Monday, December 30, 2013

NFL Week 17 Snap Judgments

That's a wrap on the season, folks.  Week 17 was an incredibly dramatic Sunday to set the stage for the playoffs starting next weekend.  The Snap Judgments will continue on throughout the playoffs, but we have to put a bow on the regular season first.

1. The pool for the Coach of the Year Award is incredibly deep.  Most years, there are one or two coaches who emerge as candidates for Coach of the Year by season's end.  This year, there are at least five coaches who have plenty of qualifications for the award.  Andy Reid, Ron Rivera, Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, and Chip Kelly all are worthy candidates, putting the voters at an incredible dilemma in determining which of them deserve it most.  It'd be especially ironic and telling if Payton did win the award, considering the animosity between the Saints' organization and the league office last year that resulted from Payton's suspension for the 2012 season.

2. Monday, Bloody Monday.  On the other end of the spectrum, teams looking to make changes at the head coach position got an early start last night when the Browns had surprisingly fired Rob Chudzinski.  Mike Shanahan is widely reported to be fired later today, and other coaches such as Jim Schwartz, Mike Munchak, Dennis Allen, Greg Schiano, and possibly Jason Garrett could all find themselves on the chopping block.  That doesn't even include GMs who may be shown the door as well, such as Miami's Jeff Ireland.  But hey, that's par for the course on the day after the end of the regular season.

3. The 5000-yard threshold for quarterbacks in a season has quickly lost its luster.  Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford all cleared the 5000-yard barrier in 2011, the first season where a quarterback had hit the number since Dan Marino did it in 1984.  Since 2011, Brees has crossed 5000 yards every year, and Peyton Manning has set a new single-season record this year in passing yards (5477).  The NFL has shifted its rules and penalties in favor of passing offenses over the last few years, putting us at the point where it's no longer crazy to think that a QB could throw for 6000 yards in a season.

4. The Texans are a long way off from competing again.  The Texans managed to lock themselves into the #1 overall draft pick in April after losing 14 consecutive games to finish the season.  They've already begun their search for their next head coach after Gary Kubiak was fired a couple weeks ago.  They're probably going to have to draft a quarterback for the future with their top pick, and rebuild their offense and secondary eventually.  Andre Johnson is much closer to the end of his career than the prime, and even Arian Foster is showing signs of being burned up.  The Colts have re-emerged as the big dog of the AFC South, and the Texans' brief window of competing has closed.

5. The Ravens will bounce back next season.  Joe Flacco had an absolutely miserable 2013 season, thanks largely to having a pitiful offensive line covering him.  He had career highs in interceptions and sacks this year, and if not for Eli Manning he would have been the season's biggest disappointment.  The Ravens clearly need to address their offensive line and wide receivers in the off-season, and once they do they will compete again in 2014.  They aren't nearly as far away from being competitive again as teams like the Texans, Falcons, or Giants are.

6. Same old Cowboys.  Three straight Week 17s of elimination games against opponents for the divisional title, and the Cowboys are 0-3 in those games.  It's also three straight years of finishing 8-8, which says the team does not have the leadership or coaching in place to get it over the hump.  Tony Romo may say all the right things in being there on the field with his teammates as much as possible, but he has shown too many times over the years he will choke when the pressure is on.  This time, Kyle Orton had the opportunity to lead the Cowboys on the field, but the same results happened.  If Garrett does find himself unemployed and the team hunts for another new coach, Jerry Jones will put the team into rebuilding mode yet again, and the status quo will continue in Dallas.

7. How do the Patriots do it?  Rob Gronkowski missed over half the season, Tom Brady threw only 25 touchdown passes, and most of their wide receivers are under 6'0, and yet they still won 12 games and the AFC East this year again.  The easy answer is "Coaching, stupid," and Bill Belichick deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Patriots competitive even after losing Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker.  Regardless of how far they get in the playoffs this year, it's incredible to see how the Patriots keep on truckin' no matter who they lose.

8. My pick for Super Bowl 48 is Chiefs/Seahawks.  It's far, far too easy to pick Broncos/Seahawks, and the last time both #1 seeds had reached the Super Bowl was Super Bowl 46 (Saints/Colts).  I don't see anyone marching into Seattle and beating the Seahawks straight up in their building, especially considering they had already beaten all their closest rivals head to head earlier this season, e.g. 49ers, Panthers, and Saints.  The most exciting possible matchup for the Super Bowl at this point is Chiefs/Eagles, but I don't realistically see that happening.  Still, seeing the Chiefs go from 2-14 in 2012 to potentially reaching the Super Bowl the next season would be beyond remarkable.

Monday, December 23, 2013

NFL Week 16 Snap Judgments

It's Christmas week, and as we all gather with our families and exchange presents, we can also think about the kinds of gifts that were exchanged this weekend in the NFL.  The Dolphins lost on Sunday, giving the Ravens the gift of winning at least the #6 seed in the playoffs, should they beat the Patriots.  Instead, the Ravens laid an egg, and now sit among 4 teams vying for the final AFC playoff spot.  The Lions lost another shocker, and Matthew Stafford served up a pick-6 to the Giants, putting them out of the playoff chase completely.  The Bears could have won the NFC North had they beaten the Eagles last night, but they, too, were blown out.  The Seahawks could have sewn up the #1 seed in the playoffs, but they dropped one at home against Arizona.  All this giving and giving back is perfectly timed for the Christmas season.

As we gather around for a week of gifting, re-gifting, and de-gifting, may you all have a merry Christmas, and may 2014 bring us all something to cheer about.

1. Where exactly does Peyton Manning rank among the greatest quarterbacks ever?  It's a fun debate to have, considering some of the other names among greatest ever would have to include - in no particular order - Unitas, Favre, Montana, Brady, Bradshaw, and Elway (and probably a few others as well).  Manning is going to win his fifth MVP award after the season, which would make him only the seventh professional athlete to ever accomplish such a feat.  If the Broncos went on to win the Super Bowl, he would be the only quarterback ever to win a championship with two different teams.  It's tough to proclaim him the greatest ever because of his record in the playoffs, but his individual accomplishments cannot be undersold.  Now that the NFL has been altering its rules to further protect the quarterback and wide receivers, Manning has to be seen as the best QB in the last 15 years or so.

2. Of all the teams who had flopped hard on Sunday, the Saints have to be kicking themselves the most.  The Saints could have wrapped up the NFC South and the #2 seed in the playoffs had they won in Carolina.  Instead, their road woes continued, and now instead of getting a bye in the playoffs they are staring at the #6 seed and not getting a home playoff game at all.  They made their playoff push much more difficult for themselves, unless the Panthers somehow lay an egg in Atlanta on Sunday.

3. But don't discount the Ravens for not showing up, either.  In what was easily their single worst team performance under John Harbaugh, the Ravens flat out did not show up against the Patriots.  In fact, it was arguably their worst game since 2007 when they had hosted the Colts in a Sunday night game (which, coincidentally, was a week after a Monday night game hosting the Patriots).  That final was 44-20, but it could have been much worse since the Colts took their feet off the gas after halftime; the Patriots did the exact opposite.  The Ravens flat out stopped trying midway through the third quarter on Sunday, so now they're in a scrum for the #6 playoff seed with the Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers.

4. There are just too many nominees for the Goat of the Week Award.  Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill, Terron Armstead, Jim Schwartz, and the Bears defense all were viable nominees for this week's Goat.  The Bears actually got a little reprieve though, since both the Lions and Packers had lost earlier in the day.  Had they won, they could have wrapped up the NFC North.  Instead, they got blown out by the Eagles, and now find themselves in a one-game playoff with the Packers for the division title.  Still, there were plenty of plenty of booby prizes to go around this weekend.

5. Who is the bigger circus, Dallas or Washington?  Prior to the start of yesterday's game, word came out that Jason Garrett would be fired after the season if the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year.  If they lost to the Redskins, their season would be over, so Garrett had to find a way to keep his job, assuming the report was true.  The ongoing soap opera with Jerry Jones running the show, Tony Romo's consistent inconsistency, and Dez Bryant being a drama queen all point to the inmates running the asylum in Dallas.  Somehow, they still found a way to win with their backs up against the wall.

However, the saga in Washington is well-documented.  The fate of Mike Shanahan is still hanging in the balance, and now his son reportedly no longer wants to work with him.  The three-way war between Shanahan, RGIII, and Dan Snyder has been an ongoing story all season long, and whoever coaches the Redskins next year has to be prepared for the same kind of chaos.  The Redskins may in fact be in the worse overall situation at the moment since they would have a pick in the top two spots in April, except that pick goes to the Rams as part of the infamous RGIII trade.

6. Speaking of the Rams, they are my pick for next year's upstart.  Every year, there's a team who jumps up into being a playoff contender out of virtually nowhere.  This year, it was the Panthers and the Chiefs.  The Rams will likely be a popular pick for next year's upstart, and with good reason.  They have a good coach, a solid young running back, a dynamic playmaker in Tavon Austin, and a stout defense.  If they shore up their offensive line and stick with a (hopefully) healthy Sam Bradford, they could make the leap into the postseason.

7. The Raiders are never going to be competitive as long as they keep rotating coaching staffs every few years.  Since 2002, when the Raiders had last made the playoffs, they have gone through 7 head coaches.  Dennis Allen is likely to be fired on Black Monday next week, putting the Raiders in a search for their 8th head coach in 12 years.  They have not come close to even reaching .500 since their trip to the Super Bowl in 2002, much less make the playoffs.  Even the Redskins under Dan Snyder have gone through "only" 4 head coaches in that same span of time.  It's no coincidence that teams who are constantly hiring and firing their coaches are always picking in the top ten in the draft.  It's also no coincidence that, despite picking near the top of the draft almost every year, the Raiders consistently make bad draft choices (see: Russell, JaMarcus; or McClain, Rolando; just to name two).

8. The Falcons may be stuck in rebuilding mode for a while.  After coming so close to the Super Bowl last year, the Falcons jumped off a cliff this season.  Tony Gonzalez is retiring, both their offensive and defensive lines are in shambles, and Steven Jackson looks pretty much done.  They have a lot of holes that will need fixing on both sides of the ball in the offseason, and they may not be able to quickly bounce back with New Orleans and Carolina in their division.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

One Door Closes While Another Opens

This past year had the highest of highs and lowest of lows for me.  I got a promotion at my job with a very hefty raise, one that I had been striving towards since I had first taken the position 2 1/2 years ago.  I also had thought I was in a relationship with a woman who I would marry someday.  I felt like my life had a defined direction and plan, one that I was very happy in traveling.

Of course, as they say, men plan while God laughs.

My relationship fell apart on me, leaving me stuck trying to figure out what path my life would take next.  I had to move a whopping four times in the past calendar year, and I don't think there is a word to describe just how stressful that was.  I also lost a very close friend of mine after an argument that I can't even remember how it had started in the first place.  I don't think I need to go in any further detail to discuss why any of those experiences were ones I'd like to repeat.

Getting back to the positive stuff for a second, I definitely feel like I've made real progress in myself now that I've been seeing a therapist for nearly 5 months now.  I also have already made my resolution for 2014, which is to get myself in a stable financial position.  I've put together a road map for myself that will get me debt-free by the time I hit my 36th birthday in 2015.  On top of that, I also was sent a link by a friend of mine to do a "money jar," which is another simple way to save up money over the course of a year.  Hopefully, I will be in a financial position to buy a house before my 36th birthday and not have to deal with constantly moving.

I actually feel a little proud of myself, in spite of the crappy stuff I've went through in the last year.  I put together my road map myself with no input or advice from anyone else in my family.  That kind of thought may deserve a little "so what" reaction from others who may read this, but I think it's fairly rare for a 36 year old adult to be completely debt free, aside from a mortgage (which, while it certainly is a huge debt, is a good kind of debt to have).

If nothing else, I'll certainly be relieved to put 2013 behind me.  A major chapter of my life has closed, and while I can't say I'm happy that it's over, I do want to continue making better decisions for my future.  Many New Year's Eve parties feature a toast where someone says, "May the best of your past be the worst of your future."  That line will hold special meaning for me this time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

NFL Week 15 Snap Judgments

With the playoffs less than 3 weeks away, there's a very interesting trend emerging in the league this season.  The last couple seasons, the Ravens have been the poster child for a team who performs much better at home than they do on the road.  In 2010, they went 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road.  In 2011, they were 8-0 at home during the regular season, and a very average 4-4 on the road.  Last season, they were 6-2 at home and 4-4 on the road.  This season, things are no different because they are 6-1 at home so far and a pathetic 2-5 on the road, even after beating the Lions last night.

The thing is, there's a major disparity among other playoff contending teams between their home and road records this season.  The Saints are 7-0 at home and a meager 3-4 on the road so far, after dropping yet another senseless game to the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday.  They average nearly 33 points per game at home and only just over 18 points per game on the road.  The Patriots - yes, the Patriots - are 7-0 at home as well and also 3-4 on the road.  The Eagles are perhaps the biggest mishmash of a contending team because they're 3-4 at home and 5-2 outside Philly.  If they make the playoffs they actually regret winning their division since they're much more likely to play well away from home than they would in front of their own fans.

I have no idea what to make of this trend, but there are other teams who are just as Jekyll and Hyde as these four teams are.  The Bengals, Bears, and Cowboys all have large disparities between home and road records so far this season; in fact, the Cowboys are one of three teams in the league who are currently undefeated in their divisional games so far this season.  The Cowboys are probably the biggest enigma in the entire league at the moment, but it's amazing to think they are 4-0 in their divisional games so far this season and yet only 7-7 on the year.

Speaking of the playoff contenders....

1. The weekend as a whole only jumbled up the playoff seeding and hunt instead of solidifying anything.  Which truthfully, makes for great drama.  Everything started off Thursday night when the Broncos inexplicably lost a home game to the Chargers, which put the Patriots in the driver's seat for the #1 seed in the playoffs.  The Patriots then lost a heart breaker to the Dolphins on Sunday, which not only put the Broncos back into the top seed, but also opened the door for the Bengals to leap into the #2 spot.  The Bengals then got drubbed in Pittsburgh Sunday night, which put the Patriots right back into the #2 spot.

Meanwhile in the NFC, the Eagles were beaten up by an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings squad, and the Cowboys blew a 26-3 lead at halftime (much more on that game later).  The Saints lost in St. Louis, which put them neck and neck with the Panthers.  The NFC North is the only division in football where three teams are racing for the division title.  Now that the schedule relies largely on divisional match ups in Week 17 (including Ravens/Bengals, Bears/Packers, and Eagles/Cowboys), there will be plenty that won't be fully sorted out until the final weekend of the season.

2. The Redskins and Texans have packed it in for the rest of the season.  The soap opera going on in Washington has drained whatever energy or motivation the players would have had otherwise to finish the season.  The worst part is there isn't any one person who is chiefly to blame for the war going on between RGIII, owner Daniel Snyder, and head coach Mike Shanahan.  All three have blame to share to some degree, and the staring contest has left the rest of the team just wanting the season over and move into the offseason.

The Texans are just as ready to take a vacation from this terrible fall from grace.  They were a preseason pick by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl; instead, they lost their 12th consecutive game on Sunday.  Gary Kubiak was already fired over 10 days ago, and there are plenty of questions surrounding what will become of Matt Schaub in 2014.  The Texans are "leading" the race for the #1 overall pick, which will help them rebuild for next season, but the Redskins don't have that luxury since their top pick goes to the Rams as - ironically - part of the RGIII deal.

3. Who says the Seahawks struggle away from home?  The Seahawks are one of only a couple teams who buck the trend of playoff contenders who don't win on the road.  Granted, they were playing against a beleaguered Giants team who have all but packed it in for the season.  Picking off Eli Manning 5 times during the game doesn't hurt anything either, but the point is in the unlikely event that the Seahawks don't lock up the #1 seed in the playoffs, they can still bring the heat on the road.  They are going to be an extremely tough out in January.

4. The Goat of the Week Award goes to both Tony Romo and Eli Manning in a tie.  Eli is having the single worst season of his career thus far by a wide margin, and Sunday was probably his single worst performance of the season.  He is, however, still a better quarterback than Tony Romo; his two Super Bowl championships and two Super Bowl MVPs speak for themselves.  Romo and the Cowboys managed to steal defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday, capped by Romo's two interceptions.  One of his picks was originally supposed to be a running play, but he changed the play at the line of scrimmage to a pass.  The picks certainly were a big part of why the Cowboys dropped that game, but there's even more to the picture.....

5. Dez Bryant is dangerously close to being more trouble than he's worth.  With 1:21 left in the 4th quarter, Bryant headed for the locker room after the second of Tony Romo's 4th quarter interceptions.  The Packers were going to take kneel downs to end the game, so the chances the Cowboys offense would take the field again were virtually zero.  However, the point is Bryant still left the field of play before the clock had officially hit 0:00.  Earlier this season in a game against Detroit, Bryant had two outbursts on the sidelines with his teammates - one with Romo, and the other with tight end Jason Witten.  When the Cowboys had first drafted Bryant, he came with a temperament and emotional baggage, and he's since established himself clearly as a "me first" player.  He's a game changer of a receiver which is why he still has a job, but his attitude is a big contributor to why the Cowboys can't get over the hump.

6. The Vikings have embraced the role of the spoiler.  In the last few weeks, the Vikings have tied the Packers, beaten the Bears, and nearly beat the Ravens in a snowstorm.  On Sunday, they beat the Eagles with an ugly stick, and if not for the Cowboys forgetting how to run the ball or play defense in the second half of their game on Sunday, the Eagles' road to winning the NFC East would have gotten a whole lot more difficult.  The Vikings' final two games are at Cincinnati and finish at home against Detroit, so they can make things very complicated before the end of the season, and possibly knock at least one of those teams out of the playoff race.

7. Jamaal Charles has to get some MVP consideration.  The award is still Peyton Manning's to lose, and it would take a monumental collapse on his part in the Broncos' final two games for him to lose it.  But, Jamaal Charles has amassed over 1800 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns so far this season.  He'll almost certainly clear 2000 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns before season's end; with a season like that he has to deserve some votes for MVP.  He's the focal point of the Chiefs' offense, and a key reason why they've won 10 games so far, and still have a chance at winning their division.  A 2013 resume like that has to get a running back at the very least some notice for Offensive Player of the Year, if not MVP.

8. The Ravens are playing their best football when it really starts to matter.  Until 3 1/2 weeks ago, the Ravens had been extremely up and down for most of the season.  Then, they played three straight home games against the Jets, Steelers, and Vikings, and finally hit the road last night.  The Jets game gave them the momentum they needed to put together a winning streak, which they certainly needed considering their next three games have all been down to the wire.  They aren't built to put 35 points on the board every week, but their defense has kept them in every game.  They couldn't find the end zone even though they got within the 20-yard line more than once, but Justin Tucker showed once again why he is an incredibly clutch kicker.  If they win their final two games, they win the AFC North and put themselves in prime position for another title run.  That's what champions do.

9. Conversely, the Lions couldn't be playing worse than they are now.  The Lions just know how to beat themselves.  The stars could not have aligned themselves any better for them to win the NFC North and reach the playoffs; Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers were both hurt and had to miss several games, and Minnesota has struggled most of the season.  Somehow, the Lions found a way to be staring at 7-7 in the face, and now need both the Bears and Packers to lose next week in order to work their way back into the divisional race.  They had the Ravens beat in terms of raw talent on the field last night, but Matthew Stafford threw 3 interceptions at very costly moments, Calvin Johnson seemed to forget how to catch a football at precisely the wrong game, and defensive penalties also added up very quickly to give the Ravens favorable field position throughout the game.  Those kinds of mental mistakes are fixed by good coaching, and Jim Schwartz now faces potentially being fired because he couldn't lead the team to take advantage of other teams' struggles in their division.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

NFL Week 14 Snap Judgments

This weekend's action was something unseen in football in years.  Five games were impacted by snow and/or freezing rain, which for fans watching from home is incredibly exciting.  Football has always marketed itself as a fall and winter sport, emphasizing how the cold in cities like Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia have led to legendary games over the decades.  How fans in the stadiums bear with the weather is a mystery, but it still always makes for a great spectacle.

The weather leads back to the discussion over having the Super Bowl played in New York/New Jersey in February.  Weather like what was seen in Baltimore and Philadelphia in particular could well be what the Super Bowl will have to deal with, so I'm still very concerned over how such weather would affect the overall quality and enjoyment of the game.  Personally, I think it's still a mistake opening the Super Bowl up for a potential winter storm, but time will tell.

1. Playin' round a winter wonderland.  Keeping with the snow theme, there hasn't been a game in the NFL quite like how the Ravens/Vikings game had ended yesterday in years, if ever.  For over 3 1/2 quarters, the game was a mess with both teams struggling to move the ball much down the field.  Once the snow turned over to freezing rain, the passing games opened up on both sides, leading to a scoring frenzy in the final 2 minutes.  The Ravens kept hold of their playoff spot in winning the game, still holding off the Dolphins who also won Sunday.

2. LeSean McCoy is not of this world.  McCoy still lives somewhat in the shadow of Adrian Peterson of being the best running back in the league, but Sunday showed just how good he is.  In another game heavily affected by snow, he put the Eagles on his back and ran circles in the snow.  The Eagles are starting to make my preseason prediction of the team winning the NFC East this season look smart again, even after I had written them off a few weeks ago.  McCoy and Nick Foles are playing large parts in why they're playing so well right now.

3. The Redskins are imploding...again.  One could have made such a statement weeks ago, but this is more about the war going on between head coach Mike Shanahan and owner Dan Snyder.  According to an ESPN report, Shanahan nearly quit on the team after the Redskins had lost to the Seahawks in the playoffs in January.  Shanahan has yet to actually refute the report, and his postgame conference almost implied that the initial report was accurate.  If Snyder does show Shanahan the door, that would mean the Redskins would be searching for their 8th head coach in Snyder's 14 years as owner of the Redskins.  How can any team build a winning product when the coaching regime is switched every two years?

Oh yeah, and the team doesn't have a first-round pick again from the deal for RGIII.  This team is going nowhere and getting there awfully fast.

4. Don't look now, but the Bengals are getting hot.  After beating the Colts into the ground on Sunday, the Bengals have won three straight games and are currently holding the #3 seed in the playoffs.  Andy Dalton looks like he has righted his ship after a miserable stretch where he threw only 5 touchdowns against a whopping 8 interceptions in a three-game span.  Giovanni Bernard is looking like an every-down running back, and the defense is playing well enough to handle the absence of defensive tackle Geno Atkins.  The only elephant in the room is whether Dalton can handle playing well in the playoffs.

5. Bad luck for Rob Gronkowski.  Gronkowski took a vicious hit to his knee on Sunday, tearing his ACL and MCL in the process.  The Patriots are still going to run away with the AFC East and likely get a bye in the playoffs, but their offense took a major blow in losing Gronkowski.  The injury bug is the ultimate equalizer in the NFL, and every contender in the AFC has had to deal with losing major contributors to injury at some point this season.  There is no clear favorite in the conference, and that includes the Broncos.

6. The Goat of the Week Award goes to Antonio Brown.  In a classic end-of-game play reminiscent of "The band is on the field", the Steelers had to return a kick against the Dolphins in order to win the game.  After tossing the ball back and forth a few times, Antonio Brown wound up with the ball in his hands and ran it down the sideline for a game-winning touchdown with no time left.....except, he stepped out of bounds at about the 15 yard line.  For the second straight week, a kick off return involving the sideline affected the outcome of a Steelers game, only this time it all but ended their season and knocked them out of the playoff hunt.

7. The Seahawks/49ers game would have been the game of the weekend had the Northeast not been stuck in a blizzard.  This divisional rivalry has quickly become one of the very best in the NFL in the last couple years, considering how much the players, coaches, and fans all openly dislike one another.  The game was a classic back and forth slug fest, and even though the 49ers won the game, the Seahawks still lead the division by 2 games with 3 to play.  The 49ers are tied with the Panthers for the Wild Card lead, holding a slim 1-game lead over the Cardinals.

8. Is it possible that Drew Brees somehow still doesn't get the recognition he deserves?  Brees passed 50,000 passing yards for his career Sunday night, becoming the fifth quarterback in NFL history to do so (and the youngest to accomplish the feat).  Brees is consistently considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the game today, but not quite of all time.  He hasn't been associated often with some of the all-time greats like Elway, Favre, Unitas, or Montana, but now that he's on the verge of throwing for 5000 yards in his third straight season, he has to be thought of an all-time great now.  Once upon a time, Dan Marino was the only quarterback in history who had thrown for 5000 yards in a single season, but now it's almost the norm for the greats playing the game today.  Brees has thrown for more yards than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers in the last three years, and is second only to Manning in passing yards among active quarterbacks.  He's built quite a resume for himself for Canton once he calls it a career.

9. The Bears have built quite a dilemma for themselves at quarterback.  Jay Cutler is nearing returning from his ankle injury, but Josh McCown has been extremely productive in the interim, especially last night against Dallas.  Cutler is in his contract year, and he's certainly looking for a deal in keeping with what Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo all got last season.  He's also 30, and while McCown is 34 the Bears may have to consider the idea of letting Cutler walk and draft a young quarterback for their future.  They now have a solid receiving corps with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Martellus Bennett, and a great running back in Matt Forte.  If they had a franchise quarterback under center, they'd have a complete offense.  Even though it's a potentially expensive dilemma, the Bears are probably happy to have it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NFL Week 13 Snap Judgments

I hope everyone out there in internet-land had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.  Even though the first game on Thursday was a snoozer, the other two games were truly exciting, especially the Ravens/Steelers night cap.  I've learned over the years that Ravens/Steelers games, probably more so than any other divisional rivalry in the NFL, tend to have the kind of drama and tension that take years off fans' lives.  What typically happens is I warn myself that the game will be super close beforehand so I'm properly prepared.  Thursday was no exception, though when the Ravens were up 19-7 at one point I found myself relaxing a little bit, figuring they were in control of the game.  Of course, reality soon set in later, which I'll get into eventually.  But first....

1. If the Giants/Redskins game Sunday night had any playoff implications, the referee team from that game would find themselves facing a firing squad.  With just under two minutes to play in the 4th quarter, RGIII threw a pass to Pierre Garcon on 3rd down right at the first down marker.  The side judge motioned for first down and moved the chains ahead, so Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and the rest of the offense thought it was first down.  However in reality, the ball was just short, so it was 3rd and inches.  RGIII then threw a pass over the middle to tight end Fred Davis on what he thought was first down, which fell incomplete.  This play brought up what the offense thought was 2nd down, when in reality it was 4th down.  When the 4th down play also fell incomplete, Shanahan was furious - and rightfully so - at the botched down call on the refs.  (And if this breakdown doesn't make any sense, watch the highlights)

I've never seen a pooch screw like this one on the part of the refs since probably Ed Hochuli's notorious botched call of calling a Jay Cutler incomplete pass a fumble in a Broncos/Chargers game from 2008.  Whatever fate or punishment the league chooses to hand down to this referee team is well deserved, but if this game had affected any playoff races or seeding, the losing team would be outraged at the referees and the league.

2. Are the Chiefs who we thought they were?  Three weeks ago, the Chiefs were 9-0 and heading into their first head-to-head match up against divisional foe Denver.  Now the Chiefs are losers of three straight games, and while they're still in prime position to make the playoffs, there's almost no chance they can win their division.  Certainly losing their main pass rush for this game was a contributing factor, but they have quickly lost momentum after steamrolling through the first nine weeks of the season.  Their turnaround from last season is still incredibly impressive, but they don't want to limp their way into January.

3. Ron Rivera is making a case for Coach of the Year.  That's now 8 straight wins for the Panthers, whose defense is #1 in the league in fewest yards per game and fewest points allowed per game.  Andy Reid was running away and hiding with Coach of the Year for the first 9 weeks of the season, but the Chiefs' recent struggles has brought Ron Rivera into the conversation.  Rivera was a guy who was facing being canned at the beginning of the season, and now he has one of the hottest teams in the league.  They even have an outside chance at winning the NFC South and getting a bye in the playoffs since two of their final four games are against the Saints.

4. The Jets' starting quarterback in 2014 is not currently on their roster.  Mark Sanchez was clearly not fit to be a starting quarterback in the NFL - by the way, happy anniversary, butt fumble - and Geno Smith is equally unfit.  Smith was mercifully pulled at quarterback in the 3rd quarter Sunday after failing to complete 10 passes for his third straight game.  Matt Simms was then put in the game and wasn't much better.  Where the Jets go from here is anyone's guess, but they have to look beyond the players on their current roster.  Having a terrible supporting cast isn't helping matters, either; Peyton Manning would struggle with the running backs and wide receivers the team has as well.  Rex Ryan even looked like he had saved his job as head coach a few weeks ago, but the Jets may have to clean house between their coaching staff and quarterback situation following the season.

5.  Week 17 is going to unbelievable if the teams in the playoff hunt keep this same pace - which, given this season, they probably won't.  There are at least three games scheduled in Week 17 that will have serious playoff seeding implications, depending on what happens in the next three weeks.  The Ravens will be in Cincinnati, which could potentially decide the AFC North; the Eagles will play in Dallas, which could determine who wins the NFC East; and the 49ers play in Arizona, which could be a fight for the 6th seed in the NFC.  The NFL typically does not schedule a Sunday night game in Week 17 until after Week 16 is finished in order to flex a "win or go home" game in prime time that night.  The league could very likely have several good options for that prime time slot.

6. The Colts aren't nearly as threatening a team without Reggie Wayne.  Reggie Wayne tore his ACL during the Colts' Week 7 victory against Denver, and since then the team has gone 3-2.  Andrew Luck has thrown over 300 yards one time during that span, which was mostly garbage yards when the Colts were stomped by the Rams 38-8.  He's also thrown 5 touchdown passes against 5 interceptions in his last five games, which more than doubled his total interceptions on the season.  Despite the Colts' struggles, they still control the AFC South after having beaten their closest opponent in the Titans on Sunday.    Between losing their #1 receiver and benching Trent Richardson, the Colts suddenly look very pedestrian on offense.  A Wild Card team having to play in Indianapolis in January could very well walk away with a win.

7. Time to discuss Mike Tomlin and Jacoby Jones.  I really wanted to believe Mike Tomlin's explanation for his actions during the game Thursday night, but his logic is virtually impossible to swallow.  Setting aside the sheer fact he was standing the painted white area which is verboten from anyone standing in for a moment, he took a step in bounds to take a step out of bounds.  That's.....ridiculous.  Nobody takes a step forward to step backwards.  How he wasn't flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct is a mystery, but now that the league is apparently considering stripping the Steelers of a draft pick on top of fining Tomlin, the potential punishment would fit his action.  Still, there's little doubt had the situation been reversed, Steelers fans would be calling for John Harbaugh's head on a plate.

8. The Goat of the Week Award goes to Bears head coach Mark Trestman.  Trestman had elected to kick a 47-yard field goal on 2nd down instead of trying to move further down the field.  Robbie Gould is a normally very reliable kicker, but a 47-yard attempt, even in a dome, isn't a gimme.  Gould missed the kick, giving the ball away to the Vikings, who then took the ball down the field and kicked a game-winning field goal.  The Bears are now a game behind the Eagles, Cowboys, and Cardinals for the #6 seed in the NFC.  Trestman tried explaining his rationale after the game was over, but his concern over a fumble or loss of yardage can't take precedence over a bad coaching decision.

9. The Seahawks probably won't have to worry about leaving home throughout the playoffs.  Seattle all but locked up the #1 seed in the NFC last night after thumping the Saints.  They haven't lost at home with Russell Wilson at quarterback, and their only loss on the season was a road game in Indianapolis.  The question becomes can any other team beat them in their house in January.  Considering they've brought out the whooping stick on their closest rivals in New Orleans and San Francisco, the answer to that question may be, "No."