Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Top 10 Stories of the Year, Pt. 1

9.) The 'Death' of Barcelona



Barcelona has been rumored to be killed many times, but never did it seem so real as it did in 2014. In the spring everything literally went to hell in the Camp Nou. The Catalan boys found themselves in a real odd position: not in line to win any of the three major trophies (La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League). They weren’t far off in the first two, finishing 2nd in La Liga (tied with Real Madrid but winning on h2h record), behind Atletico Madrid. They also found themselves in the final of the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid, but couldn’t find themselves in that game either. What’s worse was they came so close to winning those. They played Real Madrid who was sitting an injured Cristiano Ronaldo, but lost because Madrid’s newest glamour-boy, Gareth Bale, sprinted well past Jordi Alba, whose diminutive stature makes him a perfect Barca player, and drove a shot right past Victor Valdes. In La Liga, they hosted Atletico in the final game. A win would give Barcelona the title. Instead, despite leading 1-0 in the 2nd half, they drew and lost the crown.

None of that compared to their flameout in the Champions League. Barcelona had made the Semifinals a ridiculous 6 straight years. That streak would end. Once again, it was Atletico Madrid. They drew the first leg 1-1 in the Camp Nou, and then lost 0-1 in the Vicente Calderon. Come May, in the Champions League Final, Barcelona had to sit on the sidelines watching their two biggest La Liga rivals play in a Final where one would get the double. Real Madrid won ‘La Decima’ after a 12 year break, and Barcelona was almost clearly the 3rd best team in their own country.

Sadly, their problems extended off the pitch. Upper Management was caught up in scandals surrounding their purchase of Neymar, which went into shady payments to ‘corporations’ owned by Neymar’s family, and an incorrect disclosure of the amount which Barca did to skate by tax laws. It ended with Barcelona’s President getting sacked, and having to publicly apologize to the footballing community. There were scandals around the appointment of Tata Martino as manager replacing the, now late, Tito Villanova. Martino had no experience in Europe, and was seen as a dummy coach hand-picked by Messi, a sign of Leo’s growing influence in the club at large. That ended in disaster, and another manager sacked. Finally, there was a transfer ban put in place after Barcelona had been revealed to have violently disobeyed the rules regarding signing foreign youth players. Of course, being Barcelona, the complained and the transfer ban was delayed in time for them to go on a splurge, but Barca showed itself to be just another club on the pitch, and considering how haughty they consider their brand to be, off the pitch as well.


8.) Rory McIlroy has arrived?


It has now been 6-and-a-half years since Tiger Woods last won a major. It has been two years since he’s even come close. Since that incredible US Open win in 2008, Woods has missed more major than he’s finished in the Top-5. His chase of Jack Nicklaus is so much on hold it may as well be a plane at Newark Airport. For the first few years following Tiger’s implosion, the common refrain in Golf is that no one was stepping up to fill his shoes. There was a string of majors with different winners (not counting Padraig Harrington, who won both majors in 2008 after Tiger left to fix his knee – about 30 injuries ago). In 2014, that all was put to bed. We are squarely living in the Rory McIlroy era now.

Rory McIlroy finished 3rd in a major in 2009 at like 15. He won his first major in a Wire to Wire win in the US Open in 2011, beating the field by 5 strokes. He won his second the next year in the PGA Championship, but then his career kind of went to hell. He started dating the beautiful Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who herself had her promising career go to hell. McIlroy was inconsistent, never placing in the Top-10 of a major outside of his wins. He was more Mickelson than Woods, and that was seen as an insult to even Mickelson. The pressure was getting to him, the expectations, the forces of adulthood. Even his relationship came into question; certainly his maturity did when he bluntly broke off his engagement.

While he may not be the greatest fiancĂ©e, he became a great golfer. McIlroy won the Open for the first time, finishing -17, beating the field by two strokes, leading after every round. It was brilliant golf by a player who had shown brilliance before. What was more important was he finally followed up on that brilliance. The biggest criticism of McIlroy was that he could be Nicklaus one week and Duval the next. This time he just stayed good. He won a WGC tournament right after the Open. He then cemented his new dominance by winning the PGA Championship in August, fending off a charging Phil Mickelson. He’s now won 4 majors. He’s still well behind Tiger’s early pace, for now we have a real competitor. For now, the questions of ‘Can he catch Tiger?’ are not so stupid. He’s just 10 behind at 25. There really doesn’t seem to be much real young competition, just a bunch of guys that all may win one major at some point but never really challenge. Rory McIlroy’s era has begun. And it could be a long time before he gives it back.


7.) Roger Federer Returns


Because of a rain delay that ruined the schedule of play on Labor Day, 2013, Roger Federer’s 4th round match of the US Open was moved off of Ashe Stadium to Louis Armstrong. Despite Louis Armstrong being more packed than ever before, it was an odd sight. Here was Roger Federer, the 17-time Slam Champion, the guy who won 5-straight US Opens, playing on the 2nd court. Of course, when he proceeded to lose in straight sets to Tommy Robredo, a man Federer had dominated, it all seemed even stranger. It ended a meek season for Federer at the slams. It was the third successive slam when Federer bowed out well before we are used to him seeing. He lost meekly to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets at the French Open. He lost shockingly in the 2nd round to Sergiy Stachovsky at Wimbledon (the day after Nadal was upset in the 1st round). Finally he lost to Robredo in the Round of 16. His tough 5-set loss to Andy Murray in the Oz Open semifinal seemed like a world away. Federer, by year end, had dropped to #7. He was not only behind Nadal, Djokovic and Murray (who had won all four slams and were the finalists for each slam other than Ferrer’s appearance in the French Open Final), but behind Ferrer, Tsonga and Berdych. It seemed slightly natural given his decreasing play over the years. 2013 was the signal of the end.

A year later, Roger is reborn. He, slowly and assuredly, rose up the rankings going up all the way to 500 points behind Novak Djokovic. He finished the year at #2. He finished the year a Davis Cup Champion for the first time, and a man who made the final at the Year-End, along with winning tournaments in Dubai, Queen’s Club, Cincinnati and Shanghai, the last two being Masters-1000 level events. He had a splendid year. He was retooled (literally, using a 98-inch frame after years of sticking with a 90-incher). He was re-energized. And he was close to extending that slam lead.

In a weird way, Federer achieved his high ranking (and nearly #1) in a way he would have never wanted if you go back to Fed’s real prime. Back then he scoffed at the idea of players being highly ranked without winning slams. He always said how slams were the most important. Now that he stopped winning slams, he went in another direction, and it nearly worked. Federer played all the tournaments, despite his age. He went deep almost everywhere. He racked up points at tournaments where Djokovic was on the sidelines. He nearly got to #1 in a real grass-roots effort. He didn’t, really because of one loss in the biggest match he played all year.

Entering the Wimbledon Final against Novak Djokovic, Federer was the people’s favorite. He had navigated an easy draw playing sublime, attacking tennis. Djokovic was a challenge above the pay-grade of his previous opponents, but Federer raised his game. Federer was brilliant early, and hung tough late. He served-and-volleyed, and kept Djokovic off guard in a way only he can. He raised his game to meet the level of the sports (healthy) master. It wasn’t enough in the end. After savings match points in the 4th set, and breaking Djokovic when serving for the match in the 5th, Federer finally gave in getting broken late to lose the set 7-5 and match in 5. It was a great match, the best those two have played at a slam. It didn’t end with Federer upset at Novak for hammering winners like the 2011 US Open Semifinal. It only ended with two winners. Djokovic got the trophy. Federer got the respect and the internal belief that his career wasn’t really all that over.


6.) And Then there were 4...


For years and years and years, the three most dominant letters in College Football was ‘S-E-C’. That, or ‘B-C-S’. One or the other was always a source of controversy, no more so than the SEC benefiting from the BCS. That silly computer system that ruled college football for 14 years finally ended in 2014. What proceeded became one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory. While there were definitely some famous missteps by the BCS, over time the BCS started to weigh computers less and polls more. Computers gave us Florida State in the 2000 National Championship game and not an historically loaded Miami team. Computers gave us Oklahoma in the 2003 National Championship and not an historically loaded USC team. However, computers would have not given us Alabama in the 2011 National Championship Game and allowed LSU to not have to beat a team to win the title that it already beat on the road. Computers and polls would have given us various title games. Now, the four teams competing give us the title game.

Is there still controversy? Sure. The biggest this year probably being that Ohio State jumped TCU in the final weekend despite TCU winning their last game 55-3. Of course, OSU won 59-0 over a ranked opponent, and is a bigger media draw than TCU. My guess, and this is totally random with no real basis, is that if it was Texas in the #4 position and not TCU, they don’t get dropped. Anyway, that Top-4, instead of ruining the regular season as many BCS-supporters claimed, made it even better. Instead of two spots to fight for, there were four. Teams that lost games early in the season weren’t immediately removed from consideration. Alabama lost an early game and got back in. So did Ohio State, and Oregon, and, almost, TCU. Sure, some of the brilliance of this season was just having a lot of good teams, an otherworldly SEC West, and the right mix of upsets at the right time, but it was also what this new system is designed to do.

It helps that the NCAA knew how to market the hell out of this thing. The weird weekly Playoff Ranking review show became must-see TV for College Football fans. It put random old people (including, and I still can’t believe this is true, Condi Rice) on TV. There was no real transparency, no real method. They didn’t have to go by polls, or strength-of-schedule, or quality wins, or computers. Honestly, considering how opaque this process is, if it was this exact same panel deciding which two teams would play in the game, it would have been destroyed. Instead, just multiple the number of spots and it becomes amazing. The inevitably result of this exercise is a more fair and balanced 8-team playoff, but for Year 1 of the great College Football Experiment, all those old fogies who decried the death of College Football’s regular season were proven very, very wrong.


NFL 2014: Week 16 Power Rankings and the Rest

The "Who wants Marcus Mariota" Quinto

32.) Tennessee Titans  (2-12  =  231-390)
31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-12  =  211-376)
30.) Oakland Raiders  (2-12  =  213-381)
29.) Washington Redskins  (3-11  =  257-370)
28.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-12  =  254-367)

There are so many interesting competitors this year, so let's just move on from these teams, shall we.......


The "Two Metropoles, NFC South Teams and YOung QBs enter a bar, and Jay Cutler Kills them All
" Septo

27.) New York Jets  (3-11  =  230-360)
26.) Chicago Bears  (5-9  =  296-409)
25.) Atlanta Falcons  (5-9  =  348-369)
24.) New York Giants  (5-9  =  317-339)
23.) Cleveland Browns  (7-7  =  276-300)
22.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-8  =  277-297)
21.) New Orleans Saints  (6-8  =  364-374)

None of these teams are any good. Somehow, one of them will be a playoff team (unless Carolina runs the table and the Saints blow it... very possible, I guess). The Jets are bad, but they do play hard. To me the real problem with that team is that they are in a full rebuilding mode after years of living year-to-year with Tannenbaum, who never met a draft pick he didn't want to trade. The Giants are arguably in more dire straits given Eli's age. The Browns have no QB (by the way, has there ever been a QB who's terrible-ness was met with such joy?). The other teams are all interlopers. The Vikings could be 10-4 with a little luck, but could be 4-10 with a little bad luck. Mike Zimmer has made that defense really effective, but I feel that Bridgewater has been consistently disappointing. The Falcons have no defense. The Bears have no defense. The Saints have a defense that will play one good game in 14, and a QB who can have the most garbage 29-36 game ever. The worst part is one of these NFC South teams will likely host a team QB-ed by Ryan Lindley in Round 1.


The "Teams that will Suck the Life Out of You" Quatro

20.) Houston Texans  (7-7  =  324-277)
19.) Carolina Panthers  (5-8-1  =  288-358)
18.) San Francisco 49ers  (7-7  =  251-285)
17.) Miami Dolphins  (7-7  =  327-301)

All of these teams have proved competent to some point or another. They are all listed in order of what level they should have been. The Texans are right where they should be. They capitalized on a truly awful schedule and having a human Bowser in the lineup to get to 7-7. But now they are playing either Thad Lewis or Case Keenum. The Panthers didn't win a game for 9 straight weeks, but are just 1/5 game behind in the division. Their defense has finally started to play average just as Cam Newton survives death. The 49ers are a complete mess, and their advanced stats don't even hide a team that should have done better but lost close games. They've been outscored by 34 points. That is not good. Finally is Miami, who started the year outscoring New England 23-0 in the 2nd half in Week 1, and then just got outscored 27-0 in the 2nd half of the return leg. It is hard to say they haven't gotten better each year under Philbin, but that rate of return is glacially slow right now.


The "Is Jeff Fisher recreating his Tennessee tenure?" Uno

16.) St. Louis Rams  (6-8  =  291-297)

In 1996, 1997 and 1998, the first three years of Jeff Fisher's tenure in Tennessee (yes, he started that long ago), the Titans went 8-8, 8-8, 8-8. In the first three years of Fisher's St. Louis tenure, they'll go 7-8-1, 7-9 and, probably, 7-9. Now, going 8-8 three straight years is better than 7-9, but the Rams are doing what Tennessee did. Those Titans went 13-3 in the 4th year, with a defense that kept them in every game, and an offense built on 4-yard runs by Eddie George and Steve McNair's underrated balls. The issue for the Rams is they don't have a clear Steve McNair type, but they have everything else. If Peyton Manning played for that team, they would go 12-4 at least. Jeff Fisher is building something. It may take until 2016, but I hope the Rams have that amount of patience.


The "Soft Underbelly of the AFC" Trio

15.) San Diego Chargers  (8-6  =  303-294)
14.) Kansas City Chiefs  (8-6  =  322-254)
13.) Cincinnati Bengals  (9-4-1  =  311-289)

The Chargers and Chiefs play each other. They both also play a tough game in Week 15. The Chiefs have the easier road, as two straight wins will get them in the playoffs (they'll have h2h wins over both potential 10-6 teams). The Chargers probably have the higher ceiling. But the Chiefs have essentially been a better version of San Diego all year long. For the Bengals, I still can't believe they've lost just 4 games. I feel like they've been terrible ever since their bye and them getting housed by New England back in Week 5. Yet there they are. If they win just one more game, they're in the playoffs. They even have somewhat of a shot at 9-6-1. Somehow, the Bengals are right there, despite no one liking them. If they did anything this year, though, it was smash what dignity Johnny Manziel had left.


The "If only they had a QB" Uno

12.) Buffalo Bills  (8-6  =  302-254)

The Bills were 2-2 after four games when they benched EJ Manuel, the Bills turned to Kyle Orton, who basically retired in the offseason. Orton has not been great. Far from it. Orton has been average at best, and has looked downright awful the past two weeks. Yet, the Bills have everything else. They still have o-line and durability issues, but they have good weapons (Sammy Watkins is still very good), a stable of running backs, a deep d-line that is among the best in the NFL, and a deep secondary that has played well. They have everything but a QB. Their defensive performance against Green Bay was just frightening.


The "They just have a Fatal Flaw" Trio

11.) Philadelphia Eagles  (9-5  =  416-347)
10.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (9-5  =  389-339)
9.) Dallas Cowboys  (10-4  =  381-328)

All three of these teams are good. They all three can make the playoffs, but I can't see any of them getting too far. The Eagles have a system that will most likely score a bunch of points, and have a defense that is far better than people think when not putting Bradley Fletcher in 1v1 coverage with Dez Bryant with little help. Their issue is the QB. Mark Sanchez has been alternating slightly above average and horrible games. Nick Foles wasn't too much better when he was healthy. They've stopped making ridiculous Special Teams plays all the time, and now their scoring has gone to shit. The Steelers and Cowboys are almost like the same teams. Both have good QBs who are having career years. They have dual-purpose Running Backs who are great. They have dominant WRs, in Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant. Finally, they both have defenses that are, on the whole, not very good. These flaws will kill them long term. Dallas has a shot if the matchups break well (Arizona, Seattle), but if that is the case they'll be in for a rude awakening going to Lambeau with that defense.


The "Challengers to the AFC Hegemony" Duo

8.) Indianapolis Colts  (10-4  =  424-317)
7.) Baltimore Ravens  (9-5  =  376-267)

The best two teams in teh AFC are QBed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Amazingly, this will be just the fourth time the Top-2 seeds in the AFC will be Brady's and Manning's. Of course, it will be the third in a row. It is looking like the Patriots will take the #1 seed this time, the only change to last year's standings. The only two teams, in my mind, that can break an inevitable Broncos vs. Patriots AFC Championship Game (and an even more inevitable Patriots win), are these two. The Colts have been a little up and down lately, and there is discussion on Andrew Luck's ball security (the fumbles are, and really should, be a way bigger issue than the picks). The defense is still good against anything outside of great QBs, which is nice. Of course, both Manning and Brady are pretty good. The Ravens are just a solid team at everything. Their one weakness is their injury-riddled secondary. Of course, their biggest strength is a nice complement, in their top Front-7. Both teams have a shot in Week 2, and if the Ravens can steal that division (they'll need both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to drop a game), it lines up nicely. The Ravens get to go to New England in the #1-vs.-#4 matchup, where they match up better, and the Colts get to avoid New England, where they don't match up at all.


The "Is it 1960?" Duo

6.) Detroit Lions  (10-4  =  281-238)
5.) Arizona Cardinals  (11-3  =  287-244)

These two teams are still playing like it is the 1960's with defense, run games, and bad QB play. I feel so bad for the Cardinals. They went 10-6 last year but missed the playoffs. This year, they go 11-3, pass every challenge, but are now down to their 3rd string QB. They are resourceful as hell, and Bruce Arians is a fucking wizard, but they'll likely lose to Seattle, and be relegated to a game in the Superdome for all their troubles. The Lions are the other big winners from Buffalo's win over the Packers, Unless they want a bye, which is theirs if they win out, this upcoming game against Chicago is meaninglesss. They'll keep their shot at a division even if they lose to Chicago. The Lions will change as we know them, and this has been maybe the least memorable or fun 10-win season by a continual bottom-dwellar.


The "Great QBs, and Maybe Other Stuff?" Duo


4.) Green Bay Packers  (10-4  =  436-325)
3.) Denver Broncos  (11-3  =  407-303)


The sheen has come off the Packers a bit, and that horrendous offensive performance has shone light on their struggles on the road this season. That will become important since they have basically no shot of getting the #1 seed now. Unless upsets, they'll have to win a road playoff game. Guess who else will have to? Denver that team tied for the best record in the NFL, but the one that no one thinks is playing well. They've had seven wins against teams with winning records (IND, KCx2, SDx2, BUF, ARZ). They're really good, but let no one tell you that.


The "Maybe they should just play Super Bowl XLIX tomorrow" Duo

2.) Seattle Seahawks  (10-4  =  339-242)
1.) New England Patriots  (11-3  =  442-280)


Final Score: Patriots 34  Seahawks 31

Both Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have perfect passer ratings and get assumed to heaven.


Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3  (@NYJ (w); vs.BUF (w))
2.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3  (@CIN (w); vs.OAK (w))
3.) Indianapolis Colts  =  11-5  (@DAL (l); @TEN (w))
4.) Baltimore Ravens  =  11-5  (@HOU (w); vs.CLE (w))

5.) Kansas City Chiefs  =  10-6  (@PIT (w); vs.SD (w))
6.) Pittsurgh Steelers  =  10-6  (vs.KC (l); @CIN (w))



NFC

1.) Seattle Seahawks  =  12-4  (@ARZ (w); vs.STL (w))
2.) Green Bay Packers  =  12-4  (@TB (w); vs.DET (w))
3.) Dallas Cowboys  =  12-4  (vs.IND (w); @WAS (w))
4.) New Orleans Saints  =  8-8  (vs.ATL (w); @TB (w))

5.) Arizona Cardinals  =  11-5  (vs.SEA (l); @SF (l))
6.) Detroit Lions  =  11-5  (@CHI (w); @GB (l))


Awards Look

Coach of the Year

1.) Bruce Arians (ARZ)
2.) Jason Garrett (DAL)
3.) Jim Caldwell (DET)


With the Cardinals clinching a playoff spot, this is basically guaranteed for Arians. He will win this award for a 2nd time in three years. That is incredible. I still think Garrett is flying a little behind the radar as a COTY candidate. They were a laughingstock after Week 1, but Dallas has played well, gotten the most out of its talent. I really have no idea who should be in 3rd, but Caldwell took over a team, made them disciplined, and has them close to another playoff berth.


Defensive Player of the Year

1.) JJ Watt (HOU)
2.) Justin Houston (KC)
3.) Darrelle Revis (NE)


I'll give Revis a quick nod just because he's been very good and turned this Patriots team into a Top-10 defense. He's not as good as he was in New York at his peak, but he's damn close. Houston has had an incredible season for the Chiefs in both pass rush and run protection. In the end, though, this is so clearly JJ Watt's award. No one else should get a second of consideration.


Offensive Player of the Year

1.) Demarco Murray (DAL)
2.) Antonio Brown (PIT)
3.) Aaron Rodgers (GB)


Yes, I think that one pathetic start will cost Rodgers a chance at the OPOTY award. You have to be pretty special as a QB to win it, or have no real good candidate at RB or WR (like Brady in 2010). For Rodgers, there is a better WR and RB candidate. Antonio Brown has been absolutely amazing all season for the Steelers, piling up 6-9 catches every single game. I think Murray will win it with his record setting pace (for yards from scrimmage), and his incredible usage rate.


Most Valuable Player

1.) Aaron Rodgers (GB)
2.) Peyton Manning (DEN)
3.) Tony Romo (DAL)
4.) Andrew Luck (IND)
5.) JJ Watt (HOU)

Watt should not win the award, but I can't think of a defensive player being a better choice. For the rest, the only real switch is replacing Demarco Murray with Tony Romo, which I think is fair. Tony Romo has been amazing this season. We saw them fail miserably without him in the one game he missed. He has a 28-8 TD/INT, with an 8.4 YPA and a league leading completion percentage. He's got the 2nd best passer rating in the NFL right below Rodgers. What stops him from being higher is Murray's presence. Manning to me is going so under the radar right now. Yes, they're not going to be the #1 seed, and yes they've been worse than last year, but Peyton Manning has been the best QB in the NFL by advanced stats. For Rodgers, he's just been the best.


Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

16.) Tennessee Titans (2-12)  @  Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)  (TNF - NFLN)
15.) New York Giants (5-9)  @  St. Louis Rams (6-8)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call this "No one has anything to play for" Thursday and Sunday


14.) Buffalo Bills (8-6)  @  Oakland Raiders (2-12)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Green Bay Packers (10-4)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)  (1:00 - FOX)
12.) New England Patriots (11-3)  @  New York Jets (3-11)  (1:00 - CBS)
11.) Baltimore Ravens (9-5)  @  Houston Texans (7-7)  (1:00 - CBS)
10.) Detroit Lions (10-4)  @  Chicago Bears (5-9)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call this "Almost as bad, the Home team has nothing to play for" Sunday


9.) Minnesota Vikings (6-8)  @  Miami Dolphins (7-7)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call this "Why the hell am I intrigued by this game" Sunday


8.) Philadelphia Eagles (9-5)  @  Washington Redskins (3-11)  (Sat. 4:30 - NFLN)
7.) San Diego Chargers (8-6)  @  San Francisco 49ers (7-7)  (Sat, 8:25 - CBS)

I call this "Saturday Football!!!!!" Saturday


6.) Cleveland Browns (7-7)  @  Carolina Panthers (5-8-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
5.) Indianapolis Colts (10-4)  @  Dallas Cowboys (10-4)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call this "Intriguing for all the Wrong, and all the Right Reasons" Sunday


4.) Atlanta Falcons (5-9)  @  New Orleans Saints (6-8)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call this "Another normal Sunday in the NFC South" Sunday


3.) Denver Broncos (11-3)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1)  (MNF - ESPN)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers  (9-5)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call this "Let's Separate the AFC, or Maybe Muddle it up some More" Sunday and Monday


1.) Seattle Seahawks (10-4)  @  Arizona Cardinals (11-3)  (SNF - NBC)

I call this "Does Ryan Lindley stand a Chance" Sunday

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

NFL 2014: Week 15 Power Rankings & the Rest

The "Who Wants the #1 Pick" Sexto

32.) Tennessee Titans  (2-11  =  220-374)
31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (2-11  =  199-356)
30.) Oakland Raiders  (2-11  =  200-350)
29.) Washington Redskins  (3-10  =  244-346)
28.) New York Jets  (2-11  =  214-349)
27.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (2-11  =  237-348)

I'm throwing the Redskins in here, but that kind of ruins the beauty of so many 2-11 teams. One of my questions was how many teams would end up with three or fewer wins. Seems like it will be a lot. I think in terms of recent quality, the Titans are easily the worst. I did not expect the Whisenhunt era to go this badly. Jacksonville is inept as well, as it is time to start looking at Bortles' horrific play a little more carefully. Glad for the Raiders, who responded darn well to that 52-0 loss. As for the Jets and Bucs, I think they're the two best of the two-win teams. The Jets have played tough the last two weeks, and the Bucs have played reasonably tough all year with two glaring exceptions. If any team has a shot to do any sort of damage in 2015, it is the Bucs. They have two good receivers, a defense that if healthy can be very competent, and that horrible division to play in.


The "What are we really playing for" Quatro

26.) New York Giants  (4-9  =  293-326)
25.) New Orleans Saints  (5-8  =  333-359)
24.) Chicago Bears  (5-8  =  281-378)
23.) Atlanta Falcons  (5-8  =  328-342)

The scary part of this grouping is that one of these four teams is likely to make the playoffs. Well… one of two of the four teams. It may come down to if the Saints can beat Chicago in Chicago on Monday Night. All four have looked really bad at one time or the other. It is hard to forget that the Giants went 7 games without winning, or that the Saints were 4-4, with four of their next five at home, and proceeded to go 1-4. Then there is the Bears, who alternate competence with unending incompetence on a regular basis. Finally we get to the team that actually looked decent in a game they trailed 31-7 in. The Falcons most certainly made the Packers earn it, but with no real defense to speak of, Atlanta allowed them to earn it quite easily. Again, most likely either the Saints or Falcons will be playing a home game in four weeks. I just hope the Julio Jones who played yesterday shows up if it is Atlanta.


The "You're in it, but you're really not in it" Quinto

22.) Houston Texans  (7-6  =  314-260)
21.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-7  =  263-281)
20.) Carolina Panthers  (4-8-1  =  269-341)
19.) Cleveland Browns  (7-6  =  276-270)
18.) Buffalo Bills  (7-6  =  281-241)

The Vikings are essentially out of it (technically they are alive), while the Texans, Browns and Bills are getting the short end of the stick right now. All three either have tough schedules (Houston, with Baltimore and Indy), or a bunch of AFC losses (Browns, Bills). I think the Bills are the best of the three teams, as that defense is consistently good. I really wouldn’t be shocked if they play the Packers defense close all game. The Texans are, to me, frauds built on that schedule. The Browns have the most medium-term upside if Johnny Manziel is even close to capable. They haven’t had a QB play close to capable in a long, long time. Finally we have the Panthers. I think right now they are the best team in the NFC South. Their offense finally clicked, and that defense has been playing pretty well for a few games now (they only gave up 17 on defense last week). There is a reasonable path for them to win the division. If they win out (Tampa and Cleveland at home, Atlanta in Atlanta), and the Saints drop one more game, the Panthers win the NFC South. It would be hilarious if the first team to repeat as NFC South Champions does it at 7-8-1.



The "Great NFC West Intersection" Duo

17.) San Francisco 49ers  (7-6  =  244-268)
16.) St. Louis Rams  (6-7  =  285-285)

The 49ers are free-falling right now. Most of their top players are either past 30, or huge injury/personal risks (Vernon Davis, Aldon Smith). They are relying on a QB who seemingly peaked in the 2012 playoffs. Their coach is basically gone already. Of course, everyone in the world wanted to suck on Trent Baalke for his brilliant idea of drafting red-shirt guys that provide no immediate value but were interesting prospects. Of course, that has come to pass and they aren’t providing that immediate value. The 49ers are in the league’s toughest division without a real plan. The Rams, on the other hand, have a plan. The one problem is that the plan doesn’t include, yet, a QB. They have everything else to some degree. I honestly think if Peyton Manning goes on the Rams, that is a 13-3 team. Jeff Fisher’s defense has been dominant the past 8 games, giving up just 135 points, and 121 when you take away the two defensive TDs against Arizona. Tavon Austin has come alive again, and Tre Mason looks like a real player. If only they had a QB even as good as Kaepernick.


The "Week 1 AFC Fodder at Best" Trio

15.) Cincinnati Bengals  (8-4-1  =  281-289)
14.) Kansas City Chiefs  (7-6  =  291-241)
13.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (8-5  =  362-319)
12.) Miami Dolphins  (7-6  =  314-260)

If the playoffs started today, the Bengals and Steelers would both be in the playoffs, and playing each other in the 4-5 game. In other words: who wants to see a rematch of that 42-21 game we just saw?!?! Both teams are extremely inconsistent and by rule one of them have to make the divisional round if they do indeed play each other, but I don’t think either would deserve it. Do credit Roethlisberger for his best season yet, though. That team might make the playoffs but a tough schedule does not help. For the Dolphins and Chiefs, I think they are, in a vacuum, the two best teams of this four-some, and probably the two best even if you throw San Diego in, but those six losses are already in the bank. What helps KC is that only four of them are AFC losses, and they get a chance at both Pittsburgh and San Diego. Miami only has the four AFC losses as well, but they have to go to New England next. I really can’t see a 9-7 team getting in, so they’ll have to beat New England in Foxboro, something no AFC team has done against Tom Brady in the regular season since 2006 (that is not a typo) to really have a chance.


The "Enigma's and Scary Potential's if Wild Card Weekend" Trio

11.) Philadelphia Eagles  (9-4  =  389-309)
10.) San Diego Chargers  (8-5  =  293-272)
9.) Dallas Cowboys  (9-4  =  343-301)

I ranked these teams in my opinion of least to most likely to make a run. The loss last week by the Eagles really hurts their chances of getting a bye, as they lose tiebreakers to Zona, Seattle and Green Bay. They’ll have to hold off Dallas, who with Tony Romo is really just a better team than the Eagles with Mark Sanchez. I don’t expect the Eagles to play that badly again, but I also don’t expect Dallas to play as badly as it did on Thanksgiving. It will really be unfortunate when a Sanchez-led Eagles team makes the playoffs over a Romo-led Cowboys team that is sitting at home. By the way, there is a distinct chance they each finish 2-1 and we have an 11-win team missing the playoffs. As for San Diego, that loss to New England was a great example of how wonderfully weird the NFL is. New England winning was not a surprise, but the Chargers defense playing really well for 3 quarters was. If not for a dubios OPI penalty (to me, that was far worse than the Browner call) ruining a promising drive for San Diego down 14-13, they might win. They can make damage in the AFC because they have Philip Rivers. They won’t because they have a guy Rivers has never seen before snapping the ball, but they can.


The "Dominant but Inefficient" Duo

8.) Baltimore Ravens  (8-5 =  356-255)
7.) Indianapolis Colts  (9-4  =  407-307)
Here we have the Colts and the team that was once the Colts. The Ravens are quietly #3 in point differential, and the only team that combines a Top-8 scoring offense with a Top-8 scoring defense. The Colts are reasonably close, with the #2 scoring offense and a Top-half defense. Both teams have played pretty well all year long. The Colts and Ravens both have struggled against the better teams (Colts losing to DEN, PHI, NE, PIT; Baltimore losing to PIT, CINx2, SD and IND). Both have QBs playing well and offenses that can score. They both have one area on defense that has been ravaged by injury, with Baltimore’s secondary hiding behind a good pass rush, and the Colts pass rush hiding behind a good scheme and a lot of games against bad teams. I don’t think either could win, but the way the seedings currently align, assuming the Ravens would win the division at the #4 seed, they both are slated to draw the AFC Giant that they match up better with (Denver for the Colts and the Patriots for Baltimore).



The "It's Still 1990, right?" Duo

6.) Arizona Cardinals  (10-3  =  275-238)
5.) Detroit Lions  (9-4  =  265-224)

Here is what I love about these two teams, the #1 and #3 scoring defenses in the NFL. They both have looked really ugly at times. For the Lions, it was scoring a combined 15 points in back-to-back losses, and winning two straight games by one point after the NFC South. For Arizona, it was losing two games in a row, and generally looking like they need good fortune to score 14 points these days. That said, they both play brands of football I like. They represent two alternate ways of playing successful defense in the modern NFL. The Cards blitz all the time because they have to, but it works so well. The Lions almost never blitz, but since Suh is an animal, they swallow the run game and ruin passing games. They are both in the thick of the playoff race, and while the rest of the NFC field will feature all of the preseason favorites, these two old-school interlopers would be a nice change, especially if the Cardinals can somehow hang onto that division. And for the Lions, if they win their next two games at home against Minnesota and at Chicago, they’ll play in Week 17 to win the division and get a bye. That’s all you can really ask for (of course, they’ll likely lose that game 38-7).


The "Sleeping Giant that may not wake up" Uno

4.) Denver Broncos  (10-3  =  385-293)

I have one huge problem with the Broncos, and it isn’t the one you are thinking of. It isn’t that Peyton Manning’s play has seemingly slipped the last three weeks. First off, that is categorically untrue. He played brilliantly against Miami two weeks ago in bad weather. He played great in the 1st half against Kansas City. And then against the best defense he’s faced of the three, he played well apart from two badly thrown balls (one pick was essentially a punt, though), and against Buffalo he had three really nice throws. It is easy to look at less than 200 yards and think something is wrong. What I think more is the run game has worked, they’ve gotten early leads, and Manning spent the 2nd half of the Chiefs game throwing go route after go route, seemingly for shits and giggles. My issue with Denver is that they have the worst prevent defense in NFL history. They’ve blown large leads to win less-than-fully comfortably way too many times this season (IND, KC, NYJ, MIA, KC, BUF). That prevent defense routinely turns 31-10 thumpers into 31-24 hanger’s-on. That has to get fixed, and I think ti will given that the underlying defense is still very good. But until they fix that, they really are a truly sleeping, sleeping giant.


The "Awake Giants" Trio

3.) New England Patriots  (10-3  =  401-267)
2.) Seattle Seahawks  (9-4  =  322-235)
1.) Green Bay Packers  (10-3  =  423-304)

Then you have your top three, who are really close together to me. The Pats are holistically the best, with the best combination of big wins against good teams (CIN, DEN, IND, SD), point differential and just good play. The Seahawks defense is at a truly terrifying level the past three weeks, not giving up 200 yards in any of them. The Packers offense at home is as scary as the Seahawks defense, and they just beat the Patriots 10 days back.  You can make the argument for any of them at the #1 spot. It’s an obvious argument, and obvious doesn’t always work well in the NFL.



Playoff Projections

AFC

1.) New England Patriots  =  13-3  (vs.MIA (w); @NYJ (w); vs.BUF (w))
2.) Denver Broncos  =  13-3  (@SD (w), @CIN (w); vs.OAK (w))
3.) Indianapolis Colts  =  11-5  (vs.HOU (w), @DAL (l), @TEN (w))
4.) Baltimore Ravens  =  11-5  (vs.JAX (w), @HOU (w), vs.CLE (w))
5.) San Diego Chargers  =  10-6
6.) Miami Dolphins  =  9-7 (NO IDEA)


NFC

1.) Green Bay Packers  =  13-3  (@BUF (w), @TB (w), vs.DET (w)
2.) Arizona Cardinals  =  11-5  (@STL (w), vs.SEA (w), @SF (l))
3.) Philadelphia Eagles  =  11-5  (vs.DAL (w), @WAS (w), @NYG (l))
4.) Carolina Panthers  =  7-8-1  (vs.TB (w), vs.CLE (w), @ATL (w))
5.) Seattle Seahawks  =  11-5  (vs.SF (w), @ARZ (l), vs.STL (w))
6.) Detroit Lions  =  11-5  (vs.MIN (w), @CHI (w), @GB (l))


Previewing the Year-End Awards

Coach of the Year

1.) Bruce Arians - ARZ
2.) Jason Garrett - DAL
3.) Andy Reid – KC

The Reid pick may be weird, but everyone thought they were taking a massive step back this year. Instead, they are in the thick of things. He’s crafted that offense to be passable despite no real outside target. Garrett is also a strange choice given that a Cowboys collapse in December could mean the end of his job, but to me he deserves credit. Dallas is not an easy situation, and after a Week 1 game where the writing was on the wall, an offense built the way he wants has spearheaded the Cowboys to close to a playoff berth. The real answer is obvious though. Arians has his team, in the toughest division in the NFL,, at 10-3, despite losing his starting QB, and basically all of his best players at one point or the other. I think they’re basically a lock to make the playoffs given they have h2h wins over all three main Wild Card competitors (Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia), and a playoff spot cements their case.


Defensive Player of the Year

1.) JJ Watt (DE – HOU)
2.) Justin Houston (OLB – KC)
3.) Ndamukong Suh (DT – DET)

Last year a non-pass rushing linebacker won the award after 2012 was the year of the pass rusher. Well, 2014 is the year of the lineman again. Suh gets a nod for being the key cog on the league’s 2nd best defense, and beign a sturdy presence all year. Houston gets his spot for leading the NFL with 16 sacks and numerous other good plays for the Chiefs. Still, neither are close to Watt, who is on track to become one of the Greatest Defensive Players of All Time.


Offensive Player of the Year

1.) Demarco Murray (RB – DAL)
2.) Aaron Rodgers (QB – GB)
3.) Antonio Brown (RB – PIT)

There are a lot of good candidates. Julio Jones is making a case right now. Le’Veon Bell has been about as good as Murray for the last two months. Peyton Manning was on pace to essentially have a season 90% as good as last year until the last two games. Still, I think these three are pretty clear. Brown is on pace for a season of 130-1,692-14 as his main three numbers, which is insane. He’s caught at least five passes each game, and at least 8 in every game since Week 7. Murray is on pace for 1,976 yards, with an additional 482 yards receiving. It is troublesome going forward that he’s also on pace for 393 carries and 460 touches overall, but that is a problem for the 2015 Cowboys. I’ll sandwhich Rodgers in the middle. You have to have an unreal volume year to win this award as a QB, like Brees in 2011 or Manning in 2013. Rodgers isn’t having that because the Packers don’t need him too. His year is more in line, but better on paper, with Brady in 2010 (the year of his 36-4 TD-INT). In some years that may be good enough, but with a guy pushing 2,000 yards for a public team, I really doubt it.


Most Valuable Player

1.) Aaron Rodgers (QB-GB)
2.) Peyton Manning (QB-DEN)
3.) Demarco Murray (RB-DAL)
4.) Andrew Luck (QB-IND)
5.) JJ Watt (DE-HOU)

Obviously, this is Rodgers award by a landslide right now. There’s really no debate worth having with anyone else. His 119.0 passer rating is 10 points clear of anyone else (by the way, that anyone else is Tony Romo, at 108.8). His year is unreal in every way. I can’t see what would need to happen for anyone else to get this award, apart from Rodgers slipping and Murray having an insane final three weeks. I still have Manning 2nd because he’s combined volume and efficiency better than anyone not named Rodgers for a 10-3 team that has missed players through the year. Luck I have ahead of Brady/Rivers/Ben/Romo because he has the least help in terms of o-line and weapons, and is asked to do the most. Murray for all of the reasons above, and Watt because he is not from this ecosystem.


Ranking Next Week's Games

16.) Washington Redskins (3-10)  @  New York Giants (4-9)  (1:00 - FOX)
15.) New York Jets (2-11)  @  Tennessee Titans (2-11)  (4:05 - CBS)
14.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)  @  Baltimore Ravens (8-5)  (1:00 - CBS)
13.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11)  @  Carolina Panthers (4-8-1)  (1;)0 - FOX)
12.) Oakland Raiders (2-11)  @  Kansas City Chiefs  (7-6)  (1:00 - CBS)
I call it “The Parade of 2-11” Sunday, as we get all the 2-11 teams (and a 3-10 and 4-9) team in this little bunch. The Jets and Titans have the decency to play each other, which is nice. As do the Redskins and Giants. The other three 2-11 teams all go on the road to play teams that are fighting for their playoff lives. If any of those 2-11 teams come close to winning, that should be a serious warning on whether to trust any of those fringe playoff teams.


11.) Minnesota Vikings  (6-7)  @  Detroit Lions (9-4)  (4:25 - FOX)
10.) Green Bay Packers (10-3)  @  Buffalo Bills (7-6)  (1:00 - FOX)
9.) Houston Texans (7-6)  @  Indianapolis Colts  (9-4)  (1:00 - CBS)
8.) Cleveland Browns (7-6)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it “What are you fighting for?” Sunday, as all of these games feature two teams alive for the playoffs. Yes, the Vikings are only technically alive, but the Lions are trying to win 10 games for just the second time this Century. The Packers play their last tough game outside of Lambeau maybe until February against a Buffalo team that is built reasonably well to beat Green Bay. The Texans try to stop the Colts from clinching the AFC South in a game where we get to see if Watt can do what he nearly did in October: beat the Colts single-handidly. Finally, the Browns start Manziel against the Bengals in a rematch of that amazing TNF game no one will ever re-watch again.


7.) New Orleans Saints (5-8)  @  Chicago Bears (5-8)  (MNF - ESPN)
6.) Arizona Cardinals (10-3)  @  St. Louis Rams (6-7)  (TNF - NFLN)

I call it “You can’t win them all, ESPN” Thursday and Monday, as the weekend is bookended by two very different games. The Saints and Bears probably looked good on paper when the season started. ESPN was probably excited about this one. Of course, it has become both a sign of how bad things are in Chicago, and how pathetic the NFC South is. For the TNF game, it probably didn’t look as appealing, but it really is very meaningful. The Rams will try to finish their season sweep of the NFC West at home, and the Cardinals will try to pretty much ensure their playoff spot prior to their two game finish with the Seahawks and 49ers. Also… defense. We may see none of it in that first game despite it being outdoors at night in Chicago, and we will see all of it in the 2nd despite it being in a dome.


5.) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)  @  Atlanta Falcons (5-8)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it “Why do I like this game?” Sunday, as I fully admit I forgot about this and then was too lazy to rearrange the list to place it correctly. Either way, you get to see two QBs who can light up bad defense (which both have), and two receivers who are the best two in the league this year (Brown, Julio). That should be fun?


4.) Miami Dolphins (7-6)  @  New England Patriots (1:00 - CBS)
3.) Denver Broncos (10-3)  @  San Diego Chargers (8-5)  (4:05 - CBS)
2.) San Francisco 49ers (7-6)  @  Seattle Seahawks (9-4)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it “A Division Rivalry For All the Stakes and All The Schaudenfreude” Sunday, as we get three games featuring three big division rivalries, where one team is assured of the playoffs and the other is very much not so. The Chargers are at least in the driver’s seat and have a shot with a loss. The Dolphins are basically done with a loss and the 49ers are probably done today. Still, The Patriots can further their run for a #1 seed and end the Dolphins season, a funny bit of vengeance considering how the season started (a comfortable 33-20 win for Miami over New England). The Broncos can officially wrap up the division and push the Chargers back to 8-6 with them having two road games to finish. And then the real treat. Seattle can not only end a season officially with a win, they can probably end the Jim Harbaugh era. This rivalry started in 2012, reached its apex in 2013, and might flame out by the end of 2014. I’ll say this about Steelers/Ravens, it had longer legs than this one. Prediction: one of the underdogs wins outright, another plays close, and one is a beatdown.


1.) Dallas Cowboys (9-4)  @  Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)  (SNF - NBC)


Finally, no game means more than this for the week. The Cowboys and Eagles are playing for every marble. The winner has the inside track at the division (though the Cowboys do have the toughest game remaining of the 4 hosting the Colts next week). The Eagles home field advantage doesn’t look so scary after last week, and Dallas doesn’t look so free-fall-y after last week. I’m hoping this is a good one. We really haven’t gotten many good SNF games this year (a trend really, with last year lacking to some degree as well). Here’s the margin of victory of each SNF game this year: 7, 8, 18, 21, 26, 27, 25, 21, 20, 41, 22, 3, 16, 13, 9. That’s right, we had 9 straight Sundays where the supposed best game was a 20+ point blowout. We’re due for a real treat, and I’m hoping it is this. It could be the game next week, though. Sneak preview, that one is Seattle @ Arizona.

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows

Anyway, here's another few shows that I'm holding out judging for at least another year or two:

  • Veep - probably the toughest cut. It's been pretty spectacular in its first two seasons. I have some reservations if it can continue as the plot advances to where Selina is possibly running for President, but it has created an incredibly cutting style that is unmatched with anything else on the air.
  • Orange is the New Black - probably the best of Netflix's Original Series, it was far less dark than I imagined (I was picturing a female Oz), and far more introspective than I pictured. The amount of interesting characters they explored in just 12 episodes is pretty stunning.


25.) The Larry Sanders Show





I haven't finished the entire show, but from what I have seen, it does 'Behind-the-Scenes of Show Business' better than any show I've seen. It isn't the absurdist show that 30 Rock is, but had a great cast of characters, and used guest stars, which it had basically every episode, quite well. It just wasn't always funny all the time.


24.) Shameless



Shameless is now on its 4th Season, and it is going through some large changes making it very different from what the show used to be. Jimmy(Steve) is no longer a character, Fiona is in a steady job (for now), Lip is in college, and, of course, Frank can't drink, but the lifeblood of the show remains. Shameless showed a really unique side of America, the lower-class white community, that hadn't really been shown before. It wasn't always shown well (almost anything involving Sheila in Seasons 1-3 didn't work for me), but it was unendingly entertaining.


23.) Oz



Just like The Larry Sanders Show, I haven't seen all of Oz, but I've seen enough to get a good idea of what it is all about. Oz was the first real HBO drama to be critically acclaimed, coming a good three years before The Sopranos and five years before The Wire. Telling the story of an experimental unit of a prison, Oz was able to combine the exploration of different themes and thoughts with drama and prison intrigue. It was always informative, but a little slow at times.


22.) Archer



I've backlogged Archer Vice right now, but through four seasons, Archer has become one of my favorite wasting-time shows that I put on in the background. I can't get enough of the fast-paced dialogue, the ridiculousness of Sterling, the brilliance of what is essentially Lucille Bluth, and everything else that makes Archer so damn funny. My only quibble is I'm not always a fan of the HR people back at the office like Pam and Cheryl.


21.) Everybody Loves Raymond



The best traditional sitcom I have seen still gets high praise for me. Everybody Loves Raymond was more like a series of little plays, using a few characters and even fewer sets. Everyone's role was well-defined and consistent. There was little character growth but there never needed to be. Instead of put the family in funny situations, they made the family respond to normal situations in the funniest of ways. A consistently good traditional family sitcom should not work in this environment, but Raymond not only worked, but got better as it went on.



Some Really Very Good, Underrated Shows (Plus one early-2000's love affair)

20.) Happy Endings



Man, if only Happy Endings was on NBC, it would have been easily entering its 4th season right now. I've never seen a show start out aimless but find itself so quickly and so effectively. The show started out as a romantic comedy of a group of six friends reacting to one of them leaving another at the alter. That version ended in about 4 episodes. After that, it became a brilliant, pop-culture, caustic joke-machine. I've never seen a show mine so much comedy out of friends being mean to each other. They also quickly defined each character into solid, separate roles that all worked. It's extremely rewatchable, as you pick up little nuances in the performances that make it so damn joyful. It would be higher if it lasted more seasons, and if the first eighth of the show didn't suck. In retrospect, it would have been amazing to see how long they could have kept the pace up,. Even at times in third season it slowed down, but just for an episode or two. After that, they would return to being the most rapid-fire joke show in the last 10 years.


19.) Party Down



It's odd to hold a show back for only lasting three seasons only to extol the virtues of a show that lasted just two, but Party Down was really, really good. It's a pretty novel idea created initially by Paul Rudd, and then by his friends Rob Thomas (not the singer) and Dan Etheridge. They, combined with one of the most talented casts you will see, created a really good show that did not ever have a bad episode. They took eight people that were extremely talented, gave them good material, and let the talent do what talent will do. What killed the show, ironically, was that incredible cast, as they couldn't hold such talent forever on a show on Starz that no one watched live. First, it was Jane Lynch getting called for Glee, but what ended the show effectively was losing Adam Scott to Parks and Recreation. They did leave behind 20 episodes of pure gold, detailing the lives of cater-waiters just trying to have fun in whatever ridiculous situation their job puts them in.


18.) Whose Line is it Anyway



It's a show that still works better in Youtube form when you can pick and choose your favorite sketches (or just watch loops of Colin and Ryan bantering in the intros to various sketches), but the show was ahead of its time. It was when UCB and the alt. comedy/improve was just becoming mainstream in clubs, but far before the same was true on air. Still, Whose Line left us with tons of episode of laughs upon laughs. Sure, it wasn't totally improv (the cast members knew what games were being played, and the show was edited), but it was pretty much improv, and showcased a bunch of talented people. Apart from Wayne Brady, and to a point, Greg Proops, none of them have found lasting success outside the show, but my God they were gold on the show. Whose Line should have been more successful, but it was always a cult hit with tweens (I was among that group when the show was on the air), and found a lasting presence online.


17.) Parenthood



There shouldn't be a place for family dramas in the current TV landscape, but Parenthood continues to work. Sure, they've had their missteps over the years (let's just pretend Kristina never ran for mayor of Berkeley), but they've also had some incredible shining moments. All the early material with Max's asperbergers was brilliant, grounded a show that took a while to flesh out its other characters. Like most shows on this list, the acting was brilliant from the beginning. Every character was well cast, even Ann-hog/Beal/Plant/Annabeal Veal herself, Mrs. Mae Whitman. All the stuff with the Siblings Braverman has been awesome from the beginning, including every scene when the four of them are together. They've touched upon basically ever family conflict (divorce, affairs, adoption, child rearing, illness, cancer, money, moving) and done almost all of them well. The show will probably end soon, and just in time to finish off that Bingo! of Family Drama topics with a perfect A- average.


16.) Men of a Certain Age 



Just like the show at #19, Men of a Certain Age lasted just two seasons on the air, before it could make a real lasting impact and totally figure itself out. But whatever it did, it worked incredibly well. Ray Romano was always underrated in his acting on ELR, but he proved just how good an actor he was on this show. Of course, it was hard him to even stand out next to Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher, all getting good material and playing the hell out of it. This show probably had the lightest stakes of any drama, but those light stakes just made it realistic, really, incredibly, realistic. Romano gave each of the main three characters some interesting beats to play, but the overarching tone was to get over disappointment and enjoy whatever you can about that 'Certain Age'. What I really loved about the show was the small set of recurring characters it had, but how well placed they all were inside that shows ecosystem. A great blend of overarching darkness and small moments of joy.


15&14.) Veronica Mars & Buffy the Vampire Slayer





I'll admit, I've seen every episode of these shows. They're hard to really place apart from each other, as they follow similar constructs: a strong, beautiful female high-school girl who has a special talent but lives as an outcast. She befriends some other strange people, has an older male guide, and solves everyone's problems. There are major differences. Veronica Mars was far more grounded. It did a lot better actually showing the dynamics of a high-school environemnt. Buffy added fantasy to the mix, but also did better in romantic storytelling. They're both excellent shows. Buffy probably reaches higher peaks, but Buffy also lasted past its expiration date and suffered with lackluster Seasons 5 and 6. Veronica Mars, coming a good seven years after Buffy premiered, never got the chance to last that long, but that allowed it to leave before it got dated. Both the lead actresses were wonderful in their roles. Buffy had a stronger core group of supporting characters (Xander, Willow, Giles, Angel for a period, Spike for  period), but Veronica Mars had a deeper stable of dependable, if not true supporting, characters. Buffy kind of perfected the 'Big Bad' style of storytelling, while Veronica Mars did as good a job of playing out a murder mystery as anything you will see on a more adult show. Two great shows, and I'm not even close to joking.


Some Really Great Shows

13.) Parks and Recreation



Like many shows that lasted over four seasons, Parks and Recreation settled into a nice little groove, consistently churning out B episodes. They're still doing it too. What's nice about Parks is there has actually been character development that seemed really natural. Ron's now married. Tom's a semi-successful entrepreneur. Leslie's achieved her dream and now lost it. Beyond all this plot development laid an extremely funny show. Parks and Recreation did a far better job satirizing politics than people gave it credit for, but more notable was just how well they wrote that world. Nothing seemed more funny and eccentric than the town of Pawnee. They also were smart enough to limit the use of Ron Swanson, an unending pot of comedy Gold. Like HIMYM, Parks and Recreation is nowhere near as good of a show post Season 4, but unlike HIMYM, it is still a good show, and good enough to basically hold this ranking going forward.


12.) Curb Your Enthusiasm



There is a non-trivial chance that Curb never returns. Of course this will be a sad-thing, but Larry David has generally said that he'll stop when he no longer has ideas, so it's probably better for him to stop off a solid season. Curb probably isn't as consistent as many of these shows, but few reached the heights it did. Few were able to feature such well-to-do characters and still make them grounded. Making Larry single kicked the show in the ass after some less than stellar seasons in Season 5 and 6, and returned the show to its old glory (reuniting Seinfield did that as well). It's stunning that the show is mostly improvised, as the jokes are so sharp, so witty. Also, no show has used guest stars better. Sure, Curb gets to use recurring characters playing themself, but they've made those characters almost always seem more than just stunt-casting. Curb's left a lasting impression on the comedy world for a lot of other shows to copy. Hopefully just one of them can come to close to matching it.


11.) Game of Thrones



Full disclosure, I haven't ready any of the books, and apart from one spoiler I know nothing of what is coming forward. Anyway, the show rebounded from a slightly (relatively) disappointing 2nd season with a great 3rd season and a real hope for a great future of the show. There's a couple things this show does better than any I have scene: shoot the show in incredibly beautiful locations, and create lovable, hateable characters. They force people to accept the bad guy, but they make the bad guys so damn good. Game of Thrones has a large cast but they've done a great job of casting the show. There are few weak links in that cast, which matters a lot when they're given odd literary material to play with. This is one of the few film projects based off a book series that will probably be better in live-action form.


10.) The Colbert Report



The Colbert Report will never be better or worse than it is right now and what it was five years ago. It hasn't really ever changed apart from some segments replacing others. It's about Stephen, it is about him being incredibly talented and great in character, and challenging people to know how to enjoy satire. The writers are brilliant in being able to have genius takes on obscure news stories, but the researchers are the key. It is a lot easier to satirize a story and make the host the start when you are talking about asininely ridiculous things as they do. Anyway, The Colbert Report also found its foothold in giving us some of the most interesting interviews you can see anywhere. Colbert does use an unfair tactic about defending his position in character (see: ridiculous), but prosecuting his interviewee's position out of character (see: realist), but that just leads to some awesome, awkward, hilarious interviews. Because of Jon Stewart's summer hiatus, The Colbert Report finally won the 'best variety show' Emmy last year, and better late than never, as it definitely has deserved more than just one over its almost nine-year run.


9.) Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn



The Colbert Report essentially replaced Tough Crowd after two seasons, and thankfully they kicked Tough Crowd off the air for something worthy. A while ago I wrote that Tough Crowd would do much better today when standups are more notable in the public. I'm not so sure that is true. These were mainly the East Coast comics, the one's that burnt each other all the time, that responded with completely politically incorrect insults. It wasn't the West Coast let's-all-be-happy comedian group that kind of dominates today. Also, it featured conservatives. Big conservatives. But that's what made Tough Crowd so great. It didn't only have liberals, it didn't stick to any talking points. In fact, Colin Quinn quit the show than accept Comedy Central's directions to focus more on pop culture and less on politics and race. The show debated some interesting topics, but the real joy of watching the show was it shined a light on the famous back-room table discussions at The Comedy Cellar. It showed comedians just riffing on each other, pounding the comedian who told a bad, pandering joke, making fun of each other all the time. Sometimes the discussions went off the rails, but there was alwaays some jokes to be found. Colin Quinn cut as little as possible to show the jokes that bombed, showed the negative reactions, but also show just how much great comedians made each other laugh, and they made us laugh too.


8.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia



I said two years ago during my Comedy Power Rankings that It's Always Sunny was the best cable sitcom of all time. I still believe that to be true, and the two seasons that have happened since then only strengthened its position. It's Always Sunny, despite becoming more and more mature, has still been able to tie itself to its amazingly raw beginnings. Always Sunny has been able to satirize everything quite brilliantly and still show itself to be the raw, fast-paced dialogue based show it was in the beginning. They incorporated Danny DeVito brilliantly. Always Sunny has proven itself to be far smarter than anyone could have imagined. Rob McElhenny, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton have shown themselves to be as adept as writers and show-runners as they are as actors. It may mask itself as a show about five doofuses 'running a bar' while coming up with crazy schemes of the week, but the show is showing the idiocy in everything in the world.


7.) Boardwalk Empire



Full disclosure, I've only finished watching the first two seasons and two episodes of Season 3, but I think it's time I can judge what I have seen. I'm fascinated by this world, by the show, by the deliberate pacing, the touches of the 20's. Boardwalk Empire is to me what Mad Men is to so many: a brilliant period piece showing a fascinating time in American History. It is slow, but so many of the greatest crime and mafia works of art in US history have been slow (The Godfather, Pt. 1 and 2). The show is tremendously well acted, and well paced. I would never have imagined Steve Buscemi being so good as such a tough man but it works brilliantly. It's one of the rare shows were I have really no complaints with anything they've done. It was pretty much all 'A-minus' work, and that is really hard to do so consistently. I also love how they've worked in real life event and people (Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and so much more). The show has woven a deep, timeless tapestry of life in The Prohibition Era.


The Pantheon


6.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart



In one sense, The Daily Show isn't long for this world. Hints have been dropped that Stewart is far closer to leaving than staying. There's rumors that he will replace Dave Letterman as the Late Show host whenever he decides to retire, or maybe leave to produce movies. Still, as long as he's on The Daily Show, Stewart gives it the commanding presence it deserves and has always maintained since he took over 15 years ago. The show's definitely changed to a more overt criticism of news media and not just news, but remains the standard for political comedy discourse. His stable of correspondents have gone on to have success much the same way SNL players used to, and Stewart always used them well when they were on the show. The Daily Show has somehow kept its sense of purpose and Stewart has kept his enjoyment for all 15 years, which is an amazing feat given the amount of political turmoil the country has been through since he was hired. The show likely will carry on after Stewart leaves, and likely won't be as good, but The Daily Show, under Stewart's reign, has already made its mark on American TV history.


5.) Chappelle's Show



Chappelle's Show has fewer episodes of any show in this Top-10, but it didn't need to make any more to establish itself as one of the great shows of the 2000s, and one of the lasting culturally important comedy shows ever. Obviously, the part people remember about te show is the way it challenged race perceptions in the US, but that really is missing the forest for the trees. The show really excelled at just pointing out how different Black and White America was, and mining and incredible amount of comedy from just juxtaposing those cultures. Of course, when it just decided to focus on something random, not really pointedly connected to race, the show remained incredibly funny still. The amount of famous sketches are there, but they are backed up by a host of forgotten sketches that were just as funny. Chappelle left quietly under the night sky to Africa instead of doing a Season 3, and maybe just in time, as he left 24 great episodes, hours upon hours of great, rewatchable sketches, and a lasting comedic memory that will never leave.


4.) Seinfeld



For years I never watched Seinfield, never understood its appeal. Of course, the fact that I hadn't watched it made that second fact a little obvious. Then I started watching it. I started watching all the episodes. I started understanding its appeal, understanding what made it one of the best shows ever. I finally reached the point where I kind of figured it out. Seinfield was the best traditional sitcom because it found comedy in the most un-traditional of ways. It made its comedy in dialogue, in characters, in oddities, not in situations, not in romance, not in plot. It also got together four absolutely brilliant comedic actors/minds. Jason Alexander was amazing. Michael Richards was amazing. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was (and still is) amazing. Jerry and Larry co-wrote the thing. What do you get when you combine the creator or Curb Your Enthusiasm with another brilliant comedic mind of their generation? You get Seinfield, a show immensely rewatchable, a show that stayed funny over 150 episodes, over 10 years. No show on this list apart from The Daily Show ran longer, and few were better.


3.) Breaking Bad



Breaking Bad's incredible success commercially in its final season was odd to see as someone who had watched the show far earlier. It went from being a solidly watched show for cable (about 2 million) to being the most watched thing not on a network just like that. There's no show you can point to social media and Internet 2.0 being the catalyst of its success like Breaking Bad,. Of course, it helps that it was absolutely amazing. There may never have been a character short of Tony Soprano (a show I have yet to see) that was so well constructed, let alone well acted, as Walther H. White. The rest of the show had a nice, small, but well constructed cast, but it comes down to Walter White. In its totality, it is a perfect character piece, a great look at what really drives man, greed, love or desire. The meth (the science) went from the forefront to the background as the show went on, but what replaced it was more drama, more intensity, and more incredibly acted scenes. So much of what Breaking Bad was an exercise in the science of a TV show, in the creation of great moments, like the brilliant photography, the one-on-one dialogue, the interesting locations. Breaking Bad was a perfect showcase for what the medium can be.


2.) Arrested Development



I've written a lot about Arrested Development, and deservedly so. The show was that good at times, just a perfect show that encompassed everything you could ask from a comedy program. They could wear any hat, do any type of comedy. But the real differentiating factor was the show's tone, that it found almost immediately. It was that tone, that life, that allowed the show to portray what was seemingly a believable family made up of absolute narcissistic idiots. They were able to have absurdist ideas and dialogues and ground it in a relatble way. They did something impossible: essentially be a plot driven and joke driven show at the same time. They wrapped reference upon reference in the show, hid jokes behind jokes. I still find new jokes each time I watch episodes. The show was just so well written, so amazingly cast, and so well put together. It really comes back to that tone. Put on any random episode of Arrested Development and within five minutes you get that tone, you get the feeling you are watching a show unlike any other. 30 Rock tried to be that way, but it never got as grounded (or as funny). Arrested Development was pretty damn perfect. I highly doubt I'll ever watch any comedy that is simply just that good.


1.) The Wire



I've written way too much about The Wire, especially with a certain 50 Top Characters ranking back in the February-March of 2012, but I could probably pump out 10,000 more words. Here's the best thing about The Wire: It has essentially ruined shows for me forever. Nothing will really live up to the standarad that The Wire set about how good the TV Mdium can be. Nothing will match it's character complexity, it's plot complexity, it's mix of dialogue and style. Nothing will match it. Stuff comes close. Breaking Bad came about as close as I can imagine a drama coming. I will never give up hope for a show to match The Wire, but it's pretty damn unlikely.

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.