Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 NFL Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

It's that time of the year again, kids.  Yes, it is time for me to make some crazy sports predictions for the fun of it, and then look back on these in a couple months to laugh at them.  Nothing else needed to introduce things, so let's get right to it.

1. The Tennessee Titans will win the AFC South.  The Titans took arguably the best wide receiver in the draft this past April in Corey Davis (I don't like any wide receiver named Mike Williams and I'm only half-joking when I say that) to give Marcus Mariota a deep receiving threat.  Their offense top to bottom is stacked,and their defense ain't too shabby either. The Texans are the prohibitive favorite in the division, but they have decided to start Tom Savage over DeShaun Watson at quarterback to start the season.  Watson could still get the job later, but the Titans are still the more balanced team overall.  Besides, some division winner has to be a little bit of a shocker anyway.

2. The New York Jets will score the fewest points per game since the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs (13.2).  It's no secret that the Jets have one of the worst rosters top to bottom in the NFL.  Their training camp has been filled with blunders like QB Christian Hackenberg not being able to break a huddle properly.  Now they are going with Josh McCown at quarterback for their first game of the regular season.  Bottom line is, this team is a mess and they are not going to score many points at all from their lack of playmakers.  They don't have much of a long term direction either, so Jets fans will have to suffer through the season and keep reading about top college talent they could look towards drafting come April 2018.

3. Odell Beckham, Jr will break Randy Moss's single season TD record.  If this prediction sounds a little familiar, it's because it is.  Normally I draft my season's predictions on their own, but I do sometimes look over my previous predictions to compare and contrast.  I was actually surprised when I had discovered I said this same thing about Demaryius Thomas three years ago, but I figured what the heck?  Beckham is a more electric player to watch than Thomas, capable of some incredible acrobatic feats on the field.  Eli Manning will once again have a ton of fun throwing to his #1 target this year.

4. Dalvin Cook will break Gale Sayers' rookie total TD record (22).  Cook has a dual-threat capability as a running back for the Vikings since he's a pass-catching threat in addition to being an every down back.  It won't take him long to become one of the most-discussed rookie players in the NFL this season, and he will almost certainly be quickly compared to Adrian Peterson.

5. Martavis Bryant will lead the Steelers in receiving touchdowns.  Bryant is still waiting on being officially reinstated to the Steelers by the league office, but if he finally plays a full season he and Antonio Brown will make up the top receiving corps in the NFL.  Assuming he has stopped smoking marijuana completely, Bryant will quickly become one of the top wide receivers in the AFC.  Antonio Brown will still be a playmaker, but even he doesn't have the physique that Bryant has.

6. The Atlanta Falcons will finish under .500 this season.  The Falcons, on paper, should still have a solid season despite blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl this past season.  Their key players on both sides of the ball are all still around, and the only notable coaching change was Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving to coach the 49ers (which is a pretty big deal, in my opinion).  This prediction is one of those gut feelings that isn't based on anything terribly logical, but there's a reason why no Super Bowl loser returned the following season to play for a championship the following year since the 1992 Buffalo Bills.  Fortune will not favor the Falcons in 2017.

7. It's the final swan song for Carson Palmer.  The writing is on the wall.  Palmer's injury history has been piling up over the last 4 years or so, including a torn ACL, a concussion, a finger dislocation, and a shoulder injury.  He came close to retiring last year, instead opting to come back for another year.  However, I foresee yet another unfortunate injury that forces him to miss at least part of the season and ultimately leads to the end of his career.  The Cardinals will look towards April's draft to find their quarterback of the future.

8. The Oakland Raiders will lead the league in scoring this season.  Raiders QB Derek Carr had a breakout season last year, and his career will continue on its upswing in 2017.  Amari Cooper has developed into a strong #1 receiver, but there is a question as to what the Raiders can expect with Marshawn Lynch at 31 years old.  Still, this team will be scoring points in bunches all year long.  There's a reason why many see them as the #2 team in the AFC.  In fact, speaking of the aforementioned Carr....

9.  Derek Carr will be the league MVP.  I don't think I need to really say much more, except that Carr will show NFL fans he's fine after breaking his leg late last season.  He could have had a chance at the league MVP last year had he not been injured, but he'll make up for that in 2017.

10.  The Seattle Seahawks will defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52.  Okay, I'm going somewhat chalk-ish with this pick.  I don't normally like doing that, but there just isn't any team in the AFC who has a realistic chance at dethroning the Patriots.  The NFC is more leveled, though the Seahawks stand out from the bunch.  They'll get their revenge for bumbling the end of Super Bowl 49 against these same Patriots.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

MLB 2017 Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

Once again, baseball season is upon us, which means I throw myself into the wood chipper in the name of making predictions.  One of my best friends enjoys reading my predictions, and last year he loved bringing up my prediction of the Twins winning the AL Central as being one of the worst of all time (and it was well-deserved, too).  I knew by late April last year I would wear egg on my face on that one.

So naturally, I'm heading back to the well for another round of predictions that will make me look silly in retrospect.

1. Five shortstops will have 20/20 seasons.  Specifically, I mean Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Jonathan Villar, and Tim Anderson.  The last time we even had one shortstop with a 20/20 season was Ian Desmond in 2014, so this kind of offensive performance from the position hasn't been seen in quite some time.  The best part of this group is that they are all still very young with tons of upside, so they will only continue to get better in future years.

2. Cody Sedlock and/or Keegan Akin will make their ML-debuts with the Baltimore Orioles this season.  Chris Tillman has me very worried as an Orioles fan for this season.  As of this writing he is expected to miss the first month of the season, and the Orioles are crossing their fingers over him pitching effectively at all this season.

So even if Tillman were fully healthy, I would still expect at least one of Sedlock or Akin to make his debut this year (mostly because Kevin Gausman made his debut the year after he was drafted by the Orioles as well).  However, given the huge question marks surrounding the back end of the Orioles' rotation for at least the start of the season, there is almost no question in my mind at least one of their top two pitching prospects will be called up by August.

3. The Chicago White Sox will be one of the most improved teams in baseball over last year.  When a team finally pulls a trigger and trades away their premiere player in order to rebuild, it typically takes a couple years for the team to regroup with young talent.  The White Sox traded Chris Sale to Boston back in December, and they may still trade Jose Quintana, too.  Despite making deals with their top trade targets, their young talent - starting with the aforementioned Tim Anderson - will give White Sox fans plenty to be excited about this season.  I don't expect them to quite make the playoffs, a la the 2012 Orioles or 2015 Astros, but they will show they are ahead of schedule in competing in the AL Central.

4. The New York Mets will be one of the biggest disappointing teams from last season.  Just as there are teams who make surprise surges, there are teams who fall backwards.  The Mets have arguably the best rotation in all of baseball, but their offense is soft and their defense is even softer (especially their outfield.....yuck).  They just don't have enough pitching to keep themselves in contention with the Nationals in the NL East, and the Marlins will be on their heels because....

5. Christian Yelich will top 30 home runs for the first time in his career.  Yelich broke out last year, and his power will really show off this year for the Marlins.  Miami has collectively one of the better outfields in baseball, and Yelich will become one of the best overall young outfielders in baseball.

6. The Houston Astros will score the most runs in baseball this season.  The Red Sox and Cubs both have incredibly potent offenses to name a couple examples, but the Astros will outscore them both this season.  Additions to their lineup like Josh Reddick and ageless-wonder Carlos Beltran will add some serious pop, coupled with their young infield stars in Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve.  Their primary issue is their starting pitching, and Dallas Keuchel alone can't carry their rotation, even if he does return to his 2015 form.

7. Anthony Rizzo and Francisco Lindor will win the league MVPs. Rizzo has consistently been one of the most productive first basemen in baseball over the last few years. He was one of the leading MVP candidates last year if not for his teammate Kris Bryant winning it.  Bryant will hav another amazing year this year, but it will be Rizzo's turn in the limelight.

Meanwhile, I already said Lindor will have a 20/20 year at shortstop, but his offensive output will be superior to the likes of Bogaerts and Correa in the AL. His Gold Glove-caliber defense will be the deciding factor, making him one of the most exciting players in all of baseball to watch.

8. Madison Bumgarner and Marcus Stroman will win the Cy Young Awards.  Maybe it's just me, but Bumgarner somehow flies under the radar among the list of great pitchers in the NL.  Most names on that list include the likes of Kershaw, Syndergaard, Arrieta, Lester, and Scherzer, and yet Bumgarner is left as one of those "Oh yeah, I forgot about him" guys.  He will have his year in 2017.

As for Stroman, I see the Blue Jays taking a fairly big step backward without Edgar Encarnacion in their lineup and Jose Bautista steadily declining.  Regardless, Stroman will have a huge year of his own and keep Toronto in the hunt for the playoffs.

9. The Cleveland Indians will defeat the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.  The Indians came oh so close to pulling off one of the greatest upsets in World Series history last year.  Unfortunately, the Cubs would not be denied ending their drought of championships.  Cleveland fans will finally get to celebrate after having to wait for another year.  Adding Edgar Encarnacion will add major power in the middle of their lineup, and their starting pitching will be one of the best in the AL once again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

NFL 2016 Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

Few people can consistently make bad predictions year to year like I can, and that includes the talking heads on TV networks like ESPN and NFL Network.  I think I set a new low for myself last year, getting only one prediction correct of the ten I had made.  I suppose I could spin that and say I have to rebound since there's just about nowhere to go but up.....right?

Let's see what 2016 may have in store for us, if my crystal ball has anything to say about it.

1. The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West.  The AFC West is entirely up for grabs this season following Peyton Manning's retirement.  The Broncos have a roulette wheel of options at quarterback since Brock Osweiler left for Houston, while the Chargers still have yet to sign their top draft pick Joey Bosa, and the Chiefs have the Andy Reid Factor alive and well.  Meanwhile, over the last couple seasons the Raiders have quietly stockpiled some superior young talent between Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, DJ Hayden, and Mychal Rivera.  They also added former Ravens OL Kelechi Osemele to anchor their left tackle spot.  Suffice to say, they're fairly loaded on both sides of the ball and play in a division that isn't nearly as top heavy as it's been the last couple years.  They have a real chance at winning double-digit games this year and take the division title.

2. Ezekiel Elliot will break the NFL rookie RB record for rushing yards.  The Cowboys' offense has the chance to be very special this season.  Their offensive line is still the best in football, and they've added a special breed of athlete at running back in the draft this past May.  Ezekiel Elliot will break Eric Dickerson's previous record of 1,808 rushing yards set in 1983.  I don't think he'll necessarily shatter the record or anything, but he has the talent to beat Dickerson's season.  The Cowboys have the dynamic offense needed to win the NFC East again, though Tony Romo's health is becoming a bigger and bigger question with each passing season.  Speaking of top offenses....

3. The Baltimore Ravens will have a top-5 offense in the league this season.  Up is down, back is front, black is white, right is left, and top is bottom.  The Ravens have had some good offenses in their history, and Joe Flacco's best season was two years ago when Gary Kubiak had called the plays.  For the first time in team history, the Ravens will finish with a top-5 offense because of the talent surrounding Flacco on offense.  Steve Smith is a fairly large question of just how effective he'll be coming off his torn Achilles last year, but adding Mike Wallace and finally having Breshad Perriman on the field will form one of the best group of receivers in football along with their tight ends.  If anything, the bigger questions for the team will be how well their defense plays, which is unfamiliar territory for the Ravens.  While we're talking teams with surprise elite units....

4. The Jacksonville Jaguars will finish with a top-5 defense in the league this season.  The Jaguars' offense took a huge step forward last year with their young receivers led by Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.  Their defense will take a similar step forward this year since they had added Malik Jackson in free agency, and they'll finally see Dante Fowler take the field after he had torn his ACL in minicamp last year.  They also landed two of the top defensive prospects in this year's draft in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack.  Gus Bradley's job as head coach is somewhat under the gun this year, but the AFC South is another division up for grabs.  The Jaguars will be one of the most balanced teams in the NFL in 2016, and they're my pick for AFC South champions.

5. The Seattle Seahawks will miss the postseason for the first time since 2011.  The law of averages says that for every upstart team like the Raiders and Jaguars, another perennial quality team has to take a step backwards.  The Seahawks will be that version this year, following losing guys like Marshawn Lynch to retirement and OL Russell Okung to free agency.  They won't fall off a proverbial cliff, but the Cardinals are one of the elite teams in the NFL, and the Rams look like another team who will take a big step forward this year.

6. The New England Patriots will go undefeated for the rest of the regular season after Tom Brady returns from his suspension.  This is one of the rare predictions where I genuinely hope I'm wrong.  However, Tom Brady is going to play with a chip on his shoulder the size of all New England when he takes the field after serving his suspension.  He will want to flip a proverbial middle finger at the league office and Roger Goodell in every game he plays and tear through every opposing defense he faces.  Jimmy Garappolo will be serviceable enough at quarterback for the first four games, but the Patriots will lose at least one or two of those games.  I don't want to see it happen, but Brady will shred every secondary and lead the Patriots to yet another divisional title and playoff berth.

7. It's the final swan song for Adrian Peterson.  Peterson was one of most special offensive talents to play on a football field in an entire generation.  He's a rare type of running back who still played at an incredible level at 30 years old last year (though that was the end result of extremely unique circumstances).  Father Time will set in on him by the end of the season, and he will have to hang up his cleats for good.

8. Carson Palmer will be the league MVP.  Palmer has enjoyed the best years of his career to date during his time in Arizona, and his career will set new personal heights in 2016.  The Cardinals are both the best and most complete team in the NFC, and Palmer will lead them to the Promised Land because.....

9. The Arizona Cardinals will defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 51.  The Cardinals will get some revenge after losing a rather heart-breaking game in Super Bowl 43 to the Steelers.  I will hate seeing Pittsburgh getting that far through the playoffs to the point of literally seeing red.  However, the Steelers will miss out once again on getting their seventh Super Bowl title, and Arizona will hoist the Lombardi trophy for the first time in franchise history.

Friday, March 18, 2016

MLB 2016 Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

Apparently I only write sports predictions on my blog now.  Oh well, such is life.

I did such a great job last year - and by "great job," I mean "piss awful" - that I'm keeping things going for another round.  I suppose I'm just someone who enjoys setting himself up for failure later.

I have to say, over the last couple years I've grown to become more and more of a baseball guy over football.  There are a lot of reasons for this, and probably too complicated for this post.  Still, there are few things more exciting in the sports world than Opening Day for baseball.  I got two new Orioles jerseys in the mail a couple weeks ago, and I absolutely cannot wait to wear them to OPACY.

With all that said, let's get down to business.

1. The Twins will win the AL Central. This is one of those head-scratching picks that don't make any real rational sense.  The Twins finished near the bottom of the AL in hits, batting average and on-base percentage in 2015.  Their pitching wasn't that much better either, considering they were very middle-of-the-road in team ERA, earned runs, and strikeouts.  Somehow this team won 83 games, despite very mediocre (at best) performances across the board.  We're going to finally see what Byron Buxton is like after what has felt like an eternity of him being one of the top prospects in all of baseball.  He is the X factor in the AL Central this year, and could be what the Twins need to win a tight race over the defending World Series champion Royals.

2. Manny Machado will be baseball's first 30/30 player since 2012. Manny had his breakout season last year, showing a taste of the power and speed he's capable of.  Since the Orioles lack a true leadoff hitter, he's likely to hit either first or second in the lineup again this season.  He won't be able to knock in 100+ runs, but he'll still finish well over 30 HRs and be the Orioles' primary stolen base threat once he gets on base.

3. The Dodgers will miss the postseason entirely. The Dodgers' payroll is projected to be a hair under $230 million this season.  Let's take a look at where that money is going, shall we?

Clayton Kershaw: $32 million
Adrian Gonzalez: $21 million
Andre Ethier: $18 million

(Okay, nothing too weird there)

Yasiel Sierra: $7 million
Kenta Maeda: $17.4 million
Chase Utley: $7 million

(Maeda is an unknown, but those other two seem overpriced)

Carl Crawford: $21 million
Brett Anderson: $15.8 million (QO)
Brandon McCarthy: $11 million


See what I mean?  Anderson is going to miss 3-5 months with back surgery, so that's a great way for a team to flush nearly $16 million down the toilet.  If I'm a Dodgers fan, I'm going to be excited having the single best pitcher in the game take the mound every 5 days.  But is there really that much to be excited about besides Kershaw?  Corey Seager is an early candidate for Rookie of the Year, and it's always fun to watch young talent develop in front of fans' eyes.  Aside from that though, this is a team that costs $230 million?  At least when the Yankees were spending money like crazy circa 2005/2006, they had All Stars at every position on the field.  The Dodgers don't have anything close to that kind of lineup.

Once you factor the Giants and Diamondbacks into the equation, the Dodgers look less and less like a playoff team.  They are going to be one of the major disappointments of 2016.

4. The Nationals will sink even further in the NL East.  Speaking of huge disappointments, the Nationals were arguably the biggest one last year with the fifth highest payroll, but they barely finished over .500 by season's end and didn't make the playoffs.  The locker room was a circus between Matt Williams' incompetence running the team and the drama between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper.  Exit Williams and enter Dusty Baker, but the Nationals are looking weaker overall since they lost more than they had added in the offseason.  Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond left via free agency, and they didn't do much at all to replace either of them (unless you want to count Bronson Arroyo and Daniel Murphy).  Do the math, and the Nationals won't even finish in second place in the NL East this year.

5. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta will be the first pair of teammates with 20+ wins since 2002. So much has been said and written elsewhere about how stacked the Cubs are this year that I won't bother directly repeating that jargon.  What I will say is that Jake Arrieta will not flame out after winning the NL Cy Young last year, and Jon Lester won't get so much of the tough luck he got in his first year in Chicago.  Lester's overall stats last year were pretty solid except for his win/loss record, but he'll win a lot more games this year than he did previously with a much stronger lineup putting runs on the board much more consistently for him this year.

6. Mike Trout will not finish in the top three voting for AL MVP for the first time in his career.  This is not to say that Trout will have a down year, even by his standards.  It's more about the kind of talent who will be competing against him, namely Manny Machado, reigning MVP Josh Donaldson, and my personal pick for league MVP (see below).  Trout is still premiere talent and he won't slow down, but others will step up more.

7. The Red Sox will only be marginally better than they were in 2015. I couldn't believe the number of people who, this time last year, expected the Red Sox to bounce back after a terrible 2014 and compete for the division.  My buddy and I agreed they'd be terrible in 2015, particularly because of how awful their starting rotation looked.  This time, he and I disagree on what the Red Sox will be like in 2016.  He thinks they'll be a whole lot better this time around, but I don't think they'll be that much better.  Four of the five pitchers in the rotation are still the equivalent of batting practice, and the combination of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez playing the hot corners of the infield on defense has the potential to be the comedy event of the year.  Don't expect much more from the Red Sox beyond what they did last year.

8. Chris Archer and Jacob de Grom will be this year's Cy Young Award winners. Tampa has successfully developed one quality starting pitcher after another for nearly a decade now, and Archer is one of their latest examples.  He's finished near the top in the AL in categories such as strikeouts, ERA,and WHIP over the last couple years, and he will continue ascending to the top of premiere pitchers in all of baseball this year.  There will be other guys in the mix, including Chris Sale, David Price, Sonny Gray, and Cole Hamels, but Archer will come out on top.

As for de Grom, the Mets will have to give him a hefty raise next year once he is eligible for arbitration.  They might even have to find out his asking price for a long term contract extension, since he will be even more expensive after he wins the Cy Young this year.  The Mets have the best kind of problem since their entire rotation consists of guys who would be either a #1 or #2 across the league.  Still, it's in their best interest to keep de Grom if they can help it.

9. Carlos Correa and Paul Goldschmidt will be this year's MVPs. Correa is the most exciting player to enter the league since Mike Trout - which sounds like he's the most exciting player to enter the league since last week, but Trout is about to enter his fifth season, if you can believe it.  His career will really take off this year, as he leads the Astros to an AL West title (and a lot more beyond that, if you cheated and read further down below already).  It's very rare for a second-year player to win the MVP, but Dustin Pedtoia did it in 2008, and Trout nearly did it in 2013.  Correa will be the latest prodigy to take over the league.

Meanwhile, Paul Goldschmidt has finished in second place in MVP voting in the NL in two of the last three seasons.  It's worth noting a rather odd trend in his career so far where his stats dip in even-numbered years, while he blows up in odd-numbered ones.  His offensive performance will be more consistent this year, and Goldschmidt will lead the Diamondbacks to the playoffs.

10. The Giants will defeat the Astros in the World Series. I'm honestly not sure if I'm taking chalk or not by picking the Giants to win the World Series this year.  On one hand, the Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, so the obvious trend would be to take them this year.  However, most baseball talking heads and beat writers have been hyping up the Cubs this year, between all the young talent they've got and the big free agent signings of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.  The writers have largely acknowledged the Giants' trend, but then they promptly jump onto the Cubs' bandwagon.  So is taking the Giants to win it all again going with chalk or not?

Meanwhile, the AL is more wide open than AT&T Stadium in Dallas with its retractable roof opened up.  There are probably at least 10 teams who could reach the World Series, and I really wouldn't be all that surprised.  I suppose I'm largely taking the Astros based on them having the reigning Cy Young winner in the AL and their young phenom will be the league MVP this year.  It's still a fairly arbitrary pick, but in a fairly evenly matched league, why not the Astros?

Monday, November 2, 2015

NFL 2015 Week 8 Snap Judgments

....or, "The Week Where the Football Injury Gods Let Their Fury Upon the League."

This weekend was brutal, and there's no getting around it.  The Seahawks' Ricardo Lockette took a massive blow during a punt and fell immediately to the ground.  He was immobilized and taken off the field by stretcher (though he did give a thumbs up to everyone on the way out, so he could be okay).  Le'Veon Bell's knee bent almost literally backwards and his MCL was shredded.  Half the Chargers went down with various injuries against the Ravens yesterday.  We might have seen the last of Steve Smith as well, as he tore his Achilles tendon in his left ankle.  His career didn't deserve to end like that, and as both a Ravens fan and football fan I hope he returns for one last round next year.  But none of those injuries are what I want to discuss in some detail here.

I want to talk about Reggie Bush.

Reggie Bush fielded a punt in the first quarter against the Rams, and eventually ran out of bounds.  The Rams play in a dome, and they have cement flooring on the outside surrounding the actual field.  Football cleats aren't designed to run on cement, so Bush slipped and fell, immediately grabbing his left knee.  He tore his ACL on the way down, and ended his season.

Why would anyone put cement flooring around a football field?  Did no one think this could happen?  Playing football on astro turf is bad enough, considering the litany of serious injuries that have happened over the years.  This is worse, considering someone should have seen this coming and could have taken measures to avoid it.

Then again, it's worth pointing out that even playing football on natural grass is hazardous, considering that two weeks ago Justin Tucker slipped and fell while attempting a field goal kick.  Fortunately he wasn't hurt on the play, but Levi's Stadium is pretty terrible to play on.

Oh, and that's where Super Bowl 50 will be played in February, too.  Awesome.

1. On a more positive note, the MVPs of the Week were Eli Manning and Drew Brees.  Manning and Brees played a game of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," combining for 13 touchdown passes and only 1 interception (the one pick was a pass from Brees that bounced off Willie Snead and landed in Jermaine McBride's hands, which he ran back for a touchdown).  Brees tied the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game, and Manning did everything in his power to keep the Giants neck and neck, until the very end when Kai Forbath kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.  That's an offensive showcase.

2. On the flip side of that coin, the Giants' and Saints' defensive backs are the combined Goats of the Week.  When two teams combine for over 100 points in a football game - however often that happens - the defensive secondaries aren't doing their jobs.  I'd hate to be in either team's film room in reviewing the tape this week, though at least the Giants managed to capitalize on a deflected pass to run it back for another score.  Still, this is one game tape both Steve Spagnuolo and Rob Ryan will want to burn.

3. Dean Pees will keep his job for another two weeks.  Had the Ravens lost to the Chargers, the last slack John Harbaugh would have been able to give his defensive coordinator would have been used up.  There was no doubt in my mind that with the Ravens' bye week coming up, Harbaugh would have had no choice but to fire Pees this morning.  The Ravens win bought Pees at least two more weeks, and since they don't have to leave home until after Thanksgiving they have a chance to win some football games.  My armchair GM self still thinks Pees needs to go since he's obsessed with having his defensive backs play at least 10 yards off the line of scrimmage all the time.  The Ravens will have to win at least two of their next three games for Pees to keep his job for a while.

4. Mediocrity is taking over across the league.  Through 8 weeks, the AFC has only 5 teams who are over .500.  The NFC isn't much better with only 6 teams above .500.  While that's still nearly enough to cover the teams in the playoffs, the NFC East-leading Giants are 4-4, and the AFC South-leading Colts are 3-4, pending their game tonight in Carolina.  It's possible that things can change in the second half of the season, but if there's this wide of a separation a month from now, the final four weeks of the season will lose a little drama.  The good teams will still be good (possibly great), but the bad teams will be that much worse.  There may not be multiple teams fighting for Wild Cards and/or division titles since teams like the Jets and Raiders have clearly distanced themselves from the rest of the AFC.  There's an awful lot of football to play between now and December so things can change radically, but realistically I don't see much chance of any sleepers lying in waiting in either conference.

5. We may need to redefine what the MVP is.  Tom Brady is unquestionably the front runner for the league MVP at this point, and he's head and shoulders above everyone else.  Consider for a moment other names such as Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, and even Tony Romo.  The Panthers are 7-0 going into tonight's game against Indianapolis, and Newton is almost literally single-handedly winning them games.  Few people outside Charlotte can name anyone catching the ball there aside from Greg Olsen, and as I had discussed before, Newton is winning games despite very pedestrian stats.  His overall value to Carolina cannot be overstated.

Likewise for Philip Rivers.  Sure, the Chargers are terrible, and they are losing player after player to injury.  Just like Newton, Rivers is keeping them in every game.  If not for him at quarterback, they wouldn't even have their two wins on the season, and they'd be blown out every week.  The entire franchise wouldn't even get more than a footnote of recognition on television and in the media without him.  That's true value.

Lastly, there's Tony Romo.  Romo hasn't played since Week 2 when he had broken his clavicle against the Eagles, a game the Cowboys won.  They have gone 0-5 without him under center, and there's little doubt the Cowboys wouldn't have won at least two of those games had Romo been playing.  His situation is the most unique of these three players since we're talking about his value while being absent versus actually on the field, but it's hard to deny what he means to the Cowboys.

6. Gary Kubiak's system can work in Denver, after all.  For what felt like the first time this season, the Broncos won a football game because the offense finally complemented the defense.  Peyton Manning had a fairly pedestrian night, but the running game finally got going.  C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for three rushing touchdowns on the night, which gave the defense more than enough cushion to rough up Aaron Rodgers.  All season long, it didn't look like Kubiak could make the Broncos' offense fit into his style, but he made the most of the bye week to prepare for the Packers.  Denver can still compete for one of the top two seeds in the AFC for the playoffs if their running game continues to thrive and adjust for Manning's lack of arm strength.

Monday, October 26, 2015

NFL 2015 Week 7 Snap Judgments

As boring an opening as this will be, Tom Brady was something special yesterday.  The Patriots hosted their divisional rival Jets on Sunday, and for a while the score showed the Jets had a shot at winning the game.  Then reality set in, and the Patriots took over in the 4th quarter.  Brady's stats for the game were pretty standard for him - 34-of-54 for 355 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no picks - but he was also the Patriots' leading rusher on the day (4 carries for 15 yards, which otherwise would be pretty laughable if that was any team's leading rushing number).  The Patriots went into the game knowing they wouldn't be able to run the ball on the Jets, so they didn't really bother with it.  Instead, Brady dropped back to pass on 90.9% of the Patriots' offensive plays, but that's not even the most mind-blowing stat of that game.  In the last 10 years, Brady is 4-0 when he drops back to pass at least 80% of the time in a game.  The rest of the league?  3-109.

Is there any question as to who is this week's MVP?

1. The Dolphins are a radically different team under Dan Campbell.  Once is a fluke, but twice is a trend.  The Dolphins blew out the Titans last week 38-10, and jumped out to a 41-0 lead over Houston yesterday before the Texans put up some garbage points and made the final 44-26.  Ryan Tannehill might have been the MVP of the Week had it not been for Brady.  Incidentally, the Dolphins play Thursday night in New England, so Campbell's new hard-ass attitude will get its real first test after the last two opponents rolled over on Miami.

2. The Goat of the Week is Ryan Mallet.  When the Texans had acquired Mallet from New England a couple years ago, I thought they had their long term quarterback of the future.  Shows how little I know about football.  In Mallet's tenure so far with Houston, Mallet missed a practice during training camp after he lost the starting QB job to Brian Hoyer; news later came out that Mallet had missed the practice because he claimed he had overslept.  This past weekend, Mallet missed the team flight to Miami and had to fly commercial on his own, claiming he was stuck in traffic along the way.  Houston would have been blown out by Miami even if Mallet had taken the field, but his unprofessional attitude has been showing itself pretty heavily.  For a guy who spent his first three years in the league in New England and studying under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, you'd think he would conduct himself more maturely.  Then again, Belichick might have seen some warning signs in Mallet during those years, which was why they had no problem shipping him off to Houston.

3. The Raiders are a whole lot better than most anyone thought.  Well, maybe everyone except Jack Del Rio.  They are certainly not the laughing stock they've been for well over a decade.  Derek Carr is a quality quarterback.  Rookie Amari Cooper is a stud wide receiver in the making.  Their offensive line can adequately protect Carr and even make a block when necessary.  They may not win the AFC West this year since Denver has a pretty solid stranglehold, but they're a whole lot closer to competing for the division title than anyone could have guessed going into this season.

4. Rex Ryan just doesn't qualify as a head coach in the NFL. Oh, he's an excellent defensive mind, but the Jets offense was terrible under his coaching, and the Bills offense is equally inept.  The Bills even have much better playmakers than anyon Ryan had in New York in LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins, though Watkins has battled injury this season and has missed three games.  The point here is that Ryan is a coach who is much better suited as a coordinator and not a head coach, similar to Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, and Romeo Crennel.  Ryan just hasn't yet figured that fact out for himself yet.

5. I wasn't as wrong as I thought I was about the Giants.  For the first couple weeks of the season, the Giants looked like one of the worst teams in the league, unable to protect 4th quarter leads.  They are now 4-1 in their last 5 games, and made Matt Cassel a turnover machine on Sunday.  Their defense is pretty terrible, but their offense can put enough points on the board that they can compete with most teams in the league.  Nobody in the NFC East is going to win more than 10 games this season, but the Giants have enough that they could be the last NFC East team standing in January.

6. Don't crown the Seahawks as officially back yet.  The Seahawks did beat up a hapless 49ers team Thursday night (how did that same 49ers team beat the Ravens again?), but Russell Wilson was still sacked five times and he threw two interceptions on the night.  Wilson has been sacked 31 times already this season, and he's within striking distance of the single season record set by David Carr in 2002 (76).  Marshawn Lynch is still the most important player on that offense, so if he can still run the ball effectively the Seahawks will be in the mix for the playoffs, but Russell Wilson is taking way too many hits on his dropbacks.

7. The Steelers are primed to go on a major win streak.  Ben Roethlisberger could return for the Steelers next game, a showdown against the unbeaten Bengals in Pittsburgh. If he plays, get ready for a big win streak for the Steelers.  Four of their next five games are at home, with their bye week and a road game in Seattle in that stretch.  It's very possible they could win all five games, leading into their second game versus Cincinnati on the road.  They managed to tread water without Ben the last four games, which is really all they had needed.  They had just better hope Ben doesn't re-injure himself the rest of the season.

Monday, October 19, 2015

NFL 2015 Week 6 Snap Judgments

or, "The Week Where Football Officially Became a Chore."

I'm going to start off with a fan rant here.  I normally try to stay fairly objective as I write these posts, but this time I'm going to be very subjective for a moment.

The Baltimore Ravens are an insufferable team to watch play football.

I honestly can't remember the last time watching the Ravens play was such a frustrating experience.  All weekend long, I had zero expectations that they'd have a chance at winning in San Francisco, and the season would be completely lost by game's end.  True to form, the Ravens were never really competitive at any point in the game, even at the very end when they had the ball with no timeouts left and Flacco tried leading them down for a game-winning score.

They look lethargic.  They look unmotivated.  They look sloppy.  They lack any heart or fire to their game, except for Steve Smith, Sr.  In fact, Smith is the only true leader left on the team, and everyone else is merely going through the motions.  The season can't end fast enough for them.

I feel worst for Smith since he had announced this season would be his last in the NFL.  I had every expectation that the Ravens would mount a playoff run to try getting Smith a championship so he could pull an John Elway/Jerome Bettis/Ray Lewis, and retire a champion.  Sadly, that is not meant to be.  I suppose it's possible that the Ravens may try convincing him to return in 2016 and not let this lost season be his last in the league, but there's no way to know whether he'd be willing to change his mind and try one more time next year.

Still, the inarguable fact is that the Ravens are a bad football team.  They are one of the biggest disappointments this season in football, and there is a legitimate argument that the Ravens are the single worst team in the NFL right now.  Their schedule the rest of the season doesn't get much easier either, with maybe five winnable games left on their schedule.

At least one or two people on the coaching staff have to face a firing squad, and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has to be the first man in line.  Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt is close behind him, as well.  If the Ravens don't win at least one of their two remaining two games before their bye week, both men could be unemployed.

1. I'm still not fully buying into the Bengals.  The Bengals are 4th in the league in both scoring and in point differential.  They're also 6-0 for the first time since 1988 in franchise history.  Andy Dalton is playing like a league MVP candidate; he's tied for second in touchdown passes and is second only to Tom Brady in QB rating.  They will even likely be prohibitive favorites in at least their next three games.  Despite all those resounding positives, I am still waiting for the shoe to drop for them.  It may not happen until the postseason, but I still don't see Andy Dalton playing mistake-free in the clutch.  There's too much evidence to the contrary.  And realistically, does anyone think they could go into New England and beat Tom Brady in his own building in January?

2. The MVP of the Week is Cam Newton.  How in the world are the Panthers 5-0?  In one of the most surprising wins of the weekend, the Panthers went into Seattle and beat up the Seahawks in their own building.  The Panthers lost their top receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason to a torn ACL, leaving their tight end Greg Olsen as Cam Newton's number one target.  He has nearly twice as many receptions as Carolina's #2 receiver, Ted Ginn, Jr (!!!).  Newton's numbers thus far are very pedestrian: 55.4% completion, #26 in passing yards, tied for 13th in touchdown passes, and #33 in passer rating.  However, he's had to make up for a dearth in quality wide receivers and he's led the Panthers to a very improbable win this weekend.  There is a legitimate question as to just how good the Panthers are though, and two of their next three games are against Indianapolis and Green Bay, which could bring them back to Earth a bit.  They do also have two games against Atlanta in December, so the NFC South is far from decided.

3. So much for understanding just what is a catch now.  The Lions finally won a game this weekend after some really tough luck that didn't go their way in Seattle a couple weeks ago, but the big play in the game was late in the first half when Golden Tate really didn't catch a touchdown.  How this play was not ruled a tipped ball interception is beyond me, and I'm merely a lowly fan.  The officials are contradicting themselves week in and week out now as to what is and is not a catch.  These inconsistencies have already affected playoff games (see: Bryant, Dez), and sooner or later it will happen in the Super Bowl if the league office doesn't do something to clarify the super vague phrase "process of the catch."

4. Peyton Manning is pretty hard to watch now.  An undefeated team rarely has as many important questions as the Broncos do this year.  Their defense is the predominant reason why they're 6-0 right now, and they had to go to overtime against Cleveland in order to pull out the victory.  Manning is playing with less strength each week, and he's being picked off more and more easily along the way.  His passer rating is the lowest since his rookie season, He's on pace currently for a 19 TD/27 INT season, which would easily be the worst season of his career.  The 2000 Ravens were able to win a Super Bowl with an elite defense and sufficient enough quarterback play from Trent Dilfer that didn't result in many costly turnovers.  The Broncos can't win a Super Bowl with their elite defense because Manning is making costly turnovers every game.  They may still win the AFC West since they have a healthy lead, but they aren't the powerhouse team they've been with Manning the last 3 years.

5. The Patriots are pretty close to being unstoppable.  Yawn.  Forget finding a game where they wouldn't be a prohibitive favorite to win this season; find me one they even have a realistic chance of losing.  The best three options - and all three are stretches to the extreme - are at the Giants, at Denver, and at the Jets.  I'm never one to say something like, "Looks like it'll be Team X vs Team Y in the Super Bowl this year," but I just don't realistically see anyone taking them down, even in the AFC playoffs.  I just hope we are spared having to watch them hoist another Lombardi Trophy in February.  Imagine how awkward that would be for a moment.

6. The Goat of the Week is Mike Vick.  This has to be the first time that a Goat of the Week is a guy on a team who won, but Vick never could play well filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger.  Despite his terrible performance through three games, the Steelers have gone 2-1 with their only loss coming against the Ravens and lacking a semi-quality kicker to seal that victory.  Vick was finally pulled in the second half after throwing for merely 6 yards (!!!!) for Landry Jones.  The Steelers' offense was much improved with Jones under center, and Martavis Bryant had a massive first game back following his suspension.  Things will get better for Pittsburgh going forward since there is a chance Roethlisberger could return in the next week or two.

7. Chris Ivory and Brandon Marshall have made the Jets an entirely different team.  There's little room to argue that any player on a new team has had a greater impact than Brandon Marshall.  The Jets have not had a true #1 receiver since Keyshawn Johnson, but they have one now in Marshall.  He's made defenses adjust to the passing game, which has only led to great things for Chris Ivory in the running game.  Marshall went on record calling Chris Ivory the best running back in the NFL, and while my opinion would lean towards Le'Veon Bell, no one in their right mind could undersell what Ivory and Marshall have collectively done to the Jets offense.  The insanity involving Geno Smith and IK Enemkpali during training camp is a distant memory now.