Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The RGIII Saga

On this day before Thanksgiving, my sports fan world isn't doing the best right now. The Patriots are a machine, the Broncos are somewhat idling by, the Devils still can't score, and the Astros are still a few years away. Still, if there is one thing I am thankful for, it is that the Colts picked Andrew Luck and not RGIII.

RGIII was just benched for Colt McCoy. This is the 2nd time a healthy-enough-to-play RGIII has been benched. Last year, Shanahan benched him late in the season for Kirk Cousins (they claimed it was to protect RGIII). Cousins played horribly. This year, Jay Gruden is benching RGIII for Colt McCoy, a QB last seen losing his starting job to Brandon Weeden in Cleveland in 2011. McCoy was actually competent in leading an upset of Dallas a few weeks ago, but chances are he will play horribly as well. Still, the RGIII rift is there. How did this all happen so quickly?

In 2012, RGIII was a very good player. Sure, he was a very good player in a limited, easy system that fit all his skills but made life and decisions easy, but he was undoubtedly a very good player. He threw accurately, threw a gorgeous deep ball, and ran for ~55 yards a game. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year ahead of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. He was the toast of the NFL. Two years later he will likely be traded in the offseason, despite the boatload of picks the Redskins already spent on him. A lot of people will point to one moment that ruined RGIII. That goes back to the Wild Card playoff game in January, 2013, when RGIII tore his ACL trying to recover a bad snap. He was already hobbling earlier in that game. RGIII was cleared on the sideline, so Shanahan put him in and it all went to shit. But is that the real reason?

Considering similar 'And He Was Never the Same Again' moments have happened with other QBs (Carson Palmer's 1st ACL tear being the best example), it is easy and convenient to point to that event. Still, we should look deeper. What is becoming more and more clear is that RGIII is not physically able (or mentally able) to run like he did in 2012 again, and because of that, it is exposing the fact that his mental abilities are still a work in progress.

RGIII came into the league with a highly touted mental ability to handle the QB position, but that just does not seem to be the case. Many people have started dissecting his performance on the field in terms of his handle of how to be a pocket passer (including his own coach). He doesn't take good drops, he can't read defenses quickly, he is gun-shy to throw the ball. He has routinely missed open receivers to hold onto the ball and then end up taking a sack. He plays like Blaine Gabbert used to: making his bad protection all the more worse. He just is not a good QB right now.

Combine his on-the-field struggles with this ever-growing belief that he has acted like an entitled little SOB the past two years, and was coddled by upper management in Washington, and you get a serious issue. Griffin started out OK, but when things went sour following that ACL tear, his behavior really started to change. He essentially forced Shanahan's hand by proclaiming himself healthy prior to last season, and then complained when Shanahan didn't defend him. Last week, after his terrible performance in a loss to the Redskins, he blamed himself, but then blamed the rest of the team as well, which was met with shaking of fists and heads, even from his head coach.

RGIII is not a finished product, but he's not finished either. He may have a future in the NFL in another city, maybe even St. Louis (the same team that got a bunch of draft picks for trading away the right to pick RGIII). He may discover what made him great in 2012, but it becomes more and more clear that 2012 was more a good coach adapting to his talent than it was RGIII lighting fire on the NFL. That was a true coaching job - but the ramifications of that early success cost Shanahan his job in 2013. Jay Gruden cut the cord before it was going to cost him his.

NFL 2014: Projecting the Final 5 Weeks

I did this last year at midseason. This time I waited. Here it comes, me picking each remaining game in advance for the final 5-weeks of the season. I love this time of year, where every team has now played the same amount of games, with the bye weeks over and done with. First I'll give my final season standings that I am projecting, then a division-by-division breakdown, and then a quick playoff preview.

I give my unending kudos to the ESPN Playoff Machine to helping me work out the tiebreakers.


Quick notes on Tiebreakers:

- NE gets the #1 seed and IND gets the #3 seed based on head-to-head wins over DEN and BAL, respectively

- SF gets the #6 seed over SEA and PHI, first because they win a division tiebreaker against SEA with a better record against common opponents, and PHI due to a head to head victory

- ARZ gets the #1 seed over GB due to record in Conference Games (to come)


So, let's break this bad boy down.

AFC East




1.) New England Patriots - 13-3 (1):This team is on a ridiculous roll right now, but they're about to play a team who is on a similar roll, especially at home. I don't think they'll win in Green Bay, but will navigate a tough schedule down-the-stretch to get that #1 seed that they've soundly deserved. The scariest game after that might actually be the last one, depending on weather conditions that day. Weird little fact that I'm sure in no way is the NFL showing Patriots favoritism: they haven't had a Road game in Week 17 since 2009.

2.) Miami Dolphins - 10-6 (6): I think the Dolphins sneak out with the #6 seed mainly because their main competitors get knocked off of the 10-win pace. It is hard to imagine a scenario where none of the other 7-4 teams currently gets to 10 wins, but I think it happens. If they can steal that New England game, they may even have a shot at the division, but that would also need the Pats to really slip up.

3.) Buffalo Bills - 8-8: The Bills may be one of the league's best 8-8 teams. They have a tough schedule left, and sure, they will likely beat Oakland, but I can't pick all chalk in these games. Their earlier losses really kill them. I do think they'll give the Packers a hell of a fight with that D-Line of theirs. They have a nice team to build around... apart from QB. Not sure what the plan is there.

4.) New York Jets - 3-13: Let's just move on to better things.


AFC North




1.) Baltimore Ravens - 11-5 (4): Huge win last night by the Ravens. They can pretty much assure a Wild-Card berth by just splitting the next two games. I think they do that, but end up slightly better with the division. If I'm any team in the AFC, especially New England given recent history, I'm really afraid of this Ravens team the way their offense is currently playing.

2.) Cincinnati Bengals - 10-5-1 (5): Despite having three losses of at least 20 points, the Bengals just keep winning games. I think they'll win their next two easy one's as well. Somehow, this team could enter that MNF game against Denver at 10-3-1. I don't think they will, getting swept by their cross-state rivals for the first time ever. I'll give them a sweep over Pittsburgh, though to counter-balance that.

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers - 9-7: It was really hard to pick their games, Lord knows I've been bad at picking the Steelers games all year long. I don't like this team on the road against teams that are even mediocre (see their MNF win against Tennessee). I don't think they can go to Cincinnati or Atlanta and win. It does come down to that Week 16 game. With my overall picks, the winner of that game is a playoff team, and I think Cincinnati is just better.

4.) Cleveland Browns - 8-8: It was tough to pick their games, but I can fairly say that apart from the TNF win in Cincinnati, the Browns haven't beaten a team better than them. Well, now they play a few teams that are better, or comparable but on the road. They could win a couple of these road games, but the Browns still have issues at QB which are not going away.


AFC South




1.) Indianapolis Colts - 11-5 (3): This may represent a slight disappointment for the Colts, a third straight 11-5 finish, but I don't see it that way. The Colts have gotten better each year. They still have a ton of areas where they can improve, but with Luck on board, you don't have to improve everywhere. I do think the Cowboys ground their way to a win, but the Colts have been able to beat all teams worse than them, and I think that continues.

2.) Houston Texans - 6-10: I think the shit is about to hit the fan for the Texans. Picking them to lose home to Tennessee and at Jacksonville is probably a little much, but I generally don't like picking too many teams to go 2-14 or 3-13. Those guys have to win some games. It doesn't matter really, since I can't see them winning in Indy or beating the Ravens, which pretty much ends their Wild Card hopes anyway.

3.) Tennessee Titans - 4-12: Who Cares?

4.) Jacksonville Jaguars - 3-13: Who Cares^2?


AFC West




1.) Denver Broncos - 13-3 (2): Yes, they have three more road games and haven't looked all that good on the road, but I think the Broncos have gotten past their mid-season malaise. I do think they'll win this Sunday in Kansas City, and San Diego and Cincinnati have already shown weakness at home (for instance, the Bengals have lost roughly their past 30 primetime games). They might drop a game, but it likely won't matter as they have most tiebreakers against all non-Patriots teams.

2.) San Diego Chargers - 9-7: The AFC West has been good all year, but the schedule is just a little too tough. Would I be surprised if the Chargers split the Patriots/Broncos home back-to-back? No, I wouldn't. But I wouldn't pick them either. The o-line is just too bad to let that offense operate at the level it needs to consistently.

3.) Kansas City Chiefs - 9-7: For a team that was 7-3 heading into a TNF game against winless Oakland, this is a real disappointing end I am predicting. Just a note, if they were to have won their Week 17 home game against the Chargers, they would make the playoffs as the #6 seed, but I think Rivers thrives in that super-spoiler role.

4.) Oakland Raiders - 2-14: Hey, I think they'll win another game. Could this be an RGIII landing spot?


NFC East




1.) Dallas Cowboys - 11-5 (3): I think Sanchez ruins the Eagles hopes, but this is also about the Cowboys taking control. If they beat the Bears they might even be able to sneak out a #1 seed (probably not due to the NFC losses). The Cowboys are a good team, they've proven that time and time again this season when Romo is healthy and playing. The Romo Cowboys are 8-2 this season, not too shabby.

2.) Philadelphia Eagles - 10-6: As mentioned, I think Sanchez ruins it for them. I am seriously reconsidering my pick of them losing to the Redskins if McCoy is the starter, but I'll still with it for now. That is a reasonably touch schedule, especially ending with two road divisional games, a really tough way to end the season.

3.) New York Giants - 6-10: A lost season for the Giants might get slightly better with my predicted three-game win streak. Now, beating three of the worst teams in the NFL is not that impressive, but since the Giants are among the worst teams, it isn't that bad either. I really do think this is it for Tom Coughlin; the main question being whether he gets fired or 'retires'.

4.) Washington Redskins - 5-11: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA


NFC North




1.) Green Bay Packers - 12-4 (2): Wouldn't that be something, if a road loss to the Bills costs them the #1 seed. The Bills are a terrible matchup for the Packers on paper, with a flexible fast offense coupled with the NFL's best d-line against a soft interior line for the Packers. Still, the Packers are money at home, and the only other road game is in Tampa. That Week 17 game against Detroit looms large, I think, as I do expect the Lions to get back on track.

2.) Detroit Lions - 11-5 (5): Speaking of which, the Lions schedule gets a lot easier than playing the two current #1 seeds back-to-back on the road. Their offense woes are startling, given how voluminous they were in 2011-2013, but I do expect that to correct itself somewhat the next three weeks at home. The season really comes down to those two road division games. Win both and they win the division. Lose both and they miss the playoffs (the Seahawks become the #6 seed in that case).

3.) Chicago Bears - 7-9:  I was totally surprised to see that the Bears were 5-6. I guess that is what happens when you play the NFC South. They would be leading that division, by the way. The schedule does have a lot of home games left, but also games against current playoff teams. I do think they win two of those three home games in what expects to be cold, winter weather against dome teams.

4.) Minnesota Vikings - 5-11: Like the Texans, I think the shit hits the fan here as well. I just don't think they're as good as those last three teams, and I think the lose close games at home to the Panthers and Jets. Some team has lose those games.


NFC South




1.) New Orleans Saints - 7-9 (4): I Don't Even Want

2.) Carolina Panthers - 6-9-1: To Think About

3.) Atlanta Falcons - 6-10: This Sorry Ass

4.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2-14: Division At All


NFC West



1.) Arizona Cardinals - 12-4 (1): That is a tough schedule, but I think they match up well against the Falcons and Rams, and I do think they get revenge against the Seahawks in week 16 (by that time they might have clinched the division anyway). The Cardinals are still a good team, with a solid defense and an offense that can muster ~24 points each week. I think that proves costly at some point in January, but they are getting there.

2.) San Francisco 49ers - 10-6 (6): Despite all the in-fighting, the rumors of Harbaugh's exit, the plateauing of Kaepernick, I think the 49ers make it back to the playoffs. They may even make it easily if they don't lose that Chargers game. It helps to have a reasonably manageable schedule, and finally getting Aldon Smith back. This team has transitioned to defense first, to all offense, back to defense first.

3.) Seattle Seahawks - 10-6: Yes, I think we have the defending Champ miss the playoffs for a third straight season. This one would probably be the most surprising, given how many people thought this was the next dynasty. That schedule is tough. I think they make Sanchez's life hell, but I don't think they win those road division games.

4.) St. Louis Rams - 6-10: They might be the best 6-10 team ever. If they ever get consistent QB play, they could win the division in 2015.



Playoffs



Does that look exciting? Well, maybe not. Anyway, let's get to some quick hit playoff picks for a playoff field that is almost definitely not happening in this particular way.

Wild Card Weekend

(A6) MIA 17  @  (A3) IND 24
(A5) CIN 20  @  (A4) BAL 23
(N6) SF 21  @  (N3) DAL 24
(N5) DET 31  @  (N4) NO 24


Divisional Weekend

(A4) BAL 27  @  (A1) NE 24
(A3) IND 24  @  (A2) DEN 38
(N5) DET 13  @  (N1) ARZ 20
(N3) DAL 20  @  (N2) GB 30


Championship Sunday

(A4) BAL 20  @  (A2) DEN 30
(N2) GB 27  @  (N1) ARZ 23


Super Bowl XLIX

(N2) GB 24  vs.  (A2) DEN 31

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can Kentucky beat the 76ers... and Other Similar Dumb Questions

I was perusing ESPN at work when I saw the story.. "Come read a debate between Jay Bilas and Jeff Goodman on whether Kentucky can beat the 76ers".

My hope was that both would almost instantly say 'NO', but Bilas tried his best to say Kentucky had a shot. He pointed how the 76ers of this year are more crappy than any similar tankalicious team in years past. That half of their team really shouldn't be in the NBA. That Kentucky is more loaded then ever. Goodman took none of it and said the 76ers would sweep a series of any length. Look, Goodman is right. The Wildcats would have no shot. They would lose quite easily. This isn't really the first time we've been down this road.

Just two years ago, with Kentucky fresh off of its dominant romp to the 2012 Title, the question was asked of them against the Charlotte (then) Bobcats, who were about to set a record for worst winning percentage (not most losses since that was the lockout season). The question seemed valid. That Kentucky team had five starters who would be drafted, including the #1 and #2 picks in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They question was dumb them to. It will never happen. Not in the modern landscape.

There are so many reasons why Kentucky would have no shot, but let's run through some of the best ones:


  • NBA players are, surprisingly enough, NBA players. Now, that sounds like a childhood tautology, but how often people forget. College Analysts trump up Kentucky becuase they have '8' or '10' NBA players on the roster. Well, the 76ers have 15 NBA players on the roster. Now, this 76ers team does have a few guys that probably shouldn't be in the NBA, but Kentucky has some of them too. Take that 2012 team. Anthony Davis is probably the best player in the NBA this season, but the guy picked right behind him has been a sound disappointment on the NBA level. The 76ers have a handful of guys that were great in college, that could have played for this Kentucky team.
  • NBA players have Men, with stronger bodies. This also sounds a bit sophomoric, but it is true. A man at 23 is far stronger than a 'man' at 18-19. Had Kentucky kept these guys for a few years and had they all been 22-23, maybe they get close. However Kentucky doesn't. They have guys 18-20. The physical difference between even 20 and 23 is staggering. That's why rookie's rarely play well at all in the NBA. LeBron was a great rookie, but still had by far the worst season of his career as a rookie. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant types are incredibly rare. Kentucky's best players are 2-3 years away from making a real impact in the NBA.
  • NBA actually runs plays. Watch a college game and you immediately see just how badly college offenses are designed. Teams play way too fast, never let anything develop, and pass the ball aimlessly. Even the 76ers offense is degrees ahead of what the Wildcats are running. NBA offenses are smart, not running 100% all the time, and limiting themselves to short burts of movement that will cut up any college offenses.

But it did get me thinking, in what sport would the best college team have the best shot. Basketball is probably the lowest on the list. Due to the nature of the sport, with the high scoring, upsets are rarer in the NBA as it is. How about the other sports, though:

Football: A College Football team too would have no shot at all. All the reasons from the NBA hold, but are even more heightened in a sport where depth matters even more. The Raiders could go play Alabama tomorrow and beat them 77-0. NFL defenses and offenses are far more complex. NFL players are far smarter and more gifted. It won't be close. I don't even think that they could make it any closer than basketball.


Baseball: Probably the closest of the three big sports, simply because one great pitcher can really even things. We have seen dominant college pitchers. They'll likely have a bunch of problems going through an order a 2nd or 3rd time, but Strasburg in college could have gone 2-3 effective innings against MLB competition. Hitters would have a much harder time, but it will still be a closer game that they could steal.


Hockey: The only way a college team can do anything in this scenario is if they have a dominant goalie. They would have to get lucky, adn have a goalie truly stand on its head. They'll get dominated in possession, likely have 4-5 times fewer shots, and probably commit umpteen penalties out of desperation, but if the goalie has a Hasek-like game, they could conceivably win.


Whatever the matter is, the talent and training level between major college sports and professional is a giant chasm that is really hard to quantify. It definitely is closer in Baseball and Hockey, but Kentucky never had a shot against Charlotte in 2012, and doesn't have a shot this time either.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sportsman of the Year vs. Sports "Man of the Year"

Sportsman of the Year vs. Sports Man of the Year

I recently saw the description for an episode of the BS Report with Al Michaels as the guest which said they were going to talk about Doc Rivers being the Sportsmen of the Year. Doc would be a perfect pick given what SI has turned the award into, where overcoming some idiot owner becomes far more important than actually doing really well on the field. It also got me back to the reason the idea was created in teh first place. SI's Sportsman of the Year was the analogue to Time's 'Man of the Year'. Of course, Time's award famously began as a way to focus on the person who 'for better or worse... has done the most to influence the events of the year'. That 'better or worse' distinction is interesting. That's how you get Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin winning in back-to-back years, or Ayatollah Khomeni, or even Putin. So, if we take that definition, who gets the title in many of these years?


2013:

Actual Winner: Peyton Manning;

Manning won because he came back from injury to have the most voluminous NFL season ever. He was close to finishing a season with 55 TDs and more yards than ever for a team that scored more than ever. He also won it because he never has before, despite having a few years where he could have. Being a Manning fan, and loving the long piece they wrote about him, I loved the pick, but there were better ones.

True Winner: Andy Murray, for winning Wimbledon and ending a drought

I'm taking a slightly more Global approach to the award, something that they should do a little more. Andy Murray already had a major coming into 2013, but he did the one thing he was tasked with doing seven years earlier: win Wimbledon. He had to fight off the fact that he wasn't naturally English, but from Scotland, making him a little more of a lightning rod for the British media. He had to fight off the fact that he was playing in the middle of the most top-heavy time in Men's Tennis history, with two of the Top-5 All-Time and another who could easily end up Top-10 All-Time to compete with. Andy Murray had to overcome all that and the yearly pressure of playing WImbledon. He failed many times before but got slightly closer each year. The height was losing to Federer in the 2012 Final after winning the first set. It shows how much this meant that he was more emotional losing that match than winning this match.

Runner-Up: The Baltimore Ravens, for enduring bad losses, playoff losses, and winning with an Organizational Culture that held up to Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and the most successful Franchise Ever.


2012

Actual Winner: LeBron James, for winning the NBA Title

LeBron on talent should win Sportsman of the Year at least once, but the 2011-12 season wasn't his best in Miami (that was last year) or best postseason run (again, last season). James finally achieved what he came to Oklahoma City for, but that was an underwhelming 5-game series that I can barely remember at this point. There were so many other great stories  and athletes in 2012 to cover.


True Winner: Peyton Manning, for coming back

I think Peyton should have won it in 2012 instead of 2013. Who dominated the Sports News more than Peyton? First was his odd semi-sniping with Irsay during Super Bowl week, then his release, his Free-Agent week in the spotlight, his decision to go to Denver, umpteen stories of how he couldn't throw, his noodle arm, grainy footage from Duke, third-hand reports. All that talk and Manning stayed silent and focused and ended up having an incredible season. Manning's season ended with an 11-game win streak, with, at the time, his 2nd highest TD and Passer Rating numbers. But it isn't about the numbers, it was about the generation's best football player coming back from the dead, from reports of retirement (remember the Rob Lowe tweet?), from getting cut by the team he basically built, and leaving for a new challenge at 36, and ending up doing better than anyone could have imagined.

Runner-Up: Buster Posey, for being really, really good, and helping re-create baseball in San Francisco after the Bonds-era ended in infamy... because maybe once in a while it should go to someone who just deserves it for being a down-to-honest nice guy winning a title as an excellent player.


2011

Actual Winner: Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt, for being old and amazing

Look, Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt are incredible coaches, great people, and legends in their craft, and it was nice to celebrate Summitt in a year when she had to step down due to Adult Onset-Dementia. That all said, give them a profile in separate issues. It made no sense to include Krzyzewski here when his Duke team won the Title in 2010.


True Winner: Lionel Messi, for doing the impossible

There are two international athletes that transcended their sport so much they probably had a decent chance of winning. One of them I couldn't find room for. That was Roger Federer. The other is Lionel Messi. 2010-11 was not his best season at Barcelona, as that was 2011-12, but it coincided with the team's best season. They easily won La Liga (which they failed to do in '11-12 to Real) and won the Champions League with a stirring performance over Man U (they lost the Semi to Chelsea in 2012 with Messi missing a penalty kick). Barca was on top, and Messi was in teh center. He was also a nice kid, a humble genius, that did all this the season after his major disappointment of the 2010 World Cup.

Runner-Up: Aaron Rodgers, for escaping Brett Favre's shadow by rolling to a Super Bowl, and then coming back and having the best, most efficient passing season ever.


2010

Actual Winner: Drew Brees, for winning the Super Bowl for New Orleans

Awarding it to a Football Player is always a strange thing since the season that they generally use to award is the one that finished in that year's February (like here, Brees winning the 2009 Super Bowl). Brees was the star for the Saints, but I personally thought the New Orleans/Katrina stories were played out by 2009. I mean, what, did the 2007 and 2008 Saints (7-9 and 8-8) not care about New Orleans? The real Saints team that Saved the City was their miracle season in 2006, going 10-6 the year after playing games in Baton Rouge and San Antonio. That was a miracle, this wasn't.


True Winner: LeBron James, for leaving and owning the sports world 

This is the first time I'm evoking the 'for better or worse' definition, as LeBron winning for 2010 is less about his on-court accomplishments (winning a 2nd MVP in May) and more about what happened that Summer with his Free Agent tour and ultimately 'The Decision'. Nothing dominated the Sports Landscape like that. We had SportsCenter specials on his Free Agent tours, what the teams courting him gave him as presents. We had SportsCenter breaking down his impending Free Agency the day the Cavs were eliminated. We had everything that was 'The Decision', from teh event, to the media coverage, to the burgeoning Twitter use at the time giving instant feedback, to Dan Gilbert's Comic Sans screed against LeBron, to the 'Not one, Not two....' Intro Party in Miami. Then came the fall, when he suited up for Miami, who started 8-7 and it all started again. Nothing really embodied the true spirit of the 'Better or Worse' clause than LeBron in 2010.

Runner-Up: Rafael Nadal, for returning to tennis better than ever, becoming the first man to win on three surfaces in one season, reclaiming number one, and turning the Chase for Federer into a reality.


2009

Actual Winner: Derek Jeter, for winning the World Series as a Captain

The Yankees finally won a World Series after 9 years and spending roughly $80 Billion on Free Agents, but they did finally win. Jeter didn't even play well in that playoffs, but had a really nice season that included some really dumb MVP love. Jeter is an All-Time great, but this was another, in a long string, of 'let's give the elder guy the award'.


True Winner: Tiger Woods, for losing, cheating and being way too real

Tiger Woods justifiably won it in 1996 and again in 2000. Tiger gets his three-peat for winning the award in a year when his life went to hell. It started with Woods blowing the PGA Championship, losing a 72-hole lead at a major for the first time. Then, came that infamous weekend when everything changed. First came the National Enquirer report, than the accident at his house, and then whores numbers 1 through 40. A few months later, Woods was in sex addiction rehab, he was a taking a leave from golf, his marraige was over, and he went from being the most marketable male athlete ever to being the most hated. Other than maybe OJ Simpson, no athlete has fallen from grace this fast. There was always criticisms of Woods placcid public persona and cursing, un-golf-like behavior, but no one expected him to have this secret, devious, adulterous life.

Runner-Up: Brett Favre, for going to Minnesota, where he always wanted to go, and dominating the NFL season by playing better than anyone could imagine, including beating the Packers twice and throwing for 4 TDs in his first game ever in Lambeau as a visitor.


2008

Actual Winner: Michael Phelps, for reaching the expectations we all had

True Winner: Michael Phelps, for reaching the expectations we all had

For the first time, I have no issues with the selection. There was no better one. I was actually surprised they didn't give it to Tony Dungy, but then I remembered that he only announced his retirement in Jan, 2009. Michael Phelps was the biggest story in 2008 by far. His incredible 8 goal medals. The two ridiculous comebacks he had to get there, including one made by someone who wasn't him. Everything that Phelps stood for. Despite the fact he couldn't really speak in public, Phelps was the athlete with more presence than anyone else. He had loads of expectations placed on him after breaking out before the '04 Olympics. Everyone targeted the '08 Olympics as being historic, and it ended up being exactly that. He was given giant expectations, not the least of which was carrying the weight for NBC's ridiculous Olympics spend, and exceeded them by adding a double-dose of drama with that dominance.

Runner-Up: 


2007

Actual Winner: Brett Favre

Probably the most senseless pick they've had. I guess you can say SI expected him to retire, but Favre really did nothing outside playing like the 5th best QB in the NFL to deserve this award. Yes, he had played for generations, yes the Packers had a good season after missing the playoffs the previous two years; none of that is really enough to win Sporstman of the Year.


True Winner: Bill Belichick and the Patriots, for cheating and then winning in ways unimaginable

These mid-to-late-2000's years are just frought with people winning for the wrong reasons. I really can't think of anything that defined a year like the Patriots during and after Spygate. First, it was a ridiculous story, covered so. It was espionage, with a team many people alreaady disliked because they were so good. Of course, they would just get better. The 2007 Patriots are probably the most singularly impactful team in the last 15 years. Sure, they went 16-0 in 2007, but it is the way they did it. So many questions. Can anyone beat them? Is this the best offense ever? Does this mean Brady's better than Manning? Can they score 100 against the Jets? Are they running up the score? Everythign was in play. The ratings were ridiculous. Some of the highest rated regular season games ever came from the 2007 Patriots. They captivated the American sports scene for 4 solid months.

Runner-Up: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, for cementing their legacy as a dynasty winning together their 3rd NBA Title in 5 years, sweeping through the NBA Playoffs with a 16-4 record with a triumphant sweep in the Finals.


2006

Actual Winner: Dwyane Wade, for winning the NBA Title

Dwyane Wade was a much loved basketball hero in 2006. People thought he was better than LeBron, and why not, when he took over Miami's run to a title. Of course, it helps when referees give you 8,000 free throws in four games. That soured Wade's performance for me. Also, it was one of more regrettable NBA postseasons in a long time.


True Winner: Zinedine Zidane, for dominating the World Cup and leaving in shame

This is the pick that really made me think of this whole random idea of re-giving Sports-Man of the Year Awards. Zizou absolutely was the person who impacted the Global sports world. He dominated the biggest event in the World. It was also the first World Cup since '94 to get major coverage in teh US, given it came off of the heels of the US's shock QF run in '02. Zidane was the tournaments best player, and the most legendary as well, playing out the final games of his career. His mesmerizing performance against Brazil sandwhiching sublime one's against Spain and Portugal brought him to the precipice. One ballsy-as-shit penalty goal against Italy proved to be his last great moment. He cements his spot as Sportsman of the Year with the Headbutt. I personally believe it is the most infamous moment in Sports in the last 15 years world-wide. It was a transcendant moment for a world that was just discovering Social Networks. Head-butt videos helped launch Youtube in its early days. Lipreaders got business. Everyone wanted in. It was a story that had never been seen before, an All-Time legend going out in infamy.


2005

Actual Winner: Tom Brady, for being handsome... and for winning a 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years after being an unheralded 6th round pick and fighting his way to a starting job. 

Brady isn't a terrible choice, because he finally became a true start even by numbers in 2004 for a dominant Super Bowl team, but he wasn't a truly inspired choice either since he was having an average, even by early-Brady standards, season in 2005. Still, it was a decent choice to represent the best football team we've had since 2000.


True Winner: Rafael Palmeiro, and the end of the Steroid Era

Tiger in 2009 was a bad story, but it dominated that year and was at least comical and rife with parody. The Steroid Scandal breaking big time in '05, it was just a sad story. 2005 was the year Congress got involved, the year Mark McGwire pled the fifth, the year Sammy Sosa apparently forgot how to speak English, and Rafael Palmeiro decided to wag his finger at congress... and get suspended 6 months later. No off-the-field story so dominated a sport like steroids in baseball and 2005 was when it reached its apex. It was the first year that MLB initiated actual suspensions.


2004

Actual Winner: The Boston Red Sox, for ending the drought

True Winner: The Boston Red Sox, for ending the drought


Here's the only other one I'm fine with. The Red Sox breaking the 86-year curse was so big it made the cover of TIME that week (I believe the most recent Sports moment to make the cover). The way they did it actually made it better, overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees, trailing in Game 4 in the 9th inning against Mariano Rivera. You can't write that. Also, I'll forever remember Tom Verducci's brilliant piece on the Red Sox, as he made it about 'Red Sox Nation' (back when they weren't annoying as hell), about a group of fans who lived through sports fan Hell and made it out alive. It was an awesome piece, one of the best pieces of Sports Journalism I have ever read.

I Know Nothing







Now that the Patriots are 8-2, have the #1 seed in the AFC in their clenched fist that no one can pry open, might be a good time to do two things at once:

1.) post something that shows how much I have in common with Jon Snow
2.) Try the most painfully obvious reverse-jinx ever.

So, let's revisit the blathering tome of wrong conclusions I jotted down back after Week 4

************************************************************************************************************



The Patriots didn't just lose on Monday Night, they were undressed. They performed worse than any New England Patriots team since 2003, when they lost 0-31 on opening Sunday. They performed terribly on both sides of the game. When the starters were in, they were outscored 41-7, and it wasn't a fluke. There were no missed opportunities for New England, or lucky breaks for Kansas City. Hell, New England recovered one of the two fumbles deep in their own territory. New England looked slow, they looked uninterested, and they looked unprepared. They looked like the worst representation of what the 'Patriots Way' used to be. The Patriots are facing a crisis worse than any they've faced since that 0-31 loss, when Tom Jackson claimed that the Patriots players' 'hate their coach'. That time it ended with a Super Bowl win. This time, a Super Bowl looks further away than ever.

The Patriots probably had their nadir on Monday Night, but when you couple a schedule that is quite tough, and a team that doesn't look good on offense or defense, this does seem like a crossroads. There's two big questions. First, is this the end and what is wrong, and then, how did it all get here?

In truth, the Patriots have been declining for a while. The Patriots were not 12-4 good a year ago. Change two or three things and they go 10-6 (like their ridiculous wins over Cleveland and New Orleans). The Patriots scored about 100 fewer points than they did in 2012, and their defense struggled at times. Brady had his worst season since 2006. He was sacked more than he's been since even before that. People blamed the receivers, blamed injuries, blamed the o-line, blamed everything but the most obvious answer: age.

Brady is getting older. He's getting worse. That doesn't mean he's no longer good, or that he wasn't once incredible. All that means is that Brady is a human being that is susceptible to aging. Brady looks even worse this year. Routinely missing throws that Brady from 2010-2012 would have hit in his sleep. There always seemed to be something mystical about the 2010-2012 Patriots, who scored 500+ points in three straight seasons with a short passing game and nothing much outside. Well, that mysticism is over, and it has at least somewhat to do with Brady. His arm isn't worse, but it is more erratic. He's flinging throws that are more inaccurate than ever. This is not a good passing game currently, and that is problem #1.

The NFL is reaching comical levels of QB efficiency right now. The entire league as a whole has a passer rating of 89.6, completing 64.2% of their passes, with a Y/A of 7.2. Brady has a passer rating of 79.1, completing 59.1% of his passes, with a Y/A of 5.8. Sure, he doesn't have a ton of weapons (though that didn't stop him in 2010), but he's basically a bottom-5 QB this year statistically. Certainly, his weapons aren't worse than Geno Smith's, or Jake Locker's, or Austin Davis'. Brady is performing in line with those guys.

So, what has changed? Outside of age, it is the o-line; and this is where Belichick comes in. The Patriots o-line right now is playing terribly. This is the first time that Tom Brady has ever had a less than average o-line, and it shows how dependent the Patriots passing game has been on good o-line play. Right now they're playing a collection of rotating average players in the interior, and two tackles that are playing so below their pedigree it doesn't make sense. The one guy that is missing is Dante Scarnecchia, the Patriots long-time, brilliant o-line coach that retired after last season. With him gone, the line has become a disaster, and Belichick is not helping things.

Belichick has made strange trades of veterans before, and they've all worked pretty well. He's traded Richard Seymour, Randy Moss; cut Lawyer Milloy, and let Asante Samuel walk. All those things worked in the sense that the Patriots continued being good (though they definitely missed Seymour and Samuel), but trading Mankins seemed different. Mankins was still good, and the o-line was already slipping. They traded their one big veteran on that line with no real replacement. Belichick had no real plan, and now he's stuck rotating guys in and out all the time.

I don't know if Belichick just expected someone to take over, or to do what he has done so many times before, but it didn't work this time. It isn't working anywhere, really. He brought in Darrelle Revis, who was supposed to lock down a side of the field like he did in New York (forget that by 2012 he had already regressed below his absolute prime), and Revis has been merely above average to good. The d-line is still quite bad, as Wilfork hasn't really come back from his achilles tear last year 100%. The linebackers look lost, as Jamie Collins looks more like what he was in 2013 apart from his one good game in the Divisional Round against the Colts. The defense was exposed when they didn't have to play Matt Cassel and the Vikings right after the Peterson news broke or the Oakland Raiders. And Belichick is messing with it too, benching Chandler Jones and Alfonzo Dennard, and then Logan Ryan. One can say he's trying to find the right formula, I take it more of a crisis of confidence.

I've never seen a team use benching as a motivational tool quite like the 2014 Patriots. Belichick is never happy, seemingly, with the players on teh field, pulling them and reinserting constantly. It isn't helping make his team any better, that is for sure, but maybe he finds the right formula. It just doesn't seem like that is going to happen. The Patriots might find themselves. After their game against Cincinnati, they get the comfy confines of the AFC East again for two games in six days, but following that they have the following murderer's row of a schedule:

vs. Chicago
vs. Denver
BYE
@ Indianapolis
vs. Detroit
@ Green Bay
@ San Diego

That stretch will define the 2014 Patriots. The team that has taken the field so far through four weeks will go 2-4 at best in that stretch, if not 1-5. The team that has taken the field so far won't go on the road and beat the Colts, Packers or Chargers, and for sure won't beat Denver at home. The team that has taken the field and put up fewer yards per play than any offense in the NFL would be lucky to score 20 against the Lions at home.

Maybe we are all overreacting to one terrible game. Maybe Belichick will pull yet another rabbit out of his at, and a 12-4 record to boot out of his ass. Maybe it happens... but maybe it doesn't. Maybe this is the beginning of the end. Nothing lasts forever in the NFL, and the end comes quickly. Peyton Manning went from a Super Bowl loss, to dragging a team of nothing to a division title in 2010, to moving on from Indianapolis by March, 2012. Brady's path could be somewhat similar. The scariest part of the Patriots start, other than the fact that I could be jinxing them to a 10-game win streak by just writing this, is that they aren't even injured yet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 11 Power Rankings & The Rest

The Pitiful Quatro... and the Worst Two-Game Run Ever Uno

32.) Oakland Raiders  (0-9  =  146-252)
31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-8  =  158-282)
30.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-8  =  167-272)
29.) Tennessee Titans  (2-7  =  144-223)
28.)  Chicago Bears  (3-6  =  194-277)


Well, how do we start this off. The Raiders suck at everything, but are probably in isolation not the worst team in the NFL. The Jaguars are probably the worst team in the NFL. Those have been the two worst teams in the NFL seemingly since 2008 (not true). The Buccaneers have probably been the worst team in the NFL since 2008, when they collapsed following a 9-3 start and have yet to recover in any way. The Titans are starting Zach Mettenberger for no good reason, and Whisenhunt's decision to pass up Detroit to go to Tennessee seems very odd right now. Finally, we get to the Bears, who gave up 50 points again. They were outscored in the 1st halves of their past two games 7-80. That is worse than anything those preceding five teams have done.


The Mediocre and Sad Quatro

27.) Washington Redskins  (3-6  =  197-229)
26.) Carolina Panthers  (3-6-1  =  198-281)
25.) New York Jets  (2-8  =  174-265)
24.) New York Giants  (3-6  =  195-247)


I'm not sure what to make of any of these teams, really. The Redskins are a team that will turn it over at will way too much with a still gimpy RGIII. The Panthers have been blowed the eff out a handful of times right now, and they've left Cam with absolutely nothing to work with. That o-line is absolutely, staggeringly pathetic at everything. The Jets and Giants then make up a sad football situation in New York. Despite the fact that the Jets were a national punchline for two months, they could easily end up with the better record of the two New York teams given their easier schedule down the stretch than the Giants. Still, we are almost certainly looking at the 3rd straight New York-less postseason, this following a five year stretch where the Jets made back-to-back AFC Championship Games, and the Giants won two Super Bowls.


The Sleepers and the Team Somehow Alive for Everything Quatro

23.) Houston Texans  (4-5  =  206-197)
22.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-6  =  219-238)
21.) St. Louis Rams  (3-6  =  163-251)
20.) Minnesota Vikings  (4-5  =  168-199)


I guess some of the teams in the previous group are sleepers too, but the Texans, Rams and Vikings are the real sleepers. The Texans have a defense that can play with most teams, especially if Clowney ever comes back. Also, maybe Mallett turns into something better than Fitzpatrick (not hard). The Rams have long been a sleeper in the Jeff Fisher era. In 2012, their 1-0-1 record against the 49ers nearly cost the 49ers a 1st round bye, and in 2013, their Week 15 win over the Saints DID cost them the 1st round bye. Given that they still have to play the Seahawks and Cardinals again, they can easily spoil something.

Finally, there is teh Falcons. They are not a very good team. Their wins are in OT at home against the Saints (not a great win in retrospect), and a sweep of the hapless Bucs. Still, they're a game back, 3-0 in the division with a head-to-head win against division leading New Orleans. Yes, they have to go to the Superdome later, but they have shown some ability to win there over the years (2010 and a close loss in 2012-13).


The Semi-Contender Septo

I don't think any of these teams to come is a true contender for a Super Bowl. They all have some good qualities and all have some notable flaws.

19.) Buffalo Bills  (5-4  =  191-182)

The  Bills should have won that game. They dominated the line of scrimmage on defense, something that they've done consistently apart from their game against the Patriots, Kyle Orton is playing clean football, but his inaccuracy issues are showing up at the exact wrong times. The Bills aren't too likely to win a playoff spot, given all four losses are in conference, something you have to start worrying about this time of year. They have an outside shot at the division, but I can't see Orton getting better as the weather gets worse.


18.) Cincinnati Bengals  (5-3-1  =  197-211)

Well, that was a disaster for the Bengals, wasn't it? I've never seen a QB play that badly. Dalton's actually been stunningly mediocre all year now. If not for an admittedly good game against Baltimore, this team would be in complete dire straights right now. The Bengals defense has no pass rush, and their secondary can only hold up for so long. What would really help is for their supposedly good o-line to play well for once.


17.) New Orleans Saints  (4-5  =  251-225)

Tough loss for the Saints, who saw their 'can't lose at home' thing disappear. It's really only a 'can't lose at home in primetime' thing, as it has always been. They struggled to put away the Vikings and probably should have lost to Tampa Bay this year at home already. The Saints have two non-primetime home games coming up against above .500 AFC teams. They'll likely win the division anyway, but they better hope they get that Saturday Night 8:00PM game this year in Wild Card Weekend.


16.) San Francisco 49ers  (5-4  =  195-202)

This is the third straight year that the 49ers had to go to New Orleans. They beat them down in 2012, lost a controversial game by three in 2013, and now beat them in 2014. Before we start calling the 49ers back again, we should probably wait to see if they do this to a team they don't have good matchup advantages against. The news of Willis having to go on IR really dampens the impending return of Aldon Smith this week.


15.) Cleveland Browns  (6-3  =  209-172)

I'm not going to get too excited about the Browns, but their defense looked as it was supposed to for the first time all season. The Mingo/Kruger pass rush duo should be better, and it was up to par for the first time. The team will be getting Josh Gordon back soon, which should really lift them, though I doubt someone who missed that much time will be back to 100% right away.


14.) San Diego Chargers  (5-4  =  205-186)

The Chargers three-game losing streak has them hurting bad, especially since they were all AFC losses, two to Wild-Card contenders. Given the recent results of Brady/Roethlisberger/Rodgers, and the continued excellence of Peyton Manning, the Rivers for MVP campaign has really hit a rut about now. The Chargers need him to get better, and quickly. Their defense is getting injured and their o-line has returned to 2012 form. That is not a good recipe in a more crowded than expected AFC.


13.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-4  =  261-239)

That was such a latter-day Tomlin era loss for the Steelers. This is what they Steelers have done. They either dominate the eff out of bad teams, or lose outright; and then they'll either win against good teams, or lose if they're playing in Baltimore or playing the Patriots. Roethlisberger will get back to playing well going forward, but they still have o-line issues. The defense is still average at best, and continuing to rely on James Harrison won't be a good long-term solution.


The "Hey Man, if Things Break Right!" Quatro

12.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-3  =  217-151)

The Chiefs are already 5-2 in the AFC, with a home game against SD, and two against Oakland to come. I don't think people are giving them enough credit right about now. That team was picked by literally everyone to fall off this year from their 11-5 record. Instead, they're right there at 6-3 on pace for a 10-6 or 11-5 record and another playoff berth. Andy Reid's designing of offense and Alex Smith are a really good match, and they utilize every ounce of talent they have there. The defense continues to play strong. Right around now they got injured last year, if that doesn't happen this team will be as good.


11.) Baltimore Ravens  (6-4  =  261-181)

The Ravens don't have a great shot at a wild card given their four AFC losses, and a trip to Miami to come. Still, I think the Ravens are the best team in the AFC North, a team with four teams multiple games above .500. The Ravens have the best point differential, the best defense, and an offense that can be very competent against most teams. The Ravens, to me, will win that division, and be a tough out in teh Wild Card round.


10.) Dallas Cowboys  (6-3  =  261-212)

Hard to give them too much credit in winning a game they had to win and should win under any circumstance. While they've fallen behind the Eagles, I still think they have a great shot at that division if Sanchez falters (or if the Eagles stop getting an unsustainable amount of ST and DEF TDs). The Cowboys defense continues to play well, and my Lord is Dez Bryant on fire right now. If Tony Romo stays healthy, this team has a good chance of winning that division.


9.) Miami Dolphins  (5-4  =  227-171)

The Dolphins have blown two games to NFC North teams despite leading for most of the game. Luckily for the Dolphins, NFC losses won't hurt them in tiebreakers, but with trips to New England and Denver left on the slate, the Dolphins don't have much room for error right now. The Dolphins defense is very, very good. Their offense is schemed well and can sustain drives. The problem is they've dropped some winnable games that will bite them going forward.


The "We Probably will Be The Best Teams in the NFC" Trio

8.) Philadelphia Eagles  (7-2  =  279-198) 

Maybe I'm wrong about the Sanchize.


7.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-3  =  240-191)

The Seahawks run offense won't have it that easy every week, I guarantee you that. That's mostly due to the fact that the Giants decided to watch Packers film from teh 2012 Divisional against the 49ers for ways to not stop the zone-read, and then proceed to repeat all of it. Russell Wilson is still having major troubles passing to anyone at any time. Really, his advanced stats this year are quite terrible. Still, the Champs are still teh Champs and might have a level to jump up to.


6.) Green Bay Packers  (6-3  =  277-205)

The Packers are turning into the Saints. Let's see, this team has been absolutely untouchable at home, winning their last three by a combined 135-41. Rodgers has been ungodly at home, really. I was driving back home when that game was going on. One update it was 7-0, with the Packers driving. The next it was 42-0 at halftime. I didn't have to check, I was just pretty sure that Rodgers had 6 TDs. Their schedule is rather easy down the stretch, and if they can get the #1 seed, just give them the NFC Title right now.


The "Challenger" Uno

5.) Indianapolis Colts  (6-3  =  290-211)

The Colts can do a lot of things if they win this game coming up. I'll talk more about that later.


The "Best Teams in the NFL" Quatro

4.) New England Patriots  (7-2  =  281-198)

The Patriots would be the #1 seed if the playoffs started today. Gronk is as healthy as he's ever been. The defense is playing well with Browner back and Revis rounding into form. They'll get Chandler Jones back at some point. Bill Belichick is the greatest Coach in the history of every sport. Tom Brady is banging Giselle three at a time. Everything's great in Gillette, so much that Robert Kraft decided not to wear a white-collar shirt this Sunday.


3.) Detroit Lions  (7-2  =  182-142)

That offense looked a lot better with Calvin Johnson back. Obviously, they were going to be better with Megatron in, but Stafford just looks more comfortable with his binky back on his side. The defense continues to be amazingly strong. Ndamukong Suh has been dominant this season. Nick Fairley should be back soon to recreate the best pair of DTs in the game. If they can hold on to the division, they'll be mighty strong in the playoffs. The big game could be that Week 17 matchup in Green Bay.


2.) Denver Broncos  (7-2  =  286-202)

Solid win. It looked sketchy for a bit there with the two picks and the red zone field goals, but in the end the Raiders couldn't move the ball at all outside of a string of dumpoffs. Peyton Manning on the other hand can. If they can ever get a consistent running game they'll be unstoppable.


1.) Arizona Cardinals  (8-1  =  223-170)

They'll likely fall from this spot very soon. They might not even win this week. While they've won some games in the past with Stanton, I don't know how that proposition will work against the Seahawks, or Lions, or even Chiefs. The Cards are so damn resilient though. In honor of this incredibly gutty team, I'll give them the #1 spot they've done nothing but earn.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
3.) Indianapolis Colts  =  11-5
4.) Baltimore Ravens  =  10-6
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5
6.) Miami Dolphins  =  10-6


NFC

1.) Detroit Lions  =  12-4
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4
3.) Dallas Cowboys  =  11-5
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  9-7
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
6.) Green Bay Packers  =  11-5


Looking Ahead to Next Week

Byes: Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9); New York Jets (2-8); Dallas Cowboys (7-3); Baltimore Ravens (6-4)

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8)  @  Washington Redskins (3-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Minnesota Vikings (4-5)  @  Chicago Bears (3-6)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)  @  Tennessee Titans (2-7)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "This is When We Can Start Ignoring Games for Real" Sunday and Monday, as we've gotten to the point in the season where some games will just flat out suck. Sure, some games in Weeks 1-4 don't look too appetizing, but no one is really out of it at that point. Right now? Yeah, the Bucs, Redskins, Vikings, Bears and Titans are out of it, and the Steelers are among the most maddening teams in the NFL. The fact that one of them is a MNF game only makes it worse.


11.) Atlanta Falcons (3-6)  @  Carolina Panthers (3-6-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
10.) Oakland Raiders (0-9)  @  San Diego Chargers (5-4)  (4:05 - CBS)

I call it "I thought Division Rivaries were Supposed to be Fun?" Sunday, as we get two division rivalries with not too much on the line. Well, that is not entirely true. The winner of Falcons @ Panthers can probably distort themselves into thinking they are still alive for a spot. In that division they might really be. For the Raiders... well let's just move on and say that the Chargers will likely get back to their winning ways.


9.) Houston Texans (4-5)  @  Cleveland Browns (6-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
8.) San Francisco 49ers (5-4)  @  New York Giants (3-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Denver Broncos (7-2)  @  St. Louis Rams (3-6)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "These Games Wouldn't Look So Bad on Most Sundays" Sunday, as a loaded slate pushes some games a little further back in the consciousness than they really deserve. The Texans have an outside shot at the playoffs, mostly because they've only lost 2 AFC games so far, and still get Jacksonville/Tennessee three more times. The Browns are a win away from their best 10 game start since the first iteration of the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers and Giants renew pleasanteries in New York for the first time in a long time. The Broncos then go play the Spoiler Extraordinaire. All games worth watching, but not as much given the loaded slate.


6.) Cincinnati Bengals (6-3-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
5.) Buffalo Bills (5-4)  @  Miami Dolphins (5-4)  (TNF - NFLN)

I call it "Which Teams are Going to Make  Run" Thursday and Sunday, as we get four teams that are fighting for playoff position. The Saints already made their run, getting to the top of the division by default. They'll try to avoid a two-game home losing streak. The Bengals are just jekyll-and-hyde enough to do something interesting here. The Bills and Dolphins play in teh first official 'Loser Leaves Town' match of the 2014 season. The loser is pretty much done unless they win out, especially if it is Miami. That should actually be a good game, which is a lot more than what it seemed to be coming into the season.


4.) Philadelphia Eagles (7-2)  @  Green Bay Packers (6-3)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "NFC Fan Favorites Play for Supremacy" Sunday, as the two preseason favorites in the NFC to not disappoint so far (unlike SEA and SF), square off in a nice little game. Sanchez gets to take his newfound skills on the road to a place that is quietly one of the toughest to win at in the NFL. The Packers get to put their newfound defensive skill against a fast pace offense. Last time they played one was... two weeks ago when the Saints housed them. The winner will likely become everyone's favorite in the NFC, as the two teams above them square off in teh less watched match.


3.) Seattle Seahawks (6-3)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Can the Chiefs Pull their Home Voodoo again?" Sunday, as the Chiefs host the defending champs. The Chiefs are not a very good rush defense, which could be problematic, but their pass rush will definitely force Wilson and Co. to depend on ~200 yards rushing. Hali and Houston will be in Wilson's face all day long. The Chiefs offense will play a damn good defense, but the one thing that ruined Alex Smith last week, a devastating interior pass rush, will be lessened from its already reduced form with Red Bryant out for the year.


2.) Detroit Lions (7-2)  @  Arizona Cardinals (8-1)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "NFC Me Favorites Play for Supremacy" Sunday, as this game will be between the top two seeds in the NFC if the playoffs started today (Lions have the better conference record to Philadelphia). Of course, FOX is giving 'America's Game of the Week' status to Philadelphia and Green Bay instead, which of course allows me to watch this game on Sunday Ticket! Anyway, can't wait to watch an old school defensive struggle in the pass happiest of seasons yet. That said, I will be quite surprised if the Cards manage to pull this one off without Palmer against that defense.


1.) New England Patriots (7-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (6-3)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Is this the Beginning of Something Special?" Sunday, as the Colts play their biggest regular season game since the Luck era began. Now, they've played in big games at home before. First was the initial game of #Chuckstrong, with the Packers coming to town. Then last year they of course played Denver in Manning's return. But this has real playoff implications. A win here, and given the easy remaining schedule, the Colts have a real shot at the #2 seed. For the Pats, a win here pretty much assures them a bye with wins against the Broncos and Colts. The Patriots have the matchup edge (Gronk will likely go WILD), but the Colts are a special team at home in the Luck era. In 2012, they beat Green Bay (11-5) and Houston (12-4). In 2013, they beat Seattle and Denver (both 13-3, and the two Super Bowl teams) at home. So far in 2014, they've beaten Baltimore and Cincinnati convincingly. This could be the beginning of the Colts run, knocking off the at-the-time #1 seed in the AFC. This is the biggest regular season game in that building since Peyton Manning left.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 10 Power Rankings & the Rest

Power Rankings


The "The 2015 Season is only Ten Months Away" Quintro

32.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-8  =  141-151)
31.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-7  =  150-245)
30.) Oakland Raiders  (0-8  =  129-211)
29.) New York Jets  (1-8  =  154-252)

28.) Tennessee Titans  (2-6  =  137-202)

All of these teams are completely done. Other than some potential Michael Vick rennaissance performances, I can't even see any of them as spoilers. The Titans will probably back into 3 more wins because they basically never go worse than 5-11 no matter the lack of talent. The rest are all competing for that #1 pick and the right to draft Marcus Mariota.


The "Spoiler Alert Activated" Quintro

27.) Washington Redskins  (3-6  =  197-229)
26.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-6  =  192-221)
25.) Houston Texans  (4-5  =  206-197)

24.) Minnesota Vikings  (4-5  =  168-199)
23.) St. Louis Rams  (3-5  =  149-220)

None of these teams will make the playoffs, more so because the middle of both conferences are loaded. I guess the Vikings or Texans have some shot, but you really can't see it. By the way, nothing says more about the current NFL than the Rams sandwiching a terrible loss to the Chiefs with wins over Seattle AND San Francisco. Jeff Fisher's team will somehow go 7-9, again. Also, I'm not a believer of the Vikings, even if Peterson does return in a Week or two.


The "This Isn't How it was Supposed to Go Down" Trio

22.) Chicago Bears  (3-5  =  180-222)
21.) New York Giants  (3-5  =  178-209)
20.) Carolina Panthers  (3-5-1  =  177-236)


The Bears, Giants and Panthers are all two games under .500. They all have paper thin units and injury issues. None of the three really do anything well. The Bears have two good receivers, but a headcase at QB. The Giants have injuries everywhere. The Panthers have a defense that alternates between good and pathetic, and a QB with absolutely no one to throw to. I guess they'll win a few games here or there, but they've been three of the more disappointing teams in the NFL this year.


The "I Guess they could Nab a Wild Card, but Realistically, can they?" Trio

19.) San Francisco 49ers  (4-4  =  168-178)
18.) Buffalo Bills  (5-3  =  178-165)
17.) Cleveland Browns  (5-3  =  185-169)

The 49ers offense looks terrible. Something is wrong with that team. Kaepernick hasn't gotten any better, and that o-line has only gotten worse. They should be better. The defense has done valiant work keeping them in games. For the Bills, yes, they are 5-3, but that includes some absolutely ridiculous wins. Their schedule gets a lot tougher down the stretch. The Browns are 5-3, but when this team can easily perform like they did when they lost to the Jags at any moment, it is hard to really believe in them.


The "One Team Going One Way, Three Teams Going the Absolute Other Way" Quatro

16.) New Orleans Saints  (4-4  =  227-198)
15.) San Diego Chargers  (5-4  =  205-186)
14.) Dallas Cowboys  (6-3  =  230-195)

13.) Philadelphia Eagles  (6-2  =  234-177)

Two weeks ago, the Saints were in free-fall at 2-4, while the Chargers were 5-2 heading to Denver, and the Cowboys were the toast of the NFL at 6-1. Two weeks later, the Saints look ready to explode, and the Chargers and Cowboys are in dire times. The Chargers definitely won't play that bad again, but there are signs that defenses are playing them better and getting more and more pressure on Rivers. The Cowboys, assuming Romo comes back and stays healthy, will be fine. The real Wild Card is the Saints. If they win all but one game at home (reasonable), they should easily win the NFC South, and host a terrified team that is holistically better than them in the Wild Card Round. For the Eagles, I personally don't think Sanchez will be a viable backup against a much tougher schedule going forward. They need him to play better than he did against Houston to win many games.


The "Who Knows with the AFC North" Trio

12.) Cincinnati Bengals  (5-2-1  =  194-187)
11.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-4  =  240-174)
10.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-3  =  249-219)


I don't really think the Browns are a viable division title contender, but all three of these teams are. The head-to-head will decide all of them, and by that I mean the two games remaining between Cincy and Pittsburgh. The Ravens have the best point differential, but the worst record. The Bengals the opposite. Somehow, Pittsburgh might sneak that division out despite having a home loss to Tampa Bay on their resume.


The "5-3 after Eight Games, Not Leading the Division... That Defines Wild Card' Quatro

9.) Seattle Seahawks  (5-3  =  202-174)
8.) Kansas City Chiefs  (5-3  =  200-138)

7.) Miami Dolphins  (5-3  =  211-151)
6.) Green Bay Packers  (5-3  =  222-191)

The Seahawks, Packers, and to some extent, Dolphins have shots at their division, but more likely they will all be Wild Card teams if they make the playoffs. They will be terrifying ones as well. The Chiefs surprisingly have the best point differential of this bunch. The Dolphins are one loose fumble away from 6-2 and being right there for the division (conversely, the Packers are one loose fumble away from 5-4). It will be interesting to monitor if any of these teams can go on a 7-1 type run to end the season.


The "Can the Colts Finish the Tic-Tac-Toe" Trio

5.) Indianapolis Colts  (6-3  =  290-211)
4.) New England Patriots  (7-2  =  281-198)
3.) Denver Broncos  (6-2  =  245-185)


Despite the time-lines not really fitting, there used to be a theory of the rock-paper-scissors nature of these teams a decade ago. It would be Denver playing New England tough, but sucking against Indy, while the Colts would struggle with the Patriots. Now the rock-paper-scissors might be the exact opposite. The Colts get their chance at the rock-paper-scissors in two weeks when they host the Patriots, easily the biggest regular season game of the Luck/Pagano era. For the Broncos, they'll have to hope that like each of the past two years, they can hold serve while the Pats drop a game here or there to get the #1 seed again and avoid going back to Foxboro.


The "These Could be the Two Bye Teams in the NFC?" Duo

2.) Detroit Lions  (6-2  =  162-126)
1.) Arizona Cardinals  (7-1  =  192-156)

Honestly, these could be the two bye teams in the NFC? The Lions and Cardinals even play each other in two weeks (what a Sunday that will be, with this as the appetizer for the entree of Colts/Pats on SNF). They have the best two defenses in the NFC (Lions best in the NFL). The Lions should have Megatron back which should hopefully fix their offense. Two very good teams, that are excellently coached on defense. Coming into the season it seemed obvious that the five best teams in the NFC were, in some order, SEA, SF, NO, GB, PHI. Well, halfway through, it is unquestionably the Lions and Cardinals.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3
2.) Indianapolis Colts  =  12-4
3.) New England Patriots  =  12-4

4.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  10-5-1
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5
6.) Baltimore Ravens  =  10-6


NFC

1.) Detroit Lions  =  12-4
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4
3.) Dallas Cowboys  =  10-6
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  10-6
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
6.) Green Bay Packers  =  10-6



Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Indianapolis Colts (6-3); Minnesota Vikings (4-5); New England Patriots (7-2); San Diego Chargers (5-4); Houston Texans (4-5); Washington Redskins (3-6)

The quality of these six teams really runs the gamut here. The Patriots would be many people's pick for best team in the NFL right now. The Colts are right up there. No team needs a bye more than the Chargers right now.


13.) Denver Broncos (6-2)  @  Oakland Raiders (0-8)  (4:05 - CBS)
12.) Atlanta Falcons (2-6)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7)  (1:00 - FOX)
11.) Dallas Cowboys (6-3)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)  (1:00 - FOX)
10.) Tennessee Titans (2-6)  @  Baltimore Ravens (5-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) New York Giants (3-5)  @  Seattle Seahawks (5-3)  (4:25 - FOX)

8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)  @  New York Jets (1-8)  (1:00 - CBS)
7.) Chicago Bears (3-5)  @  Green Bay Packers (5-3)  (SNF - NBC)
6.) St. Louis Rams (3-5)  @  Arizona Cardinals (7-1)  (4:25 - FOX)
5.)  Carolina Panthers (3-5-1)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (6-2)  (MNF - ESPN)
4.) Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
3.) Cleveland Browns (5-3)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1)  (TNF - NFLN)
2.) Miami Dolphins (5-3)  @  Detroit Lions (6-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
1.) San Francisco 49ers (4-4)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-4)  (1:00 - FOX)

Monday, November 3, 2014

They Might be Giants






San Francisco won the World Series. Again. It is kind of amazing they have now won three World Series in the past Five years. They've done this in a parity-stricken baseball landscape. In the past five seasons, 21 different teams have made the playoffs. 9 different teams have made the Championship Series. In that era, the Giants have won the World Series three times. They did this despite having their ace on the 2010 team being relegated to never pitching in 2014. They did this despite their two best non-Posey hitters being retired years ago in 2014 (Burrell, Huff). The did this with three different closers, pitchers and position players who came and went, and little really making their 2014 team resemble their 2010 team. Still, they did it. They conquered baseball three times.

The Giants were never pressured in 2010 and 2012 in the World Series. They were never really tested anywhere in 2010, beating the Braves in 4 games, Phillies in 6 (a great series, in retrospect), and then the Rangers in 5. In 2012 they took a more circuitous route, having to come back from 0-2 down to the Reds, and 1-3 down to the Cardinals, but they proceeded to reel off their next 7 games, trailing for just two innings in that time. Then there was this year, when they rolled past the Nationals and Cardinals, two very good teams, by dropping just one game each. The Royals proved a much sterner test, but in the end the Giants did exactly what they've done time and time again: win.

The last team to go back on the road up 3-2, lose game six and then win the World Series in Game 7 was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. In fact, only two of the last 10 teams to go up 3-2 and head on the road won at all (the last being the 2003 Marlins). Not only did they get blowed out in Game 6, but they came back and won Game 7 in an epic atmosphere in Kansas City. That was one of the toughest environments to win a game, but they did it. They scored three runs on two sac flies and then a jammed single to the opposite field. They won by holding down the Royals for 7.2 innings after Hudson was chased. They did it with two of the pitchers that were there in 2010, the only two who really were still contributing.



Obviously, Madison Bumgarner is the real story. He pitched 5 innings to two hit ball to clinch (and finish) Game 7. This was three days after pitching a complete game shutout, the first in the World Series since Josh Beckett in 2003. Madison Bumgarner started and most people thought he would go 2-3 innings, maybe 4 if he worked well. The Giants had a pretty good bullpen, after all, and Bochy is one to play the matchup game. But Bumgarner never tired. He never wavered. He was just great, with his patented sling-shot delivery arcing right over the plate and over bats.

Madison Bumgarner was a 21-year old rookie in 2010. He started Game 4, with the Giants up 2-1 in the series, and went out and threw 8 inning 3-hit ball. He wasn't dynamic back then. He was something of a lefty nibbler. One of the largest criticisms of Bumgarner back then was a strange drop in velocity during that season, to the point where he was barely throwing 90. Still, he confounded a darn good Rangers lineup. One night later, Tim Lincecum pitched a brilliant 8-innings of his own (no runs, 10 K's), and the Giants won World Series #1.

Lincecum hasn't been anything close to a league average starter since 2011. The other two starters on that 2010 team were Jonathan Sanchez, who hasn't pitched close to good since 2011 also, and Matt Cain, who was injured most of this year. The only real pitching connection to the 2010 Giants (who were a far better pitching team than hitting team back then) was Bumgarner... and four relievers.

The closer in 2010 was Brian Wilson, with his dark black beard and crazy attitude. But the best relievers on that team were Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. Those four relievers, the 'Core Four' as they call themselves (and no one else calls them), have all been on the team since 2010. They've all been dominant most of the time. Out of the 20 seasons they've pitched since then, only three had an ERA+ below 100. As the Giants stating pitching got worse and worse, they turned more to their dominant bullpen, and the mastermind controlling it.

Bruce Bochy got his due in a big way this postseason. Maybe it is the genius way he used his pitchers in 2010 and 2012, or the sudden reality that his record in San Diego was better than people remember given the lack of talent most of the time, or the 'steely' way he 'led' the Giants, but suddenly people were calling Bochy the best manager in baseball. Maybe he is, but what is for sure is that this is one of teh best 'teams' in baseball.



The lineup for the Giants transitioned from one being built around mainly aging veterans in 2010 (Huff and Burrell were the relative 'stars', but the rest of the guys like Sanchez, Uribe, Torres were like that too), to one built mainly around young players and homegrown talent (Sandoval, Panik, Crawford, Belt) in 2014. The one constant was Buster Posey. The all-american kid came up early in 2010. He's been dominant ever since. A terrible injury cost him half of 2011 (the Giants were in 2nd place when the injury happened). He came back in 2012 and had an amazing season, easily winning the MVP of the NL with a .336/.408/.549 slash line, with 24 HRs and 103 RBIs. Buster Posey has been amazing since being called up. He has a career OPS+ of 142, while playing great defense behind the plate. There are better players in baseball, but maybe none as representative of what baseball stars should be.

The Giants will probably never be remembered as a dynasty. Maybe they shouldn't either. They missed the playoffs in teh two seasons where they didin't win the World Series (then again, so did the Patriots from 2001-2004). They were never the best team in the regular season by record (they were close in 2012). They were never overly dominant. They had one amazing season from one of their players in their World Series seasons (as mentioned, Posey in 2012), but never had a pitcher in this time-frame finish Top-5 Cy Young (Bumgarner likely will this year). What they have been, though, is amazing at baseball in October. No, that's not a very predictable skill, but retroactively we can say they rule at it.

The Giants played 48 postseason games over the past five seasons. They are 34-14 in those games. That is truly amazing. The Giants have been trailing in individual series, trailed at big moments, but they've rolled some very good teams as well. The Giants may never win another playoff series, they may never win another World Series in teh Posey era. Hell, they could easily miss the playoffs next season (the last two World Series winners have - yes, one of them is the 2013 Giants). Still, what they've done should be celebrated. They figured the playoffs out. Getting to them was the challenge, succeeding when there was done in a rote brilliance that may rarely be matched again.


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.