in completion percentage (58.4%), #3 in y/a (7.5), #2 in passer rating (82.5). All the player ahead of him on those lists are still to come. He was, at worst, the 3rd best QB of the 70s statistically, and this was a decade of Staubach, Bradshaw, Stabler and the last vestiges of Tarkenton and Roman Gabriel. This was a bountiful era of QBs playing for dominant teams that all had good running games and receivers and defenses, and Griese separated himself from that list.

Griese is also famous for what he wasn't. He didn't throw deep as regularly as some of his contemporaries (Bradshaw, especially). He didn't have notable playoff moments like some of those other guys. There were no miracles worked, like Staubach's Hail Mary, or Stabler's Sea of Hands, or Bradshaw's Immaculate Reception. In fact, Griese's playoff career is littered with performances that accentuated the other parts of the team. In Super Bowl VIII, the year after the undefeated season, Griese was 6-7 for 73 yards, and the Dolphins ran it 53 times and won 24-7. The year before he was 8-11 for 88 yards in a 14-7 win. However, there were a few gems, like his game in Kansas City in 1971.

I don't like mentioning the undefeated season primarily because Griese wasn't the starting QB for most of the year - Earl Morrall was. But is that really a knock against him? Griese played 6 games and won all of them, then started the playoffs and won all of those. It was not a great year for Griese, but the year after he started 13 games, went 12-1, with a 84.3 rating (again, great for 1973), and the Dolphins won another Super Bowl. Bob Griese was handed the keys to a Ferrarri, but drove it around twists and turns and continued to steer it at top speed.

Many QBs could have succeeded with a defense and running game that Bob was given - few would have succeeded to the historic levels that Griese did. We look back and try to take away from what Griese did. He had a great running game. He played for Shula. He had a top defense. All true, but all true of so many others. What Bob Griese did really was replay Tom Brady's 2001-2006 portion of his career, but do it when no one else was ale to see the value in doing that, in riding the coattails of greatness but raising it just one step further than most could.

The Top-20 QBs: #20 - Ben Roethlisberger

#20 - Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger has had about 4-5 different careers in just over a decade. At first, he was the talented young QB who was on the perfect team to limit has stats, accentuate his features and win a lot of games. Then he became something of a renegade who rode motorcycles and lead dramatic 4th quarter comebacks - the guy who 'plays well when it matters.' Then he came something of a pariah, whether it be his off-the-field issues, or the criticism he got for not being Brady, Manning, Rodgers or Brees. Finally, starting around 2012-13, when the off-field issues, for better or worse, got further away in the rear-view mirror, and the team started to suffer around him and needed Ben's brilliance to get them to .500, he started finally, truly, getting the credit and labels he deserved all along: a fantastic, stellar QB well on his way to the Hall of Fame, someone who combined traditional QB brilliance and a unique style all his own. Ben Roethlisberger is a sure-fire hall of famer; he became that probably around 2011. What he's done since is the icing on a fantastic cake.

To put it this way, Ben Roethlisberger is statistically a better QB than you think he is, and he is all the other things you think he is. He's a perfect intersection of a tough, scrambler, play-maker, who keeps plays alives and plays like we all did in the backyard, and the exacting brilliant mind of the modern QB. You can argue Rodgers is all these things as well, but Roethlisberger, for no real reason, seems to be perceived more on the vagabond playmaker side. Not that I blame people. Roethlisberger was that guy originally. It was hard to initially look past the guy who was built like a TE. When he started in the league in 2004, at 6'5" and 240 lbs., there was no one like him. He wasn't asked to do a lot initially, on a supremely talented team with a great running game, two great receivers and a great defense. Still, add a normal QB to a team with three great areas, and they probably don't go 13-0. What was hidden behind that record, and his style, was a player who was already showing signs of the dominance he's shown since.

In his rookie season, Ben Roethlisberger was a borderline Top-5 QB in the NFL. He had a 98.1 QB rating, a Y/A of 8.9, and completed 66.4% of his passes. Almost every rookie QB suffers in those areas of play. He was an incredibly gifted passer, who yes was asked to throw 25-30 times a game, but so was Mark Sanchez. Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie was in a different time zone. He had the best rookie season for a QB in NFL history, and then went on to have one of the best 2nd seasons if you remove Dan Marino from the discussion. Roethlisberger essentially repeated his rookie season, but this time added some black ink to his resume, leading the NFL in TD%, Y/A (again, at 8.9) and Y/C. Now he was easily a Top-5 QB. Then, somehow, his ability seemed to peak.

We do have to discuss the darker, more mysterious part of Roethlisberger's career. Starting from his motorcycle accident in the 2006 preseason, through his 2008 season that ended in a Super Bowl run, Roethlisberger seemed to go squarely into the direction of 'big, burly playmaker' side. He had a bad year in 2006, the one truly off year of his career. He then had a season in 2007 that looks better on paper than it did in reality (104.1 passer rating, with 32 TDs and 11 INTs, but threw the ball just 404 times), and then had the reverse in 2008. His 2008 season was a strange one. He had the good fortune of playing with the best defense in the NFL, but he also was at the time right before the Steelers became WR heaven again, and the first year his pass blocking was anything other than good. He had a bad year statistically, but made his mark with late drive after late drive.

From there, Roethlisberger let it fly in 2009. For the first time in his career the Steelers defense was something other than excellent. He had some great receivers in prime Santonio Holmes and a break-out Mike Wallace. The running game was transitioning. They had to have Roethlisberger throw. For the first time he threw 500 passes in a season. And as people should have predicted, he did really well, completing 66.6% of his passes, for 4,300 yards, another Y/A over 8.0, and a passer rating over 100. And then came last year, when he did all of that, but even more. Again, gifted with a prodigious WR in Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger threw it even more, this time topping 600 yards, and was arguably the best QB in the NFL in the regular season, with 4,900 yards, with 32 TDs and a passer rating at 103.3. Ben Roethlisberger was, more than ever before, asked to be Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and was a Top-2 QB in the NFL.

That's really the hidden brilliance of Ben Roethlisberger. Take away the trappings and size and 'warrior' nature of his game, and what you have is a hyper-efficient player. In his 11 seasons, he had a QB rating over 97.0 seven times (admittedly, that is arbitrary), a Y/A over 8.0 five times, and for his career has completed 64.0% of his passes, with 41,000 yards and a career 94.0 passer rating. That's a profile that compares right there with the top QBs of his era, coming from a guy who has had iffy pass protection for nearly a decade now, playing outdoors city for a defensive-minded team in a defensive-minded division. Ben Roethlisberger has been so much more dominant than anyone really thinks. Yet, for those who have him shoe-horned into this 'clutch', 'winner' and 'non-stats' great, he is all those things too.

The Super Bowl drive is the one that will always be remembered, likely it will be Roethlisberger's A-Block highlight. There's a reason for that. His final throw was thrown with computer accuracy. The drive even started with a 10-yard holding penalty that pushed them to 1st and 20 from the 12. But to me the real signature drive was five weeks earlier, in Week 15, in Baltimore. The Steelers were 10-3. The Ravens were 9-4. The winner had the clear track to win the AFC North. The Steelers were the NFL's best defense across the board in 2008, but this game was in Baltimore and all the stats the Steelers' defense was #1 in, if you limit to just home games, the Ravens were #1. The Steelers took over with 3:30 to go, on their own three yard line, down 9-6. Roethlisberger led a classic drive in the most hostile of environments, for a TD that won the Steelers the game and the division. It was an amazing drive, the winning throw made off a completely busted play when Roethlisberger had no one open, then scrambled left, found nothing, shook off a tackle and then went back right and fired a pass to Holmes. It was an incredible play in an incredible game. It was everything that encompassed Ben Roethlisberger. A winner, sure, but an incredibly patient, prescient and precise QB.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Weekend of Football Without Anxiety

I wrote last week that I am learning to reach the point where I long for an NFL post-Brady and Manning. An NFL that isn't governed by the argument created out of comparing these two titans of their sport. An NFL that will probably come close to 2020, when I am not chained by my connection to that tiresome argument. Well, for one Sunday, I got a preview, and I loved it.

Manning was out, injured in more places than one ever should be. Brady was set to play on Monday Night. Therefore, for one Sunday, we were Manning and Brady free. I didn't truly care about the outcomes, at least not in a way that would keep me up at night going over missed opportunities for hours. Instead, I got to just watch a Sunday of football; a novel experience for someone whose sports life has been so dominated by these two players and everything that came with them. And it was amazing; amazing to just sit back and watch, to go through the experience so few get to. I got to watch football without caring too much about any result and enjoy the entertainment aspect, and I loved it.

It definitely helped that the SNF game was one of the most competitive games I've seen in years. It was a beautiful mix of offense and defense, by two teams that are probably in the Top-5 of most entertaining and watchable teams anyway (Arizona is my #1). That game was excellent on all levels. Great players stood out, like Palmer and Fitz, or Geno Atkins having a monster game. There were swings of momentum, nice comebacks, and a nice touch of controversy. It was a great game, one that I didn't care about the outcome. To me, that is a perfect sporting event.

The whole day was something like that. I chose to just watch NFL RedZone for three hours during the early games. I'm not an unabashed fan of RedZone, because I like watching plays that are, you know, within the 20s sometimes. But it was fan to actually just sit back and watch RedZone for once; to experience it in all its magic. Flipping around from game to game, getting used to the beats and rhythms to where you can predict if the cut-away is a big play for hte offense or a turnover.

Now, the 1PM games were not all that good yesterday, but enough were that via RedZone, it was an enjoyable few hours. It was fun watching Cam Newton, and my pet-team Panthers, roll to a 5TD game and a 10-0 start. It was fun watching Chip Kelly's team got roasted at home - this time by a legimiately up-and-coming Bucs team. It was also fun watching Matt Hasselbeck and the Colts somehow overcome a 14-point deficit in Atlanta (speaking of, remember when Atlanta was 5-0?). The 1PM games mixed good play with bad (the end of the Rams vs. Ravens game was particularly troubling), but was merely the appetizer.

I wouldn't call the Packers @ Vikings game the 'entree' (that was so clearly the night game), but it was also a fun, competitive game for three quarters. The Vikings are inexplicably 7-2, and had the chance to get a two game lead in the division. This was the biggest Vikings game since Week 17 in 2012. Sure, they lost, and probably ceded the division, but they showed some signs. They have a great defense, and a few weapons with a QB who will be better with both better protection and more time. They also had a great atmosphere.

I realize TCF Bank Stadium is a stop-gap, but it has been really fun having the Vikings outdoors the past two years. The Vikings, historically, are a defense-first team. The defense was helped by the Met in the 60's-70's, and is helped today. The cold weather, the division rivalry, it all added up to a great spectacle. Yes, through Aaron Rodgers having enough ridiculous 3rd down conversions and the Packers defense having enough pressure, it ended up being not that competitive, but it was still 19-13 game through three quarters.

Finally, let's just get to that game. This might have been the most fun, entertaining and enjoyable game I've seen in many, many years. I can't immediately think of the last game that was this great. Maybe the Saints vs. Panthers game in Week 15 in 2013 - the game that allowed the Panthers to steal the division. Actually, it was probably the NFC Championship in 2013, but this was my favorite regular season in a long, long time.

That game had everything for a neutral observer. It had QBs throwing deep a lot on both sides. It had hte resurgence of an old veteran great in Fitzgerald. It had defensive standout performances, like Geno Atkins dominating the Cardinals, or the whole Patrick Peterson vs. AJ Green matchup. It had some great playcalling and chess-match elements, like Hue Jackson's pandora's box of an offense against the blitzing of Arizona. Finally, it had a nice souissant of controversy with the penalty on Cincinnati for barking out fake snap counts.

What didn't that game have. It even had a jacked-up crowd in Arizona, and two teams with a lot to play for, both wanting to stay in striking distance of the unbeaten leader in their conference. It was the type of game that should have no losers.

And that's why I was so infuriated to see people still questioning the Bengals ability to win big games. The performance the Bengals showed yesterday would have beaten all but like three teams. They just happened to play one of the three that could beat a Bengals team playing close to its best. You can ask how they were playing at their best: both teams turned it over, there were sloppy penalties, but then ask yourself what is a perfect game. Almost all the mistakes were forced errors by great play by the opposition. It was just a really competitive, well-played game.

After the disaster of last weekend, with the simultaneous Patriots Bull-Shit and Manning collapse, I almost thought of just not watching football again, but instead I watched it all but watched unfettered. It was a glimpse to my future as a football fan, and if we can get a handful of games like Bengals @ Cardinals, without the emotional weight of what I've dealt with, I'll gladly take it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dealing with the End of a Era

Peyton Manning had his worst game of his career, then reportedly tore his plantar fasciia. He may sit, maybe for the rest of the season. That may be a better option actually than taking the field the way he did yesterday. The 'Peyton Manning' period of my life is basically over.

Rafael Nadal is #6 in the world, but he's also a guy who didn't reach a major semifinal, a guy who now has devolved into where getting tough 3-set wins and losing to top players is so normal people hail it as signs of progress. This from a guy who just last summer, after winning a 9th French Open, stood just three Slams behind Federer (and a full eight ahead of Novak, now just four). While he still is just #6, and is only a year older than Djokovic and Murray, it seems like his slam-winning part of his career, is also over.

These two players have probably been #1 and #2 in my book for a good ten years now. I’ve followed each of them closely, Manning since 2003, and Nadal since he burst onto the scene in 2005, winning the French Open just a week after turning 19. These players are basically losing rapidly to father time (somehow, Nadal’s future seems eminently, and relatively, brighter than Manning’s). This period, this era, of my sports fan’s life is over. It was great. I got so many incredible moments and memories, from the Colts 2006 Super Bowl run, or their 2009 season (up until the onside kick), to Nadal’s triumphs in Wimbledon in ’08, Australian Open in ’09, and his two wins over Djokovic in New York. It had it’s fair share of downs as well, from the numerous injuries that Nadal had to suffer, recover and play through, to Manning’s incredible lack of luck in the playoffs throughout his careers.

Both players are also notorious for who they are not. Manning is not Tom Brady, and while I will go to my deathbed truly believing Manning was the better QB, the tide has really turned for that being anything close to a majority opinion – something that basically was a 50/50 discussion just 12 months ago. For Nadal, he wasn’t Federer, but that argument was always more interesting, where he had Federer’s number head-to-head. Now, I have to worry more about Novak passing Nadal historically than Nadal trumping his main rival. Now that both career’s look to be squarely over, I have to not only accept their place, but do the harder, but ultimately more important – I need to move on.

I’ve written many times about my life as a football fan focusing on Manning, and as always with him joined at the hip in history will be Brady. Two years ago, right after AFC Championship Game, a game Manning played brilliantly in, a game Manning won, a game that seemed to tip the scales to the ‘Manning > Brady’ side more than it had ever been, I wrote that I long for the day when both Manning and Brady have retired, when there is no more to gain or lose, when each Sunday is not a referendum on Manning’s career and how it compares to Brady’s. Well, that day is coming very soon. I said back then I can’t wait for it… and I need to make good on that feeling.

But what can I really do. I’ve spent so much time, energy and man-hours in my life watching, debating, thinking and living these two players’ careers. I can’t move on too easily, partly because doing so in some ways invalidates all the time I spent (some would say ‘wasted’) on them. But also because I don’t want to let go that quickly. In recent years, I enjoyed the off-season of the NFL more, a time when I could dream Manning’s team would go 14-2 and roll to a Super Bowl. I’ve wanted nothing more to see that one player win another Super Bowl. Not even for me to enjoy, but for him. I have to accept that hoping for that is useless and it is time to move on.

I will be a sports fan long after Peyton Manning does ultimately retire, same with Rafael Nadal. It remains to be seen if I will follow either sport with the same passion – I likely will with football but I’m not as sure with Tennis. But one of the ‘come to Jesus’ moments of a sports fan is when that first cycle of players, and with it teams, debates, arguments and moments, dies. For almost as long as I have been a sports fan, these two players, and so many more, have been a part of it. The first challenge of my sports fandom is that next wave.

And to be honest, the next wave doesn’t look so bad. At my core I still have two NFL team’s that I pull for (with Manning in Denver, it was about him and him alone); the Raiders, who despite a recent two-game losing streak, have a bright future – and will likely take over from the Broncos as kings of the AFC West as early as next year, and the Colts, who still employ Andrew Luck. But I can also set my sights away from football. Back over to baseball, where my team is exiting a period of prolonged dormancy with a star of the future in Carlos Correa, a man who offers all the promise that Peyton Manning offered to Indianapolis.

It is hard to say these things and not seemed fair-weathered, that I’ll turn my back on the NFL the second Peyton Manning hangs it up, and move right over to the sport where my favorite team has a bright outlook; but it is more about where should I spend my time that I, some would say pathologically, have to devote to sports. Why waste it on the NFL when I can waste it on baseball, a sport I used to love as much before the Astros turned into the MLB equivalent of Blackberry in their organizational philosophy?

There are stars of the future playing today. It definitely changes the equation when those stars first become your age, and then progressively younger than you (Connor MacDavid was born in freaking 1997), and that change does make it harder to embrace. It brings into question darker areas like ‘what am I doing with my life when Player X has accomplished more at 22 than I ever will?’. It will take time for me to fully embrace this new era of favorite players and favorite teams and new sports memories that will last my 20’s and 30’s.

It then becomes a nice combination that the first time your favorite players leave the building for the last time, is about the age when you probably should do so, to some degree, as well. As Manning, and Nadal, and before them Oswalt and Brodeur, hang it up and move on to better things, I should as well. I’m at the age where my career and starting a family and all that stuff becomes more important – the unfamiliar faces littering the playing field is just another sign.

But it never will escape totally. There is no ‘off’ switch in being a sports fan. I just have to hope there is a way to transport the energy that was expended in rooting for Peyton Manning and Rafael Nadal, and the associated heartbreak and elation, lop some of it off to get to a more sane level, and move it all over the Carlos Correa and the Astros, and stars of the late 2010s and 2020s.

Coming to terms with the end of an era is always difficult, but for me it has recently brought up the questions of ‘was it worth it?’, and it is going to take more than it should for those answers to be ‘Yes’ for both Peyton Manning and Rafael Nadal. Undoubtedly, they’ve given me some of my greatest memories as a sports fan. They’ve also produced some of the worst. They’ve also produced me to expend hours of time debating their relative places in history with so many different people – most of whom were online and I’d never meet in real life. I enjoyed that to some degree, but the vapid nature of analyzing QBs, something that has, comically, become worse over time has made me and other Manning supporters expend more than was necessary.

In that sense, I look forward to a world of rooting for Derek Carr and Amari Cooper. For rooting for Khalil Mack. I’ll have to pick up a tennis player (or drop the sport), but there’s a future there as well. But it all leads back to the uncertainty. With Peyton Manning, through the heartbreaking postseason losses, came the hope of ‘there’s always next year.’ That 14-2 season where he rides off with his 2nd ring was always just a few months away. That was a comforting, and sadly incorrect, thought, but comfort was needed at the worst times. That comfort is gone. What lies ahead, with Derek Carr, and Carlos Correa, is definitely exciting (even the Devils are somehow playing well in a year that they probably should be tanking in), but has a ways to go to be comforting.

Back in January, when Peyton looked lost in a playoff loss to the Colts, a game in which he played badly as he dealt with what we later learned were serious injuries to his thighs, there was rampant speculation that he would retire. I wanted him to come back. ‘He was hurt,’ was my line, dreaming that a healthy Peyton Manning, despite his age, would go back to the player he was at the start of 2014, when he was the best QB in the NFL through 9 weeks. I thought one last miracle 14-2 season and Super Bowl run; that a healthy, motivated Manning, coupled with a great defense, would do the trick. Now that he returned ever worse, and again injured, I realize it wasn’t hope but comfort. I wasn’t ready yet for an NFL without Peyton Manning. I don’t know if I will be in 2016 either. All I know is I really hope come September, 2016, when Peyton Manning is chilling at home in Louisiana, and there are 32 starting QBs, none of which are him, Carlos Correa should be hitting .320 for the first place Astros. I just hope that that is all it takes.

.... You are my only hope Carlos Correa

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 10 Power Rankings & The Rest

Looking Back at Last Week's Picks

BENGALS (-12.5) over Browns  (CORRECT  =  1-0)
Titans (+9) over SAINTS  (CORRECT  =  2-0)
Jaguars (+9) over JETS  (CORRECT  =  3-0)
Redskins (+15) over PATRIOTS  (WRONG  =  3-1)
BILLS (-2.5) over Dolphins  (CORRECT  =  4-1)
Rams (pk) over VIKINGS  (WRONG  =  4-2)
PANTHERS (+2.5) over Packers (CORRECT  =  5-2)
Raiders (+4) over STEELERS  (CORRECT  =  6-2)
49ERS (+7.5) over Falcons  (CORRECT  =  7-2)
Giants (-2.5) over BUCCANEERS  (CORRECT  =  8-2)
Broncos (-5) over COLTS  (WRONG  =  8-3)
COWBOYS (+2.5) over Eagles  (WRONG  =  8-4)
Bears (+4) over CHARGERS  (CORRECT  =  9-4)

Power Rankings

32.) Detroit Lions  (1-7  =  149-245)

Reason to Fly: I honestly have no idea what reason for optimism there is about the Detroit Lions. I guess you can pop in some old tapes of the team from just a year ago that was one of the best defenses in the league... instead of this unit on pace to give up 490 points

Reason to Die: The team will remain with cap issues as long as Matthew Stafford (never reached his potential) and Calvin Johnson (already past his prime) are on the team... which will be until roughly 2025.

31.) Cleveland Browns  (2-7  =  177-247)

Reason to Fly: The Browns are competitive in most of their games, have a lot of young players that could contribute in the future, and have a coach who generally prepares his team well and the team is not making some of the bonehead mistakes of past awful Browns teams.

Reason to Die: Johnny Maziel is still not very good, and niether are other recent first round picks like Danny Shelton, or Justin Gilbert (mostly Justin Gilbert, really). You can't blow 1st round picks when you are already bad.

30.) San Francisco 49ers  (3-6  =  126-223)

Reason to Fly: The 49ers offense is good enough to score against bad defenses, and are still better on defense than they should be given the lack of pure talent on the team and the mass exodus over the past 12 months.

Reason to Die: What is the best case with this QB scenario? Blaine Gabbert wins the job full-time? Colin Kaepernick comes back on a lame-duck contract where the 49ers will almost assuredly look to cut ties at the end of 2015?

29.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-6  =  170-235)

Reason to Fly: There's more hope than you think here. Blake Bortles is having a decent second season, and Allen Robinson and Alan Hurns are nice weapons. That is a core you can build around in the future, when the AFC becomes easier for lower-ranked teams.

Reason to Die: This isn't 2018, so these guys are not fully formed, and the defense is still old in the areas it is good, and bad in the areas it is young. Maybe Dante Fowler Jr. coming back next years helps to course-correct that side of the ball.

28.) Houston Texans  (3-5  =  174-205)

Reason to Fly: You still employ the best player in the NFL at his position, with JJ watt back to doing his normal ridiculous things (8.5 sacks through eight games). And DeAndre Hopkins is quite a nice player as well.

Reason to Die: You basically have two good players. Watt can make your defense competent, but as long as you're playing in the 'Tom Brady Backup' kiddie pool at QB, the cap on the offense is lower than it needs to be. Also, it would be nice for Jadeveon Clowney to start showing the talent that made him #1 overall.

27.) San Diego Chargers  (2-7  =  210-249)

Reason to Fly: Watching Philip Rivers each week is still an incredible experience, from the weird way of throwing, to the receivers that no one has ever heard of, and his ability to throw just ridiculous arcs that drop right onto his targets' hands.

Reason to Die: Philip Rivers is being wasted on a team that is equally talent deficient, and snake-bitten with injuries. He can cover a lot of holes, but not to teh ridiculous degree that he has had to at times from 2011-2015.

26.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-6  =  160-204)

Reason to Fly: They are just two games back in the loss column in the NFC East, and Tony Romo is expected back in two weeks. The Cowboys have showed enough talent to stay in a lot of these games, so it isn't too hard to imagine them doing really well once they are whole.

Reason to Die: It may not matter if Romo only comes back at Thanksgiving. There is a good chance they'll be 2-8, and probably at best 3-7, heading into that game. Their margin of error is basically nothing. What a help it would have been to win JUST ONE of the non-Romo games.

25.) Chicago Bears  (3-5  =  162-221)

Reason to Fly: The Bears have a competent coaching staff that is getting the most out of truly limited talent, and making Jay Cutler into the most composed, safe version of himself. The team is 3-3 when Cutler does start, and figures to get healthier in the second half.

Reason to Die: Their ceiling is capped with Cutler unless their personnel improves whole-sale on the defensive side, so maybe Cutler having a reserved season is bad for their long-term outlook? They still have a real lack of young talent, and while Fox and Gase are here to stay, we are a while away from the true next version of the good Bears.

24.) Miami Dolphins  (3-5  =  171-206)

Reason to Fly: Tannehill has played a lot better the last month - save for the disaster in New England. The defense is still plugging away, and there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel with a real coaching staff replacing the remnants of the Philbin era.

Reason to Die: With that loss, the season is close to a write-off at this point with five losses to AFC teams, so they are basically playing out the string with a bunch of coaches who likely won't be here next year. After a nice run back to 3-3, the last two weeks showed that there are structural problems here.

23.) Washington Redskins  (3-5  =  158-195)

Reason to Fly: The team is starting to develop in Scott McLoughan's image, a hard-nosed defensive team that will play above its talent level on defense, and center around an offense that protects its QB and allows for a few easy throws.

Reason to Die: Much like with Chicago, what is the future here at QB? Kirk Cousins has been average at best, which is not really good. RGIII is likely gone. McLoughan built teams good enough to be 6-10 to 8-8, but they didn't really evolve until Alex Smith came under Harbaugh's wing. With Cousins, we're not really there.

22.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (3-5  =  181-231)

Reason to Fly: The Buccaneers are competitive, could easily be 4-4, if not 5-3, and have a QB that has cut down on mistakes, and much like Cam Newton, looks committed to learning that position and not just rely on his athleticism.

Reason to Die: 2015 is a write-off at this point. There is great potential going forward, and in that division, they are in the best shape outside of Carolina, but maybe, just maybe, blowing leads is building character for what is to come. In many respects, they are emulating Lovie's first year in Chicago.

21.) Baltimore Ravens  (2-6  =  190-214)

Reason to Fly: Are we sure they are out of it? There is an outside chance 8-8 gets a Wild Card, and the Ravens play a lot of the Wild Card contenders in the remaining portion of the season. It is unlikely but to me they are the first team in the list with a shot at the playoffs that doesn't need impossible scenarios to play out.

Reason to Die: Ok, they probably are out of it, but more than that they have to figure out how to retain a semblance of leadership on that defense. Reed and Lewis have been gone for a while, but now add Ngata and Suggs to that list. There's a lot of talent, but nothing much tying it together.

20.) Kansas City Chiefs  (3-5  =  195-182)

Reason to Fly: The Chiefs are 2-0 in their last two games, despite losing Jamaal Charles, and their defense has put up four good defensive games in a row. They are in many ways a version of Baltimore, but with an additional win already in the bank. The schedule is easy, and they are very much in it.

Reason to Die: Without Jamaal Charles, their offense is very limited against better defenses (the Lions are not one), and they still have four tough road games left (Denver, San Diego, Oakland, Baltimore). They could conceivably sneak in, but more likely they'll be a less good version of the 2014 team... on the outside looking in come January.

19.) Tennessee Titans  (2-6  =  169-187)

Reason to Fly: Marcus Mariota is very good, and even better when his few completely awful throws results in two Saints running into each other and batting the ball up in the air, which is then caught and run in for a TD. But still, Marcus Mariota is very good.

Reason to Die: There are talent deficiencies, but Mariota can mask a lot of those. The bigger issue is the coaching situation. Mike Mularkey has been competent with young QBs (specifically Matt Ryan), but it would be good to figure out if he's the long term option past 2015.

18.) New Orleans Saints  (4-5  =  241-268)

Reason to Fly: Drew Brees is very good, and that offense has at times the last four weeks, looked somewhat like the dynamic machine from 2009-2013. The Saints offense is giving Brees far, far, far more time now than they did early in the season, and maybe him taking the week off was an incredible risky, and now correct, decision.

Reason to Die: They just lost a home game to a team that was 1-7, a game that included a blown 4th quarter lead. Again, this was at home. I brought up 2009-2013. Can you even imagine this happening in the Superdome in 2009-2013? Is that even in the realm of possibility? No, it is absolutely not.

17.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-3  =  229-190)

Reason to Fly: The Falcons have six wins in the bank, which helps. They also have a fairly easy schedule to close out the season, which also helps. The NFC Wild Card picture is as muddled as the AFC's, but the teams generally have higher upsides. You may need 10 wins, but for Atlanta, that is just four more... and they have the best QB in that group.

Reason to Die: Well, they had five of the six wins banked a month ago, and proceeded to play a still-easy part of the schedule and went 1-3, with the one win coming as a 3-point win against Zach Mettenberger. So no matter the banked wins or easy schedule, nothing comes easy for them.

16.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (5-4  =  206-182)

Reason to Die: Ben Roethlisberger is hurt again. He was amazingly healthy in 2012-14, when the team waffled between mediocre and good, but now he's hurt for the 2nd time in one season, and this is right after Le'Veon Bell went out for the year. What the hell.

Reason to Fly: Roethlisberger will come back, and no one is running away from the pack in the AFC Wild card. They have a key head-to-head win over Oakland, but four AFC losses will hurt. Also, the rest of their team has been able to pick up for Roethlisberger being out before.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles  (4-4  =  193-164)

Reason to Die: They just aren't very good. This is a team that scored 440+ points in both of Chip Kelly's seasons, and are on pace to score under 400. Sam Bradford is not working, the o-line is still bad, and they have to struggle to approach 30 points.

Reason to Fly: The defense is still quite good. They're also on pace to have by far their best defensive season in Chip Kelly's time here. The team is healthy on that side of the ball, and that front is good enough to win a few games and have them sneak in.

14.) Indianapolis Colts  (4-5  =  200-227)

Reason to Die: Andrew Luck broke his world. He's going to miss 2-5 games, probably the high end. This team has had such a rough season. Ironically, they've been healthier than normal, but one of the few injured guys is the franchise.

Reason to Fly: Matt Hasselbeck did a decent job in spot duty earlier, and that division is so abhorrent, they may make the playoffs by multiple games at 7-9. they just need to be somewhat near .500 when Luck comes back and they'll be fine.

13.) Buffalo Bills  (4-4  =  209-190)

Reason to Die: What happened to that great Bills defense? In 2013-14, with Gregg Williams and Jim Schwartz as coordinators, the Bills were a Top-5 defense. They had 59 sacks in 2013, and 48 more last year. They had great defensive numbers across the board in 2014. Rex comes in... and they're squarely average and on pace for 26 sacks.

Reason to Fly: What happened to that bad Bills offense! Somehow, the Bills are squarely in teh Wild Card race because of their offense, one that has succeeded with Tyrod Taylor and is getting healthier. They may make the playoffs yet, just not the way we expected.

12.) St. Louis Rams  (4-4  =  153-146)

Reason to Die: The Rams basically have two offensive plays; run the ball with Todd Gurley, or run the ball with Tavon Austin. There's not much else. They're basically now depending on Wes Welker to make an improvement.

Reason to Fly: That defense is still very, very good and will get healthier as the season goes on. They have a front-runner for DPOTY in Aaron Donald, and overall are on pace for 54 sacks. They have an outside shot at the playoffs, but are well set for the future.

11.) Seattle Seahawks  (4-4  =  167-140)

Reason to Die: The Seahawks offense still depends on Russell Wilson being a miracle worker, and he's been worse at that than normal this year. Not all his fault, His line and weapons have never been THIS bad before. Also, it would be nice if the defense doens't blow 10+ point leads every other week.

Reason to Fly: Guess who's tied for 2nd in points allowed? Guess who's defense will still swallow up any marginal offense. Guess who's still .500 and poised for a nice 2nd half run again. The offense will likely push their ceiling below Super Bowl in 2015, but they'll be a tough, tough out.

10.) Oakland Raiders  (4-4  =  213-211)

Reason to Die: The defense is terrible. They have a few nice pieces, and it will get better as the focus shifts to that side of the ball in the draft going forward, but right now unless they get pressure guys are open everywhere.

Reason to Fly: The offense is legitimately good. They kept pace with teh Steelers despite fumbling all over the place. Derek Carr is legitimately a Top-10 QB in 2015, and his connection with those young guys, not only Cooper, will be special to watch in the coming years.

9.) New York Giants  (5-4  =  247-226)

Reason to Die: They have no pass rush and now lost arguably their best d-lineman in Jonathan Hankins. The defense is coached well, and they force takeaways, and JPP may give them something, but that defense is still not very good.

Reason to Fly: The offense is about as good as the defense is bad, as Eli Manning has taken to that offense well, and they've started incorporating Shane Vereen nicely as the season has gone on. They also get to play in that division, setting up an eery repeat of 2011.

8.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-2  =  168-140)

Reason to Die: They have to start scoring more than 21 points in a game to continue to win; and Teddy Bridgewater is still just a marginal player who hasn't really improved at all in 2015 from his previous self.

Reason to Fly: The team that is tied with Seattle for 2nd in points allowed is the Vikings. They're defense has been good all season, and they're something special on that outdoor field when they are at home. I really wonder if the Vikings will lose something when they move back indoors next year.

7.) New York Jets  (5-3  =  200-162)

Reason to Die: Ryan Fitzpatrick will cost them a few games, and the defense at times doesn't play up to their true talent. They are still trying to integrate all those d-lineman into a working rotation, and Revis has been slightly below his normal self during the 2nd quarter of the season.

Reason to Fly: They've banked five wins and have only two AFC losses, and still have a lot of head-to-head games over competitors. Also, that offense might be the best Jets offense since the pre-Thanksgiving Favre bunch in 2008.

6.) Green Bay Packers  (6-2  =  203-167)

Reason to Die: It's a 5-team league at the top right now, and the Packers, two weeks after being the clear favorite in the NFC, are #6. They were famous for never being blown out, and then a week after losing 10-29, fell behind 10-37. Yes, they made a comeback, but being down 20+ two weeks in a row is a bad sign.

Reason to Fly: They still have Aaron Rodgers, and maybe that 4th quarter is a sign of things to come. Rodgers is still good enough to always win at least 10 games.

5.) Carolina Panthers  (8-0  =  228-165)

Reason to Die: What is going on in the 4th Quarter? The Panthers defense has been tremendous in Q1-3 the last two games, then gave up 20 straight points to nearly blow the Colts game, and then 19 straight points to nearly blow the Packers game.

Reason to Fly: A lot of that is probably just lack of depth due to injuries up-front. I wonder if we'll see the mad secondary blitzing that was so effective for the 2013 Panthers if this continues. Also, do people realize they are on pace to score 456 points, the 4th highest in the league.

4.) Denver Broncos  (7-1  =  192-139)

Reason to Die: For once, the defense faltered giving up way too many 3rd down conversions, especially in the mid range (3 to 8 yards); and the run-game disappeared after a nice stretch. Manning also returned to his mental mistakes, even if physically he looked good.

Reason to Fly: Manning physically looked good again. The TD throw to Sanders, and the roll-out throw to the opposite side of the field to Daniels are throws he could not make three weeks ago. That defense, on its worst day, gave up just 369 yards and likely won't be as bad on third down again. Just keep plugging along, knowing the tough games to come are all at home.

3.) Arizona Cardinals  (6-2  =  263-153)

Reason to Die: The Cardinals may really rue dropping those two games to the Rams, and especially to Landry Jones and the Steelers. They are appreciably better than Seattle so far in 2015, yet if they lose the upcoming Sunday, they will only be 1 game up on Seattle.

Reason to Fly: They've been 90% as good as New England so far this year. They've scored just 13 points less, and allowed just 10 points more - and this is despite losing two games. They've been so good, but yes, they haven't played many good teams so far.

2.) Cincinnati Bengals  (8-0  =  229-142)

Reason to Die: They are still the Bengals and this is still Andy Dalton. Yes, he looks good, but so far the Bengals have been incredibly healthy on both sides of the ball, and their depth at receiver, and both lines is not the best.

Reason to Fly: When you factor in competition of opponents, they might be the best team. They haven't been as dominant as New England, or even Arizona in their wins, but the Bengals have been ruthless. Also, can we just admit that Andy Dalton is a legitimate MVP candidate.

1.) New England Patriots  (8-0  =  276-143)

Reason to Die: Dion Lewis's injury is meaningful. He's done a great job in the Vereen / Woodhead / Faulk role, and there is no natural replacement. That and the o-line injuries are piling up, and that offense has been about 10% worse the last few weeks.

Reason to Fly: They're 8-0, and the Champs, and have the Golden Boy, and the best Coach, and the best Owner, and the best Everything.

Projecting the Playoff Field


1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3
3.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  13-3
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) New York Jets  =  11-5
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  10-6


1.) Carolina Panthers  =  13-3
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4
3.) Green Bay Packers  =  12-4
4.) New York Giants  =  9-7
5.) Minnesota Vikings  =  10-6
6.) St. Louis Rams  =  10-6

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Atlanta Falcons (6-3), Indianapolis Colts (4-5), San Diego Chargers (2-7), San Francisco 49ers (3-6)

14.) Cleveland Browns (2-7)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)  @  Baltimore Ravens (2-6)  (1;00 - CBS)
12.) Dallas Cowboys (2-6)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Bad vs. Bad" Sunday, as we get three teams that feature six bad teams - and yes, without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers qualify as a bad team. The Browns may actually have a chance to get their first win in Heinz Field (it is STAGGERING that they haven't done this yet). The Ravens can start a potential second half run, and I guess the Cowboys may finally get a Romo-less win.

11.) Houston Texans (3-5)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (8-0)  (MNF - ESPN)
10.) Carolina Panthers (8-0)  @  Tennessee Titans (2-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Detroit Lions (1-7)  @  Green Bay Packers (6-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Bad vs. Good" Sunday and Monday, as three of the Big Six in the NFL (CIN, CAR, GB, NE, DEN, ARZ) play three awful teams. The Texans are easily, along with San Fran, the worst three win team. The Titans are better than 2-6, but Mariota is not facing the Saints this week - if two Panthers are in position to make a pick, it won't become a TD. The Packers also get to R-E-L-A-X with the Lions and that awful defense coming to town.

8.) New Orleans Saints (4-5)  @  Washington Redskins (3-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Chicago  Bears (3-5)  @  St. Louis Rams (4-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Miami Dolphins (3-5)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it 'Mediocre vs. Mediocre" Sunday. The 1:00 slate is just a mess this week; while the late slate is uniformly good. Just a weird reversale. These three games are so average, so blah, so nothing. I may actually do something different from 1:00-4:00 this Sunday.

5.) Minnesota Vikings (6-2)  @  Oakland Raiders (4-4)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Another 1970's Super Bowl that is somehow a good game" Sunday, as the surprising 6-2 Vikings play the surprising 4-4 Raiders. Somehow, I feel like the Raiders are better. They are definitely more exciting. This is definitely a defense vs. offense matchup, but the Raiders just had one of those two weeks ago and their offense dominated.

4.) Kansas City Chiefs (3-5)  @  Denver Broncos (7-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
3.) Buffalo Bills (4-4)  @  New York Jets (5-3)  (TNF - NFLN)
2.) Arizona Cardinals (6-2)  @  Seattle Seahawks (4-4)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Divisional Games Mean Something" Sunday, as we get three good division games. The Chiefs are on a mini-win streak, and with a soft schedule ahead, a win here could really get them going in the 2nd half. The Bills and Jets play for pole position for a Wild Card in what combines as Rex Ryan's return. Finally, Cardinals @ Seahawks could be a great battle on Sunday Night, the first in two weeks for teh Cardinals, who host Cincinnati next Sunday Night.

1.) New England Patriots (8-0)  @  New York Giants (5-4) (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Revenge is a dish..." Sunday, as My Word. The Patriots go for 9-0, but also go for triple revence. The Giants go for a big win at home, something that would really put them in nice position in the NFC East. The Giants seemingly know how to play the Patriots, but literally two Giants defenders remain from the Super Bowl in 2011 (Prince Amukamara and Jason Pierre-Paul and his seven fingers). Really nice game here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 9 Picks

I'm out-of-town this weekend, attending my friend's engagement. That's right, I've reached that part of my life where friends are going to get married. A tad worried about that development. Anyway...

Cleveland Browns (2-6)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (7-0)  (CIN -12.5)

Browns 13  Bengals 28  (CIN -12.5)

Tennessee Titans (1-6)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-4)  (NO -9)

Titans 20  Saints 28  (TEN +9)

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5)  @  New York Jets (4-3)  (NYJ -9)

Jaguars 17  Jets 24  (JAX +9)

Washington Redskins (3-4)  @  New England Patriots (7-0)  (NE -15)

Redskins 20  Patriots 34  (WAS +15)

Miami Dolphins (3-4)  @  Buffalo Bills (3-4)  (BUF -2.5)

Dolphins 16  Bills 21  (BUF -2.5)

St. Louis Rams (4-3)  @  Minnesota Vikings (5-2)  (PK)

Rams 24  Vikings 13  (STL)

Green Bay Packers (6-1)  @  Carolina Panthers (7-0)  (GB -2.5)

Packers 24  Panthers 27  (CAR +2.5)

Oakland Raiders (4-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)  (PIT -4)

Raiders 27  Steelers 23  (OAK +4)

Atlanta Falcons (6-2)  @  San Francisco 49ers (2-6)  (ATL -7.5)

Falcons 28  49ers  24  (SF +7.5)

New York Giants (4-4)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)  (NYG -2.5)

Giants 27  Buccaneers 21  (NYG -2.5)

Denver Broncos (7-0)  @  Indianapolis Colts (3-5)  (DEN -5)

Broncos 31  Colts 13  (DEN -5)

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)  @  Dallas Cowboys (2-5)  (PHI -2.5)

Eagles 17  Cowboys 20  (DAL +2.5)

Chicago Bears (2-5)  @  San Diego Chargers (2-6)  (SD -4)

Bears 20  Chargers 27  (SD -4)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 9 Power Rankings & the Rest

Checking In on Last Week's Picks

Dolphins (+8.5)  over  PATRIOTS  (WRONG  =  0-1)
Lions (+3.5)  over  CHIEFS  (WRONG  =  0-2)
TEXANS (-4)  over  Titans  (CORRECT  =  1-2)
BEARS (+1)  over  Vikings  (WRONG  =  1-3)
FALCONS (-7)  over  Buccaneers  (WRONG  =  1-4)
Bengals (PK)  over  STEELERS  (CORRECT  =  2-4)
Cardinals (-5.5)  over  BROWNS  (CORRECT  =  3-4)
Giants (+3)  over  SAINTS  (PUSH  =  3-4-1)
RAMS (-8)  over  49ers  (CORRECT  =  4-4-1)
RAVENS (-3.5)  over  Chargers  (WRONG  =  4-5-1)
RAIDERS (+3)  over  Jets  (CORRECT  =  5-5-1)
Seahawks (-5)  over  COWBOYS  (WRONG  =  5-6-1)
BRONCOS (+3)  over  Packers  (CORRECT  =  6-6-1)
Colts (+7)  over  PANTHERS  (CORRECT  =  7-6-1)

Power Rankings

The "Sometimes the worst record is the worst team" Duo

32.) Detroit Lions  (1-7  =  149-245)
31.) Tennessee Titans  (1-6  =  125-159)

There are two one-loss teams in teh NFL right now, and they both stink. The Lions just lost 45-10 to a mediocre team. The Titans have scored 13 points in the last two games, and just fired their coach. It's odd to see Detroit this bad again, but somewhat comforting, taking me back to the good old days.

The "Once Every Three Weeks They'll Play Well" Quatro

30.) Houston Texans  (3-5  =  174-205)
29.) San Francisco 49ers  (2-6  =  109-207)
28.) Cleveland Browns  (2-6  =  167-216)
27.) Chicago Bears  (2-5  =  140-202)

Even the bad teams in the NFL can be competitive every now and then; and these four, while overall bad, have the potential to be competitive. The Texans defense against non-great offenses can keep them in games - good enough that they'll dominate bad teams. The 49ers have an offense that won't be able to gain 200 yards against a good defense, but against one without a pass rush may be able to do something (though with Gabbert replacing Kaepernick even that may not be true anymore). The Browns have had good halves, and they've played a few good games, but they're still relying on the McCown / Gabriel / Hartline / Barnidge offense to score 25 points. Finally, the Bears are well coached, but are so limited on offense with personnel.

The "Twice Every Five Weeks They'll Play Well" Quatro

26.) Miami Dolphins  (3-4  =  154-173)
25.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-5  =  147-207)
24.) San Diego Chargers  (2-6  =  191-227)
23.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-5  =  133-171)

 These teams are roughly 10% better than the one's in the previous group. The Dolphins rejuvenation with the new QB clearly had a 2-week effectiveness date. The Jaguars have a surprisingly competent offense - which is strange given Gus Bradley's pedigree was as a defensive coach. The Chargers and Cowboys are just snake-bit with injuries this year. The Cowboys could easily be 5-2 if Romo stayed healthy, but he's not. The Chargers injuries have now reduced to comical and sad; the latest being Keenan Allen's ruptured kidney. Rivers and Romo are tied together in many ways, and their respective situations in 2015 are no different.

The "Are We Sure They are Out of It?" Trio

22.) Kansas City Chiefs  (3-5  =  195-182)
21.) Washington Redskins  (3-4  =  148-168)
20.) Baltimore Ravens  (2-6  =  190-214)

The NFL is extremely top-heavy this year, or more succinctly, extremely filled with mediocrity. The Chiefs are only 1.5 games back of the wild card right now, with a win against 4-4 Pittsburgh, and two games left against Oakland. They have a realistic chance at nabbing a Wild Card. The Ravens are probably out of it, but could they go 6-2 and finish 8-8? Maybe. We haven't had an 8-8 Wild Card team since 2006 in the NFC, but this year's AFC is as good of a bet as any. The Redskins are lingering in that other mess of a division, have a competent defense and an offense that is good any time they are not throwing picks and fumbling. All three likely won't make the playoffs, may not even get close, but they may be better than some playoff teams come December.

The "Highest of High Variance Teams" Trio

19.) Philadelphia Eagles  (3-4  =  160-137)
18.) Buffalo Bills  (3-4  =  176-173)
17.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (3-4  =  163-199)

All three teams are 3-4. All three teams could easily be 4-3 (yes, the Buccaneers, who if not for a blown 24-0 lead would be 4-3). All three can be competitive any week, and could play decently well on the road or at home. Of course, they also could lose any week, sometimes badly, like the Bills latest mess in London, or the Eagles umpteen turnovers, or the Buccaneers, you know, blowing a 24-0 lead.

The "Living Off a Reputation" Trio

16.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (4-4  =  168-147)
15.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-5  =  173-203)
14.) Seattle Seahawks  (4-4  =  167-140)

 The Steelers get Roethlisberger back, so they're in decent shape, but now lose Le'Veon Bell. The Colts still have Luck, who showed in the 4th quarter that there is still a heart-beat for him in 2015. The Seahawks have a defense that will demolish any marginal offense they face. All three made the playoffs last year, have high expectations this year, and have, relatively, disappointed. Then again, all are lucky to have as many wins as they do - for the Steelers to sneak out a 2-2 record without Ben, to the Colts winning two games with Hasselbeck, to the Seahawks and 'The Bat'. They all could make a run; or they all could fall worse. I guess that's why they're in the middle for me.

The "Bad, Good Teams" Trio

13.) Minnesota Vikings  (5-2  =  147-122)
12.) New York Giants  (4-4  =  215-208)
11.) New York Jets  (4-3  =  172-139)

If the playoffs start today, all three teams are in the playoffs. If we project out to December, it is easy to imagine all three not in the playoffs. But then again, they've banked the wins they've banked. The Giants have wins against Dallas and Washington. The Jets have a win against Miami. The Vikings have five wins to their name (without playing all that well for about a month now). I really don't know if any of these teams are that good; and they're all coming off iffy performances, but they do have strengths. The Vikings have a defense that will play well in all games. The Giants have an offense that can also play well in all games (and maybe better if they ever get Victor Cruz back). Finally, teh Jets, despite what happened last weekend, have a defense. They have the ability to win 10 games, but even then I'll be more than happy to bet against all three in Round 1.

The "I Guess Just Good, Good Teams" Duo

10.) Oakland Raiders  (4-3  =  178-173)
9.) St. Louis Rams  (4-3  =  135-125)

The Raiders haven't been in the playoffs since 2002; they haven't been .500 since 2011. The Rams haven't been either since 2006. Both teams have been so bad and so irrelevant late in seasons, it is really hard to remember them being good; but alas, they're both in good position. The Raiders and Rams both play really well, and consistently well, on one side of the ball. For years, every Raider TD seemed like a fluke. No longer. The Rams defense has been good for a while now, but it is more consistent and effective than ever.

The "NFC South May Be Better than we Think" Duo

8.) New Orleans Saints  (4-4  =  213-234)
7.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-2  =  213-173)

Remember when the Seahawks won the NFC West at 7-9 in 2010. Two years later, the NFC West was the best division in football. The NFC South had a division winner at 7-8-1 last year, and just a year later it may be one of the best divisions in football. The Saints still have an awful defnse, but Brees really seemed to make the most of that week off in Week 3. The Falcons haven't been good for a while, but so much of their two losses comes down simply to turnovers. Maybe that will be just a thing with them al year, but if they cut down on the bad turnovers, they may finish 12-4. A bad 12-4, but 12-4 nonetheless.

The "NFL is Really Hoping We Don't Make the Super Bowl" Trio

6.) Carolina Panthers  (7-0  =  191-136)
5.) Arizona Cardinals  (6-2  =  263-153)
4.) Cincinnati Bengals  (7-0  =  198-132)

There are six teams in the NFL that are just better than all the others. Three are marquee teams with generational QBs. And then there is these three. The Panthers, Cardinals and Bengals are all really good. They all have quality players, and great coaching staffs that make the most out of them. I really like watching all three of these teams play. I would really enjoy a Super Bowl, especially Super Bowl God Damn 50, featuring the Bengals against the Panthers or Cardinals. Plus, none of them have ever won a Super Bowl, so there's that too.

The "I Have Some Thoughts About That Game" Duo

3.) Green Bay Packers  (6-1  =  174-130)
2.) Denver Broncos  (7-0  =  168-112)
Obviously, if that Denver team shows up, they're the best team in the NFL. The defense has the personnel to be excellent at every level, and a coaching staff that plays up to that talent (in a way that Jack Del Rio's defenses never really did). The Broncos offense obviously got a better Manning, but also a far better performance from their o-line, something that actually happened a lot in the Cleveland game, but was masked with some awful decision making by Manning. As for Green Bay, what the hell? Rodgers looked lost. The defense looked like they've never watched Demaryius Thomas before. That game went about as bad as it could have gone. In a way it is reassuring to know you've already played as bad as you can.

The "It's Going to Happen, Isn't It?" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (7-0  =  249-133)

It is, isn't it?

Project the Playoff Field


1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3
3.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  13-3
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  8-8
5.) New York Jets  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  9-7


1.) Carolina Panthers  =  13-3
2.) Green Bay Packers  =  13-3
3.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4
4.) New York Giants  =  9-7
5.) Atlanta Falcons  =  11-5
6.) St. Louis Rams  =  10-6

Looking Forward to Next Week's Games

Byes: Detroit Lions (1-7); Kansas City Chiefs (3-5); Arizona Cardinals (6-2); Seattle Seahawks (4-4); Baltimore Ravens (2-6); Houston Texans (3-5)

13.) Chicago Bears (2-6)  @  San Diego Chargers (2-6)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "That's What ESPN Gets for thinking people still care about the Rivers vs. Cutler Rivalry" Monday, as we get a MNF game that looked average before the season started when people expected the Chargers to be good. Instead, they stink, and they get a MNF game for the second time in four weeks. The Cutler vs. Rivers rivalry was only really a thing in 2008. That's seven years ago. Aaron Rodgers had his first year as a starter that season. Andrew Luck was like 8 years old then.

12.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5)  @  New York Jets (4-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Atlanta Falcons (6-2)  @  San Francisco 49ers (2-5)  (4:05 - FOX)
10.) Washington Redskins (3-4)  @  New England Patriots (7-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Cleveland Browns (2-6)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (7-0)  (TNF - NFLN)
8.) Tennessee Titans (1-6)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-4)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Bad Team vs. Good Team" Sunday and Thursday, as with six teams on a bye, and so many bad teams right now, we get a lot of games where a bad team is playing a good one. Even worse, in only one of those cases is the bad team at home (49ers). I wonder what the odds of a five-way parlay for this are? Then again, this being the NFL, at least one will win, maybe two.

7.) Miami Dolphins (3-4)  @  Buffalo Bills (3-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)  @  Dallas Cowboys (2-5)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Who Want's Second/Third Place" Sunday, as the Easts get center stage with their lesser teams. The Dolphins and Bills played quite recently, at a very different time. Since teh Dolphins fired their coach, became good and then returned to sucking. The Bills have just gotten worse. The Eagles and Cowboys matchup is interesting, if not for the appearance of Matt Cassel to ruin all Cowboys games. Couldn't they flex this shit?

5.) New York Giants (4-4)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "And here's the Week 9 game I inexplicably like" Sunday, as the Giants try to not give up 52 points this time, and the Buccaneers continue trying to give a great Lovie-era Bears impression. Honestly, the Bucs force turnovers, play better defense than they should, but can also get torched. The Giants actually do a lot of those things as well. With the Eagles playing Dallas, meaning one of them has to lose, and the Redskins entering a slaughterhouse in Foxboro, a win here for the Giants would be huge.

4.) Denver Broncos (7-0)  @  Indianapolis Colts (3-5)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "The Revenge of the Manning" Sunday, as we get the 4th iteration of the Manning vs. the Colts series. If we take away the two Star Wars movies that didn't happen, and go in chronological order, the series has matched up nicely. 'A New Hope' was Luck winning in 2013. 'The Empire Strikes Back' with the Broncos winning in Week 1 last year. 'The Return of the Jedi' with the upstart Colts seemingly kiling Manning in the Divisional Playoffs last year. And now 'The Revenge of the Sith' with a Palpatine-ey Manning coming back to strike the Jedi's down.

3.) Oakland Raiders (4-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
2.) St. Louis Rams (4-3)  @  Minnesota Vikings (5-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Is it 1976 again?" Sunday, as we get two games that look better and have more storyline's than anyone could have expected, all with four historical teams that were really good a long time ago. The Raiders get a chance to get back-to-back wins over likely AFC Wild Card competitors. The Rams get a chance to beat an NFC Wild Card competitor. A lot to grab with second-level teams.

1.) Green Bay Packers (6-1)  @  Carolina Panthers (7-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The Main Event" Sunday, as we get a matchup of, by record, the best two teams in the NFC. The Panthers get a rare opportunity to go a full two games up on the Conference after eight games - something that almost assures them the #1 seed. The last team to have that and not get the #1 seed was the 2006 Colts, who were 8-0, ahead of four teams at 6-2, and they were ultimately passed by both San Diego (14-2) and Baltimore (13-3). Still, after the Packers disaster last weekend, this is a tough matchup for them, but an opportunity to prove the NFC is still theirs.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The TEAM Lives

I once rooted for a team that lost a World Series; they too lost quickly and lost to the plainly better team. However, they too lost close. They invented ways to lose. They lost on big home-runs given up to their opponent's non-premier Home Run hitters. They too lost games where their starters pitched great. They too lost an extra-inning affair. 10 years later, I had to relive the 2005 World Series by seeing what the Mets were up to... and this time I loved it.

The Kansas City Royals didn't just beat the Mets, they broke the Mets. They broke the Mets generally competent fielding and field awareness. They broke the Mets unhittable closer, and apart from 8 dynamic innings from Matt Harvey in Game 5, they broke the Mets unflappable, unbelievable starting pitching. The Royals did this all by doing what they did so well: pitch well enough up front, dominate in the back, and turn over a lineup like no other team in baseball. In many ways, we could be describing what the 2005 White Sox did to the 2005 Astros.

There are differences between the White Sox of '05 and the Royals. The White Sox hit with more power, and weren't as good defensively, but they had a dominant bullpen and good base-running. The White Sox also probably had better starting pitching (their starters pitched 44 and 2/3rds of the 45 innings in the ALCS). The White Sox lineup turned the Astros big-3 pitchers (Oswalt, Clemens, Pettitte) into an average bunch. And their bull-pen closed out Game 3, holding the Astros scoreless the last 7 innings of a 14-inning game. They even won with a little cynicism, as Jermaine Day faked his way to a hit-by-pitch to load the bases in Game 2 down 2-4, where Paul Konerko hit a Grand Slam right after. It was a devastating loss. On one hand, the White Sox were better than Houston. They went an MLB best 99-63, and rolled through Boston and the Angels. But on the other hand, all four games were winnable. It was the closest sweep ever.

Fast-forward ten years, and the Mets lost a series where they were leading with four outs to play in three of the four losses. Game 1 set the tone, with Familia giving up a home-run to Alex Gordon to tie the game with one out in the 9th. Familia was every-bit as unhittable as the Mets starters in the NL Playoffs, and while Harvey didn't pitch great, he handed Familia the lead - and Familia blew it. Familia became a mess there-forward, blowing admittedly tough situations he inherited in Game 4 and 5. The Royals wouldn't die, but the Mets never came close to pulling the plug either.

We can talk about the Mets defensive mistakes costing them Game 4 and Game 5, or their awareness being limited on Hosmer's scoring play to tie the game, or their bats falling asleep late in games, or their pitchers not closing out batters when ahead, but all these small things add up to one conclusion: the Royals played better.

The Royals are better. In fact, the Royals are a legitimate Champion this year, probably the best team to win the Title since the 2013 Sox or 2009 Yankees. They have a deep order that has few holes.. More than not having holes, they do one thing better than anyone: make contact. And as they have shown in the last two years, and the Giants - who follow a similar hitting approach favoring contact over power - three of the last six, contact has a lot of value in October. This is not to say that small-ball is better than waiting for the Home Run. It is to say that not striking out against marginal defensive teams is a good recipe for success, and contact hitters tend to far better against hard-throwing pitchers than power-hitters.

The Royals also do two things at a level almost unmatched in baseball. The Royals have the best defense in MLB, and it isn't particularly close. Their outfield has two great defenders and another solid one. Their infield has no holes. Ironically, this is one area they didn't play great at in the World Series. They also have that dominant bullpen, and a better playoff bullpen with a stable of ex-starters that can flamethrow their way to 2-3 innings of work in Hochevar and Duffy.

The Royals do a lot of things really well. They have no real weakness as a team. Their batting order is deep. Some of that depth is weird lineup construction by Ned Yost, but when you have Alex Gordon hitting 8th, it helps to ensure the opponent can't ever really relax through a half-inning. The Royals have also shown the value in patience.

The core of players, all under 27, of Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, Escobar and Cain have all been at the MLB level for a while now. They've all had their share of struggles at times. Hosmer, probably the most talented of the group, alternated great seasons with awful one's, but whatever he found out last playoffs seems to have lasted. Moustakas took a while to learn to hit the other way. Cain developed power. Perez developed his ability as a catcher. The team was patient with all of them, and the fruits they bore have been sweet the past two years.

The Kansas City Royals seemed like a fluke team last year, needing a ridiculous comeback to win the Wild Card. It's often forgotten though, that they hosted that Wild Card game, not the A's; and of course, if not for the fact that the Giants basically conjure up some particularly dark magic every two years, they may be on the way to a dynasty.

There is no right way to play baseball; but we can squarely say that adding in the Giants title's, specifically the make-up of their 2012 and 2014 teams, in short series, being able to make consistent contact, play solid-to-great defense, and have a dominant, deep bullpen is a damn good formula. The best part of that formula is it uses all 25 guys. It uses the whole team.

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.