As great as sports are, in the scheme of life there are many things whose importance goes far beyond which team and players come out on top in a game. In the scheme of life, a NFL lockout would have been the absolute worst thing. Doom seemed so imminent just a few weeks ago that I had already begun to form a list of new ways I could spend my weekend (and basically entire week). But, alas, an agreement was finally reached (let’s just be happy that Chris Johnson wasn’t in charge of ANYTHING). Still, a little part of me was excited for doing some more diverse activities.
I open this column with, of all teams, the Detroit Lions. Coming into this season there’s positive buzz surrounding them for the first time since, well, since I don’t even know when. Thank God the lockout is over because the Detroit Lions will reach 8 wins.
6, 2, 0, 7, 3, 5, 6, 5, 3. Those are the number of wins the Lions have had over the last 9 seasons. That’s terrible. Someone needs to take their games off TV, oh, wait… The time for excuses is over. They have been bad for so long that it is almost hard to believe they haven’t changed their name to the Detroit Busts. Honestly, this team’s failure is almost as embarrassing as the number of times I’ve listened to Take Over Control in the past week.
This season will be different because they have something they’ve never had: talent. Suh is going to be in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion and has already landed an all-pro selection in just one season. Once Fairly returns from his injury the Lions will have perhaps the best inside defensive line in football. Stafford has demonstrated that when healthy he’s a promising young quarterback. 2011 is a critical season in the progress of several quarterbacks who most either step up into a new role or become the stars they were expected to be on their draft day. Here are the top 5 I-No-Longer-Have-Any-Excuses-For-Playing-Below-The-Level-I-Need-To-Be-At-Quarterbacks:
5. Kevin Kolb – Kolb probably has had the most legitimate reason to never truly perform as he’s backed up McNabb and Vick over the last few years. Last year he played decently in his limited role, but to no fault of his own, can’t compete with the circus of Michael Vick. Now he’s got his own team and perhaps the most talented wide out in the NFL. NO EXCUSES. NONE.
4. Jay Cutler – Romo to the next level. When you have the physical ability to throw the ball into the stands off your back foot falling backwards, you need to win playoff games.
3. Matt Stafford – He’s got the weapons to be effective and his team finally believes they can win.
“Like I said before, we can go 16-0,” Suh told the Detroit News today. “One of the reasons I’m saying this is because we should shoot for the top. And if you don’t want to be a Super Bowl team, what are you playing for? If you are satisfied with winning games and just making the playoffs, I think you should expect more. There is more to just playing and trying to win games. That is my mentality and that is my approach. We should come in with the attitude of the sky is the limit and we want to be the best.”
2. Tony Romo – He’s a veteran by now and the whole Jessica Simpson, giggly Romo needs to evaporate. You were injured, now you’re better. You had a imbecile coaching you, now you’re better.
1. Mark Sanchez – You knew it was coming. He’s got the best supporting cast on offense, defense, and special teams of any quarterback in football and doesn’t even have the responsibility of heading a throw-first offense. I still believe in him, but if he fails to be MORE than a “game manager” in 2011 that confidence will change more dramatically and suddenly then J-Wow’s improved boob-job (but in this case for the worse).
Anyways, the Lions will get to .500. Lot’s of people might be calling this but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Now, on the off chance that football failed to exist in 2011, I was already taking some precautions and trying to come up with various alternatives to inducing atrophy every Sunday on my couch. Well, thank God the lockout is over because I don’t need to Play Fantasy Fantasy Football.
Play Fantasy Fantasy football and feel like you control not just a football team, but also the entire league. Not only is your team fake, so are the stats. Playing PPR Fantasy Fantasy Football is easy: draft your team, make up your stats, get paper! May the most imaginative and pathetic owner win!
While the past several years have seen AFC domination (7 of last 11 Super Bowls, winning inter-conference play ever year since 2004 with the exception of a tie in 2007) this year will mark a shift and we will begin to see the NFC talent exceed that of the AFC. What makes me say this, well, for one, thank God the Lockout is over because the NFC West will have a 10 win team.
Gulp. It has to happen, right? Sure, those 10 wins are THREE more than the division winner snagged last season, but look at it this way, the Rams and Cardinals have made some significant improvement over how they began their 2010 campaigns. Bradford came into his own last year and really surprised me with an outstanding rookie season. In a move that has been very much under the radar, Mike Sims-Walker is now one of the young quarterback’s weapons, coming over from Jacksonville this past offseason. As for the Cardinals, I mentioned before that this season must be a good one for Kevin Kolb, who is finally the unquestioned starter. Although this team has been consistently mediocre throughout the last several regular seasons, their success in the playoffs should give them confidence to claim the west this year. But, hey, who knows, maybe the Seahawks or 49ers pull it out. Someone HAS to step up and my prediction is that it will be the Cardinals.
On the other hand…
Thank God the Lockout ended because the AFC South will be the NFL’s weakest division. The NFC West is passing a torch that has stayed with them for what feels like a century. The AFC South carries the burden now, which is due to several points, the first and most obvious being the injury to Peyton Manning. Without Manning the Colts are nothing; write them off for 5 wins at best.
Actually, maybe they should just give Manning a year off. Let Curtis Painter or Kerry Collins lead this conglomeration of parasitic mediocrity to one of the worst records in football and then rebuild a bit through next year’s draft because, let’s face it, this team hasn’t added an upgrade since the last time they downloaded the new Caldwell back in March. Obviously, though, this strategy is a “glitch” in the system that the newest model of Caldwell cannot understand nor carry out. A 90% Manning cannot salvage this team and I’m not sure he’s going to be capable of giving even that much. This means that for only the third time in the last 7 years, someone else can challenge Indianapolis for the division title. It’s too bad THIS and THIS were the highlights of the rest of the division’s 2010 season.
Houston Texans – Talented, yes, but from the Sage Rosenfels HELICOPTER FUMBLE in 2008, to the Santonio Holmes catch with 10 seconds left to beat them last year, to Foster’s injury and his subsequent tweet (I am actually using twitter these days @Late_Nightt), it is clear that not only is Houston proficient at blowing games/seasons, they can also do it with incredible variety. I picked them to make the playoffs in years past, but didn’t last year and will not again anytime soon.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Fat quarterbacks rarely win. Neither does Jack Del Rio. Fat quarterbacks are shockingly released. So is Jack Del Rio???
Tennessee Titans – It’s only a matter of time before C.J. pulls a hamstring a la Darrelle Revis.
Maybe a lockout would have done some good, you know, let all us football crazies appreciate the beautiful things that autumn offers. Err, never mind. Thank God the Lockout is over because I don’t need to buy THIS COOKBOOK
Autumn offers many fresh, delicious, and seasonal foods. Any fall that is highlighted with Plum Good Breakfast Oatmeal, Savory Baked Pears, and Raisin-Cranberry Compote is one in which I would love to take part. In fact, the only thing more delightful then whipping up some delicious fall treats is being able to cook them along side Paula Deen on her hit Sunday television program, 65 Other Uses for Butter.
While the beginning of this article has been highlighted by change, there’s also quite a bit that will stay the same as previous seasons. Thank God the lockout is over because the NFC South will remain as it was last year.
In 2010 the NFC South emerged as one of the league’s top divisions, with Atlanta snagging 13 wins, the Saints claiming 11, and the surprising Tampa Bay Bucs winning 10 games. Pathetic Carolina rounded out the division with fourteen loses. The essential parts of the NFC South teams have remained the same, but expect to see even further development from Matt Ryan who is ready for his break out season. The Saints might have lost Reggie Bush, but let’s face it, Bush’s moments of greatness have unfortunately been few and far between over the past three years. Darren Sproles is a viable replacement. This leaves the Bucs, who will probably win two less games this season then a year ago. Each year there’s a surprise team that plays beyond their talent only to lose a few more games the following season. Teams have been given more then ample time to recognize that the Bucs have talent and will plan accordingly. Their success won’t be a surprise for anyone anymore.
As for the Panthers, they should have traded their pick and selected a player like Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Aldon Smith, Tyrone Smith a few selections later and snagged a veteran or additional draft pick in the process. What does it tell you when every other day leading up to the draft there is a new number one? It means this year’s rookie class is a bit unknown, possibly sub-par. Carolina has many spots needing improvement and a better draft strategy could have further amended this situation. Instead, I think they felt the pressure of a player like Cam Newton sitting, waiting for them. Nonetheless, Newton should be able to get the team a few more wins.
Let’s pause here to address a burning question of mine. Is there a team right now, or ever, with a stranger group of quarterbacks then the Carolina Panthers? This unit is truly one of a kind. Heading the depth chart is obviously Cam Newton, their number one pick and first selection overall. The number two man is their second round draft pick from just a year ago, Jimmy Clausen who some predicted to go in the first round. You’d think they envisioned him being a starter; why else would they draft him so early? Now here’s where it get’s really interesting, their number three guy is Derek Anderson, who played in, of all things, a Pro Bowl in 2007! Rounding out the bottom is Tony Pike who was also drafted in, yeah, you guessed it, 2010! All four quarterbacks were added to the team within the last year and, with the exception of Pike (maybe), you would think the Carolina management envisioned them all to be the starter. Some teams hold onto their rotten QB corps, but the Panther’s relegate them faster then you can say, “Jake Delhomme.”
The 2010 postseason was blessed with dual, divisional-divisional matchups in the AFC (Jets vs. Pats, Ravens vs. Steelers). The reason for this rare situation is, quite simply, they are the four best AFC teams. Thank God the Lockout ended because there are only 4 legitimate AFC teams (and they’re in just 2 divisions).
If anybody other than the Patriots, Jets, Steelers, or Ravens represents the AFC in the super bowl, that team would have needed to make an improbable title game run. Even if the conference championship game includes a team not on this short list I’d be shocked (just for the hell of it, if the divisional round isn’t a rematch of last year I’ll scratch my head). These four squads are complete in every sense of the word. The Jets, Steelers, are Ravens have the three best defenses in football and highly talented offensive units to match. New England boasts on of the most potent offenses in the league and although their D was a bit shaky at times in 2010, if they can improve their pass defense they will be a respectable unit.
There is really no opposition. Some might point out teams like the Colts, Chargers, or even Chiefs as threats to the big four, but are we really putting faith in either: (A.) a team whose entire success depends on one player with a bad neck, (B.) the most underachieving team of the decade, and/or (C.) the Chiefs(!) who’s success is largely based on the degree to which team B continues to fall short of their potential.
Fantasy football is great because rookie running backs get an immediate shot at superstardom (at least in the eyes of fantasy owners). Of course, once these overrated newbie’s don’t play like a top 20 overall pick, they’re dead to their owners. Hated. A season ruin-er. Scrub. Itchbay. Well, I was one of those bitter owners and the source of my frustration was directed at Ryan Matthews (although Foster and Peterson turned out to be a more than fine RB duo), but I am willing to give him a second chance (not on my fantasy team of course). Thank God the lock out ended because Ryan Matthews is the most important player in the AFC West.
I just said that the Chargers are not one the AFC’s legitimate super bowl contenders, but that’s not a shot at their talent. San Diego is a very talented team but they just can’t seem to get it together for 20 games, 16 games, 10 games. It is truly a mystery, but one clue to their mediocrity must be attributed to their inconsistent running game. Rivers is a fine quarterback and will probably be in the MVP discussion again, but even in a pass-first offense, running back play is critical. Back in the days of Tomlinson, Sproles, and Turner (the closest they got to a Super Bowl), screens and draws were huge for them. Over River’s first three years, Tomlinson averaged 56 receptions per season, far more than Matthews’ 22 catches in 2010. Nobody is expecting Matthews to be the next L.T. But, if he can muster up 1050 rushing yards, another 350 or so receiving, and 10 total scores, San Diego might be ready to advance to the best of the AFC. Rivers threw the ball 541 times last season (7th most) and completed 66% (3rd best). These statistics speak to River’s intelligence as a quarterback, but imagine how much more accurate and threatening he could be by throwing the ball 50-75 fewer times. The ability to reduce his throws rests on the success of Matthews.
An interesting way to separate the good teams from the bad teams is to look at total pass attempts. Even in the modern, pass-happy NFL, there needs to be a blend. Take a look.
Top 10 Pass Attempts of 2010:
1. Peyton Manning
2. Drew Brees
3. Sam Bradford
4. Carson Palmer
5. Matt Schaub
6. Matt Ryan
7. Philip Rivers
8. Eli Manning
9. Mark Sanchez
10. Kyle Orton
=4 Playoff teams
11-20 Pass Attempts of 2010:
11. Tom Brady
12. Chad Henne
13. Joe Flacco
14. Aaron Rodgers
15. Josh Freeman
16. Donovan McNabb
17. Matt Cassel
18. Matt Hasslebeck
19. Ryan Fitzpatrick
20. Jay Cutler
*** #’s 22 and 23 represent Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick, both of whom missed games and would have most likely ended up in this 11-20 range
=6 Playoff teams (plus 2 more from Roethlisberger and Vick), MVP, Super Bowl MVP
What does this teach us? Somewhat counterintuitively, if Rivers throws the ball less, chances are he will be a better quarterback and so will his team.
Speaking of winning, we are all winners because we have football! Thank God the lockout is over because I don’t need to watch Dancing with the Stars.
Why is the sports world so obsessed with this mind-numbingly banal show? In the event of a lockout, they might have just started airing episodes on ABC affiliate, ESPN. Is it just because a bunch of retired athletes participate? There are way more interesting retirement stories to follow ranging from Lawrence Taylor’s inability to stay out of court for more than 3 consecutive years, Tiki Barber’s passive-aggressive hostility and regret, and Shaq’s transition into a world where he can no longer throw his 350 pound ass into everybody’s hips. Also, watching paint peel of an old barn would be more entertaining. Seriously.
So it’s now the part of the article where I make the Super Bowl predictions. Thank God the lockout ended because the Packers will repeat as Super Bowl champs, while going undefeated!
The Green Bay Packers will repeat as Super Bowl champions because they have one the best quarterbacks in football and 2012 MVP, a good group of receivers including the “old” Donald Driver who can still do things like THIS, most of their team from last year, an entire halfback corps of one-syllable last name runners, (tell me the last time that happening), inclement weather, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, and A.J. Hawk on defense, DEXTER MORGAN for a punter, and the best fans in the world.
I am predicting an undefeated season because they can do it. Several things need to happen in order for a team to go undefeated. First of all, they need to be not just great, but a team of the decade, which in today’s NFL translates into a potent pass attack, a consistent and safe running game, and a 3-4 defense with a dominating outside linebacker (Matthews), smart, not flashy, linebackers who can tackle consistently (Hawk), and one or two dangerous playmakers in the secondary (Collins, Woodson).
An undefeated team also needs a relatively weak schedule because it’s just the nature of the game for a coach and team to get caught up looking ahead at all their challenging matchups before their current ones, resulting in losing some winnable games. Obviously a tough schedule also just means more chances to get beaten, but there are only four games that I foresee as even making it into that loose category: week 1 against the Saints, week 5 in Atlanta, week 7 at Minnesota, and week 9 at San Diego. Of those, Atlanta is their only true test. Mike McCarthy’s gonna have the Packers ready for their home opener, we don’t have any idea what McNabb will do in Minnesota, and the San Diego game is only week 9 so Rivers and Co. are still a week or two away from hitting their We-Are-The-Best-Team-In-Football-And-You-Don’t-Want-To-See-Us-Ever end of season explosion (additionally the Packers will be coming off their bye).
And the last, and often most important part of an undefeated quest, is having a reason to play weeks 15, 16, and 17. When you figure that the Packers are a pretty classy organization I doubt they would pull an Indianapolis and shit the bed with weeks to go. Also working in their favor are the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles will be raking in the W’s as well and although the two never play each other, it will probably take the Packers through week 16 to clinch home field throughout. If they have already clinched the division by the start of their 15th game, you have to assume they’re not going to throw the achievement away against the Bears or Lions!
As for the AFC, who will they be sending to the Super Bowl? Thank God the lockout ended because the Jets will lose in the Super Bowl.
Is this pick based on bias? No. Is this pick based on football knowledge? Well, not really. Is this pick based on strength of schedule? No. Is this pick based on the talented defense? No. Is this pick based on the 19 returning starters? No. Is this pick based on what Rex Ryan tells me to think? No. Is this pick meant to jinx, or double jinx them? No, no, and no. This is a pick based on nothing more then a twenty-year trend. Starting in 1990, each new decade has been marked my perpetual late-playoff failures. The Buffalo Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls (nothing quite touches the pain of Bills fans, as is usually the case). The new millennium began with the Philadelphia Eagles losing three straight conference championship games (01-03) and then the Super Bowl the next year. And now, here we are, 10 years later with another team poised to collapse at the very end for no other reason then fate. That’s it. That is my reasoning and this early in the season it’s as good a reason as any. It’s way too early to try to predict anything.
National Football Conference
NY Giants 9-7
z- Green Bay 16-0
x- Minnesota 10-6
y- Atlanta 12-4
x- New Orleans 11-5
Tampa Bay 7-9
y- Arizona 10-6
St. Louis 9-7
San Francisco 3-13
American Football Conference
y- New England 13-3
x-NY Jets 12-4
z- Pittsburgh 14-2
x- Baltimore 12-4
y- Indianapolis 9-7
y- San Diego 10-6
Kansas City 8-8
Wild Card Round
MIN vs. ATL, ATL
NO vs. ARZ, NO
NO vs. GB, GB
ATL vs. PHI, ATL
ATL vs. GB, GB
Wild Card Round
NYJ vs. SD, NYJ
BAL vs. IND, BAL
NYJ vs. PIT, NYJ
BAL vs. NE, NE
NYJ vs. NE, NYJ
NYJ vs. GB, Green Bay Packers