Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 13 Power Rankings & The Rest

AFC

The "2017 is only 9 months away" Trio

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-12  =  197-352)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-9  =  214-293)
14.) New York Jets  (3-8  =  196-266)

No change here, as the Browns lose another game on their slow slog to what should have been inevitable the whole time, and the Jags and Jets lose games where we can pretend to argue that they played well in. The Jags and Jets both had decent shots to win, but erratic QBs against good teams in close games rarely works out well. Somehow, the 0-12 team seems to have the brightest future of the three. The Browns have oodles of draft picks and no cap room. The Jags seem stuck with Bortles, and the Jets have an expensive roster with no way out. Not great times.


The "End of an Era?" Uno

13.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-7-1  =  213-245)

I don't think anyone saw this coming. The Bengals have a ton of injuries that they have had to deal with, but even then they should not be this bad. I think we all underestimated the impact losing Marvin Jones and Muhammad Sanu would have on that offense, and the defense lost some key pieces. The real issue, though, has been the dramatic drop-off of the offensive line. The Bengals had one of the best OLs in the NFL last year. Without losing anyone major, they turned suddenly into one of the worst. That was so unexpected and I'm not sure how the Bengals turn that around. Also, I have to think that this is the end for Marvin Lewis - which is sad to some degree. I think the Bengals will long for the days of the 2011-2015 period, even though they never did win a playoff game.


The "Can someone just not win the AFC South?" Trio

12.) Houston Texans  (6-5  =  194-236)
11.) San Diego Chargers  (5-6  =  313-291)
10.) Buffalo Bills  (6-5  =  281-236)

The Texans are just terrible. Their best game in recent weeks was a loss to the Raiders played in a strange environment where Raiders players slipped and slopped across it and that was the only reason it was close. The Texans defense dropped from really good in 2015 to slightly above average in 2016. I need them to not win that division, but if they do it may open up questions on why a division winner is guaranteed a playoff spot. The Chargers and Bills are far better teams, but they are stuck in tough divisions and unless either wins out (and for the Chargers it still may not be enough) they will be at home in January. Also, I'm not sure how either gets much better. The Bills have some upward mobility of Tyrod continues to improve and if Sammy Watkins ever were to stay healthy, but with Rex it is hard to ever see everything coming together.


The "If someone has to win the AFC South, can it be one of these two?" Duo

9.) Indianapolis Colts  (5-6  =  270-301)
8.) Tennessee Titans  (6-6  =  308-296)

In a weird way, the Colts were surprisingly good in that Steelers game. Their defense was not good, but their offense was able to limit the number of possessions, and if they were a little better in the red zone they may have pushed the Steelers. I'm assuming Luck is back next week, and if so, they have a chance to go on a run. It will come down to winning all their remaining division games against Houston and Jacksonville, but they should be able to do so. With the Titans, they got the win they needed to, but I have questions on how that game became so close. They were within a couple of drops from the Bears away from losing that game. Still, I would take either as our token #4 seed ahead of Houston.


The "3rd Tier Playoff Contenders" Trio

7.) Miami Dolphins  (7-4  =  249-240)
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (6-5  =  218-201)
5.) Baltimore Ravens  (6-5  =  266-222)

The Dolphins are actually the #6 seed at the moment because of conference record, but that is solely due to them having played an additional conference game. I don't buy the Dolphins long-term. That schedule is going to get much harder. 10-6 may not make it either. I would find them dangerous, but we haven't seen them go and outplay a good team yet. The Steelers and Ravens are polar opposites in their offense and defense respectively being really good, and the other side of the ball being worse than it should given their talent. The Steelers with all their pieces are terrifying, and the Ravens, with Dumervil back are equally terrifying on their end of the ball. It really seems like this is going to come down to that Christmas Night game against the Ravens.


The "Muddled Greatness of the AFC West" Trio

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  (8-3  =  252-214)
3.) Denver Broncos  (7-4  =  266-219)

2.) Oakland Raiders  (9-2  =  307-275)

That was a fantastic game on Sunday Night, but one that the Broncos should never have lost. Their defense, for the first time in two seasons, collapsed late when defending a lead. They were given the impossible equation of that 62-yard field goal vs. punting and hoping for a tie. The Broncos also gave up 9 points via a safety and punt return TD. The Chiefs should get a lot of credit for coming back, running a good 2-minute drill for once, and not folding, but I still think Denver is the better team. It know becomes a tough situation for them in terms of getting to the playoffs though. The Raiders just keep trucking along. They have a weird schedule quirk of having to play all their divisional road games in the last four, but this is also a team that is 5-0 on the road. The Raiders probably were praying for a tie, and with a win against Denver, probably rooting for a Denver win, but if they can close at 12-4, they should be good.


The "Let's Move On" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (9-2  =  293-197)

Yeah, let's move on. I can't do this. I'm fully enjoying this season, but the looming spectre of them winning again is making my mind hurt.


NFC

The "2017 is only 9 months away" Trio

16.) Chicago Bears  (2-9  =  178-264)
15.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-10  =  228-344)
14.) St. Louis Rams  (4-7  =  170-236)

I'm moving the Rams here, who are 0-2 in their last two games. The first they lost when their defense could not support an awful offense. The next week, that defense gives up 49 while the offense looks decent. It looks pretty obvious they are going to be worse than Fisher's hilarious 7-9 disposition, which may easily spell the end of Fisher. The Bears and 49ers are obviously bad and should be in full 2017 planning mode, starting with whether their head coaches in Fox and Chip continue.


The "It's time to start thinking about 2017" Duo

13.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-6-1  =  245-228)
12.) Carolina Panthers  (4-7  =  276-281)

I still believe long-term in the Panthers. They have a ton of money to spend, talent on both sides of the ball, and only two clear weaknesses to shore up - their OL and secondary. There is a recipe here and still believe in the two main cooks in Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera. That all said, their year-to-year inconsistency is not a good sign. For the Cardinals, there are more serious issues to deal with - starting with whether Carson Palmer is just on the way down. Beyond that, there are oodles of free agents with not too much money, and they have to deal with putting all their chips in for 2016 and now facing the consequences.


The "Too many wasted moments" Duo

11.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-6  =  254-213)
10.) Green Bay Packers  (5-6  =  274-289)

I was very much looking forward to that MNF game and instead we got a complete dud, as the 2010-2014 Packers showed up for a game and the Eagles defense decided not to. Honestly, with the Eagles, the more surprising element of the game was the lack of a pass rush by the defense more than any issues with Wentz, who had a perfectly acceptable game. The Packers are still two back in the division with five to go, but the Lions tough schedule and the Packers opening to get a season sweep in Week 17 certainly leaves them in play for a miracle playoff berth. The Eagles are in the periphery of the wild card race, but some of those early season losses are really starting to hurt them now.


The "Fringe playoff contenders" Trio

9.) New Orleans Saints  (5-6  =  334-307)
8.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (6-5  =  249-264)
7.) Washington Redskins  (6-4-1  =  280-264)

Technically, the Redskins are the current #6 seed, but I find them to be a more fring playoff contender than Minnesota (who I have ahead of them) as with the Redskins the divsion is completely out at this point. The Redskins still have something close to the Saints offense (worse QB, but better complementary weapons), with something close to the Buccaneers defense (decent pass rush and coverage, but holes at safety). What helps them is they don't have the flaws that those two teams have. With the Saints and Bucs, they play twice, which is nice, and I'm sure Atlanta is hoping for a split there. The Saints offense showed it can still dominate bad teams, but we will get a nice test of their abilities when they take their show out of the Superdome soon.


The "Not that great NFC North Race" Duo

6.) Detroit Lions  (7-4  =  247-238)
5.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-5  =  218-192)

The Vikings blew that game, and their OL problems continue to surface, but if Adrian Peterson is on the way back for December, that could be the best little jolt the Vikings could get. I still believe in that defense, which was great once again. The pass rush has returned, with six sacks in the last two games. The Lions are continuing to squeak out games, and their ability to dominate up front will keep them from being blown out, but you have to wonder if an innate ability to win 1-7 point games with 4th quarter comebacks week-after-week won't ultimately prove to be unsustainable.


The "Weirdest Giants Team Ever" Uno

4.) New York Giants  (8-3  =  231-213)

The easy part of the Giants schedule is over, and they find themselves in nice shape off of their first, and really only, solid win of the season from a score perspective. The offense still has no run game for the umpteenth season, and the passing attack is far less than the sum of its parts, but a defense that is coming close to doing what the older Giants units did is really helping. There are some serious tests in the coming weeks (Pittsburgh, Dallas, Washington) but the Giants are probably safe even if they close the season 2-3 and get 10 wins. This Giants team bares no resemblance to the running-led 2007-2008 teams, nor the passing-heavy teams of 2011-2015. This is new water for them, but it is working, with a low-key solid defense supporting a two-man (Eli & OBJ) offense.


The "Can we have a divisional round matchup here?" Duo

3.) Atlanta Falcons  (7-4  =  358-302)
2.) Seattle Seahawks  (7-3-1  =  224-187)

The Falcons and Seahawks played an excellent Divisional Round Game in 2012, Year #1 of the Russell wilson experience. The Falcons and Seahawks played a very good game earlier this year in Seattle. These two teams seem to match-up well with each other, as even the Seahawks defense can't contain Julio Jones (Matt Ryan himself has done well against Seattle). I really hope they get to play against each other come playoff time, in either building. The Falcons may come to rue losses to Tampa in Week 1, or San Diego in Week 7, but I think they've begun to fully right themselves and take off, and I would imagine the playoff version of Seattle to very different than the one that laid an egg in Tampa.


The "How is this happening?" Uno

1.) Dallas Cowboys  (10-1  =  316-213)

At some point, I have to stop believing they would be better with Romo. Now, I can still argue that going forward it is safer to play Romo over a rookie when no rookie has ever won a Super Bowl, but even that becomes hard given Romo's injury history. This season is proving to be closely alligning to the 2004 Steelers. That team had a great roster coming off of an uncharacteristic 6-10 season (Cowboys were 4-12 last year), when they went to a rookie QB who used a great OL and running game and dominanat receivers (Hines & Plax), to personally go 14-0 (Tommy Maddox went 1-1). Roethlisberger, when you adjust for era, had probably the best statistical rookie season from an efficiency standpoint as well. Until Dak this year. Roethlisberger fell apart in the playoffs. Obviously, that wouldn't last long term, but his performances in each of the Steelers playoff games were not good. There is a little inkling in my mind that Dak and the Cowboys could ultimately face a similar fate.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  12-4
3.) Baltimore Ravens  =  9-7
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  8-8
5.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5
6.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5


NFC

1.) Dallas Cowboys  =  13-3
2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-4-1
3.) Atlanta Falcons  =  11-5
4.) Detroit Lions  =  10-6
5.) New York Giants  =  11-5
6.) WHO THE HELL KNOWS


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes: Tennesee Titans (6-6), Cleveland Browns (0-12)

15.) San Francisco 49ers (1-10)  @  Chicago Bears (2-9)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Who Gives a Shit" Sunday


14.) Denver Broncos (7-4)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) St. Louis Rams (4-7)  @  New England Patriots (9-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "I don't see a spoiler here" Sunday


12.) Indianapolis Colts (5-6)  @  New York Jets (3-8)  (MNF - ESPN)
11.) Philadelphia Eagles (5-6)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (3-7-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Uninteresting games with a fringe playoff team" Sunday and Monday


10.) Houston Texans (6-5)  @  Green Bay Packers (6-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Washington Redskins (6-4-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1)  (4:25 - FOX)
8.) Detroit Lions (7-4)  @  New Orleans Saints (5-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
7.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)  @  San Diego Chargers (5-6)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Quasi-interesting games with playoff (some fringe) teams" Sunday


6.) Carolina Panthers (4-7)  @  Seattle Seahawks (7-3-1)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "This game was supposed to be so much more meaningful" Sunday


5.) Kansas City Chiefs (8-3)  @  Atlanta Falcons (7-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
4.) Buffalo Bills (6-5)  @  Oakland Raiders (9-2)  (4:05 - CBS)

I call it "Good games between potential playoff teams" Sunday


3.) Miami Dolphins (7-4)  @  Baltimore Ravens (6-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
2.) New York Giants (8-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)  (4:25 - FOX)
1.) Dallas Cowboys (10-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (6-5)  (TNF - NBC)

I call it "Really good games between potential playoff teams" Sunday

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Great Silver & Black Awakening

I could have written this when the Raiders went into the Superdome and busted out massive cojones in beating the Saints by going for two. I could have written it last week when they had their best performance to date in rolling the defending champs and taking control of the AFC West. Instead, I am writing this after they went off to Mexico and won in a sloppy game against the Texans. But really, there is no better or worse time. There is just the future. The Raiders are back. The NFL is better for it, and so am I.

The rebirth of the Raiders is not a surprise. They were a trendy sleeper pick before the season started, so much so it became very passe to tout them as a playoff team, with people moving off the Raiders to other flavor of the weeks in Jacksonville or Buffalo. Yet, even for the people that fully supported the Raiders, having them be the #1 seed in the AFC if the playoffs started today through 10 weeks is surprising. The Raiders are not a great team, but they are an unbelievably clutch and confident team. The Raiders are winning by doing what they know: passing, blocking and going for it.

This all started in the 2014 NFL Draft, when for some reason Khalil Mack slipped to the 5th pick. The Raiders got him, and then got Derek Carr in the 2nd round. Two years later, Mack is living up to the hype, and Carr is easily the best QB from his class, and probably the best young (3 seasons or less) QB in the NFL, if not a potential MVP pick. Two years ago, they were 0-10 through ten weeks. Now, they are the, by record, best in the AFC. But actually it goes back earlier than that.

The Raiders hired Reggie McKenzie to take over as GM in 2012. He was the first true GM of the Raiders not named Al Davis. While Davis's legacy weighed strong, he inherited a team without a rudder. He immediately cleaned house. While that seems in hindsight like an easy, necessary decision, the Raiders were coming off of back-to-back 8-8 seasons. Still, he saw the broken system in Oakland, and did what he thought was best. The Raiders paid him back by going 11-37 over the next three seasons. He kept his job. They are 15-11 since, with even better things to come.

We can credit Jack Del Rio, or Derek Carr, or the rebirth of Michael Crabtree, or the continuing growth of Amari Cooper, or the slow build of a dominant OL. There are many reasons why the Raiders are 8-2. All of them have played a part in creating a dynamic team in Oakland. All of them are reasons. All of them have helped create one of the stories of the season. It may be lost under the glow of Dak, or the continued brilliance of the Seahawks and Patriots, or the general sloppiness and mediocrity, but the success of the Raiders will have the longest impact.

Ratings are down, this is arguably the biggest story of the 2016 season, and to me the explanation is simple: Peyton is gone. Now, that is reductive. It is not only him, but Peyton retiring (and Calvin Johnson, Patrick Willis and countless others) ended a chapter of the NFL book, and now they have to create another one. This happened before, in 1999-2002, and then Brady and Peyton ascended and took over. The NFL needs that next set of teams, and there is no better candidate than the Raiders.

The rebirth of the Raiders can be the punch the NFL needed, bringing a once-great franchise back to glory. The Raiders were one of the two primary powers in the AFC during the era that so many put up as the one that grew the game. The have a national fanbase, if more than a sustainable local one (which is why Las Vegas would be perfect for them). They can drive ratings and interest. The Raiders stood for so much in the old NFL, and nothing can help resuscitate the league than that special franchise and history rising again.

NFL 2016: Week 12 Power Rankings & The Rest

AFC


The "2017 is only 9 Months Away" Trio

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-11  =  184-325)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-8  =  193-265)
14.) New York Jets  (3-7  =  179-244)
I think the Jets are slightly better than the Browns and Jaguars, at least in terms of talent. But with their QB carousel-ing, they really seem well placed amid the mess in Cleveland and Jacksonville. Honestly, the most hopeless in this group seem to be Jacksonville, which looks about to bust on a 2nd straight Top-10 QB, with Blake Bortles being only an improvement when compared to Blaine Gabbert. The Browns have 0-16 in their sites, and for their sake I hope they don't overreact and clean house again. This was the plan, after all. As for the Jets, just do your job and beat New England and then go fulfill your 5-11 destiny.


The "What the Hell is Going On?" Uno

13.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-6-1  =  199-226)

I've heard a lot of 'well, at least they won't lose a playoff game this year' jokes, which I think does a great job of showing why the Bengals have been a success from 2011-2015. Only once did they truly blow a playoff game, their awful 10-27 loss to the Chargers in 2013. They were clearly the worse of the two teams in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (AJ Green concussion missed the game), and had an injury to Andy Dalton end what likely would have been a Super Bowl appearance last year. Now? Well now their team is in tatters and questions will be raised again about Marvin Lewis's job. I have a feeling he will be gone, and five years from we will wonder how the Bengals ever made the playoffs five straight seasons.


The "Least Exciting Division Race Ever" Trio

12.) Houston Texans  (6-4  =  181-215)
11.) Tennessee Titans  (5-6  =  281-275)
10.) Indianapolis Colts  (5-5  =  263-273)
With the news that Andrew Luck may miss the Thanksgiving game due to a concussion, we really have to fear for a world where the Texans, with their negative 34 point differential and lack of JJ Watt and lack of lack of Brock Osweiler end up winning the division as well. At least with Tennessee, which hasn't had a home playoff game since 2008, and Indianapolis, there is a chance for a semi-exciting Wild Card game. I honestly wouldn't mind Tennessee making it and seeing the world re-evaluate their thoughts on Mike Mularkey once again.


The "Upset Special Teams" Duo

9.) Buffalo Bills  (5-5  =  253-215)
8.) San Diego Chargers  (4-6  =  292-278)

There is a very low chance either of these teams makes the playoffs. The Chargers have next to no shot. The Bills have to probably run the table or go 5-1 at worst. Still, these are two teams that are better than any of the AFC South teams as currently constituted, and arguably better than the AFC North champion as well. The Bills offense continues to be surprisingly good, and while the defense has still not reached the levels it was at pre-Rex, the sacks and pressure have returned nicely. The Chargers are done, but they still have a true Wild Card in Philip Rivers who can pull an upset at any time, and with them still hosting the Chiefs and Raiders, there is a chance they factor in to the AFC West outcome.


The "Here we go again" Duo

7.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (5-5  =  238-215)
6.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-5  =  199-187) 

The Ravens gave the Cowboys a good game for 28 minutes, and my main takeaway there is Dallas is a dominant force and the Ravens secondary has major holes. For the most part, the Ravens run defense did its job and kept Zeke Elliott in check. The Ravens and Steelers are diametric opposites, and while I think the Ravens are slightly better, it is hard to favor them in this division race. The Steelers still get the Browns one more time, and get the Ravens in Heinz later in the season (Christmas Night, I believe), which easily gives them the edge. That all said, what was with the Steelers letting the Browns hang around like that, and Ben throwing for way under 10 YPC? They have a history of playing down to their opponents 2-3 times a year, and were lucky enough to win this one.


The "AFC Playoff Periphery" Duo

5.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-3  =  222-187)
4.) Miami Dolphins  (6-4  =  218-216)

The Chiefs were somewhat living off of borrowed time the last couple weeks. They absolutely should have lost to Carolina, so it was somewhat a make-up that they blew a winnable game to Tampa Bay. Their issue is they still have to play Denver twice (starting this week), and their offense just seems broken right now. Whatever running game magic they had last year that was deployed when Jamaal Charles went down is completely missing. For the Dolphins, they are a somewhat better version of the Chiefs right now. Tannehill is still not getting any protection, but their talented players are coming up big and their schedule is far more manageable the rest of the way than Kansas City's. By the way, for all the talk of how bad the AFC South is, if the Dolphins make the playoffs, this will be the first time the AFC East sends multiple playoff teams since 2010.


The "Fight to the Death, AFC West Style" Duo

3.) Oakland Raiders  (8-2  =  272-243)
2.) Denver Broncos  (7-3  =  239-189)


I still believe the Broncos are better, that their strength (a ridiculous pass defense) is more consistent week to week than Oakland's strength at passing. Denver has a somewhat easier schedule the rest of the way as well, at least when it comes to having their more important games at home (including the rematch between Denver and Oakland). But there is something rolling with the Raiders right now. That was not a game they should win by any stretch. The Raiders won a game with a defense that came up big (and played well throughout the night, if a little soft on 3rd down), and a passing game that changed on the fly and drove the Texans into submission with their backs in the passing game. That was a mature performance by the Raiders in a season full of them. They should be 6-4, but maybe a year from now they are a deserving 8-2 as they continue to improve.


The "It's Always Them" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (8-2  =  271-180)

One of more misleading 13 point wins in recent memory, and one of the lesser 4TD games I have ever seen. Sure, we can toss some of it up to a rainstorm in the first half, but that was a sloppy New England team beating a team that anyone in the NFL, save for the Browns, can easily beat. Still, the Patriots have only a few tough games left, and while they are not hte #1 seed for the moment, the AFC West will beat each other enough to give them likely a one-game cushion where 13-3 should be good enough.


NFC


The "Cover your eyes and run" Duo

16.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-9  =  204-313)
15.) Chicago Bears  (2-8  =  157-237)  

The Bears will be starting their 3rd string running back, be without their top-2 WRs coming into the season (Jefferey, White), have a bad OL, be without their young promising rookie defensive lineman (Leonard Floyd) and now without their starting QB in Cutler. Despite all of that, the 49ers are worse. Let's be real for a moment. What exactly is so innovative about Chip Kelly? His offense was really nice for a year and a half, but midway through the 2014 season teams started figuring it out. Now they are a disaster. His personnel judgement has been the source of many a punchline. There is nothing redeeming about him as a coach at the moment. I have to think he's back in college by 2018 at the latest.


The "We need to talk about change, right now" Trio

14.) Los Angeles Rams  (4-6  =  149-187)
13.) New Orleans Saints  (4-6  =  244-246)
12.) Green Bay Packers  (4-6  =  247-276)

Jeff Fisher has been coaching the Rams for 5 seasons, but outside of 2011, coaching some team for 22 seasons. Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy were both hired in 2006, and are now in Year 11 in their stops. All three have had really good highpoints, specifically Payton and McCarthy who achieved them with their current teams, but it is definitely time to ask if change is inevitable. It seems like the Packers situation is screaming for a new head coach (and it is stunning how the Packers offense went from the most frightening thing ever in 2014 to middling in two years), but it should be just as much in New Orleans as well. Somehow, Sean Payton has escaped criticism because Drew Brees is an alien and he has been able to get away with throwing defensive coordinator after defensive coordinator under the bus. Change is needed there as well.


The "On the way up!?" Duo

11.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (5-5  =  235-259)
10.) Detroit Lions  (6-4  =  231-225)


I'll admit, I thought it was a bad move to fire Lovie Smith and replace him with Dirk Koetter, and I thought it was worse to keep Jim Caldwell. I further assumed the Lions were dead after Calvin's retirement. Instead, the Lions are tied for first and the Buccaneers are a game behind. I don't think either team is particularly good. The Lions have had way too many close games and calls with teams of far less talent (Houston and Tennessee in losses, Jacksonville in wins - maybe it is an AFC South problem) to trust, and while their defense and offense both remain competent, neither seems to produce as well as the play-by-play numbers would suggest. The Buccaneers are an interesting team, but I still worry about that defense that hsa been so prone to the big play without Lovie Smith running it, especially given what lies ahead.


The "This Wasn't supposed to happen" Duo

9.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-5-1  =  226-190)
8.) Carolina Panthers  (4-6  =  244-246)

Last January, the Cardinals and Panthers played in the NFC Championship Game. This was not any old NFC Championship Game. The two teams combined for the 2nd highest combined win total of any two Title Game participants (28-4, only the 29-3 put up in the 99 NFC and 04 AFC title games were higher). The game was a laugher (Carolina won 49-15), and less than a year later it seems impossible that that game happened. Arizona seems more broken in that a lot of their success last year came from older players who now have fallen off (Palmer the biggest factor). The Panthers are in a state where this seems like a fluke. Secondary issues that have now righted themselves cost them the first Saints game. Cam missing a game cost them another. Graham Gano missing a field goal cost them another. The Panthers are probably a game too far away from Atlanta at this point, but the makings of a great team still reside in Charlotte. In Glendale? I'm not so sure.


The "Three Teams Enter, Two Teams Leave" Trio

7.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-5  =  241-186)
6.) New York Giants  (7-3  =  204-200)
5.) Washington Redskins  (6-3-1  =  254-233)

Unless the Cardinals go on a great run, or the runner-up in the North is a lot better than we think, two of these NFC East teams will be making the playoffs. The Eagles, by the advanced metrics, are the best, and their defense and special teams will keep them competitive. But with Carson Wentz really struggling and injuries hurting the run game you have to wonder if they have enough to go on the 5-1 type run they need to after already suffering five losses. What helps is they still have to play all of their home divisional games. The Giants and Redskins both have fairly challenging schedules ahead, but enough ability to finish 10-6 or 10-5-1 and take the wild cards. The Giants defense is legitimately very good, and Redskins offense is the same. The Giants probably have slightly higher upside because by personnel their offense should be better than it is, but given we are 10 games in, it is more likely the Giants offense is what it is at this point.


The "2nd Tier Playoff Teams" Duo

4.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-4  =  254-233)
3.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-4  =  320-283)

The Vikings offense is still a mess, but the defense course corrected in a big way, harassing the living hell out of Carson Palmer last week. If that Vikings defense shows up, they should be in fairly good shape as they still have the makings of one of the best units in the NFL. The Falcons are the inverse, with the better offense supplementing a bad defense. Neither formula is great, but both should be good enough to win their flawed divisions.


The "Only Tier Playoff Teams" Duo

2.) Dallas Cowboys  (9-1  =  285-187)
1.) Seattle Seahawks  (7-2-1  =  219-173)

Seriously, each week that goes by makes it more and more obvious that these two teams need to play in the NFC Championship. If we don't get that, this whole season will be a disaster. I am not a fan, and have something of a moderate dislike, of the three teams that seem like a lock to win the Super Bowl (Dallas, Seattle, New England), but still would salivate over the prospect of Dallas and Seattle playing an NFC Championship Game in either building. Just a perfect matchup.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  12-4
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  9-7
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5
6.) Miami Dolphins  =  10-6



NFC

1.) Dallas Cowboys  =  13-3
2.) Seattle Seahawks  =  12-3-1
3.) Minnesota Vikings  =  10-6

4.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6
5.) Washington Redskins  =  10-5-1
6.) New York Giants  =  10-6


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) St. Louis Rams (4-6)  @  New Orleans Saints (4-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
15.) Tennessee Titans (5-6)  @  Chicago Bears (2-8)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Bad vs. Bad" Sunday


14.) New York Giants (7-3)  @  Cleveland Browns (0-10)  (1:00 - FOX)
13.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8)  @  Buffalo Bills (5-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) San Francisco 49ers (1-9)  @  Miami Dolphins (6-4)  (1:00 - FOX
11.) San Diego Chargers (4-6)  @  Houston Texans (6-4)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "I round down when we get 50% of a good matchup" Sunday


10.) Green Bay Packers (4-6)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)  (MNF - ESPN)
9.) Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5)  @  Indianapolis Colts (5-5)  (Thanksgiving - NBC)

I call it "The most hyped games between average teams ever" Thursday and Monday


8.) New England Patriots (8-2)  @  New York Jets (3-7)  (4:25 - CBS)
7.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-6-1)  @  Baltimore Ravens (5-5)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Semi-fun Divisional games" Sunday


6.) Carolina Panthers (4-6)  @  Oakland Raiders (8-2)  (4:25 - CBS)
5.) Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1)  @  Atlanta Falcons (6-4)  (1:00 - FOX)
4.) Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "Oddly Intriguing Games for No Great Reason" Sunday


3.) Kansas City Chiefs (7-3)  @  Denver Broncos (7-3)  (SNF - NBC)

I call it "Another Night in the AFC West" Sunday


2.) Minnesota Vikings (6-4)  @  Detroit Lions (6-4)  (Thanksgiving - CBS)
1.) Washington Redskins (6-3-1)  @  Dallas Cowboys (9-1)  (Thanksgiving - FOX)

I call it "This is what Thanksgiving is all about" Thursday

Saturday, November 19, 2016

NFL 2016: Week 11 Power Rankings (Check-In)

AFC

The "2017 is Only Ten Months Away" Trio

16.) Cleveland Browns  (0-10  =  175-301)
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-7  =  174-239)
14.) New York Jets  (3-7  =  179-244)

I was surprised to see that the Jaguars actually had a better point differential than the Jets. The Jets are really, really bad. I guess all they are really missing is a QB and some corners. It is amazing how corner has gone from such a strength through much of the Rex Ryan era (even after Revis left) to a glaring weakness. The Browns may easily go winless, but I actually see more hope, in terms of a plan, here than I did in Detroit. Granted, with drafting Stafford and Suh, the plan in Detroit coalesced quickly. As with any rebuild, it will come down to the value they get on the draft capital they have built up. As for Jacksonville, I really don't know what to say. It will come down to Bortles, and whether he can amount to anything. And if he can't, it will come down to how quickly and expediently the Jaguars get rid of him.


The "Worse than they look or Better than they look 8-8" Duo

13.) Houston Texans  (6-3  =  161-188)
12.) Buffalo Bills  (4-5  =  237-203)

The Texans are one of the worst 6-3 teams I have ever seen. How this team managed to beat the Chiefs is beyond me. Amazingly for them they may have enough of a lead to hold onto the division, but we may be in store for another 30-0 wildcard loss. It is amazing how bad Osweiler has been, and how much it shows the Broncos were absolutely right to both get rid of him and ensure Peyton started in the playoffs. As for teh Bills, they are the opposite. This is a team that gave Seattle as good of a game as New England did, and did it in Seattle. But also a team that blew games to Miami and were spanked by New England themselves. The Bills are a good team, but way too streaky and in a really tough AFC Wildcard picture, they may have already lost too many.


The "Please can one of you win the AFC South" Duo

11.) Indianapolis Colts  (4-5  =  239-256)
10.) Tennessee Titans  (5-5  =  264-251)

There are going to be two divsion winners with 10-6 or worse records (unless the Texans somehow go 11-5). That said, I can confidently say the AFC North winner, be it Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati, will give their wild card opponent a good game. Houston will not. The Colts can, as their offense is good enough to potentially hang with most teams. The Titans not only, we have to start thinking they may actually be good. This is a team that just rolled Green Bay from snap one, winning without even letting Rodgers get good garbage time scoring to make it look closer. The Titans weird 'exotic smashmouth' has calmed down the 'exotic' part since their early season struggle, and the smashmouth part is still humming. Maybe, just maybe, Mike Mularkey knew what he was doing.


The "Playoff Periphery" Trio

9.) San Diego Chargers  (4-6  =  292-278)
8.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-5-1  =  187-210)
7.) Miami Dolphins  (5-4  =  204-206)

Despite San Diego and Cincinnati both being two games under .500, I would pick both of them to beat the teams I put below them today. The Chargers still have that magician in Rivers. The Bengals still have loads of talent. Their drop in play comes down mostly to the shocking dropoff in the level of their OL. They had a clear Top-5 OL the last few years, and now it is bottom ten. Still, the Bengals are just one loss behind Baltimore (with both games against the Ravens still to come), and tied on losses with the Steelers with the game in Cincinnati still to come. There is a path to victory here. For San Diego, less so, but I have a hard time putting them further back. As for Miami, four straight wins have them right there in the playoff hunt. The division is likely gone unless the Pats collapse, and the Wild Card is a stretch, but there seems to be a bright future in Miami all of a sudden.


The "Sadder version of 2008, 2010 and 2011" Duo

6.) Baltimore Ravens  (5-4  =  182-160)
5.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (4-5  =  214-206)

In 2008, 2010 and 2011, the Ravens and Steelers staged epic battles for the AFC North. In 2008, the Steelers led wire-to-wire, but it only ended in Week 15, when a 10-3 Pittsburgh team went into Baltimore and beat a 9-4 Ravens team 13-9. In 2010, it was something similar, when an 8-3 Steelers team beat an 8-3 Ravens team 13-10. In 2011, the Ravens finally struck back, ending the division when they swept the Steelers with a draamtic 23-20 win in Heinz. Those were incredible divisional battles, the AFC's version of Seahawks-49ers which really only lasted from 2012-2013. A few years later, these two will battle it out, but when you are trying to see who goes 10-6 to win the division, it doesn't seem as fun. The Ravens have a superb defense and the Steelers a potentially dominant offense, but the other factors are just not there.


The "The AFC West Escalated Quickly" Trio

4.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-2  =  205-168)
3.) Oakland Raiders  (7-2  =  245-223)
2.) Denver Broncos  (7-3  =  239-189)

Remember when all of a sudden the NFC West was the best division in football after being absolute garbage for six years? This isn't as extreme, as the AFC West did send three teams to the playoffs in 2013, and has had at least two winning teams for a number of years (getting Manning in there helped), but all of a sudden the AFC West has the second, third and fourth best teams in the conference. There are all legitimate teams as well. The Chiefs defense is fantastic. The Raiders offense is excellent. The Broncos defense, at the very least the pass defense, may be the best unit in the entire NFL. It is hard to say any of them are a favorite. The Raiders still have to play all their divisional road games (they are 5-0 on the road so far). The Chiefs and Broncos have to play each other twice. It will be a crazy mad dash to the finish line.


The "Yeah, let's just accept they're winning the AFC Again" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (7-2  =  241-163)

Despite the public perception, I've enjoyed a lot of this season. I have squarely not enjoyed the Patriots still being really good. Let's just move on.


NFC


The "So, So, So, Bad" Duo

16.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-8  =  187-283)
15.) Chicago Bears  (2-7  =  141-215)

I get that the 49ers have very little talent, but I'm shocked about how little criticism Chip Kelly is getting on what a disaster the 49ers have been. His offense has not been good. His offenses have not been good for a while now. At least in Philadelphia the record was decent. Analytics and film guys will slurp him to no end, but at this point I'm just not sure what makes him the visionary people think he was. As for the Bears, what a disaster the season has become. Injuries have just piled up, and while they have a clear path to start the rebuild by getting rid of Cutler, there is so much more to do at this point.


The "Muddled Mess" Trio

14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (4-5  =  216-242)
13.) Los Angeles Rams  (4-5  =  139-173)
12.) New Orleans Saints  (4-5  =  265-263)

The NFC has a far more messy middle than the AFC, which is why teams that can still claim to be in the playoff race are so low in my mind. The Buccaneers will hit a few splash plays, and you can see the makings of a very good team, but there is a lot to clean up from a cosnistency and protecting the ball standpoint. The Rams offense is what we all thought the Titans offense would be, a boring, slog focused on the run in a passing world. Maybe things change with Goff? At the very least they become 5% more interestign to watch. The Saints are somewhat unlucky in that they've lost two games they easily could have won (Denver, Oakland), but they've also won games they easily could have lost (Carolina, San Diego). The Saints are what they are, a .500 type team that has lost whatever aura they used to have regarding their ability to play really well at home.


The "It Wasn't Supposed to go this way" Trio

11.) Carolina Panthers  (3-6  =  221-226)
10.) Green Bay Packers  (4-5  =  223-234)
9.) Arizona Cardinals  (4-4-1  =  202-160)

The best three teams in the NFC for most of last season were the Panthers, Packers and Cardinals. Of course, the Packers slide started in the middle of the season and by the end they were easily behind Minnesota and Seattle, but either way, these are three somewhat preseason favorites. All three have a serious question about their ability to make the playoffs. The Panthers have been mightily unlucky, losing a bunch of close games. The Packers have been incredible frustrating, wasting Aaron Rodgers (who admittedly has been poor himself). The Cardinals are the worst because it seems there is no way back up. They put all their eggs in this 2014-2016 basket, and now the long slide back down begins. The Panthers can at least say things will get better next year when the corners are more ingrained, when they focus resources on the OL. For the Cardinals? What is there? Maybe get a 3rd old QB and get Romo?


The "Periphery Playoff Contenders" Trio

8.) Washington Redskins  (5-3-1  =  212-209)
7.) Detroit Lions  (5-4  =  205-206)
6.) Minnesota Vikings  (5-4  =  175-152)

The Redskins are the forgotten team in that NFC East (despite being by record better than Philadelphia). It is probably due to the 2-0 start, and the fact Cousins has been merely pretty good instead of the awful he was in the 1st half of last season or brilliant in the second. That team has a lot of talent and is 5-1-1 in their last 7 games. They have what it takes to sneak back in. The Lions and Vikings have a momentary edge on the Packers and both would do good to start adding to it. The Lions have been very inconsistent and the Vikings just a disaster over the last month, but there is still time for them to build a gap in that division and send their hated rivals home.


The "High Upside Frightening" Duo

5.) New York Giants  (6-3  =  182-184)
4.) Atlanta Falcons  (6-4  =  320-283)

I'm surprised the Giants don't have a positive point differential. Their offense should be better (and again, the problem is the run game and Eli's scattershot play) and their defense has been legitimately really good all year, one of the few cases where loads of FA money works out. They have two gimmes coming up, and while the schedule gets much harder later in the season, with the Cowboy game in New York still to come, there is a path to a division title, somehow. For the Falcons, they are lucky the Panthers have been so unlucky, as their freefall is close to what happened last year (5-0 start, 3-8 finish), but there is no 15-1 juggernaut to deal with. The Falcons offense is great. The defense is bad. On days where Ryan gets some time, they can knock off anyone.


The "They Just have to get in the game" Uno

3.) Philadelphia Eagles  (5-4  =  226-160)

By Football Outsiders DVOA, the Eagles are the most efficient team in the NFL, this on the backs of their top-ranked defense and special teams. Carson Wentz's level has not really improved the last couple weeks, but the run game has turned a corner and that defense remains among the NFL's best as Jim Schwartz continues to prove what a great defensive coordinator he is. If they can sneak into the playoffs, they can make noise, but the Eagles have put themselves in a really tough position losing multiple winnable games already.


The "Can we fast-forward to the NFC Title Game" Duo

2.) Dallas Cowboys  (8-1  =  258-170)
1.) Seattle Seahawks  (6-2-1  =  193-158)

Two years ago these two teams played in Seattle and the Cowboys came in and dominated the Seahawks up front and won the game. It was a huge statement game that in many ways has set the tone for the Cowboys ever since (aside from the injury-riddled last season). At this point, we would all like a rematch, be it in Seattle or in Jerryworld. I have a few concerns about Dak if the Cowboys were to ever go behind by 10+ in a game, but with that OL and a defense that is far better than the sum of its parts, maybe they don't actually get behind by that much anwyay. It would be a fantastic game, and certainly be a ratings giant, as much as we have to suddenly care about these things.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3
2.) Oakland Raiders  =  11-5
3.) Pittsburgh Steelers  =  9-7
4.) Indianapolis Colts  =  9-7
5.) Denver Broncos  =  11-5
6.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  11-5


NFC

1.) Seattle Seahawks  =  12-3-1
2.) Dallas Cowboys  =  12-4
3.) Atlanta Falcons  =  10-6
4.) Minnesota Vikings  =  9-7
5.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  10-6
6.) New York Giants  =  10-6

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Friday Night Lights - Five Year's Later

I'm late to this party. Not the first time I missed a show that was something of a small cultural phenomenon only to jump on board years after the fact. I'll probably give in and at some point do it with Mad Men. We'll see on that one. Anyway, a few months back I started Friday Night Lights. I watched the movie when it came out. I never thought it would translate to a TV show. I don't think I would have understood or enjoyed the show as much years ago either. I'm not binging it the way I did The Wire, or a few other shows I watched this year, but it is the type of show that may be best off in a slow, cool burn. At this point, I'm mid-way through Season 4, the time when the show was given a strange form of life support on DirecTV, and I think I have seen enough to share my thoughts.

The show has been excellent, in a most different way. They did such a great job of writing enough excellent characters that are easy to get behind, care about and be invested in. The opening entry into the show, with star QB Jasoin Street being paralyzed, mirrored the movie, but everything else that has veered away from the movie has been a joy.

The best show that I have ever seen was The Wire, a show that shined a light on a world that their viewers were very largely not a part of or never would want to be caught in. Similarly, Friday Night Lights did the same to rural Texas, to small town America, to all the places we on the Coasts easily forget about. They brilliantly showed this town where everyone knew everyone, where football was the fabric that sowed a community together, that religion and faith played such a large part. Few shows have ever shown so much open faith and religion, including memorable scenes in churches.

The football itself alternates from fabulous realism in the practices, the boosterism, the shady dealings, the life of a locker room, to the insane - most of the on-field football itself is a bit ridiculous. But the show is about so much more than football, even if the best seasons and storylines are very connected. The core of the team in the first season, with Matt Saracen put into a role he never wanted, to Smash Williams who saw the team as just a stepping stone, to Tim Riggins, who could not imagine life away from Dillon, to the Coach who has to control all of these things. Characters make dramas for me, and while there may not be the outward magnetism of a Walter White or a Stringer Bell, the cool, calm, introspection of the key characters were perfect.

There are some criticisms of the show, for sure. The second season was a bit of a mess as it tried to get a little too conventional, with stupid plotlines and way too little football. And the show was way too liberal with key characters' ages in an effort to keep them in high school (there is no way Riggins, Lyla and Tyra were all sophomores in the firs tseason). But all of that can be looked past for the pure moments of brilliance.

The show at its best was a small family drama, and with that the show may have shown the best marriage ever on network TV. For years, people claimed writing a happy marriage was boring. Friday Night Lights changed that. The Taylors were perfect. The fought, but made up. They argued, but consoled. They were a perfect marriage to show on TV. Never wavering, but differing. Friday Night Lights at its best could be multiple things: a sports show, a family drama, a pointed look a blue-collar, middle-America. It could wear all those hots in a way better fashion than I could have ever imagined.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Game 7 and the Wildest Rides in Sports



There is no feeling as a sports fan better than seeing your team win. That much is obvious for anyone who has a certain team (or athlete) they support. However, removing the attachments and biases that come into play when your favorite team is involved, there may be no better feeling as a sports fan watching something truly historic, amazing, invigorating that doesn't involve one of your teams. Nothing encapsulated this more than Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians.

You could not write a better game than that one. From the entrance perspective of two franchises that have gone so long without tasting glory. To the karmic endurance of the Cleveland baseball team trying to avoid the fate that the Cleveland basketball team put on another - losing a 3-1 series lead. And then, when the first pitch was thrown, and the event was stripped of these labels and meanings until the last out was made, it became even better.

You had unhittable relievers being hit. You had incredible drama of Jon Lester pitching in a Madison Bumgarner role, of the Cubs 'weaker' hitters like Addison Russell and David Ross hitting home runs. You had a never-die Cleveland team making a three-run comeback in the 8th with a pinch-hitter with a sub-200 batting average in the playoffs doubling of Aroldis Chapman and a man with 10 home runs all season in Rajai Davis homering to tie it.

Then you had the rain delay, the Gods knowing they had to twist the fates one last time. The specter of the darkened night sky was made worse with the bright doppler radar showing an impending storm. The game needed to finish. And it did, just in time for more heroes to be made, like Ben Zobrist, a career 'professional baseball player' hitting an opposite-field slap double in the most professional of ways, and then one last charge by the Indians ending with a Golden At-Bat - a rare moment where during an at-bat both teams could win the world series with each pitch. A home run would win it for the Indians. An out would win it for the Cubs.

They got the out, we got the outcome most wanted. I got to experience, along with millions (40 million to be exact - 10 more than Cavs-Warriors... baseball is NOT dying!) on TV, thousands on twitter. The fact that I was doing this in my hostel's bar in Cusco, Peru, getting drunk of a combination of the elevation, the pisco sours and Cusquena beers, and that living tonic that is baseball made it all the better.

I wanted the Indians to win, mainly because I haven't exhausted my resentment of the Cubs as an old NL Central rival of my Astros. That said, I have no real hatred for them. When the Astros were in the NL Central, their peaks did not align, the Astros were great from 2004-2006, and when the Cubs won the division in 2007-08, the Astros were beginning their decline. The Cubs were never the biggest rival, the Cardinals were - they were everyone's biggest rival in the NL Central. That said, I grew tired of people comparing the Cubs plight to the Red Sox, who got far closer far more often, and undercovering the Indian's own run at ending a long draught. Still, I could look past this to imbibe everything that was ocurring on that grand stage of the baseball diamond.

Few games have ever been as entertaining and mesmerizing. The immediate one that came to mind was the only baseball game with nearly as much as stake that could compare, the Cardinals ridiculous 11-10 win in 11 innings in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, twice coming within a strike of losing to pull off the win when David Freese hit a home run deep into the night sky of St. Louis.

There are a few other events in other sports where I could detach a rooting interest and just enjoy the contest, the drama, the performances. There was the 2007 NFC Championship Game between the Giants and Packers played brilliantly on a most frozen of tundra's in Lambeau. Or the 2013 NFC Championship Game in Seattle when the Seahawks muscled their way past the 49ers. There was even this year's March Madness Final between Villanova and UNC. Still, nothing may compare to this.

A great baseball game is different, in an almost indescribable way. The tension building between each pitch. The wild variation of the game within seconds of each pitch or hit. The cold October night's that are so inescapable in the baseball playoffs. The history that attaches itself to each game, each series, each team. Baseball is one of the best sports because of this poetic quality that rides through each season. When you add in the most poetic, and certainly most tragic, franchise left in the sport, an equally worthy foe, and sprinkle in some elements, you get a perfect cocktail. In Peru, the Pisco Sour is great, but still nothing compared to great baseball.

Monday, October 24, 2016

NFL 2016: Screw It, I loved Seahawks @ Cardinals

The world reacted in very disparate ways to yesterday's 6-6 OT Tie between Arizona and Seattle. It was almost universally negative, seen as an extension of the issues the NFL has had all season: bad play, bad offenses, boring primetime games, and eventually declining ratings. I don't care about any of that. My reaction, and mirrored by a small portion of the NFL populous, was that it was fantastic. It was everything I wanted to see from those two teams. I don't care what anyone says, that was a great, enjoyable game.

Admittedly, the OT madness did ruin the game slightly. Had Catanzaro just hit his field goal, that would've been close to a perfect game. Great defense can be as entertaining as great offense. Maybe everyone doesn't see it that way. But if you claim you do, there is no excuse for not enjoying that game. The defenses were tremendous in every respect. The Seahawks and Cardinals, when they are humming, an incredible to watch on offense. Fast, furious, intense. Both sides were locked in on defense from the start.

Yes, the problems that both teams have on offense, mainly at the OL, exacerbated the problems and made the jobs of the defenses a lot easier. But watching great defense dominate middling offenses can be fun. People decry the number of penalties, particularly the holding penalties on the Seattle and Arizona lineman. That isn't sloppy play. That is dominance by defenses forcing their opposing OLs to hold to survive.

For all the people who complained about that game, I ask then what would a great defensive game look like? I saw many people say how ugly the game was, how boring it was, how it was bad offense and not great defense. No, that is just not correct. If you couldn't enjoy that game, then just admit you find offense boring. The sporting ideal of the NFL should be that a 3-0 game and a 51-48 game are equally exciting - or equally messy. Both feature one side of the ball dominating the other side of the ball. Yes, a perfect game is probably 27-24 or 23-20, or some game where every unit plays decent. But if we aren't getting that, I would take 3-0 as easily as a 51-48. Those are both farces.

Honestly, the best part of the game to me was that it was so unexpected. Sure, a lot of people expected the game to be low scoring, but I didn't know the NFL in 2016 was capable of a 6-6, touchdownless game, that wasn't marred by some horrendous QBing. At the nadir of the Whisenhunt post-Warner years in Arizona, they had a few of these games, but those had Max Hall and John Skelton at QB. This game had Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer.

This whole season has been something of a fresh start for defenses. Aside from New England, and maybe Dallas, the top teams so far in 2016 are all defense focused. Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay, Denver, Kansas City. All of these teams are among the best in the league, and all have better defenses than offenses. Scoring is tracking to be down this year. Defenses are slowly climbing back after the NFL paradigm changed following the 2011 lockout. And nothing showed this more thant 6-6 in OT.

Ranking the 20 Best Picture Winner's that I Have Seen

20.) Crash (2005)

Let's just move on. Crash has been so derided that at this point it probably is underrated. It's not a totally horrible movie, but it is definitely in the Bottom-10 or so of Best Picture winners from every list or ranking that I've seen. The movie itself is way too simple and obvious, just pulling racial strings with no real emotional weight. As I said, let's just move on.


19.) Forrest Gump (1994)

Here's a movie that got a lot less critically popular over time. I don't know if it was viewed as a worthy winner at the time, but the fact that it topped some truly great movies that were nominated makes it seem so much worse. It beat out Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, and while I have my quibbles with that second movie, it was definitely better than Forrest Gump. Another overly simplistic, obvious story that somewhat worked because of Hanks' performance.


18.) American Beauty (1999)


My own opinion of American Beauty has really dropped over time. Spacey is fine, but while we've seen small movies before compete seriously for Best Picture nods, this wouldn't shouldn't have really done so. The movie is fine, but boring. The storyline itself was a bit creepy and seemed to never own up to that fact. I liked the movie on first watching, but when you see what real good film can do you get a better understanding of simply good movies.


17) Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Honestly, from this point on forward I would heavily recommend any of these movies. As an Indian myself, the story did touch a few personal strings, and while on the whole I was fine with their depiction of Indian poverty, it was a bit much at times. That said, the quasi-Bollywood aura of the film made a too-good-to-be-true story work. I'm surprised quasi-Bollywood movies haven't done more since, but for a year it worked as a nice entry point to the world's most expansive cinema.


16.) Annie Hall (1977)

I honestly have not seen many Woody Allen films - I mostly don't get his quixotic, off-beat style. I understand his legacy as a comedic genius, and that is probably why I don't see Annie Hall as some groundbreaking movie among the best ever to win the Best Picture award. I find it a perfectly acceptable really good movie. It is one of the better small movies I've seen - especially out of the group that have gained Oscar Love, but I don't think I would rewatch it as the laughs aren't the type that would go over as well a second time.


15.) Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

This was not a great movie, it is not one I would rewatch many times. That all said, the movie itself was brilliant in its construction. Taking on a very taboo subject back in the late-70's, showing a marriage splitting up not because of infidelity, or abuse, but just loneliness and sadness. Both Hoffman and Streep were brilliant and they needed to be. If they had lesser talents in those roles the movie would have been too depressive to enjoy. With them at the helm, it made it bearable, thought-provoking.


14.) West Side Story (1961)

Musicals dominated the Best Picture category in the 60's (and there are four of them in total on my list), and they were all really good. To be honest, with Musicals (except for the one I have ranked highest), I care mostly about the musical pieces. I only kind of care about the plot. That was the real failing of Les Miserables, which is a great story with great music, but the movie focused way too much on the story part. I think West Side Story did a little of this as well. The music is good, but wasn't present enough in the movie.


13.) Chicago (2002)

Hey, another musical! Chicago may have had the best staging of any of the musicals to win Best Picture - at least of the one's that I have seen. I really liked the idea to make it almost two separate movies, with an, admittedly weak, story happening in real time, and the songs happening on a stage in an alternate reality. The staging and the music was great. If only they had a more compelling singer as leading man other than Richard Gere it may have been ever higher up in my list.


12.) Titanic (1997)

It's become too easy to criticize James Cameron's movie of largesse, but let's just remember it is still a really good movie. Yes,it is probably too long. Yes, it was trying too hard to be a spectacle, but spectacle is what James Cameron is good at. The FX and staging was unlike anything we have seen. The fact they were able to build in a somewhat compelling relationship storyline is actually pretty impressive. If only James Cameron had a better internal editor and cut 30% of that movie out, it would have been close to perfect.


11.) Argo (2012)

At the time, I was somewhat surprised that Argo won Best Picture. It was a year in which I saw a majority of the other nominees, including Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Django Unchained, Les Mis and Zero Dark Thirty. Looking back, though, Argo probably was the best of these. For what is a movie detailing a real event, it was incredibly suspenseful. Ben Affleck the director is immensely talented, and he was smart enough to let the story and the other characters take over from himself as an actor in this movie. Argo really hit every mark of a fun, suspenseful, historical piece of art.


10.) Gone With the Wind (1939)

I have seen startilingly few of the really old winners, and while there a lot of them on my list (and I plan to do this again when I have seen more of hte old classics), Gone With the Wind is the only one I have, and probably the earliest one I ever will. The movie itself is great. The story is simple, but most movie plots were back in teh day. The movie is way too long, but again that was pretty common back in the day. The performances were great. The story was great. It mixed in slavery and race relations with surprisngly delicate ease for a movei back in the pre-Civil Rights days. I'm excited to watch more old classics, but for now Gone With the Wind set the bar pretty high.


9.) The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Honestly, I feel like I have to defend why it is so low on my list rather than why the movie is still great. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster were both great in their roles, and the plot itself was captivating, but I just don't get why this is seen as such a groundbreaking or memorable film. It is good, it is a joy to watch, but I wouldn't necessarily rewatch it. It was great to get what is conventionally a thriller film to win Best Picture, and it was deserving, but it really won in a weak year.


8.) Spotlight (2015)

It's hard to judge the most recent winner. I may look back five years or ten years from now and think very differently of Spotlight, but I really thought it was absolutely fantastic. For what I would consider a small movie, the plot was still quite complicated, with a lot of moving pieces in terms of the various writers and lawyers and sources and priests, but it never held anyone's hand. It demanded you pay attention, and it rewarded you for that patience with some amazing performances. Every actor in what was a star studded cast was playing the hell out of not always complex material. Finally, it really deftly handled the subject matter without really killing the idea of religion, which I appreciated.


7.) My Fair Lady (1964)

Take a small conventional story about a cockney girl trying to be made into a high-society starlet being taught by a arrogant, high-society man who ends up getting taught valuable lessons himself, combine it with two great actors with great performances, and a great song-list and you get a truly great movie. Many obnoxious people will prefer the stage version that stared Julie Andrews, but what really made the movie great was the set design. They painted a vibrant canvas of high-society London that made the movie come to life in a way that only great film can do.


6.) The Departed (2006)

Let's accept two statements. This is not Martin Scorsese's best movie. Yet it was also a brilliant movie very worth of this award. Having thrice lost the award with a nominated film (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas), this was seen as something of a Lifetime Achievement Award, but The Departed, to me, is still a great movie. The competing double-crosser plot played out brilliantly by Leo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, was spell-binding. Add in great direction and more great performances than I can name, and you get a modern classic. Yes, Goodfellas was better (and was robbed), but let's not let that short-change what a great film The Departed was itself.


5.) No Country for Old Men (2007)

Much like with The Departed, the Coen Brothers finally have a best-picture win to me is something of a Lifetime Achievement Award. I have never seen The English Patient, but the fact that Fargo, to me still the best movie the Coen's have made, did not win will always be a shame. That all said, No Country was fantastic, in many ways a traditional movie with dabs of Coen brilliance rather than their normal skewed approach. The Coen touches were brilliant, but so was all the traditional elements. The suspense, the directing, the simplistic less-is-more performances from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. Everything was great in what is also a surprisngly rewatchable performance.


4.) Amadeus (1984)

Arguably the best Biopic to ever win The Best Picture, Amadeus remains a stunning movie, in both its brilliant depiction of Vienna at the turn of the 19th Century, it's musical performances of opera and symphony, and of course the plot played so effortlessly by F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, and Tom Hucle as the snivelling, bellowing Mozart. Sure, people will long quibble about its inaccuracies, but the plot itself was one of the best, most honest portrayals of jealousy. Watching Salieri struggle knowing his talents will never match up to someone to whom it comes so effortlessly is just amazing. It really ends up being a quick three hours through Vienna, with almost no wasted moments ending in a climax where Salieri gets to see Mozart's brilliance in action, finally co-create and understand him just as Mozart himself is dying leaving his lasting legacy. Just brilliant.


3.) The Sound of Music (1965)

There may be no better musical movie than than The Sound of Music. It deftly told a story about love in the time of World War II without navigating too far or too far away from the War. The music itself was great. The main characters of Maria and Captain von Trapp were so well developed and played by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I said earlier that with musicals the story is secondary, and while I think that is largely true, The Sound of Music works even if you fast forward past all the songs. The setting also was great, replicating the Austrian Hills with vivid detail for a movie in the 60's. Just a great movie. This ranking may drop if I start watching more of the old classics, but for a movie made 50 years ago, it holds up surprisingly well.


2.) The Godfather Part 2

Let's move past the obvious, my #1 is the first Godfather film. Quick summary of why I prefer the first: I found old Vito a more engaging character than Michael. I liked the relative closeness of the first film, and felt Part 2 had a few too many locations. And personally I always like the original more. Anyway, none of that really matters. The Godfather Part 2 is still one of the best movies I have ever seen. Al Pacino's performance was incredible. Roberto De Niro was perfect as young Vito, so easily encapsulating everything that made Marlon Brando's performance great. Today, people may mock a movie for using such an obvious conciet of parallel timelines, but The Godfather Part 2 perfected it. As I already mentioned, I wasn't a fan of every location, but adding the scenes in Cuba were great. In the end, I just found the first movie 2% better.


1.) The Godfather

In terms of my movie watching career, my life changed the first time I saw The Godfather. It wasn't that long ago (probably 6-7 years), and obviously the movie had been mythologized so much prior to that first viewing. Still, it blew my mind. The performances were so great. The characters, even beyond just the family, were so well rounded. I have never seen a movie without a throwaway scene or line or sentence. Just a perfect film. Despite not even being around for half the movie, if not more, Marlon Brando commanded every scene. Al Pacino was a revelation. Diane Keaton was amazing, as were James Caan and Rovert Duvall. There is no flaw with this movie. Maybe if I was a film student or cinema connoisseur, I would be able to find something. I'm not. It's a brilliant film. 

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.

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.