Tag Archives: nfl

I Predict a Riot

The NFL playoffs are here.  I was thinking about what I should write for my final non-“what did I learn here?” post of the year, and I thought playoff predictions would be perfect.  I’ve done it throughout the year, and I have to make them anyway, so why not?

I’ll give my predictions for each round of the playoffs, along with a score for no good reason.  I’d like to tell you all that I usually do pretty well in my annual playoff pick ’em, but that would be a lie.

One thing I know will be true, though: these should be some really good games.

AFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS

#6 San Diego Chargers at #3 Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are a really good home team, while the Chargers got into the playoffs despite needing about 38 different things to happen.  Yet, for some reason, I sense a Chargers upset here.  Why?  Well, there is a quirky little thing involving the team that plays the Philadelphia Eagles in the Eagles’ home opener: in each of the last three seasons, that team has won the Super Bowl.  That team has also lost to Washington and defeated Dallas and the New York Giants.  Only one team meets that standard in 2013: San Diego.

Chargers 23, Bengals 21

#5 Kansas City Chiefs at #4 Indianapolis Colts – These two met a couple weeks ago, and the Colts cruised.  The Chiefs started the season 9-0, then lost four of the next six.  With their seed locked in before Week 17, they sent their reserves out onto the field and almost (maybe should have) beat the Chargers.  Of course, those guys won’t be playing in this game.

Colts 20, Chiefs 16

NFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS

#6 New Orleans Saints at #3 Philadelphia Eagles – Yes, I’m a homer.  But Drew Brees and the Saints really struggle on the road, and this game will be played on a Saturday night with a raucous (read: probably drunk) crowd and temperatures in the 20s.  There may be snow on the ground from a storm earlier in the week.  Just saying.

Eagles 35, Saints 31

#5 San Francisco 49ers at #4 Green Bay Packers – The 49ers went 12-4 this year.  The Packers went 8-7-1.  However, because the Packers won their division, they get to host this game.  That seems unfair, but hey, the Saints won one more game than the Eagles and they have to go on the road as well.  Normally I would look at how good the 49ers are and say it doesn’t matter, but Aaron Rodgers returned from a broken collarbone in Week 17 and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to put Green Bay into the tournament, and if there’s anyone who can swing a game like this, it’s Rodgers.  But he won’t.

49ers 24, Packers 13

AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

#6 San Diego Chargers at #1 Denver Broncos –  I just have one thing to say about this game: the Chargers beat the Broncos a few weeks back.  It won’t happen again.

Broncos 42, Chargers 20

#4 Indianapolis Colts at #2 New England Patriots – These two franchises used to meet in the playoffs all the time, but while Tom Brady still runs the show in New England, it’s Andrew Luck at the helm of the Colts offense.  I want to pick an upset here, but I don’t see it.  Not in what will surely be a night game in Foxboro.

Patriots 28, Colts 20

NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

#5 San Francisco 49ers at #1 Seattle Seahawks – This could be the best game of the entire playoffs.  Divisional rivals that really don’t like each other, they split their two games this season, with each team team winning at home.  The Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the league, maybe even all of sports, and that will be the difference here.  Make sure you watch this one.

Seahawks 17, 49ers 14

#3 Philadelphia Eagles at #2 Carolina Panthers – It’s strength against strength if these two get together, as the Eagles’ dynamic offense battles the Panthers’ stalwart defense.  On the other side of the ball, while Cam Newton is tough to handle, the Panthers have struggled on offense at times, and are hoping Steve Smith returns from a knee injury in time for the game.  If he doesn’t, I don’t think the Panthers will win.  If he does…I still don’t think they win.  Yes, I’m a homer.

Eagles 26, Panthers 17

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#2 New England Patriots at #1 Denver Broncos – Ah, there it is.  Manning vs, Brady, Episode #3,907.  The Patriots seem to be missing all of their key guys, but keep winning.  You expect the shoe to drop at some point, and this is that point.

Broncos 34, Patriots 24

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#3 Philadelphia Eagles at #1 Seattle Seahawks – I know the Seahawks don’t lose at home.  Except they did, just last Sunday, to the Arizona Cardinals.  And that’s with Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions.  How do you pick a guy off four times and lose?  Nick Foles won’t throw four interceptions.  And the Eagles also have LeSean McCoy, who led the league in rushing yards.  Add in that the Seahawks have a weakened offensive line, and don’t really have a healthy playmaking receiver to capitalize on the Eagles’ weak pass defense…it doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

Seahawks 23, Eagles 20 (OT)

(I’m a homer, but I also know how to hedge my bets.)

SUPER BOWL XLVIII

Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks – It’s going to be cold in New York, er, New Jersey, on Super Bowl Sunday.  That might be a factor.  It might not.  Look, I don’t know, and I don’t know why you’re still reading this after I tried to talk you into the Eagles winning in Seattle.

Broncos 27, Seahawks 13

Enjoy the playoffs!

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I’m Packing Up My Game

The Dallas Cowboys announced that Tony Romo had back surgery this morning and will not play in the season finale on Sunday night, nor any playoff games should the Cowboys win.  This ended four days’ worth of speculation on whether or not he would suit up for the de facto division title game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

There has been a narrative over the past few years that Romo is not a good quarterback, that he chokes in the clutch.  While there are plenty of examples of games where he has had an opportunity to come through for the Cowboys and the team lost, the fact of the matter is that this narrative is hideously unfair to Romo.

The most recent example is the loss to Green Bay nearly two weeks ago.  The Cowboys blew a 26-3 lead, but the only thing that fans point out – goaded on by the media, too – is that Romo threw an interception to effectively end the game.  You know what?  Take a look at any football game ever: there is a really good chance that, minus a few kneeldowns, it’s going to end on an interception.  When you’re trying to score in a short period of time, passing is the way to go, and you don’t often have the time to be picky.  That’s a recipe for a turnover for anyone, not just Tony Romo.  And yet, none of that even comes into play if your defense can hold on to a 23-point lead in the second half.

On Sunday, a clearly gimpy Romo led his team to the winning score.  “Oh, that’s just one time!” people said.  And yet, according to ESPN’s Stats and Info Twitter feed (a very good follow, by the way), Peyton Manning has the most game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2006 with 25.  Tied for second?  Tony Romo!  Over the last eight years, only one man has led his team to victory late in the game more often than Romo.

Of course, the losses stick out more than the wins.  Part of that is the prominence of the Cowboys in the national spotlight: success and failures alike are magnified when you play for “America’s Team.”  But keep this in mind as well: the reason that Romo has had so many opportunities to lead game-winning drives – and game-losing drives, as it were – is because the Cowboys play a lot of close games.  That’s not just Romo’s fault.  That’s on the player personnel people, the coaching staffs, and the other 52 guys on the roster.  The Cowboys simply haven’t been very good over the last eight years.

As an Eagles fan, I obviously hope that the Cowboys lose on Sunday night.  As someone who is tired of the constant bashing of Tony Romo, I hope they do so embarrassingly in his absence.

I’d Be Safe and Warm If I Was in L.A.

I was watching a bit of Monday Night Football last night, and as usual, a number of ESPN commentators were on-site.  It never really occurred to me before, but, um, why?

Does having the pregame, halftime, and postgame pundits in the stadium add anything to the broadcast?  Has any game ever been better for it?  I can’t think of a time where I watched a studio show and thought, “you know, that is a great point.  If only he had made it with the playing field right behind him, then he’d be on to something.”

Before last night’s game, Suzy Kolber, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, and Ray Lewis were discussing the game and making their points while the fog of their own breath floated in front of their faces.  At least, I think that’s who was there; I couldn’t tell through the scarves, hoods, hats, and gloves.  But who can blame them?  It was eight degrees at kickoff!

After the game, Young went without a hat.  Good for him?

I like Steve Young; I don’t want to see him die of hypothermia.  I don’t want any of them to die of hypothermia.  Let’s not do this anymore.  There’s no need.  It adds absolutely nothing to the coverage, and it doesn’t make the game bigger.  The game is as big as it’s going to get by itself.  You’re doing nothing but put your own people at risk.

As they like to say on ESPN: COME ON, MAN!

You Win, I Lose

You all know that I like to do prediction contests and pick ’em pools.  The problem I seem to have with them is that I either do very well and contend for the top prize, or bottom out immediately and can only laugh at my failure.

Different pick ’ems have different rules, and I fancy myself pretty good at modifying my strategy based on those rules.  For instance, there’s one pick ’em I do every football season where we pick every game every week and assign “confidence points” to each matchup.  If there are 16 games that week, each game has a number of points from one to 16.  If there are only 13 games, then you assign the numbers one to 13, and so on.  If you pick the winner (straight up, no spread), you get the number of points you assigned to that game.  If you lose, you get zero.

The last few years, I’ve improved my position each season.  In 2010 I was fifth, in 2011 I finished in third (in the money!), and squeaked my way into a runner-up spot last year.  This was going to be my big year.

I’ve been in the top three in the standings all season, hanging in second place, but within striking distance.  Unfortunately, by getting some games right today, I’ve cost myself dearly.

I thought the Giants were going to beat the Packers, but I wasn’t sure, so I only assigned five points to the game.  I also figured the Broncos would beat the Chiefs tonight, but I didn’t know what to expect with Peyton Manning’s sore ankles and the suffocating Chiefs defense, so I only gave this one four points.

Well, I got both games right, but unfortunately, that meant that the overall leader did as well.  And he was slightly more confident; he had assigned 13 and 14 points to those two games, respectively.

I was sitting in second place for the week until the Giants game went final.  Once the Broncos won, I plummeted further.  Had I picked those games incorrectly, however, I’d have gained significant ground on the guy leading the pool.

Funny how that works.  You’d think it was just a glitch of sorts, except I notice games every week where I start rooting against myself.  In fact, a few years back, I did a confidence point pick ’em with some coworkers for the college bowl season.  Going into the BCS Championship Game, I had a nice lead, around 10 points.  Lunch was on the line, and I was sitting pretty, because all of us had taken LSU over Ohio State.

Except I had only assigned 10 points to the game, and one of the guys hadn’t changed any of the default point totals, so he was getting 34 points for an LSU win.  I had to root against myself in order to win. And, as you no doubt can figure out by now, LSU cruised, and I lost despite picking the game correctly.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

Fantasy, Once Reality

Is it possible to enjoy doing something, but also hate the effect it has on everyone else who does it?

I like playing fantasy football as much as the next guy…okay, well, I guess not, but I like having my teams and trying to beat both friends and strangers alike.  For those of us who grew up watching and obsessing over sports, it’s the closest that most of us will ever get to running a team, even if it’s not really all that close.

The problem is that it has ruined the way we consume football.  Gone are the simple scores rotating across the bottom of the screen; now, you get a score, followed by the leading rushers, receivers, and passers, as well defensive stats for each team.

Injury reports used to matter to fans of that specific team and, of course, gamblers.  But now, every “out” or “doubtful” designation is accompanied by a recommendation on which wide receiver to pick up, or who is likely to get extra carries in the absence of the injured player.  What have you done for me lately, Doug Martin?

We also have the RedZone channel, which ostensibly serves to show the most important plays from every game all in the same place.  In reality, it was born out of the desire for fans to know who is close to scoring, and whether or not the guy on their fantasy roster is the one bringing the ball over the goal line.

We used to watch games to see who won; I still do.  If the Eagles aren’t playing, or their game is over, and I put another game on, it’s because I ultimately care about the result.  Granted, this is partially because I do a couple of weekly pick ’ems, so who wins actually does matter to me, and I assume millions of gamblers across the country.  I also just like sports.  But nowadays, people are watching games between two teams they couldn’t give a lick about simply to see if Peyton Manning targets Eric Decker or Wes Welker more often.

But the worst part of the fantasy football inundation are the guys that make their obsession – and total disregard for the actual result of the game itself – the concern of every single person around them.  Case in point: last night’s Indianapolis Colts-Tennessee Titans game was on at the bowling alley.  I kept tabs on it because I had picked the Colts in one of my pools, and also, like I said, it’s sports and I care.

Well, late in the game, the Colts went ahead 30-20 with three minutes to go.  One of the guys in the league, a good friend of mine, essentially stopped bowling to watch the end of the game.  Is he a Colts or Titans fan?  No, he stopped so he could yell (yes, yell) at the television in the hopes that Ryan Fitzpatrick would hear him and throw a touchdown to Delanie Walker.

That’s right, Delanie Walker became the central focus of a group of men standing underneath a television in suburban Philadelphia.  Delanie Walker.

Sure enough, probably because God hates me, Walker scored a touchdown.  The shrieking that ensued was almost enough to turn me off from having ears.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this sort of thing dozens of times over the years, and I’m at the end of my rope with it.  When I ask someone whose face is buried in his phone for the score of the game, I want a score.  I don’t care if Chris Johnson has two touchdowns which is nice because you just traded for him and you need a big week because the guy you’re facing leads the division by two games but you hold the tiebreaker so you’re like thisclose to the playoffs.  I mean, good luck and all, but if I wanted to know how your fantasy team was doing, I would, like, ask how your fantasy team was doing.

The recent attention being paid to the post-football lives of former players has shown us the devastating effects of the game.  Creaky bodies, dementia, suicide…the list goes on.  We’re quick to blame the NFL itself for not doing more to help – and for previously denying a link between football and concussions – and rightly so.

But the truth is, if you have ever drafted a fantasy football team, you are literally turning these men, these human beings, into commodities to be bought, sold, and traded for each other.  Sure, you may not actually own their rights, whatever that may mean, but you’re certainly trying to profit in some way from their skills and achievements.

So, fantasy football gurus, experts, and players…when these guys have to walk away from the game – if they’re lucky enough to even be able to walk – after providing you with so much entertainment and maybe even money throughout their careers…before you assail the NFL, let me ask one question.

What are you doing to help?

Until you have an answer, kindly keep your stories to yourself.  Some of us are trying to watch the game.

Hold the Line

Wow.  How bad were the Miami Dolphins last night?  The Dolphins rushed for two yards in their loss to the dreadful Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That’s not two hundred yards.  Two yards.  As in six feet.  As in if you simply fall over at the line of scrimmage, you’ve gained two yards.  Incredible.

What causes putrid rushing performances like that?  Generally, poor offensive line play.  And, as you no doubt know by now, the Dolphins’ line has been decimated by the losses of Richie Incognito (suspension) and Jonathan Martin (allegedly bullied).

(I say allegedly because, as we’ve seen, we have no idea what’s actually going on down there.)

While the discussion over hazing and locker room dynamics is the obvious – and necessary – result of this situation, everyone seems to be ignoring the football effect of Martin’s departure and Incognito’s banishment.  Which is fine; there are obviously bigger issues in play here, but the reality is, however unfortunate it is, the end result of the Dolphins’ season will have a longer-lasting effect on people than the Martin-Incognito affair.

The football effect is that Miami is missing forty percent of its starting offensive line.  There is a reason that the backups are the backups: they’re not as good as the starters.  But now the backups are the starters, which means…well, it means you rush for two yards on national television.

Somehow, the 1-8 Buccaneers and the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t the biggest embarrassments in their own state.  Professional football in Florida is a mess.

Don’t worry, Sunshine Staters; at least you have Florida State.

Wooly Bully

The biggest story in sports right now, one that’s creeping into the mainstream news as well, is the situation with the Miami Dolphins.

To make a long story short, Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin left the team because he was being excessively harassed and bullied.  It came out that fellow lineman Richie Incognito was the ringleader, and soon the world heard racist voicemails and threats that Incognito made toward Martin.

Incognito was suspended from the team indefinitely, and the consensus is that his time with the Dolphins is over.  Martin could come back, but nobody knows when.

Now we’re hearing that fellow Dolphins never knew there was a problem; they claim Incognito and Martin were friends and this is all a surprise to them.  Martin may or may not be suffering from mental health issues as well.

Basically, while we have lots of information, there is almost certainly a lot that we don’t know, and what we do know doesn’t fit together.  Essentially, that is true for dozens of news stories we see every week.

I wasn’t going to write about the ordeal, precisely for that reason: we don’t really know what we do and don’t know yet.  And until the NFL conducts its investigation, and unless and until the parties involved speak out, we aren’t going to find out.

However, I heard some interviews earlier that angered me.  Since the Dolphins are a football team, and the two central figures are football players, news outlets have had the bright idea to interview players from their local teams on the topic.  Of course, none of these players are privy to exactly what goes on in the Dolphins’ locker room, or Incognito’s and Martin’s personal lives, but hey, let’s stick a microphone in a player’s face and see what happens!

Well, what happened is that a number of these players are saying that Martin should have handled his problem with Incognito personally and individually instead of leaving the team.  Whether it was implied or explicitly stated, a number of them feel that Martin should have dealt with the issue via a physical confrontation.

The ridiculousness of this aside – unfortunately, solving your problems via pushing, shoving, punching, and threatening is still considered by some to be the “manly” way to do it – the short answer to that sentiment is simply, “no.”  None of them were there.  None of them know what really happened.  It is impossible for them to know the correct course of action, it is beyond irresponsible for them to preach on how things “should” have been handled, and it is, quite simply, none of their business anyway.

The only appropriate comment that I’ve seen – and I have admittedly ignored a number of stories on the topic simply because I’m tired of the idiotic comments made by players around the league – came from Martin’s college teammate at Stanford, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.  He said that it’s “obviously an incredibly unfortunate situation. But out of respect for him and what’s going on, I’d rather not talk about it.”

See how easy that is?  Granted, Luck is talking about a friend, the guy who was charged with keeping his blind side safe, but even so; it’s not his place to talk about it, so he won’t.

“Locker room culture” is stupid.  There’s no two ways about it: the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, disguised as “initiation” or “team bonding” or “toughening someone up” is exactly that: abuse.  Sure, it happens everywhere, but so does drug use, and drinking and driving, and those things are no less stupid just because people continue to do them.  If perpetrating that sort of “culture” appeals to you, I think it says more about who you really are than anything else.

One thing that team locker rooms preach is that what happens there stays there.  You’re supposed to keep quiet.

Now, if only some of these players would follow their own credo and keep their mouths shut about a situation they’re not involved in, maybe we can begin to eradicate this sort of behavior from our society.