Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Top-15 TV Shows of 2015, Pt. 2: #7 - #1

7.) Nathan For You (Comedy Central)

Season one of Nathan For You was a riot. Season 2 was even better and more devious. Season 3 decided to combine both and add some philosophy into the mix as well, and with that it actually became a better, albeit different, show. Maybe it is people have learned to Google his name when Nathan approaches them for a spot, or maybe it was just getting more inventive, but in its 3rd season, Nathan For You strayed away from the normal 'wacky business consultant' approach more - and to great effect. It all came together brilliantly in his finale where he decides to take over a man's life, to the point of locking him away in a winnebago and walking around in a body and face suit of the man, to make him a hero. But even earlier in the season, when he turned an idea to make a bar into a live-action theater to allow it to skirt smoking rules (a pretty smart idea), into more about him trying to actually turn people milling into a bar into a viable play, it became clear Nathan Fielder's ambitions were beyond that of the wacky consultant. There was some of that too. His 'The Movement' business was just pure comedic genius, as was his take on Best Buy. There were fewer ideas, more episode-long projects, and overall less zaniness, but instead Nathan Fielder turned inward and examined himself even more than ever, which proved to be fascinating. Somehow, despite middling ratings, the show got a 4th Season, probably its last, and I can't wait to see where Nathan Fielder takes this strange little vehicle next.

6.) Parks and Recreation (NBC)

The final season of one of the best sitcoms ever was the sweetest season of an already saccharine show yet, but with this show who would want that any other way. Parks and Recreation was always unique in that so much comedy was mined from people being largely nice and compassionate towards each other. In fact, one of the few recurring bits that was less well received was the group continually hating on Jerry / Larry / Gary. Michael Schur's show had a great last season, one with so much sentiment, with three or four different episodes that could have emotionally served as a series finale, but somehow it always felt natural. With a five-year time jump preceding the season, all the main group were split from the Parks Department, but the growth felt so natural, from Tom being what he always wanted, a (small town) magnate, to Ron opening a building company, to Leslie being a more prominent politician. Parks and Recreation was a great show, and the last season showed that more than ever. Especially great were the various easter eggs thrown in by the writers to predict what the world would be like in 2020 (when the season was set). Nothing was left unturned, and by the end there was not a dry eye in the viewing audience. Parks and Recreation proved that comedy can be derived from happiness, but it also proved that sentiment, when done right, does not have a cap on television.

5.) Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

This is only for Season 2, but I did watch the first season this year. But just looking at the second season, this was arguably the best comedy this year. Bojack Horseman wonderfully combines the most absurdist of absurd comedy (for God's sake, the premise is a world with anthropomorphic animals, one of which was a TV-star in the 90's trying to reclaim his glory) with such true human emotion and introspective thought. It is a jarring combination, but works so incredibly well. The cavalcade of amazing guest stars providing voices also lended itself to a wonderful little guessing game of 'who's voice is that.' I naturally have a soft-spot for comedies that are so irreverent and off-beat (Arrested Development was the best at this), and Bojack is right there, easily the best animated comedy I've seen aside from prime Simpsons or South Park. The depths of story in Season 2 also improved so that characters outside of Bojack's immediate circle grew deeper, more independent, and just plainly funnier - especially Princess Carolyn and Todd, who had whole arcs independent of Bojack. I don't know if I laughed at any show more than this; but I'm more sure that in no comedy did I stop and think about the human, personal tones that the show was expressing as much.

4.) Show Me a Hero (HBO)

I've never really seen a true mini-series before Show Me a Hero. I don't really consider Fargo, or True Detective, to be mini-series. However, this six-part jaunt through a racially-charged, local integrated public housing debate from the 1970's was just so damn good it was hard to turn away at any point. Just read that description again. The show was literally about the public housing crisis in Yonkers, NY, in the late-70's, where the town was fighting back against a mandated integration of public housing; the central figures of Nick Wasicko, brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac, as the protagonist fighting against the public's racially charged interest. Somehow, that show, which featured a lot of time in local municipal town halls, was so enthralling, so captivating. In about 5 minutes, the tone of the entire show was set - not surprising given it was David Simon's brain-child and captured so many of the best qualities of The Wire. It had tangential small stories about local African-American communities, and their fears of having to move to public housing in areas no one seems to want them. It had stories of immigrant families fighting to make a living. And it presented the other side, the mixed emotions of so many public officials fighting for or against this decision. Just like in The Wire, there was no black and white, only gray. The real-life story had a tragic ending, and the show carried that truthfully, but it was so beautifully delivered you had to imagine David Simon dreamed it all up. Simon's post-Wire projects have been all largely good, but never has so strayed so close to his best materials, and not surprisingly, never has he been so close to that quality either.

3.) Better Call Saul (AMC)

It became a punch-line that this show was actually supposed to initially be a 30-minute dramedy. The character of Saul Goodman was brought in as comic relief, but even in the run of Breaking Bad he became a larger piece in an incredibly complex dramatic puzzle. Through Vince Gilligan becoming more involved than he initially planned, the show turned into an hour-long drama, and it became surprisingly great. Saul Goodman, or for Season 1's purposes, Jimmy McGill, the show kept a lot of the tone of Breaking Bad including gorgeous photography in the desert, lowered the stakes, and told a great character piece. In many ways, Better Call Saul Season 1 was a more tortured version of early Breaking Bad. The latter had the catalyst of Walt's cancer to turn him bad, but here it was stunning to watch Jimmy McGill have his idealized vision of life as a lawyer torn apart bit by bit, with the season culminating with what we can imagine as the real catalyst, when his brother who he idealizes smacks him down. The small nods to Breaking Bad, including the incredibly (and smartly) cautious way they introduced Mike Ehrmentraut showed that there was an incredible amount of care and thought put into this show. It is clear that Gilligan, and creator Peter Gould, gave no haste when creating this show and they fully intend on it being a separate character study that holds up on its own.

2.) Fargo (FX)

My #1 show from 2014 didn't really get any worse in its Second season. In fact, I have seen many, many TV critics argue it was better. It certainly was different. Instead of an extended parable that was Season 1, the second season was a brilliant period piece of crime in rural towns in the 1970's. There were similar thematic elements, but like the Coen Brothers' films, so many differences as well. I personally felt Season 1 was slightly better - but in all reality it is really close and the #2 ranking is more a reflection of how good the show to come was this year. The story in Season 2 was more contained, with less superfluous characters and plot-lines (like anything to do with Stavros Milos in Season 1), and while that made it all the more tense, it did lose a bit of that Coen-y flair. The casting, acting, direction and photography in Season 2 was all just perfect. Again using the tapestry of Northern America in Winter (though not as Cold as season 1), Fargo set up shop to once again show the world that Man is capable of amazingly terrible things when pressed to. The show was more linear this year. All the various elements were connected. It was also more mythological, from actual, unexplained, appearances of UFOs, to even more parables and biblical lessons than the first season. The action was not as tense, but more cinematic, with more flair and pomp. What was amazing was the show still kept its heart, with characters like Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman), and Betsy Solverson, who is stricken with cancer and looking at the madness around her with that perspective. Fargo was already a brilliant show, but with repeating the impossible, creating a new world, with new brilliant characters and stories, we got another example that Noah Hawley is playing a different game right now.

1.) Veep (HBO)

I really worry about Veep going forward without Armando Iannucci. Thankfully the writing staff, and of course the cast, is staying, but his voice was so present in what was a brilliant show for four years, one that had a triumphantly great 4th season. The show's narrative ceiling initially seemed limited by the fact the character needed to be Vice President, but despite the name not changing, the show succeeded so well despite Selina's ascension to President. It was a genius tactic to make Selina basically have to campaign to retain her Presidency from Day 1 as it kept the underdog nature of the show. What also helped the Show in Season 4: mixing things up. There was a calm sense of steadiness with the characters in Seasons two and three, not much changed overall. Amy and Dan were still competing for Selina's effection, and the advisors were all there. This season changed it up, first pushing Dan out the door over to lobbying, and then Amy. The season also had some amazing dramatic moments, like the various times characters unloaded years of pent-up frustration at Selina. The season also, of course, shined with the addition of Hugh Laurie as Tom James; just a perfect casting job there, allowing Laurie to turn the shmarm meter up to 12. As always Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a National Treasure at this point, was brilliant, but the show got better the larger, and less Selina-focused it became. By separating the storylines and characters, limiting Jonah to the new-Veep, and moving the focus further away from the inane small-time, day-to-day nothings of the Veep's office and more to larger-scale politics, the show actually got better. It was always fun to watch Selina get marginalized as Veep and see that the '2nd most powerful person in the free world' was isolated and alone, but it has been even funnier to see that, as Selina realizes, it isn't that much better to be the 1st most powerful.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Top-15 TV Shows of 2015, Pt. 1: #15 - #8

Shows I didn't watch: The Americans, Review, Mad Men, Homeland, Transparent, The Leftovers

15 TIE.) Game of Thrones (HBO)

It's odd that this is the year that Game of Thrones finally won Best Drama at The Emmy's. It beat out the last season of Mad Men, among other past winners. I'm not surprised, as The Emmy's has a habit of awarding long-running shows for what is objectively not their best season. Game of Thrones Season 5 was really, really good for a half-season, then really average, and worse, controversially average, for a few episodes, before a really strong close. We got the first glimpse of what the show will be when they outpace the book material, but what it is leaves me a little uneasy. Benioff and Weiss are talented, but can they create without firm source material, and are too many of the interesting characters already dead? So much of the energy of Season 4, to me a far superior season, was the happenings at King's Landing, which is essentially now just a wasteland. No matter how amazing that hour of Hardhome was, it can't make up for some dips in quality, and serious questions in judgement, that the show displayed in Season 5. Definitely still entertaining and worthwhile to watch, but there were a few cracks that were, sadly, expected given the show catching up to the books, and running through what is pretty well known as the worst two of the books.

15 TIE.) Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

I am tying these two together, because they both fell off quite a bit in their 2015 Season. Orange is the New Black (Orange) was so good in Season 1, the breakout star in Netflix's original-programming infancy. Completely overshadowed by Arrested Development Season 4 and House of Cards. That definitely changed in Season 2, when the show got far more mainstream, and while the public success grew even larger in Season 3, it was hard to avoid some sluggishness setting in. The show has come close to running out of interesting characters to give backstory flashbacks too, ending up in some really hit-or-miss ones. The show also lost a lot of the stakes that were so everpresent in Season 2 with Vee - as the Prison turning private just didn't have the same emotional pull, despite being an interesting premise. The acting and storytelling was great, but I do fear if Kenji Johan, the creator, is slowly running out of ideas for a show he probably figured wouldn't be on much past a second or third season.

13.) Last Week Tonight (HBO)

I still enjoy Last Week Tonight, but can't escape the feeling that I'm watching the same show just with different 'Mad-Libs' style inputs. Now, John Oliver and his team are creative enough to come up with some great words to fill in the blanks, but those long 15-minute exposes that used to seem so fresh now seem a little much. Like, we get it John, the World sucks and you can make us laugh! Thankfully, he can still really make us laugh, and I love the small running gags, like making geography jokes, and his whole running tag on Janice in Accounting who 'does not give a fuck.' The show is still appointment viewing, and I like that the off-beat news he reports on makes it easy to marathon watch after skipping a few weeks. John Oliver is a singular talent, and he found his niche, his lane, and while I think he may be over-driving at times, he's so skilled it doesn't matter.

12.) Narcos (Netflix)

The show had a few flaws, mainly with a story that didn't quite know what it was supposed to be. It many ways it bit off more than it could chew. The show tried to come at the era of Pablo Escobar and Colombia in the 80's with every conceivable angle. They could have used an editor to streamline the story. That said, man was it entertaining. Wagner Moura's portrayal of Pablo Escobar was note perfect, playing a monster with a complex, dark hint that made you want to see what really drove him. The scenery that so well contrasted the darkness and desolation of what the crack epidemic did to Colombia with the grandeur and splendor of life as a kingpin. The story was a little dense but also well constructed with just enough of the 'chase' aspect with the DEA agents and building tension really well. Hopefully in Season 2 it refines the story, maybe loses some of the narration, it could really jump a level.

11.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

In less than a month, the Gang will start Season 10. While that in itself is amazing, so is the fact that Season 10 was really good. So few shows can make it to Season 10, even fewer can still be good in Season 10, and even fewer can have a slight dip in the middle of its run (S4-6 for Always Sunny) and come back even stronger. Season 10 was really just as strong as the seasons that came before it, bringing Dennis even closer to coming out as a certain sociopath, to returning a cavalcade of guest stars like the Ponderosa's or Mac's Dad. Of course, hidden underneath the madness was the usual, underrated sharp social commentary (on modern dating in 'The Gang Group Dates' and mental health in 'Psycho Pete Returns') to brilliant meta-commentary of the Gang itself 'The Gang Misses the Boat.' Hopefully Season 11 is more of the same, and with their track record that is close to a guarantee.

10.) iZombie (The CW)

Rob Thomas's turn on a zombie story actually had two seasons in 2015 as Season 1 premiered in late Winter and Season 2 got going in the fall. Luckily, the quality didn't drop as I had planned about this spot mentally after Season 1. Admittedly, the plot is ludicrous. The main character is a woman turned into a Zombie in a world where eating brains can keep you acting and functioning like a human... so she becomes a Medical Examiner, and uses the fact that she gains memories of the people who's brain she eats to help solve cases. Yet, much like Veronica Mars, the show is so much deeper. Set like a procedural, the show has a great cast of characters that take this into explorations of modern romance, corporate greed, and an examination of how evil is put on people. The show is not as sharp, or in reality as good, as Veronica Mars, but the cast and performances are great. Rose McIver is great in the main role in what has to be a fun role as her character will also embody the characteristics of the person who's brain she eats. Again, ridiculous premise, but in effect it works really well. Season 2 will actually end in 2016, but the show is building to a great premise with a lot of different storylines that are connected in the fact that this world has Zombies, but Zombiism might just have a cure.

9.) The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS)

Yes, this is a somewhat sentimental pick, but for a 2-3 month stretch before his finale in May, there was probably nothing on that was a greater joy than The Late Show. That whole period from about February through the end was a grand send-off for Dave, that included him bringing all of the guests he actually liked back for one last go. The last few weeks were emotional and dramatic, as you saw so many 40-50 year old men and women, all famous and successful in their own right, break down on his show. Guys like Norm Macdonald, or Ray Romano, were noticeably crying at times during their appearances, reminiscing about their starts 20-30 years earlier and how important Dave had been in their life. It was beautiful to watch - probably horrifying for Dave as he was never one for real emotions like that - but just amazing for the viewer. His final show was understated, but that whole three month period was pure gold. For once, he stopped having the ditzy actress promoting Transformers 8 on the show, and just had people he loved and cared about and had known for 20+ years. My favorite running tribute was at the end of any long-time guest's segment, they would show a picture of his/her first time on the show. For some, it was the mid-90's, For other's like Tom Hanks and Jerry Seinfeld, it was 1982. It was a great trip down memory lane, and it stayed funny enough that you could laugh in-between all the always real tears.

8.) Silicon Valley (HBO)

Silicon Valley remained extremely funny in its Third Season, with more development to characters not named Richard or Erlich, and expanding the scope to include more outside investors - something that was needed given the loss of Peter Gregory after the actor's death. The drop from my #4 show from last year is more a reflection of some amazing new entrants and a couple more maddening elements of a show that was a brilliant 30-minutes every week. First, there is only so many times you can make an episode where the team is against some sort of deadline or crisis that would make or break (more often than not break) Pied Piper only for them to hold off at the last minute before you reach diminishing returns. Things like Russ Hanneman pressing down the delete key turning Pied Piper into a frenzy was stretching reality a little too thin. Still, the show remained just incredibly funny. The new elements, like a deeper like into Erlich's relationship with the group and particularly Jian-Yang, or adding a second woman to the cast in the new programming allowed the show to expand to something larger than a group of coder-bros living in a Silicon Valley frat house. I think show creator Mike Judge is being smart in not letting Pied Piper get too successful as if they face real problems that truly large start-ups face, like having to rapidly expand or get B and C rounds of funding, it will lose its sense of earnestness that comes from making it a garage-band type operation. I don't know how much longer it can go on in the status quo, but until then I am fully happy just watching Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani trade barbs, and TJ Miller get mad at everyone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Top-20 QBs, #18 - Terry Bradshaw

#18 - Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw can continue to count his rings, all four of them, and tell people and have them listen, that he is one of the best QBs of all time. He would have a point. Not because he has four Super Bowl rings, tied with Joe Montana and Tom Brady for most all time. No, but because he was actually a key cog in a Steelers machine that was surprisingly good on offense for much of their run. Yes, Bradshaw was surrounded by more talent than maybe any player ever, from coaching staff, to defense, to receivers, but Bradshaw was a more important part of that machine than people who deried him for being a 'winner' remember, and less than people who praise him.

Terry Bradshaw was plainly not a good QB for a long stretch of time, starting from his rookie season when he threw 24 INTs to just 6 TDs. No matter of converting from dead-ball era stats would change that. Up through 1974, the Steelers first Super Bowl season, Bradshaw was a plainly bad QB riding the wave of the Steel Curtain. However, something changed in 1975, not only with Bradshaw but with the team. The Steelers ranked in scoring offense from 1975-1979 fifth, fifth, seventh, fifth and first. The defense remained good, but the Steelers that won the last three Super Bowls were more than just the Steel Curtain, they were an offense as well.

If we cut out the initial growing pain of that early Bradshaw, the same player who was nearly benched for Joe Gilliam, Bradshaw looks like quite a respectable statistical marvel. He averaged 21 TDs to 17 INTs between 1975-1981, with a y/a of 7.7. These weren't the best stats of those days, but the Steelers offense was a high risk proposition, throwing deep than most teams of that era. Bradshaw had the help of two future Hall of Famers, but neither player is one of the better WRs in the Hall of Fame - yes, neither Lynn Swann or John Stallworth were ever that great. Bradshaw raised his game in those years, putting up seasons that would equal that of Staubach and Stabler, playing in a tougher environment, in a division where passing was suppressed due to weather and cookie-cutter stadiums with horrific turf fields.

I've put it off for long enough, let's just get to that playoff and Super Bowl career. Much like Troy Aikman, another QB who is both overrated and underrated by his Super Bowl rings depending on how people view those things, Terry Bradshaw did seem to raise his game in the playoffs. The Steelers threw more in the playoffs, and largely to great results. In his four Super Bowl wins, Bradshaw had passer ratings above 100, with 9 TDs and 4 INTs, In his last three Super Bowls, again in that 1975-1979 timeframe, he had a Y/A over 10. Some of that is credit to the ridiculous catches that Swann and Stallworth pulled off, but Bradshaw had some truly great performances in the playoffs.

His best may have arguably been his last, a playoff game in 1982 against Dan Fouts and the Chargers. The Steelers lost, but lost 28-31 with Bradshaw nearly out-gunning Fouts. Ol' Dan had the better game, but Bradshaw put up what would be considered a modern-day passing line, going 28-39 with 325 passes and 2 TDs. Bradshaw was the rare player who improved his stats across the board in the playoffs, with his completion percentage, yards-per-attempt, passer rating and TD-to-INT ratio all improving in January.

Therein lies the issue with Bradshaw. People who put him over try to denigrate his career for his average career passing stats (he did have an adjusted passer rating 10% above average) while shoving the Super Bowl rings aside. Those people are wrong as those playoff stats, coming in a rather sizable sample, are there. They actually happened, and Bradshaw did, by all accounts, get noticeably better in the playoffs. Of course the other side shoves away his clear issues with his overall resume and are blinded by the diamond-studded rings. Neither side is right, but neither is wrong as well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 14 Power Rankings & The Rest

Power Rankings

The 'Start Prepping for the 2016 Draft' Quatro

32.) Cleveland Browns  (2-10  =  216-347)
31.) San Diego Chargers  (3-9  =  247-324)
30.) San Francisco 49ers  (4-8  =  178-291)

29.) Tennessee Titans  (3-9  =  245-296)

All these four teams are out of it and need to start looking ahead to next year to best position themselves. For some, that means the ability to draft a QB high. I'm not a huge college fan, and from what I know none of the big QBs seem too intriguing, but the Browns and 49ers need solutions (Blaine Gabbert is NOT a solution), and even the Chargers may want to look for an eventual Rivers replacement as Philip gets further along in his 30s. The Titans are on the other side where they have their QB. Marcus Mariota is a future Top-10 QB. They do need a coach though. Maybe if they win another game or two Mike Mularkey takes the job full-time, but even that is a decision that needs to be made carefully. It is very rare that interim head coaches that get the job full time succeed, but the Titans have some history there with Jeff Fisher getting the full-time job the same way. The other three teams may be on coaching searches as well, but I wouldn't be shocked if Mike McCoy is given another year, and with Tomsula it is definitely tough to fire a coach after one year - though he seemed like an interim coach given his ties to the Harbaugh era.

The 'Wasted Potential' Duo

28.) Dallas Cowboys  (4-8  =  223-277)
27.) St. Louis Rams  (4-8  =  189-257)

The Cowboys finally won a game with Matt Cassel. The Rams probably wish they had Matt Cassel. At different points in this season both of these teams looked like playoff teams. The Cowboys started 2-0 in a division where the Eagles and Giants started 0-2. And then Tony Romo got hurt. It seems plainly obvious that the Cowboys would be the clear favorite in the NFC East had Romo stayed healthy. Instead, a promosing defense where the defense has shown some improvement was laid to waste. The Rams are similar but for them it was more the QB and the offense as a whole being exposed than injuries. If anything, it was the injury to Nick Foles's backup that really ended them. There are no winners in that Foles / Bradford trade in the end. This seasons probably spells the end for the Jeff Fisher era, and maybe the Rams in St. Louis era itself.

The 'Ships Passing in the Night' Duo

26.) Miami Dolphins  (5-7  =  240-300)
25.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (4-8  =  275-341)
24.) Washington Redskins  (5-7  =  257-286)

The Jaguars may be a game worse by record than the Dolphins or Redskins, but their future looks a whole lot brighter. Blake Bortles stats are a bit misleading because of the high TD total (27), as he still needs to work on his accuracy (57.7%), but with him and the two Allen's, you have a good, young core to build around. The defense still needs work, but that is an easier problem than the QB to fix. In a way, they're passing the Dolphins (and Redskins) in future outlook. Ryan Tannehill used to be that guy, steadily improving each of his first three years, but has cratered in Year 4. This isn't totally shown by his stats, but they are down across the board from last year and his big games have usually been built by garbage time stats - like last week's against the Jets. As for the Redskins, they may end up really ruing this season for what it couldn't become. With Romo out and the Giants throwing away four games, the division was all theirs but they couldn't beat Matt Cassel at home. Kirk Cousins is not the long term answer. All three teams have QB questions, but, surprisingly, the answer may be clearest in Jacksonville.

The 'Better Things are Ahead' Duo

23.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-8  =  272-291)
22.) Detroit Lions  (4-8  =  253-315)

I picked the Ravens to go 12-4 this year, but it is hard to go 12-4 when you lose your best defensive player, your top receiver, your best running back and your QB. It also is hard when you blow 2-4 easily winnable games. Despite the injuries, had the Jaguars been called for a false start, and had they not blown late leads to Cleveland and Oakland, they would be 7-5. Anyway, better things are ahead because as the Ravens point differential shows, this is a still a well coached and talented team that is just going through the ringer this week. For the Lions, it is actually somewhat similar. They had some awful games early, but the Lions have been a good team for most of the year. They were one yard away from beating the Seahawks in Seattle, and a Hail Mary - or questionable facemask penalty - away from beating the Packers, for hte second time. The future is a little more murky given their cap situation, but the Lions are not that far away from the team that went 11-5 last year.

The 'Soft Underbelly of the NFC' Quatro

21.) New Orleans Saints  (4-8  =  299-380)20.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-7  =  278-302)
19.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-6  =  279-257)
18.) Chicago Bears  (5-7  =  251-290)

I have no idea which of these four teams is the best. I have no idea which is the worst. They all have a reasonably high peak, but also a very low floor. The Eagles have the best playoff shot, but might be the worst team if you take away random special teams plays. The Saints have the best QB but a historically bad defense. The Eagles have a reasonably tough schedule, and it is shaping up that Week 17 will once again decide the NFC East with the Giants playing the Eagles. The Falcons started 5-0 and are pulling a Giants v. 2009 type collapse - that team too started 5-0 including some dominant wins, then finished 3-8. The Bears, finally, just lost to Blaine Gabbert at home ten days after beating Aaron Rodgers on the road. Who knows really? I do find it ironic that the Falcons somehow still have a positive point differential, which speaks again to them losing a lot of close games the last few weeks. The biggest issue with them is turnovers in crucial spots as they really should be 8-4 right now. I'm sure the rest of the NFC is quite upset that they are not 8-4, giving the Seahawks an easy way into the playoffs.

The 'Best Worst Division Race' Duo

17.) Indianapolis Colts  (6-6  =  259-305)
16.) Houston Texans  (6-6  =  253-264)

The division will likely be decided in Week 15, with the Colts hosting the Texans. Andrew Luck is expected to be back for that game, and the Texans have never won in Indianapolis. Never. Even in the year Peyton was hurt, the same year the Texans won the division and made the playoffs, the Texans couldn't beat a Dan Orlovsky-led Colts team. The Colts in their first three games with Hasselbeck showed that the roster isn't as bad as people thought. Last week, it showed that it is still flawed in many ways, including impact players on defense. The Texans have a few of those impact players, but little else. I credit both of these teams for battling through adversity and still converging to .500, making it even more staggering the NFC East can't get a team there. Still, after dealing with so many unfair quips that the AFC South was a bad division, I have to admit that it definitely is one now.

The 'You Don't Want to See Us' Duo

15.) New York Giants  (5-7  =  307-296)
14.) Oakland Raiders  (5-7  =  284-314)

Neither of these two teams play much defense, but when they are on, they have offenses that can play up in shootouts. The Giants are definitely the best team in the NFC East empirically. They are the only team with a positive point differential, and have the OBJ to catch ridiculous passes and an offense that is at worst effective and at best dominant. Of course, they've literally thrown away three games, including Week 1 and the Patriots game and probably should be 7-5 right now. The Raiders also probably should be 7-5, though they've also won a few last-minute games so 5-7 may be right. The Raiders have some growing up to do in terms of game management and in the art of not fumbling or throwing interceptions in close games. They also have some 'getting better' to do on defense. Still, they have a great core on offense, led by Derek Carr. Before this past game, Carr was #4 in Football Outsiders' DYAR stat and #5 in DVOA, basically a Top-5 QB for this season. He's been squarely in the Top-10 for the year and has a really bright future, along with Amari Cooper. There is a future in Oakland, but for now they will remain a fairly loud out.

The 'You Absolutely Want to See Us' Duo

13.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (6-6  =  271-298)
12.) Minnesota Vikings  (8-4  =  238-232)

The Buccaneers are a shocking 6-6, and with a somewhat light schedule can push .500 and position themselves well to be thought of as a trendy playoff pick for 2016. Quick warning for the Bucs, the last two times that happened were after their 10-6 season in 2010 (went 3-13 in 2011) and the 7-9 season in 2012 (went 4-12 in 2013). Jameis is a good player who is still improving. He needs to desperately work on his passing control. Jameis is accurate in that he throws to the right people, but the passes are too often a step ahead or behind limiting YAC. Cam Newton was the same way early. Overall, the Buccaneers are getting built much like Lovie's last team, though this time with a far more promising QB. The Vikings are now what the Buccaneers likely will be in 2016, but the Vikings probably have more questions at QB. Is Teddy Bridgewater that good? Maybe teams were right to pass on him in the draft last year. He's such a limited player. The defense is good but needs more production from their highly drafted players. The offense needs more production from their o-line. The Vikings got exposed a bit and their schedule coming up is tough as well. There is a slim chance that the Buccaneers pass them. Very slim, but in a way I want it to happen.

The 'Strong Defense, Variable Offense Wild Card' Trio

11.) Buffalo Bills  (6-6  =  296-278)
10.) New York Jets  (7-5  =  295-248)
9.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-5  =  321-240)

All three of these teams are fighting for at most two spots and probably one. The Chiefs have by far the easiest schedule left and are a decent bet to finish 11-5, and probably a guaranteed 10-6. The Bills and Jets have similar schedules, with them playing each other once and both playing Dallas. The Bills also play the Eagles and Redskins (the Bills, the secret driver of the NFC East race), while the Jets play Tennessee at home and New England. The Jets have a leg up and in a wild-card race the head-to-head may not matter. The Bills pretty much have to beat the Jets to have a shot. The Chiefs are lucky that they are not wading in these pools and get the kiddy pool of four non-playoff teams to finish the season, but if someone survives this Bills / Jets battle and reaches the playoffs, they would definitely have earned it.

The 'Second Tier NFC Competitors' Duo

8.) Green Bay Packers  (8-4  =  289-238)
7.) Seattle Seahawks  (7-5  =  305-229)

The Packers escaped with their playoff lives from Detroit. They've often had to struggle in Detroit over the years so it wasn't that surprising, but that was a huge win for a team that probably just needs to go 2-2, including a win over Minnesota in Week 17, to win that division. The Packers probably don't want to enter the Wild Card morass anyway. Obviously they are having issues on offense and a miracle win over the Lions doesn't change that, but the defense showed up. The Packers also know that a big win in Minnesota isn't as impressive at it seems. The Seahawks should heed that advice, and they should also heed that wins over Baltimore / Cleveland / St. Louis (their next three opponents) don't mean they are ready to go to Arizona or Carolina to win big playoff games. I still feel these two are a step below the big two, but last year's NFC Championship Game participants are not done yet.

The 'If One of Us don't win the AFC, This is College Basketball' Quatro

6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (7-5  =  311-240)
5.) Denver Broncos  (10-2  =  269-210)
4.) New England Patriots  (10-2  =  375-247)
3.) Cincinnati Bengals  (10-2  =  334-196)

The Steelers still have some issues ahead, namely because they are not playing the Colts each week. Just a week before we saw how bad that defense can look, and they are still currently on the outside looking in to make the playoffs and need to win one of the two big games they have coming up against Cincinnati and Denver. For the other three, the name of the game is now positioning. The Broncos and Bengals both control their destiny in that if either run the table, they are the #1 seed. The Patriots control their destiny for the #2 seed. A loss by any of these three throws a lot into whack. There is a lot to be decided, but getting that #1 seed will be crucial for any of the three - especially Denver who is looking like they will stick with Osweiler. The Broncos offense with Osweiler has averaged 19 points a game against two marginal to bad defenses in Chicago and San Diego... but of course he's the next superstar!

The 'Admit it, you want this to be the NFC Championship Game' Duo

2.) Arizona Cardinals  (10-2  =  382-232)
1.) Carolina Panthers  (12-0  =  373-243)

The Panthers and Cardinals have played two playoff games - both in Carolina. Both are memorable for how bad they were. The first was the Delhomme meltdown in January, 2009, when the #2 Panthers quickly took a 7-0 lead and proceeded to have their QB just implode with five interceptions in a 33-13 Cardinals win. Given how close the Cardinals came to winning the Super Bowl that year it is hard to remember how big an upset that was at the time. The Panthers were 8-0 at home winning most of those easily and the Cardinals were viewed as the worst playoff team in years at the time (since '08, there have been many worse teams). The next game was last year, when a Ryan Lindley-led Arizona team went to play the 7-8-1 Panthers and the Panthers won, limiting the Cardinals to like 80 total yards. The Panthers were 7-8-1, but before that were 3-8-1. Their only loss since that record would be the next one in Seattle. If these two meet this year, it has a chance to be special. The Panthers biggest weakness is the deep pass, with the Cardinals love. Both teams play exciting and eminently watchable styles on both sides of the field. Given the late window of the NFC Championship Game this year, it would be played at night in Charlotte as well. Hopefully it happens as it would be a football fan savant's dream.

Projecting the Playoff Field


1.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  14-2
2.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3
3.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  10-6
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  9-7


1.) Carolina Panthers  =  15-1
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  13-3
3.) Green Bay Packers  =  11-5
4.) New York Giants  =  8-8
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6
6.) Minnesota Vikings  =  10-6

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 13 Picks

First, I'm not going to pretend the Packers @ Lions game didn't happen. It did. I actually bet on it, on the Packers. So with that....... HOLY GOD!!!!!

That's probably the luckiest betting win that I can remember. It almost beats out the time I lost a three-team tease because I teased an over / under to 'Over 38' in a game that would end 37-0. Yes, that happened.

Anyway, on to the (other) week 13 picks, but know I picked, and somehow covered, Packers (-2.5) over Lions.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)  @  Tennessee Titans (2-9)  (TEN -2.5)

This game happened just three weeks ago, back then the winner would get itself right back into the AFC South race that featured co-leaders at 4-5. Now, they are both basically out of the race. I don't know I fully understand this line apart from a continued public love of Marcus Mariota, and somehow that the effect of their Week 1 blowout win is still in people's minds. The Titans are just not very good, and while Mariota has a bright future, The continued lack of frontline talent is still a concern. The Jaguars have, for right now, a better team and even with one of the Allen's out, I feel they are a strong value pick.

Jaguars 23  Titans 17  (JAX +2.5)

Cincinnati Bengals (9-2)  @  Cleveland Browns (2-9)  (CIN -10.5)

So, apparently all of Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert and Travis Benjamin are out. Now, Gilbert is not good and Haden hasn't been there for a while, but the Browns need Benjamin or else the Bengals will just clue in on Barnidge. The line is high, but the Bengals have consistently covered lines like this - even against a more healthy version of the Browns a few weeks ago. I hate going with a favorite of this size on the road, but the Bengals are a machine against bad teams, and the Browns are missing key guys.

Bengals 30  Browns 13  (CIN -10.5)

San Francisco 49ers (3-8)  @  Chicago Bears (5-6)  (CHI -8.5)

The Bears went from perceived as so weak to now getting nearly 9 points in the span of like three weeks. I realize the last time we saw them they were beating Green Bay in Green Bay, but I think this is an overvalued line. As the Packers again showed last night, they are, currently, an eminently beatable team. The 49ers seem at least more consistent with Gabbert at QB. They'll score between 13-23 points, the defense will somehow be reasonably good despite all the defections the last two years. I think the 49ers will cover, but placing any level of trust in Blaine Gabbert is really dangerous.

49ers 20  Bears 23  (SF +8.5)

Atlanta Falcons (6-5)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)  (PICK)

The Falcons are in free-fall, one that officially started when they dropped a home game to Tampa four weeks ago (they entered that game 6-1). The Buccaneers were 2-4 entering that game, and have since gone 3-2. They are quite honestly ships passing in the night. The Buccaneers defense will swallow the run and force turnovers, two things that are quite the recipe for beating the Falcons. The line reflects the new-found confidence in Tampa Bay, but I feel like the Falcons are due to have a game where they hold onto the ball. On a play-by-play basis, the Falcons are better, and if they don't turn hte ball over, they should win.

Falcons 27  Buccaneers 23  (ATL)

Baltimore Ravens (4-7)  @  Miami Dolphins (4-7)  (MIA -3.5)

Matt Schaub looked decent, right? I mean, when you remove the pick-sixes he threw, he wasn't all that bad. He threw in rythym, the run-game worked and overall it looked like a passable offense. Of course, that was against the Browns defense, and despite how disappointing the Dolphins have been, Miami poses a greater challenge. The Dolphins have been extremely up-and-down lately, so I am not too concerned by their awful game last week. I think they win and cover, because Schaub, even in a good game like last week, will thrown them picks.

Ravens 17  Dolphins 24  (MIA -3.5)

Arizona Cardinals (9-2)  @  St. Louis Rams (4-7)  (ARZ -7)

The last three times these two teams have squared off against each other, the Rams have done something significant. First, they tore Carson Palmer's ACL; then they injured Drew Stanton (who was half-decent) and forced the Ryan Lindley era upon the Cardinals, and this year they ended the brief run at perfection for Arizona. I think Arizona pays St. Louis back for all that in a big way. The Rams have to start Foles again, and he's completely lost out there currently. The Cardinals have the ability to extend leads and pounce on his mistakes to blow this open more than a TD.

Cardinals 27  Rams 13  (ARZ -7)

Houston Texans (6-5)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-6)  (BUF -3)

In some ways, in that cadre of AFC teams that are either 6-5 or 5-6, I'm pulling for all the 5-6 teams to win and the 6-5 teams to lose to leave us with a giant set of teams at 6-6. I do actually think there is a fair chance of that happening here. The Bills definitely need this game more as they have only one pathway into the playoffs. They also have the type of offense that should control Brian Hoyer and neutralize the Texans chances of scoring 24+. The Bills main concern is on offense, but so far in his career JJ Watt has been a superior player at home, so I'm less worried than a repeat of last year's game where Watt was utterly dominant and won the game by himself.

Texans 16  Bills 24  (BUF -3)

New York Jets (6-5)  @  New York Giants (5-6)  (NYJ -1)

Both these teams need this game badly, but if a few results go their way in other games, neither team needs this game badly. The Giants are probably more desperate. The Redskins have a far easier schedule here on out - this is actually one of the easier games for the Giants. For this matchup, if we look just to the trenches, the Jets have a huge edge. They have a great d-line and the Giants are missing nearly all their major starters on the o-line. Then again, with Revis out the cascade effect of a non-Revis covering OBJ and an even-worser non-non-Revis covering Randle is a scary proposition. I think the Giants are a little more desperate, and their defense which forces a lot of turnovers and generally stops the run is a good matchup against the Jets.

Jets 20  Giants 24  (NYG +1)

Seattle Seahawks (6-5)  @  Minnesota Vikings (8-3)  (PICK)

The Seahawks were favored early in the week, but the action seems to have concentrated more on the Vikings in recent days. It is not surprising why. The Seahawks recent offensive outburst occurred at home, and the last time we saw the Seahawks outside of Seattle was a pathetic showing in Dallas in a 13-12 win. The Vikings defense is excellent in the red zone, something the Seahawks struggled with early in the season. The Vikings offense doesn't match up too well, which is a real concern though, I could see another 13-12 type game, and the Vikings have been great in those games.

Seahawks 13  Vikings 17  (MIN)

Denver Broncos (9-2)  @  San Diego Chargers (3-8)  (DEN -3.5)

I don't even feel like talking about the whole Osweiler / Manning thing. Let me just say the Peyton Manning who played Weeks 1-7 would've beaten Chicago 17-15, and probably would have won this game too.

Broncos 27  Chargers 20  (DEN -3.5)

Philadelphia Eagles (4-7)  @  New England Patriots (10-1)  (NE -10.5)

There are actually a lot of trends and matchups that would point to Philadelphia. Teams coming off back-to-back big losses tend to cover in the next game because the line is artificially high (probably not the case). The Patriots are missing a lot of players and the Eagles defensive front can be dominant at times. Still, this is in New England, and this Eagles team so obviously quit on life the last two games. I can't imagine them getting up for this game, one that, if the Eagles go three-and-out a few times early, can snowball quickly.

Eagles 17  Patriots 38  (NE -10.5)

Carolina Panthers (11-0)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-7)  (CAR -7.5)

This line actually seems high. The Saints have the potential to play well in the Dome, and the Panthers haven't been the best team outside of Carolina (last weekend excluded). I could absolutely see the Panthers winning, but more like they did early in the season when they were winning by 3-7 points. The Panthers defense should swallow the Saints, but they can be beat deep if Brees gets time. The Saints have a high-risk defense that could get to Newton. I think the Saints also have a sense of pride and a loss here gives their opponent a really reasonable chance at 16-0 and ends their season. I think the Saints play close, but ultimately lose.

Panthers 27  Saints 24  (NO +7.5)

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)  @  Oakland Raiders (5-6)  (KC -2.5)

Are the Chiefs really going to go from 1-5 to 11-5? This may be their toughest game left, and while that may sound like a dig at the Chiefs easy schedule, Oakland is a tough out. They've essentially been blown out twice, once by Cincinati and once by Minnesota - both teams that are good and arguably better than the Chiefs. The Raiders offense is for real. Derek Carr is playing like a Top-5 QB in 2015, and his o-line limits pressures and sacks about as good as anyone. They can get time against the Chiefs. The issue is the other side of the ball. The Raiders seem to do better against physical or talent-based offenses and struggle with scheme ones so that could be a problem. I think the Raiders win but would not be shocked if the Chiefs pull another one out.

Chiefs 23  Raiders 30  (OAK +2.5)

Indianapolis Colts (6-5)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)  (PIT -7.5)

If the Steelers can't win this game against Matt Hasselbeck and the Colts, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.

Colts 17  Steelers 35  (PIT -7.5)

Dallas Cowboys (3-8)  @  Washington Redskins (5-6)  (WAS -4.5)

If the Redskins can't win this game, against Matt Cassel and the Cowboys, they don't deserve to make the playoffs.

Cowboys 14  Redskins 24  (WAS -4.5)

Enjoy the Games!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 13 Power Rankings & The Rest

Quick MVP Update:

/In lieu of reviewing picks I didn't make, a quick MVP prediction update

5.) JJ Watt - Still the best defensive player in the NFL, he suddenly leads the league in sacks again, has an outside shot at another 20 sack season, and has his team tied for first place because the defense has been 2002 Bucs good for four games. If they make the playoffs, and if Carolina falls at any point, this argument will get made, a lot.

4.) Andy Dalton - Forget this whole "he can't play in primetime" thing. He wasn't the reason they lost to Arizona, and his season-long stats are still amazing. He has a higher completion percentage, yards per attempt and TD percentage than Tom Brady. If they run the table and the Pats drop another game, the Bengals are your #1 seed.

3.) Carson Palmer - Carson Palmer had a slightly off game which drops him for me below Brady. Overall, Palmer has been almost exactly as good as Tom Brady this year. Palmer has thrown it fewer times than Brady, but has a better TD percentage, far better yards per attempt, an identical QB rating, and has, on a per-play basis, been better than Brady (Football Outsiders DVOA has him #1). He may have more weapons, but he plays in an offense that can suppress these rate-based stats given the deep-ball nature of what they do. He also has the narrative of coming back from a 2nd ACL tear.

2.) Tom Brady - I get it, he has no one to throw to, well guess what: it shows. His passer rating is now down to a very good 106.7, instead of the 110+ it was for most of the year. Like always, he's not throwing picks, but he's also not having as great of a year as his numbers look. Now that the Patriots aren't undefeated, that narrative goes away. I still give him loads of credit for playing well with so many guys around him going down, but the bulk of his numbers, and all his best games, came before those guys went down.

1.) Cam Newton - If they go undefeated, he's almost assured to win. Yes, his conventional stats are not great, but let's not forget that when you add rushing value, where he is far above any other QB, it becomes a lot closer. When factoring in rushing TDs, Newton would be #2 in the NFL in total TDs. When you look at total turnovers (including fumbles), the gap between Newton and Brady becomes 11 to 8. All those players that are missing for Brady... well those guys were never there to begin with for Newton. Let's remember Brady's #1 WR (LaFell) now used to be Newton's #2 guy. If they go undefeated no one needs to make an argument, but even had the Patriots escaped 21-17 against Denver, I would still have Newton #1.

Power Rankings

32.) Cleveland Browns  (2-9  =  213-310)

I don't even know what to say about that loss - so quick betting tangent. I took the Ravens +4.5, which looked great for most of the game. Up 27-20 at the 2:00, I was sure I was good. Then the Browns tied and the Ravens went 3-and-out. At this point I only had to avoid an outcome where the Browns won with a TD, which seemed likely since most would settle for a field goal. Somehow, it went back and forth, and the biggest thing I wanted to avoid was the game going to OT and the potential of a Browns TD there, so I was rooting for the kicker to hit the 51 yard kick. Instead, we got what we got. I still won. It is games like this that betting is fun. However, had the Browns won the game on the same play and covered, I may have given up football forever.

31.) Tennessee Titans  (2-9  =  203-257)

I regretted this ranking about five slots later, but was too lazy to change. The Titans are not a good team, with really nothing but marginal players everywhere. Sure, some of these guys have potential, like Mariota, or Dorial Green-Beckham, or Jurrel Casey. The Titans will rise as far, really, as Mariota will take them, and while he's been good, some of the bloom is coming off of the rose, especially when he struggles to read the Raiders defense.

30.) Philadelphia Eagles  (4-7  =  243-274)

The Eagles may be the most bipolar team in the NFL this year. They've won games 27-7 and 39-17, but now lost two games by the combined score of 31-90. And did they play the top teams in those games? No, they played the Buccaneers (4-5 entering that game) and the Lions (3-7). Look, I don't think Chip Kelly is a disaster, but when the Buccaneers and Lions solve your offense, and your defense quits on you, it is a really bad sign.

29.) San Francisco 49ers  (3-8  = 152-271)

It speaks volumes how far the 49ers have fallen that a close loss to the Cardinals at home in a game that was nowhere nearly as close as the score indicated and people hailed it as a really nice performance. Also speaking volumes: no one is even thinking that Colin Kaepernick was benched unfairly, or has any hope of coming back to play ahead of Blaine Gabbert.

28.) Miami Dolphins  (4-7  =  225-287)

So it wasn't Joe Philbin's fault... maybe it is the offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's fault!? Maybe it is Ryan Tannehill's fault. Maybe it is his fault for not really getting any better in Year #4, and his fault for not getting the most out of a talented set of receivers. The Dolphins brief renassiance to 4-4 has been showed as just that, brief, and that win over Philadelphia looks a lot less impressive in retrospect.

27.) Dallas Cowboys  (3-8  =  204-261)

The Cowboys will likely finish last in the NFC East, but it is almost assured they would have won this division with Romo healthy, likely going away. Tony Romo will end the season playing two complete games (2-0), and two half games (1-1), and missing the other 12. Just a disastrous season for him and the Cowboys after the great surprise of their 12-4 run last year.

26.) New Orleans Saints  (4-7  =  261-339)

Maybe the issue wasn't Rob Ryan (hint: the issue is almost always Rob Ryan), but the players. Actually, maybe the issue is all too suddenly, people have figured out how to defend that offense. Sure, they've lost players and weapons, but they never had great players and weapons to begin with. Unless you think Jimmy Graham was THIS important. Drew Brees is not having a bad season by normal standards, but there is no explosiveness, and limited protection. For everything written about Peyton's demise, the demise of the Brees & Payton Saints is all the more shocking.

25.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-7  =  259-276)

If Joe Flacco was healthy, and if they had won even one of the close games they lost (they should have definitely won the Jaguars game, for instance), they would 5-6, a fringe playoff contender, and 7-8 spots higher up. Instead, they are playing for pride, but the Ravens are a prideful bunch. Also, if you take away the two bad interceptions, Matt Schaub didn't look all too bad.

24.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (4-7  =  236-299)

If the AFC South was better, or hte AFC overall was better, this would be seen as a pretty lost season in Jacksonville, but instead they are within striking distance of the AFC South if they win their head-to-head games, and the play of their offensive skill guys has been a true bright spot. Bortles needs to improve in a lot of areas, namely his accuracy, but the Allens will help that transition. Now if they could just fix that defense.

23.) San Diego Chargers  (3-8  =  244-307)

The Chargers are having a lost season. If not for a miracle win against the Chiefs in Week 17 in 2013, this would be year #6 without a playoff game. But in those six years, we still have been able to watch Philip Rivers throw to Antonio Gates. The TE in that equation will be going to Canton some day - but maybe the QB should too. There is no question, though, if there was a Canton Wing for QB-Receiver combinations, the Rivers to Gates would get in 1st ballot.

22.) Detroit Lions  (4-7  =  230-288)

Nothing wakes you up like a 45-10 loss in London, I guess. The Lions have been fantastic the last three games, especially on the defensive end, where they went to Green Bay and shut down the Packers (admittedly, that is kind of a thing now), then held Oakland under 10, and then did what they did to Philadelphia. The Lions were never as bad as they looked, and aren't as good as they currently do, but they might just be closer to team that wins 45-14 than the one that loses 45-10.

21.) St. Louis Rams  (4-7  =  186-230)

I don't know if Jeff Fisher will get fired, but if he does it will be for not winning that Bradford for Foles trade. I won't say he lost it. It cleared a lot of cap space on a wasted contract, and they got the better picks in the deal, but he didn't win it either. That offense is so pathetic that they run 3-4 sweeps with Tavon Austin each game pretty much because that in the only way to gain chunk yardage. What was so promising in Week 1 is so disastrous now.

20.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (5-6  =  248-279)

Not a surprising loss that being the second straight road game after a huge win in Philadelphia, but definitely an odd one. They never seemed to have any issue moving the ball. There were no truly bad plays of performances. Yet they only scored 12 points? Jameis again looked pretty good, as did the weapons and defense, but somehow they lost by 13? Not sure what happened, but on to the next game.

19.) Chicago Bears  (5-6  =  231-264)

The Bears show how much coaching matters. John Fox, and more so, Vic Fangio and Adam Gase, came in and took more or less the same roster that disastrously went 5-11 last year, and have the team at 5-6, with one of the losses being with Jimmy Clausen. They just went to Lambeau and beat the Packers, not only beat them but did so 17-13. That is a game Lovie Smith dreamed about when he was the Bears coach, and it happened despite them having pretty much no true impact players on defense.

18.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-5  =  260-234)

The Falcons started 5-0, four of those wins coming against the garbage NFC East. Since, they are 1-5,  with the only win being 10-7 against Zach Mettenberger and the Titans, who summarily fired their coach two games later. They are somewhat like Tampa Bay, where staitsically it all looks good, but they've now lost three straight home games to the likes of Minnesota (fine, explainable), Tampa Bay (less explainable), and Indianapolis (with Hasselbeck, not at all explainable). Matt Ryan is throwing too many picks, but the defense is not playing up either. Maybe those ex-Seahawks DCs are just not great coaches outside of the Legion of Boom.

17.) Washington Redskins  (5-6  =  241-267)

By comparing upcoming schedules, the Redskins are probably the odds on favorite to win the division. Now, they have a serious problem winning away from home (they are 5-1 at home, 0-5 on the road), but if they win next Monday against Matt Cassel and win their last two home games that is 8-8 and might be good enough. Amazing, really, that this Kirk Cousins led team will make the playoffs.

16.) New York Giants  (5-6  =  287-273)

They are still better than the Redskins, so much so that I am sure all the other NFC Playoff Teams are really hoping Washington hangs onto the NFC East (and I'm sure that team in Foxboro feels the same way). Still, that was the first truly classic shitty Manning performance. The Giants, had they won, would've been two games up on the division with five to play. Now, with a really tough schedule coming up, they have to do one game better than Washington. What a tough loss, one that will be Agent Zero for the end of the Coughlin era if it goes that way.

15.) Oakland Raiders  (5-6  =  264-280)

Big win, even if it was sloppy and somewhat aided by the refereeing. The Raiders quickly emerged from that two game malaise to find themselves just a game back, and with a nice tie-breaking edge with just three AFC losses and a win against the Jets. The schedule is tough, and even if they miss the playoffs the 2015 Raiders are not the 2010-11 Raiders that also finished 8-8. The future is bright. Let's not overlook that Derek Carr has a 101.5 rating, completing 63.5% of his passes for a 7.7 y/a with 24 TDs and 6 INTs. That is really good, guys.

14.) Houston Texans  (6-5  =  232-234)

In the last four games where the Texans are 4-0, they have allowed just 35 points, including three games without a TD, and allowed at most 268 yards. This is defense close to what the Broncos played early in the year. The Texans obviously have Watt, but have more than that, including a deep secondary and a d-line that is playing nicely around Watt. Just imagine if Jadeveon Clowney approaches the guy we thought he would be. By the way, this is random, but the look of games at Reliant Stadium look so much different with the turf - it was so dark against New Orleans I thought the game was in the Superdome for the first half.

13.) Buffalo Bills  (5-6  =  266-257)

Imagine if the Bills defense has stayed fully healthy and approached what they were in 2014, something we all though was a given with Rex Ryan coming aboard. The defense hasn't been bad, but we all expected more, and if they were more than what they've been the Bills would probably be 7-4 right now and a clear WC favorite. Instead, they are in a dog-fight, but one they can win. Somehow, it is the offense that has carried them though.

12.) Indianapolis Colts  (6-5  =  249-260)

What the Colts have really shown in their 4-0 performance with Hasselbeck starting is that maybe this roster is better than people think. Hasselbeck played really well against Houston, but in the other games he's been a classic game manager. The line is better than people think. The defense is better than people think, and especially better coached. But they really aren't that far away. What the Colts need is for Luck to come back and play the way he played in 2014, and they desperately need impact pass rushers. But even without those, they are good enough to go 4-0.

11.) New York Jets  (6-5  =  272-228)

The Jets may rue that no-show against Oakland, and the relative no-show against Philadelphia if they end up outside. The Jets are definitely one of the best six AFC teams. The defense has been really good for much of the season (again, apart from that Oakland game - strange things happen when these two meet out there), and the offense is the best Jets offense since the first 11 games of the Favre year. This Jets team could make noise in the playoffs, but they have to get there first.

10.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-5  =  287-220)

The Chiefs have won five games in a row, and in their remaining five games none of them look to be games where the Chiefs won't be underdogs. This last game was by far the closest they have come to losing. Oakland can pose some challenges given their strength at o-line against the Chiefs rush, and the Raiders are usually good for a win against the Chiefs even when Oakland was bad, but the Chiefs really have a great shot here at the playoffs. It helps that they only have two AFC losses so far. The Chargers and Chiefs will randomly win in each other's building all the time also. I don't think they win out, but 10-6 is very much in play here.

9.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-5  =  266-230)

That loss hurts even for an out of conference loss. The offense is so good all the time, it seems like they'll never not score. Ben just flicks these 40-yard bombs on point. If Bryant and Wheaton had better hands they would be unstoppable. Issue for Pittsburgh is with the upcoming schedule, is five losses in the bank too many. I'm sure the Big-3 of hte AFC (Broncos, Bengals, Patriots) want no part of Pittsburgh - Denver and Cincinnati get to help that happen with head-to-head games left.

8.) Green Bay Packers  (7-4  =  262-215)

I have no idea what is going on. Aaron Rodgers is barely over 60% completions for the season. His passer rating is below 100, and if it ends that way it would be the first time for him since 2008. He's now had two straight games where he's around 50% throwing. Devante Adams is an absolute disaster. It looks like Jordy Nelson was a lot more integral than people realized. It is stunning but the Packers have scored just 10 points more than the maligned Broncos offense.

7.) Minnesota Vikings  (8-3  =  231-194)

The Vikings defense is really good but it is hard to say what they do well other than make stops in the red zone. They don't get a ton of sacks or turnovers, and while they have a lot of impact players, most are not in their prime, some before (Barr, Rhodes, Floyd) or after (Newman, Newman, Newman). Still, they are 8-3. The schedule gets really tough ahead, but they've been winning all year long by doing 'the little things', and two more of those and they're almost assured to be in. Also, last week showed why we should never overstate the importance of those statement games like the one they lost to Green Bay. Just a week later, they are back alone in first place.

6.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-5  =  267-222)

This recent 4-1 stretch has people thinking the Seahawks are going to do what they did last year, which is finish 6-0 after a 6-4 start (or a 10-2 finish after a 2-2 start). But this Seahawks team is very different, as they've done this almost all with offense. Even in the loss, they scored 32 points. Now, the Steelers decided that they wouldn't cover or tackle - that's nice of them. There is a real issue with their secondary though. The Steelers pose more challenges than most, but this is a recurring theme.

5.) Denver Broncos  (9-2  = 252-207)

Great win, by why do people feel like Osweiler has played himself into the starting role? Is a 23-42 performance for 270 yards with numerous missed throws and an inability to quickly recognize pressure. Also I love the idea that Osweiler allows Kubiak to play hist style, when the drive to make it 21-14, 21-17 and 24-21 all had Osweiler having his best throws from the shotgun. I still feel a somewhat healthy Manning gives them a higher ceiling. The ceiling of the Manning-led Broncos is the team that beat Green Bay 29-10 and outgained them 500-140. The ceiling for the Osweiler-led Broncos was what we just saw.

4.) Cincinnati Bengals  (9-2  =  297-193)

The Bengals got back to winning - many will write it was because they weren't playing a night game, but really it was they were a playing a team that was worse than Arizona. They bludgeoned the Rams, and if they had just beaten Houston as they probably should have done, they would have the inside track for the #1 seed. Still, with the Steelers losing they probably have the division. The goal here is clear: win out and the Bengals are no worse than the #2 seed, and if the Patriots slip again, they are the #1 seed. The schedule is tough, but they are the AFC's most balanced, and currently healthiest, team.

3.) New England Patriots  (10-1  =  347-212)

It was really just a matter of time. Since the dominant win over Miami (36-7 on Thursday Night), they won a sleepy game against Washington, should have lost to the Giants, played poorly against Buffalo and then finally lost. They haven't gotten to 30 points since that Miami game. In those 4 games, Brady is completing less than 60% of his passes, with a 7.4 y/a and a 90.3 passer rating. Things don't figure to get immediately better with Gronk out a week or two, but there are two bright spots. First, most of the injured guys will be back for the playoffs, and secondly, the Eagles and their current offensive defense is a nice antidote for a team that is struggling (in the relative sense) to score.

2.) Arizona Cardinals  (9-2  =  355-229)

The Cardinals didn't win big, and looked somewhat sloppy, but road divisional games are not the best indicators. Around this time last year, New England beat the Jets 17-16 in New York. The Cardinals showed they are good enough to play their 'C' game on the road against a divisional rival and win. They get another chance to do that this upcoming weekend. The key for them is the game against Minnesota in two weeks. Win that game and they can play .500 in the other two and get the #2 seed. It is nice that the three biggest games left on their schedule (Minnesota, Green Bay, Seattle) are all at home.

1.) Carolina Panthers  (11-0  =  332-205)

Now that they're the only undefeated team we can put what the Panthers did in perspective. They may be the worst team to start 11-0 (the 2009 Colts would give them a nice run, but historically will be placed higher because they had Peyton), but they are also probably better than the other recent forgotten teams to make it deep without losing. They are better than the 2012 Falcons that started 8-0. A good comp for them is a higher ceiling version of the 2008 Titans, a team that started 10-0. The Panthers defense has always been good, but what is more shocking is an offense that schemes and Cams its way to 30 a game. If they score 30 a game, they won't lose. Honestly, the biggest risk to the undefeated season may be this week in New Orleans, or maybe in Week 16, when they go to New York to play the 'Perfect Season' killers in the Giants.

Projecting the Playoff Field


1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  13-3
3.) Denver Broncos  =  12-4
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  10-6
6.) New York Jets  =  9-7


1.) Carolina Panthers  =  15-1
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  13-3
3.) Green Bay Packers  =  11-5
4.) Washington Redskins  =  8-8
5.) Minnesota Vikings  =  11-5
6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)  @  Tennessee Titans (2-9)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) San Francisco 49ers (3-8)  @  Chicago Bears (5-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
14.) Baltimore Ravens (4-7)  @  Miami Dolphins (4-7)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Why are we playing these games?" Sunday, as these are the three games where neither team has realistic playoff aspirations. The Bears and Jaguars, I guess, you can say have some shot, but in reality they don't. I have nothing really to say about these games.

13.) Denver Broncos (9-2)  @  San Diego Chargers (3-8)  (4:05 - CBS)
12.) Philadelphia Eagles (4-7)  @  New England Patriots (10-1)  (4:25 - FOX)
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (9-2)  @  Cleveland Browns (2-9)  (1:00 - FOX)
10.) Arizona Cardinals (9-2)  @  St. Louis Rams (4-7)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Who will not avoid the upset?" Sunday, as all four of these games feature one of the teams in the 9-2 or 10-1 group playing against a team at least five games worse than it. The Rams have already knocked off the Cardinals once and now get them in St. Louis, so that game looks the most intriguing. the Broncos and Chargers is hilarious is that the Chargers were a trendy preseason pick to upset Denver in the AFC West, and now meet six games worse yet they're the one who HAS their starting QB. The Eagles get a chance to not give up 45 points, and the Brown, fresh off their latest disaster and potentially starting Austin Davis, get to play the machine of Cincinnati.

9.) Atlanta Falcons (6-5)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
8.) Green Bay Packers (7-4)  @  Detroit Lions (4-7)  (TNF - NFLN)
7.) Dallas Cowboys (3-8)  @  Washington Redskins (5-6)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "Don't Slip Up" Weekend, as the NFL Week starts with a game that looks a lot better now than it did three weeks ago, as the Packers play their longtime nemesis. The Lions can get a sweep in the series for the first time since Reagan was president. The Falcons look to also pay back Tampa and finally get back on the right track - you can argue a Buccaneers win shoves them into the playoff race as well. Finally, the Redskins have it all in front of them. They are 5-1 at home, with a clear path towards an NFC East title, but to start they have to avoid slipping up against Matt Cassel. Be warned, Redskins fans, as it was the Redskins winning with Colt McCoy in Dallas on Monday that eventually kept Dallas from the #1 seed.

6.) New York Jets (6-5)  @  New York Giants (5-6)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The Battle of New York" Sunday, as we get our quadrennial matchup between the two New York teams. Both are in the thick of the playoff race but currently outside looking in. The loser will be facing a last four games where they may need to go 4-0. The Giants, given games to come against Minnesota and Carolina, are probably in worse shape, but it is nice to have them play with both needing the game badly.

5.) Carolina Panthers (11-0)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-7)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "The Chase for 16-0, Season 2015, Week 12" Sunday, as we get the latest weekly TV Show. Can the Panthers, yes, the Panthers, go 16-0? I spoke about it before, but people will finally start turning their attention to Carolina, which so far had been a 2008 Titans or 2012 Falcons type undefeated chase. Speaking of the Falcons, they stated 8-0 and then went to New Orleans against a Saints team that missed the playoffs, and lost 27-31. Also, the Saints would love to pay Carolina back for the last time these two played in the Superdome, losing 41-10.

4.) Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)  @  Oakland Raiders (5-6)  (4:05 - CBS)
3.) Houston Texans (6-5)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-6)  (1:00 - CBS)
2.) Indianapolis Colts (6-5)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Moving Day, v. AFC", as if you look at all the AFC teams that are either 6-5 or 5-6, the teams that are more or less in the Wild Card race, they play each other six more times - with half of those being these three. All three games have wild card (and for Houston and Indianapolis, division) implications. The winners, especially if it is KC or Pittsburgh, or if one of the Colts / Texans group win, are in real good shape. If the Raiders or Bills lose, they may be done barring a 4-0 run. Also, Matt Hasselbeck gets another chance at revenge against Pittsburgh, which is nice.

1.) Seattle Seahawks (6-5)  @  Minnesota Vikings (8-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Seahawks, meet your past" Sunday, as the Seahawks travel outdoors to Minnesota to play a team that somewhat resembles themselves from 2012 - a young, up and coming group with a fresh QB and a great defense. The Vikings are 8-3 but still a little under the radar after losing their only 'statement game' against Green Bay. The Seahawks are 4-1 recently, but suddenly are an offense-first team. This game figures to be low scoring and with temperatures around freezing at kick-off, another beautiful outdoor game in Minnesota, Cherish these now before they go back indoors next year.

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.