andrew luck

The Indianapolis .500: (Almost) Midseason Review

This post is a follow up to The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected, which has now turned into a miniseries.

Eight weeks in and the Colts are ahead of schedule for my somewhat ambitious preseason prediction. While the Jaguars and Jets games went much worse than expected, the Colts were able to win close games against the Packers (!), Vikings, Titans and Browns to deliver them to four wins. Obviously, winning close games is an important part to success in the league, and even if a 4-1 record in games decided by less than 7 points is probably unsustainable, there is serious reason for optimism. Andrew Luck has been better than advertised, which is incredible in itself, and frankly that is 80% of the reason the Colts are where they are. The offense as a whole has been very average. The running game has, at times, been a bright spot against putrid run defenses (vs CLE, @TEN in OT) but that is more than you could say last year. Cassius Vaughn has been a revelation as the nickel corner too and is just one of a handful of guys who have been really impressive.

Now before you get excited about the Colts being good again, let me make something very clear. The Colts are still a pretty bad football team. DVOA hates them. They are 4-1 in close games, which is likely unsustainable, and I mean, if you have watched this team at all this year, you know they are unbelievably flawed and full of holes. All of that is ok and expected when only being able to work with 60% of the salary cap and coming off a 2-14 year, but it is a fact we have to account for going forward. The schedule is pretty easy going forward and that is good news, but don’t think for a second that the Colts have arrived. They are a terrible team with a phenomenal player at the most important position on the field. Sometimes that is enough to get you to .500.

Game-by-Game

Week 1- Colts 21, Bears 41

No shame in this. The Bears are fantastic, we played them week 1, and they have all the things that expose the Colts as subpar. Tall, talented receiver, all-around back, devastating defense. To be honest, the score should have been more lopsided.

Week 2- Vikings 20, Colts 23

A somewhat impressive and telling win looking back on it. The Vikings shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in this game and probably should have ripped the Colts to shreds, but only half the Vikings offense was working (Harvin), as Peterson was controlled. The last Vikings TD was fairly lucky and made the game seem closer, but it didn’t end up mattering as Luck once again owned the last two minutes and set up Vinatieri for the game-winner.

Week 3- Jaguars 22, Colts 17

The Colts outplayed the Jaguars in this game but allowed two huge gains, one to Maurice Jones-Drew and the other to Cecil Shorts, and it lost them the game. Oh yeah, Captain Clutch missed a key field goal too. It is a game the Colts will regret losing but is frankly one of those games that is just a coin flip. Games like these are to be expected with a young team and a coaching staff that likely doesn’t have the entirety of its offense or defense installed. There will be at least one more game like this where you just shake your head.

Week 4- Bye

Week 5- Packers 27, Colts 30

An emotional win and unless the Colts beat the Patriots (unlikely), the win of their season. #Chuckstrong was born and while this close game also swung the Colts way, I think we can safely call this game an outlier due to the emotion and digging out of a huge hole after the Packers offense totally imploded in the second half. This game also may mark the best game of Reggie Wayne’s outstanding career.

Week 6- Colts 9, Jets 35

These games are going to happen, you just wish they wouldn’t happen against a very mediocre team like the Jets. Luck was bad, nothing went well for the Colts and the Jets just ran all over their sorry asses. This happens to young teams. It doesn’t happen to legitimate playoff teams. The worst the Colts have played all season.

Week 7- Browns 13, Colts 17

Josh Gordon dropped the game-winning TD and the Colts get the win in a game best-remembered for how few possessions there were, especially in the first half. Look, Cleveland isn’t terrible but if you need any convincing at all that the Colts are a pretty fluky 4-3, this is the game. Trent Richardson even got pulled halfway through the first half! It was not pretty, but it was a win. That counts for something, but not for everything.

Week 8- Colts 19, Titans 13 (OT)

The Colts were truly horrendous in this game. The defense was ok, despite some favorable Offensive PI calls, but the offense was just trash for much of the game. Add in the blown fumble call at the end and it is a minor miracle the Colts beat the truly shitty Titans.  In overtime, the Colts ripped the Titans apart like they should have all game and won. Luck had at least two interceptions straight up dropped and there is just not a ton positive to say about this game. The road struggles are pretty characteristic of a young team, but concerning nonetheless.

 

I think just looking that over tells you that the Colts aren’t particularly good, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get to 8-8 without too much trouble. TV pundits are going to start screaming about how good the Colts are, especially after Luck carves up a terrible New England secondary in what will likely be a 41-34 loss (or something), but you know better.

Ironically, the thing that isn’t getting brought up nearly enough is how good Andrew Luck has been. There are a few whispers starting about his great QBR, how well he throws on the run (out of necessity), and his completion percentage downfield, but most of the talk is about that commercialized whore in Washington. Nothing against him personally, just sick of hearing about him. Just for a second, try to imagine where this team is with a replacement-level QB. We can argue about who that would be, but pick any of Josh Freeman, recent Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer. If ANY of those guys is the QB, this team is at the bottom of the AFC South.

Another little exercise: here’s a list of QBs without including Luck. Where do you put him?

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Eli Manning
  4. Matt Ryan
  5. Ben Roethlisberger
  6. Peyton Manning
  7. Drew Brees
  8. Jay Culter
  9. Matthew Stafford
  10. Matt Schaub
  11. Tony Romo
  12. Joe Flacco
  13. Robert Griffin III

It is a rough list, don’t spend too much time quarreling over the order of the top 5 or anything. Where do you put Luck in this RIGHT NOW and not projecting potential or a few years down the road? I put him just a touch behind Jay Cutler in 9th. If we’re projecting down the road, I put him even with Eli, maybe even on Rodgers level. Think about that for a second. Andrew Luck is 80% of the reason the Colts are competitive this year, and I really don’t think that is an exaggeration. Think about the Colts offense in abstract terms. You have one very good WR that teams will focus on almost exclusively. You have a couple of promising rookie TEs that are decent but not great yet. You have no running game to speak of against 75% of the league. Is this a recipe for success for any QB? No! that is a disaster waiting to happen! When Cromartie mostly took Wayne out of the game, we saw what happens. The Browns had the capacity to do it took with Joe Haden. Yet Luck has been incredible almost all year. Yes, the Jets game was rough, and he didn’t look particularly good against the Titans either, but what he is doing is astounding. His command of Bruce Arians offense is sublime and the reason the Colts are anywhere near .500. I sometimes object to judging a QB on his performance in the last two minutes since it is often against a soft shell defense. It shows how well he knows the offense but with mitigating factors. Nonetheless, Luck has lead the Colts to 34 points in the last two minutes of quarters this year, not to mention at least a few missed FGs in those stretches. That accounts for 25% of all Colts points this season. Four minutes of a 60 minute game contain 25% of the Colts points.

I’m not sure if that is a good sign since Luck kills it in high-leverage situations, or a bad sign that the Colts can’t score for so much of their games, but once the rest of the team gets the offense down, a no-huddle attack with Luck will likely be deadly. I think anyone who has watched the Colts this year knows how good Luck has been, so I will stop praising him for now and let his play do the talking. He is without a doubt the Rookie of the Year.

The other guy I want to go out of my way to praise is Cassius Vaughn. When I wrote my Colts preview, I was extremely concerned about a secondary that had not yet added Vontae Davis. With Davis the Colts are pretty solid against 2 WR looks, but with the league emphasis on passing and the rise of more and more 3 WR looks, a nickel corner that can tackle and cover is huge. The Colts had nothing of the sort entering the season. Enter Vaughn who has been a revelation and has helped shore up a Colts defense that needed lots of help through the air. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any clips of his coverage on YouTube. But take my word for it or watch him any week and he is probably already better than Jerraud Powers. He needs more seasoning before he can step up to that slot, but I would bet slot receivers are far below their average production vs the Colts. This has been a big development for a Colts secondary in need of a few pieces.

Looking Forward

Week 9 vs Miami (Prediction: L)

This is almost definitely a loss. Miami is really balanced, really good on defense and just a better team than the Colts.

Week 10 @ Jacksonville (on a Thursday) (Prediction: 50-50)

Who knows with these Thursday games. If Jones-Drew misses the game then the Colts should win it, but it is also a road game on a Thursday. Toss up.

Week 11 @ New England (Prediction: L)

Too much passing and too much talent to lose to the Colts despite a very shaky secondary.

Week 12 vs Buffalo (Prediction: W)

The Bills are bad and it is in Indy. Chan Gailey is one of many coaches who should be preparing for unemployment.

Week 13 @ Detroit (Prediction: 50-50 but expecting a L)

This is one of those games that looks winnable, but the Colts have no answer to Calvin Johnson or Titus Young and it is in Detroit. It is a winnable game but I would be very surprised if the Colts won.

Week 14 vs Tennessee (Prediction: W)

The Titans are really bad and you’d hope that the Colts stuck it to them in this game after their poor showing.

Week 15 @ Houston (Prediction: L probably but let’s file it under unlikely toss-up)

The Texans should have the division wrapped up at this point, but somehow doubt they will be resting starters at Week 15. Expecting a loss in Houston, though perhaps a close one since the work load on Arian Foster will likely be relieved and I have no fear whatsoever of the Texans passing game..

Week 16 @ KC (Prediction: W)

Honestly, even though it is in Kansas City, if you can’t beat the Chiefs you are terrible. They haven’t held a lead this year (only win in OT). This is a win or a huge embarrassment.

Week 17 vs Houston (prediction: W)

Yup, the rested starters at last and the Colts get a free W.

Results: 3 almost definite wins, one toss up, and two unlikely toss ups.

Find a way to win one of those three and the Colts are .500. Win two of three and have an outside shot at a playoff game in Pittsburgh or Denver (can you imagine the publicity for that?). Win all three and… well you can’t win all three because the division likely isn’t locked up for the Texans if the Colts can get to 10-6, but if somehow the Colts won all three of those games, that is 10-6 and a season that is too good to be true. Literally. It would be a fluke. But stranger things have happened. I think they only win one of those three toss ups, but I could be wrong. The Indianapolis .500 rolls on and looks 10x more possible today than it did weeks ago. For that, I’ll give myself a big pat on the back.

AFC Playoff teams: New England, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh (unless Baltimore turns it around fast), Miami (WC), ????? (WC)

That last one is wiiiiiiide open. The fact that I have Miami as the other playoff team should make that pretty clear.

NFC Playoff Picture: Atlanta, SF, Chicago, NYG, Green Bay, Minnesota/Seattle

That is one hell of a conference. Just the fact that we could have two genuine Super Bowl contenders playing in the Wild Card round (Chicago v GB or NYG v GB) tells you all you need to know.

Premature NFL Draft Thoughts

There are a lot of needs on this team, but most notably they are Nose Tackle, Wide Receiver, the offensive line, and Strong Safety. If available (and he likely won’t be), Star Lotuleilei (DT, Utah) would be incredibly. John Jenkins from Georgia would be similarly outstanding. The Colts will likely address either WR or OL in Free Agency, but not both. If Ace Sanders (WR, South Carolina) declares, I could see the Colts taking him as a punt returner and potential Mike Wallace type to go with Wayne. They COULD go for a safety in the first round like Eric Reid (LSU) but I would be surprised if they didn’t address the lines first.

Thanks for reading. There will also be a postseason recap post and MAYBE a postseason post.

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The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts season was truly unforgettable. It was a season that Kafka would have loved, but the fans surely hated. The team was in a strange place it had never been before (2-14), feeling unjustly persecuted (Manning’s injury), and hurting deeply from its father’s flaws (poor drafting by Nepotism Chris). The metamorphosis was sure to come, but thankfully, that did not mean some twisted, fucked-up,  Kafkaesque transformation, but a new head coach, a new GM, a new quarterback and a new era of Colts football the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. For the first time, the team’s goals are not the playoffs, the top pick, or a Super Bowl, and that is alright. Every team’s goal is getting better, but where will the record fall within that “getting better” spectrum?  5 or 6 wins seems to be the general consensus and I think lots of Colts fans would count 6 wins as a coup after last year and the rebuilding that followed.

I say 8-8. It is not only a possibility, but a probability and it isn’t even that outlandish.

First off, the schedule matters. Teams go from last to first in their division all the time because of how the schedule sets up to put 4th place teams against other 4th place teams.  The Texans are clearly the class of the division, but the Jaguars are terrible and the Titans are just ok and going in with a 2nd year quarterback, no Kenny Britt and a new head coach. So what does that schedule look like?

@CHI, vsMIN, vsJAX, vsGB, @NYJ, vsCLE, @TEN, vsMIA, @JAX, @NE, vsBUF, @DET, vsTEN, @HOU, @KC, vsHOU

No, those bold games are not predicted wins, just games that are winnable. The only risky one is the Houston game, and I am going on the assumption the Texans will be resting players for that game. That is 11 winnable games, and while I am obviously not suggesting that they will win all these games, I am also not suggesting that they will definitely lose the rest of those games. I mean some of those games look completely unwinnable, but given the nature of injuries in the NFL, who is to say that Stafford and Calvin Johnson get hurt, putting that game in play, or Tom Brady getting hurt and making every Colts’ fan beam like Christmas morning? Sure, these things are unlikely, but these same rules apply to even just decent teams like Tennessee and Buffalo, who are one or two injuries away from ruin. 11 winnable games and you don’t think the Colts can get 8? Free your mind.

So how did I decide which games were winnable? It had little to do with the standings last year, though it certainly didn’t hurt that most of the teams were pretty mediocre. The new Colts era requires a fresh look at the Colts. It used to be that any team that had a strong offense, particularly running the ball, could give the Colts a run for their money. That appears to have changed. Teams have thus far been able to move the ball a little, but given the defensive scheme and run-blitzing that the Colts will do, the key to beating them no longer lies up front. The real issue is the secondary where Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers are good/decent and the rest of it is very much in question.  In order to beat the 2012-2013 Colts, you have to be able to throw the ball, and throw it consistently. That is why Minnesota and Adrian Peterson don’t scare me. That is why the Jets don’t scare me, That is why playing a 4th place schedule is often easy: there is a total lack of solid quarterbacks. Most of the time, none of those last place teams have good quarterbacks, but the Colts have one in Andrew Luck.

Much has been said about Andrew Luck, and it is for that reason I have yet to write a post on him. The short version is that he is really, really impressive. So impressive that I have little doubt the Colts will average 24 points a game this year. They look capable of moving the ball in the red zone on the ground, which will ease some of the burden, and look like they will be a decent passing team under Bruce Arians. The only teams that are going to be able to really stifle this offense are teams that are much better than the Colts. Few, if any, teams on the Colts level will be able to totally shut the team down. Thusly, it comes down to the defense. How quickly can Chuck Pagano get the system in place? How quickly can the players learn the ins and outs? Will the lack of a nose tackle make the front 7 toothless? All these questions still need to be answered, but even moderate answers to these questions suggest the Colts can string a few wins together and surprise some teams.

So who are they going to surprise? Let’s go through that list of winnable games.

The architect of the Ravens defense teams up with an architecture major at QB.

Vs. Minnesota (Week 2)

Adrian Peterson’s second game back from a torn ACL, Christian Ponder, and a pass rush that is a little bit scary. That is what you sign up for when you play the Vikings. So Peterson is not at 100% yet, but even 80% of him is more than enough to handle. The Colts will presumably make Ponder beat them, and I think he can for a half, but not for a  full game. This is a game that the Colts should win. The offensive line is not nearly as bad as it is being made out to be, the defense should be able to hold the vikings to 20 points or less and that means the Colts have a shot. If Ponder has a good game the Vikings win, if not the Colts will win. That is very much a toss up.

Jacksonville (Week 3 & Week 10)

The Jaguars are really bad, and if Maurice-Jones Drew doesn’t play they could be historically bad. Blaine Gabbert is nothing to fear and these are games the Colts should split at the very least. Winning both is a definite possibility.

@New York Jets (Week 6)

For all the press coverage Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow get, they still combine to make maybe one very good quarterback. Individually, neither is really very good or capable of picking apart a defense routinely. Sanchez does it from time to time, Tebow does it from time to time, but betting on either to do it without question on any given week is shaky. Given the Jets poor offensive line play thus far, lack of a receiving corps and ongoing instability,  picking the Jets third in their own division is totally reasonable. This is a very winnable game.

vs Cleveland (Week 7)

The Browns are not very good. They are not terrible, they are not completely without hope, but Greg Little and Brandon Weeden are not going to strike fear in the hearts of any opposing fans or coaches. This game is a borderline must-win.

Tennessee (Week 8 & Week 14)

The Titans are a very solid team and have been for a while. They are not overwhelming in any aspect of the game since Chris Johnson’s paycheck and I have serious doubts about Jake Locker. Winning both of these games would be a bit surprising, but not stop-the-presses shocking. The Titans defense might chew Luck up a little now and again but both games are winnable, and Colts fans should expect a team “getting better” and “making progress” to win at least one of these games.

vs Miami (Week 9)

Another perennially solid team that has few weaknesses but fewer overwhelming strengths. They will be decent and the Colts may very well lose this game, but starting rookie quarterbacks is risky, especially when that quarterback isn’t the fastest learner the coaching staff has ever seen. I have not watched tape on Ryan Tannehill, but I will be slightly shocked if he turns into a good NFL quarterback. He fits the mold of physical specimen that has technique issues (Patrick Ramsey, Jeff George, Josh Freeman, Jamarcus Russell) better than he fits the mold of some physical questions but does a lot well (Philip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, Jim Harbaugh). I’m not calling him a definite bust, but he has to prove himself, not confirm prior beliefs.About a 6 on the winnable scale.

vs Buffalo (Week 12)

I expect the Colts to lose this game in part because I expect the Bills to be good, but in part because even if they are not good, they will be able to move the ball easily against the Colts defense. This one is not all that winnable, but if we see broken ribs Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, this game could be in play.

@ Kansas City (Week 16)

This game is about on the same level as the Miami game in that the Chiefs have a lot going for them, but since it is never all working at the same time, you never know what you are going to get. If Jamaal Charles is on the field, things get a little trickier, but this is still a winnable game. Winning at Arrowhead might be tricky but after last year it seems like a definite possibility. If this game was week 1, I would probably count it out, but after 15 weeks of development and getting things in place, this game is absolutely in play.

If you give the Colts that week 17 win against a resting Houston (more than plausible), can you see 8-8? Can you let yourself believe that the Colts could be overachievers (in the eyes of all not just the pessimists) for once? Now maybe the talent pool would get replenished quicker if they went 4-12, but that is not happening. The Colts are better than that, and they are a .500 team this year. Expect it.

NFL Wrap and Playoff Preview

Wow, it has been a while. I have a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in, no foreplay needed to warm you up, right? I will stop that example right there too, so let’s get to it! College Football rant: Batter up! Or “Hike” if we are being sport-specific.

College Football

Ohio State fans must cringe everytime they watch Newton. That was supposed to be what Pryor could do.

 

The NCAA is a joke. How can anyone get behind a system where the schools lose money (on non big bowl games), the NCAA makes boatloads of money, the players play for free, and the NCAA gets to make enormous profits off it and the players? AJ Green gets 3 games right away for selling a signed jersey and Ohio State’s best players get to play in the bowl game? Oh, I’m sure it had nothing to do with the NCAA wanting to make more money and not wanting bowl game ratings to drop. I do not even have anything wrong with the NCAA pursuing profits, but stop acting like it is about the students when it clearly isn’t. I get that football is one of very few varsity sports that makes money, and schools need it to keep others afloat. but the whole system is pointed toward NCAA profit, not anything else. Why is the Sugar Bowl on a Tuesday night when most kids are going back to school? I am sure it is for the student’s best interest. Just like how there were no Bowl Games Sunday. The student-athletes missing school is nowhere near as important as not competing with the NFL, huh? I am all for the kids enjoying their bowl game, but do they care about what kind of ratings the game gets.

So you ask why I don’t like college football? Because the NCAA is full of s&%#, and I haven’t even gotten to the BCS yet, or how your season is essentially over the second you lose 3 games. There is no chance of getting attached to players either since they leave after four years. I just cannot get behind it, and yes, part of that surely has to do with my Fighting Irish not being good right now.

Ok, time for a BCS rant now that I am on a roll. I brought this up last year, but I am going to bring it up again. 6 team playoff. Use the current 5 BCS bowls as the platforms. 1 and 2 seeds get a bye, and the other four play the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl (rotating which these are every year). Then the winners move on to face the #1 and #2 BCS-rated teams in the same format as the NFL (lowest remaining seed vs #1). That takes care of the Rose and Fiesta Bowls, and you get 2 teams left for the National Championship. That works to a T. Keeps the money-making bowl system, and gives the people what they want. As for the other bowls, organize them into little post-season tournaments using the bowl system just like with the BCS. Someone tell me why this wouldn’t work.

Oh, and the BCS worked perfectly this year (except thinking Michigan State was good), so it’s not that the ranking system doesn’t work, but that certain changes need to be made to bring in more fans.

By the way, Oregon 41, Auburn 35. Book it.

The NFL

Carolina Panthers

No Luck for Carolina.

 

Pretty horrendous season for a team that seemed to have quite a few pieces. I do not even know how to put a positive spin on it. It looked like they were going to take Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick, but now will likely replace Julius Peppers by taking DaQuan Bowers out of Clemson. Remember when the Texans took Mario Williams and their reasoning had to do with how they had to put pressure on Manning? Given the QBs in the NFC South, the same logic could be used here. The Panthers front office actually might be a little relieved given that they no longer have to give up on Jimmy Clausen, though given the beatings he keeps taking thanks to his line, they may have to hire him a live-in chiropractor. It also remains to be seen who replaces John Fox, and what direction that takes the team. I suspect it will be a boring-but-solid hire that can set them up for future success. Don’t give up on Jimmy Clausen yet, just get him an offensive line. I may have had higher expectations than I should have, but I think it is hard to give out a grade other than an F for the season they just had.

Season Grade: F

Denver Broncos Nick Fairley. Lock it in. Fits their need to bolster and rejuvenate defense, and he is a total monster, so why not. I am not sold on the Tebow era moving forward, but I like plenty of other parts of the team like the young, talented offensive line, most of the skill position players on offense, and think they are just a few defensive pieces from getting back to respectability. I am not sure who will coach, but the cupboard is not bare. Overall, not much was expected of this team. They played pretty well for short stretches of the year, and I think they can be solid moving forward and can’t be too heartbroken about the season given the expectations going in.

Season Grade: C-

Buffalo Bills

I am praying for you, Buffalo. Praying you don’t make the same mistake as you made last year and go for the flashy option (AJ Green in this case) over the meat and potatoes option of a guy in the trenches. We saw how the CJ Spiller pick worked. It didn’t and by no fault of Spiller’s. I like Patrick Peterson/Prince Amukamara, though I have admittedly not seen any of them play too much this year. Come on Buffalo, you can do it. Given Ryan Fitzpatrick’s emergence and some very solid performances, this was actually a somewhat productive year for the Bills, just not in the wins column,

Season Grade: C

Fantastically Awful. More on him later.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

During the days when we though Luck was in the draft, this seemed like a somewhat obvious pick. Now, it is a little more clouded but not so different. They have a slew of defensive line options that they should jump on, but as DaQuan Bowers will probably go #1 now, Robert Quinn is the most likely option.. His pass rushing should help out their already-solid corners and start what ought to be a new era of Bengals football.. That just makes a lot of sense if you ask me (and you did by visiting the site). I also think they should aggressively shop Carson Palmer as a necessity. I do not know about anyone else, but I LOVE the idea of them trading to get Kyle Orton. That just seems like a perfect fit to start the Orton-Benson-Shipley-Gresham era. I think it could be a good one. We will see if the Bengals can swing it. Given the expectations, there is only one grade we can give here.

Season Grade: F

Arizona Cardinals

If Larry Fitzgerald was the GM, I am pretty sure he would take Ryan Mallett, but Marcell Dareus would fit nicely into their 3-4 and Mallett or Gabbert could still be there a bit later. I could also see them taking one of the athletic defensive ends and making him an OLB in their 3-4. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone trade up to grab AJ Green or someone here, but the Cardinals will likely try to move back if they are after Mallett or Gabbert. A part of me still thinks that they will try to trade for Carson Palmer and continue Arizona’s trend of bringing in old and somewhat washed up veterans and assuming it will work. Get it done, Arizona, and help us all prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Carson Palmer is done. I am also somewhat disappointed that the Cardinals did not realize their inability to pass earlier and turned to Tim Hightower and Beanie Well’s Styrofoam Corpse  to carry the offense. Not too much was expected, but when you give Derek Anderson two separate chances at quarterback, you can’t be too disappointed with any grade.

Season Grade: D

Cleveland Browns

The big question in Cleveland right now is if Eric Mangini should have been fired. On the one hand, this team made fantastic progress this year, had a solid defense, could run the ball, and beat the Patriots and Saints. However, two straight 5-11 seasons is hardly getting it done and Holmgren is really the key here more than Mangini. Regardless, I think the team showed some serious improvement up until those last few weeks when they have been putrid. I am talking like worse than Sex Panther in Anchorman.

In an earlier column, I wrote that the Browns were about 5 pieces away from being really good. A WR (preferably a top flight guy or possession receiver), rush LB for their 3-4, a safety/extra secondary guy, and a TE if easily available. Well, time to address the first of those problems with AJ Green. This just seems like a great fit, and despite Green’s weak NCAA suspension, he seems like a good kid who will not turn into Braylon Edwards. I think this is a shoe-in pick unless they moveback a little and take him then. Perfect match. Solid building season for the Browns with some brown skid marks toward the end.

Season Grade: C+

San Francisco 49ers

Mallett? Gabbert? McNabb? One of the Smiths? None of those sound particularly appealing frankly, but one of them is going to have to be the answer at least for a year. I wouldn’t be shocked by a trade-down here either, but maybe they decide Robert Quinn or Stephen Paea is worth the pick here, and I think they are. It is just hard to justify anything but a QB given the 49ers season, so while both of those players are very solid picks, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them trade down.

Why? Why did we think Alex Smith could win a division? Why did we assume he would manage to not submarine the entire 49ers season? I have no idea, but they still were NFC West favorites and finished 3rd in the division. The grade seems clear. The D- over F is only because we should not have assumed Alex Smith could win a division.

Season Grade: D-

Tennessee Titans

Is this too early for Julio Jones? Maybe a little. More likely is going for another defensive guy like Adrian Clayborn or Janoris Jenkins, but Julio wouldn’t be the worst idea. Anyway, this was really not a good season for the Titans. I am not sure what was a realistic expectation for them, but given the Fisher/Young disharmony, Chris Johnson’s struggles, and epitomizing mediocrity in a mediocre division , few would call this Titans season a real success. Kenny Britt was a nice find, but otherwise this team just stagnated this year and the rot is starting to show. I think the TItans were right to choose Fisher over Young, but I am not sure if the Titans have what it takes to really challenge the Colts in the division regardless.

Season Grade: C-

Dallas Cowboys

If Nate Solder is still around, then the Cowboys should probably just pounce on him, but there might be slim pickins for the Boys. They need secondary help, but it looks like the top 3 CBs (Peterson, Prince, and Jenkins) might be gone at this point and Solder will likely be the pick if they decide to keep the pick. Jason Garrett is the wrong man for the job, but it looks like he will get it regardless. He is disillusioned about Tony Romo’s role, and about his offense as a whole, and making him head coach will not fix any of that.

Season Grade: F

Washington Redskins

Shanny did a surprisingly horrible job this year.

 

This has Julio Jones written all over it and if not then Justin Blackmon. You know why? Because Anthony Armstrong ain’t cuttin it. Chris Cooley has revealed himself as being a bad player (stats aside), and they are going with Rex Grossman. A QB is an option too, but I am not sure how good any of the QBs in this draft are. Blaine Gabbert? Ryan Mallett? Jake Locker? No thanks at this high a  pick. Frankly, there are just a lot of problems here. I wouldn’t blame them for just cleaning house and starting over, but I doubt it happens with Snyder in the Owner’s Box.

This was a promising season turned sour for the Skins and frankly I am not sure what to make of them, just as was the case throughout the year. They have very little to look forward to on offense, and are old. They have a coach who just alienated their new old QB and their entire season could be summed up in the word “disharmony”. Even with that they jumped out to a decent start before falling apart. They just did not quite pass.

Season Grade: D+

Houston Texans

I have been very hard on the Texans for many years. It isn’t because I hate them, ro because I want them to fail, it is because they have so much talent. Matt Schaub is very good, Andrew Johnson is the best receiver in football, Arian Foster is a very very good RB, they have a great offensive line, and Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, and co. are fantastic. I am hard on them because I am sick of seeing it all wasted for any variety of reasons. It used to be mental weakness, but this year it was just the secondary. I think they trade up to get one of the best 3 CBs, but if not, they could settle on another DE to go alongside Mario Williams.

I think Wade Phillips is a horrible idea for this team too. I do not like the idea of moving Mario Williams to OLB and making him change such a good thing, and they were fine against the run anyway, they just need better players in the secondary. Do not fix the parts of the defense that work just for the hire.

Frankl,y I am hard on this team because I want them to challenge my Colts. For years the Colts have skated to the playoffs because they just knew how to beat the other three teams. Every year the other teams would show promise and then fold at exactly the moment the Colts wanted. The Texans have all the talent to stand up to the Colts and drive them to be better, yet they never do and it drives me crazy. I am sorry, Texans fans, I am hard on you because I want you to be better. You should have fired Kubiak and brought in someone tougher and you were right to fire Frank Bush. I am not sure if the players were all playing hard for Kubiak or not, but it is time for him to go. Maybe bring Jeff Fisher back to Houston? Discretionary change is the name of the game. Please fix the right parts.

Season Grade: C-

Minnesota Vikings

The F word will not appear in this section. I sort of like the idea of Cam Newton here but it is probably a pipe dream for that many QBs to go at this point. Gabe Carimi on the line maybe? Anthony Costanzo on the line? Nope, I talked myself into Newton. Newton, Harvin, Peterson, Rice. I can’t turn back now, it needs to happen. AND they don’t have to pay him under the table! Granted the defense was bad this year for good portions, but I think Newton just fits. My initial reaction is that a northern team wouldnt take a risk on a player like that, but when you think about it, Culpepper, Harvin, Peterson, and Moss were never the hearty and safe options. The franchise takes risks and I would LOVE to see this one happen.

Ok, I will use the F word once. Why did Favre want to go to Minnesota so badly? Because he heard Sterger (“Regrets” backwards) and co. would be on the Sex Boat on Lake Minnetonka. Boom, roasted. Again, the only reason this isn’t an F is because we shouldn’t have expected F-word to be so good again.

Season Grade: D-

Detroit Lions

Jake Delhomme is about to get Suh'd.

 

The Lions would have won the NFC West by two games if they would have played in the division. That is the kind of progress they made, and they did it without their franchise QB Matthew Stafford and with chronic injuries to Jahvid Best. I was on the bandwagon all year and do not plan on getting off. The guys they would like (top 3 CBs and another good lineman) are probably gone at this point, so I think they will either try and trade up, or just trade down and accumulate picks. The scary thing is that the Lions do not even need the high pick so badly. They are pretty close to set, apart from that secondary guy so this is not so bad. I love me some Lions Kool Aid. Watch out NFC North. I am predicting a 2nd NFC North place finish and a winning record.

Season Grade: B

St. Louis Rams

Ever seen a retard hump a doorknob? Too clichéd. I suggest we change it to “ever seen a Rams player make a catch when it matters”. If there was any doubt in your mind about the OROY (and there shouldn’t have been) then that game should have clinched it. Look at what he is working with! They are awful and he had a great year! He is that rare #1 pick Qb that pans out just as well as they could have hoped and they have got to be ecstatic. They lost Donnie Avery to injury, and they lost other receivers so they are not so lost at receiver as it seems, but this wouldn’t be the worst place to take Justin Blackmon or take a tackle and admit their mistake with Jason Smith from a few years ago. This season as a great one for Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams, and their grade shows it. More deserving than Seattle without a doubt.

Season Grade: A

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins really outdid themselves this year. Not only did they continue their M.O. of disappointing, but they did it while going 1-7 at home and 6-2 on the road. But wait, there’s more! They frequently abandoned the running game early in games, showed a consistent lack of discipline in the secondary, and while Vontae Davis actually emerged as a really good corner, the team as a whole was likely brutal for its fans.

As far as the draft is concerned, there are a few directions they could go. Obviously, this is a defense-heavy draft, but Mark Ingram could possibly go here if they decide they want to get younger at RB. I am not sure if there are any CBs they really want here, but if one falls, you can bet on the Dolphins grabbing him. One of those OLBs might go here as well, but my money would be elsewhere. Tricky spot for the Dolphins right now, and this offseason could o a long way towards determining their future.

Season Grade: B-

Jacksonville Jaguars

It would be a little harsh to call him "Hack Del Rio" but the clock has almost hid midnight for Jack Del Rio.

 

Jack Del Rio needs to go, but he will stick around for at least another year. If you were a Jags fan, and every year the expectation is 8-8 with a fairly unimpressive roster, are you happy? 8-8 is nothing to laugh at, but they are doing themselves no favors being complacent. I originally thought they would be going after a WR here, but I am a believer in Mike Thomas, MSW and Marcedes to hold down the receiving corps, so we have to look elsewhere. They do need secondary help, but maybe the easiest way to help the secondary is by getting more pressure on the QB. As we have said about 50 times, this is a defensive draft, so seeing them go with a defensive lineman wouldn’t be all that surprising. The other option would be an offensive lineman, but the Jaguars are just not a team whose needs are abundantly available right now. Very subtle needs in general.

For the record, my opinion on Del Rio is completely independent of their failure to win the division this year. This is about his body of work with the team, not about his good year this year. Something about the AFC South keeps coaches around.

Season Grade: B+

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders will draft whichever player runs the fastest 40, so that is taken care of. Tom Cable will likely be out, and it brings us to one of the real themes of this offseason. Shouldn’t there be a way for fans to fire the owner? Mike Brown has killed the Bengals for years, Al Davis has been hamstringing the Raiders for a decade, Dan Snyder is getting pretty good himself, and Jerry Jones remains just a little too handsy with him team. If not fire the owner, then at least remove his personnel decision-making abilities?

Regardless, the Raiders were pretty respectable this year, and it looked like they even had a cohesive identity this year with that running game and some solid defensive performances. I would have said they needed an offensive lineman, and they still might, but it is hard to argue with their results running this year, so maybe they just need to re-tool the secondary or something. I would still bet on the offensive line pick, but who knows with the Raiders.

I humored you by acting like the Raiders have a first round pick just to talk about their needs, but guess what? The Patriots have their pick. Thanks, Crypt Keeper Davis.

Season Grade: B+

San Diego Chargers

How do you sum this up? They had the #1 offense. They had the #1 defense. They missed the playoffs. Was it all on the special teams? Was it Norv Turner’s fault? Was it just a little bad luck? Was it legendary unclutchness? What the hell happened? I blame Turner first, but that is largely just because I think he is a bad coach and do not really have a ton of basis for that based on this year. Was it all the negative energy generated by Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson? Was it the lack of a running game? I have no clue. I think they should fire Turner, keep Ron Rivera at just about all costs, and find a new leader. Norv ain’t cuttin it.

As far as the draft, would it be cruel to suggest they draft a special teams player? Yes? Alright, um, maybe grab a corner to go with Cason? Maybe just get deeper? Trade the pick?

Season Grade: C

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This season was literally beyond reproach for the Bucs. I cannot imagine any Bucs fan who would be genuinely unhappy with how the team played this year. Josh Freeman really is Big Ben minus rape even though it is getting clichéd to say that, Mike Williams was outstanding, leGarrette Blount didn’t star alongside Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, and everyone seemed to step up before the injuries. The improvement across the board was astounding and Raheem Morris is my pick for coach of the year because frankly I think he did the most coaching. I don’t think BB or Haley did that much coaching, but I think Morris made a huge difference. Not sure about their needs, but this was a great season despite the playoff miss. Can’t even think of a negative thing to say about them really.

Season Grade: A

New York Giants

This is a tricky one. A lot of people had them struggling this year (not me, I had them at 10-6. It was one of my few good predictions) but they really underachieved. The Philly game was an obvious mess-up, but with all those turnovers all year long, they just could not keep their pistol pointed away from their foot. Eli was atrocious for big stretches of the year, and evidently none of the Giants backs took notes from Post-Fumbilitis Tiki because it looked like they were trying to carry around a wet bar of soap all year. 10-6 is good. 12-4 was very possible. This Giants season will be remembered for forgotten opportunities, but good for them for not firing Tom Coughlin. He wasn’t the one turning the ball over.

Season Grade: B

The Playoffs

First of all, we are not talking Seahawks football. Sorry, just not happening.

Secondly, the other five NFC teams all have a shot at winning the conference without a doubt. The Packers might be the longest shot entirely because of injuries, but I do not think anyone would be shocked beyond belief if they made it to the Super Bowl. The Bears are probably next least likely, but that is entirely because of Jay Cutler’s decision making, not because of the team as a whole. it is wide open.

Thirdly, the AFC is not nearly as open as it looks. You will think I am a homer for saying this, but I think it is clearly true. The Patriots only fear one team in the AFC, and that is the Colts. If the Chiefs, Ravens, Jets, or Steelers play the Pats in New England, the Pats are cleaning the floor with them. The Colts are the only team in the AFC with a shot at stopping the Patriots.

I don't know about anyone else, but I would gladly back the redcoats against this nunty.

 

So we have two very difference scenarios here. In the NFC, it is wide open and every team has some clear flaw. The Seahawks are a flaw all by themselves, the Eagles are depending on a fragile man and Andy Reid’s time management, the Packers have no running game, the Saints just do not have the magic from last year and they need it, the Bears have a mistake-waiting-to-happen at QB, and the Falcons just lack that thing that makes you really believe in them. After losing to the Saints in the Georgia Dome, some of the allure is gone there, and they are not on too much more solid ground than anyone else.

A random note (confirmed via consultation with a friend): The nickname “Matty Ice” will haunt Matt Ryan his entire career can keep him from being elite. Seriously, do you fear someone going by “Matty”? Or someone that sounds almost liek “Vanilla Ice”? Do you know what I think when I hear Matty? I think “Maddie”, and not even the one from True Grit because that one was spelled “Mattie”. Does Tom Brady have a lame nickname? Manning? Brees? Rivers? No, none of them have nicknames. This will ensure that the Falcons do not win a Super Bowl with him as a major piece.

But allow me to discuss why the Colts are the only team that can challenge the Patriots in the AFC. First off, Peyton Manning owns Rex Ryan like the Yankees owned Pedro, except Rex Ryan isnt a little pitcher with ungodly stuff. I wouldn’t say Ryan put his foot in his mouth (joke intended) talking about how it was personal about Manning, I jsut don’t think it will matter. If the Jets beat the Colts, it will be because their offense excels, not because the defense stymies them. However, this statement concerns more than just the Jets game. The Colts have quietly shut down MoJo Drew, Chris Johnson, and Darren McFadden the last three weeks, and have been outstanding defensively for long stretches. The Tennessee game was really their first slip up, and it was against a division rival who you expect to give you a good game. Also keep in mind that when the Colts played the Pats, they ere missing Gary Brackett, who is like the anti-Woodhead. He blows players like that up because he is one of them, and that will frustrate the Pats greatly when they suddenly are not getting 5 extra yards after contact. Secondly, the Colts have been running the ball like crazy, and it has made all the difference. Being able to run the ball not only makes the Colts more balanced in general, but makes it much harder for Bill Belichick to gear his defense toward Manning.

Why are these things that the Colts have that are unique to them and not the other quality teams? Joe Flacco does not scare the Patriots at all. Neither does the diminished Ravens secondary. The Chiefs without Weis is a big deal too, and they were never likely to beat the Patriots anyway. The Steelers got annihilated by the Patriots because they have one major threat on offense and tend to get away from the run (though I would make them 3rd most able to beat the Pats). The Jets buried the game ball, but not the fact that the Pats now have their number.

Not your typical Manning season, but the team is on a roll.

 

NFL to the Colts: Help us Peyton-Wan Kenobi! You’re our only hope!

Sorry, I had to.

But what does that make my pick? I am taking the Eagles in the NFC. Why? Why not. I do not think Vick can stay mistake free the entire team, but I just do not trust any NFC team. The winner is coming from the AFC. And in that AFC? I am taking the Patriots and it will not be close. They will beat everyone without breaking a sweat and make up for the 18-1 season by really earning this one. They deserve it. What? I’ve never heard of something called a reverse jinx. And sarcasm isn’t something I do. Patriots 44, Eagles 20.

Overall Picks

Colts over Jets, Chiefs over Ravens (though I am shaky on it without Weis)
Patriots over Chiefs, Steelers over Colts
Patriots over Steelers

Again, please take these AFC picks with a grain of salt as the last thing I would do is pick my own team and risk jinxing them.

Saints over Seahawks (closer than you think), Eagles over Packers (the power of a rested Vick)
Eagles over Bears (I trust Cutler less than Andy Reid), Saints over Falcons (the bounce back from the Seahawks game)
Eagles over Saints (In a poorly played squeaker)

And yes, the Eagles could easily lose to the Packers in the first round. Just one of those years.

Patriots over Eagles

Also, I have historically been awful at picking the playoffs, so don’t put any money on my opinions here.

Awards and Some Fun

MVP: Tom Brady. You could go with “best player best team”. You could go with “best stats”. You could go with “holy crap he has played better than anyone this year and it is pretty undeniable”. They all work.?
Honorable Mention: Michael Vick, Roddy White, Peyton Manning

Defensive Player of the Year: Julius Peppers. Quietly a gigantic impact and unblockable just like the good old days in Carolina.
Honorable Mention: If this was Most Valuable Defensive Player, I would go with Ed Reed and Ndammukong Suh, but it is DPOY. Cameron Wake gets my “favorite new defensive player” award, but again, that is not the award. The HMs here is Clay Matthews

OROY: Sam Bradford. See above, and there is just no one else in his league.
Honorable Mention: Mike Williams (TB),  LeGarrette Blount, Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski (NE)

DROY: Ndammukong Suh. Because no one else was close. He is the 2nd best D-lineman in the league right now (Haloti Ngata).
Honorable Mention: Devin McCourty is a distant second, and third is almost as distant.

Coach of the Year:  Raheem Morris. See above.
Honorable Mention: Belichick, Todd Haley

Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Vick. No one else was close to the point I am not giving honorable mention.

NFL Man of the Year: Andre Johnson. Video below.

The All-Clowns Team

Yup, we are making a team for the Clowns. In this case, it is not the players who are clowns so much, but because these are players who were once good and now are done. Sort of like you if you have settled on a career as a clown. The important thing to remember is that these players were good at one point, but now suck, so the career scrubs are out. Say bye to these guys. And yes, they are partial lists because I don’t have time to think up guys on both sides of the ball, but don’t let that stop you, dear reader.

QB: Carson Palmer (CIN-captain)
RB: Clinton Portis (WAS)
RB: LaDanian Tomlinson (NYJ)
WR: Randy Moss (NE/MIN/TEN)
WR: Chad Ochocinco (CIN)
TE: Chris Cooley (WAS)
T: Ryan Diem (IND)
G: Leonard Davis (DAL)
C: Andre Gurode (DAL)

Reserves: Donovan McNabb, Thomas Jones, Felix Jones (placed here due to fantasy football bitterness), Reggie Wayne (not really, but declining fast), Hines Ward (probably was done for a few years now really).

All OTC Team

This one is for all my guys. They aren’t the best players in the league, and they are all from the middle-class, but they are good and people need to know about it. Admittedly I started to run out of guys and had to go a little more name-brand at times.

QB: Kyle Orton (DEN). Josh Freeman was a close second, but give me Captain Neckbeard/ Kyle The Bottle.
RB: Joseph Addai (IND). Tough yardage is his middle name and an amazing blocker and good receiver. Underrated.
RB: LeSean McCoy (PHI). He is one of those guys that would be borderline elite on most teams, but on Andy Reid’s team, he is just underrated. He can do it all.
WR: Anquan Boldin (BAL). A tough guy that will block and go across the middle, but he can also finesse you. Always underrated in Arizona, and Flacco just isn’t that good.
WR: Legedu Naannee (SD). More than a slot receiver.
WR: Davone Bess (MIA). He is playing the slot for me and will be my leading receiver if I have my way. My favorite random NFL player. It’s not close.
TE: Jimmy Graham (NO). I was looking for a guy who could block a little more, but I will settle for the extremely athletic TE.
OL: Too hard to single out one guy on each O-Line.
DE: Cameron Wake (MIA), Tamba Hali (KC). Love the motors on both of them and they are a menace.
DT: Eric Foster (IND), Ahtyba Rubin (CLE). Fiesty, solid, and good.
OLB: James Anderson (CAR), Geno Hayes (TB). Fast, good tacklers, and underrated.
MLB: London Fletcher (WAS). Gary Brackett Sr. Gotta love him.
CB: Jerraud Powers (IND), Brandon Flowers (KC). Good ball-skills and good cover-skills.
SS: Malcolm Jenkins (NO). Converted corner making the transition very well from what I have seen.
FS: Antoin Bethea (IND). I realize I am heavy on Colts here, but he clearly belongs on the list.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz (DET). I was going to take Tomlin, but we all know how good he is.
OC: Mike Mularkey (ATL). Watch out, he is about to leave the underrated ranks for the overrated ranks.
DC: I am running a 4-3 with this team, but I want Crennel/Mangini to do it. Screw it, I am just going to act like they run a 4-3.
Special Teams Coach: Just kidding, no favorite special teams coach.

Ok, here’s the point.This team is probably a borderline playoff team on paper, but there are good players to be found out there if you look around a little. Granted, Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin might be a bit hard to pick up, but they are players who have much more than meets the eye and are worth a look.

So is everything covered? All those loose ends tied up before heading to Spain? It has been a great year and I regret not getting to cover the playoffs, but a great college experience looms. Do not give up on us and we will be back before you know it.

 

The Clowns are going further out of town. A live report from the Bernabeu? Keep your fingers crossed.

 

 

College Football Wrap Week 4: Boise, Busts, and QBs

New format for this week since it is getting really boring just recapping games you doubtless already saw highlights for. Get excited.

The New Boise State

America's honeymoon with Boise State should be coming to a close.

I do not get around to saying too many controversial things, so I would like to take this chance to do that. You, as a college football fan, should not root for Boise State. Wait, before you hang me, have my lifeless corpse fed to pigs, and then kill those pigs for having any remnant of me inside them, allow me explain.

Once upon a time, Boise State was the little guy. They did not have the athletes of the bigger teams, but it did not matter because they were a disciplined team that did the little things right and had moxy like few other teams in the country. We rooted for them because they were spunky without being jerks, had an awesome field, and executed to perfection. What is not to love about that?

Nothing. If Boise was still all those things above, I would still be in their corner, but they are not. This weekend against Oregon State gave us a real look at what Boise State is now and what it is not. Let’s go through the things above one by one just so you know I am not leaving anything out or denying them credit somewhere they deserve it.

  1. The Athletes- There is no reason to blame a team for having better athletes, and I am not doing so. It is great that better athletes and football players are going to Boise to play football. Not docking them any points here.
  2. Discipline- This is a huge sticking point with me about Boise. The Boise teams we fell in love with played the game clean and were almost always the less-penalized team. The new version of the Broncos commits dumb fouls far more often and a good deal of this up-tick in penalties comes with personal fouls. Boise was always teh team that played it straight up more and would beat you with its discipline. It seems that somewhere along the line they have started to lose that.
  3. Doing the Little Things Right- I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the college teams that do the little things right seem to excel in special teams. My logic follows that if a team pays attentions to the details in practice, this is an area where that attention to detail and the little things would show up. In both the Virginia Tech and Oregon State games, Boise gave up big returns and seemed to commit costly penalties at a rate unheard of for them. They still get it done because they have superior athletes, but their ability to do the little things right is waning.
  4. Moxy- In tact, but predictably lower with their higher ranking.
  5. Spunk- Lately I have been watching the Boise State games and seeing more and more of what would cross the jerk-line. The jerk-line is an imaginary line that is of no football significance that determines if a play was just made with outstanding energy, or if it crossed into being an act of self-promotion in addition. Boise State’s players have been crossing that line with more and more frequency and it is unsettling for a fan expecting to see a team come out there and do things “the right way”. It does not meant they are not making plays, just makes it harder to root for some of their players.
  6. Blue Field- Still there. Still cool.

So why shouldn’t you root for them? You are still welcome to, but if you are doing so because they are a little guy doing it right, you need to change your reasoning. They are not now the evil empire or anything, but they are not what they used to be as far as a small market team doing it right. Same goes for the Minnesota Twins in baseball and Gonzaga in college basketball. Nothing wrong with rooting for them as long as you are not disillusioned about the team you are rooting for.

Luck, Locker and Mallett

Coming from a Notre Dame fan, this will probably sound like sour grapes, but I promise it is not. I walked away from that game sure of a few things, but one which is pertinent to the NFL. Andrew Luck is not that good. Notre Dame played in a soft shell defense or much of the game allowing receivers to run free for 10 yars underneath before being touched by a defender (sweet strategy, Irish). However, Luck was only 19-32 for 238 yards, 1 TD and 2 picks. His arm strength was nothing to write home about, his decision making against a pretty mediocre defense was sub-par, and, most of all, he only completed 19 of 32 on routes that were mostly underneath with very little close coverage. You are telling me this it the #1 pick in the draft? Not a chance. He might get picked there, but he is nowhere good enough to live up to it. In fact, this current group of quarterbacks reminds me of a QB draft class a few years ago.

Coming out of that year, we had two highly touted QBs (one from the Pac-10). One was noted for his accuracy and leadership but lacked arm strength and the other had supreme athleticism but there were questions about his mechanics. The third guy in that race was a big armed QB from the SEC who had some decision-making issues but was athletically gifted. Those players? Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Jay Cutler.

The next Cutler?

This is not the purest comparison, but as far as an NFL draft class, I think it holds true. Luck plays the role of Leinart; a savvy QB who would not kill you on his own, but surrounded by an excellent running game and a good line, he thrives. The most flawed among these comparisons is Jake Locker and Vince Young because Terrelle Pryor is clearly more related to Vince Young than Locker is, but bear with me. Locker is still learning the QB position and is probably an even better athlete than Young. Locker has been shooting himself in the foot lately with some shaky play, but he will still go pretty high because of his athleticism and the team will vow to “turn him into a top QB” somewhat like the Titans did with young. Perhaps the example I like best is the Jay Cutler-Ryan Mallett comparison. Both are from the SEC, blessed with outstanding arms, height, all the measurables, and none of the decision making abilities. Like Cutler, however, I think Mallett will be the best NFL QB of these three and will likely get drafted a bit after them, assuming they all come out this year.

If there is a pool taking bets on which of the three will have the best NFL career, give me Mallett and everyone who wants to bet on Luck and Locker.

Alabama over Arkansas

I am not going to waste too much time here. I just have to say “that is why they are the champs”. The composure down the stretch was absolutely frightening and Mark Ingram looks as good as ever. We were spot on about Arkansas not being for real, too. Watch out for the Tide.

Execution Issues

At least Notre Dame didn't steal a pea puree.

I would like to start this little section where all sports columns start: with a quote from Top Chef. In the most recent season, there was a quote, which I could not find online, in while Amanda says of Alex, “Alex is a really good chef, he just has execution issues”. Why is this relevant? Because there are many college teams this applies to. Since I am most aware of my own team, I will use the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It seems like they have good players on offense, but they just cannot move the ball. Whether it is a dropped pass or just a bad route or throw, the offense just seems to find a way to punt. Same is true of the defense. There are flashes of brilliance (all of them from Manti Te’o), but they just cannot stop anyone when it matters. They are a good team if things go right, they just have execution issues. This is true of teams all over the country who seem like they should be able to put it together, but just do not.

The moral of the story? Well, anyone who watched Top Chef knows that Alex was an awful chef, and that if your team fits the description above, you are a pretty bad football team. Execution is like 90% of the battle, so if you do not have that, you do not have much of anything.

The Pretender List

We started this last week and I figured we would check in with these highly touted soon-to-be busts. I reserve the right to add teams to this list as they reveal themselves.

Oklahoma- Snuck past Cincinnati in a game that the Bearcats absolutely threw away at home. Meeting with the Longhorns next week. Speaking of which…

Texas- Thrashed by UCLA at home. Thrashed. Redemption vs Oklahoma, but both are pretenders

Wisconsin- beat Austin Peay by 67 points. Might have over-exaggerated the Badgers’ issues, but I do not like them long term.

Auburn- Snuck past South Carolina at Jordan-Hare Stadium. If South Carolina holds onto the ball they come out of a big conference road game with a W.

Oregon- Offense is prolific, but if not for 7 Arizona State turnovers, the Sun Devils have a legitimate shot at the upset. Not impressed by the Ducks this year.

Florida- Looked better against Kentucky, but lots of teams look good against Kentucky. Alabama should blow them out next week.

Michigan- Denard Robinson is a one-man wrecking crew, but that is the problem. one injury or one bad game and they are done. There is NO way they are the 20th best team in college football.

USC- I do not think most people think the Trojans are contenders at this point, but they are on the list just to be safe. Notre Dame might actually beat them this year, though I wouldn’t bet on it.

Alright, that is all for this week, the Picks column should tie up any loose ends about next weeks matchups.

Pigskin Pick’em: September 25th

Root for my picks to be right if for no other reason than avoiding a history lesson.

I am in a NFL pool in which you pick the games every week. Given my performance in this column last week, you would think I did poorly. However, I went against most of my own advice and did pretty well. I know. You are welcome. What can I say, I had a bad week, and I was due for one after that impossibly good 5-0 start. The good news is that we have way more options to pick from this week and we will not have to re-hash the Bengals, Ravens, Patriots and Jets again. I feel like there is a joke to be had here concerning Brady’s hair, Ray Lewis’ history with limo drivers, and Braylon Edwards’ drunk driving charge, but I will leave that to you.

The college slate is much-improved this week as well. We have a top-ten matchup and a Smurf Turf Showdown in Boise to pick instead of reaching for a game like Iowa vs Arizona. Did you know that Iowa has not won west of the Rockies since 1984? I clearly did not know that either. Anyway, on to the picks, and I promise they will be better this week. If they aren’t, then I will start my next Picks column by telling everyone they can “eat cake”, letting readers storm the Bastille, and just other things about the French Revolution.

No one wants that.

Before I derail my own column, let’s get to the picks, and make it quick because I am getting very close.

(1) Alabama vs. (10) Arkansas

I am on record of saying that few things are harder than winning a road game in conference. This is especially true in the SEC. My theory is that the seats in SEC stadiums are closer to the field and it makes it harder to hear, and that when you combine this with the copious drinking involved with the fans and their rabid love for football, it just enters a level of its own.

Mallett will get hammered by the Alabama D

That is all good and well, but the really good teams still take care of clearly inferior competition on the road. Arkansas did that with Georgia last week, but just barely. That is a team they should not have to come back against. They seemingly did everything they could to lose that game for about 3 quarters before turning it on and beating the Bulldogs like they should. To put it simply, I have zero confidence in Arkansas. Ryan Mallett is good, but the defense is not, and I think the Razorbacks are just not quite ready to make a big move.

It does not help that Bobby Petrino is not a very good motivator. The whole “we are Goliath” thing was just a bad idea. I get the idea that he is trying to instill confidence and get them thinking that they should win this game, but every single player (I hope) in that locker room already knows that Goliath loses. I get wanting to be the big kids on the block, but using Goliath when everyone knows that Goliath dies is a bad idea.

Alabama is the better team, and while Arkansas will probably jump out in front, I like the Tide to roll in what looks like a down year for the SEC. Florida is not good, Georgia is not good, LSU is mediocre, and so on. Just not a good year for the SEC and it gives Alabama definite hopes of going undefeated despite that tough-looking slate of games. Of course, they could be weaker too. We will see.

Alabama 31, Arkansas 23

I am not sure which game to pick next. I do not think anyone is picking Oregon State so it seems a less worthy game to pick, and South Carolina vs. Auburn and West Virginia vs. LSU is not very exciting either. Let’s move to the NFL and get an upset for our second college game.

Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

Matty Ice can't handle the Cajun spice

This one has postseason implications written all over it. Atlanta is coming off a drubbing of the Cards and is probably much better than we thought after that fiasco in Pittsburgh. On the other side, the Saints have really struggled against two teams that do not look very good right now. The offense has put up 39 points (2 fewer than the Falcons put up against Arizona alone, and the team just has not looked good so far. I think that most people will be taking the Falcons to win this game and that it will be the beginning of some struggles in N’awlins.

Not so fast. The Superdome provides a legitimate home field advantage and while the Falcons have been outstanding at home under Matt Ryan/Mike Smith, they have really not been that great on the road. The Saints are definitely stumbling a bit, but they can still handle their business at home. Atlanta is getting too much buzz to come out and put a beating on the defending champs at home.

Atlanta Falcons 24, New Orleans Saints 27

I love this picture of Wade for the same reason I love the picture of Norv Turner doing this. Just sums them up.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans

This is going to be one hell of a game to watch. It might cost the defensive coordinators their jobs (or in Dallas’ case, it might cost everyone their job), but it is going to be a great game to watch. The Cowboys secondary looked pretty bad against Chicago and the Texans Secondary has given up 800 yards through the air so far. I smell a good ol’ fashioned Texas shoot out.

I have a history of picking both of these teams to fall on their faces throughout the year and they traditionally come through for me. However, someone has to win this game and for once it seems like the game really matters. Dallas faces the apocalypse of mankind if they lose (or so you would think listening to the press and people around the organization) and the Texans still are out to prove they are legit and did not just build their entire season around that first game and then luck out with bad play-calling by Washington. It should be a shootout and a game that both teams are genuinely hungry for.

However, one team wants it more. Imagine a genie comes down and tells a homeless man and an average guy that they have to fight. If the homeless guy wins then he gets a home, a job, and unlimited food for the rest of his life. If the other guy wins, he gets to sleep with the celebrity of his choice, gets free beer for the rest of his life, and gets a ticket to the next Super Bowl. Who ya got? Gimme the homeless guy. Why? Because he NEEDS that, the other guy just wants that.

Neither of these teams is homeless, but the Cowboys clearly NEED this game. The Texans can start 2-1 and it not be a big deal, but if the Cowboys fall to 0-3, heads roll. Teams, and people, do things when backed into a corner and I think the Cowboys win this shoot out because they have no other choice. It helps that they took some responsibility for their failures after last week and I think the Cowboys come out and win this so we can all go back to picking them and being disappointed.

Dallas Cowboys 38, Houston Texans 35

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears

He looks THRILLED to be there.

Coming into the year, I had the Bears at 4-12. I’m not afraid to admit it. They have a brutal schedule, a much-improved division, and injury-prone guys at key positions. That is not a recipe for success. But right now, they are healthy, the offense is working even without a good offensive line, and the defense is back to being the Monsters of the Midway. The Packers, on the other hand, have been pretty good so far, and though they have not really been tested so far, this should be a good barometer. They are clearly very talented, but this is a road game against a team that is playing very good football right now. If this game was in Lambeau, I would not hesitate in picking the Pack to bash the Bears. However, playing this game in Chicago is a game-changer. This game was already a battle for division supremacy (at least early supremacy) and I think the Packers can be attacked through the air. Al Harris is still out, and while the Packers will be able to get after the QB more effectively than Detroit or Dallas, I am not sure if it will be enough. I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl this year, but that does not mean there will be bumps along the way.

I am secretly afraid of picking the Bears here. They got lucky against the Lions with Shaun Hill playing the second half, and beat an uninspired Dallas team in their second game. There are so many reasons I should just take the Packers and make the Bears prove to me that they are real, and the fact that the Packers can get after the QB scares the crap out of me if I am a Bears fan. This may not be as good a game to watch as Cowboys-Texans, but it is going to be one hell of a game.

I came into the column picking the Bears. I almost talked myself out of it by telling myself that the Packers pass rush is going to make the Bears’ offensive line look awful. Um………

Packers 16, Bears 17

But don’t hold me to it.

UPSET SPECIAL

Honestly, not many options in the NFL this week, so we are going to college for the upset. I mean unless you would really like for me to talk about Raiders vs Cardinals…

Notre Dame over (16) Stanford (-5)

Yeah, call me a homer. I like the Irish to protect their house as Stanford comes rolling in to give us what has got to be the highest combined tuition and highest combined IQ of any relevant game this weekend. The Irish pass defense has actually been pretty good so far, but the only guy I really trust is Gary Gray. However, Andrew Luck will be without his top receiver for the game so the secondary should get a break there. The Irish ground game should show up again and be able to fuel the Irish “onward to victory”.

Just a few reservations about this pick

  • The fact that Stanford is missing their top WR is nice, but it always seems like a nobody steps up and kills Notre Dame every week. I can hear new-guy Mike Mayock drooling over how good Stanford’s 3rd string WR is from here as he racks up 150 yards. Calm down, Mike. He isn’t that good, he is just that good against Notre Dame.
  • Even without Toby Gerhart, it looks like the Cardinal can still run the rock. They are 14th in the nation at running the ball, but I am not sure what to read into that. They have been blowing people out, so are those stats padded by running the ball for much of the second half? Are they legitimately that good? What is it? We will find out on Saturday.
  • The line of Stanford being favored by 5 just seems too high. Am I missing something about a west coast team flying out to Notre Dame and an up-tempo offense? Stanford has played no one so far and they are still favored by 5 on the road?

Irish eyes will be smiling.

Stanford 24, Notre Dame 30


Last Week: 1-4
Season: 6-4
Upset Special: 1-1

Keep in mind I should be around .500 since they are games that people are actually debating> No one is picking the Ravens v Browns here.

College Football Wrap Week 3

Where do we start? It was not a very interesting week on paper, but it ended up pretty exciting and that is all that matters. Iowa managed to sufficiently shoot themselves in the foot, Sparty went tricky, Arkansas managed to win a road game in-conference, and numerous other favorites struggled. All in a day’s work.

Biggest Disappointment

Pick City. Population: You.

When you think of Iowa Football, you think of it being steady, not especially exciting, but likable and winning. Well, they went out to Tucson and laid a big egg against a team they should have beaten, but did not deserve to given their mistakes. Stanzi’s INT problem continued, the offense kept putting the defense behind the 8-ball, and they still almost pulled it out. However, credit goes to Arizona for cleaning up Iowa’s messes can cashing them in for scores because as we see every week, it is not about the better team as much as it is about which team takes advantage of their chances. Arizona certianly did that and deserved the W. I am not sure if they should be ranked so highly, but that remains to be seen. Call me a Pac-10 skeptic.

Best Play

Sparty’s fake FG in overtime clearly takes the cake here. Granted, the two defenders got pushed to the ground on the play and Notre Dame should have seen it coming, but my hat still goes off to Mark Dantonio for calling it. Should their last TD have been taken off the board because the receiver went out of bounds and came back in? Yes, but ti was still a good play call. As a Notre Dame fan, you can imagine how little I am enjoying talking about the play, but it was a good play. The rest of the game was alright, but really nothing special. Just your typical college game full of subpar clock management, somewhat poor execution (apart from the fake FG), and mistakes being the norm rather than the exception.

Joke-lahoma

So Utah State and Air Force walk into Norman, and lose by a combined 10 points? And Florida State comes in and loses by 30. Schizo much, Sooners? Inconsistency at home is a sure-fire way to kill a team’s chances of doing anything big this season. Which brings us to…

The Pretenders

Well, I was talking about football teams, but yeah, I guess they fit too.

I am looking at you, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Auburn, USC, Florida, and Michigan. Without serious changes, none of these teams is going anywhere. Conference road games are one of the toughest things to deal with, but when you get teams at home, you had better clean them up. We already went over Oklahoma. Wisconsin beat Arizona State by 1 in Madison. Auburn needed some luck to beat Clemson at home. USC just sucks generally, but struggled with a Minnesota team that is truly awful. Florida cannot figure it out, and Michigan is just crazy overhyped. Why the boring, choppy sentence structure? Because these are choppy teams in need of serious work if they want to earn their ranking.

The Sneaky Teams

We are all sort of still in the feeling-out process with college teams, but I already have a few teams I will be keeping my eye on to make big moves.

(8) Nebraska

Love their chances in the Big 12 (Now available in 10!) North this year without much serious competition, and I love Taylor Martinez at QB. He is a runner first, but really flashed the arm against a Washington team many thought would give them trouble. The defense is good too, holding projected #1 pick (not for long) Jake Locker to 4-20 passing. If not for how solid the top 4 look to only lose 1 or 2 games between them, I would pick Nebraska to be a title contender, but as it is, just a BCS Bowl team.

(18) Stanford/ (25) Oregon State

Either/or here. Get back to me in a week after Oregon State plays Boise (yes, they played TCU as well) and Stanford takes on Notre Dame. Those should both be good games to watch and should teach us a great deal about these teams, both of which have a lot to like in a weakened Pac-10. Yes, I like these teams to beat Oregon in the Pac-10. Oregon does the same thing every year: Put up outrageous scores on crappy teams at the beginning of the season and then systematically lose composure and road games at about the 3/4 point of the season. Expect it again.

What To Look Forward To

The site of one of next week's big games.

Oregon State vs Boise State. It is on the blue turf, so expect a double-digit Boise win, but play this one in Corvallis, and it gets close. South Carolina vs. Auburn should also be a good watch. Time to see if Spurrier’s boys actually have what it takes.

We are going to cut it short here since we have so much NFL material to cover and, frankly, because this week was somewhat forgettable. Next week will be much better.