Friday, December 30, 2016

Patience, Oakland, Patience

In one play, one second, one moment in time, a season went from one of the great stories in recent years to one of such loss and heartbreak. All it took was one play, one mistake from the tackle, one play when the QB who gets rid of the ball so quickly doesn't do that. From the second it happened, he knew it was over. Soon the team did as well. Derek Carr's season ended last Saturday, on Christmas Eve, a sullen lump of coal for all the silver-and-black clad fans that made Oakland rock again.

I'm a Raider fan. I was a Raider fan when I first started watching football. I was a Raider fan when I followed their 2002 Super Bowl team week to week. I was a silent Raider fan as they went through the roughest 7-year stretch (2003-2009) of any team nearly ever. I was less silent during their brief 'renaissance' in 2010-11 when they went 8-8 twice. I was even less silent as the rebuild went slowly at first, but there was no need to be silent this year. The Raiders are good, the Raiders are a playoff team. It's a cruel irony when they finally get back it will be without the one guy who can eventually make them great.

The 2016 Raiders were not a great team. There is no reason they should be 12-3 right now, full off of crazy wins, comebacks and two-point conversions. They really are about 10-5 good, but willed out two extra games. This was not a season that should end in a Super Bowl win, but they had a chance with Carr. They had a chance with an offense that could score anywhere (except against the Chiefs, apparently). They had a fearlessness that the late Al Davis would have admired. They breathed life into that hollowed-out stadium they still have to call home. It was a season of such joy, such amazement, such intrigue, washed away on one play. For us Raiders fans, that was the cruelest part, but now we must look forward, as that is still just as bright.

Climbing the ladder as a franchise to the ultimate goal is rarely a linear rise. There are generally periods of uncertainty, of falls down, and none is bigger than this. The Raiders future is bright, arguably when you look at a 5-10 year outlook, they may have the brightest future of any team, with two 25-year old superstars. One at the most important position (Derek Carr, who should only get better, as he has done every year) and the other at, arguably, the second (Khalil Mack). They have other very good to great young players, headed by Amari Cooper. They have so much cap space to spend still, and have drafted really well in the past couple years. The future is not any less bright, but sometimes the future is still only a concept. What's tangible was now, and now there is nothing.

If the Raiders went 10-5, or 9-6, and were in position to be wild-card fodder, I would not have cared nearly as much for Carr's injury. Going from 7-9 to 10-6 would have been natural. Instead, the Raiders cheated and jumped a few wins a year early, put themselves in decent positions to steal a weak AFC (this is not a great Patriots team, 14-2 or not). They had a shot, and Trent Cole took it away. It is never so easy, never such a smooth ride. 

The Raiders have gone through this rebuild with such steely focus and patience. Reggie McKenzie is getting a lot of plaudits as a GM, but we should probably direct some of that praise to the man above him. Mark Davis showed extreme patience when they went 4-12, 4-12 and 3-13 in the first three years. Mark Davis didn't blink, understanding just what McKenzie was planning and doing. A few good draft picks later and few teams are positioned any better than the Raiders. We just have to now hope that the fans (including myself) have as much patience.

If the future plays out like it should, and like all the crazy Raiders fans expect, we will look back at the 2016 season as the start of somethign amazing, but the ultimate tease of a season. And maybe that is not so bad. Suffering is good. A team that wasn't as good as its record anyway probably should get hurt a bit to keep that fire going, to keep the ship dead-straight ahead. The Raiders will hopefully be better off for having to suffer their first playoff season without their leader. Learning patience is so important, and if both the fans and the team themselves can do it well, the future will be incredibly bright.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Top-15 TV Shows of 2016: #5 - #1

5.) Game of Thrones  (Season 6 - HBO)

When I was doing this list, I starting getting surprised at how well I thought the latest season of Game of Thrones stacked up. Let's face it, the shows had a rough two years, specifically with having to defend scenes showing/dealing with rape. But season 6 moved past those issues, showcased and grew great, strong female characters in an organic way, and drove the show forward in a way the last two or three seasons have not. If anything, Season 6 was a redemption season, with two of the Starks finally getting back together in Jon and Sansa's arc, to us finally getting some payoff on the Arya and Bran solo acts. Having pairs of people finally together, especially the Tyrion/Danaerys pairing, created an energy in the show that was lost. Seasons 3-5 were more about moving pieces around, while 6, the final full-length season, really set the stage nicely. It also had some of the most powerful, well constructed, scenes in the shows history, whether it be the death of Hodor, which of course also served as an origin story, to the bananas beginning of the final episode and melting of King's Landing, to finally the confirmation of R+L=J theories. Even while some of these had been more or less spoiled (that and Jon's reincarnation), it all played out nicely. Game of Thrones has the ability to hit higher highs than any shows given its budget, and we saw that in even the lesser seasons - particularly with Hardhome last year, but in this year, if anything their showcase episode (Battle of the Bastards), was not close to their best. The storytelling, plot speed and character development was its best in years, despite being the first season to move fully past George RR Martin's books. Maybe that was the key, afterall?

4.) Narcos  (Season 2 - NETFLIX)

I had Narcos ranked quite highly last year, and while I agree with some of the criticisms both of this season and the show overall (at times on-the-nose plot devices and the narration), I think they add to the brilliance of what Narcos became. Season 1 was built around Columbia itself and the American DEA, and the growth of an empire. It tried to be The Wire, cover all bases at once. Season 2 was more like a Breaking Bad season, an intense character study of the downfall of Pablo Escobar played out over 10 hours. It still had good work on the DEA (and even more CIA) front, showing the complexity of fighting the drug war, but it was a Pablo focused season, and man was it amazing. Wagner Moura's portroyal of Escobar is amazing. Native speakers will criticize his accent (Moura is Brazilian), but beyond that it is hard to criticize anything he did. The story itself of Pablo's slow crawl into an isolated monster, never knowing how to stop, was just as stirring, to me, as Walter White's, which is particularly impressive since this was based off of real history. The point-by-point view of his empire falling, his influence dwindling, and his energetic fury boiling was great storytelling. The cinematography remained brilliant, as did the acting as a whole by most of the cast. I have doubts on the show post-Pablo as Season 3 will turn its sights on the Cali Cartel, but this era of the show was every bit as good as it could have been.

3.) OJ Simpson: Made in America  (ESPN)

Spoiler: this is not the highest ranked show that centered around OJ Simpson - which says more about just how incredible that trail was. ESPN's seven-hour, five part documentary was absolutely incredible in every way. From the slow burn of starting it showcasing OJ's career contrasted with race relations decaying in Los Angeles, to ending it with a walkthrough of OJ's current legal issues (which was to me, the only forgettable part of the documentary), it was obvious the documentary was going to go into everything. Of course, the best parts centered around the parts that focused on the trail itself. I'll put aside my thoughts on the verdict itself, but I think the program did a fair job of showing why OJ was almost definitely guilty, but also why it is not a lie to say the LAPD and LA DA botched their investigation and trail. The best of the show really was how well the interview footage played. Both in showing how those close to OJ were as polarized as everyone else, and how bad Mark Fuhrman comes across even all these years later. I don't think the documentary would make anyone rethink their view of the verdict, but would definitely make people better understand why this trail captivated America - especially those like me who weren't alive for it. The doc did an unbelievable job of showing how the trail impacted the country, from footage and interviews of LA residents, both black and white, to comparing it to other racial issues across the US. This was a true uncompromising look at the Trail of the Century, and how and why it attached itself to all of our consciences. For ESPN's first try at long-form documentary storytelling, this was note perfect. The 30 for 30 series has done an incredible job in so many of its standalone stories, but this was a risk, and one that paid off so damn well.

2.) Stranger Things  (Season 1 - NETFLIX)

So often, the shows we never expect to take hold just do. NETFLIX didn't really hype up the release of Stranger Things, certainly not as much as many of their other shows. The show featured pretty much no known actors apart from XXXXXXXXX. Unexpectedly, for NETFLIX, it caught fire online, hitting all the right notes to attach itself to the influential TV writers that grew up watching similar shows in the 80's. Word of mouth worked, drew me into watching something I generally would not have, and allowed me to take in the spectacle. It is hard to imagine that a show that was such a call-back to the 80's in style, design and plot, would work so well in 2016, but maybe enough time has passed for it to be rightfully retro. The best part, really, was the acting. All the kids and teenagers were casted so well, especially Natalia Dyer (Nancy), Millie Bobbie Brown (Eleven) and Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin). All the kids really were incredible in their roles, putting such energy and joy into the show. The show itself did such a good job of putting in all the right elements. There was just the right amount of sci-fi mystery, just the right amount of teen angst, just the right amount of childhood fun, and just the right amount of small-town, small-stakes drama. I found the show so good, so perfect, that it became one of the rare shows I would hope would not come back. I thought the same thing about Fargo, but there they had the benefit of being an anthology show and changing everything anyway. This doesn't. Im optimistic given how good this first season was, and how much young talent they have to work with, but I doubt anything will be better than the small mystery of hunting down the demagorgen.

1.) American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson  (FX)

The first time I did a list like this was in 2014, when I put Fargo at #1. To me, that was an easy call. It was the show that best defined television in 2014, that best showcased the medium - and ultimately it was a wholly surprising given how hard it was going to be to pull off, to create a TV show in the same universe with the same tone as a beloved cult film. In many ways, The People vs. OJ Simpson was so similar. Nothing was more memorable about TV in 2016 than this, and nothing was more surprising. Unlike the other OJ piece, this was not a documentary, this was scripted, original material. This was a show with actors playing the part of real people - people that themselves became celebrities during the OJ ordeal. This was such a daunting task, I was skeptical from the start. The skepticism went away quickly, and was replaced by sheer joy.

One of the links between Fargo and The People vs. OJ Simpson (and so many other great shows including my #2 this year), was just how much fun they were to watch. I don't know if any show was as good as this in that regard. Like all shows it starts with the acting. Everyone was great. Few shows have such a star-studded cast, and, putting aside Travolta's Shapiro for a minute, while most of the big names got smaller parts they were all amazing, like Nathan Lane's F. Lee Bailey. Of course, the stars were Courtney B. Vance's amazing portrayal of Johnny Cochrane, and Sarah Paulson's great, complicated view of Marcia Clark. While the documentary focused on the larger picture, The People vs. OJ Simpson focused in on the trail and the main players, and did an incredible job. The courtroom scenes were great. The emotional arcs of Chris Darden and Clark were great. The infighting in OJ's circle was so well scripted and played. The largest flaw people seemed to have was Travolta's portrayal, but even that I thought hit the spot given how larger than life Bob Shapiro considered himself. My main takeaway from the show ended up being just how incredibly entertaining it was. The hours flew by, and after each one I left my chair with a large smile on my face. Nothing was better, few were even close, to The People vs. OJ Simpson in 2016.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 16 Power Rankings & The Rest


The 'Better Luck Next Year Boys' Quinto

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-14  =  220-408)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-12  =  260-359)
14.) New York Jets  (4-10  =  242-358)

There are actually fewer teams in the AFC totally out of it than in the NFC, but the AFC teams feel far less hopeful about their future. The bottom three are shaping up to be disasters. The Browns are on their way to a well deserved 0-16, but at least they have a bevy of picks. They really have to avoid whatever inclination they may have to trade for Jimmy Garrappolo. The Jaguars finished the first half of their two-part reset by firing Gus Bradley. How quickly they can move on comes down to what happens with Blake Bortles. For the Jets, I'm really not sure. They aren't as bad as 4-10, but they weren't close to as good as 10-6 last year either. Bryce Petty was decent last week, but if we have to get a Hackenburg appearance, the upcoming game in New England can get really ugly, quick.

The 'Debating whether to hit the re-set or not' Duo

13.) San Diego Chargers  (5-9  =  366-366)
12.) Cincinnati Bengals  (5-8-1  =  288-293)

Both teams were supposed to be better. By point differential, both teams are a lot better. Injuries have hit each, whether it is to AJ Green on Cincinnati, or everyone who can catch a pass on San Diego. Both will have to face some really tough questions this offseason on their future. Both will face questions on their coach, with McCoy and Lewis on the hot seat. I have a sneaking suspicion Marvin Lewis stays. The Chargers and Bengals aren't far away but what hurts is the division they are in. Even the current iteration of these teams would be reasonably competitive in the AFC South, but alas they aren't there. I'm glad it isn't me making decisions on the future direction of the franchise.

The 'Playoff Fodder' Quatro

11.) Houston Texans  (8-6  =  250-294)
10.) Buffalo Bills  (7-7  =  358-314)
9.) Indianapolis Colts  (7-7  =  362-339)
8.) Miami Dolphins  (9-5  =  315-314)

All of these teams have shots at the playoffs. The Texans have a pretty easy path. All they have to do is beat Tennessee in Week 17 and they are in (honestly, they could consider resting their guys against Cincinnati). The Dolphins also are more or less one win away with a clear shot at that this week against the Bills. The Bills and Colts need a lot of help, but are alive. Of course, the Bills and Colts are probably the two best teams of the four. I have no idea how the Texans are possibly 8-6. I have a larger idea on how good Tom Savage is, or is not. The Colts will have gone from mightily overachieving to 8-8 last year to underachieving their way to 8-8. In a way that is better, but for any Colts fan you have to be hoping a late season push does not cloud the fact that Pagano and/or Grigson needs to go.

The 'I Mean, the 2008 Cardinals made the Super Bowl' Quatro

7.) Tennessee Titans  (8-6  =  340-323)
6.) Baltimore Ravens  (8-6  =  306-263)
5.) Denver Broncos  (8-6  =  299-258)
4.) Kansas City Chiefs  (10-4  =  319-274)

The Titans, Ravens and Broncos are pretty easy to group together. Teams with good enough strengths to potentially go on a run (yes, even the Mike Mularkey-led Titans), but with obvious holes that could easily keep them out of the playoffs all together. I'm putting the Chiefs here despite the fact they are essentially assured of a playoff spot. To me, they are, very underratedly, not that good of a team. They have lived off of defensive and special teams TDs, and won a handful of games they had little to no business winning (@CAR, @DEN, @ATL). This Chiefs team is nowhere near as good as last years group. The Ravens have a clear path in. Win out and they win the division. The key will be the upcoming game against the Steelers, obviously, and they get a chance for a reverse-2008 scenario where they can steal the division with a win in Pittsburgh. The Titans also have a clear path. One of the two just might get it done.

The 'If one of us don't make the Super Bowl, call this January Madness' Trio

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (9-5  =  341-276)
2.) Oakland Raiders  (11-3  =  377-336)
1.) New England Patriots  (12-2  =  365-233)

I'm putting Pittsburgh up here as that team has quietly won five straight and started to right itself on both sides of the ball. They are 9-3 in games that Roethlisberger plays and finishes. The Raiders may still fall to the Wild Card, but to me they still have a far higher upside than the Chiefs, with a more sustainable model of not needing ridiculous Special Teams TDs to win games. As for New England, let's just move on. If they had just regressed like they should I would be wholly supportive of this NFL season.


The 'Better Luck Next Year Boys' Trio

16.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-13  =  264-434)
15.) Chicago Bears  (3-11  =  248-320)
14.) Los Angeles Rams  (4-10  =  197-328)

The Bears are by far the best team of this trio. Yes, the team with the old, conservative coach and the team starting Matt Barkley at QB. At least they can point to injuries as an excuse. What exactly do the 49ers and Rams have? The 49ers tried the whole 'stockpile draft picks' plan and then forgot that for it to work you actually have to draft well. The Rams tried the 'trade all the picks for a QB' plan and, admittedly through just five starts, that QB is a disaster. The Rams are already looking for a new coach, and you have to imagine the 49ers might be as well. It is amazing how quickly the best division in the league was gutted.

The '2017 isn't too far away, guys' Quatro

13.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-9  =  316-299)
12.) New Orleans Saints  (6-8  =  406-392)
11.) Arizona Cardinals  (5-8-1  =  340-325)
10.) Carolina Panthers  (6-8  =  337-352)

All these four teams can at least start to get excited about a potential run in 2017. The Eagles still have a positive point differential, and a QB who had some good moments. All they really need is more weapons for Wentz and a better health at the o-line. The Saints defense has also had its share of moments, and Drew Brees, when not throwing INTs a lot, is quietly having another fantastic season. Finally we get to the two teams that met in last years NFC Championship Game, going a combined 28-4 last year. Neither is having close to the season it expected, but the Cardinals probably won't be as hurt next year and the foundation is still solid. The Panthers are still the organization I wrote about so glowingly. Consistency is needed at some point, but for now they have a great foundation to build off of for next season.

The 'Playoff Fodder' Trio

9.) Washington Redskins  (7-6-1  =  345-343)
8.) Minnesota Vikings  (7-7  =  264-259)
7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (8-6  =  313-322)

Right now all three are on the outside looking in, but still have a shot at the playoffs. The Redskins really blew it on Monday Night and now need a ton of help to get there. I think they were all a little overpsyched by the Josh Norman revenge-ness of the game and didn't seem all that prepared. Also, I have a feeling Kirk Cousins is playing himself out of a lot of millions at this point. The Vikings will be one of the few teams to achieve the 'last unbeaten team in the league' distinction and then miss the playoffs in a long time. As for the Bucs, the future is really bright, but consistency will always be a concern with both Jameis and a defense that seems to vary in their pass rush and coverage discipline a lot. These are fixable issues, but I don't know if Jameis will ever really be all that consistent.

The 'I mean, the Giants (or if the Giants, 'We') won the Super Bowl in 2007 and 2011' Trio

6.) Detroit Lions  (9-5  =  301-285)
5.) Green Bay Packers  (8-6  =  363-339)
4.) New York Giants  (10-4  =  272-250)

I happen to think the NFC is quite a bit more open than the AFC, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if any of these three teams make the Super Bowl. Now, none are all that great, but each have had enough quality wins to be taken very seriously, whether it is the Lions going to New Orleans and winning, or the Packers routing Seattle, or the Giants beating the Cowboys twice. At this point it seems inevitable we are getting Packers @ Lions, Week 17 Sunday Night, which would be fantastic. Less fantastic would be if both are making the playoffs anyway at the start of that game.

The 'If one of us don't make the Super Bowl, call this January Madness' Trio

3.) Seattle Seahawks  (9-4-1  =  298-235)
2.) Atlanta Falcons  (9-5  =  469-358)
1.) Dallas Cowboys  (12-2  =  366-258)

Honestly, Atlanta has quietly been one of the best teams in the league, but their five losses will make people overlook them. Some of that is deserved, I mean there is still a non-inconsequential chance they don't win the division. They will really rue the few games they absolutely blew, especially both of their home losses to the Chargers and Chiefs. They should have won the bye, and even more those losses will probably keep Matt Ryan from an MVP award he so rightfully deserves. As for Seattle and Dallas, they keep chugging along and will get all of us (not to mention FOX executives) wet at the chance of a showdown in Jerryworld in January.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  11-5
4.) Tennessee Titans  =  9-7
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5
6.) Miami Dolphins  =  10-6


1.) Dallas Cowboys  =  13-3
2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-4-1
3.) Atlanta Falcons  =  11-5

4.) Green Bay Packers  =  10-6
5.) New York Giants  =  11-5

6.) Detroit Lions  =  9-7

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) San Francisco 49ers (1-13)  @  Los Angeles Rams (4-10)  (4:25 - FOX)
15.) San Diego Chargers (5-9)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-14)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Amazingly there are only two of these disasters" Saturday, as we only get two games between teams that are completely out of it, which is a nice surprise this late in the season. That first game is an absolutely trainwreck of epic proportions. The second is slightly intriguing as it represents the Browns last chance of conceivably getting a win as it is hard to see them beating the Steelers in a game in Pittsburgh in Week 17 that they will likely need.

14.) Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1)  @  Houston Texans (8-6)  (8:30 Sat - NFLN)

I call it "One of these things is not like the other" Saturday, as this is by far the worst of the primetime games this week. Because of the weird Christmas Eve / Christmas Day competing games, there are five games that are in standalone windows. Three are great games (spoiler: my top three). Thursday night's is decent. This is a disaster. The Bengals are just depressing given they should have been so much better. The Texans can honestly punt this game as win or lose they have to win Week 17 in Tennessee (technically, a Titans loss to Jacksonville and Texans win gives them the division - but that is not happening).

13.) New York Jets (4-10)  @  New England Patriots (12-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Washington Redskins (7-6-1)  @  Chicago Bears (3-11)  (1:00 - FOX)
11.) Tennessee Titans (8-6)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "No Chance of a Spoler" Saturday, as we get these three games with one potential playoff team (in NE's case, obviously playoff-bound) go up against three teams that are completely out of it. I can't imagine the Jets or Jaguars pulling the upset. I guess the fighting Matt Barkley's have a shot at officially ending the Redskins season, but even there I can't imagine the Redskins laying another egg when fighting truly for their playoff life. What I wouldn't give, however, for the Patriots to have a repeat of their memorable 2004 loss to the 4-12 Dolphins.

10.) Miami Dolphins (9-5)  @  Buffalo Bills (7-7)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Arizona Cardinals (5-8-1)  @  Seattle Seahawks (9-4-1)  (4:25 - FOX)
8.) New York Giants (10-4)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (5-9)  (TNF - NBC)

I call it "Far better chance of a spoiler" Thursday and Saturday, as we get three inter-division games where teams currently in good playoff positioning have to play rivals that are at least live spoilers. The Bills are arguably plain better than a Matt Moore-led Dolphins team and this is just the type of game Rex Ryan would get up for (sidebar: I know his defense hasn't been good, but I don't get the rush to fire Rex). The Cardinals have been in this position before, beating the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seahawks in Week 16 in Seattle in 2013. The Eagles gave the Giants a great run in the first matchup and still have the defense to stay in the game. I feel like one, if not two, of the lesser teams spoil here.

7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)  @  New Orleans Saints (6-8)  (4:25 - FOX)
6.) Atlanta Falcons (9-5)  @  Carolina Panthers (6-8)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Better get that spoiler warning loaded" Saturday, as the NFC South takes center stage. The Saints and Panthers are both proud teams, and the NFC South has some underrated rivalries going on. The Bucs embarrassed the Saints to some degree two weeks ago, and the Saints now get a chance to show them that life is a lot different in the Superdome. The Panthers also get to show that life is a lot different not in the Georgia Dome. I actually think the Falcons are pretty safe bets, but Carolina is a proud team that would like nothing more to end their season on a nice run to set them up for 2017.

5.) Indianapolis Colts (7-7)  @  Oakland Raiders (11-3)  (4:05 - CBS)
4.) Minnesota Vikings (7-7)  @  Green Bay Packers (8-6)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Let's just have fun" Saturday, as these two games look fun for no real reason. The Colts last two road games were wins of 41-10 and 34-6. Two ridiculous ass-kickings. The Raiders are a different challenge than the Vikings and certainly the Jets. The Colts are the type of team to really give the Raiders a run though. With the Vikings, they obviously have had a crushing last 9 games (2-7), but they still have some matchup advantages against the Packers that they can exploit.

3.) Detroit Lions (9-5)  @  Dallas Cowboys (12-2)  (MNF - ESPN)
2.) Denver Broncos (8-6)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)  (8:30 Sun - NBC)
1.) Baltimore Ravens (8-6)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)  (4:30 Sun - NFLN)

I call it "Let's just have all the standalone primetime games all the time" Sunday and Monday, as we get some weird scheduling, but the NFL hit gold this time. I don't think the NFL could have flexed any of this, but they didn't have to. I have no idea why we have two Christmas Day games, but we get two great ones. My top ranked game is easily the game of the weekend, with the winner getting the clear road to the AFC North Title. I feel a lot of people are expecting Pittsburgh to win, but the Ravens have a peak level this is definitely high enough to beat them. The Broncos have to win out and hope for help, but a good start would be to get back a game against the team that stole one from them (and really started them down this downward spiral of poor play. Finally, Detroit and Dallas is a great game, one ESPN couldn't have imagined would fall into their lap this way come Week 16. Both teams need the game (the Lions obviously more so - a win here pretty much assures them a playoff spot), and should be a great capper to what looks like an excellent Holiday weekend of football.

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Top 15 TV Shows of 2016: #10 - #6

10.) Orange is the New Black  (Season 4 - NETFLIX)

I've alternated hot and cold with Orange is the New Black. I really enjoyed the first season, less so the second season as I never really cared about Vee. I was lukewarm on the third season, where I got a little bored of the current set of prisoners and tired of the flashbacks. Yet, in Season 4, I thought the show found a new sense of direction, diving headfirst into the idea of the privatisation of prisons in the US. The show really did well by the staff, who were often underserved in early seasons beyond Caputo and Healey. Bringing in an entire new batch of prisoners also brought a sense of newness to a show that was getting slightly stale. The entire season long storytelling arc, simmering with just the right amount of labor vs. management and racial tensions capped off perfectly with the accidental death of Poussey which should have amazing ramifications for future seasons. I'm very much back on board with the show after this season, especially if they continue with storylines outside of the prison, whether it be the staff, or released inmates that we grew to know and love on the inside.

9.) Better Call Saul  (Season 2 - AMC)

My consideration of both Vince Gilligan and his team's talents and the superb cast made me honestly slightly disappointed with Season 2. Of course, I still found it an amazingly alluring and appealing show that I never considered not watching. My largest issue with the show was Season 2 split far more into two separate shows that lived in the same universe. One was Mike's turn into crime to support his family (ironic, since that's what got his future nemesis and killer into crime), and the other with Jimmy slowly breaking bad realizing his life as a lawyer is not really all that fun if Jimmy can't add a bit of 'Slippin' into that life. Of course, my issue with teh show is while these two parallel stories are both incredibly well crafted, at this point the Mike version is much more compelling. I have high hopes for the future as the end of the season, particularly the very end when we realize Chuck was taping Jimmy's confession, may drive the show forward and ultimately veer towards his turn to Saul, but until then, I can continue to watch a show that masters every part of the medium, if being slightly disappointing because it is nearly an 'A-' instead of an 'A'.

8.) Veep  (Season 5 - HBO)

Veep was my number 1 show last year, and while I think this ranking rightfully recognizes a drop in quality, let it be known that this is due to more to the overall quality of a lot of shows this past year. Also, when seasons get this far along in their path, especially in comedy where plot is less of a driving force as in a serialized drama, it is hard for them to keep being as amazing. Only so much of any dropoff do I actually write up to Armando Ianucci leaving the show. First off, he left behind most of the writing staff and the new main production team was his own. Second, the main criticism I heard about Season 5 was that the characters were far more caustic than it past, which is simply not true. Overall, I just cared less about the plot which seemed a little more serialized (Selina's chances in various recounts) than in past when the show was a little more expansive in its critique on Washington. Still, Veep remained an incredibly funny show with as many memorable one-liners as ever. I am also excited about where the show will go now with Selina out of office, a welcome move given that real US politics is doing a good enough job satirizing itself. At this point, Veep is just adding icing on top of the cake of an all-time great sitcom of this era, but at a quality that is still incredible high.

7.) Silicon Valley  (Season 3 - HBO)

Silicon Valley remains a great show, but I'm very surprised at how well they were able to navigate a tricky situation. In the tech world, there is definitely a few paths you can take. You can either fail badly, or grow rapidly. The former would have had serious implications on the show, and the latter would have quickly made the characters, and the problems they would face, a lot less relatable. Instead, they showed brief periods of success, showed how badly some characters reacted to that success, and ultimately were able to hit the re-set button on the plot without it seeming like a deus ex machina to keep the show going. Add to all that how funny the show remains, and how well they are now doing with non essential characters. Gavin Belson's animal-fueled-apology tour and ultimate demise became my favorite little part of the show each week and I can't wait to see what they do with him now away from Hooli. I still am not sure how long it can last given the need to drive plot to a conclusion and the immense talent of its cast starting to hurt the show (actors will eventually get more lucrative opportunities) but for now Silicon Valley has, slightly, overtaken Veep as HBO's flagship comedy in my mind.

6.) Bojack Horseman  (Season 3 - NETFLIX)

Bojack Horseman was my highest rated comedy last season, and it remains so this year as well. The (far too) unknown gem in Netflix's original content stable, Bojack Horseman remained every bit as cutting and brilliant in satirizing Hollywood, modern culture, but this year took it to another level in delving really deep into psychology of how people perceive success. The show itself might not have been as consistently great as in Season 2, but it hit higher highs. Episodes like the all-underwater episode presented with nearly no dialogue was a masterpiece, showcasing the medium for all its glory and showed how emotionally brilliant animation can be. The ultimate quest for an Oscar may have failed for Bojack, but was a gold-mine for the show. All the other characters remained as good as ever, but even there we saw deeper looks at Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter (an incredible arc with his family backstory), and Princess Carolyn. It was less 'funny' than before, but more emotionally relevant and in the end just as good. I can't imagine it going more than 1-2 more years, but it still pulls down incredible names to do voices, and there seems to be a lot more to mine out of these characters.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

My Top 15 TV Shows of 2016: #15 - #11

15.) Master of None  (Season 1 - NETFLIX)

Aziz Ansari's show garnered a lot of attention for taking on more understated and implicit racism, but didn't really get enough attention for just how funny it is. Ansari will always be far better as a comedian than he is as an actor (this was an issue on Parks & Rec as well), but his persona was laced all across that show. If I have any quibble, it is with the supporting cast that were a little thinly drawn out, especially his 'best friend' Arnold who got very grating after a while. That said, the love interest of Rachel is played really well by Noel Wells, who fits this type of role much better than she did SNL during her cup of coffee there a few years back. She and Ansari had great chemistry, and while I don't want the show to become a romantic comedy, their pairing did allow some great moments like their impromptu trip to Nashville. I doubt the show will ever get much higher than this for me, but it is still a well worth it time pass.

14.) All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals  (Amazon Prime)

The biggest takeaway for me from watching Amazon's look inside the 2015 Arizona Cardinals was how bad it made Hard Knocks look in comparison. Now, this was much longer (ten 45-min episodes vs. five 60-min), but also so much deeper and better. I'm guessing very few watched this, but if Amazon made this a yearly (or at least semi-regular) occasion, I would be ecstatic. They picked the perfect team, with perfect personalities, and got lucky enough to have a team that went 13-3 and overall had a great season. The best part was an actual look at what team meetings, and practices, and gameday sideline banter is like. This wasn't cut to show stories and pull heart strings like Hard Knocks does now, instead it went straight to the heart of the team. The star was probably Bruce Arians (admittedly, they included a strange sideplot about Arians dog?), but the real star was the entire team. Patrick Peterson shows up great, as does Calais Campbell, a whole host of rookies, and even GM Steve Kiem. This is the type of show that had multiple long cuts of boardroom meetings between Kiem, Arians and Team President Michael Bidwill. That may seem boring. It wasn't. The show wasn't either. It may never happen again, and we were lucky the team was really good, but for one season it worked really well.

13.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia  (Season 11 - FXX)

At this point, Always Sunny is in that Simpsons mode that they hit around the same time when the seasons started blending together, but if anything, that shows just how good this show has become in its age. They are essentially making a live-action animated show, where characters can not grow. And while the characters themselves haven't grown, the show writers who also play them certainly have. Always Sunny has gone more inventive, more playful and more technically brilliant. This past season saw a show shot as it were taking place from the perspective of Frank - including interludes of his own personal thought - and also saw a complete spoof episode where they played off of the surprisingly large ski-movei sub-genre of the 80s and 90s. The show did less zany episodes, but still haven't lost their underrated biting wit and social commentary. The show is going to go for at least three more seasons, and can probaly go five more. Returns may be diminishing in a sense, but if they even approach a Simpsons-length run we really will have to reevaluate Always Sunny's place in the history of (cable) television.

12.) iZombie (end of Season 2 - The CW)

My pet favorite show of 2015 put out far less content in 2016. Last year it showed both a 13-episode Season 1, and the first 9 episodes of Season 2, but the last 10 episodes of Season 2 raised the bar even higher. The lasting theme of the show to me is just how much damn fun it is. As always, the conceit itself is ridiculous, but we are so far beyond just 'Girl becomes Zombie and solves crime!' phase, into where the show is examining legalization of drugs, corporate corruption, and pharmaceutical ethics all within this ridiculous conceit. The plot can get overly complicated at times, but the awesome cast papers over that easily. Rose McKiver is magnetic is Liv, but even the extended cast, whether it is Ravi (Rahul Kohli), Major (Robert Buckley), Blaine (David Anders - doing a great Spike from Buffy impression), they all work so well off of each other, and again, are openly having so much fun. I do wonder how far the show can go, and the ratings are definitely not inspiring, but for now I can't wait for a (sadly reduced) Season 3 where the Zombie issue gets exposed in the government, in 2017.

11.) The Night Of  (HBO)

I had initially pegged The Night Of to be much higher up the list, but as the season wore on, I kept dropping it further and further. I still find it to have been a very good show and worthwhile investment of my time, but I think there were serious issues with the latter half of the season. They almost always came in plot and characterization issues - most notably Chandra's lovelorn turn in the season's latter half. No lawyer would ever fall for a guy who may have easily committed a brutal murder and was starting to get into the drug world. Beyond the plot elements (John Stone running down alleys to chase potential suspects?) the show had a lot of great elements. The acting was almost always great, particularly Turturro's weird portroyal of Box, and Bill Camp as Detective Box and Jeannie Berlin as DA Weiss. The parts of the show I wish they went into more was the racial strife and how Naz's trail was impacting his family (who were wonderfully played as well), or more about his life in jail. For a show tangentially connected to The Wire, the show seemed to tip to more plot-driven elements than story for my liking.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

NFL 2016: Projecting the Last 4 Weeks and the Rest


Key Takeaways:

The Patriots are definitely winning their division, and definitely getting a bye. Only question for them will be if they can get the #1 seed. Their path to the #1 seed becomes a lot easier of the Chiefs beat Oakland on Sunday, as the margin for error for New England grows. As you can see, I don't have the Chiefs beating Oakland...

The AFC North and West have some key games. The AFC North title will probably just come down to who wins the Baltimore @ Pittsburgh game. I have that going to Pittsburgh, and them accordingly winning the division. I would want it to be Baltimore, but it would be tough. If the Ravens happen to shock New England, they still have a path to the division with the loss.

As for the West, there is a lot still left to play, but if the Raiders beat Kansas City, they are close to a lock. They still have tricky games left on the schedule, but it is hard to foresee either Denver or KC running the table. I do think Oakland will win (more on that later).

With the AFC South, the biggest game is next week, with teh Texans going to Indianapolis. The Texans have the easiest schedule left, but to me are the worst of teh three teams. I think the Colts will that game and rightfully win the division.


Key Takeaways:

The NFC East will get at least two teams in teh playoffs unless the Giants collapse. I don't think they do, and I think they get the #5 seed, albeit a very underwhelming one. I do have the Redskins sneaking in a tight race for that #6 seed, where teams like Arizona and Tampa bay are very much in play.

The Buccaneers may be better than the Falcons, but their schedule is far tougher and with that I think they have a disappointing finish and miss the playoffs. The Falcons can sleep walk to the division title if the Buccaneers fade as I'm expecting.

The North may not come down to the Week 17 game in Detroit, which I'm sure every Lions fan is hoping. If the Packers lose to Seattle, and if the Lions take care of business in two winnable games the next two weeks, they are set free. They can also be helped by the Cowboys sitting players if they are in position. In the end, I think making up a 2-game gap in four weeks is just a little too much, and the Packers similarly end up outside the Wild Card picture.

The West is a bore now. Only real question is if the Cardinals can make a crazy push to the playoffs. We often think of a team getting a tie be free of tiebreaker scenarios, but that win against the Redskins may come in handy. Similarly, the Seahawks may be locked into the #2 seed come Week 16 and gift the Cardinals a win.

Playoff Projections


Wild Card:
(6) Broncos @ (3) Steelers
(5) Chiefs @ (4) Colts

(2) Patriots, (1) Raiders


Wild Card:
(6) Redskins @ (3) Falcons
(5) Giants @ (4) Lions

(2) Seahawks, (1) Cowboys

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

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

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.