Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Fall Classic is Awaiting

In a year where baseball has in some ways seem more marginalized than ever, in a year when myriad cracks were made at baseball's expense for having games on Fox Sports 1, in that particular year, baseball decided to give us a treat. These playoffs have been special from the start. They've been special despite having any series reach an elimination game. It was special because 13 of 25 games have been decided by one run. Six have gone to extra innings. We've seen managerial mistakes as well as managerial successes. We've seen the breakout of young stars, the fall of established stars. We've seen dramatic games, huge comebacks, fielding errors, fielding brilliance. We've seen everything, and it will peak with one of the most interesting, exciting and alluring Fall Classics we've had in a while. Baseball, it's special sometimes.

There are many similarities between the Royals and Giants. First, both have deep lineups that combine a lot of above average regulars. The Giants have one true star hitter in Posey, and the Royals have a young guy who has shown flashes of being a star and who certainly has in these playoffs (Hosmer). They both have solid rotations that are lead by one great pitcher (Bumgarner and Shields - though Bumgarner is generally better) and three other pitchers that can be good, can be mediocre, or can be very middling. They both have great fanbases. The Giants seem to be just as excited to win this title as they were to win the title in 2010 and 2012. The Royals famously hadn't even made the playoffs since 1985 until this year. These are special times for both teams.

There are major differences though. First, in roster construction, both teams have taken a very different approach. Though both teams will tell you they try to home-grow talent (and to some extent every MLB team does), the Royals do it in earnest. Back in 2010, Sports Illustrated wrote a story calling the Royals the 2014 World Champions. It was tongue-in-cheek at the time, but that optimism was framed around a special crop of prospects. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were already established, but Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez were to come. Danny Duffy (who had a great year but was left off the playoff roster) was in the system. The Royals were loaded. It just took a while.

The other side of the spectrum is the Giants. It is not to say that they haven't developed players. Posey came through the system, as did Bumgarner and Sandoval. In past years, the Giants pitching was led by Lincecum and Cain, two system guys. But what is striking about the Giants is how few guys came through the system and how much the roster changes. Just looking at the differences between the 2010 and 2012 rosters was crazy when they won two years ago. Looking at their roster two years later, it is even more ridiculous. Only one man will start a game for all three versions of the Giants, and that is Madison Bumgarner. From 2010, Matt Cain is hurt, Tim Lincecum is relegated to nothing duty, and Jonathan Sanchez was gone years ago. From 2012, Matt Cain is still hurt, Ryan Vogelsong is back, but maybe shouldn't be, and Barry Zito has been replaced by another aging member of the old A's Big-3 in Tim Hudson.

The roster only has two players that were on all three teams: Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Only three more of their normal starting-9 are holdovers from 2012, in Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco. Brandon Belt was on the 2012 roster and his inclusion to starter now is no surprise, and Angel Pagan would have been there this time if he didn't get hurt; but the Joe Panik/Travis Ishikawa guys are just random players on this team. They won't be here when the reach the World Series again in 2016 like everyone knows they will.

The 2010 Giants seem like from another era. Tim Lincecum was their ace. Brian Wilson was their star closer. They employed over-the-hill batters like Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Juan Uribe, Cody Ross, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell. That wasn't in 2005. That was 4 years ago. 2012 replaced those guys with Pagan, Scutaro and Pence. The Giants are right back on schedule, winning with a balanced offense, good pitching, and a great, great manager.

Whoever wins the 2014 World Series is set up well fro the future. Two of the best three hitters for the Royals these playoffs are Hosmer and Moustakas, two young players that have relatively underwhelmed to this point but have been on fire since. If they carry these performances forward, or even get better, and the Royals get contributions for full-season from Danny Duffy and whoever else is in that farm system, they can be good for a while.

The Giants have been good for a while, and while it would certainly nice for them to be good in an odd year for once, they are still set up well around a solid core of Posey, Sandoval, Belt as their top three hitters (including Pence for a year or two more) and solid pitching, and with a manager like Bochy who plays his bullpen like Yo-Yo Ma, they can turn random relievers into solid pitchers.

The 2014 World Series should be a great matchup between two great teams and two great fanbases. Who cares if they are just wild card teams. There are no great teams anymore. The Nationals and Angels were better than the Giants and Royals, but neither were 100-win juggernauts. Both had holes (especially the Angels pitching) and both lost. You can easily make the argument that the Royals adn Giants were better than their respective CS counterparts (especially San Francisco, which was quite easily arguably better than St. Louis). You can make the argument that in today's more flat MLB, where young team-controlled players and turning bargain basement shopping into fancy wear wins, these are the two best representatives.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 7 Power Rankings & The Rest

32.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (0-6  =  81-185)

The Bad News: 
This team is in perpetual rebuilding, and can't catch a break even when they catch a break and recover an onside kick.

The Good News: Blake Bortles continues to not get injured, which is probably the best thing that can possibly happen for the rest of the season for the Jaguars.


31.) Oakland Raiders  (0-5  =  79-134)

The Bad News: The Raiders still have to play San Diego one more time, the Broncos twice, and the entire NFC West, and that makes up seven of their last 11 games.

The Good News: The Raiders may have found a QB in Derek Carr, who probably wasn't as good as his 4TD-0INT performance against the Chargers, but looks calm and has a good arm when he gets time; which isn't often.


30.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-5  =  120-204)

The Bad News: 
For the 2nd time this season, the Buccaneers fell behind in a game 35-0. They just lost 48-17, and that was by a good 11 points only their second worst performance of the seasons.

The Good News:
 The Buccaneers at least have their first overall pick, and the 2004 Bears went just 4-12 and lost a ton of games by a whole lot of points as well and were fine long term.


29.) Washington Redskins  (1-5  =  132-166)

The Bad News:
 They are seriously discussing benching Kirk Cousins in favor of Colt McCoy, who hasn't played meaningful minutes since 2011 for the Browns. Kirk Cousins has so quickly turned from the guy who might unseat RGIII to a total turnover machine.

The Good News: 
For the first time since roughly 2008, the Redskins will have their 1st round pick when they pick in the draft next Spring... also, RGIII might be closer to coming back than people initially expected at this time.


28.) Tennessee Titans  (2-4  =  104-153)

The Bad News: The Titans may never really be able to fully evaluate Jake Locker heading into his free agency next year and probably have to make a decision that could drastically effect their franchise without the full set of data.

The Good News: They are still in the AFC South, so chances are they won't finish last in the division, extending that 'not last in the AFC South' streak to a full 10 seasons (2005-present).


27.)  New York Jets  (1-5  =  96-158)

The Bad News: 
They have to go play a resurgent New England team and try to win in Foxboro in teh regular season for the first time since 2008 to avoid a 1-6 start. And they will have to do that despite continuing to play either Geno Smith or Michael Vick.

The Good News: The Jets have a habit of playing New England close once a year in the Rex era. They've won one of the games in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and lost close games in 2011 and 2012.


26.) Minnesota Vikings  (2-4  =  104-143) 

The Bad News Teddy Bridgetwater might get David Carr-ed behind an o-line that is so pathetic. What has happened to Matt Kalil? What has happened to everyone in that 2012 Draft Top-10 outside of Luck and Kuehcly?

The Good News: The Vikings still have a good enough defense to never really get blown out, and maybe their fans will start enjoying these outdoor games once December comes.


25.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (3-3  =  124-139)

The Bad News: The Steelers are looking like they'll have their first losing season since 2003 (a shock 6-10 season), and they've now lost both their AFC North games by 20+. Roethlisberger was 18-1 in his career against the Browns, and now lost by 21, with the roster just sagging around him.

The Good News: This season could finally make the Steelers examine their roster construction and, hard to say this, but coaching as well. Tomlin looked great when LeBeau's defense was working. Neither is happening right now.


24.) New York Giants  (3-3  =  133-138)

The Bad News: The Giants just lost by 27 on Sunday Night Football, getting shutout for the first time in the Eli Manning era (apart from, you know, a playoff game... brilliant playoff QB my ass). To make matters worse, they lost Victor Cruz for the season right after he was just starting to play better.

The Good News: The Giants are still alive in teh division, I guess; as does anyone really trust either the Eagles and Cowboys to keep up the good starts that they've had. They can start that process next week by beating the Cowboys in Jerry-World.


23.) St. Louis Rams  (1-4  =  101-150)

The Bad News: They have some ridiculous string of terrible play. You have a string where they were outscored 34-3 against Minnesota in Wk.1, outscored 27-3 against Dallas, outscored 34-7 against Philadelphia, and then outscored 31-3 against San Francisco. That’s four different awful periods of play.

The Good News: The Rams have a period where they outscored Dallas 21-0, outscored Philadelphia 20-0, and outscored San Francisco 14-0. Those three teams are a combined 14-4. The Rams have nice periods of good play.


22.) Houston Texans  (3-3  =  132-120)

The Bad News: The Texans bloom has gone after losing the past two games. A week ago, it was the rush defense. This past week it was the pass defense that allowed TY Hilton to go absolutely nuts all game long. The Texans have probably peaked already.

The Good News: They employ JJ Watt. Other than having a great QB, there is no better news than that. I don't understand how anyone can be that good. The Colts actually did reasonably well on him on 85% of plays. In the remaining 15%, he nearly won the game for Houston.


21.) New Orleans Saints  (2-3  =  132-141)

The Bad News: They are lacking offensive explosion, the running game is tiring, and Drew Brees has started his 'Fuck It, I'll just lob the ball up while being sacked' plans rather early this year. Oh yeah, and Jimmy Graham is out next.

The Good News: No one is running away in the NFC South. The Panthers have a game-and-a-half lead, but they've looked very up and down. I can definitely see the Saints sneaking out a 10-6 season, winning their home Wild Card game by roughly 60 points, and then losing in Arizona,


20.) Buffalo Bills  (3-3  =  118-126)

The Bad News: The Bills had a major chance to stake claim in the AFC East, to get a one game lead over the Pats and send New England to 0-2 in the division, and then went out and did nothing well. Losing fumbles, throwing picks, not being able to cover the easiest of players. Just a terrible effort.

The Good News: The Bills are probably not out of it, and the guys in the AFC North will probably start beating each other up more soon. That #6 seed is still possible (as is the division, as I don't think the Patriots are going 12-4 or better)


19.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-4  =  164-170)

The Bad News: The one thing we counted on Atlanta for was to win home games in that Dome, especially against seemingly average teams. Well, throw that away. What a pathetic performance from Atlanta, especially offensively. How can an offense that talented do that little against the Bears defense.

The Good News: The Falcons are in probably the worst division in the NFL. Actually, I'll put it in another way. They're in the most winnable division, and this is the division most likely to have a sub-10-win leader.


18.) Miami Dolphins  (2-3  =  120-124)

The Bad News: The Dolphins could have been half-game behind the Patriots (with a head-to-head win) but blew that game so badly. First, they should have recovered that field goal. Secondly, why did they not throw it on that last 3rd and 6. An incomplete there only gives the Packers an extra 30 seconds.

The Good News: Ryan Tannehill is looking better and the Packers are a good a team. They performed well in a loss. Hard loss and a game that they need, but they stayed competitive in a game that I wasn't expecting.


17.) Cleveland Browns  (3-2  =  134-115)

The Bad News: They're in the most competitive division in the AFC, and their main two rivals (Bengals and Ravens) still have to host the Browns (they do get Cincinnati one time in Cleveland).

The Good News: 
Talk about a statement. There is real hope in Browns land right now, and this is without Josh Gordon who should be coming back in a few weeks. It's odd that they've been winning basically with offense, but that could get corrected too.


16.) Kansas City Chiefs  (2-3  =  119-101)

The Good News: The Chiefs are still somewhat like the team that put down the Patriots two weeks ago. That still happened. The Chiefs still have two good pass rushers and a bevy of talent on defense and they combine that with a good offense that is schemed brilliantly.

The Bad News: The Chiefs are in the AFC’s most top-heavy division and still have to play three more NFC West teams (including the one actually in first place). Their schedule is rough and that loss to the Titans might be what keeps them out of the playoffs.


15.) Chicago Bears  (3-3  =  143-144)

The Good News: The Bears defense has a level it can reach where they are a reasonable facsimile of the Bears defense from 2007-08, and those defense were good enough to win 10 games when paired with an offense with a good QB and two very good receivers.

The Bad News: The Bears defense has a level it can reach where they are a reasonable facsimile of the Bears defense from 2013, and that defense was bad enough to win just 8 games despite having the 2nd highest scoring offense in the NFL.


14.) Carolina Panthers  (3-2-1  =  141-157)

The Good News: Cam Newton has taken a leap. He still takes too many sacks, but his arm is great, he’s playing smarter and safer, and he’s playing healthy for the first time, as indicated by 100+ yards rushing. His connection to Kelvin Benjamin could turn great in the upcoming 5 years.

The Bad News: There has to be concern about that defense. Now, the Bengals did get some short fields, and you take away the 89 yard run by Bernard and the rushing numbers allowed are OK, but the defense just doesn’t have the pass rush to cover that secondary.


13.) San Francisco 49ers  (4-2  =  141-123)

The Good News: When they are on, they are still one of the most physically imposing teams in the NFL, That defense will squeeze the life out of you, and the o-line will protect Kaep, and Kaep himself will whip passes around with ridiculous ease.

The Bad News: The 49ers aren’t always at that level, and their schedule is still getting harder (Broncos, Chargers, Seahawks x2 still to come). That is a tough division (hilariously, they are ahead of the Seahawks right now), and it looks like Bowman may not come back until it is too long out of the race.


12.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-1-1  =  134-113)

The Good News: They are still in first place, and Andy Dalton continues to have a very good season, whether or whether not AJ Green is on the field. The run game still has a level of explosiveness with Gio Bernard.

The Bad News: Their pass rush has absolutely disappeared in 2014. I wouldn’t have thought losing Michael Johnson, who was overrated as a pass rusher, would have done all this. The bigger issue is Geno Atkins not recovering from his ACL to near 100% yet.


11.) New England Patriots  (4-2  =  160-129)

The Good News: The Patriots are back where they want to be, 1st place in the AFC East. It didn’t take long, really. The Patriots did what they’ve done all but two years in Tom Brady’s career – beat the Bills in Buffalo. And this time they didn’t luck into the win like they did in 2013.

The Bad News: Their defense is still playing below its talent level, and they won’t have guys wide, wide open each week. Plus, with Mayo and Ridley going down, this might be the beginning of a string of injuries; something that happens to the Pats more than other teams, and something that surprisingly hadn’t at all in their 2-2 start.


10.) Green Bay Packers  (4-2  =  161-130)

The Good News: Aaron Rodgers is a freak. He takes too many sacks and has become overly conservative in his throws to avoid interceptions… but my Lord is it working, as shown by his total of one pick through six games. The defense is playing better than it has since 2010, giving that team a chance each week.

The Bad News: They still are not in 1st place, and if the Lions had a kicker, they wouldn’t be all too close. They aren’t pulling away from teams aside from that ridiculous Chicago game, which is a problem long term.


9.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-1  =  183-132)

The Good News: The Eagles, for once, played a great 60 minutes and won a game convincingly. There were no blocked punt TDs, or defensive TDs, or anything other than solid defense, good running, and Foles finally getting time. Their offense is well below what it was in 2013, but the defense is coming around.

The Bad News: There is a legitimate chance they are the 2nd best team in their division, even at 5-1, and they’ve played a pretty soft schedule so far. They still have to play the two best teams in the NFC West, and the Cowboys twice – both nicely tucked away at the end of the season.


8.) Indianapolis Colts  (4-2  =  189-136)

The Good News: The Colts looked like the best team in the NFL for 15 minutes. Combine that with their last three weeks, wins all at home, and they looked like one of the best teams in the NFL. Sure, the Texans nearly came back, but the Colts defense continued to do the one thing it looked like they would never do this year: get pressure.

The Bad News: Pep Hamilton is still tied to his disparate view of formations (it’s either 3TE or 5-wide!) and the o-line is still not great. Also, they probably can’t get away with blitzing all the time against better offenses than Houston (or Baltimore).


7.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-2  =  164-97)

The Good News: The Ravens had an even better 15 minutes than the Colts did. I’m still not sure how you can go up 35-0 just 18 minutes into a football game? No one ever had five TDs that early in a game than Joe Flacco. I’m actually quite disappointed Flacco didn’t have 7 TDs, which would have put him in the company of Peyton Manning (and Nick Foles).

The Bad News: There really isn’t much bad news. After a weird season in 2013, the Ravens are back to being a good, but rarely great, team. They are good enough to blow the eff out of teams, but also not good enough to avoid looking lost and complacent like they did against Indianapolis.


6.) Seattle Seahawks  (3-2  =  133-113)

The Good News: They still have a great home-field advantage, and few teams are worse matchups on offense for Seattle than Dallas was. Also, if they defense a 3rd and 20 (probably a 95% certainty for Seattle) they likely beat Dallas.

The Bad News: Outside of performances very early in Russell Wilson’s career, that was the worst performance by the Seahawks in a game. Sure, they didn’t lose by much, but the scored 17 of their 23 points off of a blocked punt, a bad snap by Dallas, and a muff that they drove 20 yards for a TD. They were outgained 2-1. That was just pitiful.


5.) Detroit Lions  (4-2  =  116-82)

The Good News: Their defense is absolutely dominant. Ndamukong Suh hasn’t looked this good since he was a rookie. The preseason benching of Nick Fairley seemed to have kicked him in the ass. The rotation at DE has worked really well so far. Darius Slay has improved tremendously in 2014. Just by points allowed, they are playing better than Seattle did a year ago.

The Bad News: Matthew Stafford is lost without Calvin. Now, most QBs would be worse without the best receiver, when healthy, in the NFL, but Matthew seems totally impotent. The run game has also taken a massive hit without Reggie. Plus… can they find a fucking kicker!


4.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-1  =  165-126)

The Good News: That was probably the most impressive performance by any team all year. They went into Seattle and physically abused the team that prides itself on physicality. They were looking for a signature performance in their 4-1 start, and they got it. Romo looks great. The run game looks great. Bryant looks great. And the defense looks above average. Add that up and this is a very good team.

The Bad News: I really have only two complaints. First, they have to reduce the workload on DeMarco Murray. He is not going to survive his current pace for 420 carries. Second, this is the Cowboys in the Romo era. Weird stuff happens.


3.) San Diego Chargers  (5-1  =  164-91)

The Good News: The Chargers showed some mental toughness winning a close game after four relative blowouts. They had issues on defense, but Rivers continues to play at a level of efficiency rarely seen. The ‘other’ receivers are playing really well, and they just found a Darren Sproles replacement for their Darren Sproles replacement (Woodhead) in Olver.

The Bad News: That defense thing I mentioned. For the first time, we saw the Chargers defense from 2013. Now, maybe that was a one week thing, but against a bad offense they looked awful. They haven’t really played anyone good recently, which changes quickly going forward.


2.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-1  =  116-106)

The Good News: Yes, they’ve lost a ton of players on defense, but their best player will come back at some point (Campbell), and Palmer is back. That offense looks so much better with him at the helm than it did with Stanton (and definitely Thomas).

The Bad News: They haven’t faced a great offense since they were at their healthiest (San Diego – a really impressive defensive performance in retrospect). Actually, they did. They played Denver, and their defense was lost. If they can avoid a terrible matchup, the defense continues to be fine, despite the personnel losses.


1.) Denver Broncos  (4-1  =  147-104)

The Good News: The Broncos defense might be the 2nd best in the NFL. The common complaint will be that they haven’t played anyone, but that isn’t totally true. In retrospect, their performance against both Indianapolis and Kansas City seem better, and they were great against both Arizona and New York. That defense will start getting tested more, but they look like the unit from 2012, not 2013.

The Bad News: The o-line isn’t right. Chris Clark isn’t great inside, and I don’t think Clady is fully healthy yet. Worse, Louis Vasquez isn’t playing like the guy from 2013 either. There’s really little else to criticize right now, unless you want to criticize them coming somewhat close to getting tied by New York.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) Denver Broncos  (14-2)
2.) Indianapolis Colts  (12-4)
3.) Baltimore Ravens  (11-5)
4.) New England Patriots  (11-5)
5.) San Diego Chargers  (12-4)
6.) Cincinnati Bengals  (10-5-1)


NFC

1.) Detroit Lions  (12-4)
2.) Arizona Cardinals (12-4)
3.) Dallas Cowboys  (12-4)

4.) Carolina Panthers  (9-6-1)
5.) Philadelphia Eagles  (11-5)
6.) Seattle Seahawks  (11-5)


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Philadelphia Eagles (5-1); Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)

Losing the Eagles for a week is sad, but losing the Bucs, who would have probably lost by about 40 once again, is more than OK. By the way, after having six teams on the Bye in Week 4, what is with the two-team byes the last three weeks.


15.) Arizona Cardinals (4-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (0-5)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "The Least Exciting Return for a Starting QB Ever" Sunday, as Carson Palmer returns to his old stomping grounds that he inhabited for 1.5 seasons. The Cardinals defense also goes to play an offense that looked pretty darn good last week. Still, can't imagine the Raiders put up much of a fight in this one.


14.) Tennessee Titans (2-4)  @  Washington Redskins (1-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Minnesota Vikings (2-4)  @  Buffalo Bills (3-3)  (1:00 - FOX)
12.) Cleveland Browns (3-2)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Tis All Bad" Sunday, as we get three games that put together some pretty boring teams. The Bills have some fiestiness in them, and the Browns are exciting, but the sad state of the teams they are playing make those games seem even worse. Also, let's not freak out, but the Browns could be 4-2 after this week.


11.) Houston Texans (3-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "How Much did ESPN Pay for the MNF Package Again?" Monday, as really? This is the best ESPN could get for an October game that will likely go up against no baseball? Anyway, because it is Pittsburgh and because it is MNF, people will watch, but this game is a  not all that great.


10.) Atlanta Falcons (2-4)  @  Baltimore Ravens (4-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) New York Jets (1-5)  @  New England Patriots (4-2)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "A Middling Reminder of what TNF was and a Sad Reminder of what it has Become" Sunday and Thursday. The Jets and Patriots play on TNF. The last four times the Jets have played New England in a night game they've lost. Last time (a TNF game in New England last year) was close, but the three before that were 49-17, 37-16 and 45-3. The other game was once a TNF game four years ago. It's my go-to anytime someone says all TNF games suck. That game matched a 9-2 Falcons team and a 9-2 Ravens team, with the Falcons winning in Atlanta 26-21. We can only hope one of these two games is as good.


8.) Seattle Seahawks (3-2)  @  St. Louis Rams (1-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) New York Giants (3-3)  @  Dallas Cowboys (5-1)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Sometime division games are close, right?" Sunday, as I have a sneaky feeling one of these two games will be good. If there is any game for the historically sack-needy Rams to break out, it would be that one. If there is any game for the Cowboys to lose in this great start, it is this game, as Romo is 1-4 lifetime in the Jerry Dome against the Giants.


6.) Miami Dolphins (2-3)  @  Chicago Bears (3-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
5.) New Orleans Saints (2-3)  @  Detroit Lions (4-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Does Needing It beat Wanting It?" Sunday, as both road teams are in dire straights. The Saints barely avoided going 1-4 and haven't looked good really at any point this year. The Dolphins should have beaten Green Bay but didn't and now are behind in the division. The Home Teams here are riding high. The Bears had a complete performance, and the Lions were dominant on defense all year long. Should be a fun game.


4.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-3)  @  San Diego Chargers (5-1)  (4:05 - CBS)
3.) San Francisco 49ers (4-2)  @  Denver Broncos (4-1)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "The West Comes Alive!" Sunday, as the Chiefs go to San Diego off their bye to try to get back in teh AFC West race (and cool off the hottest team in the sport) during the evening, and the 49ers try to go to Denver and stop Peyton Manning, who's never lost to the 49ers. We've had a lot of terrible primetime games in this season. This could be a rare good one.


2.) Carolina Panthers (3-2-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (4-2)  (1:00 - FOX)


1.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-1-1)  @  Indianapolis Colts (4-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Movement Sunday" as we get two games featuring teams above .500 in their conference. They are all either in teh division lead or tied for it. the Panthers might solve their pass rush problems, or Rodgers will light up that secondary. Julius Peppers plays his old team. Lot's of storylines there. In the other, the winner has the (very early) inside track to the #2 seed (or, I guess, #1). The Colts get a chance to continue their win streak and beat a really good team at home. Good prep for the Colts as after this they really only have two tough games left (vs. NE, @ DAL).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 6 Power Rankings & The Rest

Well, I knew writing that Pats piece on Saturday was going to lead to a Pats blowout....


Power Rankings

32.) Oakland Raiders  (0-4  =  51-103)

They're still not any good after changing coaches and taking a week off. They now get to welcome the hottest QB in the NFL. At least the last time they played a 'top' QB, they shackled him when they played Tommy Boy. There's still not anything to get too excited about other than maybe them responding well to Tony Sparano.


31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (0-5  =  67-169)

That was by far their most competitive game of the year and they didn't score 10 points. Somehow, they were on pace to give up more points than the Broncos scored last year until that game. Now, they're only on pace to give up ~500 points this season. Still terrible, but slightly less so, I guess. One thing they do well, though, is rush the passer. Not sure how, but Gus Bradley's defense can at least get to the QB.


30.) Tennessee Titans  (1-4  =  88-139)
Awful loss. Personal story here; I entered Sunday with the Titans staring me at the face at '+1', road dogs at home. I thought that was a joke line. I got better odds betting them straight up, which I did. Of course, they blow a 28-3 lead (something I feared was coming the second Locker left when they were up 21-3) and lose by, you guessed it, one point. That's why gambling sucks.


29.) New York Jets  (1-4  =  79-127)

They actually had performed reasonably well through four weeks, losing only out-of-conference games to three teams much higher up this list. Then, they took a trip to Kansas City and got rocked by the best QB in football right now. Of course, they also put up a fat zero points against a pretty mediocre defense. The Jets are a mess, and they'll probably lose Rex - which is a shame.


28.) Washington Redskins  (1-4  =  112-136)

They fought, I guess, on Monday Night. Kirk Cousins is obviously not the answer. He was better against Seattle than he was against the Giants 10 days earlier at home, but that was a pretty low bar to cross over. The defense is still too reliant on blitzing. That works when you are facing the Jaguars and Chad Henne who can't move. Russell Wilson is a different story.


27.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-4  =  103-156)

The best thing that may have happened this year to the Buccaneers is that 56-14 loss. That shook them up. Everyone on the team has played better since then. Of course, it helps to get guys like Foster and McCoy back on defense, and start Glennon over McCown. The last two weeks they've gone on the road and beaten the Steelers and nearly the Saints. This team will fights as all Lovie Smith teams will.


26.) Miami Dolphins  (2-2  =  96-97)

I don't really know what to think of Miami. They looked so good in their wins. They looked so pitiful in their losses. Ryan Tannehill was almost benched one week and then looked like a hero the next. The defense has so much talent but the scheme doesn't suit the players all that well. The Dolphins should be a lot better, and maybe they end up playing a lot better; but who really knows at this point?


25.) St. Louis Rams  (1-3  =  84-119)

Austin Davis is so much like Sam Bradford from last year. He'll put up crazy stats when his team is already down 24 points. The Rams will end up losing close, Davis will have good visual numbers, but people will forget how sub-par he was when the Rams were getting killed early. He may have some qualities Bradford did not, but I think he's nowhere near as good as his stats will indicate. Also, is it about time to put out an APB for Robert Quinn?


24.) Cleveland Browns  (2-2  =  103-105)

Somehow, they have the 3rd best Offensive DVOA in football. That won't last because it basically can't. There is no way their offense is actually this good. Interesting to note that Brian Hoyer is vastly outperforming Tom Brady in 2014 and just like Tom, Hoyer has no one real to throw to. He's missing his best weapon and his top tight end has been in and out of the lineup. Does anyone say anything about Hoyer's situation?


23.) Minnesota Vikings  (2-3  =  101-126)

The Vikings were in an awful position in Green Bay, having to start Ponder on a short week, and I really hope Teddy B is back soon. He has such potential, such incredible potential. It was such a shame to see him get hurt so quickly. The Vikings are going to be a tough out each week, but only one half of the team can do anything if Christian Ponder is involved.


22.) New Orleans Saints  (2-3  =  132-141)

Something is very wrong with this team. Sure, the defense is deplorable, but let's get past that for a minute. Something is up with that offense. They just are not dynamic. Their normal plays aren't working because unless they game to get the ball to Crooks, no one is getting open other than Jimmy Graham, who seemingly gets hurt every other week. Brees is starting to flail the ball around as well, and now he's doing it at home. I'm fearful for them.


21.) Houston Texans  (3-2  =  104-87)

Good defense, but that offense is horrendous. I'm surprised they haven't turned to Mallett yet to see what he has. There's no way that Fitzpatrick is leading them to the playoffs, especially in an AFC that has a lot more contenders than them. The Texans need to get more production from any receiver not named Hopkins. Where has their TE game gone. I thought that is all Bill O'Brien can do?


20.) Dallas Cowboys  (4-1  =  135-103)

I really don't believe in them despite the 4-1 record. I think that record is inflated by playing some pretty bad teams. Beating the Titans isn't a huge deal. They really shouldn't have beaten St. Louis. The Saints are way worse than anyone thought. And the Texans are inflated themselves at 3-2. The collapse might be even more painful (or hilarious, depending on your view of America's team) this time around when they start 4-1.


19.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (3-2  =  114-108)

The Steelers might end up sneaking into the race for the #6 seed just based on that piss easy schedule they have, but they are not a good team. A good team doesn't let the Jags anywhere close to them. A good team just blows a team like Jacksonville out. It is sad because right now the Roethlisberger-to-Brown connection is as fun as anything in the NFL.


18.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-3  =  151-143)

They were thoroughly outclassed in that game, and they seem to have serious problems outdoors, but the Falcons still have a dynamic offense. I realize that Antone Smith's efficiency will drop the more chances he gets, but can they get that guy the ball more? The defense played OK, I guess, but they need to score at least 24 to really have a solid chance of winning any game.


17.) Chicago Bears  (2-3  =  116-131)

Tough loss for a team that could have had a really nice 2-3 start. Cuter will never stop throwing 3-4 lazy passes a game that put the Bears in serious trouble. Those receivers are still not healthy either. Most concerning is their defense continues to be unable to play coverage. They went from having a terrible run defense but being passable against the pass in 2013, to being the exact opposite this season. Of course, this all after being brilliant at both in 2012.


16.) Kansas City Chiefs  (2-3  =  119-101)

They played a good game, but in the end were a little outmatched off of a short week going on the road in an easy come-down game after last Monday Night. Their defense will continue to be stout, but they need more use out of their WRs than they've gotten so far. I don't put that all on Smith. Donnie Avery has done nothing, and Bowe needs to play better.


15.) Buffalo Bills  (3-2  =  98-89)

That was a win that a strong team pulls out. They had no real right winning that game. Of course, if Alex Henery just hits a field goal or two, they lose, but the Bills of old would not have capitalized on that opportunity. Kyle Orton is not a great QB, but he can do enough with the skill guys around him. Jim Schwartz has that defense on fire. We'll know quite a bit more about this team come Monday after this Patriots game.


14.) Carolina Panthers  (3-2  =  104-120)

Huge win. They were staring 2-3 in the face down 21-7 to the Bears. Look at their schedule coming up. They go to Cincinnati and Green Bay, before hosting Seattle and New Orleans, and finishing going to Philadelphia. It gets far easier after that (no team over .500 over the last 6 games), but they have to be alive out of that five game stretch. If they can go 2-3, they might sneak out this division again.


13.) Philadelphia Eagles  (4-1  =  156-132)

Their 4-1 record is not as fraudulent as the Cowboys', but it is not that exciting either. They've taken full advantage of a silly run of special teams and defensive TDs (including two blocked punts for TDs, which is just silly) that in no way is sustainable. Their offense still hasn't been clicking, and the defense is very up and down. What is scary for the rest of the NFC is that maybe the offense does start clicking. What then? They can run and hide in the NFC East in the next few weeks with a few wins.


12) New England Patriots  (3-2  =  123-107)

Only up four spots after that win? Well, when they will likely never play that well again... yes. They weren't as bad as 14-41, and they weren't as good as 43-17. They're somewhere in the middle. Right now, I do think there are 11 teams that would beat them on a neutral field. Luckily for New England, none seem to ever play in the AFC East.


11.) New York Giants  (3-2  =  133-111)

Just when I think I'm out... they keep pushing me back in. This won't work long term. I know that. Picks are a coming. Stupid losses are a coming. Everything that has made thinking the Giants will be good in 2012-13 will come home to roost this year as well. I just know it.


10.) San Francisco 49ers  (3-2  =  110-106)

Good win for a team that continues to just be well coached and play up to their strengths. It is weird, that after all the losses of personnel due to free agency, injury and suspension, and the supposed ‘Rise of Kaep’ that this team still wins with defense and running the ball. They play more like the 2011 49ers than they have since Kaepernick took over. Not that this is a bad thing.


9.) Green Bay Packers  (3-2  =  134-106)

The Packers offense can look so good against teams that have no interior pass rush. The Packers offense can also look so bad against those teams. The Lions game did happen, with them holding the Packers to 7 points without something fluky happening. Still, what they’ve done in the last two weeks is get everyone excited again about what this offense can be. The defense is still untrustworthy, but it was exciting to see Julius Peppers make an awesome play again.


8.) Detroit Lions  (3-2  =  99-79)

I still think they are the best team in the division, but they have to navigate this stretch without Calvin. Getting kickers who can hit more than a third of their kicks will help them do that, as if they had one of those they would be 4-1 right now. They have a few tough division games coming up. One thing I know is that this defense is for real. They play with the intensity they used to in the Schwartz era, but also the discipline that resembles their mannequin Head Coach. Good combination there.


7.) Baltimore Ravens  (3-2  =  116-80)

I’m not shocked they lost, because Indianapolis is a good team. I am shocked that they were not able to stop the Colts pass rush, or figure out a way to counter the Colts’ blitzes. The Ravens were seemingly unprepared, something that you can rarely say about a team this good. They still have a very solid roster from top to bottom, and it low looks like Cincinnati has come back towards the pack, somewhat.


6.) Arizona Cardinals  (3-1  =  86-86)

Hard to knock them too much for losing that game. That last TD was bullshit, but they were competitive in that game. Losing Calais Campbell really hurts, but it seems like they will get Carson Palmer back, which will help a lot. That offense looked good in Week 1, and looked positively lucky to score at all in the weeks following.


5.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-2  =  156-108)

Good, old-fashioned Colts win. They won a game without playing their best, with turning it over in the red zone twice, with terrible officiating calls going against them, and with Andrew Luck playing a ‘C’ level game. They won despite all that, and won rather comfortably. This is a good team that was very unlucky to lose to Philadelphia, and lost to a great team by not too much on the road. Coupled with their schedule, they can go on a run coming up.


4.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-1  =  97-76)

I moved New England up four spots, so I’m dropping Cincinnati three. There obviously was some troubling signs about that game. I could care less about that ‘not ready for primetime’ bullshit. What I do care more about is their lack of pass rush. The Patriots offensive line played well, but the athletes there on the line from 2012-13 aren’t as good now, and Geno Atkins is taking a while to come back from his injury. Still a very good team, though.


3.) San Diego Chargers  (4-1  =  113-63)

You realize that through five weeks this is the NFL’s best scoring defense? Now, they’ve played some light-weights offensively (EJ Manuel’s Bills, the Jets, the Jaguars) and that will end soon (not this week… Hello Oakland!) and they might become a mediocre defense, which is likely what they are, but the Chargers offense is clicking so well in the passing game right now. Philip Rivers is the easy MVP through five weeks of the season.


2.) Seattle Seahawks  (3-1  =  110-83)

You know you are a great team when you can play a sloppy game, commit fifteen penalties, do all this on the road, and still win by 10 points. Sure, Washington is not a good team, but the Seahawks know themselves so well. They know that they have a bad o-line, so they compensate. I think they secretly know that their pass coverage isn’t what it was last year (especially Maxwell and Chancellor), so they’re playing bigger up front. Just a very good team in the midst of a great run.


1.) Denver Broncos  (3-1  =  116-87)

By DVOA, they have the #1 offense and #2 defense. That is a good combination. I don’t think the defense is that good, but given who they’ve played and how those teams have performed in other games, I start to understand it. Von Miller looks better each week. So does Demaryius. The real star, so far, has been Emannuel Sanders, who looks like he was born to play with Peyton.


Postseason Projections

AFC

1.) Denver Broncos  (13-3)
2.) Indianapolis Colts  (12-4)
3.) Cincinnati Bengals  (11-5)
4.) New England Patriots  (10-6)
5.) San Diego Chargers  (12-4)
6.) Baltimore Ravens  (10-6)


NFC

1.) Seattle Seahawks  (12-4)
2.) Detroit Lions  (11-5)
3.) New York Giants  (11-5)
4.) Carolina Panthers  (10-6)
5.) Arizona Cardinals  (11-5)
6.) Green Bay Packers  (10-6)


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Kansas City (2-3); New Orleans (2-3)

After getting all of the good teams on a bye two weeks ago, this is four straight bye teams that are pretty marginal (Oakland & Miami last week). I’m sure the Saints don’t want a bye right now of that stirring victory. It does allow them to rest up before a hellish six-game stretch coming up.


15.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-4)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the AFC South Sucking” Sunday, as the Jaguars and Titans play in a game no one in Nashville wants to watch. Honestly, who would want to watch this game? For years, one of the oft-levied criticism’s of Manning was that the AFC South was a bad division; for years that was garbage. Now, it isn’t. Both teams are not good.


14.) San Diego Chargers (4-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (1-4)  (4:05 - CBS)
13.) Denver Broncos (3-1)  @  New York Jets (1-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Baltimore Ravens (3-2)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Washington Redskins (1-4)  @  Arizona Cardinals (3-1)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it “One good, one slightly less good” Sunday, as we get four games where one team that is square in the playoff picture (if not Conference Supremacy picture in the case of San Diego and Denver) go to play a team that most certainly is not. I guess the Cardinals, if they’re missing Palmer and have to actually start Logan Thomas, are terrible themselves, but at least that will make the game competitive.


10.) Detroit Lions (3-2)  @  Minnesota Vikings (2-3)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) San Francisco 49ers (3-2)  @  St. Louis Rams (1-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)  @  Cleveland Browns (2-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it “Division Monsters vs. Minnows – but in the Minnow Pond” Sunday and Monday, as we get three division rivalries to kick around, but none are that appealing. Certainly, Detroit can do Lion-ish things and lose, and the Browns can put a stake in the Steelers and likely send them to last place through six weeks, and I guess the Rams can do what they nearly did to Seattle last year on Monday Night (and not what they did do to San Francisco on Thursday Night – lose by 25). I just am not too interested into seeing if that can happen.


7.) Dallas Cowboys (4-1)  @  Seattle Seahawks (3-1)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it “What can a great run game get you in 2014” Sunday, as the Cowboys enter against Seattle with the best run game in the NFL. Sadly for Dallas, the Seahawks have the best run defense. The Cowboys probably have a better chance to win if they let Romo air it out, but they probably won’t as they seem very committed to giving Murray 35 carries a game. The Seahawks are the better team and they get another opportunity to knock a statistically very good QB down a few pegs.


6.) Indianapolis Colts (3-2)  @  Houston Texans (3-2)  (TNF - CBS)
5.) Green Bay Packers (3-2)  @  Miami Dolphins (2-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it “Restoring Order” Sunday, as the once in peril Colts and Packers take the road against the once top dog Texans and Dolphins. Remember when the Texans were 2-0 and the Colts were 0-2? Remember when the Packers looked lousy against Detroit, or when the Dolphins dominated the Patriots and were poised to start a New World Order in the AFC East? Yeah,, those days are gone. That said, great pass rushes can make these two QBs look bad; and they might have to.


4.) Chicago Bears (2-3)  @  Atlanta Falcons (2-3)  (4:25 - FOX)
3.) Carolina Panthers (3-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it “The loser is in bad shape in one, and the winner is great in the other” as being 3-3 (or 3-2) after 6 weeks is not a bad position. The winner of Chicago/Atlanta isn’t automatically a playoff contender, but the loser is in a really tough position. For Carolina, Cincinnati, the loser isn’t really out of it (though with Carolina’s upcoming schedule, maybe so; then again, given Carolina’s division, maybe they’re never out of it), but the winner is in really good position. Both should be fun games full of offense in the first and defense in the second.


2.) New England Patriots (3-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (3-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
1.) New York Giants (3-2)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (4-1)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it “An Early Season Battle for 1st Place” Sunday, as that is exactly what these games are. The Patriots and Bills winner leaves with 1st place all to themselves six weeks into the season (if it is Buffalo, they leave 2-0 in the division to the Pats 0-2). The loser leaves at 3-3 and is squarely in the mediocrity of the AFC. The Giants can, in four weeks, move from 0-2 to a share of 1st place (assuming Dallas loses). Obviously, the Giants would not be in outright first place, but they’ll have beaten two NFC East teams on the road. That should be a great game, but given the uncompetitiveness of most prime-time games this year, it probably won’t be.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

What's Wrong in Paradise?




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.




NFL 2014: Week 5 Picks

Minnesota Vikings (2-2)  @  Green Bay Packers (2-2)  (GB -7.5)

Vikings 17  Packers 30  (GB -7.5)


Chicago Bears (2-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-2)  (CAR -2)

Bears 20  Panthers 23  (CAR -2)


Cleveland Browns (1-3)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-3)  (TEN -1.5)

Browns 21  Titans 17  (CLE +1.5)


St. Louis Rams (1-2)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)  (PHI -6.5)

Rams 20  Eagles 24  (STL +6.5)


Atlanta Falcons (2-2)  @  New York Giants (2-2)  (NYG -4)

Falcons 17  Giants 23  (NYG -4)


Houston Texas (3-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (3-1)  (DAL -6.5)

Texans 17  Cowboys 27  (DAL -6.5)


Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)  (PIT -6)

Steelers 34  Jaguars 17  (PIT -6)


Buffalo Bills (2-2)  @  Detroit Lions (3-1)  (DET -7)

Bills 13  Lions 23  (DET -7)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)  @  New Orleans Saints (1-3)  (NO -10)

Buccaneers 20  Saints 27  (TB +10)


Baltimore Ravens (3-1)  @  Indianapolis Colts (2-2)  (IND -3)

Ravens 23  Colts 27  (IND -3)


New York Jets (1-3)  @  San Diego Chargers (3-1)  (SD -6.5)

Jets 20  Chargers 24  (NYJ +6.5)


Arizona Cardinals (3-0)  @  Denver Broncos (2-1)  (DEN -7.5)

Cardinals 13  Broncos 30  (DEN -7.5)


Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)  @  San Francisco 49ers (2-2)  (SF -5)

Chiefs 23  49ers 20  (KC +5)


Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)  @  New England Patriots (2-2)  (PK)

Bengals 27  Patriots 17  (CIN -PK)


Seattle Seahawks (2-1)  @  Washington Redskins (1-3)  (SEA -7)

Seahawks 27  Redskins 21  (WAS +7)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 5 Power Rankings & The Rest

32.) Oakland Raiders  (0-4  =  51-103)

In reality, if they play the Jaguars tomorrow anywhere, I would probably take Oakland, but they get last place for firing the coach. Look, the Raiders don’t strike me as a particularly well coached team, but Dennis Allen does not have a lot to work with. To me, doesn’t Reggie McKenzie deserve as much, if not more, blame? He didn’t inherit a lot, but whatever he did he got rid of and replaced with mediocre older talent. The Raiders of 2010-11 were miles better than what they’ve been in the McKenzie era.


31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (0-4  =  58-152)

That scoring differential looks comical. They’re on pace to give up more points than the Broncos scored last year (608 vs. 606). There’s little chance they’ll give up close to 608 points, but the Jags just have so little on that side of the ball. Blake Bortles looked OK, I guess, and the schedule does get, relatively, easier, but it is hard to see this team even matching the 4 wins they had last year.


30.) Tennessee Titans  (1-3  =  60-110)

One of the biggest questions I have through 4 weeks of the NFL season is ‘how did the Titans destroy the Chiefs in Arrowhead in Week 1?”. They’ve been awful ever since, including two home games. Ken Whisenhunt seems lost with that team. I’m sure he’ll be given a year two, but I think right about now he’s wondering why he took the Titans job and not go to Detroit and chill with a team with so much more front-line talent.


29.) Washington Redskins  (1-3  =  95-109)

This might be low, but since Griffin is not coming back anytime soon, I think it is a fair spot. Kirk Cousins just is not that good. He beat up on the Eagles and Jaguars. In games not against bad defenses, he’s been brutal. He turns the ball over more per play than Mark Sanchez did. He has no real feel for throwing. I really hope people realize that Robert Griffin is so much better than Cousins it doesn’t need to be spoken.


28.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-3  =  72-119)

Quality win for the Bucs. I still am not sure how they won relying on a guy who last did anything with Oakland in 2009 (Louis Murphy), and I’m pissed that they cost me $500 on a Steelers-Colts-Chargers parlay, but when a team that looked so depressed the following week gets a win like that it is OK (I guess). The Bucs defense showed that when healthy they’ll dominate against the run. Pass defense is still a major issue, though.


27.) New York Jets  (1-3  =  79-96)

The next six or so teams are all about interchangeable for me right now. The Jets are down here just because their QB can’t stop making dumb mistakes. He’s definitely has more natural and mental talent than Sanchez, but he’ll make 2-3 horrific plays a game. The defense has nobody in the secondary, and it seems that Rex Ryan can do a better job scheming pass pressure with marginal talent (see: 2010-2012), then scheme pass coverage with the same. Still, they won’t be an easy out ever.


26.) Buffalo Bills  (2-2  =  79-75)

They should be higher. They could be higher. Hell, beat New England in Buffalo in two weeks and at worst they will be in a tie for 1st place 6-weeks through the season (quick math, I guess Miami could be 3-2 – so scratch that). The defense is rock solid. My issue is, unsurprisingly for all the teams down this low, QB. I don’t really know if Kyle Orton is the answer. Kyle’s been a smart QB, but never the most accurate, which was Manuel’s largest problem overall.


25.) St. Louis Rams  (1-2  =  56-85)

Oh, the Rams. The sad Rams that can never get a break. The year when the 49ers look in disarray, and the Seahawks look kind of mortal, the Rams are without their top-2 QBs, and their 2nd best player on defense. They’re still hell on defense to play, but without Long it is far less scary. Jeff Fisher will keep them playing tough, and Austin Davis has shown good accuracy, but being a Jeff Fisher team without a good QB, they’ll be good for 2-3 blowouts over the course of the season.


24.) Cleveland Browns  (1-2  =  74-77)

The Browns are a tough out, but much like the Browns from last year, or the Bucs from last year, I’m always wary of a team that plays and loses tough early season games later in the season when, after playing well enough to potentially have been 7-3, they are 3-7. I don’t know if this will happen to the Browns, and their offense has exceeded my wildest expectations, but on the other hand the defense has been as mediocre as I thought it would be.


23.) Houston Texans  (3-1  =  87-67)

JJ Watt is an alien.


22.) Minnesota Vikings  (2-2  =  91-84)

That was a surprising game. Teddy Bridgewater had a nice performance, but the real star to me was that McKinnick character who ran for 8 ypc. That was a really nice performance against a team that had been quite good against the run through three weeks. The defense wasn’t great, but the Vikings will be this type of team all season. Sadly, for me, that means that they are a complete stayaway.


21.) New Orleans Saints  (1-3  =  95-110)

The defense is awful, but guess what: Most Rob Ryan defense have been below average. I’m not wholly surprised. What is still surprising is the offense. The same issues have plagued them on the road for a good five years now; namely, an inability to get YAC, and Brees forced to throw earlier than he wants to. What are 11-yard gains in the Dome become 6-yard gains on the road. To be shutout against that defense through 30 minutes is inexplicable.


20.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (2-2  =  97-99)

I hate them with the passion of a thousand burning suns given that they’re idiotic play in the 4th quarter cost me a cool 500 bucks. Eff all of you. Also, it is sad that Ben Roethlisberger is playing for such a middling team. Lot of similarities between Ben in 2012-2014 to Philip Rivers from 2010-12.


19.) Chicago Bears  (2-2  =  92-100)

Does an aged Jared Allen really mean that much? Their pass rush against a bad pass blocking line was pathetic. You can’t let Rodgers just sit there. Plus, how did their secondary get so bad in two years? How did the defense get so bad in two years? Also, how effing unsurprising were their turnovers in the 2nd half. That just happens to the Bears against the Packers.


18.) Miami Dolphins  (2-2  =  96-97)

Should games in London even count as wins? Games in London are always terrible, aside from one fantastic exception where the Chargers beat the Saints 39-38 in 2008. Maybe they should just replay that game on a loop each time they do a London game. As for the team, who the hell knows. For their sake, they get to figure it out in a garbage division.


17.) Dallas Cowboys  (3-1  =  115-86)

I don’t know how they’re 3-1 either. They have a reasonably hard schedule going forward, but if the defense can continue being average, they have a shot to win the division. That seemed unthinkable this year when Romo was lobbing up all the picks in Week 1, but here we are. Man, the NFL is always interesting.


16.) New England Patriots  (2-2  =  80-90)

Is this the lowest I’ve ever had the Patriots? Well, since I started this blog after their 1-1 start in 2009, and didn’t do power rankings after their 1-1 start in 2010, and had them at #8 after their 1-2 start in 2012. It just feels different this time. Nothing seems good about this team. Even in 2010 and 2012 they had a game where it all worked. This year just seems like a disaster through four weeks. I’ll write more about the Patriots in depth later.


15.) Carolina Panthers  (2-2  =  73-96)

The Panthers have looked so bad on defense the last two weeks. Everyone is open. All running backs are getting a consistent 5-6 yards on every rush. Now, maybe the Ravens are just better than anyone expected, but the Panthers defense that was so good in Wk 1-2 has been so, so bad. I can't imagine that continuing, but it is hard to imagine them really being good enough to win games 20-17 consistently.


14.) Atlanta Falcons  (2-2  =  131-113)

Well, I guess this is the team that is going to play games 35-31 each week, with both offenses putting up 400+ yards. With two o-lineman going down for the year, it is hard to imagine that Matt Ryan's great start will continue all year, but they still have Julio Jones, which is what they missed more than anything last year.


13.) Phildelphia Eagles  (3-1  =  122-104)

I don't think that loss exposed them. I mean, if they didn't have three non-offensive TDs and had three offensive possessions instead, they probably put up more than 112 yards in the first 58 minutes. That said, the run game is suddenly terrible, and against teams that can play screens, they really have no good answers. The Eagles defense continues to be surprisingly competent, and they'll get better once their lineman get healthy, but they are a really unconvincing 3-1 right now.


12.) New York Giants  (2-2  =  103-91)

Yeah, I'm buying in again. Screw me now before I bet on them to cover against Altanta...


11.) San Francisco 49ers  (2-2  =  88-89)

Big win for them. They were staring a dark place down 21-10 in the 2nd quarter against Philadelphia. What can you say about a team that doesn't give up a point on defense against a good offense? That despite missing Bowman and Aldon. They still have a physical presence. If only Kaepernick had gotten better at literally anything in the past two seasons.


10.) Kansas City Chiefs  (2-2  =  102-79) 

People were so down on them after Week 1 (for good reason), but their resume now reads being two yards away from taking Denver to OT in Denver, beating Miami comfortably in Miami, and then raising all kinds of hell against New England. Just for undressing the Pats like that, I'll love them forever. The Chiefs do still have enough talent on defense to keep them in games, and Andy Reid is scheming the shit out of this offense. Fun team to watch, really.


9.) Green Bay Packers  (2-2  =  92-96)

I didn't want to get too down after the loss to the Lions, and I don't want to go too high in that win. Rodgers wasn't touched, but that rarely happens. Packers fans will r-e-l-a-x, and probably will continue after this week, but they still don't seem quite right. The defense is still terrible, but it was nice to see them get their patented turnovers like they used to back in the good old days.


8.) Indianapolis Colts  (2-2  =  136-95)

The highest scoring team in the NFL just rolled off back-to-back wins scoring 40+ and giving up less than 20. Sure, they played two of the worst teams in the NFL, but still this is a step up for the Colts. They had winnable games and smashed the opponent. Also, Andrew Luck is a God amongst men right now. There are three QBs who have been awesome so far, Rivers, Luck and that boy Manning out in Denver.


7.) Detroit Lions  (3-1  =  85-62)

Solid win for them. They didn't play perfect, didn't do much with Calvin, yet went on the road and beat a team without breaking too much of a sweat. Jim Caldwell was brought into Detroit to bring stability, to bring professionalism. He's done that and more. Sure, the 'same old Lions' showed up in the loss to Carolina, but the other three games for them have been all class so far. That defense is now the better part of the team, and if they want to go anywhere, that should continue.


6.) Baltimore Ravens  (3-1  =  103-60)

Joe Flacco looks really good in that offense. Now, Steve Smith will probably not match those stats again this year, but Flacco looks confident, decisive and in rhythm, something that has not been true since January 2013. The defense may have lost their leaders, but Suggs and Ngata are still there. They have more communication errors than they used to, but they'll never be embarrassed. Just a solid, solid team.


5.) Arizona Cardinals  (3-0  =  66-45)

They probably should have lost to San Diego, and they weren't all that great against New York, and they won mysteriously against San Francisco, and Palmer is still not healthy, but I'm not betting against Bruce Arians. I'm not betting against Todd Bowles' defense either, which is something I can't believe I'm writing given that I watched the 2012 Eagles 'defense'. 


4.) Denver Broncos  (2-1  =  75-67)

Well, given how well the Colts and Chiefs have played the last two weeks (winning their games by an average score of 40-16), the close wins that the Broncos have against them don't look as bad anymore. That defense has probably been better than most people think, as has the offense. They're fine really. I probably should have them higher, but then this early it is hard to rank Denver, Seattle and San Diego any other way given the two games between them three.


3.) Seattle Seahawks  (2-1  =  83-66)

The Seahawks probably used their bye to figure out how to defend switch verticals, but what I would have used it is to figure out how to use Percy Harvin in non-Jet Sweep plays. They still don't really get the best out of him. Anyway, not many real flaws with that team. It will be interesting to see how they play on the road in a primetime game. They haven't done that too many times recently, and the last time they did (a TNF game last year in St. Louis) they should have lost.


2.) San Diego Chargers  (3-1  =  102-63)

Obviously, beating Jacksonville is no huge task, but I'll give them credit for pulling away after a relatively slow start. That place is rocking these days, and Philip Rivers continues to be awesome. I really have nothing much to say about this team. I still feel eventually the Broncos will overtake them in the division, but watching the Chargers ball out with Phil Rivers playing this well after everyone wrote him off two years ago is a lot of fun.


1.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-0  =  80-33)

They get the unfortunate task of playing a team that is still probably good who just got embarrassed. Playing bad teams after they got embarrassed is tough enough (see: Pittsburgh last week). However, they also get the enviable task to show America just how good they are. There is nothing that they do badly at this point. They already had one of the best rosters when you look past QB, but Dalton has been good enough this year. This is a real test, but a great chance to show how good they really are.


Looking Ahead to Next Week:

Byes: Miami (2-2);  Oakland (0-4)

Well, it is a lot better than last week when it was all the good teams on the bye. Also, why did the NFL switch from having just 4 teams on the bye each week for 8 weeks to this weird system where discriminant amount of teams are on the bye?


15.) Cleveland Browns (1-2)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)  @  New Orleans Saints (1-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "I just don't care about these games" Sunday, as... I just don't care about these three games. I guess seeing if New Orleans is truly dead or not matters, but who really cares when they are going to go 2-6 on the road and 7-1 at home anyway?


12.) Minnesota Vikings (2-2)  @  Green Bay Packers (2-2)  (TNF - CBS)
11.) Seattle Seahawks (2-1)  @  Washington Redskins (1-3)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "One of these night games is going to be a blowout, the other is going to be a disaster" Thursday and Monday, as to me one of these two seemingly one-sided games will be close. I really can't tell which. Gun to my head says the Vikings could play Green Bay close, as the talent difference between those two is mainly the QB, but we've seen Rodgers this year struggle against teams that could rush well, which the Vikings can.


10.) Buffalo Bills (2-2)  @  Detroit Lions (3-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Houston Texans (3-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (3-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Is the NFC really better than the AFC?" Sunday, as we have two middle of the road AFC teams take the road to play two suprising NFC teams at 3-1. You would think the fact that the Lions and Cowboys being 3-1 would speak even more to the depth of the NFC, but that comes at the expense of the Saints being 1-3, the 49ers and Bears being 2-2, etc. I don't think either will win, but like my two night games right before, I wouldn't be surprised if one is really close.


8.) St. Louis Rams (1-2)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) New York Jets (1-3)  @  San Diego Chargers (3-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
6.) Atlanta Falcons (2-2)  @  New York Giants (2-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "games I care about more than I should" as they all have interesting matchups. Mainly, can three solid defense play well against three very good offenses. After two weeks of defenses having the edge league-wide, offenses have been incredble the past two weeks. The Rams and Jets are by no means good defenses, but they have good fronts. The Giants are, to me, a good defense, and can easily give the good offense of the Falcons problems.


5.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)  @  San Francisco 49ers (2-2)  (4:25 - CBS)
4.) Chicago Bears (2-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "2-3 is a lot different than 3-2" Sunday, as these are two of my favorite games where one will leave happy at 3-2, the other sad at 2-3. The 49ers can't really afford another loss this early. The Chiefs can't either in a suprirsingly tight AFC. The Bears and Panthers probably can, but one would love to be 3-2. The Panthers need to show up, as does the Bears defense. Who would have thought that that could be a really high scoring game.


3.) Arizona Cardinals (3-0)  @  Denver Broncos (2-1)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Remember that time I thought Manning was going to go to Arizona" Sunday, as this game will make me remember when I thought Manning was a lock to go to the desert. Looking at them now, I think Manning would have filled in quite well, but the Broncos have been fine. Great game if Carson Palmer plays. Less so if it is Drew Stanton.


2.) Baltimore Ravens (3-1)  @  Indianapolis Colts (2-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The Rivalry Continues" Sunday, as what was once an awesome rivalry in the Manning era gets to begin anew. They did meet in a forgettable Wild Card game two years ago, but that was Luck's first year. Both these teams are riding high right now. This is a great opportunity for the Colts to show up against a team that isn't terrible like they did the last two weeks.


1.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)  @  New England Patriots (2-2)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Anything can Happen" Sunday, as I would imagine anything happening in this game. I've thought the Patriots were falling apart before, only for them to win huge. Three years ago, following losses to Pittsburgh and New York, they went to play the Jets on a Sunday Night and won 37-16. Of course, that Patriots team was good enough to be 5-1 before the losing streak and made the Super Bowl. This one looks average or below at everything. The Bengals are better, and I could see them winning by 14+ as well. All the range of possibilities are in play in this one.

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.