Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 11 Power Rankings & The Rest

Tier I - The "Worst of the Worst" Trio

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-9  =  143-240)
31.) New York Giants  (1-8  =  150-238)
30.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-9  =  174-260)

There's a clear set of worst teams and set of best teams halfway through the season. What is surprising is that the group of worst teams isn't that large. These three really have done some amazing work separating themselves from the pack. The Browns have a good chance to go 0-16 here. Honestly, we've just seen the Astros win a World Series, after losing 106 games in 2011, then 107 the next year, and 111 the next. Sometimes things do get really dark before they get better. The Giants have to be one of the greatest disappointments of all time, doubly so now as it seems most of the team has essentially quit. I'm interested to see when the 49ers plug in Jimmy Garroppolo. Beathard looked OK, but they need to see if this investment will have some early dividends.


Tier II - The "They Aren't as Good as their Record, and The Record Isn't That Good Anyway" Quino

29.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-7  =  179-280)
28.) Miami Dolphins  (4-5  =  137-224)
27.) New York Jets  (4-6  =  201-222)
26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (3-6  =  173-208)
25.) Chicago Bears  (3-6  =  150-194)
I honestly don't know how much better this set of five teams is than the three in the previous group, they just happened to win some games. The Colts are mirroring 2011 pretty well with slightly more competence, hanging around in a few games, but also getting blown out every third game. What's interesting at this point is how well that Jacoby Brissett trade ended up being. The Bears have shown suprising strength on defense, but I haven't seen anything special from Trubisky at this point. The Dolphins and Jets are easily two of the worst 4-win teams I've seen midway through a season ever. The Buccaneers need to use these last few weeks to evaluate a lot of their pieces, they have some huge decisions coming up this offseason.


Tier III - The "Big Soft Middle of the NFL" Septo

24.) Houston Texans  (3-6  =  236-241)
23.) Denver Broncos  (3-6  =  166-239)
22.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-5  =  155-223)
21.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-6  =  149-182)
20.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-5  =  190-171)
19.) Green Bay Packers  (5-4  =  204-207)
18.) Los Angeles Chargers  (3-6  =  167-172)


I hate grouping this many teams together, but I had an even harder time separating them. We have a mix of three formerly decent-to-good teams missing their starting QB (Houston, Arizona and Green Bay), a team snake-bitten like no other (Chargers), one of the least impressive teams with a positive point differential I've seen (Baltimore), and two of the biggest disappointments (Denver, Cincinnati). All seven have some upside (particularly Green Bay if they can stay afloat until/if Rodgers gets back - given the strength of the NFC, this seems unlikely). The Broncos and Bengals are good enough on defense to challenge a few teams here-on out. The Chargers can compete in any game, and their defense is holding up well with Joey Bosa turning into a monster. There's a lot of teams who will beat 2-4 teams over the rest of the year and significantly impact who makes the playoffs.


Tier IV - The "Clinging On to Dear Life" Qunto

17.) Buffalo Bills  (5-4  =  184-196)
16.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-4  =  233-205)
15.) Detroit Lions  (5-4  =  244-210)
14.) Washington Redskins  (4-5  =  207-232)
13.) Oakland Raiders  (4-5  =  196-214)

Here we have five teams that are good enough to have legitimate postseason thoughts, but the margin of error is shockingly slim. The Redskins, given they are in the NFC, have almost no shot, but I actually think they are the best of these five (maybe Oakland, with Carr). The Bills defense has struggled mightily after the Dareus trade, and while the move made sense to clear cap room going forward, its impact could ruin their playoff shot. It now seems finally likely that Elliott misses six games (five more). That coupled with Tyron Smith's injury likely ruins them. The Lions are humming along, but are just in a deep race The defense needs to improve, particularly in pass rush. The Raiders have little margin to error, which hurts given they have trips to LA and Kansas City along with the Patriots game upcoming.


Tier V - The "Somehow, Still in good position" Duo

12.) Tennessee Titans  (6-3  =  205-213)
11.) Atlanta Falcons  (5-4  =  197-179)


It's hard to really trust ether team, as the Titans may be 6-3, but have a negative point differential for the year, and the Falcons who had one until this last week. The Titans schedule lines up well for them, but what they really need is consistency from Mariota, which they haven't gotten all year. The Falcons need that defense to keep up its level. They won't face totally overmatched LTs each week. The offense still isn't in peak form. Even in that game they were merely good. They have had just one game in truth where they looked like the group from 2016, their Week 2 opener against Green Bay.


Tier VI - The "Something is Still Off" Duo

10.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-3  =  211-165)
9.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (7-2  =  187-148)

I wouldn't be shocked if these two teams meet in Super Bowl LII. I also wouldn't be shocked if Seattle misses the playoffs and the Steelers are wild card fodder (hard to envision any scenario they miss the playoffs). The Seahawks defense has to live without Richard Sherman (something they've never really had to do), and that offense is making Russell Wilson throw more than basically every QB in the NFL. He's good enough to make it work, but it puts a strain on that already bad OL The Steelers... I just don't know. Every time I want to take them for real and see them go on a run, they play down to some worse team. That was an entirely predictable slow start against Indianapolis. The Steelers defense is still playing great, but those were some worrying coverage breakdowns to keep the Colts hanging around.


Tier VII - The "Trust Issues" Trio

8.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (6-3  =  226-134)
7.) Carolina Panthers  (7-3  =  213-180)
6.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-3  =  253-208)

When do we fully jump on board? The Jaguars have the league's best defense - quietly a historically good pass defense. They have an offense that has played better than people realize, but still turned the ball over twice in the 2:00 warning last game. They're good enough to overcome that though. The Panthers started 4-1, then lost two games, and now have won three games. They are a really good team in my mind, and the trade of Benjamin perversely helps them by opening up the offense. The Chiefs are in the worst position now being seen as a clear #3 in the AFC, but the schedule gets fairly easy on the way out, and if they can go 12-4, they have a great shot at a first round bye, but their biggest issue is solving their defense. Put aside Eric Berry, the pass rush has gone quiet the last few weeks. They need that to step up with Berry gone.


Tier VIII - The "The Sleeping Giant is Waking Up" Uno

5.) New England Patriots  (7-2  =  257-195)

I don't want to talk about it. Only thing I will say is when they are getting a kick-off return for a TD, and a blocked punt and a muffed punt, things are going to get real hauntingly scary very soon.


Tier IX - The "Man, the NFC is So Much Better This Year" Quadro

4.) Minnesota Vikings  (7-2  =  217-165)
3.) Los Angeles Rams  (7-2  =  296-162)
2.) New Orleans Saints  (7-2  =  268-165)

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (8-1  =  283-179)

This top end of the NFC is frightening. The worst team is Minnesota, a team with a +52 point differential, with a still great defense with playmakers at each level. Their only issue is navigating this Keenum vs. Bridgewater dilemma. The real loser here is Bradford. They would be really terrifying had he not gotten hurt. The Rams are on pace to score 526 points and allow 288. Only four prior teams have ever scored more than 500 and allowed less than 300, the 1998 Vikings, the 2007 Patriots, and the 1999/2001 GSOT Rams. It's time to start taking Jared Goff's MVP season somewhat seriously. He leads the league in Y/A, and has had a truly great season. The Saints had the scariest win of the week, scoring 47 on the road in a tough place to play without needing Drew Brees to do anything but hand off. The defense continues to be great. If we take away the first two games of the year, they have the best defense in the NFL. Finally, the best team in the league - another team with an outside shot of a 500/200 season. If they get Lane Johnson back form his concussion the last hole on the team is covered.


Projecting the Playoff Field

AFC

1.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  12-4
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4

3.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  11-5
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  11-5
5.) Tennessee Titans  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3
2.) New Orleans Saints  =  12-4
3.) Los Angeles Rams  =  12-4

4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  11-5
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  11-5
6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Carolina Panthers (7-3), Indianapolis Colts (3-7), New York Jets (4-6), San Francisco 49ers (1-9)

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)  @  Miami Dolphins (4-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Arizona Cardinals (4-5)  @  Houston Texans (3-6)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Thankfully there's only two of these" Sunday, as we're getting to the point in the season where games between two bad teams start to really stand out. These two aren't that bad in that sense (helps that three of the bye teams are among the worst), but the Battle of Florida is a disaster (somehow that shit Dolphins team may go 5-5), and the Cardinals and Texans is a great 'what could have been' - just depressing to think about that game had it been Carson Palmer vs. DeShaun Watson.


12.) Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)  @  New York Giants (1-8)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-9)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "One Good vs. One Bad" Sunday, as we get only two games where we have good teams playing terrible ones. I guess it helps slightly that the bad teams are at home, but the environments in New York and Cleveland are so dire to ruin any game. The Chiefs and Jaguars should easily go to 7-3, and continue stratifying this league even further this year.


10.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-6)  @  Denver Broncos (3-6)  (4:25 - FOX)
9.) Baltimore Ravens (4-5)  @  Green Bay Packers (5-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
8.) Detroit Lions (5-4)  @  Chicago Bears (4-5)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Buffalo Bills (5-4)  @  Los Angeles Chargers (3-6)  (4:05 - FOX) 

I call it "The muddled mess of the week" Sunday, as we get a foursome of games that are just average. Not actively bad. If I was forced to watch any of them I wouldn't complain. There are some nice aspects. Bengals vs. Broncos can be a nice nostalgia affair to when these teams were good. Ravens and Packers will at least give us another look at Brett Hundley and the Ravens great defense. The Lions can go to 6-4 and continue their desperate Wild Card push. Same with the Bills, who get to play Philip Rivers. Any game with Rivers should be cherished at this point.


6.) Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (5-4)  (SNF - NBC)
5.) Tennessee Titans (6-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2)  (TNF - NBC)


I call it "Genuinely kind of interesting Primetime Games for once!" Thursday and Sunday, as we get two quite nice primetime games. Sure, the Eagles @ Cowboys game would be better if Zeke was playing (and Tyron Smith, who seems about 50/50 at this point), but even then we have the best team in the league getting a chance to prove it on primetime. The Titans and Steelers is a nice game, plus features an intriguing storyline: NBC will be heavily using the robo-cam that they previously used in the FogBowl Pt. 2 out of necessity. As an ex-longtime Madden player, would be good to see a game where most plays are shown with that angle.


4.) Washington Redskins (4-5)  @  New Orleans Saints (7-2)  (1;00 - FOX)
3.) New England Patriots (7-2)  @  Oakland Raiders (4-5)  (4:25 - CBS)


I call it "Elimination Sunday for the worse team?" Sunday, as we get two 4-5 teams, clinging to playoff hopes, needing to pull off an upset to re-ignite a 2nd half push. The Redskins and Raiders need to beat teams with 7-game and 5-game win streaks to have any real shot. I would think Oakland has a better chance being at 'home', but in this case home is Mexico City and they are bringing arguably the worst pass defense to this fight. The Saints are beatable, I guess, and the Redskins have generally done a good job against a run, so seemingly they might have a better chance.


2.) Atlanta Falcons (5-4)  @  Seattle Seahawks (6-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
1.) Los Angeles Rams (7-2)  @  Minnesota Vikings (7-2)  (1:00 - FOX)


I call it "Man, the NFC is just better" Sunday and Monday, as we get two games that just show how much better the NFC is. My highest ranked AFC vs. AFC game was at #5. These two are clearly in my mind the best two. First we get a nice rematch from a few playoff meetings, with two teams trying to right the ship back towards their best play. Seeing Atlanta's defense last week is a great sign ahead of this game. With the Rams and Vikings, we get the first of many great NFC games down the stretch between these top teams (Rams vs. Saints / Saints vs. Panthers / Panthers vs. Vikings / Rams vs. Seahawks all left to still play).

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Roy Halladay, The Last Workhorse



I first saw it in an onimous tweet from Brandon McCarthy simply saying 'Please don't be Roy'. Immediately I knew something bad happened. Very quickly I learned what did happen. Roy Halladay died piloting a single-passenger aircraft in the Gulf of Mexico. While his playing career ended four years ago, his personal life had many great years left. Years to be a husband, a father, eventually a grandfather, and other titles. Years to speak at the Hall of Fame, years to be around the game. Years to experience his joy of flying even more. All that was taken away.

The general reaction across baseball, both from in-the-game players/managers/coaches/front office types, and outside-the-game journalists and fans tends to all agree. He was a fantastic pitcher, but a better person. Forget no one having a single negative thing to say, everyone has loads of positive things to say. This is a baseball tradegy, not only because Roy Halladay was the best pitcher for a decade, and the last pitcher of his kind, maybe ever.

Roy Halladay threw 266 innings in 2003, when he won the Cy Young at 26 with Toronto. That was not a surprise. He was a top prospect. He was a stud. He was on a mediocre team where their main joy was watching this young brilliant pitcher pitch. But at that time many other pitchers approached that level of innings. When Halladay threw 250 innings in 2010, winning his 2nd Cy Young at 33 with Philadelphia, that was unheard of. Roy Halladay was the last pitcher we could trust to throw 7+ innings each time out, to not tire, to not need to pulled 3rd time through the order. Baseball pitching now has a standard operating procedure. Halladay broke that.

Roy Halladay the pitcher had such an interesting career arc. He was a top prospect that had a laughably awful 2001 season, with a 10.64 ERA in 67 innings. He was sent all the way down to Single-A in early 2002, rebuilding his mechanics, rebuilding his baseball mind. He emerged late in 2002, had a great 2nd half, won a Cy Young and it was all set.

Then he had a very interesting stretch in the middle of his career. Great results, but weird process. Halladay started throwing tons of innings (aside from injury riddled season in 2004, and a broken leg that ended a likely Cy Young season in 2005), but not striking out many players. In 2006-2007, Halladay went 32-12, 3.46 ERA (131 ERA+), with 445 innings, but struck out just 271 batters.

Then, all of a sudden, Halladay decided to start striking out batters against. In his last two seasons in Toronto (2008-09), he went 37-21, 2.78 ERA (155 ERA+), with 414 Ks in 485 innings. In his final two healthy seasons, his first two with Philadelphia, he went 40-16, 240 ERA (165 ERA+), with 439 Ks in 484 innings. Halladay was peerlessly good during that 2007-2011 stretch.

Beyond just the strange K/9 trends, or the high inning counts, what stood out was his ability to go deep into games. Halladay threw 67 complete games in his career. No one that started around his time has thrown anything close to that. Justin Verlander, probably the only other player that could come close to Halladay's innings counts has thrown 23. We threw hosanna's when he threw a complete game in Game 2 of the ALCS. Halladay threw two 10-inning complete games in his career. Clayton Kershaw has thrown 25. CC Sabathia has thrown 38. Halladay crushes them.

When looking back at his career, I will remember Halladay the Blue Jay. I really liked his pitching style, his exacting delivery (something multiple players, including Game 7 hero Charlie Morton tried to copy), the way his sinking fastball moved, the way his cutter darted. And the way he gave so much hope to that franchise that was trapped behind Boston and New York for the decade. In that division, facing those two teams who regularly put up 900+ runs, Halladay shut them down time and time again. He gave Toronto hope.

I feel bad concentrating on Halladay's playing career so much, despite how brilliant it was, given how great a person he seemed to be as well. Multiple players/journalists have used the great line that he was 'your favorite player's favorite player.' Everyone who came in contact with Halladay seemed to be enamored with his work ethic, his approach to pitching. Everyone also seemed so taken away by Roy the person, the niceness that hid behind a gruff, serious demeanor that gripped his face, though a face that was photographed with a giant smile quite often. Halladay seemed to have left a perfect reputation within and outside the game. Even when the Phillies held an LGBTQ-support forum in 2011, Halladay was one of the Phillies to attend and speak. There's no holes in that resume.

Seeing any athlete whose entire career you followed die is always a shock. I'm still young enough that those who have died normally did in a tragic way. Halladay's sudden tragic death impacted me more than I imagined. I was a fan of his, loved watching him pitch, but he wasn't even my favorite 'Roy' who pitched during that era. But I really wanted to see him get into the Hall of Fame - something that seems very likely to happen now. He will re-set the expectations for starting pitchers to get into the Hall of Fame, a lasting gift to 21st Century Pitchers for the last of the 20th Century ones.

Every player should want to have Halladay's career, leave a lasting positive impact on every team, every fanbase, every player, every journalist, every person he interacted with. Roy Halladay didn't live nearly as long enough as anyone who lived as good a life as him deserved to.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 10 Power Rankings & The Rest

Tier I - The Awful Teams

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-8  =  119-202)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-9  =  143-239)
30.) Indianapolis Colts  (3-6  =  162-260)
29.) New York Giants  (1-7  =  129-207)


Halfway through the season, we have seen some needed stratification - bouyed by a couple blowouts last week. We have a clear bottom foursome in my mind, though we can argue this gets expanded. But these four are clear bottom. The Browns and 49ers are obvious. Two of the three wins the Colts have are against the bottom two teams. The Giants have lost a lot of close games, but you can't avoid the awful negative point differential at this point. Also, we really do have to start looking at whether it is worth giving someone other than Eli a shot.


Tier II - The Slightly Less Awful Teams

28.) Chicago Bears  (3-5  =  134-171)
27.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-6  =  158-198)

The Bears have a competent defense, and a great running game, with no QB. Trubisky has done nothing so far to impress me. But even the formula so far seems to resemble John Fox's early Carolina tenure, when they went 7-9 in 2002, the year before breaking out in 2003. The difference is I don't know who plays the Steve Smith role and that type of no-offense approach doesn't really work in 2017. The Bucs are just a disaster, now having to shut down Winston for a few weeks. I never really much liked the Dirk Koetter hiring. They started 8-5 last year, but are just 3-8 since.


Tier III - The Sad-Sack QB Teams That Won't Sign Colin Kaepernick

26.) Green Bay Packers  (4-4  =  181-191)
25.) Houston Texans  (3-5  =  229-208)
24.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-4  =  139-201)
23.) Miami Dolphins  (4-4  =  116-179)

All four of these teams would have a shot, a real shot, if they had their QB. I realize there is a lot of sorry QB situations in the league. Most of the time I don't agree. There are always bad teams. What really sucks is when great QBs go down, which we have these four. The Cardinals and Dolphins had the worst of the four QBs, but also had the least to lose. The Stanton/Moore replacements can keep them competitive. The Packers and Texans however? They're more or less screwed. Bill O'Brien not only doesn't have the defense that carried them to the 2015-16 AFC South Titles, but a better division than in previous years. The Packers are just ruined - and I hope for Aaron Rodgers sake they don't try to rush him back. They need a re-set.


Tier IV - What The Hell Happened

22.) Denver Broncos  (3-5  =  150-198)

The Broncos have been the same team for three years now. A great defense with no real QB. The best QB they've had the last three years are early-2017 Trevor Siemian, or late-2015 Brock Osweiler. That is not great. What really hurts them is their defense is showing signs of fading for the first time. It is so hard to keep a great defense together, especially when it was so personnel-heavy instead of scheme-heavy (like Pittsburgh or Baltimore).At this point, I have no idea why they don't try Paxton Lynch. If this isn't the right setting for him then that is truly a wasted 1st round pick, a troubling sign for Elway who also wasted a 2nd round pick in 2012 on Osweiler, and a 2nd and 3rd round picks over the years on RBs (Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman).


Tier V - The Bod Teams with Decent Records

21.) Baltimore Ravens  (4-5  =  190-171)
20.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-5  =  129-158)
19.) New York Jets  (4-5  =  191-207)

18.) Los Angeles Charges  (3-5  =  150-152)

None of these teams are very good. But all somehow have life. The race for the Wild Cards in the AFC will be a strange one. We have three 5-3 teams (one of which being the current AFC South leader) where none seem like truly safe bets, and then this host of 4-5/3-5 teams. The Bengals and Chargers on paper are the best two teams. The Jets have to be excited about the growth of a lot of younger players, and are actually the team out of the four that might be in teh best position going forward. For Baltimore, their defense/special teams is good enough to get to 8-8 somehow, but serious questions have to start being asked about the longterm structure of the team (Flacco/Harbaugh/Newsome). They've danced around it a bit with a very good 2014 season and a ride to nearly winning the division in 2016, but its harder to escape now, especially when the ramifications of the Flacco deal are starting to play up more.


Tier VI - The Good Teams with Decent Records

17.) Washington Redskins  (4-4  =  177-194)
16.) Atlanta Falcons  (4-4  =  168-159)
15.) Detroit Lions  (4-4  =  206-186)

These three teams are, to me, all better than the four AFC teams I just covered. Problem though, is the NFC competition is so much higher. The current wild-card teams are 6-3 (Carolina) and 5-3 (Seattle/Dallas), but all three have a resume and/or experience to go on. The Falcons have looked like garbage for a good month now. The Lions are promising, and have a truly easy schedule coming up, but it is still hard to picture them catching or passing one of those three. The Redskins are to me the least likely of the three, but have a competency that will keep them around .500 all year. The middle of the NFC is just a lot more competent and trustworthy than that of the AFC.


Tier VII - The Good Team with a Bad Record

14.) Oakland Raiders  (4-5  =  196-214)

The Raiders are the one team below 5-3 that I think can make a run at the playoffs. First, they get one more game against KC and a potential season sweep. They have a tough schedule, with New England coming up (in Mexico City), and trips to Kansas City and Philadelphia, but Philly might have stuffed locked up by their Week 16 date. The Raiders top level is quite high, and they are unlucky to not be 5-4 at this point with injuries and close losses. Having Lynch back and productive really helps.


Tier VIII - The Good Teams with Good Records

13.) Tennessee Titans  (5-3  =  181-193)
12.) Seattle Seahawks  (5-3  =  189-149)
11.) Buffalo Bills  (5-3  =  174-149)
10.) Dallas Cowboys  (5-3  =  226-178)

And now we get to the clear top of the league. Out of these 13, 12 can make the playoffs. 12 currently are in the playoffs (Dallas/Seattle tying for the #6 seed in the NFC). The chance of the 12 playoffs teams coming from these is low, but not too low. The Titans have strange losses, but very good health at this point and an easy schedule. The Seahawks are the opposite, but history tells us they get better in the 2nd half of the season, and still feature a Top-5 DVOA defense. The Bills may have been playing over their heads, but still can pretend to have their sights on the division with both New England games left. Dallas is somewhat similar with having both Philadelphia games left, and have been great after their bye. Any of these four teams deserve to be in the playoffs, and I wouldn't mind watching any. We might be in a year of 'no-top-teams', but I don't know if there's been such a deep set of good teams this late into a season in a while.


Tier IX - Defense First

9.) Carolina Panthers  (6-3  =  168-159)
8.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-2  =  179-135)
7.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (5-3  =  206-117)

All three teams have great defenses. All three have defenses that are healthy. The Vikings have been a great defense. The Jaguars have been a scary one. The Jaguars are on pace for 70 sacks, 20 interceptions, and are giving up a QB rating of 63.5. Their once porous rush defense has given up less than 100 yards in 3 of the last 4 games. The Vikings defense hasn't been as crazy good, but as strong as always. The Panthers have shown a few holes, but lead the league in yards allowed for the old-timers, and have had three games giving up less than 10 points, should have had a 4th (Chicago scored 3 points on offense), and multiple games where they gave up garbage time points. They're on pace for 56 sacks. The problem with all three teams is obvious: their offenses. The Jaguars have a QB they can't trust. The Vikings have QB issues. The Panthers have had OL issues and traded away their supposed #1 receiver. Oddly, the way I have them ranked has it in opposite direction of how high I think each team's ceiling is. Just I have more faith in their defenses staying great with JAX>MIN>CAR than their offenses suddenly turning a corner.



Tier X - Offense First

6.) New England Patriots  (6-2  =  216-179)
5.) Kansas City Chiefs  (6-3  =  253-208)
Two teams that are the exact opposite of the three above, and since offense is slightly more consistent than defense, they get ranked higher. I still think NE's defense is trash, despite their relatively light points allowed total which belies things like 6 missed field goals, a hilariously stupid overturned TD, and multiple 4th down stops in plus territory, all during their 4 game win streak (4 games where their offense also dropped a level, but no one wants to mention that). The Chiefs defensive issues are also coming out in force. The loss of Eric Berry is being felt, but their run defense has been fairly porous in their losses. Offense can keep and sustain them but they are plying with fire.


Tier XI - The Solid All Around Very Good Teams

4.) New Orleans Saints  (6-2  =  221-155)
3.) Los Angeles Rams  (6-2  =  263-155)
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-2  =  167-131)
I think the reason people perceive the league to be down right are mostly due to the best teams halfway through the year not being the ones that we thought it would be. It isn't Dallas and Green Bay and (arguably) New England. Only Pittsburgh is a preseason favorite that has lived up so far - and even they have faced questions while quietly fielding the league's 2nd best defense and an offense that seems ready to break out. The Saints and rams are very good teams. The Saints defense has been excellent for 6 games now. They have regained some semblance of home field. The Rams have been better. They are on pace to score 526 points... the same total they scored in their 1999 Greatest Show on Turf heyday. If anything the defense should get better and pick up for any inevitable dropoff the offense has.


Tier XII - The Current Clubhouse Leader

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (8-1  =  283-179)

The Eagles lost in Week 2 to the Chiefs. They then won their next two close over the Giants (27-24, a crazy game that was 14-0 at the start of the 4th quarter) and 26-24 over the Chargers in LA. That is not a truly impressive 3-1 start. Their last five games? Dominant. Huge wins over the Cardinals, 49ers and Broncos. A solid, not as close as it seems, win over the Redskins. And then another solid win in Carolina. Granted, four of those five were at home, and four of their next five are on the road (DAL, SEA, LAR, NYG). How they do in those four should give a better indication, but right now there is nothing to complain with for a team that is starting to resemble the 2015 Panthers.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  13-3
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
3.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5

4.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  11-5
5.) Buffalo Bills  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  9-7


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3
2.) New Orleans Saints  =  11-5
3.) Los Angeles Rams  =  11-5

4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  11-5
5.) Carolina Panthers  =  10-6

6.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Baltimore Ravens (4-5), Kansas City Chiefs (6-3), Oakland Raiders (4-5), Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)

14.) New York Giants (1-7)  @  San Francisco 49ers (0-9)  (4:25 - FOX)
13.) New York Jets (4-5)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "When do pitchers and catchers report for the Mets and Yankees" Sunday, as the Jets and Giants have given New York very little. The Giants @ 49ers game is about as bad as it gets. The Jets, for their part, have been surprisingly good so far, and they have a solid chance to get to 5-5 for the year. Honestly, if they finish 7-9 or better, Todd Bowles deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year. People assumed that team was literally tanking and he's made them stunningly competent.


12.) Cleveland Browns (0-8)  @  Detroit Lions (4-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)  @  Tennessee Titans (5-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) Green Bay Packers (4-4)  @  Chicago Bears (3-5)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "This is what happens when three interesting teams are on the bye" Sunday, as we just have three games I don't care about. With the Browns, I guess this is one of their last shots to get a win? In reality, the first four teams may be among the league's least memorable, interesting franchises in the last 15 years. Then we get the rivalry that, with Rodgers out and the Bears bad, doesn't really matter.


9.) Seattle Seahawks (5-3)  @  Arizona Cardinals (4-4)  (TNF - NBC)
8.) Miami Dolphins (4-4)  @  Carolina Panthers (6-3)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "back to SOP for Primetime Games" Thursday and Monday, as man these are some very sad night games. NBC gets into the Sunday Night Football action for the first time with a not great game. The Seahawks and Cardinals have played some classics over the years, but those have involved Carson Palmer, not Drew Stanton. This could be a good 'get-right' game for them. The Dolphins, the leagues worst .500 team, goes to Carolina which could turn really ugly if the Panthers defense is on its game.


7.) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (3-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
6.) Houston Texans (3-5)  @  Los Angeles Rams (6-2)  (4:05 - CBS)
5.) New England Patriots (6-2)  @  Denver Broncos (3-5)  (SNF - NBC)
4.) Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "One Good vs. One Bad" Sunday, as we get four games that feature one top team face off against one of the league's lesser lights. It's sad to get so many of these, but these games generally start to pile up the longer we go into the season. Each has some reason for intrigue. Can the Steelers not lay an egg against an eminently beatable team? Can the Rams continue to roll? Can the Patriots not do what they normally do in Denver? Can the Jaguars win a game against an offense that might make Blake Bortles have to make a play? The way its listed is in ranking of how likely I think an upset is possible.


3.) Minnesota Vikings (6-2)  @  Washington Redskins (4-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) New Orleans Saints (6-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-3)  (1:00 - FOX)

1.) Dallas Cowboys (5-3)  @  Atlanta Falcons (4-4)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Just plain old solid good football games" Sunday, as we get three games that are, simply put, rather nice. The Redskins are probably not in the class of the five other teams in this group, but they have a sneaky high ceiling if they can protect Kirk Cousins, though that will be tough against the Minny defense. The Saints @ Bills is just a really nice intra-conference matchup. The Saints have beaten up on a soft schedule so this will be a nice test, likely their toughest game since Carolina in Week 3. The Cowboys @ Falcons should have been a marquee game, and a Falcons win could get them started on a run, but really it is a great test for two NFC teams moving in opposite directions at the moment.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

20 Lasting Memories from the Astros World Series Run

20.) The proposal. 

It became a touchstone moment for the post-series celebration. Carlos Correa, working along with Ken Rosenthal, to perfectly segway his interview into a marriage proposal to his beautiful girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez. The moment was so perfect. Sure, it may seem a bit presumptious of Correa to hinge the timing of his proposal to the chance the Astros would win the series (likely, had they lost, he does this in December/January anyway) but it was a great moment. The best on-field proposal since the Boise State guy proposed to the cheerleader in 2007. Plus, Correa definitely splurged on that rock. Imagine what size it would have been had he not been making entry-level money due to baseball's inane salary restrictions.


19.) The Sports Illustrated Prediction

Starting around the time the Astros clinched the ALCS, the old Sports Illustrated cover from 2014 started trending, the one that predicted teh Astros would win the 2017 World Series. I remember that story, I have that issue (apparently the value of that issue has increased, a lot...). At the time it I ate it up, finally a sign that things may actually end up OK after years in the baseball wilderness. What's interesting is the life it took now. SI should get credit, sure, but there's a lot in that story that didn't end up coming true - mainly the pick of Mark Appel and the growth of Jon Singleton. Also, I never remembered such plaudits coming SI's way in 2015, when the Royals won after they wrote a story in 2011 saying the Royals would win the 2015 World Series. Basically, what I'm saying is Sports Illustrated should do this basically every year.


18.) The New Way to Bullpen

The most shocking part of the Astros 14-game odyssey in the ALCS and World Series is that they did it without ever having an effective bullpen. Both closer Ken Giles and new-closer Chris Devenski blew big leads in big games. Will Harris gave up hard hit after hard hit. The best reliever might have been Luke Gregerson. Of course, Hinch had the luxury of surplus starters, and used them like a magician. The three biggest 'saves' of the Astros postseason were by Lance McCullers (4 innings to close Game 7 of the ALCS), Brad Peacock (3-2/3 to close out Game 3 of the World Series) and Charlie Morton (4 innings to close Game 7 of the World Series). The playoffs started with the idea everyone would try to emulate what the Indians did last year with Andrew Miller. Instead, the Astros just decided to create new Millers with their back-end starters.


17.) Ed Wade's New Legacy

One of the key 'winners' of the 2017 World Series was Jeff Luhnow, a man hailed as a genius when he was hired and has done nothing to tarnish that label. However, let's take a moment to appreciate that at the same time he was decimating the franchise, Ed Wade did end up leaving a little bit of magic in the coffers. The headliner is George Springer, the guy picked in the 1st round in Ed Wade's last draft. But Altuve (likely AL MVP) and Dallas Keuchel (2015 Cy Young) were Wade picks/signings. Ed Wade and Tim Purpura (his #2) were a disaster and created a situation so barren there was no choice but to burn it all down, but there were a few phoenixes left in those ashes.


16.) Game 4


A common refrain coming into Game 6 was that this had the chance to be a truly classic World Series. The refraing post-Game 7 is that it still was a classic, but the ultimate uncompetitiveness of Game 7 hurts it. Game 2 and Game 5 will get the memorialized places in any great World Series game list or montage, but let's pour a quick one out to the other games, starting with Game 4. On one hand, Game 4 tied for the largest margin of any game (4 runs), but it was also 1-1 entering the 9th. This was the game started by each team's #4 starter, and both dealt brilliantly. Charlie Morton was great, a harbinger of his Game 7 glory. Alex Wood was even better, The great Astros had two hits, homers by Springer and Bregman. The Dodgers had their moment in the 9th. It is a game that may be forgotten years from now, but it was a game that would be the highlight or at least best supporting actor (game) of most World Series.


15.) The Process Paying Off


Many people, including Jeff Luhnow and the Astros, will try to traipse outside the 'tanking' term, but there is no more true explanation of what they did than tank. People will always associate 'The Process' with the 76ers, but Luhnow was hired a good 18 months before Hinkie, and his worked. Also, he inherited a mess of a franchise, while Hinkie tore down a team that had made the playoffs multiple times. That all said, it was a process. It worked. Luhnow famously held a quorum with fans after he was hired - essentially to tell them that the team would suck hard for a while. They did. The fan interest is still not all the way back, but I have a felling attendance and TV ratings will start to shoot way back up starting next year.


14.) The Gurriel Situation


Let's get this out of the way, rooting for Yuli Gurriel to help the Astros win the World Series was tough. What he did was obviously wrong and deserved punishment. That said, let me put on my Astros cap for a minute and combat some of the more commonly cited criticisms. First, suspending him for 5 regular season games is not nothing. This will cost him about $50k, not a meaningless amount. This is also a longer suspension than precedent would've suggested - players with homophobic slurs in recent years got 1-2 games. Also, the idea that he hitting a key home run off of Kershaw as being sad is not all that fair. In no universe was he getting a multi-game World Series suspension. He was playing Game 5 even if he got suspended for Game 4. Finally, he made a mistake. He apologized. He and Darvish made up. I don't want to explain away his behavior by citing the differences for someone growing up in Latin America, but they are different. For instance, the idea of him calling Darvish a 'chinito' being a slur is just not true. The gesture, howevrer, was bad. Gratefully, his largest impact ended up being the HR off of Kershaw, which ended up being the 10th most important moment of that classic.


13.) Alex Bregman's Defense


Before this postseason, Alex Bregman was something of a non-story. He was a good player, but far from the best the Astros had. He somewhat underwhelmed given his draft pedigree and minor-league performance. But then he had to take over from Correa at SS when Carlos got hurt, and Bregman took off from there. His bat is fine, but the real revelation has been his defense. Bregman was a vacuum at 3rd base. His hard-changing approach to the hot corner worked magically. Bregman's arm at 3rd was incredible. His range as good. He may never be a top bat (though this year was a huge improvement over last), but by defense alone he is a key cog for the Astros going forward. He had his moments on offense, such as the HR off of Kershaw in Game 1, or Jansen in Game 4, to the walk-off hit to end Game 5, but I'll always remember that vacuum glove and cannon arm.


12.) Game 1


Let's pour one out for the strangest World Series game in a long time, mainly because of its brevity. The lengthy playing times of the postseason games was one of the dominating stories of this postseason and there is a hard movement to get this addressed going forward. But then the counterpoint will be Game 1, a contest that finished in 2:28 - shockingly short. It helped that Kershaw was magical and Keuchel nearly as good. It ended 3-1, with the final out recorded before 11PM Easatern. The tweets from Baseball Twitter mocking the short game belied the sense of shock we all got. It was truly a small appetizer course for a titanic series, a special little slice of old baseball. Fireworks were set to begin, but first we had to dip our toes back into 1970's baseball.


11.) The Rise of FOX's World Series Coverage


FOX hit the World Series (and ALCS before that) out of the park. First, the graphics package is stellar. So clean, so simple (same holds true in the NFL where they use the same format). Second, Joe Buck brought it well in the epic games, with more off-the-cuff reactions ("Wow!!" he exclaimed after Altuve tied Game 5 at 7-7) than prepared lines of old. And while John Smoltz spent half the World Series making fun off and doubting statcast and analytics, he spend the other half giving really on point pitching analysis. However, the true star is that postgame show. A-Rod is brilliant on TV. David Ortiz took a while to warm up, but has started fitting into a nice Barkley-esque role. Keith Hernandez is a bit out of his element, but he's still the guy who is so damn good on Mets broadcasts. Frank Thomas is quietly great, much like his own playing career. Having two guys in A-Rod and Big Papi that played so recently also helps, as the current players they get for interviews look up to them. FOX took it on the chin for years as they mixed and match their personnel, but jetissoning McCarver and the cast of randos they threw out for pregame (Erik Karros, Ozzie Guillen, AJ Pierzynski, etc.) worked like a charm.


10.) Carlos Beltran's Changing Legacy

Given how much Beltran's 2004 postseason used to be mentioned in his previous life, I was surprised by how little it was brought up this time around. With Beltran, the general story was he was the token aging vet looking for that ring. However, for Hosston fans, his signing was bittersweet and it took a world series title to wipe away the bitterness from the equation. While Beltran famously had a postseason for the ages for the Astros in 2004, he also famously spurned Houston that offseason to sign with the Mets. Houston absolutely hated him, and that carried on for a while. He was seen as someone who turned his back to the team and city. Having him come back and ultimately get that ring because his team carried him to it was certainly interesting. I just remain surprised how little this story was investigated during the playoffs and series. Beltran is a great player, someone who probably cemented his place in Cooperstown with this ring, but having the team he spurned get him there was tough at times to watch.


9.) A Great Matchup of Great Teams 


On paper, this was supposed to be a great series. We had two teams with 100+ wins play each other, something that hadn't happened in over 40 years. At various times, the Astros and Dodgers seemed historically good. The Astros started out 41-14. The Dodgers were right there after 55 games, but then took off reaching a high-water mark of 91-34. These were special teams having special seasons. And they delivered in a special series. There were other great teams this year. Cleveland also had their run with historical greatness. Washington, Chicago, Boston and New York were all great for one reason or the other, but these two teams were the story of the first two months (Houston) and second two months (LA). They got to fight it out for being the team of the 7th. We so rarely get the two true best teams. We did for once, and it was beautiful.


8.) The Dodger's Place


Every great series, great contest has a loser, and the Dodgers, despite their untouched means and largesse, are a fairly likable, pitiable loser in this case. The team is stocked full of talent, and enjoyable talents, from Yasiel Puig, who rediscovered and had millions rediscover along with him, baseball joy, to Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, two absolute studes. To the caveman himself in Justin Turner. That lineup was terrifying, with patience and talent throughout. The Dodgers even had their fair share of underdog stories, to the middle-aged Rich Hill, to Chris Taylor coming out of nowhere to become an all-time gnat at the lead-off position. The Dodgers were a great team, and while it is easy to write-off their success to their top-in-baseball payroll, do realize a lot of that payroll is tied up in players that did not really contribute (Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, the Boston guys they traded for in 2012). They're a juggernaut still on the rise. Two great teams entered this series. One of them was going to learn a great lesson in the pain of coming so close, and here's to them heeding it and coming back stronger.


7.) Justin Verlander's Legacy

It's a bit ironic that in the postseason that may have cemented his place in Cooperstown, Verlander didn't actually have that great of a World Series. Certainly, through 5 innings he was having a historically good Game 6 (5IP, 1 hit, 8 Ks), but in the 6th he tired, and by the end he was the losing pitcher. In Game 2, he was great again, but made two mistakes and gave up two HRs and needed some magic by the Astros to keep him from being the losing pitcher in that one as well. But in every retelling of this postseason and this Astros run, Verlander is a key piece. The trade for him was the driving force behind the Astros run. His performance in Game 2 of the ALCS was one of the best pitching performances in the playoffs in years. He embraced his new team, adn they embraced him. He never felt like a hired hand, even if that is exactly what he was. Verlander was a special pitching for many years. He was a special pitcher for Houston, even if in the World Series he finally seemed to run out of gas.


6.) Clayton Kershaw's Legacy

If there was a silver-lining of Game 1 for this Astros fan, it was that Clayton Kershaw put that 'playoff choker' label behind him. If there was the opposite of a silver lining of Game 5, it was that he earned that label right back. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of this generation. He has a chance to go down as the best post-war pitcher ever. Understanding that his inevitable late-career decline hasn't happened yet, when taking the totality of his rate stats into account you can argue him being the best pitcher ever. That all is true. It is also increasingly becoming true that his playoff numbers haven't matched the regular season. I'm obviously very sensitive to these discrepancies and the arguments and idiocy that spawn out of them, having lived this with Peyton. Kershaw is the baseball analogue. He is historically great - I think we lose sight of just how great he has been. Just how consistently brilliant. He put up sub-2.00 ERAs three years out of four, and in the year he didn't he struck out 300 batters. His Game 1 was a masterpiece for the ages. I hope he gets his ring, and I hope he wins the World Series MVP when that day comes.


5.) Carlos Correa


Correa ended up stealing headlines because of the proposal, but even stripping that away, he left an indelible mark. He didn't have the signature moments that some of the others did, but what he did do was show both his prodigious skill and equally prodigious make-up and attitude over and over again this postseason. If anyone can quietly have a 5-homer postseason, with near .300 performances in all three rounds, he did it. What Correa also did was flash great leather at short stop and deliver some of the most emotional moments. The clip of him jumping out of the dugout on Alex Bregman's game-winning hit in Game 5, and playing home-base coach as Derek Fisher won the game, was all time special. So was his general air of the moment and of leadership, from the handshakes with the rest of his mates, to the calm nature of his at-bats. It is that leadership that make him the most put-on player outside of Mike Trout, and it is the skill that could conceivably get Correa to that level as well. Best part, he's just 23 and that we're just getting started with him.


4.) Houston, the Baseball Town


We heard it in two ways. The first was the anecdotes of many reporters and broadcasters, that Minute Maid Park was the loudest place they've been in for quite some time. The other way was literally hearing it, the sound of the juicebox pulsating through the TV screen. Houston had this lying dormant for years. The place used to be like this years back, in 2004 and 2005, when the Astros made back-to-back NLCSes, the place imbued this energy and sound. Then, much like the franchise, it lay quiet for years. Houston is still on the upswing. The attendance figures are still not all the way back, but one must imagine after a World Series win they will go up even more. Houston is a baseball town, in the way it is a sports town. They embraced this team, this collective spirit. The Astros forever earned their place in the Houston tableau, and a passion for the game and for making as much noise as possible to fill a band-box of a stadium, was reborn as well.


3.) George Springer

It somehow is fitting that Springer won World Series MVP. He was Agent Zero of this entire Astros operation. He was not the first Top-10 pick the Astros had in their long rebuild (that was Jason Castro), but he was the first one that matters, the final one before Luhnow took over, the main who graced the Sports Illustrated cover that predicted the finish line. Springer is an immensely talented player who might be the streakiest great player in baseball. He had 27 HRs in the first half, and then just 7 in the 2nd. He had a truly awful ALCS, and a hard-to-watch Golden Sombrero in Game 1. Then he drew a walk in Game 2 and it all turned - to the tune of 11-25, 5 HRs, and 29 total bases (World Series record) the next 6. Springer has prodigious talent, and we saw it. He also has weaknesses, like a long swing and a tendency to try to do too much in the field. But when you hit HR after HR, including two of the most majestic home runs you'll ever see in Game 5 and Game 7, it all makes sense again. While Correa is the true stud, and Altuve the MVP, Springer locked down his place in the Astros Hall of Fame.


2.) Game 2


What to say. I wrote a whole piece about Game 2, and I still feel like that didn't do it justice. When people look back at this series years from now, Game 5 will deservedly jump out, but Game 2 shoudl not be overlooked. It was special, and it created the series. Up until Marwin Gonzalez's home run (on an 0-2 count) off of Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers were dominating the series. Back-to-back 3-1 wins over Houston's top two pitchers seemed likely. Then Jansen blew it. Then Altuve and Correa went back to back. Then Ken Giles blew it, with Chris Taylor playing spoiler. Finally, George Springer arrived in the playoffs. When it was done we had 8 Home Runs, a ball bounce off of Chris Taylor's hat, and pickoff throw hit the umpire instead of flying into center field, a home run trot that seemed to show a player forgetting the score (still 100% sure Charlie Culberson thought he had tied the game), and, just to remind you, Kenley Jansen blowing a save. The Dodgers were  ludicrous 98-0 in 2017 if they led after 8 innings. The Astros showed their ability, their might, their lasting by denting that sterling record in teh best way possible. Oddly, I feel like 'baseball purists' will remember Game 2 more fondly than Game 5, despite there being more home runs strangely in Game 2. Either way, it was a truly classic game that I watched nervous as hell at a bar in Pleasanton, CA, the only man waving his arms after each Astros home run.


1.) Game 5

What else. I stopped watching Game 5 when it was 4-0. I turned the game back on and fast-forwarded on DVR when the game was live in the 5th inning, seeing the Astros tie it and immediately give the lead right back. Then I watched in amazement as Jose Altuve hit a home run off of previously untouchable Kenta Maeda to re-tie it at 7-7. That's when I knew I was watching something special, something different. Even after the Dodgers took a 8-7 lead, I knew it wasn't over, that both teams would score more runs than they had at the moment. I'll never forget that 5-minute, 6-pitch sequence when Brandon Morrow felt the entirely prodigious excellemnce of the Houston offense. 6 pitches, four hard hit balls. Springer's majestic Pujols-off-of-Lidge-esque Home Run. Bregman and Altuve scorching hits. Correa's ludicrous home run. And in my mind, I knew the Astros would blow that 11-8 lead - the question was how would they do it, not if it would happen. That game had one team lead by four and three, and also trail by three, and have none of those situations provide the winning run. That game also happened in Houston, and ended with a walk-off win, as it should have. It was the craziest World Series game outside of Game 6 of the 2011 Fall Classic, and probably the greatest non-elimination game of all time. It was so good it thoroughly outshined Game 2. It was a spine-tinglingly great five hours. It started with Keuchel and Verlander, the two men who delivered us a taut 2:28 game 1. At the 2:28 mark, it was 4-4 in the 5th inning. There were 17 more runs to score.

Friday, November 3, 2017

For Houston, For Me, First times the charm



I have seen my favorite football team win a Super Bowl (and my favorite QB win a second). I've seen my adopted favorite basketball team win five NBA titles. I've seen my hockey team win three Stanley Cups, and go to two more finals. I've seen my favorite tennis player win 16 Grand Slams. I've seen and experienced every joy and ecstasy a sports fan can. There was only one hole in that. And now it is filled. My team won a World Series. That franchise won a World Series. The Astros completed their epic rebuild, slayed three of the most historic dragons in baseball, and won a World Series. Life is complete.

This shouldn't have happened. Not the Astros winning, but me witnessing it. I was supposed to be in a land far away, in South Africa, a trip I had meticulously planned for months. Instead, by a cruel twist of fate, I was at home, reconsidering all my life choices after failing to check the requirements for entry into South Africa, and that it required a fully blank page in one's passport. 30 hours before Game 7 started, I was in JFK airport, at the South African Airways counter, when they told me that I was not going to be able to board. After cycling through all the stages of grief really quickly, I had decided the one thing that could make that disaster OK was if the Astros won the World Series.

They did. Man did they. Game 7 was anti-climactic, sure, but as an Astros fan that cycled through too many series of fingernails and guts over the first 6 bananas game, it was still tense. The Dodgers threatened so many times. The first three innings were the longest of my life, with the Dodgers getting multiple baserunners on each time, but none of them scored. The hard-hit balls went straight to Astros players. Luck was on their side. So was Charlie Morton.

The construction of a Championship roster was multi-layered, with numerous sources. The high draft picks taken as a result of quasi-blatant tanking made up part of the core (Correa, Bregman, McCullers), but so did leftovers from the old Ed Wade regime (Altuve, Keuchel, Springer), and so did a slew of veteran hires this offseason (Beltran, McCann, Reddick). The most curious of these pieces was Morton, a non-descript starter for a half-decade in Pittsburgh. The Astros signed him to a 2-year/$14m deal, a lot of money for them for that. It paid off handsomely.

The Astros 2017 World Series may now seem somewhat pre-ordained. Sports Illustrated ran their infamous cover story about the Astros winning this very series in 2014. To be sure, great things were expected of this team. But it still serves to reason to remember just how far this seemed back when that cover ran - the year the Astros escaped the wilderness. 2014 was the year it started to, in reality, come together. Springer was called up, the first of the Astros high-profile draft picks. It was the year Altuve won his first batting title. It was the year Keuchel turned things around. It was the year they stopped losing 100+ games, losing just 92.

2011-2013 was about as dark a three year period as you can have as a fan of a team. The first year they weren't even notably, or at least notoriously tanking, but just purely putrid after years of terrible decisions. They sold away their top assets in Berkman, Oswalt and Pence, getting the rebuild started in earnest. Luhnow took over in 2012 and hit hyperdrive, literally fielding AAA lineups. It peaked with a 111-loss 2013 season. The worst season anyone had since the Tigers lost 118 in 2003. Then 2014 came, and light was finally found at the end of that tunnel.

The Astros World Series win is the first for the franchise and potentially a start of some incredible years. Their top four position players are all under team control for at least two more years (Altuve) all the way up to 4-5 more years (Correa / Bregman). The pitching staff could use more support, but getting relievers is the cheapest place to fortify, and they have a potentially budding ace in the minors in Forrest Whitley. The Astros are primed for a great future as much as having had a great present. There could be many more World Series celebrations to come. But none will match the first.

The best part of the post-game celebration seemed to be everyone's abject joy. The Astros became the first team since the 2002 Angels to win the World Series without having a single player having won it previously. For veterans like Carlos Beltran and Justin Verlander, this was the last goal to hit before they end their probably Hall of Fame careers. For Charlie Morton, it was realizing a dream that probably should have never happened. For the young guys, it was cementing their place in the Astros history. For Carlos Correa, the guy who might have the best career of anyone on the team, it was also the right moment to get engaged. It was a celebration, from beginning to end.

I was surprisingly calm during the last two games. I watched Game 6 with my friends at a local bar, still somewhat stunned into silence by my ordeal at the airport earlier in the day. I did not expect a win, even as Verlander dominated the Dodgers through 5 innings. Going into Game 7, I had mentally accepted losing the series was a real possibility, and I was OK with that. The Dodgers are a great team, with great stories. As a Peyton Manning fan, I could easily relate to the whole 'Kershaw sucks in the playoffs' narrative, and would have been fine with losing if it meant the best pitcher I personally have ever seen would win a World Series ring. I was at peace with a loss, which makes the win all the more special.

In the end, Game 7 was a bore and may hurt the standing the 2017 Fall Classic holds historically. That said, on its full merits it was the greatest World Series I've seen since the 2001 Classic between Arizona and New York. This one had two absolutely classic games in Game 2 and Game 5. It also had an incredible pitching performance in Game 1 by Kershaw, a game that went into the 9th inning tied a 1-1 (hilariously, the game started by the #4 starters). The normal games, ended 5-3 and 3-1, before the 7th game. Comparing it to 2001, while that series had three classics in Games 4-5 in New York (the Byung-Hyun Kim meltdown games), and Game 7, it also had three Arizona blowouts in Games 1-2 and 6. There were no blowouts here.

I've followed the Astros ardently since about 2002. I don't truly know what connected me to them. I normally claim it is due to my cousin Andy, who is from Houston, and through him I got into baseball. However, I'm not really sure this is true. It's a more convenient origin story though than saying I picked them randomly. But 15 years later, I don't feel the need to defend this position. I'm a diehard, someone whose first Astros jersey was a previous incarnation, of red almost marron, and Roy Oswalt's name adorning the back. This was my series. I earned this. Houston earned this.

My favorite aspect of this run was the larger baseball world re-learning how incredible the crowds at Minute Maid Park can be. I was there watching on TV as the noise pierced through the screen in their runs to the 2004-05 NLCS's against St. Louis. So it was great to see this re-born in 2017, with multiple players and media members noting that it was about as loud as any stadium they've been in previously. Houston may not historically be a baseball town, but it is going towards earning that label.

I'll have more about the series, maybe a more full World Series retrospective, but for now, I've been given a chance to experience something for the first time in teh sports world. I'm not too old, and on the whole I've been unbelievably lucky in my rooting interests. Not as lucky as someone from Boston the past 15 years, but still very lucky. For the only gap to be a World Series Title by the time I was 16 is not too shabby, but it took a rebuild to hell and back to plug that gap. And it finally got plugged.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

I Have No Words

When it ended, the one thought I had was that I had no thoughts. In my life as a sports fan, I've realized every dream. There are so few firsts, but this was one. The first time I could enjoy a World Series win. More than anything, that is what I wanted from this series. A win. Not a series win. A game win. The Dodgers are a great team. I have no animus towards them. I just wanted a win. I got one, and it was worth the wait.

That was, almost unquestionably, the greatest non-elimination game in World Series history. It felt too good for just a Game #2. But for someone who just wanted a solitary win, it was everything. At so many points, I felt myself think that I have seen this all before. When it was 3-1 through 7 innings, after a beautiful home run by Corey Seager, I felt I had seen the same script the day before, a late 2-run home run by a Dodgers superstar to put the game out of reach.

When I saw the Astros draw level in the 9th off of a home run by a utility player (though a damn good one in Marwin Gonzalez), I remembered Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, when the Astros tied the game at 6 late off of a two-run double by utility man Jose Vizciano.

When I saw Ken Giles blow it in the 9th, even after a 'rally killing' home run by Yasiel Puig, I remebered all the times in 2005 that Brad Lidge, an unhittable closer with a dynamic fastball and audacious slider, blew it - including that same Game 2, when Lidge blew it giving up a walk-off home run to Scott Podsednik.

But when Springer gave the lead back to Houston, I felt a new feeling. One I hadn't experienced before. Not one of elation, but one of resilience. My team came back against the best bullpen in baseball, against the best closer in baseball, then took the lead. Then blew it, in front of a raucous LA crowd, and fought back again. And almost blew it again. The game was that good. That series has been and should be that good.

I don't know where to start, but the best moments were the back-to-back home runs by Altuve and Correa, the lifeblood of that team all year long. The MVP, and the MVP-to-be. They flexed their muscles. But the Dogers are too good. Just too good. There is some Yankees-like mystique there. The Puig home run - his resurrection this year being like the 10th best part of the game. The perfect throw and the perfect tag nearly catching the perfect slide, but Logan Forsythe got in there and swiped home plate to send it back.

It makes sense, in a way, that it is George Springer with the game winning hit. He was the guy on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2014, when they had a cover saying the Astros will win the 2017 World Series. He was the first Top-10 pick, the guy drafted in 2011, by the previous GM, the last gift Ed Wade gave the Astros, potentially the only gift he gave them.

Baseball is a special game, becomes the moments are so sudden, but so memorable. They break the at times monotonous flow of the game. But the time that those monotonous moments covers build up energy, build up anticipation, build up emotion. And then they explode in these moments, like Marwin Gonzalez's game tying home run. Or Altuve and Correa, who had a bat-flip for the ages. Or Puig, continuing to build an indelible legacy. Or Kike Hernandez, doing the same. This was incredible.

To be honest, I have no idea what to say. My team never wins games like that. My team won a game like that. They become the first team to hit 3 HRs in a playoff game in extra innings. The Dodgers became the first team to lose a playoff game hitting 2 HRs in extra innings. Before tonight, there have been 17 HRs in extra innings ever in the World Series. Tonight, that number went up by 5. Baseball, just baseball.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

NFL 2017: Week 8 Power Rankings & The Rest

Tier I - The Absolute Worst of the Worst

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-7  =  103-169)
31.) Indianapolis Colts  (2-5  =  119-222)
30.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-7  =  123-186)
29.) New York Giants  (1-6  =  112-156)


Tier II - The Bad teams that are somehow still 3-4

28.) Chicago Bears  (3-4  =  122-151)
27.) New York Jets  (3-4  =  137-161)


Tier III - The Bad teams that are too close to .500 still

26.) Arizona Cardinals  (3-4  =  119-191)
25.) Miami Dolphins  (4-2  =  92-112)
24.) Baltimore Ravens  (3-4  =  130-148)


Tier IV - The Good teams that are too close to .500

23.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-4  =  145-151)
22.) Tennessee Titans  (4-3  =  158-173)
21.) Green Bay Packers  (4-3  =  164-161)
20.) Cincinnati Bengals  (2-4  =  98-112)
19.) Los Angeles Chargers  (3-4  =  137-131)


Tier V - The Soft Middle of the NFC

18.) Detroit Lions  (3-3  =  161-149)
17.) Washington Redskins  (3-3  =  141-147)
16.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-3  =  128-132)


Tier VI - The Unknowns

15.) Houston Texans  (3-3  =  177-147)
14.) Denver Broncos  (3-3  =  108-118)
13.) Dallas Cowboys  (3-3  =  165-142)
12.) Carolina Panthers  (4-3  =  131-139)


Tier V - The Slightly More Knowns

11.) New Orleans Saints  (4-2  =  171-133)
10.) Oakland Raiders  (3-4  =  155-156)
9.) Buffalo Bills  (4-2  =  119-101)


Tier VI - The Is It Time to Believe?

8.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (4-3  =  183-110)
7.) Los Angeles Rams  (5-2  =  212-138)


Tier VII - They're Going to end up in the Super Bowl, Aren't They?

6.) Seattle Seahawks  (4-2  =  134-94)
5.) New England Patriots  (5-2  =  195-166)


Tier VIII - It would be nice if one of these ended up in the Super Bowl, won't it?

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  (5-2  =  207-161)
3.) Minnesota Vikings  (5-2  =  146-119)
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (5-2  =  147-116)


Tier IX - The new best team in the NFL

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (6-1  =  199-146)




Projecting the Playoff Field

AFC

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  12-4
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
3.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  12-4
4.) Jacksonville Jaguars  =  10-6

5.) Oakland Raiders  =  10-6
6.) Buffalo Bills  =  10-6


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  13-3
2.) Minnesota Vikings  =  12-4
3.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  11-5
5.) Los Angeles Rams  =  10-6
6.) Carolina Panthers  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Arizona Cardinals (3-4); Green Bay Packers (4-3); Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3); Los Angeles Rams (5-2); New York Giants (1-6); Tennessee Titans (4-3)

13.) Minnesota Vikings (5-2)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-7)  (9:30AM - NFLN)
12.) Indianapolis Colts (2-5)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (2-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) San Francisco 49ers (0-7)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (6-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
10.) Miami Dolphins (4-2)  @  Baltimore Ravens (3-4)  (TNF - CBS)
9.) Chicago Bears (3-4)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
8.) Atlanta Falcons (3-3)  @  New York Jets (3-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Carolina Panthers (3-3)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
6.) Los Angeles Chargers (3-4)  @  New England Patriots (5-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
5.) Denver Broncos (3-3)  @  Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)  (MNF - ESPN)
5.) Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)  @  Detroit Lions (3-3)  (SNF - NBC)
3.) Dallas Cowboys (3-3)  @  Washington Redskins (3-3)  (4:25 - FOX)
2.) Houston Texans (3-3)  @  Seattle Seahawks (4-2)  (4:05 - CBS)
1.) Oakland Raiders (3-4)  @  Buffalo Bills (4-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Nostalgia Diaries, Pt. 9 - The 2008 March Madness Title Game - Kansas vs. Memphis



There are three lasting memories for me of the 2008 National Championship Game. The first is Memphis's poor free throw shooting crippling them at the worst moment, the ultimate Achilles Heel showing up like never before. The second is the feeling throughout that we were seeing an NBA-level game being played in college. And the third, and most important, was that it was my 17th Birthday and the day I got my license. That is the way most important.

Driving is my life. Actually, that is a little too simplistic and haughty a statement to make. Driving is a large part of my life. From the day I got behind the wheel, and realized steering is a lot easier in real life than on Mario Kart. I got my license in 2008, during an oil shortage, where the price of a gallon of gas shot up to around $3.50 - $3.75 a gallon in New Jersey (NJ, for those who may not know, generally has rather cheap gas). Despite this, and despite my parents at the time paying for my gas bills, I drove a lot. I drove for no reason. Around the block, down to Philadelphia, cutting school for no reason (I had a system that there was no blowback). I drove and drove and drove.

Overtime, I became the defacto driver for our group, taking advantage of my parent's van which I started driving more or less full-time. I drove us everywhere, never honestly wanting anyone else. Not that I considered myself a better driver - to be sure, I didn't drive the fastest or craziest, but it felt peaceful. The first day I drove around the block to my heart's content, for no real reason other than enjoyment, was that day, April 7th, 2008, when Kansas beat Memphis in a game for the ages.

Like a few previous installments in this series, particularly the ones about the Villanova v. Duke game in 2009, and Super Bowl XLVII, this isn't as much about the game in mind, as the surrounding elements, but the game itself was fantastic. Kansas was my adopted team, mainly because I had picked them to win it all in 2007, and they did not, but I felt the criticisms of them were unfair - I had a soft spot for any team/coach/player that gets unfairly pinged for 'not winning the big one.'

Kansas in 2008 won the big one, for the only time up through today. It was probably their best team, they did go 30-3 heading into the tournament, but it was a loaded year where the Final 4 consisted of all four #1 seeds, including a 2-loss UNC team that was essentially the same group that would romp to the title the next year, a 1-loss Memphis team with Derek Rose, and a 3-loss UCLA team with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. Kansas ended up on top - and their best pro player ended up being Mario Chalmers.

What stuck out most about the game was how different it seemed from a normal college game. Both offenses seem, well, professional. The Jayhawks ran good plays that ended up with skilled front-court players getting low-post buckets. Memphis was the same, with Derrick Rose penetration feeding the rest of the team. The game slowed down in the 2nd half due to the defensive pressure being ratcheted up, but the game was the same - a more professional version of the normally spotty college game.

The Game ended because Memphis missed free throws - their big achilles heel all year, and Kansas hit the three pointer that will be christened in the college hall of fame. But this isn't about the game, it is about my best birthday because I got to watch this brilliance after I got the ability to drive freely.

Overtime, driving turned into a way of listening to podcasts, keeping up with the news, and more than anything, unwinding. Overtime, my favorite driving experience has been late night in New York, the closest thing to Mario Kart as possible. You can make aggressive moves because everyone else makes aggressive moves, and if you have to join the flow. It is a dog-eat-dog world of a little bit machismo, a little bit crazy, and where you need to keep your head on a swivel at all times.

Driving is my bloodline, my favorite pastime, and it was born on the day Mario Chalmers hit his shot, and Bill Self got his title. My love to drive was fostered in an environment of high gas prices, of needless long drives up, around, and through every part of Central New Jersey, all the while gas stayed at its highest rate in my sentient lifetime. It was not smart, but it was fun, it was memorable, and it has lasted a good 10 years; still on the road, still travelling, still driving.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

AL, Conquered



I took a novel approach to watching Game 7 of the ALCS. Instead of burrowing into a hole and watching some movie too nervous or afraid to watch (you know, standard operating procedure for the last few Manning/Brady contests), I watched it. All of it. I watched it in a sports bar in Nashville, where I was with my cousin from Houston, the one who more or less made me an Astros fan about 20 years ago. We were there, in a large sports bar on the border of Vanderbilt University's campus. We were one out of five or so tables watching baseball, while the other 45 were loudly watching college football. Maybe not the ideal setting. My cousin and two other guys we met from Houston all longingly said how much they wished they were there. But the setting worked. I couldn't escape, and instead got to enjoy a clincher in all its glory.

I don't know when I felt truly comfortable. Definitely not when the game started and the Astros stranded runners against Sabathia early. Definitely not when Gattis hit a home run to take the 1-0 lead. It probably wasn't until McCann's two-run double to make it 4-0. Of course, then I remembered just four days ago the Astros led 4-0 in a game with the same pitcher, Lance McCullers, on the mound, and it didn't work that time. But that time was in New York. This time was in Houston.

This game, this win, was more about Houston the city than the team. Even if we can lay plaudits on Altuve, and Morton and McCullers, and Alex Bregman's ridiculous play to gun Greg Bird down at home. Behind all that action was a crowd that never sat down. A bandbox that dusted off 12 years of nothing to become the riotous banjo-party that it was back in 2004 and 2005. More than anything, that will stay with me. Since 2005, I've grown 12 years. The best players on the team are younger than me now. They changed their uniforms, and their 'old clubhouse leader' is a man who spurned that 2005 team and who back then most of Houston hated. But that noise, that sound, that pulsating energy that imbibes that band-box of a stadium? That was the same, and it took me back.

I've never been as nervous watching a sporting event in my life as I was during that 2005 NLCS. Holed up in the basement of my parent's house, watching in a small color TV, without the luxury of DVR to fast-forward through ads, and HD to actually see where the ball was going. It was a dark time, but a tremendous one. That Astros team was all pitching and defense. My favorite pitcher took the mound in Game 6 to clinch it. However, what I didn't get was to see them win in Houston. Albert Pujols stole that from me. 12 years later, I finally got it - just in a different league.

The biggest difference between 2005 and 2017 probably is the fact that the Astros won the NLCS that time, and the ALCS this time. The Astros were the red-headed step-child of baseball when Jim Crane bought the team in 2011 - one of his conditions in the sale was that the Astros would move to the AL West. It would even the league's with 15 teams each. It would even the divisions, moving the Astros from the 6-team NL Central to 4-team AL West. Of course, it ended two nice rivalries, Astros-Cubs and Astros-Cardinals, and they passed over moving the Brewers, who literally used to be in the AL.

Anyway, I'm still an NL Purist at heart. My biggest rivals remain the Cubs and Cardinals - no matter how much MLB tries to sell this battle of Texas. I was heavily rooting against the Cubs all of last postseason. I will always do so. But I've started now to appreciate life in the Junior Circuit. There was no better way to indoctrinate Astros fans to that than having their first pennant winning playoff journey go through Boston and New York.

With the Yankees. I don't hate them. Actually, I like them. I like their old dominance. I like them in an 'enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend' kind of way as I'll always go for teams that do well against Boston sports teams. I have many friends that are Yankees fans. But through six games, I started to get it all. Not hate the Yankees, but respect them out of fear. Out of fear of that stadium, the mystique and aura they represent. How else to explain the Astros hitting for a .480 OPS through five games, and looking like their 2011-2013 tank-a-riffic versions in the Bronx. There is something special about the Bronx, to be sure. Luckily, the Astros had two more games in Houston, and there's starting to be something special about that place too.

Game 7 was a celebration for Houston baseball, for a fanbase that had to live through one of the most tiring decades in MLB history. First, was the 5-year stretch from 2006-2010 that the management couldn't see the writing on the wall and decided to 'compete' with aging rosters by gutting the farm-system even further. Then came the three year stretch where they openly tanked. They weren't alone. The Cubs did as well - but people felt bad for the Cubs, people got angry at the Astros. Finally came 2014, where 'progress' meant a 70-92 record and people actually watching on TV.

They escaped from the Wilderness in 2015, a year that should be cemented in Astros history with the call-up of Carlos Correa and the Cy Young season of Dallas Keuchel, one of the great Astros re-births that have helped a team that didn't always make the most out of the draft picks they were given in their tanking days (remember, they picked Mark Appel - who? - #1 in 2013, right before the Cubs picked Kris Bryant). That season ended with them blowing a 4-1 lead in the 8th inning of Game 4 against the Royals. It was a learning experience. Things wouldn't be that easy.

It still may not be. The Astros went up against a juggernaut the last time they went to the World Series, and get summarily swept away in the closest sweep of all time (The Astros had legitimate chances to win Games 2-4). This time, it could happen again. The Dodgers are incredible. They whipped the Cubs without their best position player who should be back for the World Series. The Dodgers may well win it this time, but the Astros had their moment, in their ballpark, and brought baseball full circle back to Houston in the process.

Tip of the hat to Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, the two similar-looking catcher/DHs the Astros employ for coming up big. Tip of the hat to Yuli Gurriel, who's swing at everything approach worked way better than expected all year. To Alex Bregman for becoming a defensive monster at 3B. To Marwin Gonzalez, for the throw in Game 2. To Charlie Morton, for the best outing of his life. To Lance McCullers, for redeeming a half-season of terrible play with two great performances against the Yankees. To Jose Altuve, for never losing the faith after going through the three-straight 100+ loss seasons. To each man on that team. Looking back, 2005 was the beginning of the end, with a roster with only two true in-their-prime players in Berkman and Oswalt. 2017 is different. And the first step was getting to the big show. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

32.) Cleveland Browns  (0-6  =  94-157)
31.) San Francisco 49ers  (0-6  =  113-146)
30.) Indianapolis Colts  (2-4  =  119-195)
29.) Chicago Bears  (2-4  =  105-148)
28.) New York Giants  (1-5  =  105-132)

27.) New York Jets  (3-3  =  109-130)
26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-3  =  118-121)
25.) Tennessee Titans  (3-3  =  146-164)
24.) Baltimore Ravens  (3-3  =  114-124)
23.) Los Angeles Chargers  (2-4  =  116-131)
22.) Miami Dolphins  (3-2  =  61-84)
21.) Oakland Raiders  (2-4  =  124-126)
20.) Arizona Cardinals  (3-3  =  119-158)
19.) Green Bay Packers  (4-2  =  147-135)
18.) Detroit Lions  (3-3  =  161-149)
17.) Cincinnati Bengals  (2-3  =  84-83)

16.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-3  =  125-132)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (3-3  =  156-110)
14.) Houston Texans  (3-3  =  177-147)
13.) New Orleans Saints  (3-2  =  145-116)

12.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-2  =  121-109)
11.) Buffalo Bills  (3-2  =  89-74)

10.) Denver Broncos  (3-2  =  108-97)
9.) Washington Redskins  (3-2  =  117-113)
8.) Los Angeles Rams  (4-2  =  179-138)
7.) New England Patriots  (4-2  =  172-159)
6.) Minnesota Vikings  (4-2  =  122-103)
5.) Seattle Seahawks  (3-3  =  110-87)
4.) Carolina Panthers  (4-2  =  128-122)
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (4-2  =  118-102)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs  (5-1  =  177-130)

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-1  =  165-122)


Projecting the Playoffs

AFC

1.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  13-3
2.) New England Patriots  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  12-4
4.) Houston Texans  =  10-6
5.) Buffalo Bills  =  10-6
6.) Oakland Raiders  =  10-6


NFC

1.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  12-4
2.) Carolina Panthers  =  12-4
3.) Minnesota Vikings  =  11-5

4.) Seattle Seahawks  =  10-6
5.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6
6.) Los Angeles Rams  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Detroit Lions (3-3), Houston Texans (3-3)

15.) Tennessee Titans (3-3)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-6)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) New York Jets (3-3)  @  Miami Dolphins (3-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3)  @  Indianapolis Colts (2-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)  @  Buffalo Bills (3-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
11.) Carolina Panthers (4-2)  @  Chicago Bears (2-4)  (1:00 - FOX)

10.) Dallas Cowboys (2-3)  @  San Francisco 49ers (0-6)  (4:05 - CBS)
9.) Seattle Seahawks (3-3)  @  New York Giants (1-5)  (4:25 - CBS)

8.) Baltimore Ravens (3-3)  @  Minnesota Vikings (4-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
7.) New Orleans Saints (3-2)  @  Green Bay Packers (4-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
6.) Denver Broncos (3-2)  @  Los Angeles Chargers (2-4)  (4:25 - CBS)
5.) Arizona Cardinals (3-3)  @  Los Angeles Rams (4-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
4.) Cincinnati Bengals (2-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)  (4:25 - CBS)

3.) Washington Redskins (3-2)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (5-1)  (MNF - ESPN)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (5-1)  @  Oakland Raiders (2-4)  (TNF - CBS)

1.) Atlanta Falcons (3-2)  @  New England Patriots (4-2)  (SNF - NBC)

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.