Monday, October 17, 2016

NHL 2016-17: Preseason Picks

Metro Division

1.) Washington Capitals

The Capitals remain an incredibly deep, talented and balanced team. The balance is important, and is something driven in large part by Barry Trotz. We know the big names, like Ovechkin, Kucherov, Backstrom, Holtby, but those secondary players like Burakovsky or Tom Wilson really make the team tick. It will come down to what they do in the playoffs, and with the current playoff system that will likely mean beating the Penguins, but the Capitals should remain the regular season juggernaut they have been for the past few years.

2.) Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins will start the season without Crosby, but all reports are that he will return fairly soon. Really grateful for that, because watching him dominate the playoffs and be the best player in the league again was just a joy to watch. The team itself still has major issues on the blue line, and I don't know if their depth lines will be as effective over an 82-game season. They are too talented to fall off too far. It will be also interesting to watch the dnyamic between Murray and MAF play out over a full season as well.

3.) Philadelphia Flyers

There is potential for a lot of upheaval in the Metro division, and I think it starts with the Flyers who are seemingly well ahead of their rebuild. The young defense led by Shayne Gostisbehere and 19-year old Ivan Provorov lead one of the best young defenses in the East. They still have premier talent up front with Giroux, Voracek and Couturier (who is somehow still just 23) to supplement a lineup that has enough depth to hang on. I don't fully trust Steve Mason in goal, but for what has suddenly become a very mediocre division, the Flyers are good enough to retain their playoff spot.

4.) Carolina Hurricanes (WC2)

A lot of 'advancted stats' Hockey guys really like the Hurricanes - and who am I to argue with them. The Hurricanes dominated possession and zone starts with another incredibly young, talented defense led by Noah Hanifan, Brett Pesce, Justin Falk and others. The offense is a little more unsettled, where really interesting young talents (Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask) are joined by a man who had to leave Chicago way too soon. Tuevo Teravainen is incredibly talented but was lost in Chicago. He won't be lost here.

5.) New York Rangers
6.) New York Islanders

Grouping these two together as I see hard times for two playoff stalwarts. I can see the Rangers potentially making it through just because Henrik Lundqvist is just that good, but their aging core is now an aging core without as much depth. They have some interesting youngsters in Mika Zibanejad and Joey Vesey, but neither are premier enough to make up for the losses on that side. For the Islanders, I just have no idea what their plan is, consistently unable to surround John Tavares with good enough young talent and instead opting for older retreads like Andrew Ladd. Just not a fan, and for their sake I hope it doesn't cost them Tavares.

7.) Columbus Blue Jackets
8.) New Jersey Devils

Both of these teams are at the bottom, and while either has a shot to finish out of the bottom-2, the optimism is almost squarely placed on their goalies. Both Sergey Bobrovsky and Corey Schnieder have done great work backstopping awful teams. Both teams have young talent, but all of the young talent is a few years away from really making an impact.

Atlantic Division

1.) Tampa Bay Lightning (HFA)

The Lightning will have some tough decisions to make this upcoming offseason, with tons of guys up for raises, but until then they have the most loaded team in the NHL. They also have some obvious trade chips (Ben Bishop) or guys they can let go without losing too much (Tyler Johnson), but for now the Lightning have no weaknesses. With Stamkos back, and Drouin out of the doghouse, the offense has two 1st-line capable centers around a whole host of talent. And of course there is Hedman. Everything is set up for this team to be a monster.

2.) Montreal Canadiens

I can basically write my reasoning in one sentence: Carey Price is back, and when he played last year they were the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens were on a 115-point pace when Price went down. He is that good. The team around him is definitely worse with Shea Weber replacing PK Subban (which is absolutely a downgrade), but if they get a step-up from Galchenyuk, who has star potential, or anything from Radulov, they can make up for that loss rather easily.

3.) Boston Bruins

The Bruins have an interesting team. The strength has really quickly moved from their defense-first leaning in their peak (this extended to guys like Bergeron or Krejci who were Selke-level forwards) to an offense first group that can make up for glaring deficiencies on their blue-line. Those deficiencies are still there (watching Chara is just sad now), but suddenly these defense-first gnats have an offensive punch. Bergeron and Marchand were revelations as offensive players last year, but they can add to that youngster David Pasternak, or David Backes (who first in really well). And they still have Tuuka Rask. It is a different model than Peak Bruins, but it still is effective.

4.) Florida Panthers (WC1)

The Panthers should be better, but I think this is the natural slight step back after their surprising division win last year. Obviously, losing Huberdeau for an extended period hurts, and you have to imagine Jagr is slightly worse. The young talent is still really startling, with Aleksander Barkov still just 21, and Aaron Ekblad even more scarily just 20, but without Huberdeau there is a hole there. Trusting Luongo in his late 30's is also a risk, and I have to think James Reimer takes over next year.

5.) Ottawa Senators
6.) Detroit Red Wings

I wouldn't be shocked if either of these teams make it. The Senators are extremely top-heavy, but the top of that top-heaviness is the best (at least on offense) defenseman in the NFL in Karlsson who is still just 26. But beyond the young Swede what is this team exactly? So little premier young talent, so many late-20's and early-30's players who at their best were just above average? The Red Wings are a little different, with very few of those players but a lot at both ends of the spectrum. Henrik Zetterberg is markedly slower now, but young players like Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou have more than enough speed to make up for it. In the end, I think neither of these teams is strong enough or deep enough in a tough division, but there is enough talent to squeak in if one of my Top-4 falls.

7.) Buffalo Sabres
8.) Toronto Maple Leafs

Both of these teams are a few years away, and are right there to pick up from Detroit, or Montreal (if Price stops being superhuman), or Boston as the next great thing. The Sabres are in a really tough spot without Eichel, but the talent around him is there with Okposo and O'Reilly up front, and Ristalaenen coming up on the blue line. They could be a dominant force in another 2-3 years. Same with Toronto and the next great hope of Auston Matthews. Beyond him though is Mitch Marner, another rookie who may, at least for 2016, be even better. There's lights at the end of these tunnels, and they could be faster approaching than many realize.

Pacific Division

1.) San Jose Sharks

I'm slightly nervous that they just brought all the boys back for another go, as at some point Thornton will get worse (Marleau was already a fringe 2nd/3rd line player at this point), but the new core of Pavelski, Couture, Hertl are in their primes. I like Doonskoi who was a revelation last year, and I really like the low-key pick-up of Mikkel Boedker. The defense is a concern given its age, but the combination of the offense, the superior power-play (just pure ecstasy to watch when they are on) and Martin Jones, who proved himself very capably as a starting goalie, should make them good enough to win what is probably the least top-heavy division.

2.) Los Angeles Kings

People seemed to have really turned on the Kings, the advanced stats old darling, of late and it seems to come down to the idea that Jonathan Quick should only live off of his magical 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff run for so long. To some degree that is true. He's never reached those heights and the team isn't really any better around him now than it was then. In Doughty and Kopitar, they have a bonafide #1 D-Man and #1 Center, but the surrounding parts aren't as good at all.

//I wrote this before the Quick injury. If I were to do this now, I would have them out of the playoffs and either the Oilers or Flames in. Despite what I wrote about Quick, I have less faith in Jeff Zatkoff.

3.) Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are a trendy pick to fall out of the playoffs with the change from Bruce Boudreau to Randy Carlyle, but I think there is just too much talent. The fall off the cliff is certainly coming. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are all on the wrong side of 30. The rest of the offense is filled with 15 different 2nd/3rd liners and there is little consistency in their lines. That all said, their collection of blue-liners, with Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen and Despres leading the bunch are too good to fall off that much in a very light division.

4.) Edmonton Oilers
5.) Calgary Flames

I'm putting these two together as they both have really bright futures. I can see a version of the season where two of the three California teams really fall off and both of these two make it. For the Oilers, it comes down to McDavid being a generational talent, which he is, coupling with steps-up from other players on the line-up like Draisatl, Nurse, Eberle, RGH. The defense is still middling, as is the bottom-six, but the Oilers have peak talent. The Flames are similar, with Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett at the top, and a dependable goalie in Elliott. I'm less trusting of their defense, but the Flames definitely have the upside based on their offensive top-line talent and goalie alone.

6.) Arizona Coyotes
7.) Vancouver Canucks

The Coyotes and Canucks are both bad, but their future outlooks couldn't be more different. The Coyotes have patiently stockpiled talent and while I think they are still a couple years away (and a goalie away - let's end Mike Smith, right?) the young talent is startling. There are only a handful of young cores better than Max Domi (21), Lawson Crouse (19), Dylan Strome (19), Anthony Duclair (21) and Jakob Chycrun (18). And add to that Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is still brilliant. In a couple years this team could be a monster. The Canucks? Not so much. Years of going for it while the Sedins are still there have come home to roost for a team devoid of talent, depth or youth. Not a good look.

Central Division

1.) Nashville Predators (HFA)

The Nashville Predators are the league's darling right now, a truly trendy pick. So much so that is my only hesitation. That and a potential dropoff from Pekka Rinne. Outside of those two possibilities, this team is loaded, and PK Subban is the perfect player to add into that mix. The Blue-line is four deep of 1st line defenseman in Subban, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis. The offense, years devoid of premier talent, has loads of it with Neal, Forsberg, Johansen with great depth. There is no weakness to this team, as with Subban they have a PP point guard as well now.

2.) St. Louis Blues

The Blues seem to be on the outside a team in transition, but I think there is a real future for them this year itself. It starts with the beginning of the transformation of the core from the old group (Backes, Steen, Pietrangelo, et. al.) to the next group led by Tarasenko, but supplemented beautifully by Robby Fabbri, Jayden Schwartz, Colton Parayko and whatever they can salvage from Niall Yakupov - a great low-risk signing. A lot of their success will be built on whether Jake Allen can finally take over the reigns as a premier goalie. There's no fall-back option now. It is his team, and like the rest of the young roster, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

3.) Dallas Stars 

For a team that went wire-to-wire as the best team in the division last year, and may have made a serious push for a Conference Title had Tyler Seguin not gotten hurt, a lot of people seem to be sleeping on Dallas. It is easy to deride them for their free-wheeling, offense heavy style as something that won't work in the playoffs, but it works brilliantly in the regular season. Losses on defense and still uncertainty in goal make me knock them back a bit (plus, this is easily the league's best division) but the center of this team is awesome. Benn and Seguin are premier talents. Jason Spezza was freed up as a 2nd-line player last year. Their depth is great with guys like Radek Faksa, Cody Eakin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, and Patrick Sharp are the perfect complement. Yes, their defense is a mess, but it likely won't really matter until the playoffs.

4.) Chicago Blackhawks (WC1)

At the end of the day, it is just impossible to see the Blackhawks missing the playoffs. The warning signs are there, like the continued hemorrhaging of talent, this time with Teravainen and Shaw being added to the list. Their depth is weaker on the surface now than it has ever been. I don't recognize 50% of the names. The top-level players are still there (Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Seabrook), but even the ones who usually were counted on like Marian Hossa may be past their prime. Depth will be a challenge, but with the top-end guys they have and Corey Crawford, no one will want to play them in the playoffs if they can make it in.

5.) Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

It was a tough decision between the Avalanche and the team to come, but I just think the Avs are too talented, and too excited to not be playing for Patrick Roy, to not have a really nice bump this season. The top-end talent of Landeskog, MacKinnon, Barrie are too good, and add to them true youngsters like Mikael Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov and you have the makings of a great core. Understandably, I have questions on Semyon Varlamov, but the talent is here and hopefully the coaching matches up to them.

6.) Minnesota Wild
7.) Winnipeg Jets

The Wild have one thing going for them: Bruce Boudreau. He has never missed the playoffs in his coaching career. Apart from him, there is little else to think they are good enough to make it. They bet big on Parise and Suter and it hasn't truly worked. The Jets have bet big on their youth and they got their generational talent in Patrick Laine. We can't expect him to do too much in year 1 but his future is as bright as Winnipeg is cold.

Eastern Conference Playoffs

Metro Division

(M1) Washington over (WC1) Florida in 5
(M3) Philadelphia over (M2) Pittsburgh in 7

(M1) Washington over (M3) Philadelphia in 6

Atlantic Division

(A1) Tampa Bay over (WC2) Carolina in 5
(A2) Montreal over (A3) Boston in 7

(A1) Tampa Bay over (A2) Montreal in 6

Eastern Conference Final; (A1) Tampa Bay over (M1) Washington in 7

Western Conference Playoffs

Pacific Division

(WC1) Chicago Blackhawks over (P1) San Jose Sharks in 6

(P2) Los Angeles Kings over (P3) Anaheim Ducks in 6

(WC1) Chicago Blackhawks over (P2) Los Angeles Kings in 6

Central Division

(C1) Nashville Predators over (WC2) Colorado Avalanche in 5
(C3) Dallas Stars over (C2) St. Louis Blues in 6

(C1) Nashville Predators over (C3) Dallas Stars in 7

Western Conference FInal: (C1) Nashville Predators over (WC1) Chicago Blackhawks in 6

Stanley Cup Finals: (A1) Tampa Bay over (C1) Nashville in 7

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Good and Bad Reasons Why the NFL's Ratings Are Down

The drop in TV ratings has become a large story. It was hard to get too worked-up about it the first week, one that featured a Manning-less Super Bowl rematch, and a Brady-less SNF game. But consistently ratings have been down all year (oddly, the one data-point for a rise was the Wee 3 TNF game between New England and Houston). Many reasons have been thrown. Some good, some bad; some enlightening, some infuriating. Here now are my thoughts on 5 bad reasons that I've heard on why the ratings are slipping, and five one's that might just be true and worth examining more.

The NFL Ratings are not down because of....

5.) Domestic Violence Issues

To be fair, not many people have brought this one up. Domestic Violence Issues dominated the 2014 season, which saw ratings go down slightly for 2013. That was the year the Ray Rice scandal happened, where Adrian Peterson missed 15 games, where the 'Commissioner's List' became a thing. It was a dark time for the NFL. It alienated a lot of women fans. A lot of NFL fans had to do some soul searching. And yet ratings went up in 2015 from 2014. There is no evidence to think there is some great delayed effect that is only showing up now.

4.) Poor play caused by lack of practice time

I'll get to another poor play issue in that I do think is impacting ratings, but I don't buy that general sloppiness is to blame. The game has been fairly sloppy for years, and while practice time in pads is less now than before, the overall nature of the game has been pretty steady. Teams are passing more, overall offensive levels are consistent with the last 3-4 years at this point. Defenses are about as good as they've been post lockout, and there are probably more dominant defenses now than there were in the immediate years following the lockout. Honestly, I have found the average game this year to be more well played than the last couple.

3.) Poor play caused by bad / younger players

This became a popular one when a study by a writer on The Ringer highlighted that the league as a whole is getting younger following the new rookie-wage scale rules - that when rookies are less expensive there will be more of them, and that these rookies are not as good as the guys who's job they are taking. I find this to be a really bad reason to explain even why play is worse, forget about any impact it would have on ratings. Tell me what players saw their careers cut short because they were too old & expensive and were replaced by a younger, cheaper player. Also, it is hard to say this is making play worse while also commending the teams who have used this to build great teams (Seattle, mostly). Players have retired early not because they were pushed out or became too expensive. I can't think of one example where this happened to a player that was important enough to actually impact ratings.

2.) The Game is simply less popular and this is the beginning of the end

There is some truth to this, and overall the NFL should be worrying, but I highlight doubt the NFL suddenly became 10% less popular overnight. Nothing structurally has changed in the game or the demographics in the past year. Sports are generally declining as ALL TV VIEWING IS DECLINING, but there is something more to the drop of the NFL ratings than just saying the sport has peaked. It will peak at some point, but it will likely be more gradual than a sudden 10% drop like we are seeing this year. Maybe 1% of the 10% drop is explained by the popularity of the league peaking, but no way is it a primary driving factor.

1.) Thursday Night Football

And now let's get to the worst reason. It is not Thursday Night Football. It never has been. Thursday Night Football started in 2006. It became a full-season affair in 2012. I guarantee you it has been a positive influence for the NFL. Not only has it made the league a ton of money as having a separate package to sell, but it for the most part, has elevated games that would be lost in the maw of Sunday 1PM timeslots. I am pretty sure more people are watching each Thursday Night Game than they would have been watching that same game if it was on Sunday along with 6-7 other games. I slightly get the complaints that it was a show of the NFL's expanding greed to shove its product onto another night, but for the most part Thursday's were not aligned with another sport (at least until NBA on TNT Thursday's start in November), and if that was an issue, it would have cropped up a lot earlier given we are now in Year 11 of Thursday Night Football, Year 6 of having it through the regular season, and Year 3 of having it on Network TV.

The NFL Ratings ARE down because of.....

5.) Concussion Fears are impacting fans

Again, the concussion issue is nothing new. The first year I remember a significant discussion on concussions in the NFL was in 2009. There have been serious concussion-related incidents and media outcry probably since 2011 or so. While again, it is hard to look to concussions as a factor when the ratings rose on the whole since 2009, but I do think there are a few reasons that make 2016 a bit different. The largest is this was the first year that saw good players retire citing concussions as a reason. Whether it was Calvin Johnson, or Patrick Willis, or even Marshawn Lynch, there were multiple guys walking away at young ages saying that this played into their thinking. Now, some of the drop can be just losing these players (will talk about this one shortly), but the other is the more high profile players that admit concussion fears got them to leave the league, the more fans will do the same.

4.) General Apathy to Sports

If we look back two months ago, we had a similar sporting event that saw serious declines in ratings. The 2016 Rio Olympics were down double-digits from the 2012 London Olympics. There was also a lot of negative press and headlines surrounding that, but when you couple that drop with record lows for baseball playoffs, overall bad ratings for NBA playoffs (rescued by Cavs/Warriors in the finals), then it becomes a little more understandable. This past year we've seen some truly bad signs for sports across the board. Cord-cutting is becoming a larger factor, and while the impact of cord-cutting and DVR-ing (and Torrent-ing, etc.) has been impacted scripted TV for years, maybe there was a general delayed impact on sports that is only now being felt.

3.) Bad Matchups so far / misalignment with markets and good teams

So many times the headline for the bad ratings will be that a game this year was down 10-15% off of the same game last year in that time-slot that week. For instance, the Patriots-Cardinals Week 1 SNF game was down double-digits from last year's Week 1 SNF game between the Giants and Cowboys. With this the first thing people will do is compare the matchup, but more than that compare the market. The best teams heading into the season were Denver, Carolina, Arizona, New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Seattle. For now let's limit it to just those seven. In that group we have two teams with either large home markets (New England), or giant national followings (Pittsburgh). Then you have some of the league's smaller markets: Denver, the Carolinas, Cincinati, Seattle. When you have the best teams coming from small markets, well then they'll be on primetime more and the ratings go down. The complement to this is when the world complained that the same large-market teams were on primetime games for years. Well, if they scheduled NFC East games, while sprinkling in New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Houston each week people would rightfully call the NFL out for ratings grabbing.

2.) Loss of premier talent, especially at QB

Here's to me the largest football-related reason. If you think the games are worse, it isn't because there are too many young players (at least not directly that), or that teams are practicing yet, it is that the players making up the most marketable position in the league are changing fast. For a good 15 yeras, the NFL was carried, at a high level, by Manning and Brady. These two guys were good for 8-10 National Games a year that would be huge ratings (and 5-6 more 4:30 late-afternoon games as well). For the first four weeks of the season, the league saw what life was like without either one. Denver's ratings tanked. New England's were OK, but they still were angry at the league and knew Brady was coming back. Add to that the loss of Tony Romo, the relative average-ness of Drew Brees, and you get a situation where the top QBs aren't huge names yet. Maybe in 5 years, a league led by Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz can be a ratings giant, but right now losing Peyton Manning hurts ratings - especially when Denver will play three primetime games in six weeks. Losing Brady for four games hurts. Losing Romo hurts the Dallas rating. Beyond that are the host of other guys who retired, and it is pretty easy to draw that line.

1.) The Election

At this point, even the NFL has adopted this line - and in a way I am glad because it is easy to test. We can actually see what ratings are like after the election and if they go up. Obviously, the election happens every four years, but not like this. Never has an election dominated the media lanscape like this, with one candidate so polarizing, so capable of drawing the TV and News attention to drown out everything else. I have to imagine cable news ratings are way up, as is any sort of news, or the comedy shows that cover the election. People that I know as sports-writers / sports-bloggers tweet about the election basically as much as they tweet about football. Even on Sunday, the election becomes a draw, whether it is watching the morning interview shows, or catching up on DVR-ed episodes of The Daily Show, or catching up on the life events you missed during the week when the election mattered above all. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the ratings don't go up when the election ends, but for right now this seems like the clear best explanation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Baseball Magic - The Giants and Cubs Do It All

I've seen many playoff baseball games in my life. I've seen many of them that were great for one reason or another - some games that are indelibly stuck in my mind. I started watching baseball ardently in around 2004-05, and there have been a handful of truly transcendant games. Mind you, not all of them were well played, but they were all dramatic, exhilerating, tactical, dynamic and heart-attackingly tense. There was the 18-inning game between the Astros and Braves in 2005 NLDS, or the Game 7 between the Cardinals and Mets in the 2006 NLCS, or the ridiculous collapse that was the 2012 Nationals losing to the Cardinals, or the equally ridiculous collapse that was the 2014 A's losing to Kansas City. And of course the drama and intrigue and bat-flip-to-end-all-bat-flips of Game 5 Toronto against Texas last year.

Then there were the two recent incredible World Series Games, the Giants World Series clincher against the Royals in 2014, where Madison Bumgarner on two days rest came and pitched five scoreless innings, and the game-tying run was stranded on third base in the 9th inning. And finally then there is probably the most insane game I have ever seen, one that gives me the chills just thinking about it, when the Cardinals staved off elimination in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

Well, we can add last night's game to this list. It isn't as good or memorable as the World Series games, and a lot of its long-term impact will depend on who ends up winning the series, but for a single game, for a single night, that was pure brilliance. The Cubs who's talent is as high as their history of not winning the world series is long, fighting to fend off the one team that seems to imbibe October baseball. It would have felt right if the Gillaspie triple ended up being the winning runs. It would have felt righter had the Cubs won after MVP-to-be Kris Bryant hit a home run that made it over by an inch to tie the game, showing how 2016 is different than 2003 and all the failures of past Cubs' postseasons. But it felt rightest for the Giants to show their mettle, the Cubs to battle back, and then the Giants to show it all over again. That was truly perfect.

There were so many small occurrences in that game that add up to an unforgettable night of baseball. From Jake Arrietta hitting a home run off of Playoff Greek God Madison Bumgarner. If anything would lead you to believe the Cubs were truly a team of destiny, it was not only them scoring on Madison Bumgarner, but their pitcher hitting a three-run HR off of him. But like the Giants do, they picked up a few runs to get back in the game.

Of course, then the true brilliance of playoff baseball was shown, from strange umpiring (How was the out call not overturned when Anthony Rizzo was so obviously off of the base), to odd managerial decisions, like Joe Maddon asking Aroldis Chapman to get six outs for a save. Of course, that wasn't so much odd as it was unexpected - but it made some sense. After Hunter Pence, who is scary enough to go to your electric closer, comes three lefties which Chapman should eat up. So of course, he strikes out Pence, and doesn't get any of the lefties out.

Nothing exemplifies the Giants more than Connor Gillaspie right now, the man who's 3-run HR in the top of the 9th ousted the Mets, and now the man who hit a triple against Chapman, banging the first 100+ MPH pitch he has ever seen 420 feet on a rope. The Giants resiliency has always been best shown by their secondary players. The men who won the MVPs for the 2010 & 2012 NLCS and World Series were Cody Ross ('10 NLCS), Edgar Renteria ('10 World Series), Marco Scutaro ('12 NLCS) and Pablo Sandoval ('12 World Series). Bumgarner wholly dominated the 2014 run, but even then they got Travis Ishikawa to hit a walk off home run to win the NLCS in Game 5.

Of course these Giants are not those Giants. These Giants are similar to the 2014 team, with a balanced offense that doesn't strike out but doesn't hit for power. But on defense, other than having Bumgarner on both teams, the 2016 team actually has other starting pitchers, but they don't have a bullpen. So many parts changed between the 2010 Giants and 2014 Giants - Buster Posey was the ONLY position player to start for all three teams, but the bullpen didn't. Four men played on all three of those teams: Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. Only Romo is left healthy, and he was the guy who gave up the lead.

The Cubs are battling 100 years of despair, but also now high expectations built off of a year of absolute brilliance, of having the best offense in the NL, the best starting pitching in the NL, where Jake Arrietta was probably the 3rd best pitcher this year, and by far the best defense. All three were on display in this series, including the defense who saved the game in the bottom of the 9th with an incredible catch to rob Buster Posey of what would have been a game winning double into the cavernous right field. The Cubs have expectations, they have a clear path. It is all there for them, but those Giants are still alive.

There are so many positive aspects to the Giants odd little dnyasty they have put together, from showing the world why baseball has it best from metering out both regular season dominance and postseason brilliance (I mean, everyone realizes the Giants were not the best team in any of their World Series years), to introducing the world to three Hall of Fame talents in Bumgarner, Posey and Bruce Bochy. But the best has to be what it has done for that franchise. The atmosphere at AT&T Park is always so electric and pulsating. October baseball in San Francisco has become an indelible image of these past six years of baseball.

Even if the Giants lose, they won't really lose. They are not that good of a team, they have legitimate holes on their team, and are playing a team that has better hitting, pitching and defense. Even if they lose, they have reminded that the Giants will fight to the end, and still have some October Magic, from Bumgarner's shutout in the Wild Card Game, to the heroism of Connor Gillaspie, and to the magic they provided the baseball world last night. If they win? Just give them the ring already. And the fact the team they are playing is teh Cubs? That was magical.

Friday, September 30, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 4 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking to 0-3 Teams

4.) Chicago Bears  =  0-3  (45-83)

Well, that was a nightmare. This whole season is a nightmare. If anything good comes out of this year, the Bears can see that they are working off various timelines and windows right now, and the one that absolutely needs to get closed is the Cutler one. Eight years is enough, and this team needs to fully rebuild, and getting rid of the QB who never quite worked out is the first step.

3.) Cleveland Browns  =  0-3  (54-84)

Great to see some fight, and better than that to see some inventiveness. The Browns are run by a lot of smart people with varied backgrounds, and of course took a lot of flak for it. But if the ideas born out of this strange factory are things like alternating QBs and making Terrelle Pryor into a triple-threat, and being very aggressive on 4th down. These are really interesting avenues that the Browns are looking into, and I'm interested to see years from now if it goes well if they will still be so inventive.

2.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  0-3  (54-84)

Gus Bradley just has to go, right? His defense plays one good game out of three. The offense is laughably mediocre. It is easy to say that Blake Bortles is a bust, and maybe he is, but forget the offense. This comes down to Gus Bradley and that teams inability to build a defense that is worth a damn despite investing pick after pick and high-dollar free agents. It may be a good result if he doesn't come back on that trip back from London.

1.) New Orleans Saints  =  0-3  (79-96)

The Saints are pretty clearly the best 0-3 team in the NFL, but the fact that they are 0-3 is still just jarring. Their inability to win at home is just jarring. Even when their defense was bad in years past they could be a safe pick to win at home. I don't even think it is that their defense is so bad (and it is), but their offense doesn't have the same dynamism that it used to. In years past I often criticized the Saints about their inability to get as much YAC from their short throws in road games, but that has now started to stretch into their home games as well.

Ranking the 1-2 Teams

13.) Miami Dolphins  =  1-2  (64-67)

The Dolphins may have rid themselves of one coach who earned his stripes coordinating an offense run by an All-Time Great QB, but maybe they just went and replaced him (Joe Philbin) with another (Adam Gase). The Dolphins may seem to have a strategy, but if the end result is needing three missed field goals by Cody Parkey to beat the Browns, it is not a working strategy.

12.) San Francisco 49ers  =  1-2  (73-83)

Their Week 1 28-0 win is looking more and more like a facsimile of their big Week 1 win last year on MNF. The 49ers offense is so useless right now. Maybe it is Blaine Gabbert, but to me it is more and more Chip Kelly. Good defenses, like Seattle's certainly, just dominate that offense. The Panthers did as well aside from one blown coverage. The 49ers offense is just a disaster right now, and I can't believe Kaepernick can be any worse than this.

11.) Tennessee Titans  =  1-2  (42-57)

I honestly think that if they just lost all of the stupid power running and options and pitchback and full-back nonsense that Mike Mularkey likes to no end, that this could actually be a decent team. The Titans have a QB who is good when not made to work within a ridiculous offense better suited for 1976. The defense has a lot of good players and are coached well. Too bad they are wasting this with just awful coaching and tactics.

10.) San Diego Chargers  =  1-2  (87-73)

I feel so bad that the Chargers have had to live with this injury nonsense again and again. To lose Keenan Allen one week, Danny Woodhead and now Manti T'eo. Philip Rivers had to deal with this in 2010, when he had maybe his best personal season. He dealt with it last year, and now again. I really wish the Chargers and Titans worked out their trade a few years back to send him to Tennessee when Whisenhunt was there.

9.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  1-2  (70-101)

The defense the Buccaneers have shown the past two weeks, against two teams that have been fairly mediocre on offense in their other two games, is what I feared when they fired Lovie Smith. The offense has been fine, with two good performacnes and one disaster, but up-and-down is to be expected with an erratic second year QB and a bad OL, but the defense has been very, very poor. Even the Falcons moved the ball at will, and if not for their inability to score in the red zone, the Buccaneers would probably be 0-3.

8.) Detroit Lions  =  1-2  (81-85)

In every way, that was such a classic Lions vs. Packers performance from the 2009-2014 period in Lambeau, where the Lions would play like they were drunk for a half, but make a few big plays, and then make a spirited but ultimately seriously fruitless comeback attempt. I'll give them credit for at least stopping the Packers in the second half, but you could as rightly say that Mike McCarthy stopped the Packers.

7.) Washington Redskins  =  1-2  (68-92)

That was a really impressive win. Their defense was still on the whole unable to stop the Giants, but really played well in the red zone. Kirk Cousins finally looked good, but more than that his receivers looked good. The Redskins took advantage of some 2012-2015 Giants mindlessness, but we have to give them credit for being in position to do so.

6.) Indianapolis Colts  =  1-2  (81-95)

The Colts have an easy schedule, and as we've seen by the Texans last performance, a still-easy division, and they may have saved their season with the long Luck to Hilton TD. TY Hilton remains a really, really good player, and even Phillip Dorsett has started to show signs. What the Colts need the most right now, especially with their defensive issues with pass rush, is for Andrew Luck to play like a Top-5 QB. He can do it in spurts, but he needs to do it for weeks.

5.) Buffalo Bills  =  1-2  (71-68)

I honestly should have seen that coming. The Rex Ryan way is to every now and then inspire his team to play balls-out, especially on defense, for specific matchups. I potentially could say him doing the same thing this upcoming in New England as well. The Bills definitely have a chance to go on a run, and all the right elements are there, but it will come down to whether Rex can inspire them more than once a month.

4.) New York Jets  =  1-2  (62-78)

That was probably the worst game Ryan Fitzpatrick will play this year. In fact, it would be close to historically unprecedented for him to have a game that bad again. Which should, in a way, be a good thing when the score of that game removing defensive TDs was 10-3. The Jets defense is still great, but it was surprising to see that offensive performance. I am really interested to see them go up against the Seahawks this upcoming week. That D-line is just amazing, and will keep them in most games. They just need to ensure Fitzpatrick keeps them in games.

3.) Arizona Cardinals  =  1-2  (79-63)

The Cardinals are in an interesting place. They really should have won that New England game, but they didn't, and know despite all the talent in the team, they've had to face big deficits twice. The Cardinals still have oodles of talent, and won't play a desperate 0-2 team with the motivator of Rex Ryan, but there needs to be an analysis of how to play against teams now that they know the Cardinals pet plays, like the deep ball.

2.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  1-2  (56-75)

That was a surprising loss, and while Andy Dalton becomes just another QB that the Broncos can hang up on the wall like a pelt, it was an alarming performance. The defense was really good for most of that game, and sometimes guys like Demaryius Thomas and Emannual Sanders just go off. Hopefully Tyler Eifert will return soon and add some juice to an offense that is sputtering at the moment.

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  1-2  (76-70)

That loss reminded me a lot of their 2013 Divisional Round loss to the 49ers, where they dominated the game early (the Panthers really did cruise to that 10-0 lead) but ultimately just could not get anything going late. I would chalk that up to just a bad performance, and it was never natural to expect them to be as good as last year, but the Panthers need to block better, need to defend better, and while their next game won't challenge the former, it definitely will challenge the latter.

Ranking the 2-1 Teams

10.) Los Angeles Rams  =  2-1  (46-63)

The comparisons to the 2015 Vikings, the team that lost the 10:30PM EST MNF Week 1 game in San Francisco, are becoming stronger and stronger. The Rams offense finally woke up, and while they have a track record of not being able to carry that over week to week, the defense remains a really good unit. The Rams have definitely rebounded to respectability on offense and that always was good enough for them to go back to that 7-9 range that is so befitting Jeff Fisher and his team(s).

9.) Houston Texans  =  2-1  (42-53)

John Elway remains a really, really good GM. He did not bite on the Osweiler craze, knowing from years of practices and spotty play that he was not as good as that 5-2 record. Osweiler is just not a top-level QB and is very generously overpaid. Their defense is still good enough to have them Rams their way to 9 or 10 wins, but the ceiling really may not be too much higher this year than they were last year when they were Wild Card fodder.

8.) Dallas Cowboys  =  2-1  (77-60)

I'm still not a huge believer in Dak Prescott, but I am a believer that the Cowboys may be in a good enough position when Romo returns to make a run in 2016. The season will really come down to whether Romo can come back and stay healthy. I'm not going crazy about a win over one of the worst teams in the NFL, but the Cowboys defense has done a lot better than I would have expected given their talent drain through cuts and suspensions.

7.) New York Giants  =  2-1  (63-61)

That was a really bad loss. The Giants had an opportunity to make a statement by pushing the defending Division champs into an 0-3 hole - a record no team in the current playoff format era (since 2002) has climbed out of it to make the playoffs. The Giants really have a red zone problem they need to fix. It showed up time and time again the past two weeks and made two games where they, aside from the red zone, completely outplayed their opponent. The Giants are not a trustable team, they never have been apart from 2008, but they had a chance to be something different. They still do, but losing a home divisional game, and blowing a 21-9 lead in the process, is not a good way to start.

6.) Oakland Raiders  =  2-1  (80-79)

If the Raiders put their best foot forward on both sides of the ball, this could be a scary team. For the first time, their defense really showed up, but this time their offense sputtered in the 'green zone' (40 yard line to 20 yard line). The offense, especially the run game, is really clicking, but I feel like too often they play like they know they have Janikowski and can get a long field goal if needed. That has to stop. The Raiders have the potential. 8-8 is the minimum expectation. They have a manageable schedule coming up and need to bank wins by having both sides complement and not alternate.

5.) Atlanta Falcons  =  2-1  (104-91)

I want to reserve judgement on their offense until these next three games are over where they have to play the Carolina, Denver and Seattle defenses. The Falcons have taken advantage of playing three of probably the worst five or six defensive units in the league. But still, they look just amazing, especially in the run game. Their OL has really improved their run blocking this year. Julio Jones hasn't even hit top speed yet. The defense still has major issues, but they can 2011 or 2013 Saints their way to 10-11 wins.

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  2-1  (69-49)

Well, I guess the Chiefs still have a pretty good defense then. I still think they need to find secondary pass rushers without Houston - and even when he comes back I don't expect him to be near 100%. Having Marcus Peters and Eric Berry in that secondary really helps. The Chiefs offense still needs work, and their running back trio is far less impressive this season than last, but if they can even get two interceptions a game, they should be in the clear and make the AFC West really interesting.

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  2-1  (65-66)

Well, that was quite surprising. I'm not sure what was worse about that game for the Steelers. Was it the 34 points allowed to an offense led by a rookie QB? Or was it scoring just 3 points despite having an overflowing bevy of skill position players and a great QB. I am truly shocked someone held a healthy Steelers offense to less than 10 points. I would wage that was the least amount of points they score this year, but still, it was quite shocking.

2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  2-1  (52-37)

The defense is still fantastic, and that will carry the team at the end of the day, but there has to be a serious worry about Russell Wilson's ability to stay healthy for the full season. I would consider sitting him against the Jets, especially with the bye coming up. That OL is still a problem, and if Russell is not healthy they really have no shot. The offense really had a tough time moving the ball at all with Trayvon Boykin in the game.

1.) Green Bay Packers  =  2-1  (75-67)

I wouldn't say Aaron Rodgers is completely back, but he never was really all that gone either. Why I really still like the Packers is mostly due to their defense, which has been great so far. Matthew Stafford hit some big plays after Demarious Randall went out, but their run defense has been far and away the best in the league, and they've been able to maintain a pass rush even with a gimpy Clay Matthews. The defense can carry them while the offense comes back in full.

Ranking the 3-0 Teams

5.) Baltimore Ravens  =  3-0  (57-44)

As someone who picked the Ravens to make the playoffs with a wild card this is a good start. I do get that there is a glaring black mark on their 3-0 start which is their list of opponents. From the Bills at home, to the Browns and Jaguars, they have played teams that are 1-8 total. The Ravens showed major calm in stealing a win from Jacksonville that probably shouldn't have been in doubt anyway, but this is also a team that overcame a 0-20 deficit on the road. The Ravens are not a good 3-0, but they are not a terrible one either.

4.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  3-0  (92-27)

The Eagles had the best point differential after each of the first two weeks. It looked like they were probably going to cede that distinction when the Patriots shutout Houston, but then they went and won 34-3. In reality, they have been the best team through three weeks, but they have the same schedule questions on their first two wins that Baltimore has. I think they are basically the 2011 49ers reborn right now, however, with an ex-QB coach, a weird offense and a great defense. It all makes sense. We doubted that team, and they were a fumbled punt away from a Super Bowl appearance.

3.) Minnesota Vikings  =  3-0  (64-40)

The Vikings defense is really special, and better than that they are deep. This is what happens when you draft three defensive players in the first round in 2013-14 and they are all coming together at the same time, and you surround those players with like eight other excellent ones. If Sam Bradford can stay healthy and competent - and his 18-28 for 178 yards is totally competent given the defense he was playing himself - the Vikings will be scary.

2.) New England Patriots  =  3-0  (81-45)

I'll make an admission, if Tom Brady had retired, and I knew this year would be fully run by Garoppolo and Brisett, I may want the Patriots to go 19-0 - I would want them to show the world that Tom Brady was a cog in their machine rather than the machine himself, that he meant less to the Patriots than people realized. Alas, he is coming back in two weeks, they'll probably be 4-0, and they will continue to haunt my dreams.

1.) Denver Broncos  =  3-0  (84-57)

I'll make another admission, Trevor Siemian is giving the Broncos more at the moment than Peyton Manning did in 2015. So if that is true, and the defense is 90% as good as it was last year - which seems true through three games - this team is really terrifying. Given the schedule they've played, including two teams that despite their 1-2 record I feel are legitimate contenders in Carolina and Cincinnati, the Broncos may have earned this #1 spot on merit anyway.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Denver Broncos  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  11-5
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  10-6


1.) Minnesota Vikings  =  12-4
2.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
3.) Arizona Cardinals  =  11-5
4.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  10-6
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
6.) Green Bay Packers  =  11-5

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

15.) Tennessee Titans (1-2)  @  Houston Texans (2-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Cleveland Browns (0-3)  @  Washington Redskins (1-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Detroit Lions (1-2)  @  Chicago Bears (0-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it the "It's for these games that I don't care I'm traveling on Sunday" Sunday, as I'll probably be in a car for most of the day. Not having Manning in my life means I am more okay than normal taking Sundays off. Of course, I'm not that OK, but for games like these two, I am very OK. Had RGIII still been the Browns starting QB their game may have been interesting from the angle of his return to Washington, but Cody Kessler in the nation's capital has less meaning.

12.) Indianapolis Colts (1-2)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)  (London - CBS)

I call it "Someone may not make it back over that pond alive" Sunday Morning, as the first London game comes at a time where we can continue a nice little London tradition. Two straight years someone has been fired after the first London game. Last year it was Joe Philbin, the year before Dennis Allen. This time Gus Bradley, who would be a ridiculously bad 12-40 if they lose, seems like the easy candidate, but I wouldn't put it past Jim Irsay to can Pagano if they fall to 1-3 in a bad performance to Jacksonville.

11.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1)  @  San Francisco 49ers (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)
10.) New Orleans Saints (0-3)  @  San Diego Chargers (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "This would have been so much more fun five and ten years ago" Sunday, as FOX's two premier doubleheader late games have a lot of nice nostalgia to them, but little actual substance. The Cowboys are still missing Romo, and the 49ers these days are a sad reminder both of college coach's having a hard time in the NFL, and how short that Harbaugh renaissance was. Five years ago these two played a great OT game in San Francisco. The Cowboys won it, but in reality it was the Harbaugh 49ers coming out party. For the Saints, it is Drew Brees's first game in San Diego since he left, but since he got the better end of that deal hard to imagine he'll be too charged up. It is more sad that these two teams that used to be offensive powers, that played arguably the only good game we've ever had in London (a Chargers 39-38 win in 2008) are now a combined 1-5.

9.) St. Louis Rams (2-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)
8.) Miami Dolphins (1-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)  (TNF - NFLN)

I call it "If they lose, there are serious questions to be asked" Thursday and Sunday, as two preseason favorites (or more truthfully, my two preseason favorites to make the Super Bowl) have started out 1-2, including losing their home opener. Neither the Cardinals or Bengals can afford to slip to 1-3. These would be hurtful loses to either. The Bengals already have tough competition in their division, and Arizona would create tough competition by pushing the Rams to 3-1 if they win. At the end, though, I don't expect either of the 1-2 teams to be challenged too much. A desparate good team is still scary.

7.) Denver Broncos (3-0)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)  (4:05 - FOX)
6.) Buffalo Bills (1-2)  @  New England Patriots (3-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "If the win, let's just go straight to the AFC Title Game and let them duke it out" Sunday, as both the Broncos and Patriots, the two teams that met up in 2013 and 2015 to spar for the AFC Title, get a chance to start 4-0. And these wouldn't be normal 4-0 starts. Both were integrating in new QBs. The Broncos start may actually be more surprising given how many people were passing over them as favorites in that division. Still, while things are changing rapidly in the NFC seemingly, things are more or less staying the same in the AFC.

5.) Seattle Seahawks (2-1)  @  New York Jets (1-2)  (1;00 - FOX)
4.) Oakland Raiders (2-1)  @  Baltimore Ravens (3-0)  (1;00 - CBS)
3.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-1)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)  (SNF - NBC)
2.) New York Giants (2-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (3-0)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "Just a lot of fun football" Sunday and Monday, as there are four really nice games. I wish one of those two 1PM games were in the late time-slot as it would have given me one game in each window. Either way, these are just four really nice contests. The Seahawks and Jets should be a defensive struggle. The Raiders and Ravens should be a nice offense vs. defense match (if the Raiders do win, they would be 3-1, and 3-0 on the road). The Chiefs and Steelers a game between two teams that are really well coached and managed on Sunday Night, which is never not a bad thing, and finally a rare MNF game that seems really exciting, and one that ended up better looking now than it shaped up to be when the schedule came out. Just good stuff all around.

1.) Carolina Panthers (1-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (2-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Are they for real" Sunday, as the Falcons finally get a real test for their suddenly unstoppable offense. In the last two weeks, the Falcons scored 80 points (73 after removing a pick-6), but that came against what have been probably the two worst defenses in the NFL. The Panthers are not that. Their defense has been great, as a great deal of teh points they gave up in the last two games were off of defense, special teams or short fields. The Panthers themselves need to find their mojo back, and there is no better way than to beat the suddenly hot darlings again in their own building and stake their claim back to this division.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 3 Power Rankings & The Rest

The days after Week 1 is National Overreaction Week. The days after Week 2 is National "The Transitive Property is a Thing" Week, where we stupidly theorize that if Team A lost a close game to Team B in Week 1, and then won big against Team C in Week 2, that Team B must be really great. Anyway, let's go to the rankings.

Ranking the 0-2 Teams

8.) Cleveland Browns  =  0-2  (30-54)

Well, at the very least they are making their tanking really exciting. No team could get a three TD lead, immediately give up a 2-point conversion against them, and then get shutout the rest of the way. And that it happened to the old Browns makes it so much worse. Now we may get to see Cody Kessler. This is just pure hilarity at this point.

7.) Chicago Bears  =  0-2  (28-52)

This ranking is obviously effected by the mass injuries sustained by the Bears in their MNF loss. I didn't like this team much anyway, especially with the weird mix of both rebuilding but still employing Jay Cutler - but either way, the Bears are screwed now. They may as well go full tank and look to rebuild around a new QB in 2017.

6.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  0-2  (37-65)

Looks like the Jags breakout isn't happening. In an effort to immediately steer into the ditch I outlined, by the transitive property, them hanging with Green Bay doesn't look nearly as good now as it did after Week 1. Their defense is still dreadful, and I have to think Gus Bradley is not long for that job. Blake Bortles was also so outclassed at QB by Rivers - hopefully he took notes.

5.) Miami Dolphins  =  0-2  (34-43)

In a way, because they came within a 30-yard strike of tying that game, maybe you can retrospectively say that the stat compiling didn't occur during garbage time. But actually, that is exactly what you can say. I figured that would happen, given the Dolphins Week 17 win last year was what cost the Patriots the #1 seed (and likely the Super Bowl), but the Dolphins came to that game so entirely unprepared - wich is not something I expected from the Adam Gase era.

4.) Washington Redskins  =  0-2  (39-65)

Every game they play, every missed throw by Kirk Cousins, every missed read, we understand more and more why smart football people (including Redskins GM Scott McLoughlan) were so against giving Kirk Cousins a large contract due to 8 good games. Cousins is holding an otherwise talented team back. If they had a Top-10 QB, the Redskins would easily be a Top-10 level team.

3.) New Orleans Saints  =  0-2  (47-51)

Two more games, two more tough losses, and the Saints are proving many things at once. First, their offense is not necessarily good enough to win games - even when their defense plays well. All the issues of the Saints offense outdoors cropped up again. Short throws with little YAC, inability to consistently protect Brees, or get separation. There are more high profile issues going on in Green Bay, but the later years of the Brees-era are a real sad show.

2.) Buffalo Bills  =  0-2  (38-50)

Obviously, it makes no sense that they fired Greg Roman. The Bills offense was the far better part of the team in the Rex Ryan era. The Bills are not bad, yet, but there are obvious issues with that team that firing the guy that made them a passable offense will not fix. It starts and ends with Rex Ryan. I thought pairing his great defensive history with the Bills own great defensive history would be a match made in heaven. Instead, it is becoming a continuation of his 2011-2014 career with the Jets.

1.) Indianapolis Colts  =  0-2  (55-73)

To give them some credit, many QBs have looked equally helpless against the Broncos defense these past year and two games. Andrew Luck wasn't markedly worse than Cam Newton in the Super Bowl, or Tom Brady in the AFC Championship, or Aaron Rodgers last year. That all said, I have lost complete faith in that coaching staff to ever put together a decent defense, or have any clue on how to win games in the NFL of 2016. I like Chuck Pagano as a person, I am very happy he conquered his bout with Cancer. I still think it is time for change.

Ranking the 1-1 Teams

16.) Tennessee Titans  =  1-1  (32-40)

I am still not sure how the Titans won that game. I have no idea if Marcus Mariota is any good, given that weird offense and the situations and play calls that he is put in by Mike Mularkey. The defense is good, I guess, but they got bailed out by penalty after penalty by the Lions. The Titans may end up better than I think, but right now, I am not a believer in their offensive philosopy, and I am just overly bitter that the Lions couldn't cover that game.

15.) Los Angeles Rams  =  1-1  (9-31)

The Rams are just a joke now, and somehow even more so after beating the Seahawks again. The offense is still a disaster, but it should be said the Seahawks are a great defense and they at least moved the ball. I really do hope that at some point this year Jared Goff gets a chance soon. Todd Gurley also needs to show something. I realize teams are stacking the box, and there is no other weapon to really take the pressure away, but he should be playing better than he has.

14.) San Francisco 49ers  =  1-1  (55-46)

The 49ers got a nice dose of reality in that game, getting pounded by the Panthers offense and having their own offense get mauled apart from some strange mistakes by the Panthers, including a blown coverage on Vance McDonald's TD, and back-to-back fumbles setting the 49ers up in great field position. For the second straight year, the 49ers took advantage of that weird MNF Late Week 1 game, then took their show on the road to a real team and got blasted.

13.) Dallas Cowboys  =  1-1  (46-43)

I still am not a believer in Dak, who has not played a good pass rush yet. It was nice to see Ezekiel Elliott for at least one game live up to the hype, as did that offensive line. The defense still is missing any ability to rush the passer, and is trying to scheme their way into some red zone stops or turnovers. It worked in 2014, but this offense is nowhere near as good now as it was then.

12.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  1-1  (38-64)

Well, that was a nice dose of reality. In the end, that game was either gonna be really close, or a complete blowout. The Buccaneers had to face the latter in the Arizona Cardinals buzzsaw smiting after their loss to the Patriots backup QB. Winston has to improve his accuracy, or his peak will be Eli Manning.

11.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  1-1  (45-46)

The Chiefs defense is really missing Justin Houston. There is more talent on that defense, but most of it is older and may be near the end of their peak or starting their decline. The offensive line has been a disaster through two games, and if not for a great comeback in Week 1 they are 0-2. In the end, when Houston returns the Chiefs defense should improve - but they may be too far off by that time.

10.) Atlanta Falcons  =  1-1  (59-59)

I was not expecting that performance. The best result for the Falcons through two games has to be their OL, which has given Matt Ryan plenty of time, enough so to go deep, a lot, to Julio and others. The defense has not been nearly as good, and that may be a lasting problem, but through two games Matt Ryan has been more like the guy he was from 2010-2014 than the seemingly declining player he was last year.

9.) Detroit Lions  =  1-1  (54-51)

Um, what was that? Did they just go to sleep after going up 15-3? What happened to that offense? The defense was decent enough to win, but where was that offense. There is no way that Theo Riddick means that much to that offense that the second he got hurt the offense went to hell. Anyway, the Lions are still to me good enough to make a wild card run, but they have to cut down on the penalties, have to play sixty minutes, have to just grow up.

8.) San Diego Chargers  =  1-1  (65-47)

Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates is still working in Year #11. Philip Rivers himself is still going strong in Year 11. You can take away Keenan Allen, take away Danny Woodhead, but that man can still pull his magic every now and then. That is all I have to say. Treasure this man.

7.) Oakland Raiders  =  1-1  (63-69)

That defense has to be fixed. Opponent Adjustments are not yet in Football Outsider's DVOA rankings this year, but the Raiders are #32 in defense, and probably would be even if opponent adjustments are considered. It has been terrible at every level. Of course, they are also #1 by offense in DVOA. That offense is good enough to win 11 games. They just have to hope when they couple that with the defense, they can win 9.

6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  1-1  (15-19)

Basically, just reverse everything I wrote about Oakland, and you get Seattle. They have been so pathetic on offense, with an OL that is finally so bad even Russell Wilson can't get them to move the ball. Wilson's injury isn't helping, but that is a direct result of the bad OL. The defense is its normal absolutely fantastic self, but with that offense, they are not winning the division, and likely not getting out of the NFC.

5.) Green Bay Packers  =  1-1  (41-40)

Aaron Rodgers sudden devolution is so familiar to this old Manning fan. Rodgers play these last 14 games, where his numbers dropped off a cliff, not reaching 100 passer rating in any single game, is very reminiscent of Manning in 2010, when his brilliance could not any longer compensate for the lack of support, be it the OL, or the receivers. Rodgers is pressing. Hopefully for them, if Nelson can get his groove back, maybe Rodgers finally can as well.

4.) New York Jets  =  1-1  (59-54)

It was surprising they could get no real pass rush against Buffalo, but sometimes games take on styles that are so hard to envision. Both sides would rather have played a 16-13 game instead of a 37-31 game. It is good, however, to see the offense play like that. There is obvious fear that Ryan Fitzpatrick could not be better than he was in 2015, but for one night he was and that offense was. They are one point away from 2-0 right now.

3.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  1-1  (39-46)

Can't criticize the Bengals too much. They've had two road games, both against teams I consider to be very good. They first beat the Jets, and then played the Steelers probably closer than the score indicated, including doing a great job, again, against Antonio Brown, holding him to maybe his worst game in a few years. The offense is still learning to adapt without Sanu and Jones, but the soon-to-be returned Tyler Eifert should help. They have a direct task now, which is to do something they historically have been awful at: beat the Steelers in Cincinnati, as they've oddly had way more success against them in Pittsburgh.

2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  1-1  (61-30)

Spoiler, my #1 1-1 team is the Panthers, but I could have been swayed either way in this one. What this means is really, after a week 1 where both of our reigning NFC Finalists lost their openers due to missed field goals at the gun that would have won them the game, they've returned to being the best, scariest teams in the NFL. The Cardinals probably at this point regret straying away from their blitz and man heavy defense in Week 1. It returned with a vengeance in Week 2, and while Palmer needs to be more accurate, the downfield game worked well also. The Cardinals remain an incredibly balanced team.

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  1-1  (66-48)

As do the Panthers, who are close to being clearly better on offense than defense at this point, which is a credit to their offense. Kelvin Benjamin has returned in truly awesome form, and Cam Newton is hitting incredibly tight windows. May be hard to keep up, but I expect the defense, especially the secondary play, to improve over the course of the year - much like it did in 2014 when they were bringing in new starters. The difference between 2016 and 2014 is this year the offense is so good (and I think their Week 1 performance looks a lot better now) they won't start 3-8-1 when dealing with defensive issues.

Ranking to 2-0 Teams

8.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  2-0  (58-24)

By point differential, the Eagles are the best team in the league through two weeks. Of course, they've played the two teams that I consider to be the worst two in the league, and they didn't pull away from the Bears until the Bears started losing mass amounts of players. In the end, while I like Wentz, he is still somewhat limited, and against better offense, their secondary issues will be more pronounced. 

7.) Houston Texans  =  2-0  (42-26)

The Texans have won their first two games in a way that should seem very familiar to Brock Osweiler. Get average at best play from your QB, who has the ability to hit a few deep shots to his talented WRs, and let your amazing defense take it home. Thing is, the Texans defense isn't as good as Denver's was last year (or at least they haven't shown that against a top team), and Osweiler is really showing some of his limitations and erratic play.

6.) New York Giants  =  2-0  (36-32)

The Giants are due to win some close games, but the real worrying point I have is their offenses inability to translate great talent - and great stats to the most part - into a lot of points. Their resume isn't that impressive at this point. It may have been had they held onto the ball against the Saints and won 31-13 (which was the real way the game should have played out), but they should not need late game heroics to win games against bad teams.

5.) Baltimore Ravens  =  2-0  (38-27)

A lot of people are giving the Ravens flak for playing a close game with the Browns. I, instead, will give them credit for spotting a team 20 points on the road and winning. I get that the Browns are truly, and very much intentionally, dreadful, but for any team to fall behind on the road like that and come back without giving up another point. Flacco looks good. Mike Wallace looks reborn. And when they aren't giving up freak long plays to Corey Coleman and random Browns Running Back, their defense is still rather good.

4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  2-0  (42-30)

My word was that a great defensive performance. I realize the Packers entire offense has a group case of the yips right now, but their coverage was great, their d-line was great, and this was all missing Xavier Rhodes and Shariff Floyd. Sam Bradford even looked good. I feel good for him. He's been duly compensated for having to play on some bad teams and be average at best, but he can succeed with that defense. 

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  2-0  (62-32)

The Steelers offense can score 24 points and it big plays when they're sloppy and Ben is off his game. To beat what I still consider a good team in Cincinnati with Antonio Brown having a notably off game, and Roethlisberger himself throwing two picks. The defense has taken a step up, and while I do worry that their pass rush has been really silent in the first two games, their defense is playing really well by adapting to some of Tomlin's old zone concepts. It is a good, smart defense to pair with that offense.

2.) New England Patriots  =  2-0  (54-45)

In a converse way to what I said about Miami, should we be a little more concerned with the defense after they came somewhat close to actually giving up that 31-3 lead? Probably not, but while they were a good team with Garropolo, there has to be concern with turning to Jacoby Brissett. Of course, this ranking still reflects that the calvary, both in Brady and Gronk, are coming back soon and then, for Pats fans, the real fun begins. For me, the nightmares will as well.

1.) Denver Broncos  =  2-0  (55-40)

There is a non-zero chance their defense is actually better this year than it was last. Well, at the very most Von Miller looks like he is. They are better set to handle the loss of Ware for a bit. But for all of that, the Broncos offense is why they might deserve this #1 ranking outside of the fact I give that to the defending champs until they lose. In running Kubiak's offense, they have been able to rejuvenate their run game, and Siemien seems so well suited to that style. This is a dangerous, dangerous team.

Playoff Projections

1.) New England Patriots  =  14-2
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  12-4
3.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5

4.) Houston Texans  =  10-6
5.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  11-5
6.) New York Jets  =  10-6


1.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  12-4

3.) New York Giants  =  11-5
4.) Green Bay Packers  =  10-6
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6
6.) Minnesota Vikings  =  9-7

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Cleveland Browns (0-2)  @  Miami Dolphins (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) Baltimore Ravens (2-0)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Los Angeles Rams (1-1)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)  (4:05 - FOX)
13.) San Francisco 49ers (1-1)  @  Seattle Seahawks (1-1)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Cover Your Eyes" Sunday, as in Week 3 we get our first look at some truly dreadful matchups. Only pieces of interest here to me is the opportunity to check out if the Dolphins can win a game, if the Ravens can become the most uninteresting and nationally irrelevant 3-0 team in the NFL, and if the 49ers can score a point - and if Seattle can continue their 2002 Buccaneers-like pace in terms of points allowed. Still, none of these areas really escite me, and we are better off just moving on.

12.) Chicago Bears (0-2)  @  Dallas Cowboys (1-1)  (SNF - NBC)
11.) Oakland Raiders (1-1)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) San Diego Chargers (1-1)  @  Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Intra-Conference Average-ish" Sunday, as we get three games with six teams that are at this point fighting to stay relevant, and these being intra-conference games, the loser gets a conference loss that is the toughest to overcome. The Bears and Cowboys get a SNF game that I'm sure NBC would like to have back. The Raiders get a chance to show that their defense isn't historically bad, and that they can grow up and get past bad defeats. The Colts will give Andrew Luck the chance to show off his 2014 form that he found in Week 1, and prove that the bigger issue in last week's game was the team and defense he was facing rather than himself.

9.) Detroit Lions (1-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (1-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
8.) Washington Redskins (0-2)  @  New York Giants (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The Best Way to Prove Yourself is in the Division" Sunday, as these two divisional games feature teams with a lot to prove, but whether the games are interesting is something else to be seen. The Lions and Packers played two great, dramatic games last year, but historically their games in the Rodgers era have been boring - even the one's the Lions have won. The Lions and Packers both get a chance to say outright they are the early challenger to Minnesota - especially Detroit as if they can limit the Packers offense again, serious questions and heat will be raised in Wisconsin. For the Giants, what better way to stake a claim to the division than go three up on the defending Division champs. They'll have to deal with Philadelphia sooner or later, but for now they can get a real good start on their first division title in five years.

7.) Arizona Cardinals (1-1)  @  Buffalo Bills (0-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Inter-Conference Above Average-ish" Sunday, as we get two games between AFC and NFC teams that have also a lot of storylines, if not great play coming. The Cardinals take their high-flying show to a place where another blowout win for them may spell the end for Rex Ryan - or at the very least the beginning of the end, given how poorly teams that start 0-3 usually end up being. While the Battle of Philadelphia looks a lot better right now than it did before the season, I am still skeptical of the Eagles given who they've played, and expect them to receive a dose of reality from having to play a competent team for the firs ttme.

5.) Atlanta Falcons (1-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-2)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "The Nostalgia Bowl" Monday, as the Falcons and Saints play in the Superdome, nearly 10 years to the day (and in NFL terms, exactly 10 years from Week 3, 2006) from when the Saints re-opened the Superdome after Katrina and beat the Falcons 26-3 in an emotionally charged festival. That highlight will be played a lot. And while that is a great memory of a truly inspirational moment, the game itself is a sad reminder of a period from 2010-2013 or so when this used to be one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Since then, both franchises have fallen off, and while the Falcons showed some signs of life, this matchup will probably be meainingless long term, which is sad considering how good these teams used to be.

4.) New York Jets (1-1)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
3.) Houston Texans (2-0)  @  New England Patriots (2-0)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "The Less Fun of the two Inter-Conference High-Profile Matchup Duos" Thursday and Sunday, as these four AFC contenders square off. The Chiefs are lucky to be 1-1, but if they can beat a good Jets team that is unlucky to be only 1-1, it may help them write the ship after a tough two weeks. For the Texans, if you want to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender, you go to New England and beat a team led by Jacoby Brissett. For the Pats, this is a chance for Bill Belichick immortality, and for us Pats haters, also a nice little piece of ammunition to make the case for Manning against Brady. To be honest, if the specter of Tom Brady's return didn't appear on the horizon, I might want a Garropolo/Brissett led Patriots to go 19-0.

2.) Minnesota Vikings (2-0)  @  Carolina Panthers (1-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
1.) Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Let's Just Hope the Best Games are the Best Games" Sunday, as these are the clear best two games on paper. The Vikings defense and the wonderful (so far) Sam Bradford renaissance had added some juice into this game - and while the Panthers are seemingly a better version of the Vikings across the board, there is a real opportunity for Minnesota here. In Cincinnati,the Bengals get a chance to play at home and assert some dominance and beat the defending Champs. With the way Denver's defense is playing, and the way Siemien is not screwing up, this game looks a whole lot better than I thought it would heading into the season. We are going to get some heavyweight inter-division AFC fights this year, and this is the first one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 2 Power Rankings & The Rest

Ranking the 0-1 Teams

16.) Cleveland Browns  =  0-1  (10-29)

Weirdly enough, most of the favorites won in Week 1, and teams played, to some degree, to form and expectations. Exhibit A is the Browns absolutely sucking the life out of their fans in a truly awful display. I got a lot wrong (and am already dreading what the 2016 New England Patriots are going to do to my sanity), but I can say that I got the Browns right. They are so phenomenally bad. I realize that is the point, and in a sense am happy they are embracing how bad they are. By the way, in a week full of close games, this was the largest margin of defeat - the only team to lose by double digits!

15.) St. Louis Rams  =  0-1  (0-28)

Well, I'm already regretting my Rams as the #6 seed pick. I will caution myself that just last year Minnesota went to San Francisco for the late MNF game and looked about as bad as St. Louis looked yesterday. They ended up just fine. But at least they scored, at least they had a pulse. Maybe the Rams get one when/if Jared Goff comes in, but for now this team is an unholy mess on offense.

14.) Tennessee Titans  =  0-1  (16-25)

Looks like Mularkey ball is a disaster. If they ran a normal offense, they win that game. Instead, they gimmicked it up, made Mariota run the fucking option, and gave up two defensive TDs and lost in embarrassing fashion. What is worse is that there actually seems to be some modicum of talent on that club. Instead, they are destined to ruin Marcus Mariota's career seemingly. On the bright side, the defense was really good, especially the run defense.

13.) Chicago Bears  =  0-1  (14-23)

The Bears had their chances, but ultimately, just weren't as good as Houston. Also, it seems that they paid so much attention to JJ Watt they let the rest of the Texans front just wreak havoc, especially Whitney Mercilus. The offense looked ok at times, but far too little of the consistency in short to medium gains that they showed off last year in the Gase offense. It looks like it may be a long year in Chicago.

12.) Atlanta Falcons  =  0-1  (24-31)

The Falcons have become just a more boring version of the Saints. They too will always end up with some staggering numbers on face value, but they have such a hard time transferring production into points. Matt Ryan, by the numbers, had a really nice day, but they only scored 24 points and were not really in this game in teh second half. When they were going 13-3 or 10-6, they absolutely win that game. Now, the Falcons are looking like a clear pick to finish last. The defense is the real issue, as they let the Buccaneers just stomp over them for 60 minutes.

11.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  0-1  (23-27)

The final score says it was a four point game, and the Jaguars were 15 yards away from potentially winning the game, but I still came away underwhelmed. Their defense definitely looks better, but unless one of the Allens is making a great catch, I really dislike the production from Blake Bortles. He seems to have no real touch or feel, and while these areas could get better, they rarely do after two-plus years in the league. Good to see that Gus Bradley defense put up a fight for once, though.

10.) Indianapolis Colts  =  0-1  (35-39)

On the plus side, Andrew Luck looked like the player he was in 2014 when he threw 40 TDs and looked like the next great QB. On the down side, that defense is dreadful. Admittedly, they are worse than they should be due to injuries, but they have such a stunning lack of playmakers on that side of the ball. You would think they would luck into one by now. Scheme can only do so much, and while earlier versions of the Colts defense would have held the Lions at bay, this one was completely powerless.

9.) Miami Dolphins  =  0-1  (10-12)

Really like that performance by the defense, but as usual there were key errors. Their secondary was a mess all game, and if the line didn't get to Russell Wilson (which did often happen), Doug Baldwin was running wild on them. Of course, the offense was not very good, including dropped TDs (Holy Lord, Kenny Stills!) and a seeming inability to recognize a blitz even one time.

8.) Washington Redskins  =  0-1  (16-38)

I was shocked to see the Redskins actually put up 330 yards of passing, and Cousins was, on the whole, rather accurate. That said, to me he was scatter-brained, checked-down way too much, and threw as many interceptions in that game as he had the whole second half of last season. The defense also had no real answer for anything the Steelers threw at them. They still have an offense that could keep up with most teams, but the Steelers are not most teams.

7.) Dallas Cowboys  =  0-1  (19-20)

The limitations of Dak Prescott cost them the game. Now, that is fine, as Dak is a 4th round rookie and we shouldn't expect so much, but his inability to read defenses in the red zone, and reliance on the checkdown option, kept the Giants in the game despite being thoroughly outplayed. In many ways, this game had a lot of similarities to last year's opener in Dallas, but the clock management worked this time for New York. Dallas's defense was surprisingly frisky, but they better get those suspended guys back quickly.

6.) Buffalo Bills  =  0-1  (7-13)

Well, at the very least this version of the Bills looked more like what we all expected last year when Rex took over and started Tyrod Taylor. The offense was anemic, the defense was good but made some key mistakes including leaving Mike Wallace open in a middle-seam. This was such a classic Rex Ryan performance, and while I think the Ravens are pretty good, they are now staring an 0-1 start and divisional games ahead.

5.) San Diego Chargers  =  0-1  (27-33)

What the heck happened in the 2nd half? This offense was in full-in 2013 Chargers mode for 45 minutes (that year they were #2 in Offensive DVOA and Philip Rivers was a monster) and then just suddenly could do nothing. I leave that game disliking both teams, but really hating the Chargers throwing away a key winnable division game. Also, I feel really bad for Keenan Allen, who is destined to never fulfill the promise he showed as a rookie in 2013.

4.) New Orleans Saints  =  0-1  (34-35)

I guess the Saints aren't any better than a historically bad defense after all? Of course, the offense still has certain skills in the dome, but it has to be really worrying that they get an A game from Drew Brees, 500 total yards, and can't even beat the Raiders - and while I think the Raiders are good, the Saints absolutely cannot drop home games like that if they want any shot at the playoffs.

3.) New York Jets  =  0-1  (22-23)

Honestly, I was really impressed with the Jets. Despite missing Sheldon Richardson, their D-Line was completely dominant, not seeming to miss Damon Harrison at all. They have to be concerned about Revis, but maybe it was more about how damn good AJ Green is than Revis slipping. Certainly, against a team without a dominant receiver, their defense will be even more effective. On offense, they have a lot of room to improve, and the talent to do so as well. Hard to see Marshall with as many drops again.

2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  0-1  (21-23)

This ranking is partially a sign that the Patriots might be a juggernaut, and a sign that the teams that were supposed to lose did end up losing, so it is easy for a team that surprisingly lost to still seem better. The Cardinals did move the ball reasonably well, but it was stunning to see them so lackadaisical, showing none of the inventive blitzing and aggression that was their hallmark. I feel they were lulled into a very, very false sense of security playing New England down so many players. Suddenly, their Week 2 game hosting Tampa is much trickier than previously believed.

1.) Carolina Panthers  =  0-1  (20-21)

I think if you play that game 10 times, the Panthers win 7 or 8. I'm still not quite sure how it went away so quickly, and they were one out of two teams (the other being Arizona) who were felled by inaccurate kickers. Kelvin Benjamin looks great. The offense looks good. If the refs call Roughing the Passer correctly they win anyway. I also have to believe the run defense will not be that bad again, as that performance was very out of character for what is generally such a good tackling team.

Ranking the 1-0 Teams

16.) San Francisco 49ers  =  1-0  (28-0)

That win says way more about the Rams than it does the 49ers in my book. Also, we just saw this script last year. The 49ers throttled trendy favorite Minnesota 20-3 in the 2nd Monday Night Game. How did that work out? The offense still looked really slow, and while the defense looked great, I think most defenses will this year against the Rams. I'm holding off announcing them as sleepers.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  1-0  (29-10)

It shows how bad I think the Browns are that the team with the best point differential after Week 1 is the team I have second to worst out of all the winners. It is just a fact that I won't give any credit to teams beating the Browns, and anyone who even plays a competitive game against them should think of it as a moral loss. Still, it was a nice debut by Carson Wentz, and that defense has a lot of talent.

14.) Minnesota Vikings  =  1-0  (25-16)

Much like Philly, this ranking is more of discounting who they beat. With Minnesota, it is also based on how they did it, as winning because of two defensive TDs and very specious defense is not a repeatable recipe. The defense is sitll very good, but if Peterson can't have better days than that facing stacked boxes, there is a real concern on their offense.

13.) New York Giants  =  1-0  (20-19)

Odell Beckham is still very good, but I was happy to see Victor Cruz look healthy and contribute greatly. If they can get even the Victor Cruz from 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards), this is going to be a scary passing offense. The defense still has no pass rush, but they tackle really well, have a knack for turnovers, and for at least one game, their major Free Agent signings worked out. Snacks Harrison helped clog up the run game and really limit Zeke Elliott, Janoris was solid at corner, and Oliver Vernon got a handful of hurries. But against non rookie QBs, that was not a good enough effort.

12.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  =  1-0  (31-24)

Jameis looks really good. Now, maybe it is Atlanta's defense that is dreadful, and maybe it was just a good day. Certainly, Jameis had similarly good days in 2015, but also complemented those with some awful ones. Still, it is interesting to take a trip down memory lane one year ago, when the day after Week 1 Marcus Mariota had a perfect passer rating and Jameis looked awful. Things have changed slightly, huh?

11.) Houston Texans  =  1-0  (23-14)

Brock Osweiler probably thought midway through that game that absolutely nothing had changed from his time in Denver. He got the support of a great defense, some excellent receiving targets, and managed to put up a really nice game while also showing some of the issues that ultimately convinced John Elway to not go forward with him. Still, the Texans right now are sitting really pretty in that division, and this is even without having a 100% JJ Watt.

10.) Detroit Lions  =  1-0  (39-35)

The Lions have now won 7 of 9 games dating back to last season, and generally been very good on offense in all of them. It is hard to get too good a read on them given how bad the Colts defense is - especially after seeing top guys get injured - but the Lions varied approach to making up for the loss of Calvin Johnson is really intriguing. Stafford just looks really calm and confident in that Jim Bob Cooter offense. The defense was startlingly bad, and they will have to hope they just ran up against Andrew Luck at his best, because there were serious breakdowns in coverage.

9.) Baltimore Ravens  =  1-0  (13-7)

Could that have been a more Ravens-esque win? It has to be a great sign that despite never leading by more than a score, the Ravens defense never relented and just slammed the door on the Bills the entire game. They never let them get anything going, and this is with a Terrell Suggs who is still trying to get into game shape. The offense was not great, but it was more mistakes than an inability to move the ball, so there is hope as well. The Ravens really late into the preseason predictions period became a trendy playoff pick, and for a week they showed why.

8.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  1-0  (33-27)

Give them credit for the comeback, for sticking to their plan, for the defense finally getting stops despite numerous injuries. But still, we need to remember this team was trailing 24-3 at home. The Chiefs defense was so lethargic early on, and while I realize Philip Rivers at his best can do that to any team, this was another level of disinterest. Better teams would not give up 17-point leads. Still, the Chiefs picked up their 11th straight regular season win.

7.) Oakland Raiders  =  1-0  (35-34)

Even had the Raiders lost that game, I would still think of them as one of the better 0-1 teams. Instead, they won in one of the craziest ways possible. Before we just write this off saying the Saints defense sucks, let's remember the Raiders went into the Superdome, went down 10-24, and won the game. This is a huge moment for a young team. You hope the defense comes together and does a better job getting after the passer, but there will be few games so challenging form them than the Saints in the Superdome on offense.

6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  1-0  (12-10)

The good news is Russell Wilson's injury doesn't seem too serious, and they still won the game. The Seahawks defense spent most of the game playing in the dominant fashion they ended last year and displayed in 2013-14. But my word was that offense bad. How are they still so bad at pass protection? How does Jimmy Graham get 1 catch in a game where Wilson throws in 43 times? At this point, you have to seriously wonder if Wilson plays 16 games, and if he can even be allowed to reach the level he showed late last season.

5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  1-0  (38-16)

The Steelers could not have drawn up a better performance. It was almost prime Manning-era Colts in its effectiveness. Roethlisberger was brilliant, Antonio Brown was even better, and DeAngelo Wiliams looked like the 2009 version of himself suddenly. My hesitation in ranking them higher is their defense. That pass rush is nonexistent. While this may work against most teams - certainly they can look to those Colts on how to win a lot of games by running and hiding on offense, but against top teams they need some of those young, talented front-seven players to take a step forward.

4.) Green Bay Packers  =  1-0  (27-23)

Maybe the Jaguars are a good team, and if they are this result looks a whole lot better. The defense had some huge plays late, and they still employ the best QB in the NFL, and they saw two of the three primary alternate contenders for the NFC crown lose, but there are some causes for concern. The main one is the offense. Aaron Rodgers went 20-32 for just 199 yards, and needed to do some incredible Aaron Rodgers stuff to get his two TDs. Where is the offense that dominated the league in 2014? Maybe Nelson isn't fully fit, but they better hope he does become so soon.

3.) Cincinnati Bengals  =  1-0  (23-22)

Other than the two teams ahead, no one had a more impressive win than the Bengals going to play a good team on the road and winning despite a performance that left a lot to be desired. The Bengals pass defense should get better over the course of the year as their younger guys get more seasoned in the secondary. The passing offense still looks great as Andy Dalton, when he wasn't get put on his ass, was able to fire strikes and make good use of even his non-Green targets. The team looks every bit as good as last ear, and a tight Week 1 test should be a good way to start that off.

2.) New England Patriots  =  1-0  (23-21)

Let's just face it, they are going at least 14-2, if not 16-0. Let's move on before I break my monitor.

1.) Denver Broncos  =  1-0  (21-20)

Still the Champs, still undefeated, and thus, still #1. I was impressed by the Broncos defense for still being so damn good even without Jackson or Trevathan. Sooner or later, Von and Demarcus will get you. The offense probably has a low ceiling, but seems to also have a high floor, especially if they can run block the way they did against Carolina - looking a lot the Kubiak-era Texans and nothing like whatever hodgepodge Kubiak threw together last year.

Playoff Projections


1.) New England Patriots  -  14-2
2.) Cincinnati Bengals  -  12-4
3.) Oakland Raiders  -  10-6
4.) Houston Texans  -  10-6

5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  -  11-5
6.) Baltimore Ravens  -  10-6


1.) Green Bay Packers  -  13-3
2.) Carolina Panthers  -  12-4
3.) Seattle Seahawks  -  12-4
4.) New York Giants  -  10-6
5.) Arizona Cardinals  -  10-6
6.) Detroit Lions  -  10-6

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Baltimore Ravens (1-0)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
15.) San Francisco 49ers (1-0)  @  Carolina Panthers (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
14.) Seattle Seahawks (1-0)  @  Los Angeles Rams (0-1)  (4:05 - FOX)
13.) Tennessee Titans (0-1)  @  Detroit Lions (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Games I Don't Really Have Any Interest In" Sunday, with four games that I really don't care too much about. For the Ravens and Lions, they have seemingly easy paths to nice 2-0 starts and some nice national praise, especially the Ravens who easily could have another great defensive performance. Carolina gets to lick their chops against what is still a bad team, and the Seahawks get to flex their muscles against what is most definitely a bad team. Only interesting question to me is do the Rams make it two straight shutouts? Very likely, honestly.

12.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)  @  San Diego Chargers (0-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The loser can kiss all Wild Card hopes behind" Sunday, as while I don't think either of these two teams have realistic playoff chances, the loser almost certainly doesn't. Generally one team a year will make the leap from 0-2 to the playoffs, but it is hard to imagine either of these two doing so. For the Jags, an 0-2 start would be particularly painful.

11.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)  @  Chicago Bears (0-1)  (MNF - ESPN)
10.) New Orleans Saints (0-1)  @  New York Giants (1-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Atlanta Falcons (0-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (1-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "The random fun 0-1 vs 1-0 games" Sunday and Monday, I like these 0-1 vs. 1-0 matchups as the most likely outcome is the Week 1 loser wins and we learn we don't know too much about any of these teams. I can easily see that, both with the Eagles riding high after beating up on a truly awful club, or the Giants realizing that not every QB is Dak Prescott, or the Falcons.... well actually with the Falcons, I think we know who we are. The Raiders can actually go 2-0 for the first time since 2002.

8.) Dallas Cowboys (0-1)  @  Washington Redskins (0-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Yeah, let's just get these NFC East Games out of the Way" Sunday, as after this game there will only be 10 more of these ridiculous contents. Neither team came out too well after Week 1, particularly the Redskins, who were outscored 38-10 to end their Monday Night Game. If there is one thing to look for, it can be that given what we saw DeAngelo and the Steelers run game do to the Redskins, we might actually get to see what that Ezekiel Elliott hype was about.

7.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)  @  Houston Texans (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Miami Dolphins (0-1)  @  New England Patriots (1-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "I really had no where else to put two games I'm mildly intrigued in" Sunday, as it is hard to get too hyped for these games, but in a post-Manning NFL where I'm open to just enjoy the games for once, I can get into these games a bit. Let's start with the Chiefs and Texans, where we get two 1-0 teams that both are trying to return to the playoffs. For the Dolphins, had they held on to their lead, and had Chandler Catanzaro hit his field goal, this game would have been way up the list.

5.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)  @  Arizona Cardinals (0-1)  (4:05 - FOX)
4.) Indianapolis Colts (0-1)  @  Denver Broncos (1-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Surprisingly Intriguing intra-conference Week 2 Games" Sunday, with two really nice games. After the Bucs surprising week 1 win in Atlanta, and the Cardinals pathetic performance, this is suddenly a big game. The Bucs can get a 2-0 start with two road games, the Cardinals can get an 0-2 start with two home games (really hurting my Super Bowl pick), or you know we can get a nice course correction. For the Colts, their defense gets an easier test, but their offense get a much tougher one.

3.) New York Jets (0-1)  @  Buffalo Bills (0-1)  (TNF - CBS)
2.) Green Bay Packers (1-0)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-0)  (SNF - NBC)
1.) Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)  (1:05 - CBS)

I call it "The Bad, The Good and the Great of Divisional Week 2 Games" Thursday and Sunday, as we get three nice divisional games in Week 2. The Jets and Bills both have playoff aspirations. For one of them, they will be 0-2 and really in a hole. The winner stays in pace with the Patriots in the division - but let's be real, this will be a mess of a game with the Color Rush jerseys and all that mess. The Packers and Vikings play a game that suddenly looks a lot nicer after Week 1, with a sullen Packers performance, and great Vikings defensive performance making this seem like a much more interesting game. Also it is the opening of the Vikings new stadium. And finally, another great game featuring the Bengals. If the Bengals can get their revenge win, they would start the season 2-0, both on the road against AFC contenders, just a huge opportunity for them.

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.