Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Rules Of Irrational Love/Hate, And The Final Part Of My 2014-15 Bowl Predictions

I was sitting in the living room of my father’s house on Christmas Day, watching the all the great NBA action with both he and my brother. We pretty much always have a healthy banter going back and forth when we're together, and the topic of who should play James Bond once Daniel Craig’s contract was over somehow came up in conversation. My dad (or my Angry Old Man, as many of you know him) is very old school and traditional when it comes to Bond; I wouldn’t say he hates Daniel Craig’s portrayal of 007, but…. Hold up, wait a second, that’s actually exactly how he feels about it. He literally can’t stand it. In fact, if the decision was up to him, he would strike Craig in the head with a shovel, kind of like the way Zero popped Mr. Pendanski in Holes, and cast Hugh Jackman in the role. Jackman, an Aussie, is a fine actor, who also happens to have the look of Bond. He’d probably be perfect, and do a fine job, except he’s spent the last decade and a half playing Wolverine. I’m pretty sure his chops and animalistic-like nature would completely discredit him in the audience's mind as Bond. I don’t know. That’s just what my brother and I think. Regardless, as the debate raged on, I decided to do some reading on the internet about this very topic. I did what any sane person would do in today’s day and age; I Googled on my phone, “Potential James Bond Actors”, and was met with dozen and dozens of lists put together by random internet bloggers and people who pretended like they were in the “know”, only everybody is secretly aware that they actually aren’t. Hoping for some ideas, I clicked on one of the first ones, titled something like “Ten Actors Who Could Play James Bond”. I know, I know, what an imaginative title! Anyway, as I scrolled through the list of candidates, the name Benedict Cumberbatch popped up. I, unaware I was about to land on a major discovery, asked the following question, “How about Benedict Cumberbatch?”

The room went silent.

I wasn’t seriously considering him as an actual candidate (he’s too lanky and gangly, and he looks like an alien), but I didn’t know it would be met with such horror. Before my pops could even mouth a response, my brother piped up, and basically began doing everything but peeing on Cumberbatch’s career and lighting it on fire. “His portrayal of Kahn in Star Trek was mediocre” he sneered. “He’s overrated” he jeered. “Every time I watch him act, it feels like I’m at a really awful elementary school play, where I almost feel bad for the kids, but the performance is so horrible that it actually makes me laugh, and not in a good way”.

I know, I know, he’s an idiot. I don’t happen to love Cumberbatch either, but he's done at least a solid job in everything I've seen him in, which is really all I ask from the actors in movies and TV shows. Just be believable. Cumberbatch has, at least for me, accomplished that every time.

But through my brother's stupidity and angry railing, he helped me stumble upon something I had been contemplating for a few days. It was the idea that every single person, whether they want to admit it or not, irrationally hates someone or some thing. The opposite is also true. We all have something we love that we can’t really explain, or make any sense of.

For my brother, Cumberbatch is his Irrational Hate Guy. My Angry Old Man irrationally loves Liam Neeson, and I joked on Friday when I first brought this idea to light that he would pay to see Neeson in basically whatever movie he was in, no matter how ridiculous the plot was. He’d anxiously line up at the theater door to see Neeson wearing a banana suit, as he chased down an evil banana farmer who mistakenly stole his daughter from the banana patch. Though, to be fair, there really wasn’t much joking involved there, because that was something my dad would definitely do.

I spent a lot of time thinking about all this stuff over the weekend, and who I irrationally hated and loved. I was shocked to discover that I really couldn't come up with anyone outside the world of sports. Nicolas Cage was close to being a hate guy, but I eliminated him from consideration once I really ironed out the language of just exactly what it truly means to be an irrational hate candidate. Steven Seagal was almost an irrational love guy, until the same thing happened. So, at least for right now, in the world of Hollywood, everybody stays off my list.

Sports, however, is different. I’ve got more strong opinions on athletes and teams than I do on just about anything else, and with those opinions come biases and ridiculous irrationality.

So just what are the rules exactly? How do you know if the feelings you have towards a particular someone have reached the irrational love/hate level? Here they are, and in many ways, they mirror each other (some are sports specific, some are entertainment specific, and some apply to everyone):

Rules For Irrational Love

  1. Said athlete/coach cannot play on/coach a team that you root for.

This one makes sense, as your love for this athlete/coach is no longer irrational, because they are now trying to win games for a team you have a vested interest in. You want them to achieve at the highest levels, because in turn, that means your favorite team will fair well. It is rational for you to want your teams to do well, and therefore, your love for an athlete/coach on your favorite team is not irrational.

  1. You would buy pretty much any music put out by this artist/go to any movie that this actor stars in.

If you’re still dropping a fat wad on Lil Wayne or (insert any, past his prime, secretly-never-that-good artist) music, or you ever had the thought, “Wow, Johnny Depp or (insert any other actor) is playing an ostracized onion trapped on a peach farm? GET ME TO A THEATER IMMEDIATELY!!!” then your love for that person is irrational. If someone, just by solely putting out new content, gets you to spend money on them, then they are an “Irrational Love Guy” for you.

  1. You need to be willing to defend this team/athlete/coach/actor/musician, no matter what happens.

When you see that aforementioned onion movie, or have your ears bleed from that Lil Wayne album, or watch an athlete have one of his worst performances of the season in a huge game, and instead of owning it and saying, “Yeah, that movie was terrible” or, “Yeah, the only thing that album is good for is breaking it in half whenever I get stressed out” or, “Yeah, (insert athlete’s name) played like crap. He was a complete dog that game”, you instead make excuse after excuse for the performance. You’ll say things like, “(Insert actor’s name) gave a great performance in that movie, so great in fact, that everyone around him wasn’t able to live up to it” or, “(Insert artist’s name) is genius man. Pure genius, and you’re so stupid that his lyrical meaning just went over your head” or, “Man, the refs screwed (insert athlete’s name) the entire game” or, “His coach was an idiot” or, “His teammates were so terrible, and as great as he is, not even he could overcome that”. With movies and music, a typical response in the face of criticism is, “Just go back and listen/watch it again man. You’ll hear/see what I’m saying then!” That’s the most ridiculous and irrational love thing you can say, because it’s not an argument, or presentation of any evidence as to why this thing was so great. Basically, you’re just deflecting the other person by insisting that they waste their time going back and doing something they clearly didn’t enjoy.

  1. Have you ever heard this person being criticized on TV/Radio, or in a group of friends, and started yelling at the TV, or started a pointless, fruitless argument with someone over their opinion?

Unless you’re arguing with someone who irrationally hates this person, they normally have more factual and solid evidence to back up their opinion, which leads you to come up with the most ridiculous, ludicrous, and hair-brained ideas and arguments to defend your guy. Eventually, you confuse yourself, and come to the realization that you, in fact, are full of crap, but instead of backing down, you stubbornly continue the argument, and get progressively dumber and dumber. I’ve done this like a zillion times. And oftentimes, as the other person is just absolutely shutting down every single thing you say, you start making character attacks against them, try the old, “I’M LOUDER THAN YOU” non-argument (perfected by Skip Baseless and Screamin’ A. Smith), or attempt drop kick them square in the face so they’ll stop owning you.

Shouting at the TV is the exact opposite, because it can’t argue back. It will eventually move on, but you can’t because they just went after one of your guys, and that’s not allowed. You’ll yell at the TV until you feel like you’ve made your point (and completely buried theirs), and you’ll high-five yourself, and mutter, “That guy is an idiot, my ‘Irrational Love Guy’ is great! If only I had my own platform, I’d show the world how awesome this guy is, and how smart I am!” Look, I’m not saying I always high-five myself when I win a one-way argument with the TV, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t happened a time or two. And by “two” I mean “a thousand”.

  1. You give this person way too much credit for the success of a project/win they were involved in.

This one is most evident in sports, where individual superstars get way too much credit for team accomplishments. You’d think, at least listening to some media members and idiot fans, that Kobe Bryant went one-on-five in every NBA Finals’ game he ever played in, and was pretty much the only reason the Lakers won their five titles. Actually, the “one-on-five” part is pretty accurate. Everything else isn’t. I could name this one the “Kobe Bryant Rule” or the “Derek Jeter Rule” because these two are the most flagrant violators of it, and their irrational fans perpetuate it.

Rules For Irrational Hate

  1. Said athlete/coach cannot play on/coach for a team that you root against.

This one, much like the rule number one for irrational love, makes sense, because you wouldn’t want an athlete/coach from a team you hate to do well, because that means that, in turn, his team will probably have success, something you don’t want to happen. It’s rational that you wouldn’t want a team you root against to have success.

  1. The John Calipari Exception.

This is a rare exception, named after Kentucky’s basketball coach. This exception basically allows for you to irrationally hate a coach/athlete that competes for a team that you hate, because you would answer "yes" to the following, ever-important question: “Is this athlete/coach such a snake that you would hate them regardless of where they played/coached?”. I, a Tennessee fan, don’t hate Nick Saban, even though I actively root against his team in every opportunity. Strictly as a football fan, I respect him, even though he’s the size of the King of the Hobbits. But Calipari? I can’t say the same. He’s shady and slimy, has had two Final Fours vacated, and comes off as smug, arrogant, and not genuine in every single interaction he has with the media.

  1. You won’t give this athlete/team/actor/musician any credit for anything they accomplish.

One of my irrational hate guys is Texas A&M head football coach Kevin Sumlin. I think he’s the most overrated coach in the country, only the media never hesitated in calling him a “genius” after two seasons in the SEC in which he went 10-6 with Johnny Football. I’m not saying that’s horrible, but you’d think he came in there and just absolutely blew everyone away and won the SEC West back-to-back years. He’s been a head coach for seven seasons now, and he’s had seven horrendous defenses. He’s 0-3 against LSU, and basically has had one enormous win during his tenure, a road victory at Alabama that he’s gotten more mileage out of than any single victory for a coach in recent memory.

Of course, with the Aggies bowl victory on Monday night, he won his 28th game at A&M, the most in the history of the school through three seasons. He’s also 3-0 in bowl games with that program, and they, along with Baylor, have been the best teams in that state the last three years, which is no small feat, considering they have to battle with TEXAS and Oklahoma and pretty much every program in the country for their own in-state talent.

I don’t care. He’s not a “genius”, and he still sucks. Stop getting embarrassed by LSU every year and then come talk to me.

  1. He’s overrated!!!

I’m not saying you can’t call someone overrated and not be irrational, but if you’ve ever said that about someone, and then either been unable to articulate any reason as to why, or you’ve completely ignored and dismissed facts that might demonstrate the opposite to be true, then your hate is probably irrational.

  1. Have you ever heard this person being praised on TV/radio, or amongst a group of friends, and immediately gotten so frustrated that you started yelling at the TV, or started a pointless and fruitless argument?

This one works the exact same way as the similarly-phrased irrational love question. My Angry Old Man is, in many ways, a frequent and flagrant violator of this one. Just the other day, my brother and I were talking about how great Odell Beckham had been this year, and how he just might’ve had the greatest rookie receiving season ever, and my dad replied with, “Yeah, you’re right, go ahead and put him in Canton (the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame)”. Yeah, because that’s exactly what we were saying pops. See? That was a hair-brained, ridiculous, nonsensical argument made by someone who irrationally hates someone else.

If you have any other suggestion for rules, I’d love to hear them. This list pretty much is, and always will be, a work in progress.

After putting the finishing touches on the rules, I realized that some of my original candidates from last Friday actually weren’t irrational love/hate guys at all. After careful study, I settled on the following list of guys that truly embody everything I spelled out above.

Irrational Love Guys:

Stanford Football
Russell Westbrook
Dez Bryant
Aaron Rodgers

Irrational Hate Guys:
John Calipari
Kevin Sumlin
Clemson Football
Jim Boeheim
James Harden

It’s a short list, and I was shocked at how many guys I eliminated throughout the process. I realized I didn’t really irrationally hate guys like Derek Jeter (none of my criticisms were unfair, and I’m not above praising him), or irrationally love guys like Philip Rivers (I like Rivers, but I was such a fan of his basically because I was rooting for San Diego all season, as they were my pre-season AFC Super Bowl pick). I’ll give a quick break down of everyone who made the list that I didn’t talk about above.

Stanford Football

Like I wrote on Friday, I, for some reason, just really like the way the Cardinal play. They’re physical at the line of scrimmage, they love to pound the football with the running game, and they play great defense. I have never been to California, and Stanford probably have the dumbest mascot in sports (the tree), but I just like the way they do everything out there.

Russell Westbrook

I wrote an entire piece before the NBA season about how great Westbrook was, and how people were stupid for blaming him for OKC’s playoff shortcomings. Basically, I criticized everyone in the Thunder organization while acknowledging, begrudgingly, that Westbrook, solely by being on the team, should take some blame. Yeah, I get it, that was the weakest criticism ever, but I’ll stand by it. That guy is electric, and I don’t think we’ll ever see a fluid, breathtaking athlete quite like him again. He also happens to be one of the most hyper-competitive guys in the entire Association, something that goes a long way in guaranteeing that you’ll make my list.

Dez Bryant

He’s the same as Westbrook; a super competitive, athletic monster, only he has off-the-field problems, something Russell doesn’t deal with. I’m not saying those issues with police aren’t a big deal, but that doesn’t mean Dallas shouldn’t pay the man either. He’s one of the three best wide receivers in the league, a once-every-fifteen-years type of guy, and not someone you’d want to lose in free agency for nothing. I’d give him a deal similar to the one the 49ers gave Colin Kaepernick, where the team has multiple opportunities to get out of it if he does something really stupid. Give him some nice incentives though that will entice him to sign it, and stay. I don’t know. It’s a negotiation. They’ll figure it out.

Aaron Rodgers

I created the “shouting at the TV rule” basically just for him, because he was actually the last person I yelled at the TV over. Some talking head was criticizing him for not being the same quarterback on the road as he was at home, and cited his .500 road record as evidence. I rambled on for a little bit before accidentally stumbling on one coherent point: “That’s fine, I wonder what every other quarterbacks record on the road is!” I high-fived myself without ever looking those numbers up, thinking that I had somehow shown that guy how dumb he was.

Clemson Football

I’ve made enough jokes over this football season about “Clemsoning”, which basically means snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Nice bowl win though… over the worst Oklahoma team in the Bob Stoops era. Congrats guys.

Jim Boeheim

I hate Syracuse’s basketball coach, mostly because I’ve never heard him talk without sounding like he's whining. Plus, he has a strong case of Calipariitis (sounding like a smug, arrogant jerk), and he also happens to be the most overrated coach in the history of college basketball. Really? You’ve been at Syracuse for almost 40 years, and have only been to four Final Fours? And you’ve won the national title once? You’ve had as much talent as anyone during your tenure, and that’s all you have to show for it? I mean yeah, I understand that he has 954 wins, but I’d argue that’s mostly just a result of longevity more than anything.

Just for the record, if his personality didn’t bother me so much, I probably wouldn’t say anything about his accomplishments on the basketball court. I guess the most irrational thing about this one is that I literally don’t know Boeheim at all, and yet, I don’t think I’d want to meet him, because I’m pretty sure I’d want to smother myself with a pillow if I had to listen to him talk for an extended period of time.

James Harden

Sure, Harden is one of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA, and he has the best beard-mohawk combo in sports. That’s where my praise ends. Interestingly enough, I used to actually be a big fan of his when he was at Arizona State, because he just seemed like a really nice, humble dude, but watching him flop his way and quit on defense through his NBA career pretty much turned me against him for life. It’s not realistic to expect guys to murder themselves on the defensive end for 82 games a year, but is it too much to ask for Harden to at least try on defense from time to time? I don’t think it is, and when I see how hard he goes on the offensive end, and how flagrantly he flops throughout the game, it’s really frustrating. Can he not at least attempt to channel some of that energy into the defensive end? I guess not.

So there it is. This list is, and always will be, a work in progress. People will probably come on and off it from time to time. Just know that any time someone enters the list or leaves it, I’ll let you guys know.


Now, let’s move on to the final part of my bowl predictions. First, we’ll pick all of the remaining non-New Year’s Six bowl and playoff games.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Houston over Pittsburgh

Just another “I couldn’t care less” game. I literally closed my eyes and circled a team.

Valero Alamo Bowl

#11 Kansas State over #14 UCLA

The Bruins were the biggest phonies of the college football season, and they impressed me exactly twice this season. K-State should’ve won their game against Auburn, and besides their blowout loss to TCU, they were in every game they played this year. They’re just better, and they’ll handle UCLA. Thanks for disappointing us this year Bruins.

Ticket City Cactus Bowl

Washington over Oklahoma State

The Cowboys’ defense couldn’t plug a centimeter-sized hole. Plus, Washington’s Chris Petersen, the former Boise State head coach, is a sneaky-good 5-2 in bowl games. He’ll, after this one, move to 6-2.

Birmingham Bowl

Florida over East Carolina

I picked the Gators, because I just couldn’t see them, even with inept as their offense is, losing a game to East Carolina. And because I said that, Florida will go out, do their best bad pee wee offense impression, and lose 3-0. Oh well.

GoDaddy Bowl

Toledo over Arkansas State

Remember what I said about the Houston-Pittsburgh game? Yeah, I pretty much did the same thing with this game, except I flipped a coin instead.

Tax Slayer Bowl

Tennessee over Iowa

The Hawkeyes went 7-5 in the Big 10, which was probably the worst Power 5 conference in college football. Can’t we just safely say that they’re terrible? The only thing I’m worried about is the Tennessee offensive line self-destructing, something that’s happened in pretty much every game this season. That, and Iowa inexplicably having the Monstars join their team right before kickoff. But short of that happening, the Vols should get their first bowl win since 2007, which should be a nice momentum and morale booster heading into next season.

Outback Bowl

#19 Auburn over #18 Wisconsin

The last time we saw the Badgers, they were in the middle of the most puzzling blowout of the year, a 59-0 beat down in the Big 10 Championship Game by Ohio State. I, of course, stupidly picked them to win that game. Whoops. I don’t think Auburn’s great though, and I’ve called them overrated all season. Sure, they’ve got a flashy, explosive offense, but that defense is just awful. But even they should be able to handle this Wisconsin team that’s in transition, as they’re going through ANOTHER coaching change. Is AD Barry Alvarez the worst boss in the country? I’m not sure, but I think I know what Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen would say.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl

#16 Missouri over #25 Minnesota

I really am a fan of the Golden Gophers’ Jerry Kill, but I’m pretty much always going to pick an SEC team to beat one out of the Big 10, solely out of principle.

Now, the New Year’s Six….

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

#6 TCU over #9 Ole Miss

I realize at the time of me posting this that the Horned Frogs are wearing out the Rebels. I don’t know what to say to say other than I made all my picks before December 20th, the date of the first bowl games. If you doubt that, my Angry Old Man will vouch for me. If you see him out in public, you can ask him, as long as you can deal with being yelled at about how “we’ve lost the country” for five solid minutes.

Vizio Fiesta Bowl

#10 Arizona over #20 Boise State

Just for the record, I don’t think Arizona is great, but why is Boise in this game again? They didn’t go undefeated, and their best win is…. what exactly? Colorado State? Plus, both Ole Miss and Air Force beat them by double digits. I think this could be the most lopsided of all the New Year’s Six games.

Capital One Orange Bowl

#7 Mississippi State over #12 Georgia Tech

If you have just a week to prepare for a game, I’d hate to play the Yellow Jackets, because that triple option offense they run is unlike anything your team will see all season. But if you get a month to prepare for it, like Mississippi State is getting, then it, amazingly, becomes that less daunting. That’s probably because it, in a lot of ways, isn’t that overly complex or versatile. You can disagree, but Tech’s 1-5 record under Paul Johnson doesn’t lie. It’s great for the regular season, but it’s almost always going to sputter in the bowl game.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

#5 Baylor over #8 Michigan State

The Spartans are the most overrated top 10 team in the country. I mean, they got their butts absolutely kicked by Oregon and Ohio State, the only really good teams they played all season. Sure, they beat Nebraska, but if that’s your best win of the year, then this football team probably isn’t one the Michigan State faithful will remember for years to come. Baylor should’ve been in the four team playoff, so they’re either going to play this entire game pissed off, or sleep walk through it because they don’t really want to be there. It’s one or the other, and I’ll bet on the former, because I think that Art Briles is such a great coach, and he’ll have his team motivated and ready to play. Though, to be fair, they won’t need to be great to beat this Michigan State team.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual

#2 Oregon over #3 Florida State

Allstate Sugar Bowl

#1 Alabama over #4 Ohio State

I chose to put these two contest, our first ever college football playoff games, together, because I like the winners for the same reasons. It’s about time we had a playoff in FBS college football, and it’s going to be an amazing spectacle, but to me, ‘Bama and Oregon have clearly been the two best teams in college football this season. Head and shoulders ahead of everyone actually. I recognize how great of a coach Urban Meyer is, but you’re not going to convince me that Nick Saban and that Alabama defense won’t have a field day with Ohio State’s third string quarterback, Cardale Jones, particularly since you’ve given them a month to prepare. I hope I’m wrong, because I hate Alabama, but I can’t see the Buckeyes keeping it within 14 points. Don’t forget that this is still an extremely young State team, one that even Coach Meyer said was a year ahead of schedule. I think Meyer will eventually win a national title in Columbus, but it won’t happen this season.

In regards to the FSU-Oregon game, I’m only pausing because of the stupid, “Jameis Winston is undefeated thing”. Oregon, on paper, is clearly better. Their offense is unstoppable, and this is probably the best defense they’ve had in the Chip Kelly-Mark Helfrich era. Still though, there were so many games this season where the ‘Noles should’ve lost, or play horribly, only Jameis made like a zillion enormous plays down the stretch that kept them alive and in the game. And then, eventually, something would happen (like Notre Dame’s offensive pass interference), and FSU would survive, undefeated and unscathed. I hate-watched them the entire year, and I was almost as angry after every Seminole win as I was after every Vol loss. I’ll be doing the same thing tomorrow. Everything that makes sense points to Oregon, but all the intangible, stupid destiny stuff points to FSU.


So enjoy football over today and tomorrow. You deserve it. I’ll be back with my NFL Wild Card Round picks on Friday.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Week In Football: The Stupidity Of Firing Your NFL Coach, And Other Week 17 NFL Thoughts

The 2014 NFL regular season is in the books, and Week 17 was full of joy for some, and disappointment for many. Teams (San Diego) choked, coaches were fired, and 20 teams had their seasons end. It was a wild Sunday, so let’s just get into it.

San Diego Chokers

The Bolts picked the worst time to play their poorest game since their 37-0 beat down at Miami in Week 9. Philip Rivers, just a week after leading his team to the most dramatic comeback win of the NFL season, was shockingly sub-par, throwing for just 291 yards and two interceptions, while completing just 58.8% of his passes. I’d blame him more if he wasn’t missing his best receiver (Keenan Allen), his two best running backs (Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead) or taking snaps from his FIFTH different center of the season. Plus, during the game, they lost right tackle D.J. Fluker in the first half. That might explain why Rivers was running for his life the entire game, or why he got sacked seven times.

The injuries were obviously devastating for San Diego this year, and they were a major factor in why they came up short. But it doesn’t make yesterday’s no-show any more excusable. The Chiefs were starting CHASE DANIEL, only the Chargers were unable to really bother him the entire day. And, despite the injuries, they left a ton of points on the field. Nick Novak missed a 52 yard field goal late in the third quarter, they had an Eddie Royal TD late in the game overturned, leading to a 4th and goal throw from Rivers that fell incomplete, and then, with four minutes left, Donald Brown was stopped on 4th and 1 on the Kansas City 20 yard line. If you want to win NFL games, particularly against pretty good squads, you just can’t come up short on possession after possession like that. The game was there to be had, and San Diego wasn’t able to take it.

Now is as good of a time as any to admit I was wrong about the Bolts in 2014. I’d been on the “San Diego is really good” bandwagon all year, mostly because I picked them to go to the Super Bowl at the beginning of the year. They duped me all season. There was the impressive, eye-popping victory over Seattle in Week 2, and the impressive 5-1 start. And even when they dropped to 5-4, they rebounded quickly by winning three in a row, including an amazing comeback victory over Baltimore. Sure, they struggled against New England and Denver, but they shocked me, and made me believe again after their aforementioned come from behind win over the crippling Niners. After all those miracles, all they had to do to make the playoffs was win a road game against a team starting Chase Daniel. And they couldn’t do it.

On Friday, when I was making my Week 17 predictions, and heard that Alex Smith was out, I immediately, and foolishly, dismissed this game, because I didn’t think there was any way the Chargers could blow this one. Chase Daniel? Please. But then, as the weekend rolled along, I started to get a horrible, nervous felling in my stomach about this one. Wouldn’t it be my luck that San Diego, fresh off the most improbable victory of the NFL season, come into a must-win game against a team that’s missing it’s starting quarterback, and just absolutely blow it? No, it couldn't be, right? Right? Wrong.

Falcons Flying Low

Atlanta’s big swing and miss in the Georgia Dome yesterday brought one of the NFL’s ten worst team’s season to a screeching halt. It was alarming just how much better Carolina was than them yesterday, but turnovers murdered the Falcons all day. The Panthers’ offense didn’t even need to be great to win yesterday, because they benefited from two pick-sixes, and a fumble deep in Atlanta territory that set them up with a short field. It was surprising just how little of a push their offensive line was able to get against the Carolina front seven, and just how much the Panther running attack bullied their defense. Cam Newton’s driving, four yard TD run was the perfect example of that. He literally got hit at the line of scrimmage, only he and his offensive lineman were able to just get lower, and push their way into the end zone.

The lack of NFL-caliber players in the trenches is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t have fired head coach Mike Smith if I was Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank. Sure, they’ve got Matt Ryan and some nice skill position players (Julio Jones, Roddy White), but they might be the worst team in the NFL on the offensive line and in the defensive front seven. They can’t run the ball or pass block, and any team with even a semi-decent rushing attack blows Atlanta off the ball and basically does what they want. This is one of the worst rosters in the NFL, and I’m not sure there was anything Smith could’ve done about it.

Black Monday

The Falcons’ Smith, the Jets’ Rex Ryan, and Bears’ Marc Trestman were the only three NFL coaches that got the axe this morning, giving us a total of five head coaching vacancies in the NFL, including the Raiders’ Dennis Allen, who was fired earlier in the season, and the Niners’ Jim Harbaugh, who came to a mutual agreement with the team to leave the organization. Rather than speculate about who will be the next head coach in all of these cities, I think it’s better to ask this question:

Which of these five coaches really deserved to get fired?

Seriously, how many?

I have no idea if Allen was a good coach, though he did go 8-28 in his two and a quarter seasons in Oakland. Then again, I almost never think a Raiders’ coach should be fired, because that’s by far the worst-run team in the NFL, and you pretty much have no chance once you get hired. Including interim coaches, Oakland has had EIGHT head coaches since they last made the playoffs (and Super Bowl) in 2002. At some point, your organization just sucks, and there isn’t a head coach in America that can do anything about turning your franchise around until that dreadful front office gets fixed.

The biggest travesty of the NFL season was the 49ers’ front office and Jim Harbaugh’s inability to get along, which led to their mutual split. You’re telling me that parting of the ways was justified? In four seasons, he went to three NFC Championship Games, one Super Bowl, won five playoff games (including three on the road), and went 44-19-1. Really? If you’re the Niners, good luck ever hiring someone again that has that level of success in his first four years coaching your franchise.

Mike Smith was the most successful coach in the history of the Falcons’ franchise, leading Atlanta to winning years his first five seasons in charge. That’s more impressive than you’d think, considering the Dirty Birds had never had back-to-back winning seasons in the history of the franchise until he got there. Sure, they only won a single playoff game during his tenure, and the last two years were less than desirable, but does that mean he deserves to be fired? I don’t think so. They just don’t have the personnel to play championship-level football year in and year out. They’re soft and mediocre in the trenches, and you can’t win that way. How much of that is Smith’s fault? Sure, he has some say in picking the players, but isn’t that ultimately GM Thomas Dimitroff’s job? I understand the issues with clock management that Smith had, but is that enough to get him fired? I don’t think it should be, and it certainly hasn’t cost Andy Reid his job.

I don’t think I would’ve fired Trestman either. Really, we’re going to give this guy two years? The offense, the side of the ball he was brought into fix, has been fairly decent since he came to town. Sure, Jay Cutler was awful for most of the year, but that un-Bearlike defense was just as, if not more, responsible for Chicago’s failures this season. Plus, Chicago, despite Cutler’s struggles, was able to put up points in almost every game. That defense never stopped anyone. Mel Tucker, their defensive coordinator, should take more of the blame this season than Trestman. 

Finally, Rex Ryan, the only coach of the five that I really feel like I could justify firing, mostly because I think it’s just time for a culture change in New York. Though, to be fair to Ryan, how many NFL coaches have been forced to rely on two different rookie quarterbacks at the same job? And how many were saddled with a stooge like John Idzik as their GM?

Here’s the thing with head coaches; there are a select few (think Bill Belichick) that are just smarter than everyone else, and about as many (think Jay Gruden or Wade Phillips) who look like a lost little boy on the sidelines that isn’t in control of anything that’s going on. Most everybody else falls somewhere in the middle, like Smith, or even a Super Bowl winner like Mike Tomlin.

Do you think Tomlin is a great coach? I don’t. He’s not terrible, and he’s obviously got some talents as a motivator and a leader of men, but besides that, what sets him apart from two dozen other NFL coaches? Nothing really. You’re telling me half the league couldn’t achieve what Tomlin has accomplished in Pittsburgh? Of course they could. If you switched Tomlin and Smith in 2008, don’t you think the results of the two teams would be the same? I do. The only real difference between Tomlin and those aforementioned two dozen NFL coaches is the stability and consistency that is present in the Steelers’ front office, and the lack of that in a large portion of front offices around the league. Pittsburgh has consistently drafted the right kind of players (offensive and defensive lineman), and surrounded Ben Roethlisberger with undervalued skill position players in late rounds of the draft. Everybody loves flashy wideouts and elite running backs, but the dirty little secret of the NFL is that you can pretty much find those guys in every round of the draft. Let’s take a look at Roethlisberger’s top weapons, and what round the Steelers drafted them in:

Antonio Brown (led the league in receptions and receiving yards this season): 6th round
Martavis Bryant: 4th round
Markus Wheaton: 3rd round
Le’Veon Bell: 2nd round
Heath Miller: 1st round

See? One first round pick, Miller, a tight end, someone who spends almost as much time blocking as he does trotting out to catch passes. And even with them filling out their receiving core and backfield with mid-to-late round picks, they still finished second in the NFL in yards per game, and seventh in points. You don’t win Super Bowls by having the best skill position players. It starts with having the right quarterback, an offensive line that can push people around and protect him, and a defensive front seven that can stop the run and get after the passer. Look at the Cowboys this season. Why have they been so successful? It’s not because they’ve got a zillion elite wide receivers; basically, it’s Dez Bryant (who is great) and a bunch of no names. In fact, overall, this might be the worst they’ve been at receiver since Romo began starting in 2006. No, they’ve been great (and, in my opinion, the team most likely to knock off Seattle in the NFC) because of that offensive line, which has been slowing built through the draft the last few years. That unit is the best in the NFL, and is the major reason Demarco Murray just set the Dallas record for rushing yards in a season. Murray was a nice player before the season began, but behind that offensive line, he turned into the reincarnation of Emmitt Smith. Heck, they aren’t even that good on defense, but their O-line is so good that it doesn’t matter, because they can keep that mediocre side of the ball on the sidelines for long stretches of the game by controlling the clock with that powerful, punishing running game. Notice that Dallas really hasn’t gotten torched too many times this season, something Cowboy fans were accustomed to seeing in year’s past. Find me a group of wide receivers or running backs that makes the defense they share a locker room with look semi-competent. Hint: there aren’t any.

Everybody loves to yell, “Fire the coach” whenever things don’t go right, but in the NFL, I think the best strategy, a lot of the time, is to ignore the idiot fans (if you listen to those clowns, you’ll never win. Fans are, by definition, fanatical, and mostly crazy. Many are incapable of even really articulating the problems with their favorite team, so instead, they just call for the coach’s head whenever they get angry), but also, stand by your guy, and not rock the boat. That line of thinking is why the Steelers have been consistently competitive since the 70s, won six Super Bowls (the most ever), and had just three different head coaches since 1969. You’re telling me they hit three straight homers, and hired three great, elite NFL minds in a row? There’s no way that happened. If anything, Pittsburgh was just smarter than everyone else, because they hired a guy, believed they made the right decision, were patient with him, and tried their hardest to surround that coach and his staff with the best players possible. And when things haven’t gone well, like from 1998-2000, when under Bill Cowher, the Steelers missed the playoffs three straight years, or the last two seasons under Tomlin, which ended at 8-8, instead of throwing their hands up in the air and firing the coach, Pittsburgh did the exact opposite. They stuck by their guy, believed in the process and what they’d built, and eventually found their way back into the playoffs.

The head coach has to be the leader and voice of the team, and he has to have the ear of every player in the locker room. It’s really that simple. If I was ever running an NFL team, I’d only fire my head coach for the following football reasons:

  1. They have Wade Phillips Syndrome (meaning they looked lost and out of control on the sidelines)
  2. The players were starting to tune out both he and his message
  3. It was time for a culture change (which is why I was fine with Rex Ryan being fired)
  4. Our record was significantly worse than the level of talent we had on the field

Besides that? I don’t think I could justify it. Did Trestman or Smith look lost on the sidelines? Have the players tuned them out? Neither of them are particularly overbearing personalities, but neither was Tony Dungy, or Pete Carroll, both Super Bowl winners. Did Trestman even get the opportunity to establish a culture? No, not really. And was the Mike Smith culture so terrible? I mean, it did produce five winning seasons. And do either of these men have enough, elite level NFL players to legitimately contend for a championship? No, of course they don’t. Interestingly enough, both Atlanta and Chicago have two of the five best receiving units in the league, yet are both legitimately horrible on the offensive line and in the front seven. No wonder they went a combined 11-21.

Wild Card Weekend

Here are the playoff match ups for Wild Card Weekend (seeding in parentheses):

(6) Baltimore at (3) Pittsburgh
(5) Cincinnati at (4) Indianapolis

(6) Detroit at (3) Dallas
(5) Arizona at (4) Carolina

I’ll write more about these games when I make my picks later in the week, but early on, I wouldn’t be shocked if the home teams won all the games weekend. Pittsburgh, to me, is just playing at such a higher level right now than anyone else in the AFC, besides New England. Detroit will be without Ndamukong Suh on Sunday, after he was suspended for stomping on Aaron Rodgers’ injured leg, meaning they’re going to be in even more trouble trying to slow down the Dallas rushing attack. And I’m pretty sure it's never a good idea to pick Andy Dalton or Ryan Lindley to win a road playoff game. So that's where I am right now. Then again, I probably just gave at least two of those teams death sentences by just making that declaration. I’m sorry guys. It wasn’t intentional.


Finally, from my Angry Old Man, who we all know couldn’t be satisfied two weeks in a row. The Christmas Spirit had him in a good mood, but we all secretly knew that wouldn’t continue. Here are his wise words:

“Since everyone knows you’re the worst person on the internet at making football predictions, I just wanted to take this opportunity to take you through your greatest hits of the football season. Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game? Big year for Cordarrelle Patterson? Green Bay Packers not very good? Colin Kaepernick ‘electric’? San Diego Super Chargers?.....”

He rambled on for a long time, and even started attributing statements to me that weren’t true, like, “E.J. Manuel second coming of Joe Montana?” and, “The Kansas City wide receivers will have a huge year this season!” You know, just stuff like that. It’s always hilarious and bothersome to go back and look at your own predictions and declarations from earlier in the year. For example, here was the top 10 of my first NFL power rankings of the season, which occurred after Week 3.

  1. Seattle
  2. Cincinnati
  3. San Diego
  4. Denver
  5. Arizona
  6. Philadelphia
  7. Atlanta
  8. Chicago
  9. Carolina
  10. Detroit

Yikes! Four of my top 10 missed the playoffs! Atlanta at 7th, Chicago at 8th, and Carolina at 9th? And there are the stupid Chargers, all the way at 3rd. And no Green Bay or New England! I know, I’m a genius.

For the record, Atlanta was coming off their Thursday Night thrashing of Tampa Bay, Chicago had just won at San Francisco on Sunday Night, and Carolina’s defense was playing extremely well, kind of like how they did yesterday in Atlanta. More than anything, it’s just amazing how quickly things can flip, and how perceptions of an NFL team can change in about two and half seconds.

Regardless of how many picks I get right, or how many times you guys scratch your head, get extremely confused, and say out loud, “What?” after you read something I’ve wrote, I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from everyone this football season. But it’s not over. I’ll be back later in the week to write about Wild Card Weekend, and the college football playoffs.

But for now, enjoy your all the great college football games this evening. You deserve it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Predicting the Middle Of The Road Bowl Games, And My Week 17 NFL Picks

Week 17 of the NFL season is finally upon us, and though there won’t be the inevitable Cowboys’ intra-division choke job in this final weekend like there has been the last three years, there is still enough on the schedule to get me excited. However, we’re also firmly in the middle of bowl season, and I have this strange sense of responsibility to everyone reading this to pick each and every one of those games, regardless if they matter or not. But, instead of forcing all of my remaining predictions into this week’s picks, I decided to just pick the games through the 30th. I’ll be back early next week with my picks for all the remaining bowl games, including the New Years Six, and the College Football Playoff, early next week.

So, without further ado, here are my bowl game picks through December 30th….

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman

Cincinnati over Virginia Tech

I’m not saying Cincinnati is great, but have you seen the Hokies this year? They’re 4-6 since their improbable victory over Ohio State, including an embarrassing 6-3 overtime loss to Wake Forest, one of the worst teams in any of the Power 5 conferences.

Is Va. Tech done being an elite program under Frank Beamer? He deserves a lot of respect and admiration for basically building that program from nothing into a player at the national level, but here are their records the last three seasons:

2012: 7-6
2013: 8-5
2014: 6-6

That’s a less than impressive 21-17. This program, once known for “Beamer Ball”, (great defense and special teams, and big plays in both of those facets of the game) doesn’t seem to make enormous, game-altering plays in those areas anymore. The offense has been terrible, and they don’t look anywhere near as well coached as they were five years ago.

Beamer is 68 years old. It’s hard to keep on grinding the way you did when you were a younger man. He just might be, despite all the great things he’s accomplished over the years, done.

Hyundai Sun Bowl

#15 Arizona State over Duke

Todd Graham is more shady than Eminem, but that doesn’t change the fact that this was one of the best teams in the Pac 12 this season. Duke, for as good as they’ve been the last two years, always seemed a little bit gimmicky to me. Yeah, sure, they’ll beat teams like Syracuse, but I don’t realistically expect them to defeat anyone that is really good.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl

South Carolina over Miami

I’m worried (actually, I would love for this to happen) that the Gamecocks’ defense is going to get torched, because they couldn’t stop a nosebleed, but whenever I’m unsure on a pick, and an SEC team is involved, I’ll normally just sigh, shake my head, and pencil them in.

Also, keep an eye on the Hurricanes next season. I think that, slowly, Al Golden has really been building something special down there. Next year will be key for him and this program. They could be extremely competitive, and maybe even win the conference. Or he could get fired. It’s one or the other.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Boston College over Penn State

I don’t have a great feel for this game, but I do know that I haven’t been impressed with the Nittany Lions all season. The James Franklin era didn’t quite get off to the same “Oh my gosh, how are you doing this?” start in State College as it did at Vanderbilt. I still think he’ll do a great job there, it’ll just take a little bit longer than I initially thought.

Can you imagine the competitiveness in the Big 10 East if Franklin gets it going at Penn State, and Jim Harbaugh actually takes the Michigan job? You’d have Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Harbaugh at Michigan, Mark Dantonio at Michigan St, and Franklin at Penn State. All four of those guys are really good head coaches who have the potential to win really big, or already have. Would there be a better foursome of coaches in any college football division than that? The SEC West would have Nick Saban, Les Miles, Gus Malzahn, and your choice of Kevin Sumlin, Dan Mullen, Hugh Freeze, and Bret Bielema. That’s a better overall group of coaches than you’d find in the Big 10, and the major reason why the SEC West is the best division in college football, but the top four in the Big 10 East, assuming that Harbaugh comes, might be better than anyone else’s.

National University Holiday Bowl

#24 USC over Nebraska

I’m not a huge fan of the Trojans, but I just don’t think Nebraska is that good either. They lost to the three best teams they played this season (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota), and struggled mightily with a mediocre Iowa team in the last week of the season before pulling it out late. Plus, that Husker defense is terrible (just ask Melvin Gordon).

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

West Virginia over Texas A&M

How is it possible that A&M went 7-5? Kevin Sumlin is their head coach! And he’s a genius! Or, maybe he isn’t, and instead, he's the most overrated coach in America. Their defense sucks, and it’s getting more and more apparent that the Aggies success in the SEC their first two years can be attributed directly to Johnny Football.

Russell Athletic Bowl

#17 Clemson over Oklahoma

What a lost and disappointing season for the Sooners. They had an exorbitant amount of momentum heading into this season after last year’s destruction of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but they just didn’t live up to expectations. They lost a close game to TCU, blew their home contest against K-State, got leveled in Norman by Baylor, and to top it all off, lost to the worst Oklahoma State team since 2007, in their last game of the season. Not a great year. They haven’t beaten an even above average team since their victory over Texas on October 11th, and I don’t think it’s any problem to come to the conclusion that Oklahoma might just be an extremely average football team. Clemson isn’t great either, but I think we’d remember this Tiger football season differently if their quarterback, Deshaun Watson, hadn’t missed four games with various ailments. They should win this game.

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Texas over Arkansas

My Angry Old Man loves this game, because it reeks of, “the ole’ Southwest Conference”. He then shed a tear, and remembered when the grass was greener, the players tried harder, and their was no boom boom music. Or something like that.

Anyway, I was a fan of how both these teams played at the end of the season, but I really liked the way the Longhorn’s rallied around Charlie Strong as the year went on. Plus, the SEC isn’t going undefeated in bowl games, and they’ll definitely lose at least two. This one just seems like one that they could.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

LSU over Notre Dame

The Irish lost their last four games, and quarterback Everett Golson had an insanely high 22 turnovers this season. That last stat doesn’t indicate anything good for them, particularly since they're playing a ball-hawking, turnover-forcing team like LSU. I actually think this game could get ugly quickly.

Belk Bowl

Georgia over Louisville

Remember when the Bulldogs were getting talked up as a long shot team for the four team playoff about a month ago, assuming they could win the SEC? That all but ended when Missouri won the SEC East by defeating Arkansas on the last weekend of the season, and then Georgia followed it up the next day by snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory against Georgia Tech. Not a great end to the 2014 season. Fortunately for Georgia, they get to play a team they’re way better than in their bowl game. So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

Foster Farms Bowl

Stanford over Maryland

Everybody has individuals or teams that they inexplicably, unexplainably, and irrationally love and hate. For example, my brother hates Benedict Cumberbatch for some unexplained reason, and he basically takes a crap on his acting career whenever he’s given the opportunity. I mean, you can visibly see him get flustered whenever this guy appears on television, in a commercial, or in a movie. You can tell he wants to just start yelling, only he can’t really explain why he hates him, or even make a single coherent point, so instead, it just comes out sounding like a gargled mess of sound. I don’t love Cumberbatch (what a name by the way), but he’s not horrible right? Conversely, my Angry Old Man irrationally loves Liam Neeson, and would be willing throw money at him even if he was in a movie where he was wearing a banana suit, fighting against an evil farmer who made the mistake of picking his daughter out of the banana patch. I mean, he’s the only person I know who would openly admit to really liking Taken 2.

I’m the same way with Stanford football. For whatever reason, I just irrationally, and unexplainably, like the Cardinal. I like the way they play, I think David Shaw is really good head coach, and I’m just a fan of whatever they do really. 

I'm like this way with a lot of random athletes/teams. I don’t have a real solid list of “irrational love” or “irrational hate”, but here’s a starting point:

Irrational Love:
Stanford Football, Russell Westbrook, Philip Rivers, Dez Bryant, Jerry Kill        

Irrational Hate:
Kevin Sumlin, John Calipari, Clemson Football, Derek Jeter, Jim Boeheim, Todd Graham

This, for me, is at least a good starting point of athletes, coaches, and teams. And just for clarification purposes, someone can’t be an “Irrational Love” candidate if they play for a team you root for, because if you love them, it’s no longer irrational, because you now have an obvious, solid, concrete reason to point to as to why you love them. Also, with an irrational love guy, you pretty much have to be willing to defend him, regardless of what happens. You may even make excuses for them that are so head scratching and confusing that you eventually realize later on that what you said made no sense. The same goes for an irrational hate guy, except the opposite. For example, I’m never going to give Kevin Sumlin a break on anything. Normally, a guy who coaches/plays for a team you hate can’t be on this list, unless they’re such a snake (John Calipari) that your reasons for not liking this guy go way beyond the fact that he competes against your favorite team. I don’t love Nick Saban, but I don’t hate him either, and in many ways, I respect him, even though he is 5’6 and has hair plugs. But Calipari? I’m against that guy for life. You can’t be smug and arrogant in every dealing with the media, and you can't have two Final Fours vacated, and stay off this list. He passes the all important test that I just made up five seconds ago; if this guy didn’t coach a team you rooted against, would you still hate him? The answer, with Calipari, is yes.

Obviously, the details of this needs to be ironed out in more detail. But more on that next week.

Now, onto my Week 17 NFL picks (Home team in CAPS)….

Before we jump into them, here are all the playoff scenarios for every team still involved. So no, we aren’t talking to you Jacksonville.

I’ll go through the games with no playoff impact first, and then finish off with our biggest games of the week.

Colts over TITANS

This is one of those stupid Week 17 games, where one team (in this case, the Colts) are going to rest everyone for a lot of the game because they can’t better their playoff position, regardless of what they do. I’m betting on Andrew Luck playing a few series, scoring a few points, and then turning it over to backups, who should be able to hold onto a lead against this inept Tennessee team.

Saints over BUCCANEERS

What a terrible year for the Saints. Sheesh. Thanks for showing up and playing. Is this the year we’ll remember as the one where we learned that Drew Brees was no longer an elite quarterback? I know his stats are still great, but it seems like he makes more dumb decisions at the end of a game than any “great” quarterback. That Falcons’ game last week was a perfect example of this. I’d keep an eye on him next season.

GIANTS over Eagles

Remember how impressive Philly looked on Thanksgiving, when they kicked the crap out of Dallas for four quarters, and asserted themselves (or so we thought) as the best team in the NFC East? Well, they haven’t won a game since then, and have gotten almost the worst possible iteration of Mark Sanchez over that stretch. Meanwhile, Odell Beckham has spent the last few weeks turning the NFL into his own personal playground, and I don’t see why it couldn’t happen again this week. The Eagles have the worst corners in the league. You’re telling me he couldn’t get open against THAT secondary? Please.

Bills over PATRIOTS

Only because New England has clinched everything in the AFC already. I doubt they’ll play Brady for more than a series or two, and unlike the Tennessee-Indy game, Buffalo is actually good enough to beat a team’s backups.

By the way, what a stupid loss for Buffalo last week, at Oakland. Good job guys. You could’ve been in the playoff race this week, playing a team that isn’t trying to win! Instead, your game doesn’t matter. Congratulations!

DOLPHINS over Jets

This is probably Rex Ryan’s last game as the head coach of the New York Jets. It’s been a good run, and it’s given us a lot of great memories, including the Butt Fumble; the worst possible play from Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, and Michael Vick, the the tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey, and the most terrible offensive football I’ve seen in the NFL the last ten years. Oh yeah, but they did get to back-to-back AFC Championship Games. So it wasn’t all bad, right?

VIKINGS over Bears

Much like the Saints, thanks for playing this year Chicago! We all really appreciate your contributions to the NFL this year, and so does every offense that faced you! You made their jobs a whole lot easier!

Now, the games with playoff implications….

RAVENS over Browns

Baltimore will make the playoffs with a win, and a San Diego loss.

Who exactly is playing quarterback for the Browns this week? Both Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer are out for Sunday, which means rookie Connor Shaw will be under center for them. Good luck!

And if Baltimore does miss the playoffs, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. They blew a 4th quarter lead at home against San Diego, giving them the tiebreaker, and followed it up last week by playing their worst game of the year, in Houston, against the Texans. Joe Flacco was horrible! You can’t throw three picks in Week 16 in a must-win game. You just can’t.

TEXANS over Jaguars

Houston will make the playoffs with a win, a Baltimore loss, and a San Diego loss.

Houston will win because Jacksonville is horrible, and an embarrassment to the NFL. The more interesting point around the Texans is the MVP candidacy of J.J. Watt, who is garnering a ton of buzz right now for that award, because of the lack of a clear cut, etched-in-stone, runaway winner. I recognize his overall contributions to his team are tremendous, and he’s by far the best defensive player in the league, but I can’t in good faith give the most valuable player award to a guy whose team misses the playoffs (which I think will happen to Houston). Plus, I’d argue Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, the Dallas offensive line, and a whole host of other guys are way more valuable to their teams. What if you swapped Philip Rivers with Watt? Don’t you think Houston (with that easy schedule) would definitely be a playoff team, and San Diego would be 6-10, 5-11, or 4-12? I do, and Rivers isn’t even an MVP candidate. If I was voting, I’d give the award to Rodgers, and vote Brady second. Watt’s had a great year, and he’s the runaway Defensive Player of the Year, but MVP? Come on.

Chargers over CHIEFS

San Diego makes the playoffs with a win. Kansas City makes the playoffs with a win, a Baltimore loss, and a Houston loss.

This game got a whole lot easier for the Bolts, who are now facing a Kansas City team without starting quarterback Alex Smith, who is out of the game because of a lacerated spleen. They’ll be turning to Chase Daniel instead. I barely had any faith in Alex Smith, but Chase Daniel? Really? San Diego just caught another huge break.

BRONCOS over Raiders

A first round bye is at stake for Denver, and fortunately for them, they’ve got the Oakland Raiders coming to town. That’s the best cure for bad football, something the Broncos played a lot of last week in Cincinnati.

49ERS over Cardinals

Arizona is, incredibly, still alive for the number 1 seed in the NFC, but they’d need to win, and have a bunch of help from teams above them. Sorry guys, but I’m never going to pick a team quarterbacked by Ryan Lindley again, who now has the record for most passes thrown at the start of an NFL career with a touchdown pass. The Cards season is over, and they don’t even know it.

On a side note, my Angry Old Man pressed me yesterday on the opening at Michigan, and he demanded that I make a prediction today about who their next coach will be. And by “demanded”, I mean he yelled a ton, threw things, and was basically in an uproar for three hours. So rather than upset him again, I’ll oblige him.

I think Michigan is going to get Jim Harbaugh.

On Monday, I think Harbaugh will resign as the coach of the 49ers, followed by an announcement later in the week that he's the new coach at Michigan. It just makes too much sense. I don’t think the Wolverines would sit by for this long without hiring someone, just hoping and praying for Harbaugh. I think they would’ve seen the writing on the wall by now if he wasn’t coming, shrugged their shoulders, and hired someone else. I think they know something the media doesn’t, and it’s that Harbaugh, at the end of the season, will be coming to Ann Arbor.

And just for the record, I think he’ll be a grand slam there.

SEAHAWKS over Rams

Seattle can clinch the number 1 seed in the NFC with a win.

St. Louis is feisty, but I’d be pretty surprised if they upset the ‘Hawks. Seattle is, right now, the best team in the NFC, and they’ve pretty much been kicking everybody’s butt since Bobby Wagner got back (they’ve allowed just 33 points the last five games). And if they do win, and get the number 1 seed, good luck to anybody trying to go in there and win. I’d give Green Bay and Dallas the best shot to do it, but I don’t think it’s all that likely. That place and that defense just swallows people up. Are we going to get a New England-Seattle Super Bowl? That’s too obvious right? Maybe not.

FALCONS over Panthers

This is a stupid game, and I hate that it has playoff implications in Week 17. Both these teams are terrible! If you take out the Tampa Bay wins for both teams, Atlanta is 4-9, and Carolina is 4-8-1? Really? One of these squads are going to be in the playoffs? I’m picking Atlanta not only because they’re at home, but also because the Carolina offense is absolutely abysmal. Do you realize that since their tie with Cincinnati in Week 6, the Panthers have scored more than 19 points just twice? Twice! 19 points! Please, one of you guys, just pack up your tents, and go home. And hopefully, we’ll be rid of the other on sooner rather than later.

PACKERS over Lions
STEELERS over Bengals

I group these two games (coincidentally, both for division titles) together, because my reason for picking the winners is the same. Really, I get Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton on the road, in Week 17, against established, veteran quarterbacks and teams at home? I have more faith that I’ll wake up tomorrow, sprout wings, and begin to fly, than I do in either Detroit or Cincinnati. Dalton could have a three interception disaster at any point (and he might be due for one), and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Stafford win a big game, either in college or the NFL. These games are, and will be on Sunday, indicative of both these teams, and why we view the Packers and Steelers a certain way, and why we view the Lions and Bengals the way we do. Green Bay and Pittsburgh win games like this one. Detroit and Cincy? Not so much.


So, like always, enjoy football this weekend. You deserve it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Week In Football: San Diego's Enormous Win, Odell Beckham's Monster Year, and Romo's Great Season

Week 16 of the NFL season is in the books, and a lot of important and year-altering things occurred this weekend, including the always scintillating Titans-Jaguars battle that happened Thursday night. Just kidding. Once again, thank you NFL for putting that game on national television in Week 16. We as fans greatly appreciate it.

Without further ado, let’s move onto the rest of the action from Week 16….

Chargers Surge Back

What a great win for the Bolts, in a game they desperately needed. San Diego trailed 21-0 in the second quarter, and 28-7 at halftime, but somehow, despite three Philip Rivers’ three interceptions, were able to come back and win the game in overtime. They outscored San Francisco 31-7 after halftime, and had two touchdowns in the final 5:15 of the game. Their final drive of regulation, the one that tied the game, was probably their most impressive of the season, as they went 80 yards on 14 plays in just over three minutes. On that drive, the Chargers converted on two long fourth downs (fourth-and-eight and a fourth-and-ten), and tied the score with an 11 yard touchdown catch by Malcolm Floyd. They then won it in the extra session on a 40 yard field goal by Nick Novak.

I still can’t believe it. That comeback was incredible. As they were getting dominated in the first half, my Angry Old Man texted me:

“Nice pick on the Chargers this year idiot! I could make preseason predictions by drawing names out of a hat at random and still do better than you! Thanks for making us wonder just how dumb you could be by continuously pushing San Diego on us all year!”

As always, he was a real sweetheart about it. Anyway, I was ready to come on here, write a long, “yeah, I know I’m an idiot, let’s just move on as quickly as we can so I won’t start repeatedly closing my laptop on my head for making such a dumb pick” until the Bolts started showing a little bit of fight, and started to get some stops on defense. And slowly, Rivers got into a little bit of a rhythm, and the points started flowing.

Speaking of Rivers, despite the three picks, he was brilliant down the stretch, finishing with four TDs and 356 passing yards on 54 attempts, all while missing his best wideout, Keenan Allen, and his best running back, Ryan Mathews. San Diego won this game on the strength of his arm, his will, and his guts, and a defense that magically dug in during the second half, and started showing a little bit of a backbone.

And now, after Baltimore’s loss at Houston and Kansas City’s loss at Pittsburgh, the Bolts, who didn’t control their own playoff destiny despite their win on Saturday, are now in the playoffs, assuming they can win in K.C. next week. Amazing, particularly when you look at their daunting schedule in Weeks 13-16; they were at Baltimore, home against New England, home against Denver, and at San Fran. A lot of people thought they’d lose all of those games, but instead, they’ve gone an impressive 2-2, and can get to 10 wins and the playoffs if they take care of business this week. Not bad for a team with the strongest strength of schedule in the last five weeks of the season. Just keep making me look smart guys! I know it’s hard to do, but just keep on doing what you’re doing!

Major Dysfunction In San Fran

Obviously, this loss by the Niners wasn’t as debilitating as it could’ve been, because they were eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, but this game was the perfect manifestation of everything that’s happened to them this season. Lots of blown games, a ton of poor play, and plenty of head scratching, poor performances. It’s weird, and almost unexplainable, that it’s happened to THIS team, one of the greatest and unshakeable pillars of the NFL the last three seasons. Six of their eight losses this season have been completely out of character for this team, including:

Week 2: Playing Chicago at home, the Niners led the Bears 17-0 with 2:02 left in the first half. However, on the strength of the first bad Colin Kaepernick game of the year (3 picks), San Fran only scored three points in the second half, and lost 28-20. Kaepernick’s horrible play set Chicago up with multiple short fields, something even Jay Cutler couldn’t screw up.

Week 7: Playing at Denver, the Niners got ran off the field from outset, and lost 42-17. Peyton Manning had a field day against their defense, finishing with 318 yards passing and 4 TDs, all while completing 84.6% of his passes.

Week 9: Coming off their bye week, and playing at home against St. Louis, the San Francisco’s offense was absolutely terrible all day, managing to score only 10 points. Late in the game, as they were finally able to drive the ball down around the goal line, Kaepernick had the ball taken away from him on a QB sneak, killing their last chance. The Rams won 13-10.

Week 13: After a few weeks of hype and, “Yeah, this team is going to be fine! They’re starting to figure some things out!” from lots of people (including me, stupidly), the 49ers, at home, on Thanksgiving, got absolutely physically dominated in all facets of the game by Seattle, as they were defeated 19-3. The score doesn’t look THAT bad, but just watching the game, it was obvious that San Francisco was badly outplayed. The Seahawks squashed each and every thing the Niners tried to do, and they punched them in the mouth time and time again. Very uncharacteristic for this team since Harbaugh got there.

Week 14: Once again, this time in Oakland, the 49er offense was completely inept, as they only scored 13 points, all while allowing rookie Derek Carr to stand upright for most of the day, and throw for three touchdowns. The Old Niners would never allow for a rookie quarterback to stand in confidently and pick them apart.

Week 16: Really? Was their any way the San Francisco teams from 2011-13 would squander a 21 point lead? Of course not.

It’s a lost year for this team, one that was full of injuries, suspensions, incredibly average to bad play from the quarterback position, and constant swirling and speculation about their head coach’s future. It was a great three year run for this team, but now, it’s over. It will be interesting to see what happens with this team in the off-season. Where will Harbaugh end up (My guess: Oakland)? Will Kaepernick be back with this organization next year (Yes, I think so)? Who is going to be the new head coach (No clue)? Regardless, I know I’ll be keeping my eye on the Bay Area throughout the spring and summer.

Dallas Impresses In December…. Again?

What a weird, very un-Dallas-like game from the Cowboys. Their 35 point beat down of Indianapolis was their largest margin of victory in this month since Tony Romo began starting in 2006. Did they exorcise all their December demons after last week’s enormous win in Philadelphia? Maybe they did. I have no idea. Regardless, they certainly looked impressive yesterday, and that defense, which has been discredited all season, absolutely took Andrew Luck apart, holding him to just 109 yards passing and two interceptions. It was the Cowboys’ best game of the season, and with the Eagles’ loss on Saturday to the Redskins, it clinched the division for Dallas, meaning they won’t have the inevitable Week 17 game, on Sunday Night, when they show up, get a few soul-crushing Romo interceptions, embarrass themselves on national television, and break their fans’ hearts, as they are eliminated from playoff contention.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if I was all the other NFC playoff teams, Dallas would be the last squad I’d want to play. Their running game is so overwhelmingly dominant and physical, and they don’t ask Romo to do all that much, meaning other teams won’t get those gift interceptions from him like they used to. Their defense isn’t great, but it doesn’t matter all that much, because the Cowboys, with that running game, can control the clock like no one else, keeping that unit on the sidelines as long as possible.

Back to Romo for a second. I realize this is going to sound like an insult, and I don’t mean it to be one, but isn’t he having one of the greatest “game manager” seasons of all time? He’s completing over 70% of his passes, has thrown for 3,406 yards, and has 32 TDs, while only throwing eight interceptions. He’s only attempting 28.6 passes per game, his lowest since 2006, and down seven attempts per game from last season (and incredibly, about 12 from two years ago!). The Cowboys, smartly, have realized this season that it’s a terrible idea, and impossible to attain their goals, if they ask Romo to drop back and win every game for them with his arm. He just makes too mistakes if he’s asked to sling the ball down the field as much as he has been throughout his entire career. But in the role he has this season? That’s perfect for him, and exactly what Dallas needed.

The NFC Goes Through The 12th Man?

Shockingly, incredibly, and amazingly, if Seattle wins next week at home against the Rams, they’ll have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Crazy, considering how everybody declared them done (ok, I kind of thought they were in a lot of trouble too) after their embarrassing loss at Kansas City in Week 11 that dropped them to 6-4. Since then, they’ve gotten Bobby Wagner back at the linebacker spot, won five games in a row, and allowed just 33 points in those five contests. The Legion of Boom is flying around like old times, and the pass rush is humming just like last season. This team isn’t as good as last year’s group, because the offense is extremely limited, but they’ll be a tough out, at home, in the playoffs. When Seattle is great (like they are now), that’s the most challenging place to play in the NFL. They, along with Green Bay and Dallas, are clearly the best teams in the NFC.

Odell Beckham Jr. Is A Monster

Beckham busted onto the national scene with this incredible catch on Sunday Night Football in Week 12, and since then, people have started to notice just how great this guy actually is, as well as how impressive his stats actually are. On the season, he has 79 catches, 1120 yards, and 11 TDs. That’s a really nice year, but not legendary, until you remember that he missed the entire month of September with a hamstring injury, meaning he’s attained all those numbers in just 11 games.

So here’s the real question: is Beckham having the greatest rookie receiver season of all time? I think so. If we averaged his numbers out over a 16 game season, here’s how Odell would look compared to other great rookie years by receivers:

Odell Beckham Jr: 115 catches, 1629 receiving yards, 16 TDs

Randy Moss: 69 catches, 1313 receiving yards, 17 TDs

Anquan Boldin: 101 catches, 1377 receiving yards, 8 TDs

Bill Groman: 72 catches, 1473 receiving yards, 12 TDs

Billy Howton: 53 catches, 1321 receiving yards, 13 TDs

It’s important to note that Groman accomplished his numbers in a 14 game season, and Howton achieved his numbers in a 12 game season, which makes them even more impressive, but Beckham’s actual numbers, through only 11 games, are comparable to theirs. And if he’d gotten a full season, he would’ve passed them by.

It’s been a fun ride with Beckham this year, and I hope it continues for years to come. Any time a guy practices one-handed catches in warm-ups, you know he’s going to be exciting to watch. Oh yeah, and great at the game of football.

One more thought on him, quickly; Odell Beckham Jr…. what a great name for an athlete! Congrats to his parents on that one.

The Curious Case of Chicago

The Bears lost to the Lions yesterday, but the game was secondary to the biggest story surrounding this team, the day-to-day drama around their former starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, who was benched by head coach Marc Trestman last week. Cutler has been pretty terrible this season, but his struggles have only been a part of Chicago’s problems. For the Bears to be competitive next year, they’ll need a major overhauls pretty much everywhere, mainly on defense. That unit has been one of the worst in football, allowing 28.6 points per game, the most in the NFL. All their big signings on the defensive side of the ball haven’t panned out (Jared Allen, their biggest free agent grab, has just 5.5 sacks, and had just 1.5 through the team’s first eight games). Mel Tucker, their defensive coordinator, should be fired, and I’d cut whoever I could get away with on that defense. That side of the ball hasn’t gotten enough blame for the team’s shortcomings this season, because the football media and fans tend to just gravitate towards the lowest common denominator, in this case, the quarterback position, giving that guy all the credit or all the blame for the results on the field. Clearly though, Cutler and his 24 turnovers through 14 games has been unacceptable. And since he’s making more money than anyone on that roster (or in the NFL), he’s going to have a target on his back.

So what should the Bears do with him? “Trade him” has been a popular opinion that’s been floated around, but my question is, who in their right mind would want to trade for that guy and his guaranteed 36 million dollars? I know I wouldn’t. And why would the Titans want him? I’ve heard their name mentioned more than a few times, but they’d be insane to give Chicago anything for him. They’ve got a chance to draft a guy like Marcus Mariota, develop him, and pay him a hundredth of what Cutler is making. And I don’t care that Jay played at Vanderbilt, or that Tennessee’s head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, is a “quarterback whisperer”. It would be an incredibly dumb mistake, and one I hope the Titans don’t make.

The NFC South Is Stupid

I can't put into words how dumb it is that the 6-9 Falcons, and the 6-8-1 Panthers, are playing for the division title, a playoff spot, and a HOME playoff game in Atlanta on Sunday. Both these teams are among the 12 worst in the league, and it's stupid that there's so much attached to a game between to below .500 teams in Week 17.

And here's the crazy thing; if Arizona ends up getting the 5 seed, which is entirely possible, they could be at Atlanta or Carolina with Ryan Lindley or Logan Thomas starting at quarterback for them. I'm sorry, but you aren't ever winning a playoff game with one of those dudes playing that position for you. Does that mean the winner of the game this weekend is going to be in the Divisional Playoffs? I think so. 

I'm fine with every division winner getting into the playoffs, but I'm not sure you should be hosting a playoff game on Wild Card Weekend if you can't at least go 8-8. That's not unreasonable is it? 


And now, from my Angry Old Man, who, besides (mistakenly) harassing me about the Chargers, has been relatively tame this week. I think it’s the Christmas spirit. He told me to tell everyone:

“The only thing on my Christmas list is for you to turn off the boom boom music, start listening to the wisdom of your Pa, and stop making crappy football picks every week that insult our intelligence, and bring shame to the Peace family name. But Merry Christmas to every one else, and a Happy New Year.”

There you have it. I’ll be back on Friday with my Week 17 picks, and predictions for the rest of the bowl season.

Merry Christmas. I hope you guys have a great day.