Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 13 Power Rankings & The Rest


The "2017 is only 9 months away" Trio

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-12  =  197-352)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-9  =  214-293)
14.) New York Jets  (3-8  =  196-266)

No change here, as the Browns lose another game on their slow slog to what should have been inevitable the whole time, and the Jags and Jets lose games where we can pretend to argue that they played well in. The Jags and Jets both had decent shots to win, but erratic QBs against good teams in close games rarely works out well. Somehow, the 0-12 team seems to have the brightest future of the three. The Browns have oodles of draft picks and no cap room. The Jags seem stuck with Bortles, and the Jets have an expensive roster with no way out. Not great times.

The "End of an Era?" Uno

13.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-7-1  =  213-245)

I don't think anyone saw this coming. The Bengals have a ton of injuries that they have had to deal with, but even then they should not be this bad. I think we all underestimated the impact losing Marvin Jones and Muhammad Sanu would have on that offense, and the defense lost some key pieces. The real issue, though, has been the dramatic drop-off of the offensive line. The Bengals had one of the best OLs in the NFL last year. Without losing anyone major, they turned suddenly into one of the worst. That was so unexpected and I'm not sure how the Bengals turn that around. Also, I have to think that this is the end for Marvin Lewis - which is sad to some degree. I think the Bengals will long for the days of the 2011-2015 period, even though they never did win a playoff game.

The "Can someone just not win the AFC South?" Trio

12.) Houston Texans  (6-5  =  194-236)
11.) San Diego Chargers  (5-6  =  313-291)
10.) Buffalo Bills  (6-5  =  281-236)

The Texans are just terrible. Their best game in recent weeks was a loss to the Raiders played in a strange environment where Raiders players slipped and slopped across it and that was the only reason it was close. The Texans defense dropped from really good in 2015 to slightly above average in 2016. I need them to not win that division, but if they do it may open up questions on why a division winner is guaranteed a playoff spot. The Chargers and Bills are far better teams, but they are stuck in tough divisions and unless either wins out (and for the Chargers it still may not be enough) they will be at home in January. Also, I'm not sure how either gets much better. The Bills have some upward mobility of Tyrod continues to improve and if Sammy Watkins ever were to stay healthy, but with Rex it is hard to ever see everything coming together.

The "If someone has to win the AFC South, can it be one of these two?" Duo

9.) Indianapolis Colts  (5-6  =  270-301)
8.) Tennessee Titans  (6-6  =  308-296)

In a weird way, the Colts were surprisingly good in that Steelers game. Their defense was not good, but their offense was able to limit the number of possessions, and if they were a little better in the red zone they may have pushed the Steelers. I'm assuming Luck is back next week, and if so, they have a chance to go on a run. It will come down to winning all their remaining division games against Houston and Jacksonville, but they should be able to do so. With the Titans, they got the win they needed to, but I have questions on how that game became so close. They were within a couple of drops from the Bears away from losing that game. Still, I would take either as our token #4 seed ahead of Houston.

The "3rd Tier Playoff Contenders" Trio

7.) Miami Dolphins  (7-4  =  249-240)
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-5  =  218-201)
5.) Baltimore Ravens  (6-5  =  266-222)

The Dolphins are actually the #6 seed at the moment because of conference record, but that is solely due to them having played an additional conference game. I don't buy the Dolphins long-term. That schedule is going to get much harder. 10-6 may not make it either. I would find them dangerous, but we haven't seen them go and outplay a good team yet. The Steelers and Ravens are polar opposites in their offense and defense respectively being really good, and the other side of the ball being worse than it should given their talent. The Steelers with all their pieces are terrifying, and the Ravens, with Dumervil back are equally terrifying on their end of the ball. It really seems like this is going to come down to that Christmas Night game against the Ravens.

The "Muddled Greatness of the AFC West" Trio

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  (8-3  =  252-214)
3.) Denver Broncos  (7-4  =  266-219)

2.) Oakland Raiders  (9-2  =  307-275)

That was a fantastic game on Sunday Night, but one that the Broncos should never have lost. Their defense, for the first time in two seasons, collapsed late when defending a lead. They were given the impossible equation of that 62-yard field goal vs. punting and hoping for a tie. The Broncos also gave up 9 points via a safety and punt return TD. The Chiefs should get a lot of credit for coming back, running a good 2-minute drill for once, and not folding, but I still think Denver is the better team. It know becomes a tough situation for them in terms of getting to the playoffs though. The Raiders just keep trucking along. They have a weird schedule quirk of having to play all their divisional road games in the last four, but this is also a team that is 5-0 on the road. The Raiders probably were praying for a tie, and with a win against Denver, probably rooting for a Denver win, but if they can close at 12-4, they should be good.

The "Let's Move On" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (9-2  =  293-197)

Yeah, let's move on. I can't do this. I'm fully enjoying this season, but the looming spectre of them winning again is making my mind hurt.


The "2017 is only 9 months away" Trio

16.) Chicago Bears  (2-9  =  178-264)
15.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-10  =  228-344)
14.) St. Louis Rams  (4-7  =  170-236)

I'm moving the Rams here, who are 0-2 in their last two games. The first they lost when their defense could not support an awful offense. The next week, that defense gives up 49 while the offense looks decent. It looks pretty obvious they are going to be worse than Fisher's hilarious 7-9 disposition, which may easily spell the end of Fisher. The Bears and 49ers are obviously bad and should be in full 2017 planning mode, starting with whether their head coaches in Fox and Chip continue.

The "It's time to start thinking about 2017" Duo

13.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-6-1  =  245-228)
12.) Carolina Panthers  (4-7  =  276-281)

I still believe long-term in the Panthers. They have a ton of money to spend, talent on both sides of the ball, and only two clear weaknesses to shore up - their OL and secondary. There is a recipe here and still believe in the two main cooks in Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera. That all said, their year-to-year inconsistency is not a good sign. For the Cardinals, there are more serious issues to deal with - starting with whether Carson Palmer is just on the way down. Beyond that, there are oodles of free agents with not too much money, and they have to deal with putting all their chips in for 2016 and now facing the consequences.

The "Too many wasted moments" Duo

11.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-6  =  254-213)
10.) Green Bay Packers  (5-6  =  274-289)

I was very much looking forward to that MNF game and instead we got a complete dud, as the 2010-2014 Packers showed up for a game and the Eagles defense decided not to. Honestly, with the Eagles, the more surprising element of the game was the lack of a pass rush by the defense more than any issues with Wentz, who had a perfectly acceptable game. The Packers are still two back in the division with five to go, but the Lions tough schedule and the Packers opening to get a season sweep in Week 17 certainly leaves them in play for a miracle playoff berth. The Eagles are in the periphery of the wild card race, but some of those early season losses are really starting to hurt them now.

The "Fringe playoff contenders" Trio

9.) New Orleans Saints  (5-6  =  334-307)
8.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (6-5  =  249-264)
7.) Washington Redskins  (6-4-1  =  280-264)

Technically, the Redskins are the current #6 seed, but I find them to be a more fring playoff contender than Minnesota (who I have ahead of them) as with the Redskins the divsion is completely out at this point. The Redskins still have something close to the Saints offense (worse QB, but better complementary weapons), with something close to the Buccaneers defense (decent pass rush and coverage, but holes at safety). What helps them is they don't have the flaws that those two teams have. With the Saints and Bucs, they play twice, which is nice, and I'm sure Atlanta is hoping for a split there. The Saints offense showed it can still dominate bad teams, but we will get a nice test of their abilities when they take their show out of the Superdome soon.

The "Not that great NFC North Race" Duo

6.) Detroit Lions  (7-4  =  247-238)
5.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-5  =  218-192)

The Vikings blew that game, and their OL problems continue to surface, but if Adrian Peterson is on the way back for December, that could be the best little jolt the Vikings could get. I still believe in that defense, which was great once again. The pass rush has returned, with six sacks in the last two games. The Lions are continuing to squeak out games, and their ability to dominate up front will keep them from being blown out, but you have to wonder if an innate ability to win 1-7 point games with 4th quarter comebacks week-after-week won't ultimately prove to be unsustainable.

The "Weirdest Giants Team Ever" Uno

4.) New York Giants  (8-3  =  231-213)

The easy part of the Giants schedule is over, and they find themselves in nice shape off of their first, and really only, solid win of the season from a score perspective. The offense still has no run game for the umpteenth season, and the passing attack is far less than the sum of its parts, but a defense that is coming close to doing what the older Giants units did is really helping. There are some serious tests in the coming weeks (Pittsburgh, Dallas, Washington) but the Giants are probably safe even if they close the season 2-3 and get 10 wins. This Giants team bares no resemblance to the running-led 2007-2008 teams, nor the passing-heavy teams of 2011-2015. This is new water for them, but it is working, with a low-key solid defense supporting a two-man (Eli & OBJ) offense.

The "Can we have a divisional round matchup here?" Duo

3.) Atlanta Falcons  (7-4  =  358-302)
2.) Seattle Seahawks  (7-3-1  =  224-187)

The Falcons and Seahawks played an excellent Divisional Round Game in 2012, Year #1 of the Russell wilson experience. The Falcons and Seahawks played a very good game earlier this year in Seattle. These two teams seem to match-up well with each other, as even the Seahawks defense can't contain Julio Jones (Matt Ryan himself has done well against Seattle). I really hope they get to play against each other come playoff time, in either building. The Falcons may come to rue losses to Tampa in Week 1, or San Diego in Week 7, but I think they've begun to fully right themselves and take off, and I would imagine the playoff version of Seattle to very different than the one that laid an egg in Tampa.

The "How is this happening?" Uno

1.) Dallas Cowboys  (10-1  =  316-213)

At some point, I have to stop believing they would be better with Romo. Now, I can still argue that going forward it is safer to play Romo over a rookie when no rookie has ever won a Super Bowl, but even that becomes hard given Romo's injury history. This season is proving to be closely alligning to the 2004 Steelers. That team had a great roster coming off of an uncharacteristic 6-10 season (Cowboys were 4-12 last year), when they went to a rookie QB who used a great OL and running game and dominanat receivers (Hines & Plax), to personally go 14-0 (Tommy Maddox went 1-1). Roethlisberger, when you adjust for era, had probably the best statistical rookie season from an efficiency standpoint as well. Until Dak this year. Roethlisberger fell apart in the playoffs. Obviously, that wouldn't last long term, but his performances in each of the Steelers playoff games were not good. There is a little inkling in my mind that Dak and the Cowboys could ultimately face a similar fate.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  12-4
3.) Baltimore Ravens  =  9-7
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  8-8
5.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5
6.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5


1.) Dallas Cowboys  =  13-3
2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-4-1
3.) Atlanta Falcons  =  11-5
4.) Detroit Lions  =  10-6
5.) New York Giants  =  11-5

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Tennesee Titans (6-6), Cleveland Browns (0-12)

15.) San Francisco 49ers (1-10)  @  Chicago Bears (2-9)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Who Gives a Shit" Sunday

14.) Denver Broncos (7-4)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) St. Louis Rams (4-7)  @  New England Patriots (9-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "I don't see a spoiler here" Sunday

12.) Indianapolis Colts (5-6)  @  New York Jets (3-8)  (MNF - ESPN)
11.) Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Uninteresting games with a fringe playoff team" Sunday and Monday

10.) Houston Texans (6-5)  @  Green Bay Packers (6-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Washington Redskins (6-4-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1)  (4:25 - FOX)
8.) Detroit Lions (7-4)  @  New Orleans Saints (5-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)  @  San Diego Chargers (5-6)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Quasi-interesting games with playoff (some fringe) teams" Sunday

6.) Carolina Panthers (4-7)  @  Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "This game was supposed to be so much more meaningful" Sunday

5.) Kansas City Chiefs (8-3)  @  Atlanta Falcons (7-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
4.) Buffalo Bills (6-5)  @  Oakland Raiders (9-2)  (4:05 - CBS)

I call it "Good games between potential playoff teams" Sunday

3.) Miami Dolphins (7-4)  @  Baltimore Ravens (6-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
2.) New York Giants (8-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)  (4:25 - FOX)
1.) Dallas Cowboys (10-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (6-5)  (TNF - NBC)

I call it "Really good games between potential playoff teams" Sunday

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Great Silver & Black Awakening

I could have written this when the Raiders went into the Superdome and busted out massive cojones in beating the Saints by going for two. I could have written it last week when they had their best performance to date in rolling the defending champs and taking control of the AFC West. Instead, I am writing this after they went off to Mexico and won in a sloppy game against the Texans. But really, there is no better or worse time. There is just the future. The Raiders are back. The NFL is better for it, and so am I.

The rebirth of the Raiders is not a surprise. They were a trendy sleeper pick before the season started, so much so it became very passe to tout them as a playoff team, with people moving off the Raiders to other flavor of the weeks in Jacksonville or Buffalo. Yet, even for the people that fully supported the Raiders, having them be the #1 seed in the AFC if the playoffs started today through 10 weeks is surprising. The Raiders are not a great team, but they are an unbelievably clutch and confident team. The Raiders are winning by doing what they know: passing, blocking and going for it.

This all started in the 2014 NFL Draft, when for some reason Khalil Mack slipped to the 5th pick. The Raiders got him, and then got Derek Carr in the 2nd round. Two years later, Mack is living up to the hype, and Carr is easily the best QB from his class, and probably the best young (3 seasons or less) QB in the NFL, if not a potential MVP pick. Two years ago, they were 0-10 through ten weeks. Now, they are the, by record, best in the AFC. But actually it goes back earlier than that.

The Raiders hired Reggie McKenzie to take over as GM in 2012. He was the first true GM of the Raiders not named Al Davis. While Davis's legacy weighed strong, he inherited a team without a rudder. He immediately cleaned house. While that seems in hindsight like an easy, necessary decision, the Raiders were coming off of back-to-back 8-8 seasons. Still, he saw the broken system in Oakland, and did what he thought was best. The Raiders paid him back by going 11-37 over the next three seasons. He kept his job. They are 15-11 since, with even better things to come.

We can credit Jack Del Rio, or Derek Carr, or the rebirth of Michael Crabtree, or the continuing growth of Amari Cooper, or the slow build of a dominant OL. There are many reasons why the Raiders are 8-2. All of them have played a part in creating a dynamic team in Oakland. All of them are reasons. All of them have helped create one of the stories of the season. It may be lost under the glow of Dak, or the continued brilliance of the Seahawks and Patriots, or the general sloppiness and mediocrity, but the success of the Raiders will have the longest impact.

Ratings are down, this is arguably the biggest story of the 2016 season, and to me the explanation is simple: Peyton is gone. Now, that is reductive. It is not only him, but Peyton retiring (and Calvin Johnson, Patrick Willis and countless others) ended a chapter of the NFL book, and now they have to create another one. This happened before, in 1999-2002, and then Brady and Peyton ascended and took over. The NFL needs that next set of teams, and there is no better candidate than the Raiders.

The rebirth of the Raiders can be the punch the NFL needed, bringing a once-great franchise back to glory. The Raiders were one of the two primary powers in the AFC during the era that so many put up as the one that grew the game. The have a national fanbase, if more than a sustainable local one (which is why Las Vegas would be perfect for them). They can drive ratings and interest. The Raiders stood for so much in the old NFL, and nothing can help resuscitate the league than that special franchise and history rising again.

NFL 2016: Week 12 Power Rankings & The Rest


The "2017 is only 9 Months Away" Trio

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-11  =  184-325)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-8  =  193-265)
14.) New York Jets  (3-7  =  179-244)
I think the Jets are slightly better than the Browns and Jaguars, at least in terms of talent. But with their QB carousel-ing, they really seem well placed amid the mess in Cleveland and Jacksonville. Honestly, the most hopeless in this group seem to be Jacksonville, which looks about to bust on a 2nd straight Top-10 QB, with Blake Bortles being only an improvement when compared to Blaine Gabbert. The Browns have 0-16 in their sites, and for their sake I hope they don't overreact and clean house again. This was the plan, after all. As for the Jets, just do your job and beat New England and then go fulfill your 5-11 destiny.

The "What the Hell is Going On?" Uno

13.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-6-1  =  199-226)

I've heard a lot of 'well, at least they won't lose a playoff game this year' jokes, which I think does a great job of showing why the Bengals have been a success from 2011-2015. Only once did they truly blow a playoff game, their awful 10-27 loss to the Chargers in 2013. They were clearly the worse of the two teams in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (AJ Green concussion missed the game), and had an injury to Andy Dalton end what likely would have been a Super Bowl appearance last year. Now? Well now their team is in tatters and questions will be raised again about Marvin Lewis's job. I have a feeling he will be gone, and five years from we will wonder how the Bengals ever made the playoffs five straight seasons.

The "Least Exciting Division Race Ever" Trio

12.) Houston Texans  (6-4  =  181-215)
11.) Tennessee Titans  (5-6  =  281-275)
10.) Indianapolis Colts  (5-5  =  263-273)
With the news that Andrew Luck may miss the Thanksgiving game due to a concussion, we really have to fear for a world where the Texans, with their negative 34 point differential and lack of JJ Watt and lack of lack of Brock Osweiler end up winning the division as well. At least with Tennessee, which hasn't had a home playoff game since 2008, and Indianapolis, there is a chance for a semi-exciting Wild Card game. I honestly wouldn't mind Tennessee making it and seeing the world re-evaluate their thoughts on Mike Mularkey once again.

The "Upset Special Teams" Duo

9.) Buffalo Bills  (5-5  =  253-215)
8.) San Diego Chargers  (4-6  =  292-278)

There is a very low chance either of these teams makes the playoffs. The Chargers have next to no shot. The Bills have to probably run the table or go 5-1 at worst. Still, these are two teams that are better than any of the AFC South teams as currently constituted, and arguably better than the AFC North champion as well. The Bills offense continues to be surprisingly good, and while the defense has still not reached the levels it was at pre-Rex, the sacks and pressure have returned nicely. The Chargers are done, but they still have a true Wild Card in Philip Rivers who can pull an upset at any time, and with them still hosting the Chiefs and Raiders, there is a chance they factor in to the AFC West outcome.

The "Here we go again" Duo

7.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (5-5  =  238-215)
6.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-5  =  199-187) 

The Ravens gave the Cowboys a good game for 28 minutes, and my main takeaway there is Dallas is a dominant force and the Ravens secondary has major holes. For the most part, the Ravens run defense did its job and kept Zeke Elliott in check. The Ravens and Steelers are diametric opposites, and while I think the Ravens are slightly better, it is hard to favor them in this division race. The Steelers still get the Browns one more time, and get the Ravens in Heinz later in the season (Christmas Night, I believe), which easily gives them the edge. That all said, what was with the Steelers letting the Browns hang around like that, and Ben throwing for way under 10 YPC? They have a history of playing down to their opponents 2-3 times a year, and were lucky enough to win this one.

The "AFC Playoff Periphery" Duo

5.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-3  =  222-187)
4.) Miami Dolphins  (6-4  =  218-216)

The Chiefs were somewhat living off of borrowed time the last couple weeks. They absolutely should have lost to Carolina, so it was somewhat a make-up that they blew a winnable game to Tampa Bay. Their issue is they still have to play Denver twice (starting this week), and their offense just seems broken right now. Whatever running game magic they had last year that was deployed when Jamaal Charles went down is completely missing. For the Dolphins, they are a somewhat better version of the Chiefs right now. Tannehill is still not getting any protection, but their talented players are coming up big and their schedule is far more manageable the rest of the way than Kansas City's. By the way, for all the talk of how bad the AFC South is, if the Dolphins make the playoffs, this will be the first time the AFC East sends multiple playoff teams since 2010.

The "Fight to the Death, AFC West Style" Duo

3.) Oakland Raiders  (8-2  =  272-243)
2.) Denver Broncos  (7-3  =  239-189)

I still believe the Broncos are better, that their strength (a ridiculous pass defense) is more consistent week to week than Oakland's strength at passing. Denver has a somewhat easier schedule the rest of the way as well, at least when it comes to having their more important games at home (including the rematch between Denver and Oakland). But there is something rolling with the Raiders right now. That was not a game they should win by any stretch. The Raiders won a game with a defense that came up big (and played well throughout the night, if a little soft on 3rd down), and a passing game that changed on the fly and drove the Texans into submission with their backs in the passing game. That was a mature performance by the Raiders in a season full of them. They should be 6-4, but maybe a year from now they are a deserving 8-2 as they continue to improve.

The "It's Always Them" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (8-2  =  271-180)

One of more misleading 13 point wins in recent memory, and one of the lesser 4TD games I have ever seen. Sure, we can toss some of it up to a rainstorm in the first half, but that was a sloppy New England team beating a team that anyone in the NFL, save for the Browns, can easily beat. Still, the Patriots have only a few tough games left, and while they are not hte #1 seed for the moment, the AFC West will beat each other enough to give them likely a one-game cushion where 13-3 should be good enough.


The "Cover your eyes and run" Duo

16.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-9  =  204-313)
15.) Chicago Bears  (2-8  =  157-237)  

The Bears will be starting their 3rd string running back, be without their top-2 WRs coming into the season (Jefferey, White), have a bad OL, be without their young promising rookie defensive lineman (Leonard Floyd) and now without their starting QB in Cutler. Despite all of that, the 49ers are worse. Let's be real for a moment. What exactly is so innovative about Chip Kelly? His offense was really nice for a year and a half, but midway through the 2014 season teams started figuring it out. Now they are a disaster. His personnel judgement has been the source of many a punchline. There is nothing redeeming about him as a coach at the moment. I have to think he's back in college by 2018 at the latest.

The "We need to talk about change, right now" Trio

14.) Los Angeles Rams  (4-6  =  149-187)
13.) New Orleans Saints  (4-6  =  244-246)
12.) Green Bay Packers  (4-6  =  247-276)

Jeff Fisher has been coaching the Rams for 5 seasons, but outside of 2011, coaching some team for 22 seasons. Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy were both hired in 2006, and are now in Year 11 in their stops. All three have had really good highpoints, specifically Payton and McCarthy who achieved them with their current teams, but it is definitely time to ask if change is inevitable. It seems like the Packers situation is screaming for a new head coach (and it is stunning how the Packers offense went from the most frightening thing ever in 2014 to middling in two years), but it should be just as much in New Orleans as well. Somehow, Sean Payton has escaped criticism because Drew Brees is an alien and he has been able to get away with throwing defensive coordinator after defensive coordinator under the bus. Change is needed there as well.

The "On the way up!?" Duo

11.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (5-5  =  235-259)
10.) Detroit Lions  (6-4  =  231-225)

I'll admit, I thought it was a bad move to fire Lovie Smith and replace him with Dirk Koetter, and I thought it was worse to keep Jim Caldwell. I further assumed the Lions were dead after Calvin's retirement. Instead, the Lions are tied for first and the Buccaneers are a game behind. I don't think either team is particularly good. The Lions have had way too many close games and calls with teams of far less talent (Houston and Tennessee in losses, Jacksonville in wins - maybe it is an AFC South problem) to trust, and while their defense and offense both remain competent, neither seems to produce as well as the play-by-play numbers would suggest. The Buccaneers are an interesting team, but I still worry about that defense that hsa been so prone to the big play without Lovie Smith running it, especially given what lies ahead.

The "This Wasn't supposed to happen" Duo

9.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-5-1  =  226-190)
8.) Carolina Panthers  (4-6  =  244-246)

Last January, the Cardinals and Panthers played in the NFC Championship Game. This was not any old NFC Championship Game. The two teams combined for the 2nd highest combined win total of any two Title Game participants (28-4, only the 29-3 put up in the 99 NFC and 04 AFC title games were higher). The game was a laugher (Carolina won 49-15), and less than a year later it seems impossible that that game happened. Arizona seems more broken in that a lot of their success last year came from older players who now have fallen off (Palmer the biggest factor). The Panthers are in a state where this seems like a fluke. Secondary issues that have now righted themselves cost them the first Saints game. Cam missing a game cost them another. Graham Gano missing a field goal cost them another. The Panthers are probably a game too far away from Atlanta at this point, but the makings of a great team still reside in Charlotte. In Glendale? I'm not so sure.

The "Three Teams Enter, Two Teams Leave" Trio

7.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-5  =  241-186)
6.) New York Giants  (7-3  =  204-200)
5.) Washington Redskins  (6-3-1  =  254-233)

Unless the Cardinals go on a great run, or the runner-up in the North is a lot better than we think, two of these NFC East teams will be making the playoffs. The Eagles, by the advanced metrics, are the best, and their defense and special teams will keep them competitive. But with Carson Wentz really struggling and injuries hurting the run game you have to wonder if they have enough to go on the 5-1 type run they need to after already suffering five losses. What helps is they still have to play all of their home divisional games. The Giants and Redskins both have fairly challenging schedules ahead, but enough ability to finish 10-6 or 10-5-1 and take the wild cards. The Giants defense is legitimately very good, and Redskins offense is the same. The Giants probably have slightly higher upside because by personnel their offense should be better than it is, but given we are 10 games in, it is more likely the Giants offense is what it is at this point.

The "2nd Tier Playoff Teams" Duo

4.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-4  =  254-233)
3.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-4  =  320-283)

The Vikings offense is still a mess, but the defense course corrected in a big way, harassing the living hell out of Carson Palmer last week. If that Vikings defense shows up, they should be in fairly good shape as they still have the makings of one of the best units in the NFL. The Falcons are the inverse, with the better offense supplementing a bad defense. Neither formula is great, but both should be good enough to win their flawed divisions.

The "Only Tier Playoff Teams" Duo

2.) Dallas Cowboys  (9-1  =  285-187)
1.) Seattle Seahawks  (7-2-1  =  219-173)

Seriously, each week that goes by makes it more and more obvious that these two teams need to play in the NFC Championship. If we don't get that, this whole season will be a disaster. I am not a fan, and have something of a moderate dislike, of the three teams that seem like a lock to win the Super Bowl (Dallas, Seattle, New England), but still would salivate over the prospect of Dallas and Seattle playing an NFC Championship Game in either building. Just a perfect matchup.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  9-7
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5
6.) Miami Dolphins  =  10-6


1.) Dallas Cowboys  =  13-3
2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  12-3-1
3.) Minnesota Vikings  =  10-6

4.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6
5.) Washington Redskins  =  10-5-1
6.) New York Giants  =  10-6

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) St. Louis Rams (4-6)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
15.) Tennessee Titans (5-6)  @  Chicago Bears (2-8)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Bad vs. Bad" Sunday

14.) New York Giants (7-3)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-10)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) San Francisco 49ers (1-9)  @  Miami Dolphins (6-4)  (1:00 - FOX
11.) San Diego Chargers (4-6)  @  Houston Texans (6-4)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "I round down when we get 50% of a good matchup" Sunday

10.) Green Bay Packers (4-6)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)  (MNF - ESPN)
9.) Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5)  @  Indianapolis Colts (5-5)  (Thanksgiving - NBC)

I call it "The most hyped games between average teams ever" Thursday and Monday

8.) New England Patriots (8-2)  @  New York Jets (3-7)  (4:25 - CBS)
7.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-6-1)  @  Baltimore Ravens (5-5)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Semi-fun Divisional games" Sunday

6.) Carolina Panthers (4-6)  @  Oakland Raiders (8-2)  (4:25 - CBS)
5.) Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1)  @  Atlanta Falcons (6-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
4.) Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Oddly Intriguing Games for No Great Reason" Sunday

3.) Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)  @  Denver Broncos (7-3)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Another Night in the AFC West" Sunday

2.) Minnesota Vikings (6-4)  @  Detroit Lions (6-4)  (Thanksgiving - CBS)
1.) Washington Redskins (6-3-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (9-1)  (Thanksgiving - FOX)

I call it "This is what Thanksgiving is all about" Thursday

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 11 Power Rankings (Check-In)


The "2017 is Only Ten Months Away" Trio

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-10  =  175-301)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-7  =  174-239)
14.) New York Jets  (3-7  =  179-244)

I was surprised to see that the Jaguars actually had a better point differential than the Jets. The Jets are really, really bad. I guess all they are really missing is a QB and some corners. It is amazing how corner has gone from such a strength through much of the Rex Ryan era (even after Revis left) to a glaring weakness. The Browns may easily go winless, but I actually see more hope, in terms of a plan, here than I did in Detroit. Granted, with drafting Stafford and Suh, the plan in Detroit coalesced quickly. As with any rebuild, it will come down to the value they get on the draft capital they have built up. As for Jacksonville, I really don't know what to say. It will come down to Bortles, and whether he can amount to anything. And if he can't, it will come down to how quickly and expediently the Jaguars get rid of him.

The "Worse than they look or Better than they look 8-8" Duo

13.) Houston Texans  (6-3  =  161-188)
12.) Buffalo Bills  (4-5  =  237-203)

The Texans are one of the worst 6-3 teams I have ever seen. How this team managed to beat the Chiefs is beyond me. Amazingly for them they may have enough of a lead to hold onto the division, but we may be in store for another 30-0 wildcard loss. It is amazing how bad Osweiler has been, and how much it shows the Broncos were absolutely right to both get rid of him and ensure Peyton started in the playoffs. As for teh Bills, they are the opposite. This is a team that gave Seattle as good of a game as New England did, and did it in Seattle. But also a team that blew games to Miami and were spanked by New England themselves. The Bills are a good team, but way too streaky and in a really tough AFC Wildcard picture, they may have already lost too many.

The "Please can one of you win the AFC South" Duo

11.) Indianapolis Colts  (4-5  =  239-256)
10.) Tennessee Titans  (5-5  =  264-251)

There are going to be two divsion winners with 10-6 or worse records (unless the Texans somehow go 11-5). That said, I can confidently say the AFC North winner, be it Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, will give their wild card opponent a good game. Houston will not. The Colts can, as their offense is good enough to potentially hang with most teams. The Titans not only, we have to start thinking they may actually be good. This is a team that just rolled Green Bay from snap one, winning without even letting Rodgers get good garbage time scoring to make it look closer. The Titans weird 'exotic smashmouth' has calmed down the 'exotic' part since their early season struggle, and the smashmouth part is still humming. Maybe, just maybe, Mike Mularkey knew what he was doing.

The "Playoff Periphery" Trio

9.) San Diego Chargers  (4-6  =  292-278)
8.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-5-1  =  187-210)
7.) Miami Dolphins  (5-4  =  204-206)

Despite San Diego and Cincinnati both being two games under .500, I would pick both of them to beat the teams I put below them today. The Chargers still have that magician in Rivers. The Bengals still have loads of talent. Their drop in play comes down mostly to the shocking dropoff in the level of their OL. They had a clear Top-5 OL the last few years, and now it is bottom ten. Still, the Bengals are just one loss behind Baltimore (with both games against the Ravens still to come), and tied on losses with the Steelers with the game in Cincinnati still to come. There is a path to victory here. For San Diego, less so, but I have a hard time putting them further back. As for Miami, four straight wins have them right there in the playoff hunt. The division is likely gone unless the Pats collapse, and the Wild Card is a stretch, but there seems to be a bright future in Miami all of a sudden.

The "Sadder version of 2008, 2010 and 2011" Duo

6.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-4  =  182-160)
5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (4-5  =  214-206)

In 2008, 2010 and 2011, the Ravens and Steelers staged epic battles for the AFC North. In 2008, the Steelers led wire-to-wire, but it only ended in Week 15, when a 10-3 Pittsburgh team went into Baltimore and beat a 9-4 Ravens team 13-9. In 2010, it was something similar, when an 8-3 Steelers team beat an 8-3 Ravens team 13-10. In 2011, the Ravens finally struck back, ending the division when they swept the Steelers with a draamtic 23-20 win in Heinz. Those were incredible divisional battles, the AFC's version of Seahawks-49ers which really only lasted from 2012-2013. A few years later, these two will battle it out, but when you are trying to see who goes 10-6 to win the division, it doesn't seem as fun. The Ravens have a superb defense and the Steelers a potentially dominant offense, but the other factors are just not there.

The "The AFC West Escalated Quickly" Trio

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-2  =  205-168)
3.) Oakland Raiders  (7-2  =  245-223)
2.) Denver Broncos  (7-3  =  239-189)

Remember when all of a sudden the NFC West was the best division in football after being absolute garbage for six years? This isn't as extreme, as the AFC West did send three teams to the playoffs in 2013, and has had at least two winning teams for a number of years (getting Manning in there helped), but all of a sudden the AFC West has the second, third and fourth best teams in the conference. There are all legitimate teams as well. The Chiefs defense is fantastic. The Raiders offense is excellent. The Broncos defense, at the very least the pass defense, may be the best unit in the entire NFL. It is hard to say any of them are a favorite. The Raiders still have to play all their divisional road games (they are 5-0 on the road so far). The Chiefs and Broncos have to play each other twice. It will be a crazy mad dash to the finish line.

The "Yeah, let's just accept they're winning the AFC Again" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (7-2  =  241-163)

Despite the public perception, I've enjoyed a lot of this season. I have squarely not enjoyed the Patriots still being really good. Let's just move on.


The "So, So, So, Bad" Duo

16.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-8  =  187-283)
15.) Chicago Bears  (2-7  =  141-215)

I get that the 49ers have very little talent, but I'm shocked about how little criticism Chip Kelly is getting on what a disaster the 49ers have been. His offense has not been good. His offenses have not been good for a while now. At least in Philadelphia the record was decent. Analytics and film guys will slurp him to no end, but at this point I'm just not sure what makes him the visionary people think he was. As for the Bears, what a disaster the season has become. Injuries have just piled up, and while they have a clear path to start the rebuild by getting rid of Cutler, there is so much more to do at this point.

The "Muddled Mess" Trio

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (4-5  =  216-242)
13.) Los Angeles Rams  (4-5  =  139-173)
12.) New Orleans Saints  (4-5  =  265-263)

The NFC has a far more messy middle than the AFC, which is why teams that can still claim to be in the playoff race are so low in my mind. The Buccaneers will hit a few splash plays, and you can see the makings of a very good team, but there is a lot to clean up from a cosnistency and protecting the ball standpoint. The Rams offense is what we all thought the Titans offense would be, a boring, slog focused on the run in a passing world. Maybe things change with Goff? At the very least they become 5% more interestign to watch. The Saints are somewhat unlucky in that they've lost two games they easily could have won (Denver, Oakland), but they've also won games they easily could have lost (Carolina, San Diego). The Saints are what they are, a .500 type team that has lost whatever aura they used to have regarding their ability to play really well at home.

The "It Wasn't Supposed to go this way" Trio

11.) Carolina Panthers  (3-6  =  221-226)
10.) Green Bay Packers  (4-5  =  223-234)
9.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-4-1  =  202-160)

The best three teams in the NFC for most of last season were the Panthers, Packers and Cardinals. Of course, the Packers slide started in the middle of the season and by the end they were easily behind Minnesota and Seattle, but either way, these are three somewhat preseason favorites. All three have a serious question about their ability to make the playoffs. The Panthers have been mightily unlucky, losing a bunch of close games. The Packers have been incredible frustrating, wasting Aaron Rodgers (who admittedly has been poor himself). The Cardinals are the worst because it seems there is no way back up. They put all their eggs in this 2014-2016 basket, and now the long slide back down begins. The Panthers can at least say things will get better next year when the corners are more ingrained, when they focus resources on the OL. For the Cardinals? What is there? Maybe get a 3rd old QB and get Romo?

The "Periphery Playoff Contenders" Trio

8.) Washington Redskins  (5-3-1  =  212-209)
7.) Detroit Lions  (5-4  =  205-206)
6.) Minnesota Vikings  (5-4  =  175-152)

The Redskins are the forgotten team in that NFC East (despite being by record better than Philadelphia). It is probably due to the 2-0 start, and the fact Cousins has been merely pretty good instead of the awful he was in the 1st half of last season or brilliant in the second. That team has a lot of talent and is 5-1-1 in their last 7 games. They have what it takes to sneak back in. The Lions and Vikings have a momentary edge on the Packers and both would do good to start adding to it. The Lions have been very inconsistent and the Vikings just a disaster over the last month, but there is still time for them to build a gap in that division and send their hated rivals home.

The "High Upside Frightening" Duo

5.) New York Giants  (6-3  =  182-184)
4.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-4  =  320-283)

I'm surprised the Giants don't have a positive point differential. Their offense should be better (and again, the problem is the run game and Eli's scattershot play) and their defense has been legitimately really good all year, one of the few cases where loads of FA money works out. They have two gimmes coming up, and while the schedule gets much harder later in the season, with the Cowboy game in New York still to come, there is a path to a division title, somehow. For the Falcons, they are lucky the Panthers have been so unlucky, as their freefall is close to what happened last year (5-0 start, 3-8 finish), but there is no 15-1 juggernaut to deal with. The Falcons offense is great. The defense is bad. On days where Ryan gets some time, they can knock off anyone.

The "They Just have to get in the game" Uno

3.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-4  =  226-160)

By Football Outsiders DVOA, the Eagles are the most efficient team in the NFL, this on the backs of their top-ranked defense and special teams. Carson Wentz's level has not really improved the last couple weeks, but the run game has turned a corner and that defense remains among the NFL's best as Jim Schwartz continues to prove what a great defensive coordinator he is. If they can sneak into the playoffs, they can make noise, but the Eagles have put themselves in a really tough position losing multiple winnable games already.

The "Can we fast-forward to the NFC Title Game" Duo

2.) Dallas Cowboys  (8-1  =  258-170)
1.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-2-1  =  193-158)

Two years ago these two teams played in Seattle and the Cowboys came in and dominated the Seahawks up front and won the game. It was a huge statement game that in many ways has set the tone for the Cowboys ever since (aside from the injury-riddled last season). At this point, we would all like a rematch, be it in Seattle or in Jerryworld. I have a few concerns about Dak if the Cowboys were to ever go behind by 10+ in a game, but with that OL and a defense that is far better than the sum of its parts, maybe they don't actually get behind by that much anwyay. It would be a fantastic game, and certainly be a ratings giant, as much as we have to suddenly care about these things.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  11-5
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  9-7
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5
6.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5


1.) Seattle Seahawks  =  12-3-1
2.) Dallas Cowboys  =  12-4
3.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6
4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  9-7
5.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  10-6
6.) New York Giants  =  10-6

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Friday Night Lights - Five Year's Later

I'm late to this party. Not the first time I missed a show that was something of a small cultural phenomenon only to jump on board years after the fact. I'll probably give in and at some point do it with Mad Men. We'll see on that one. Anyway, a few months back I started Friday Night Lights. I watched the movie when it came out. I never thought it would translate to a TV show. I don't think I would have understood or enjoyed the show as much years ago either. I'm not binging it the way I did The Wire, or a few other shows I watched this year, but it is the type of show that may be best off in a slow, cool burn. At this point, I'm mid-way through Season 4, the time when the show was given a strange form of life support on DirecTV, and I think I have seen enough to share my thoughts.

The show has been excellent, in a most different way. They did such a great job of writing enough excellent characters that are easy to get behind, care about and be invested in. The opening entry into the show, with star QB Jasoin Street being paralyzed, mirrored the movie, but everything else that has veered away from the movie has been a joy.

The best show that I have ever seen was The Wire, a show that shined a light on a world that their viewers were very largely not a part of or never would want to be caught in. Similarly, Friday Night Lights did the same to rural Texas, to small town America, to all the places we on the Coasts easily forget about. They brilliantly showed this town where everyone knew everyone, where football was the fabric that sowed a community together, that religion and faith played such a large part. Few shows have ever shown so much open faith and religion, including memorable scenes in churches.

The football itself alternates from fabulous realism in the practices, the boosterism, the shady dealings, the life of a locker room, to the insane - most of the on-field football itself is a bit ridiculous. But the show is about so much more than football, even if the best seasons and storylines are very connected. The core of the team in the first season, with Matt Saracen put into a role he never wanted, to Smash Williams who saw the team as just a stepping stone, to Tim Riggins, who could not imagine life away from Dillon, to the Coach who has to control all of these things. Characters make dramas for me, and while there may not be the outward magnetism of a Walter White or a Stringer Bell, the cool, calm, introspection of the key characters were perfect.

There are some criticisms of the show, for sure. The second season was a bit of a mess as it tried to get a little too conventional, with stupid plotlines and way too little football. And the show was way too liberal with key characters' ages in an effort to keep them in high school (there is no way Riggins, Lyla and Tyra were all sophomores in the firs tseason). But all of that can be looked past for the pure moments of brilliance.

The show at its best was a small family drama, and with that the show may have shown the best marriage ever on network TV. For years, people claimed writing a happy marriage was boring. Friday Night Lights changed that. The Taylors were perfect. The fought, but made up. They argued, but consoled. They were a perfect marriage to show on TV. Never wavering, but differing. Friday Night Lights at its best could be multiple things: a sports show, a family drama, a pointed look a blue-collar, middle-America. It could wear all those hots in a way better fashion than I could have ever imagined.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Game 7 and the Wildest Rides in Sports

There is no feeling as a sports fan better than seeing your team win. That much is obvious for anyone who has a certain team (or athlete) they support. However, removing the attachments and biases that come into play when your favorite team is involved, there may be no better feeling as a sports fan watching something truly historic, amazing, invigorating that doesn't involve one of your teams. Nothing encapsulated this more than Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians.

You could not write a better game than that one. From the entrance perspective of two franchises that have gone so long without tasting glory. To the karmic endurance of the Cleveland baseball team trying to avoid the fate that the Cleveland basketball team put on another - losing a 3-1 series lead. And then, when the first pitch was thrown, and the event was stripped of these labels and meanings until the last out was made, it became even better.

You had unhittable relievers being hit. You had incredible drama of Jon Lester pitching in a Madison Bumgarner role, of the Cubs 'weaker' hitters like Addison Russell and David Ross hitting home runs. You had a never-die Cleveland team making a three-run comeback in the 8th with a pinch-hitter with a sub-200 batting average in the playoffs doubling of Aroldis Chapman and a man with 10 home runs all season in Rajai Davis homering to tie it.

Then you had the rain delay, the Gods knowing they had to twist the fates one last time. The specter of the darkened night sky was made worse with the bright doppler radar showing an impending storm. The game needed to finish. And it did, just in time for more heroes to be made, like Ben Zobrist, a career 'professional baseball player' hitting an opposite-field slap double in the most professional of ways, and then one last charge by the Indians ending with a Golden At-Bat - a rare moment where during an at-bat both teams could win the world series with each pitch. A home run would win it for the Indians. An out would win it for the Cubs.

They got the out, we got the outcome most wanted. I got to experience, along with millions (40 million to be exact - 10 more than Cavs-Warriors... baseball is NOT dying!) on TV, thousands on twitter. The fact that I was doing this in my hostel's bar in Cusco, Peru, getting drunk of a combination of the elevation, the pisco sours and Cusquena beers, and that living tonic that is baseball made it all the better.

I wanted the Indians to win, mainly because I haven't exhausted my resentment of the Cubs as an old NL Central rival of my Astros. That said, I have no real hatred for them. When the Astros were in the NL Central, their peaks did not align, the Astros were great from 2004-2006, and when the Cubs won the division in 2007-08, the Astros were beginning their decline. The Cubs were never the biggest rival, the Cardinals were - they were everyone's biggest rival in the NL Central. That said, I grew tired of people comparing the Cubs plight to the Red Sox, who got far closer far more often, and undercovering the Indian's own run at ending a long draught. Still, I could look past this to imbibe everything that was ocurring on that grand stage of the baseball diamond.

Few games have ever been as entertaining and mesmerizing. The immediate one that came to mind was the only baseball game with nearly as much as stake that could compare, the Cardinals ridiculous 11-10 win in 11 innings in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, twice coming within a strike of losing to pull off the win when David Freese hit a home run deep into the night sky of St. Louis.

There are a few other events in other sports where I could detach a rooting interest and just enjoy the contest, the drama, the performances. There was the 2007 NFC Championship Game between the Giants and Packers played brilliantly on a most frozen of tundra's in Lambeau. Or the 2013 NFC Championship Game in Seattle when the Seahawks muscled their way past the 49ers. There was even this year's March Madness Final between Villanova and UNC. Still, nothing may compare to this.

A great baseball game is different, in an almost indescribable way. The tension building between each pitch. The wild variation of the game within seconds of each pitch or hit. The cold October night's that are so inescapable in the baseball playoffs. The history that attaches itself to each game, each series, each team. Baseball is one of the best sports because of this poetic quality that rides through each season. When you add in the most poetic, and certainly most tragic, franchise left in the sport, an equally worthy foe, and sprinkle in some elements, you get a perfect cocktail. In Peru, the Pisco Sour is great, but still nothing compared to great baseball.

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.