Tuesday, October 6, 2015

10 Lost Years

The Astros are playing their first playoff game in 10 years tonight. It's a playoff game that wouldn't have existed the last time they were in the playoffs, but nonetheless, it is a legitimate playoff game. The Astros can hang up an 'American League Wild Card' pennant to join those earned in 2004 and 2005. It was a rocky season where for much of it they were the class of the AL West, and still by most metrics were the best team in the division, but were passed, then for a day slipped out of the Wild Card spot, and then came back. They're in. That's all that matters. And now, I get to do something I haven't done in 10 years... be exceedingly nervous during an October baseball game.

I don't know if I'm a bigger baseball fan now than I was 10 years ago. I would probably say not. Back then, I watched baseball games religouusly, I followed games on MLB Gameday, I read everything I could. The Astros were really good, Roy Oswalt was in his prime, people were jacking 50+ HR a year, and I was a kid. It was natural I would love the game. Slowly over time, as the Astros stupidly staved off rebuilding for five years, then smartly committed, if not over-committed, for four, I've lost that love.

Now, baseball is still either my 2nd or 3rd favorite sport (with Hockey), and the Astros are probably the team I follow earnestly more than any outside of the Colts, but the last 10 years trying to believe in that team, that organization, it tested my strength as a fan. I learned to love other parts of baseball, and I learned a lot about it (my knowledge of advanced stats is far more now than in 2005), but it still isn't the same as having your team actually be in something meaningful.

That all changes, and I couldn't think of a better team for it to change against. There were a two close calls in the 9 playoff-less years in between. First, in 2006, the Astros almost made up an 8 game deficit to St. Louis in two weeks to end the season, coming within a half-game of stealing the NL Central from the eventual World Series winner. Then in 2008, the Astros, despite having their best players get hurt throughout the year on offense, ended 86-75 (a better record than this year), and missed the Wild Card by two games. They made an August charge that ended when they, one game back of the Wild Card, had to play a Labor-Day series in Milwaukee because of a Hurricane in Houston. They played it against the Cubs, who predictably filled Miller Park in a 'home game' for the Astros. Carlos Zambrano tossed a no-hitter in the series opener. They were never within one-game of a playoff spot in the 2nd half of a season again... until 2015.

I remember bits and pieces of those interim nine years, especially the first half of that period when they were foolishly thinking they could still do something. The Astros should have torn down and rebuilt in 2008 (despite the record, that was an aging, over-performing team with a barren farm), but instead waited until 2010. Instead, they traded away prospects for guys like Jason Jennings, an aging Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde. Luckily for them very few of the players they traded away amounted to anything, but it was the opposite of hte best strategy.

The frustration that those years brought was amazing. They still had Berkman and Oswalt, and a rising Hunter Pence. All three were traded in 2010, the year they finally said 'no mas'. Three 100-loss seasons followed, and my daily fanhood left, for two reasons. First, those three guys left to do some interesting things, and second, the Astros became an even greater disaster.

The teams the Astros put out there from 2011-2013 were embarrassing. Sure, that was the point. New GM Jeff Luhnow held a quorum with fans basically telling them that the team will suck for 3-4 years. They trotted out literal AAA lineups late in those seasons. The players were so anonymously awful in those three years I don't even remember half of them. Through that time, they were slowly starting to draft well and plan for the future, but they decided to get a new owner and change leagues also.

The Astros were MLB's red-headed step-child. They were the trade-chip the league used to go to two 15-team league's, moving them to the AL West from the NL Central, ruining old rivalries like Astros vs. Cubs and more importantly Astros vs. Cardinals (more on that later). More strikingly, they did it on the guise of creating a rivalry with the Rangers, while overlooking the fact that the Brewers had a shorter tenure in the NL, since they LITERALLY WERE IN THE AL BEFORE!!! The Astros were clearly a dark mark for baseball. They had payrolls lower than like 50 different players. They made no attempt to win. They signed under-slot guys at the top of the draft. They did all this... but it worked. Yet, even though it would ultimately be successful, it was embarrassing to be a fan.

The other reasons my fan interest in teh Astros waned was that Oswalt, Berkman and Pence all went away, and all succeeded. I took strange joy in watching Berkman win a World Series, despite it being for the Cardinals. He also played a crucial role, having a good season and then hitting the less-memorable game-tying two-out hit against the Rangers in Game 6. I also saw Hunter Pence win two World Series and became a beloved figure in San Francisco, and even to some degree baseball at large. And finally, I saw Roy Oswalt pitch a playoff game, including a great one in Game 2 of the 2010 NLCS against San Francisco. All three had their moments to shine outside Houston in the same three to four year period the Astros decided to intentionally become garbage.

It was an eventful 9 years, but we're back. The Astros tested my patience, tested my ability to care about a game when my team didn't care about winning. I can write umpteen thinkpieces on how what they did was the right course of action, how it ended up with them being able to draft Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers, and George Springer before that (in Ed Wade's last draft), and how it ended up with the team we have now, but optimal strategy does not equal optimal interest. It was a science project more than a team. That has all changed.

The Astros will take the field tonight and allow us Astros' fans to experience something amazing, the joy of caring about October baseball. Only two things are comparable for me as a sports fan to an October baseball game. First is Overtime in Playoff Hockey, and then is a big NFL game. The NFL is a different animal, but October baseball is so close. A tight game, in the cool, crisp fall air, with those dreadfully nervous 20 seconds between each pitch, where everything can happen. That's how I fell in love with the sport. Watching the drama of the 2003-04 LCS's, all four of them great in their own way. I know the heartbreak, like with Albert Pujols's home run against Brad Lidge, but I also now the elation, like the Astros 18-inning game against the Braves in the '05 LCS. These are sports memories that last a lifetime.

2005 was a long time ago. I was in 9th Grade. I was not on Facebook, and Twitter was not a thing, and Youtube hadn't been bought by Google or inundated with ads and ruined by the Copywright police. I didn't have a TV that had DVR, so I had to sit, generally alone in my basement, watching on a small TV in Standard Def, the game live making me sit through commercial after commercial. I wouldn't have thought the next time I could watch an Astros playoff game I would be old enough to legally have a beer instead of a coke.

When I look back at my time as an Astros fan 30 years from now, there will be a dark 10-year period. I'll remember some of the names, but they'll be the guys who preceeded that run, or the one's that managed to stick around (Altuve, Castro). But I won't remember the time when Kaz Matsui played for the Astros, or Felipe Paulino, or Tim Byrdak, Wesley Wright (hold on, there's a lot to come), Chris Johnson, Tommy Manzella, Brett Wallace, Brandon Lyon, Jordan Schafer, Justin Maxwell, Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell, Wilton Lopez, Carlos Corporan, Jason Bourgeios, Humberto Quintero, and so many other random call-ups that just stood there and took up innings and at bats and years from my life as a fan.

No, I won't remember those guys, but I did learn a lot about what it means to be a real fan during those years lost in the wilderness. I learned that you can wax and wane on your interest level and not lose that connection. I learned you can live by being embarrassed with your team, being annoyed, being generally disappointed. I learned you can find solace in the rare bright spots, in stressing the future and scouring the prospect reports. I learned that fandom is still substantive even when your team is lacking in substance.

Still, I also learned that having October baseball is so much better than not. I'm ready. It may just be for one game. Alternatively, as the Royals showed last year it may be for a whole month. Either way, the team is still young, the system is working, and the future is bright. But that's for another discussion. Right now, October baseball, and cycling through all my fingernails is what is on my mind.

Monday, October 5, 2015

NHL 2015 Preview: Western Conference

Central Division

1.) St. Louis Blues

Am I worried about a fall-off after another awful playoff defeat? A little. That isn't good, when you consistently lose playoff rounds some times it will seep into your next regular season. Still, the Blues are a great regular season with a loaded lineup. I like the addition of Troy Brouwer and even Kyle Brodziak for a little toughness. It will be interesting if they turn over things to Jake Allen as well. They have one year left to do something or they'll basically be forced to tear things down.

2.) Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks aren't a great regular season, and the offseason losses of Sharp, Saad, Oduya and now Bickell. It seems like they'll have Patrick Kane the full year. The top-6 is still really good, but they are aging and they're basically at 'let's just get to April' mode now. They're too good to fall much further than this though.

3.) Dallas Stars

If the addition of Johnny Oduya and the improvement of Klingberg can fortify a defense that is spotty - same with Antti Niemi and/or Kari Lehtonen - the Stars may exceed this. That offense is loaded, and I can easily see Patrick Sharp improving off of last year's down year with Jason Spezza to feed him passes. Their top-6 is great, even more so if Valeri Nichuskin can come close to the promise he's shown previously. My only question is that defense. Their offense is fantastic, and I think good enough to get them in the playoffs.

4.) Minnesota Wild

They ended really strong last year, but were absolutely undressed by Chicago in the second round. The team is largely the same, and I think they'll sneak into the playoffs. If their young back-line of Dumba, Brodin, and Spurgeon can continue to improve, they may take a step forward, but I don't know if I trust both their offense to stay as good as it was late last year, and more earnestly if Devin Dubnyk can do that again. The West is just so darn competitive right now, it is really hard to predict any team with a good sense of certainty.

5.) Nashville Predators

I think the Preds have a really nice future with Laviolette as head coach with ther young talent just waiting to take off even more (Seth Jones and Roman Josi could be the best D-pairing in the league in 2-3 years), but I think their surprising goal-scoring from last year drops off a bit. This is a tough division, and I just think the Stars have more premium talent. The Predators over-exceeded last year, and I think the arrow is still pointing up but it takes a little time.

6.) Winnipeg Jets

Last year was a great ride, but I think it was partly a mirage. I just don't think they have the premium young talent that the other teams in this division do. Their best under-25 player is probably Jacob Trouba. If their other young guys get better, they'll be good, but I think they're a few years away. Chicago is somewhat trending down, and same wth Minnesota, so the Jets have a window approaching a few years away.

7.) Colorado Avalanche

I still can't believe they won this division two years ago. They predictably cratered last year, and I didn't like their offseason. Trading Ryan O'Reilly made little sense. In Landeskog and MacKinnon, they still have incredibly good young players, but that is just two of them - far less than what they should have been a few years ago.

Pacific Division

1.) Anaheim Ducks

The best regular season team over the past three years is still just absolutely loaded right now. They still have Getzlaf and Perry, but Kesler has fit in great and I think the signing of Hagelin is great. Their third line is still one of the league's best. The defense has four potential stars that are all under 25 in Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen and Despres. The team is so loaded for regular season, and it will basically come down to can they avoid or finally beat the Blackhawks.

2.) Calgary Flames

They are the hot team to regress as it seems unlikely they'll keep up their great shooting percentage, and while I do think that may be somewhat true, I think there are a few reasons why they may not drop. First, Jonas Hiller is a really good goalie, and the defense gets Norris-trophy candidate Mark Giordano back and also add Dougie Hamilton to that blue line. Even behind that first line lies a really nice second line that could add more goals than in years previous. I really like this Flames team.

3.) Los Angeles Kings

The Kings found out the downside of just openly thinking the regular season doesn't matter, with never really putting it together and embarassingly missing the playoffs. Their once deep defense is now a little less deep with losing Voynov, but the team is still really good if motivated. I'm not sure Lucic has much left but even that signing fit in with the general Kings mentality. I think they'll still somewhat sleepwalk through the regular season, but this time good enough still to make it back to the playoffs.

4.) San Jose Sharks

The Sharks decided to just roll those same guys back one more time. The team has fully switched to Couture, Pavelski and Hertl as their offensive future and away from Thornton and Marleau and that is for the better. I do think they'll get a Year 1 bump from Pete De Boer, just like he gave to the Devils and their aging core. A lot of this rests on Martin Jones' ability as a front-line goalie, and I think he'll be just good enough.

5.) Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers will take a step-up, but I don't think enough to make the playoffs. I know McDavid is amazing, and Taylor Hall and the Nuge are better than people think, but that defense still needs to improve and the goalie situation isn't perfect with Cam Talbot. They may make the jump next year when the Sharks become just too old, but the jump is coming. For now, just be watchable.

6.) Vancouver Canucks

Did they do anything to get better? They're still depending on aging players who can't stay healthy anymore, and Ryan Miller who's been just average for a half-decade now. They have a young blue-line that will go through some growing pains also. The future is squarely in sight, and they have to start preparing for the post-Sedin era, no matter how awful and strange that will be.

7.) Arizona Coyotes

 They are the West's Devils, and the easy favorite to get the #1 pick, or at least have the odds in their favor. Their young players from recent years like Max Domi and Dylan Strome are on the way, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the best defenseman trapped in an awful situation, but there is a plan in place that they have to follow, and part of that plan is sucking.

Western Conference Playoffs

(C1) St. Louis Blues  def  (WW2) San Jose Sharks  4-1
(C3) Dallas Stars  def  (C2) Chicago Blackhakws  4-2

(C1) St. Louis Blues  def  (C3) Dallas Stars  4-1

(P1) Anaheim Ducks  def  (WW1) Minnesota Wild  4-2
(P2) Calgary Flames  def  (P3) Los Angeles Kings  4-3

(P1) Anaheim Ducks  def  (P2) Calgary Flames  4-2

(P1) Anaheim Ducks  def  (C1) St. Louis Blues  4-3

Stanley Cup Finals

(P1) Anaheim Ducks  def  (M2) Washington Capitals  4-2

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Top-50 QBs: #50-41

Over the next few weeks, before Super Bowl 50, I'm going to Countdown my Top-50 QBs of the Super Bowl era. I hope to end this before the Super Bowl, but let's be real - that's probably unlikely. I should have planned this out and started earlier, but let's carry on.

I'm looking to do columns on all my Top-20, as I think they are all worthy, and start off with three posts over the next week or so with my #50-21. I haven't thought too much about these first 30, but I think they all fit.

Again, this is the Super Bowl era only, but I will consider the pre-Super Bowl of people that crossed over, like Fran Tarkenton or Johnny Unitas. But there's no Red Grange or Sammy Baugh or Otto Graham. Anyway, let's get to #50-41

50.) Andrew Luck
49.) Cam Newton
48.) Russell Wilson

I'm going to have little sections on all the QBs from 47-1, and probably separate posts for my Top-20, but I'll put these three. If you asked me to rank, at this exact moment, the 50 best QBs of all time, they don't make it. But unless they pull a Chris Borland and retire, they will. QB is so hard, so incredibly difficult that if you limit yourself to just the Super Bowl era, it is tough to come up with 50, and these three easily fit the bill. Yes, Andrew Luck is struggling right now, and Cam Newton may never have the weapons that make him as good as he could be, and Russell Wilson honestly hasn't gotten much better over four years, but all three are good enough to easily make this list with just 4-5 more years of any sort of production.

47.) Dave Krieg

My number 48 was a Seahawk. Quick spoiler, but my #46 is a Seahawk, but in between is the forgotten Seahawk. Most people will probably remember Jim Zorn over Krieg, but Dave Krieg, much like another Dave that was famous in the Emerald City, could do a few things really well. One is throw deep and the other is throw TDs. People like the use the black ink test, which is how many times a player led the league in anything, and Krieg has more black ink than you would think. He led the NFL in TD% three times, and led in completion percentage one year. For a guy who had limited team success, he also had limited team embarrassment, going 98-77 for his career as a starter, including 70-49 with Seattle. Krieg is now the third best QB in franchise history, but a franchise that did so little before Mike Holmgren came on board, that's a better position than you would think. Krieg had a really nice 4-5 year peak, and a long tail period that hurts his rate stats, but he's honestly perfectly at home in a Top-50 QB list, and through the period of this paragraph I've started to feel that I've underrated him.

46.) Matt Hasselbeck

Matthew had a really nice 5-year run with Seattle, with some good half-season performances in the two years preceding that, and a two-week renaissance in the 2010 playoffs. He's now doing what a lot of players on this list wouldn't do: live on as a backup, one without real hope of playing unless Andrew Luck gets hurt. Still, what he did in those five seasons, leading the Seahawks to five straight playoff seasons, and putting up nice playoff stats in taking them to their first Super Bowl, gets him his spot on the list. Matthew Hasselbeck passed Mark Brunell as the best ex-Favre backup (non-Rodgers edition) and it was a reunion with Holmgren that made it happen. He was a weird player who played and carried himself like an underdog despite him being one of the league's best and most present QBs for a 5-year period. He threw in a weird way that belied an actual brilliant arm that could throw with incredible touch. He was limited in part by a system that was slowly getting figured out, in part by receivers that could never stay healthy, and mostly in part by receivers that when healthy dropped the ball, a lot. Still, his memory should live on as a true professional. QBs that put up 5-year runs like Matt did from '03-'07 are not that common.

45.) Jim Everett

Life isn't fair, and Everett staying on the Rams after they lost all their good players and collapsing until they would eventually move to St. Louis isn't fair, because it ruined the legacy of a guy who was good enough to lead the NFL in TDs in 1988 and 1989. Now, if Joe Montana was healthy enough to play 16 games, that doesn't happen, but at his best Everett was the standout player on offense for a playoff team. At his best Jim Everett was a really good QB, but one that will be remembered more because he threw a table at Jim Rome. To talk about that for a minute, obviously Everett came across poorly, as the prototypical 'dumb jock' with teh short fuse; but no one came across worse than Jim Rome, who kept on repeating that blindingly dumb 'Chris' line. Of course, the worst part of this whole thing was that Jim Everett should have taken it as a compliment, as Chris Evert is so much more accomplished than he is as a QB (or Rome as a broadcaster), no one should feel more insulted than her.

44.) Jim Plunkett

This is controversial as Plunkett was a plainly bad QB for a 5-6 year stretch with New England, even if you use 1970's passing adjustments. He was just bad, posting a passer rating just under 60. However, with Oakland, it all turned around. Still, his overall stats aren't great in totality, but Oakland didn't play a passer-rating friendly style with deep throws in a league that was becoming more addicted to teh Walsh-ian way. However, Plunkett does have those Super Bowl runs. I'm not in the mindset that Super Bowl and/or Playoff stats should completely outweight what one does in the regular season, but it does matter that Plunkett was great in the Raiders two Super Bowl runs, including a deserved Super Bowl MVP in 1980. The Raiders post Plunkett were mired in the QB wasteland until another outcast came and rescued them 15 years later (he's still to come), but the man who saw out the great Raiders era of dominance deserves a spot on this last, if only as the 1980's slightly less good Eli Manning.

43.) Joe Flacco

Pro-Football-Reference has a stat called Rating+, which normalizes passer rating by Era, much like OPS+ and ERA+ in baseball. There's some flaws with it since passer rating itself is an inherently flawed metric, but I like that Joe Flacco is a perfect 100 for his career. That is not great, obviously. There are caveats. For years, because of the high price of keeping Lewis/Reed/Suggs/Ngata/et. al., around, he was never surrounded with top flight talent, and because there are two outlier seasons pulling that down (he's above 100 in four of his six full seasons). But here's where playoffs come in again. Flacco is somewhat overrated in the playoffs, as he was largely awful in his first five playoff games (he went 3-2), especially the hilarous line of 4-10, 36 yards and an INT in a win (by 19 pounts!) on the road. But since the 2010 season, he has been a great playoff QB in really every way. He's had an incredible Super Bowl run, nearly beat the Patriots two other times, nearly outplaying Tm Brady each time, and has generally done all of this on the road. Regular Season weighs more heavily as we go up the list, but back here when there are so many players with checkered regular seasons, a few dominant postseason runs are helpful.

42.) Roman Gabriel

He's the first of a handful of QBs who have a large chunk of their career that played out before the Super Bowl era. I am counting those stats and team results as legitimate if it came in the NFL (and not AFL), so that helps Gabriel a lot here. His stats weren't as good as his contemporaries, and his early career instructions were basically to not screw up and allow the Fearsome Foursome to do their thing. There were so many more storied teams in the NFL/NFC at the time in Green Bay, Dallas, Minnesota, and the Colts for the beginning bit, that Gabriel's mad-bomber exploits are somewhat forgotten. But all that should change by his two great seasons. In 1969, he had a INT% of 1.8%, which is a number that would be great in 2015, let alone 1969. Then, in 1973, for a bad Eagles team, he led the league in everything, putting up one of the best dead-ball (1969-1979) era QB seasons. Gabriel is easily the best Rams QB before Warner, and still has enough of that mythic status to make up for a bad tail end.

41.) Phil Simms

Phil Simms is a strange player who's memory is enhanced by the talent that was on his teams (mostly on defense), and that incredible 22-25 performance in the Super Bowl. He was mostly useless in all his other playoff seasons, but his 1986 set of games, including that Super Bowl, was Flacco in 2012-level. Then again, Simms was largely a better regular season QB than people remember. With limited offensive talent, he was a consistently good player for a long time. From 1984 through his retirement in 1993, his lowest passer rating was 74.6, after that was 78.1. He had a passer rating+ above 100 every year but his first two seasons. The only things to take away are that he was asked to do basically nothing, and he took a lot of sacks (something not reflected in that passer rating stat). Phil Simms is a better QB than people think, but let's not also overstate the 22-25 game. He wasn't a mediocre player with one great game, but he wasn't a truly great player either. That's an important distinction to make some times.

Next up, numbers 40 through 31.

NFL 2015: Week 4 Picks

Week 3: 9-7

Year-to-date: 25-22-1

Partly because the games are so bad this weekend, and partly because I'm starting something else here, doing these rather quickly.

Baltimore Ravens (0-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)  (BAL -3)

If the Ravens can't beat Pittsburgh QBed by Michael Vick in a truly must-win game, then I have serious questions both about the Ravens future, and my own belief that this team should have been really good. That all said, they really should win. They have a ton of matchup edges as I can't believe Michael Vick will actually be able to pass the ball well.

Ravens 27  Steelers 17  (BAL -3)

New York Jets (2-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-2)  (NYJ -2)

Does this line think the game is in Miami? Like why is this line so low? The Jets have a defense that can dominate most teams, especially a Dolphins team that already has issues with the run and moving the ball against lesser defenses. I don't know how many points the Jets will score - this will likely be another ugly game in London. I would say the Dolphins are desperate, but at this point they may be more desparate for a coaching change.

Jets 20  Dolphins 16  (NYJ -2)

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (1-2)  (IND -9)

Not picking this game until we know what happens with Luck.

Oakland Raiders (2-1)  @  Chicago Bears (0-3)  (OAK -3)

I'm liking a lot of favorites this week, which is not great. I do like the Raiders here as well. Yes, there is something that just seems off about picking Oakland to win a 2nd consecutive road game at 1PM EST, and do it as a favorite no less. That said, it is Jimmy Clausen, who has never, ever been good, and a team that is fire-saling their defense big time.

Raiders 27  Bears 16  (OAK -3)

Carolina Panthers (3-0)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)  (CAR -3.5)

The Panthers are a machine running on diesel gas instead of regular right now with Charles Johnson out being somewhat replaced by Jared Allen, and Luke Kuechly still out of action. Even despite that, you get the feeling the Ron Rivera can coax and coach his way to a good defensive performance from his guys. On the other side, this is the best I've seen Cam Newton play, as his teammates are the worst. The Panthers may lose, but I can't really pick them to.

Panthers 23  Buccaneers 13  (CAR -3.5)

Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)  (CIN -4)
Hey, another favorite I like. There are a few reasons not to pick Cincinnati, including the Chiefs being slightly desperate to hold steady with Denver, and the Bengals maybe looking ahead to next Sunday's game against Cincinnati, but that all seems factored into this line. The Chiefs corners are a mess right now, which is trouble against the Bengals and their healthy set of receivers.

Chiefs 20  Bengals 28  (CIN -4)

New York Giants (1-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (2-1)  (BUF -5)

Finally, I am going to take an underdog. The Giants are really close to 3-0, and that would include basically beating the best version of the Cowboys, and beating the Falcons. The Bills are really good, but just like after their Week 1 win, they may be riding a bit high. Victor Cruz won't be back, but I still like the Giants to cover.

Giants 20  Bills 23  (NYG +5)

Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)  @  Washington Redskins (1-2)  (PHI -2.5)

When are we going to stop buying the Eagles. Let's not pretend like they looked 'good' in their win. If anything, it was Bradford's worst game of the year. The Redskins defense is good, though inconsistent, but so far all defenses are good against Philadelphia. Maybe they break out here, but I'm not seeing it, and this is a weird line given the Redskins were a trendy NFC East pick just 10 days ago.

Eagles 17  Redskins 21  (WAS +2.5)

Houston Texans (1-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (3-0)  (ATL -5.5)

I don't get this line at all. The Texans one win was against a bad Tampa Bay team, won more because the Buccaneers missed three field goals and an extra point. Their offense still looks deplorable. The Falcons have been toeing the line, but they've played three teams that, even with Weeden at QB, are better than the current Texans. Personally, I think this is a disrespectful line.

Texans 17  Falcons 26  (ATL -5.5)

Cleveland Browns (1-2)  @  San Diego Chargers (1-2)  (SD -7.5)

I don't have a good feel for this game at all. I think the Chargers should come out a little desperate after their bad showings the last two weeks. The Browns are still starting McCown, but have a defense that should get some pressure on Rivers and co. I really have no idea, so I'll take the Browns to cover a high line.

Browns 20  Chargers 27  (CLE +7.5)

Green Bay Packers (3-0)  @  San Francisco 49ers (1-2)  (GB -8.5)

I'm of two minds of this game. The 49ers have generally been able to play the Packers offense well, but those matchups were all in 2012-13, about 7 or 8 defensive starters ago. But the scheme is still the same, and while they couldn't do anything against Pittsburgh or Arizona, maybe their better on the road? I'm not believing any of this, but I do believe two things. First, the 49ers offense can't be as bad as its looked the last game, and that I think this line is a little high.

Packers 30  49ers 24  (SF +8.5)

Minnesota Vikings (2-1)  @  Denver Broncos (3-0)  (DEN -6.5)

This is a tough game. The Vikings pass rush really dialed up the last two weeks, and the Broncos have had issues with that so far. Of course, those issues have lessened as they've moved to more shotgun, but the Vikings can tee off against a pitiful run game. That said, on the other side, unless Adrian Peterson goes off against a good rush defense, the Vikings passing game may be woefully outmatched. I don't think the Broncos have to score too much to cover this.

Vikings 13  Broncos 27  (DEN -6.5)

St. Louis Rams (1-2)  @  Arizona Cardinals (3-0)  (ARZ -7.5)

This is another high line. I can easily see the Rams getting blown off the field, not able to score at all much like what happened against the Redskins. But the Rams have generally played really tough in division over the years, and their pass rush could do well against the Cardinals and their deep-passing game. I'm taking the Rams to cover, but I'm not really confident. I guess Vegas knows what its doing, huh?

Rams 13  Cardinals 20  (STL +7.5)

Dallas Cowboys (2-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (3-0)  (NO -3)

Drew Brees is looking likely to play. Brandon Weeden definitely is playing. The Saints have always been good at night at home. Their home-game losing streak has to end sometime, right? This seems easier than it is.

Cowboys 20  Saints 27  (NO -3)

Detroit Lions (1-2)  @  Seattle Seahawks (3-0)  (SEA -10.5)

The Seahawks have been brilliant at home, particularly in prime-time, but I like some of the matchups here. I generally think the Lions defense is better than most and their still good d-line rotation can control Lynch. On the other end, though, the Lions may struggle to score. I hate picking against both the Packers and Seahawks to cover, but I'm doing just that.

Lions 17  Seahawks 23  (DET +10.5)

Enjoy the Games!!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

NHL 2015 Preview: Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1.) Tampa Bay Lightning

They decided to basically bring the band back together this season, and why not? This team was one Ben Bishop injury away from maybe winning the Stanley Cup last year. Recent times haven't always been kind to Cup losers, but the Lightning are good enough, and still young enough to buck that trend. They will go into every series almost assuredly having the best forward in Stamkos and best defenseman in Hedman in that game. They have a dynamite 2nd line that can hopefully carry forward the impeccable chemistry they showed last year. And they are deep, with guys that can barely crack their Top-9 that would be Top-6 in other teams. No team is better set than the Lightning for a dominant season, especially if guys like Drouin and Paquette get even better and reach the Johnson, Palat, Killorn level.

2.) Ottawa Senators

This says more about the sorry state of teh Atlantic Division than anything about the Senators, but the team that Hamburglered their way to the playoffs are in good position to keep that going. The developments of players like Stone, Ceci, Wiedeman, and Hoffman add to the core of Ryan, Karlsson and Zibanijad. Their offense should be great, and if Andersen can stay healthy they'll have the goaltending to keep them in most games. In many ways, they're the anti-Canadiens.

3.) Montreal Canadiens

How far can a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie, a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman and a young inspiring forward take you? The Canadiens will hope still playoffs. They have to score more goals. That much is obvious. Carey Price can't be expected to be that good again. PK Subban is still squarely in his prime, and Alex Galchenyuk may join him in super-star status, but the rest of that roster needs work. They have some nice pieces, but there's a lot of older players on that roster, which to me keeps them from matching the younger Senators, or the just better Lightning.

4.) Florida Panthers

I actually think the two Eastern Conference Wild Cards come from the Metro, but it wouldn't shock me if the Panthers make a playoff push. They're the Oilers of the East, in that they've been bad for a long time (save for that random playoff appearance in 2012), but that has allowed them to get stud after stud. Their young talent is incredible. Aaron Ekblad is a superstar in the making, and in Huberdeau, Gudbransson and Barkov they have three young, talented forwards that are really close to hitting it big. The rest of the roster needs work, and Luongo is incredibly shaky, but it could all come together.

5.) Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings aren't really Cup Contenders, but they still have that incredible streak of playoff appearances to keep going. It's now at 24 years and I'm sure they would love to make it 25. There is questions about their talent level after losing so much of their old core to age, and now there's questions about their coach after losing Babcock to the Leafs. The good thing for the Wings is that their new coach is coming from the Red Wings farm team where he coached a lot of the new players. This was the same strategy the Lightning used when hiring John Cooper, and while the Red Wings talent isn't as good, there are still advantages to it.

6.) Boston Bruins

Last season was a colapse, but it was also a sign of greater problems in Boston. Their top two defenseman are 35+ and injured, and they traded away a 22-year old star in the making. The offense is also old, as they only have one stable player under 28 in Matt Beleskey - where they are really hoping his great playoffs wasn't a function of sharing a line with Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler. The Bruins were good for a long time, but the cliff is fast approaching in a division with a long of teams stocked with young talent.

7.) Buffalo Sabres

The fighting Eichels! The Sabres finally have some sort of future with their hero-in-the-making Jack Eichel. They've done a reasonably good job of surrounding him with young talent too, with the offseason pickup of Ryan O'Rielly, last year's trade for Evander Kane, and prospects including one of my favorite hockey names, Zemgus Girgensons. The issue is their defense is still a little barren, and their hoping that career back-up Robin Lehner can do well in goal in a full-time role. I'm skeptical of that, but not skeptical at all in what they are building in Buffalo.

8.) Toronto Maple Leafs

It seems like just yesterday they had the Maple Leafs on the ropes in Game 7. Two years later and they might be the team with the bleakest outlook in the NHL. Of course, the real reason for any optimism is the suits, whether it be Mike Babcock, Brendan Shanahan, Loe Lamoriello or their scouting coordinators who are also highly respected. They better be good, because the team overall is not.

Metropolitan Division

1.) New York Islanders

It's annoying to pick the Rangers every year, though I wouldn't be shocked at all if they do indeed win the division, but let's go non-chalk with this pick. There are a few reasons to not like the Islanders, like having to trust Jaroslav Halak, or the relative lack of proven secondary scoring, but there are great reasons to like them. First, Tavares and Okposo are a good start. Their defense has proven veterans. Their offense has a great third line that can shut down opposition. They're just a really good team, and I think the move to Brooklyn will help them at least in the first year. Things are just coming together nicely for the Islanders right now.

2.) Washington Capitals

I really like everything about this team. Braden Holtby is a good goalie. The defense has a lot of proven talent and still young guys like Alzner and Carlson. The offense still has Backstrom and Ovie, but I love the pickup of Justin Williams and they have a few young guys who are ready to break out like Kuznetsov, Burakovsky and Johansson. The team is really good, maybe the most talented Washington team since the 2010 club that probably should have won the Cup.

3.) New York Rangers

They're still just really good top to bottom. While writing this, I'm already regretting picking the Islanders to win the division. The backup goalie is a little more unproven now if Lundqvist were to get hurt, but they have the top-to-bottom talent to make up for it. Apart from Nash and McDonagh, there are few stars here, but just so many solid players. One concern is a lot of the players are mostly in their prime now, between 26-32, but that is a bigger potential issue 3-4 years from now. This is still a special group that at worst still makes the playoffs.

4.) Pittsburgh Penguins (WC)

The Penguins will go as far as Crosby, Malkin, and now Kessel will take them. There's really just not much else there. The defense is still just so thin. The secondary scoring is only decent because they have Crosby and Malkin feeding them the puck. It really just comes down to those two guys, and Kessel playing with one of them and pumping in 40. Sidney Crosby is too good for them to miss the playoffs unless he's hurt again, but Kessel only covers up so many holes currently on the team.

5.) Columbus Blue Jackets (WC)

I think the Blue Jackets slip into the playoffs as the final wild card, as I like the two moves they've made in getting Saad and Justin Falk on the blue-line, and I think Bobrovsky will return to being closer to the guy he was a few years back. The team also has so many great young players like Johansen and Ryan Murray. The Blue Jackets have slowly built up the reserves, and while the cupboard isn't as stocked as a few teams, adding Saad, a 22-year old two-time Cup Winner, helps even more bring up that under-25 talent, the thing that drives the NHL at this point.

6.) Philadelphia Flyers

They supposedly have this treasure chest of blue-line prospects still in the minors, and a few may come up later this season, but for now it is still pretty barren. Up front, Giroux, Couturier and Voracek is still a really nice young core to build around. Sam Gagner and the brothers Schenn help also. The team may be really good in a few years, though at that point they probably need to find a goalie - which I guess Philadelphia has been doing for generations now,

7.) Carolina Hurricanes

I have no real reason apart from my hatred of the Devils to say that Carolina will be better than those Devils. I guess they still have some nice pieces in Staal, Skinner, Murray and Lindholm to build around but they're also playing young guys that don't have nearly that good of an outlook. Cam Ward never stays healthy, and the defense is just bad across the board. I hear they have some good players in the minors too, but it will be a few years before they are a true contender again.

8.) New Jersey Devils

I don't want to talk about it.

Eastern Conference Playoffs

(A1) Tampa Bay Lightning  def  (EW2) Columbus Blue Jackets  4-1
(A2) Ottawa Senators  def  (A3) Montreal Canadiens  4-3

(M1) New York Islanders  def  (EW1) Pittsburgh Penguins  4-2
(M2) Washington Capitals  def  (M3) New York Rangers  4-3

(A1) Tampa Bay Lightning  def  (A2) Ottawa Senators  4-2

(M2) Washington Capitals  def  (M1) New York Islanders  4-3

(M2) Washington Capitals  def  (A1) Tampa Bay Lightning  4-2

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 4 Power Rankings & The Rest

The Power Rankings

The "That Escalated Quickly" Uno

32.) Chicago Bears (0-3  =  46-105)

The fire-sale has begun, but this is the rare fire sale where they aren't even getting anything back. The Bears are just a disaster right now, especially while Jay Cutler is out. The rare times he leaves makes you realize that for all his faults, Jay Cutler is better than Caleb Hanie (2011), or Jimmy Clausen. Good on the defense for showing up at least.

The "Remember Week 2, That was Fun!" Trio

31.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-2  =  49-91)
30.) Cleveland Browns  (1-2  =  58-72)
29.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-2  =  49-80)

All three teams won in Week 2 in wins that gave quite a nice outlook, but a week later maybe don't look nearly as good. For the Browns, the Week 2 win was legitimate, but it just underscores how weird the decision was to move back to Josh McCown. For the Jags and Buccaneers, maybe the teams they beat in Week 2 are just bad. The Dolphins are a mess right now, and the Saints were with a partially injured Drew Brees. All three may have a future because of their young QBs, but these are the lumps you have to live through.

The "Remember 2012, That was Really Fun!" Trio

28.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-2  =  45-93)
27.) Washington Redskins  (1-2  =  55-59)
26.) Houston Texans  (1-2  =  56-60)

Let's go back to 2012 for a second. The Texans started out 11-1. The 49ers made the Super Bowl with a QB that was so exciting it made Ron Jaworski call him the most talented QB of all time. The Redskins had an ever more exciting offense and finished the season 7-1 to win the division for the first time since the 20th Century. Well, three years later things have gone to shit everywhere. The 49ers have reached the true bottom - even stranger since their Week 1 win was a reasonably good facsimile of a Harbaugh-era win. The Redskins had a nice two-day period where people called them a trendy NFC East pick (of course, that still may be in play). Finally, the Texans are winning the most ugly games possible, and apart from JJ Watt and DeAndre Hopkins have nothing going for them. Things move really quickly in the NFL.

The "Two Teams Trying to Play a Style that they need the QB from the Third Team to Play" Trio

25.) Philadelphia Eagles  (1-2  =  58-63)
24.) Tennessee Titans  (1-2  =  89-77)
23.) Miami Dolphins  (1-2  =  51-74)

The Titans have Marcus Mariota, who has looked really good playing a style that is incongruous to what he was doing in college. He was tasked with being a more conventional drop-back QB, and look what we have here: a good conventional QB. Of course, the Eagles apparently wanted to trade for him because he fits Chip Kelly's system, seemingly. And the Dolphins are trying to use a lot of Kelly's system in their team with Bill Lazor as offensive coordinators. I'm sure Miami outwardly would say they are fine with Tannehill, but they too would love to trade for Mariota. Of course the irony is the one team that Mariota is the team people felt shouldn't draft him because he doesn't fit the drop-back passer which Whisenhunt wants... and he's doing just fine.

The "Surprising 0-3 Parade" Trio

22.) New Orleans Saints  (0-3  =  60-84)
21.) Detroit Lions  (0-3  =  56-83)
20.) Baltimore Ravens  (0-3  =  70-84)

Seems like Drew Brees is coming back this week. Of course, the team looked not much worse without him, but it looks like Brees was injured for a lot of the Week 2 loss. The Saints haven't lost badly in any game. The Ravens really haven't lost badly in any game and are about just 10 plays away from 3-0. Of course, they've had to do ridiculous things to get there, like blitz all the time, sign Jason Babin, and hope Steve Smith can continue this for 16 games... and they're still 0-3. As for the Lions, who knows man? They still look competent in every area but they've struck me now for years as far less than the sum of their parts.

The "Week 1 Stars" Duo

19.) St. Louis Rams  (1-2  =  50-67)
18.) San Diego Chargers  (1-2  =  66-83)

Both teams looked excellent in Week 1. Both teams had a competitive loss. Both teams had a disastrous loss. Neither team is really that good, but both teams have the potential to be so much better. I wouldn't be shocked if either makes the playoffs, but I'll be less shocked if both finish 7-9.

The "Mid-Tier Somewhat Fun Teams" Trio

17.) Oakland Raiders  (2-1  =  77-86)
16.) New York Giants  (1-2  =  78-72)
15.) Kansas City Chiefs  (1-2  =  79-89)

This is by far the most fun Raiders team since 2002. They probably aren't as good as the 2010 team, or even the 2011 team at its best, but there's real hope. Amari Cooper is really good. Derek Carr is looking better. The defense has Khalil Mack. Pieces are there. Pieces are there for the Giants and Chiefs, but unlike Oakland those pieces don't stand to get too much better in the coming years. Both teams have strong points that will keep them competitive, but their windows are closing and the Raiders may pass them silently in that night.

The "Teams that are just OK" Duo

14.) New York Jets  (2-1  =  68-41)
13.) Indianapolis Colts  (1-2  =  56-80)

Not much to say here, let's just move along form the 7th and 8th best AFC teams.

The "I Know How You Feel" Duo

12.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-1  =  75-75)
11.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (2-1  =  76-52)

The Cowboys were 2-0 with Tony Romo and looked like a team that could compete at full strength with any in teh NFL. The Steelers were on the way to 2-1 with their one loss looking better and better by the week. Then both teams had their QB go down and it all went away. Both are lucky in that their QB is going to come back at some point. The Cowboys even luckier that they play in the NFC East. But both teams had a potential to get a first round bye and that is now gone.

The "Surprises and the Favorite" Quinto

10.) Minnesota Vikings  (2-1  =  60-50)
9.) Buffalo Bills  (2-1  =  100-68)
8.) Atlanta Falcons  (3-0  =  89-72)
7.) Seattle Seahawks  (1-2  =  74-61)
6.) Carolina Panthers  (3-0  =  71-48)

The Vikings are making a good case that Week 1 was a fluke; but Teddy better start actually playing better at some point. The Bills have shown that the offense is for real, but the defense has to be consistent each game. The Falcons are just good, but they have to stop falling behind in every game (and maybe reduce Julio Jones' workload at some point). The Seahawks showed that a little Kam goes a long way, but there are issues with that offense that people shouldn't overlook just because they made Jimmy Clausen look like Jimmy Clausen. And the Panthers have lost another key contributor, but have a great coaching staff and a Cam Newton that is intent on taking a leap. All five teams are good. All five could / should make the playoffs. All five have some key that error that would not make them a playoff favorite.

The "Two AFC Fighters" Duo

5.) Cincinnati Bengals  (3-0  =  85-56)
4.) Denver Broncos  (3-0  =  74-49)

This is the fight for 2nd place in the AFC. Both teams have a good, solid footing in the division. The Bengals best competition is a team that will now be QBed by Michael Vick for 4-6 games. That is a perfect opportunity ot build an ever larger lead. If they stay healthy, they have one of the best rosters in the NFL. The Broncos have that argument as well (apart from O-Line), and if they can get a run game at all, they are really dangerous. The Broncos best competition, by the way, by record is the Raiders right now. Both will ultimately be sacrificed to Lord Belichick, but it is fun for now, I guess.

The "Let's Just Go To Week 16 Now" Duo

3.) Arizona Cardinals  (3-0  =  126-49)
2.) Green Bay Packers  (3-0  =  96-68)

Packers @ Cardinals; Week 16. Sign me up now. The Packers offense is incredible - the Cardinals offense in reality has been as good. The Cardinals are off to one of the best 3-0 starts in history. The Packers offense is showing again that if they get the #1 seed, there's no team out there that can run with them at Lambeau. The NFC has been on the whole a relative disappointment this year, but they have two damn strong horses leading the pack.

The "Just Give them the Fucking Lombardi Now Already" Uno

1.) New England Patriots  (3-0  =  119-70)

I mean really. Why play the next 16 weeks.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Byes:  Tennessee Titans (1-2), New England Patriots (3-0)

Once again, the games are pretty bad this week. I don't know what it is about this season so far. Obviously the loss of Romo and Roethlisberger makes two good teams less interesting, but even though I like a lot of the storylines in the league right now, the slate the past two weeks has been garbage. Looking ahead, things do get slightly better the next few weeks, particularly in Week 6.

15.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)  @  Washington Redskins (1-2)  (1:00 - FOX)
14.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2)  @  Indianapolis Colts (1-2)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "The Winner May Actually be in First Place?" Sunday, as yes, assuming the Saints beat a Romo-less Dallas team, and the Falcons beat the Texans, the winner of these two games will be at worst tied for first place. If the Colts win, then it will be more like a good course correction. If it is either Philadelphia or Washington, then look out. For the loser of that NFC East battle, life at 1-3 won't even be too bad as they'll likely be just one game out!

13.) Oakland Raiders (2-1)  @  Chicago Bears (0-3)  (1:00 - CBS)
12.) Cleveland Browns (1-2)  @  San Diego Chargers (1-2)  (4:05 - CBS)
11.) Carolina Panthers (3-0)  @  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it 'Meh' Sunday, as really, who gives a damn about these three games. There's a few interesting notes. The Raiders can start 3-1 for the first time since 2002, and them being favorites on the road is news by itself. The Panthers can stat 4-0 for the first time since 2003, though it will be a pretty unimpressive 4-0. As for Browns and Chargers, I have nothing interesting to say about that game.

10.) Houston Texans (1-2)  @  Atlanta Falcons (3-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Green Bay Packers (3-0)  @  San Francisco 49ers (1-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "Testing the 3-0's" Sunday, as the Falcons and Packers get interesting test. The Falcons face a team in Houston that should really test their new-found offensive line prowess. Of course, their defense will roast on that Mallet-led offense, but the Falcons offense vs. the Texans front is a good matchup. For Green Bay, they get a chance to lay a cathartic victory on San Francisco. Back in 2012-13, the 49ers beat the Packers four straight times, going 2-0 in each building, and winning with different QBs. Only the final game was particularly close. Now, the roles are completely reversed.

8.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1)  @  New Orleans Saints (0-3)  (MNF - ESPN)
7.) Baltimore Ravens (0-3)  @  Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)  (TNF - CBS)

I call it "How to get on-track? Beat a back-up QB" Thursday and Monday, as the weekend begins and ends with an 0-3 team looking to win their first game against a good opponent forced to play their backup QB. The Saints and Ravens should count themselves lucky. They likely lose if it is Romo and Roethlisberger in there, but alas it is almost like the NFL fixed that to give those sad 0-3 teams a chance to build some kind of momentum. Weird stat, Roethlisberger has missed 17 regular season games in his career. Somehow, seven of them have come against Baltimore, with the Ravens going 5-2 in those games.

6.) New York Jets (2-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-2)  (9:30AM - CBS)

I call it "London again asks, is this really the NFL?" Sunday, as we get a nice early morning treat, and I use treat in the loosest sense of the word. On paper, this looked like a competent matchup, but the Dolphins have been anything but competent the last two weeks. It might seriously help them that after that disaster last Sunday they get to play a 'home' game 4,000 miles from home.

5.) St. Louis Rams (1-2)  @  Arizona Cardinals (3-0)  (4:25 - FOX)
4.) Detroit Lions (0-3)  @  Seattle Seahawks (1-2)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "Games That May Just Be a Little More Competitive Than They Look" Sunday, as we get two seemingly one sided matchups, with the Cardinals and Seahawks facing lesser teams, at home no less, but the opponent has a chance. The Rams have the front to seriously dent the Cardinals deep-pass offense.The Lions have a team that is capable of shutting down the Seahawks offense with their ability to cover TEs. It probably won't happen, but I'm really trying hard to hype these games up this weekend.

3.) New York Giants (1-2)  @  Buffalo Bills (2-1)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)  @  Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)  (1:00 - CBS)
1.) Minnesota Vikings (2-1)  @  Denver Broncos (3-0)  (4:25 - CBS)

I call it "Thankfully, There are Actual Good Games" Sunday, as we get three games that generally are good. The Giants and Bills is a fascinating matchup. We get that solid Giants offense against the Bills stout defense; the Giants opportunistic defense against a Bills team that may turn over the ball. The Giants get Victor Cruz back just in time to play a team with a deep secondary. The Giants are better than 1-2, so this is an even matchup. The Chiefs are also probably better than 1-2 and get to play Cincinnati. The Bengals started last season out at 3-0, too, before getting smacked by New England. Let's see if they can finally do a 4-0. And finally, another round of the 'Manning, the Septuagenarian QB' chronicles!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Can't We Appreciate Things

Later today, on Saturday, September 26th, 2015, in a meaningless late-season game between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, two teams that are not making the playoffs (it is, for the Giants, an odd-numbered year after all), a lot of the National baseball-loving community will be placing their eyes and attention on the ongoings at the O.co Coliseum. Why, because for one last time, we can see Tim Hudson and Barry Zito on the same field.

Sure, it is a marketing ploy, sure it is a meaningless game with the matchup to serve fan interest, but I love it. Millions of baseball fans love it. Barry Zito is not an MLB-caliber starting pitcher. Tim Hudson is about to retire. But 15 years ago, they were teammates, they were titans, they were leading the charge of the early-00's Oakland A's. Behind the scenes of a Moneyball and OBP-loving front office was three great pitchers who were the #1, #2 and #3 reason the Giants made the playoffs every year from 2000-2003. Now, we get to celebrate that one last time. Baseball cares about tradition, it cares about remembering these glorious days past. I love everything about the spectacle of Zito vs. Hudson. I just wonder why can't football have a similar sense of remembrance and joy.

Let's look at exactly what Zito and Hudson represents. They represent the two lasting memories of a small-market team that rose up and for four straight years made the playoffs. They also, almost as notably, lost every year in the playoffs in the ALDS. The first two times it was to the Yankees, a team no one beat back then. But then it was to the Twins, and finally the Red Sox. The A's went 0-4 in playoff series - and while that is a common retort for Billy Beane haters, no one cares. No one is calling Hudson and/or Zito chokers or the whole spectacle of their matchup something that celebrates failure. Because baseball doesn't care. But football does.

As with most things, it comes back to Manning. Peyton Manning's team is 2-0 right now. His team just went on the road, against a division rival, to play a Thursday Night game. The last time the team he faced had a home prime-time game, they beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots 41-14. The Chiefs took a quick 14-0 lead, against a Manning-led offense that looked completely ruined. But then it happened... Manning happened. He slowly brought them back. He tied the game with a patented 2:00 drive, which ended with a perfectly thrown, perfectly weighted and perfectly arced pass to Emmanuel Sanders. The defense, that great defense, finished off the comeback, but it was another patented Peyton Manning game - and no one seemed to care. Why? Because Manning sucks right now, of course.

We can't appreciate an all-time great in his waning years. Everyone is taking Manning's drop in play this season to spin that into their own thinking. We've seen pieces on why Manning should retire. We've seen pieces on why this proves Manning is worse than Brady, or that Manning is hurting his team, or that his team is ruined. No, we can't appreciate a guy who clearly is physically lacking still playing well enough to win football games. But we've never been able to appreciate anything about Peyton Manning - because in football you can't appreciate anything except for the playoffs.

Obviously, incredible seasons can outweigh the playoffs, like how Manning's '04 and '13 seasons will last despite playoff losses where his teams scored single-digit points. But what about his 2012 season. In March, 2012, Peyton Manning was cut by the Colts. He basically built the Colts. He basically increased Jim Irsay's net-worth ten-fold, but now he was unemployed. In his press conference, he fought back tears and said 'no one loves playing football more than me.' He worked so hard to come back from those neck surgeries, from being so bad at throwing a ball Todd Helton cried when watching him, and he returned. And not only did he return, but in his first year back with a new team and new set of teammates and coaches, he was the best QB in the NFL and his team was the best team in the regular season. And then his team lost a playoff game because a safety decided not to play safety and none of it mattered.

Why can't that stuff matter in football? Why are we so beholden to the postseason that basically for the last five or so year's of Peyton Manning's career, no matter how well he plays, the response from the media is 'none of it matters until January'. No, that is incorrect. September through December matters, and if anything it should matter more.

In baseball, October matters, sure, but so does April to September. Baseball is the only American sport where the regular season is more important. It is almost guaranteed most baseball fans can more easily name the league MVPs from 2005-2010 than the World Series MVPs in those seasons (Joe Crede, David Eckstein, Mike Lowell, Pat Burrell, Hideki Matsui, Cody Ross). Baseball has it right, it learned how to care about October, but realize that the long slog through the regular season is more important. That's why there are no 'Is Madison Bumgarner better than Clayton Kershaw' arguments. That is why we can celebrate Tim Hudson and Barry Zito resembling a team that won in April and won in September, and didn't win in October.

NFL 2015: Week 3 Picks

Week 2: 8-8

Year-to-Date: 16-15-1

Washington Redskins (1-1)  @  New York Giants (0-2)  (NYG -3)

In 2013, I was god awful at picking Thursday games. In 2014, I was far better. So far I'm 1-0 in true Thursday games and I think I have a good handle on this one. There is a common strategy to take 0-2 teams in their third game when they are either a team that is in a weak division where they still have good playoff chances, or a team that was expected to be competitive or good and has struggled early. The Giants really fit both criteria, as with the Romo injury everyone is back in play in the NFC East. The Giants are better than Washington. I don't care about the random praise they've gotten after two games, the Redskins are still the Redskins - and Kirk Cousins is still Kirk Cousins. There is good value here for the home team on a short week.

Redskins 17  Giants 27  (NYG -3)

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)  @  New England Patriots (2-0)  (NE -14)

The Patriots are not good at covering really high lines, being just 11-23 at this in the Brady era, including the '07 season. They generally win these games, but covering one-third of the time is not a good trend. Maybe it is a back-door cover, maybe a Patriots team looking ahead to their bye, maybe just a slow performance, much like their game last year in Week 3 as a double-digit favorite against the Raiders. I'm not going against history here.

Jaguars 17  Patriots 31  (JAX +14)

Oakland Raiders (1-1)  @  Cleveland Browns (1-1)  (CLE -3.5)

One of these teams will be 2-1! One of these teams will have some hot-taek-artist write about how they are going to be a surprise contender for the entire season. Of course, none of that really will come to pass because both teams at best are 1-2 years away. Still, this is an interesting game. Both teams lost badly in Week 1, and then won in Week 2. The Raiders beat a seemingly good Baltimore team in a close game, and the Browns beat a likely worse Titans team in a comfortable win. The Raiders have to fly out east, but I don't like the move back to Josh McCown. I'll go with the Raiders, but I'm not really confident here.

Raiders 20  Browns 16  (OAK +3.5)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)  @  Houston Texans (0-2)  (HOU -7)

This line doesn't make sense. The Texans are 0-2, losing both games that were not as close as the score indicates. They've played two QBs so far and neither have been good. I guess Mallet is getting the start here, but he looked like a disaster. I think the line is still overplaying the Buccaneers putrid Week 1 performance. They were good in the Dome. If the line was closer to 4 I would probably go with the 'desperate' Texans who are still just one game back in division, but this line is really bad value for the Texans. I also like the Buccaneers defense against a Texans team that struggles to go deep. We just saw what happened when Mallet played a team that ran a lot of zone and the results were awful.

Buccaneers 17  Texans 20  (TB +7)

Atlanta Falcons (2-0)  @  Dallas Cowboys (2-0)  (ATL -2)

Man, if Romo was healthy this would have been a really nice game. The only game between two teams at 2-0, a game with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and Romo and Witten, et. al. Of course, with Romo out and Weeden in and Cassel lurking in the shadows, the game's draw has cratered. The Falcons have matchups advantages on offense all over the place (no one on Dallas can really stop Julio Jones). They have a chance here to make a statement. A team that wants to shoot up and compete for a Super Bowl doesn't drop a game like this to Brandon Weeden. I think the Cowboys will survive without Romo, much like the Packers did without Rodgers in 2013, but even that Packers team started the Rodgers-less era struggling.

Falcons 27  Cowboys 16  (ATL -2)

Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)  @  New York Jets (2-0)  (NYJ -2.5)

This line changed about 5 points from before Week 2. Now, that is partially an overreaction to the Jets defense looking dominant on Monday, and the Eagles offense looking the inverse on Sunday. The Jets defense can really exacerbate the issues the Eagles offense is currently facing. The Eagles o-line is playing awful... well the Jets have one of the best d-lines in the NFL. The Eagles passing game is relying heavily on YAC and short crossers... well the Jets have a set of well-tackling linebackers. On the other side, the Eagles defense is reasonably good, but they have no one to really cover the Jets outside players. As bad as it looked last week, this is a worse matchup. Maybe the desperation principle will hold, but a low line for a team with all the matchup edges seems too clear to pass up.

Eagles 16  Jets 23  (NYJ -2.5)

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)  @  St. Louis Rams (1-1)  (PIT -2)

This may be the best game of the early slate. A lot of interesting matchups. The Rams dominant front that plays up at home against the Steelers offense. The return of Le'Veon Bell. The Rams fire-away offense against that psychotic Steelers defense. I really have no idea what to expect, and for either team, a 2-1 start is so much better than 1-2. The Steelers have struggled in these types of spots, and I can see them starting off slowly here. The only question is whether the Rams pass rush can hold up and win against a good Steelers offensive line. Personally, I like the Rams side a little more and people may overstate how bad they were in Week 2, a game that came down to essentially two big runs.

Steelers 20  Rams 24  (STL +2)

Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (IND -3.5)

The Colts may be many things right now, a team with a coach vs. GM feud, a team that has significant flaws on both sides, a team with a QB who is starting to feel heat for the first time in his career. That all said, they lost to two teams with good defenses that played well, and if Vinatieri doesn't miss a 30-yard field goal and if Frank Gore doesn't fumble at the 1-yard line they probably beat the Jets. The Colts have dominated the AFC South, going 6-0 in division for each of the past two years. If they lose this game, to a rookie QB when they have to win, then we have serious problems. I would have loved the line a -2.5, but even Vegas knows that the Colts still are the better team and the desperate team and they just own that division.

Colts 34  Titans 20  (IND -3.5)

San Diego Chargers (1-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-1)  (MIN -2)

Potentially fun game, and more than that potentially a game that can end in 120 minutes. The Chargers have long drives and Philip Rivers is basically deciding to stop throwing incompletions. The Vikings run the ball a lot and also have a lot of long drives. This is a really hard game to pick as we have two teams that nicely stack up as potential 2nd-tier contenders in their respective conferences. The game will really come down to whether the Vikings front that showed up in Week 2 shows up again. Rivers struggles with pressure up the middle, and the Vikings have the tackles to impart some of that pressure. I think the Vikings will impart that pressure; and I think they'll also run it well enough with Peterson to limit the possessions and take the game.

Chargers 20  Vikings 24  (MIN -2)

New Orleans Saints (0-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-0)  (CAR -8)

I hate this game now with Brees out. It is a complete stay-away for me. I hate when the line reacts so heavily to a QB being out. The Saints are not a good team, especially so with Brees out, but the Panthers are not built to blow teams out on the regular. They have the ability, and the defense can squeeze a McCown led Saints team big time, but it is hard to have confidence in that. I'll take the Saints to cover in a loss, but I wouldn't bet this game for any money as I really have no idea how they'll react to that loss.

Saints 13  Panthers 20  (NO +8)

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0)  @  Baltimore Ravens (0-2)  (BAL -3)

Interesting that the line is indicating that Vegas views this team somewhat equally. Of course, the line is adjusted by both the Ravens being a really good home team (of which they haven't had a game at home yet), and the Ravens being in a desperate situation. For a team that is 0-2, the Ravens should have a reasonably good outlook. Suggs isn't coming back, but if they win the next two games they're basically right there in the division. The Ravens have to have this game - if they drop it it will be a sign that the Suggs injury is just something they won't come back from.

Bengals 20  Ravens 27  (BAL -3)

Chicago Bears (0-2)  @  Seattle Seahawks (0-2)  (SEA -15)

This line can't get high enough really. Nothing will top the Broncos being -26.5 against Jacksonville two years ago, but this game probably should reach 20. Despite being 0-2, the Seahawks do have a track record of just routing teams, especially at home (they're another team not to have played a home game yet). Oh, and of course, the Bears are starting Jimmy Clausen. The Seahawks are also desperate; and they are also getting Kam Chancellor back. If they don't win this game write them off. If they can't cover a two-touchdown line, then probably write them off too.

Bears 10  Seahawks 31  (SEA -15)

San Francisco 49ers (1-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (2-0)  (ARZ -6.5)

This is probably the highest the Cardinals have been favored in a game against a non-dreadful team in a long time. The 49ers looked bad last week, but they looked equally good in Week 1. The Cardinals have looked professionally great in each of their games. Football Outsiders DVOA has them as the best team through two games since the 2007 Patriots. They're probably not as good, but with a two-game cushion currently against Seattle, they'll want to maintain that edge. The 49ers are a team that is not built to compete with the aerial show of the Cardinals, and I think they'll take it as the Cardinals are generally better at home anyway. Love the line being right below a TD also.

49ers 17  Cardinals 28  (ARZ -6.5)

Buffalo Bills (1-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-1)  (MIA -3)

Fun game, and I'm thankful CBS in New York is showing this rather than the chosen 4:30 double-header game of Bears @ Seahawks (yup, Nantz and Simms will be calling that disaster). The loser of this game will be in last place in the division. The winner will be right there with the Patriots and Jets (especially if it is Miami, having not have played either so far). The line has them as essentially even, which I think is fair. Rex is a great coach, better than Philbin, but I think he's been dealt a losing hand this year with a team that is good but not good enough. I can see the Dolphins coming out a bit in this game, where Suh dominates the Bills bad interior OL, and gets repeated pressure on Tyrod Taylor, who creates pressure for himself half the time anyway.

Bills 16  Dolphins 24  (MIA -3)

Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Detroit Lions (0-2)  (DEN -3)

I'm going to keep taking Denver when getting value. The Broncos are 2-0, having beat a preseason Super Bowl pick and a trendy sleeper pick. The Lions are 0-2, losing to two teams that lost their other game this year. The Broncos under Manning are great on SNF (8-2 so far). This line should not be this low. There is still general overreaction on Manning's ills and not on the Broncos potentially best-in-the-league defense.

Broncos 30  Lions 14  (DEN -3)

Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (2-0)  (GB -7.5)

A line right over a TD is where I would put this. The Chiefs have lost by more than 7 just four times under Reid, and only once on a prime-time game. They play up for these games, and have natural advantages like their edge rush against the Packers offense. The Chiefs offense is also well built to play against this Packers offense, with a big matchup edge at TE, and with the Packers lack of natural pass rush. I still think the Packers win, but I wouldn't be shocked with an upset, and here's a nice little pick: the Rodgers 'no INTs at home' streak ends as well.

Chiefs 20  Packers 27  (KC +7.5)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

NFL 2015: Week 3 Power Rankings and The Rest

The "Only Truly Shitty Teams That are Now Also On Their Second QB" Duo

32.) Chicago Bears  (0-2  =  46-79)
31.) Houston Texans  (0-2  =  37-51)

I didn't like the Bears before the season, but for 5 quarters they were competent. They didn't get embarrassed by Green Bay, and they were in the game against Arizona. Then Cutler threw a pick, got injured on the return, and now they're the worst team by point differential, and about to play an angry 0-2 team in Seattle with Jimmy Clausen. For the Texans, I'll just say this: Bill O'Brien has pretty much wasted all the positive response he garnered from Hard Knocks. He seemed to handle the QB competition ably on the show, but it's been madness in reality. He know shows he won't trust Hoyer and his other option is such a scatter-shot thrower it makes Rex Grossman look accurate.

The "Awww, that's Cute, You Got a Win" Trio

30.) Jacksonville Jaguars  (1-1  =  32-40)
29.) Cleveland Browns  (1-1  =  38-45)
28.) Oakland Raiders  (1-1  =  50-66)

Neither of these three teams is good, but they all followed up bad Week 1 losses with nice Week 2 wins. The Jaguars and Raiders played seemingly good teams and beat them legitimately (as in without turnovers or random special teams plays). The Browns played a mediocre team, but handled them well. None of the three will have many positive Sunday's this year, but they also had a win that featured the single thing that makes their future at least somewhat positive: good play from their young QB. Bortles had arguably the best game as a pro. Johnny Manziel definitely had his best game, and Derek Carr had a game that had a top-flight QB done it, that performance would be praised for weeks. Good stuff by all three.

The "Team With College Implications" Trio

27.) Philadelphia Eagles  (0-2  =  34-46)
26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers  (1-1  =  40-61)
25.) Tennessee Titans  (1-1  =  56-42)

While Jamies Winston showed he belongs in the NFL with a calm, composed performance in his first road game, and Marcus Mariota showed he still belongs but it may take a little time, Chip Kelly showed that those who think he is closing in on a return to college may not be too far off. That offense was pathetic. It was so predictable, so lazy, so arrogant. I love that his plan to do the most random thing possible at RB failed against the team who is the test case for showing that the RB is only as good as his OL. For the Buccaneers and Titans, the Week 1 game will likely be the worst performance of the season for one and the best for the other, but in Week 2 they showed they'll stay entertaining even when the results are reversed. Quick thing, though, Titans: cover people downfield just a little.

The "Utterly Boring Mediocre Middle" Quatro

24.) Washington Redskins  (1-1  =  34-27)
23.) New Orleans Saints  (0-2  =  38-57)
22.) Detroit Lions  (0-2  =  44-59)
21.) New York Giants  (0-2  =  46-51)

I have nothing good to say about any of these teams, but I will try. For the Redskins, their defense is legitimately good. They might have days that go badly if the offense puts them in bad positions, but it is a nice unit that has good pieces. And that's it. I have nothing good to say about the rest of them. The Lions still have a pulse defensively, but they have QB issues and something seems wrong with Calvin. The Saints are like the Broncos, but actually worse in that they're losing and it is more sad and depressing than anything else. The Giants are screwing me again, knowing that they are so close to being 2-0 in a division where 9-7 may win it. Somehow, the winner of Giants-Redskins on Thursday may legitimately have the best case to win the NFC East. Actually, I have something good to say about the Giants: the OBJ is just insane.

The "That's Why Week 1 Teaches You Nothing" Quatro

20.) Minnesota Vikings  (1-1  =  29-36)
19.) San Francisco 49ers  (1-1  =  38-46)
17.) St. Louis Rams  (1-1  =  44-55)
So, the Vikings and 49ers played that pathetic game last Monday Night. The 49ers looked like a reasonable copy of what they were from 2011-13. The Vikings looked drunk. Well, one week later the 49ers decided to basically not cover anyone beyond 15 yards downfield, and the Vikings played like we expect the Vikings to - with a stout defense and a good game from Bridgewater and Peterson. As for the Rams, who knows man? Their Week 1 win showed so much promise, but they were lifeless in Week 2. Maybe we'll look back and say that was a hiccup, and that the Redskins were frisky, but that was the 2011-13 Rams: great one week, lifeless the next.

 The "We Are Close to Time to Panic Time" Duo

17.) Miami Dolphins  (1-1  =  37-33)
16.) Baltimore Ravens  (0-2  =  46-56)
15.) Indianapolis Colts  (0-2  =  21-47)

The Dolphins and Colts coaching staffs are basically on high alert the rest of the season. The Dolphins have legitimate playoff hopes - legitimate enough to fire Philbin if they don't make it, and they've failed to show up through two games. The Colts are a mess right now. Of course, if Vinatieri makes a 29-yard field goal, and if Gore doesn't fumble at the 1, they probably beat the Jets, and of course they are in the AFC South so they'll almost definitely make the playoffs but people should panic if Luck's play doesn't rise from the last two weeks. As for the Ravens, they need to learn how to play without Terrell Suggs quickly. That was abhorrent. The Ravens still have a Top-10 defense in terms of talent, and they can't piss away the games where Flacco and the offense plays well. Their schedule gives them an immediate chance to recover in the AFC North, but they'll need to figure out that OLB rotation to do anything.

The "Let's Not Fall Off the Edge Too Much" Trio

14.) Buffalo Bills  (1-1  =  59-54)
13.) Kansas City Chiefs  (1-1  =  51-51)
12.) Seattle Seahawks  (0-2  =  48-61)

All three of these teams had chance to make statements in Week 2. The Bills had a chance to put an early dent in the Patriots defense. The Chiefs had a chance to kill most of the surviving heads of the Manning Hydra. The Seahawks had the chance to go to Lambeau and basically say, '"you know what, the NFC is still ours". None of that happened. I really don't know which loss was the worse. Probably the Bills, as that was the type of loss that is more likely to have lasting implications. The Chiefs lost a tough game, but they showed enough to still feel positive, especially in their pass rush and passing game. For the Seahawks, it is still early and they haven't even had a road game yet, but they need to figure out how to involve the guy that they gave up a 1st round pick and their starting, pro-bowl, center. People will concentrate on the loss of Chancellor, but the defense was good enough against Green Bay. The offense was clearly not. If Marshawn Lynch gets just 41 yards AND Jimmy Graham is held to one catch, they won't win.

The "New Divisional Rivalry That We'll All Care About This Year" Duo

11.) Atlanta Falcons (2-0  =  50-44)
10.) Carolina Panthers  (2-0  =  44-26)

Look, the Falcons could easily be 0-2 and the Panthers were not all that impressive in either game, ut they're both 2-0 with the potential to get better. The Falcons defense is still figuring out this Dan Quinn defense and Mike Shanahan offense. The Panthers will likely get better as Devin Funchess gets more reps and the o-line gets more time together. And they've already banked two wins. The Panthers defense is playing at a special level right now, which will only improve once Kuechly gets back. I realize they've played no one, but giving up just 4.1 y/a through two games is insane. The Falcons have Julio Jones, and I really like the signing of Leonard Hankerson. That offense will get better. I really can't wait for their two matchups.

The "Contenders: AFC Division" Quatro

9.) New York Jets  (2-0  =  51-17)
8.) San Diego Chargers  (1-1  =  52-52)
7.) Cincinnati Bengals  (2-0  =  57-32)
6.) Pittsburgh Steelers  (1-1  =  64-46)

At least one of these teams will miss the playoffs (unless the Broncos and/or Patriots miss the playoffs) because teh Colts will sleepwalk to 9-10 wins and win the South. That said, through two weeks they've all looked good. The two losses they've had as a group are a loss to New England where Pittsburgh shot itself in the foot in what was in reality a winnable game, and a Chargers loss to one of these four teams. The Jets defense is amazing, but won't get 5 turnovers a game for 16 weeks. Philip Rivers is amazing, but these short passes don't always work even if you are completing 80% of them. The Bengals are solid, but you know Dalton + Playoffs = The Sads. And the Steelers are really good, unless they have to play another really good team and then decide not to prepare how to play defense. They all have flaws, but they all also have really significant, impactful strengths. I still think top-to-bottom the NFC is better, but if you limit it to just 'top' it may be the AFC.

The "We Know How You Feel" Duo

5.) Dallas Cowboys  (2-0  =  47-36)
4.) Arizona Cardinals  (2-0  =  79-42)

The Cardinals were 6-0 last year in games that Carson Palmer started. They were 11-3 in games that Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton started. They were 0-3 with Ryan Lindley, which killed their season. The Cowboys may go 8-1 in the games Romo starts, but they now have to play 7 games with Brandon Weeden and/or Matt Cassel. The Cowboys, like the Cardinals last year, have a style of playing that few have and can likely do better with a backup than most, but it is just sad. Let's pour one out for the Cowboys. Before Romo got hurt, they looked like the best team in the NFC. Now they'll have to hope to tread water in seven games to have a chance to make a run late. For the Cardinals, they are now 14-2 in the last 16 games started by Carson Palmer. Now I'm not a proponent of QB Winz, but it shows that since mid-2013, when the Cardinals get average play from their QB, they are an elite team.

The "This Week in the Manning Has A Noodle-Arm" Uno

3.) Denver Broncos  (2-0  =  50-37)

I get it, I get it, Peyton Manning is terrible. But can we give them even a shred of credit of coming back from 14-0 down, in a tough place to play, against a divisional rival, on a short week. No? No, we can't? Ok, I guess Manning really does suck then.

The "Why are we Playing the Next 19 Weeks" Duo

2.) Green Bay Packers  (2-0  =  58-40)
1.) New England Patriots (2-0  =  68-53)

I mean really, why even play the rest of this season, let's just have these two play now.

Looking Ahead to Next Week's Games

Quick note: the games seem pretty awful this week. Granted, you never know when you'll get a good game, and who knows, 11 weeks from now random games like Atlanta @ Dallas may have huge seeding implications, but yeah, this is not good.

16.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)  @  New England Patriots (2-0)  (1:00 - CBS)

I call it "Is there a line high enough" Sunday, as when the Patriots are up 21-3 with two minutes gone in the 1st quarter and Gronk is spiking a ball into the end zone, we'll all ask ourselves why we didn't just take easy money with Patriots -14.

15.) Oakland Raiders (1-1)  @  Cleveland Browns (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
14.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)  @  Houston Texans (0-2)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Isn't Fun two of these teams may get their 2nd win" Sunday, as one of the Raiders and Browns will start 2-1, and if it is the Raiders that is actually a reasonable resume through three weeks. For the Buccaneers, if they win they'll also be 2-1 and start putting that laughable Week 1 game behind them. Also, let's see if Bill O'Brien turns to Tom Savage before, during or after this game. I really wish Hard Knocks continued to see his whole thought process behind what he's done with his QBs.

13.) Chicago Bears (0-2)  @  Seattle Seahawks (0-2)  (4:25 - FOX)

I call it "This is America's Game of the Week... Well, America likes violence, right?" as this is the game most people will see at 4:25 PM EST on Sunday, better known as the prime slot for CBS and FOX. Obviously, given that it will be Jimmy Clausen playing in Seattle against an upset Seahawks team, this is also a 'there is no line too high' situation, but even if Cutler was healthy, FOX really thought this was the best game this week.

12.) Washington Redskins (1-1)  @  New York Giants (0-2)  (TNF - CBS)
11.) Atlanta Falcons (2-0)   @  Dallas Cowboys (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "The NFC East Factory of Sadness" Thursday and Sunday, as the Giants get a chance to finally get a win, or alternatively to lose in excruciating fashion again, and the Cowboys get a chance to start Brandon Weeden. I will say this, both the Giants and Falcons have played exciting games each of the first two weeks, so maybe that will continue as well. Quick note on the Falcons, what if they pull at 2010 or 2012 and go 13-3 for some inexplicable reason? Is that really out of the question?

10.) San Diego Chargers (1-1)  @  Minnesota Vikings (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
9.) Denver Broncos (2-0)  @  Detroit Lions (0-2)  (SNF - NBC)
8.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)  @  Green Bay Packers (2-0)  (MNF - ESPN)

I call it "AFCW vs. NFCN Challenge" Sunday and Monday, as we get three games with the Top-3 AFC West teams (sorry, Oakland), and Top-3 NFC North teams (not so sorry, Chicago). It's not like vs. like (the Broncos / Lions one is particularly a mismatch if Stafford is out), but in a week with a lot of divisional games, this intra-division competition is nice. I like when the schedulers do random things like this in any given week.

7.) Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)  @  New York Jets (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)

I call it "Eagles Schaudenfreude Day?" Sunday, as we get the Eagles, with their bad o-line, bad running game, and bad QB going up against the league's best defense through two games. The Jets defensive line is monstrous, their LBs are good in coverage, and their corners are great in coverage. The one thing they lack is edge rush, but that's not too important against Philadelphia. This could get ugly, which for people who find Chip Kelly an aggressively arrogant jack-off really exciting.

6.) Buffalo Bills (1-1)  @  Miami Dolphins (1-1)  (4:25 - CBS)
5.) Cincinnati Bengals (2-0)  @  Baltimore Ravens (0-2)  (1:00 - CBS)
4.) Indianapolis Colts (0-2)  @  Tennessee Titans (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)
3.) New Orleans Saints (0-2)  @  Carolina Panthers (2-0)  (1:00 - FOX)
2.) San Francisco 49ers (1-1)  @  Arizona Cardinals (2-0)  (4:05 - FOX)

I call it "DIVISION..... Division!" Sunday, as we get five interesting inter-division games. The Bills and Dolphins get to see which team coming off a disappointing loss get more disappointed and which go right back to 2-1 and in happy-ville. The Bengals and Titans get a chance to drive a stake into a division rival very early, which for Tennessee would be extra nice given recent history. I guess the Panthers get to do that as well, but personally I think they are going after bigger things this season. I want to quickly note the Panthers started 2-0 last year as well before a sullen home loss to Pittsburgh, so they'll hope that doesn't repeat. Finally the Cardinals, a team I had way too high on my watchability rankings, but they've somehow almost been more watchable than that. They'll likely by Top-6 each week they play.

1.) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)  @  St. Louis Rams (1-1)  (1:00 - CBS)

The "Does This Say More About the Week 3 Schedule, or More About What I Like To Watch" Sunday, as yes, I think this is the best game. The matchup of the Steelers offense against that awesome Rams d-line (which plays better in St. Louis) and the Rams offense against a defense that could be had. This game has so many possible outcomes really. Peeking ahead to Week 4, there are better games on the way, but I legitimately think this is a good game.

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.