Friday, September 18, 2015

The End of Peyton Manning? Plus, Week 2 NFL Picks

The most cringe-worthy image so far of the 2015 NFL season wasn’t JPP's hand, Rashad Jennings throwing Eli Manning under the bus or Johnny Manziel struggling through Week 1 like a terrified high school freshman bombing it hardcore on the varsity. No, it was the continued erosion of Peyton Manning’s arm strength.

I literally have no idea how the Broncos are 2-0. Manning looks terrible at times. When Knile Davis galloped in from eight yards out to give the Chiefs a seven point lead with 2:27 remaining, I thought it was over. I’d watch Peyton sail, short arm, and just miss throws all night, and I had no faith that he’d be able to march Denver down the 80 yards they needed to tie the game.

It was a weird feeling for me, because Peyton used to always be money in the regular season. Throughout his entire regular season career, I always felt like he’d be able to answer and deliver on the biggest, must-have drive of the game. I’d seen him do it too many times. But that was when he could consistently drive the ball down the field. Now? His throws come out wobbly, he has no power behind them, and oftentimes he’s just incapable of making those 15-18 yard throws into tight windows that you have to make to be an elite quarterback.

So you can imagine my shock when Peyton came out on the field, found Demaryius Thomas for three long receptions, and hit Emmanuel Sanders for the game-tying 19 yard touchdown with 36 seconds left. He executed the drive with the precision of a much younger Manning, the guy I’d watched murder the entire NFL for a decade and a half.

Now, I wasn’t as shocked about Manning’s game tying drive as I was about Jamaal Charles’ inexplicable fumble that Denver returned for the winning touchdown only 9 seconds later, or how dumb and mind-numbing Reid’s play call was, or how it literally didn’t make any sense to run a draw play deep in your own territory if you were trying to go for the win. Or, if you were playing for overtime, why not just take a knee? Why risk a fumble? Seriously, does Andy Reid understand clock management and late game play calling and strategy? I’m glad I’m not a Kansas City fan, because they pull crap that would give me a heart attack all the time (remember them blowing a twenty-eight point lead to Indianapolis in the 2013 playoffs?). In fact, the things that they do are so devastating that if I was a fan of theirs, I would have probably punched a hole through my TV and stopped watching sports permanently.

So as I thought about Manning this morning, I came away feeling weird and uncomfortable that I was surprised that he was capable of leading a game winning drive. I mean, this is Peyton Manning we’re talking about, one of the five greatest quarterbacks of all time. He should be doing this with no problem, right, particularly in this “offense is king” era? Had he really fallen off that badly, or was I just imagining it? Here are his game-by-game stats since Week 13 of last year:

Week 13 vs. Kansas City: 17-34, 50% completions, 179 passing yards, 2 TD passes, 0 interceptions, 52.4 QBR
Week 14 vs. Buffalo: 14-20, 70% completions, 173 passing yards, 0 TD passes, 2 interceptions, 34.0 QBR
Week 15 vs. San Diego: 14-20, 70% completions, 233 passing yards, 1 TD pass, 0 interceptions, 92.1 QBR
Week 16 vs. Cincinnati: 28-44, 63.6% completions, 311 passing yards, 2 TD passes, 4 interceptions, 29.9 QBR
Week 17 vs. Oakland: 21-37, 56.8% completions, 273 passing yards, 0 TD passes, 0 interceptions, 50.7 QBR
Divisional Playoffs vs. Indianapolis: 26-46, 56.5% completions, 211 passing yards, 1 TD pass, 0 interceptions, 27.9 QBR
Week 1 vs. Baltimore: 24-40, 60% completions, 175 passing yards, 0 TD passes, 1 interception, 26.4 QBR
Week 2 vs. Kansas City: 26-45, 57.8% completions, 256 passing yards, 3 TD passes, 1 interception, 59.4 QBR
Per game averages: 59.4% completions, 226.38 passing yards, 1.125 TD passes, 1 interception, 46.6 QBR

Rather…. pedestrian don’t you think? Particularly for a Hall of Famer and all time great like Manning. And when you consider this:

Alex Smith per game averages since Week 13 last season:
64.1% completions, 246 passing yards, 1.43 TD passes, .57 interceptions, 34.4 QBR

I mean…. that’s kind of damning right? Neither of them have been great, but couldn’t I argue Smith has been the superior quarterback over that stretch while having vastly inferior weapons? Plus, Smith isn’t struggling with noodle arm, hasn’t had three neck surgeries, and moves better in and out of the pocket.

And when you throw in C.J. Anderson’s middle finger to everyone that selected him in the first round of their fantasy draft (so far, he’s scored 5 points combined in two weeks, and yes, I have him), and I have no idea how Denver is 2-0. Their defense was really good at points last night, forcing five turnovers, and with Demarcus Ware and Von Miller, they’ll always be able to create pressure on the quarterback, but I have my doubts they’ll actually be able to keep this up. Peyton, despite that incredible drive, looks done, and the schedule will only get tougher (they host Green Bay, New England, San Diego, Kansas City, and Cincinnati, and they’ll travel to Indy, San Diego, and Pittsburgh. That’s eight losable games right there), and they probably don’t win that game last night if they force just four turnovers instead of five. 8-8, 9-7, or 10-6 (or, the Alex Smith zone) seems reasonable to me. I just don’t trust Peyton’s arm. He’s throwing wounded ducks and the weather hasn’t even turned sour yet. How is he going to look when he’s trying to power the ball through the biting wind in Denver during November and December?

And here’s an even more interesting question: how are Bronco fans ultimately going to view the Manning era? Exciting? Disappointing? Maybe a little of both? He did make them contenders in a way they hadn’t been since John Elway retired, but they also had two early home playoff exits to inferior teams, and got absolutely man-handled and embarrassed in the Super Bowl 48 by Seattle. They scored a ton of points, lit the league on fire, and became one of the most popular franchises in the league, but fell far short of their ultimate goal all three years. They’ll do the same thing again this season. In a way, the Manning-era is an interesting juxtaposition to the Garnett-Pierce-Allen era in Boston. The Celtics took a chance by bringing together three stars on the back end of their primes, spent a ton of money bringing in surrounding talent, rolled the dice, and prayed everything came together. And the first year, in 2008, it worked, as they brought the first NBA title back to Boston since 1986. However, the next four years didn’t quite work out that way. Garnett missed the entire ’09 playoffs with an injury, and the 2010 team lost a physical, hard fought, ugly seven-game NBA Finals’ series to the Lakers. The 2011 team bowed out to the new Big Three in Miami, and the 2012 team had a 3 games to 2 lead heading back to Boston against the Heat in the Conference Finals, before LeBron went absolutely bonkers, pouring in 45 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, absolutely assassinating the Celts MJ-style on their home floor. They competed in Game 7 back in Miami, but they were toast. Allen left before the ’13 season, and the Big Three era in Boston was over, but not before 1 championship, 2 NBA Finals’ appearances, and 11 playoff series wins. So while there was four years of heartbreak and disappointment, the one title season made it all worth it. Ask any Celtic fan about the Garnett-Pierce-Allen era, and nobody would chalk it up as a disappointment. They climbed the mountain and gave their fans the ultimate prize. But ask any Denver fan about the Manning era three years from now, and you’re going to get a lot of “yeah, it was fun, but…”. Joy, but disappointment. Excitement, but frustration. Ultimately, unsatisfactory.

Now, onto my NFL picks (home team in CAPS)….

Texans over PANTHERS

I think this might be the first NFL game since the football was literally made out of pigskin that could end 2-0. We’ve got the immortal Ryan Mallet vs. Cam Newton who is surrounded with a bunch of high school level skill position players. JJ Watt will sack Newton in the end zone late in the fourth quarter after both teams combined for 74 yards of offense and 15 turnovers.

STEELERS over 49ers

I had a 16 point lead in my fantasy game going into the final Monday Night game last week. All I needed was Anquan Boldin to not get outscored by Carlos Hyde by 16 points. Not unreasonable or too much to ask for right? WRONG!!!! Hyde was the top rusher in the NFL last week and scored two touchdowns. Boldin? He was nowhere to be found (36 receiving yards, no TDs). Thanks for playing SO STRONG! Anywhere, I’m not buying the Niners. Sure, they looked great in Week 1, but I’m waiting for Colin Kaepernick to revert back to unbearable, horrendous mechanics Colin, and for Jim Tomsula’s offense to remind everyone of a clogged toilet. Pittsburgh should bounce back this week.

SAINTS over Buccaneers

Remember earlier when I said Johnny Manziel looked like a terrified high school freshman bombing hardcore on the varsity? Yeah, I probably should’ve saved that for Jameis Winston after his performance last weekend against the Titans. Whoops. Nothing wrong with some self plagiarizing right? Expect bad Winston again this week.

VIKINGS over Lions

I don’t care how bad Minnesota (and Adrian Peterson) looked in Week 1 in San Fran, I’m done with the Matt Stafford-led Lions for life. They blew a 21-3 lead to San Diego last week and lost by giving up THIRTY unanswered points at one point. THIRTY.

Cardinals over BEARS

This feels like a five interception game for Jay Cutler. Arizona forces a ton of turnovers, and turnovers is what Cutler does best. By the way, how is it possible that he had the best career of all the 2006 quarterback draftees, Matt Leinart and Vince Young? Leinart hasn’t had a relevant NFL moment since before the Obama administration, and Young hasn’t since his second term began. Then again, neither has Cutler. Unless you want to count his incomprehensible poor play against the Packers every single game.

BILLS over Patriots


BENGALS over Chargers

I feel like I don’t know all that much about either of these teams. Cincy literally slammed down the head of an overmatched Raider team, and San Diego had their aforementioned comeback against the ever-frustrating Lions. I’ll stick with the Bengals and “Big Game” Andy because they’re at home, and it’s a 1 pm kickoff east coast time, meaning it’s going to feel like 10 am when the game starts for the west coast Chargers. I think they’ll start sluggish, and won’t be able to recover.

Titans over BROWNS

Are the woeful Titans really going to start out 2-0? I’m not completely on the Marcus Mariota bandwagon yet (he’s had one great game against one of the worst teams in the league), but I know I was never on the Johnny Manziel bandwagon, so much so that I set it on fire and pushed it off the end of a cliff, kind of like one where Wiley E. Coyote would have a tragic accident.

Falcons over GIANTS

Where are you Odell? Another disappointment for my fantasy team was Beckham’s un-Odell like play. At one point late in the first half he had 0 catches and 0 yards. 0 AND 0. Thank you ODB. Really appreciate it. He should bounce back at least a little this week, but honestly, I think Atlanta is just better. I mean, the Falcons defense isn’t even good, but the Giants are embarrassingly bad. Geez.

Rams over REDSKINS

The only thing I like about the ‘Skins this week is that Kirk Cousins drives his grandmother's old van to work. And I don’t even like it that much. Get it together Kirk.

Dolphins over JAGUARS

When is Jacksonville moving to Los Angeles? Will there even be 30,000 people at this game? Does anybody care?

Ravens over RAIDERS

When is Oakland moving to Los Angeles? And why does the Raiders’ stadium look like a crappy college stadium? It literally doesn’t look like the NFL in there. Every other stadium has bright lights and pristine grass. Oakland looks like a nasty, dirty dark alley with rats, trash, and terrible football for the last decade.

Cowboys over EAGLES

I’m a seller on Chip Kelly. No playoff wins, and they faded down the stretch late in both of his years. And I haven’t liked a single one of his roster moves. I’m not going to call him a racist like so many others, because the team is loaded with black players. I just think he’s a control freak who doesn’t click well with the big egos of professional athletes. Being a control freak works in college or if you’re Bill Belichick, and Belichick’s had Brady taking care of him for a decade and a half. I’m not sure it works great in any other circumstance.

Seahawks over PACKERS

I’m taking the ‘Hawks for two reasons….

  1. I just can’t see them starting out 0-2
  2. They own the Packers (3-0 since Russell Wilson came to Seattle, including last year’s meltdown by the Pack in the NFC Championship Game)

COLTS over Jets

Again, I just can’t see the Colts starting out 0-2, or losing the Ryan Fitzpatrick-quarterbacked Jets. Then again, New York has similar personnel to the Bills. Why couldn’t they do the same thing to Indy that Buffalo did? I’m wary of this one.

And finally, I’m so disappointed in Tennessee after last weeks’….. letdown that I don’t even feel like thinking about college football ever again. Unbelievable loss. Incomprehensible. I’m withholding judgment on Butch right now. I want to see what happens at Florida next Saturday, because if they lose that game, then I’m selling all my Jones’ stock at the best price I can get. Get it together Vols. Stop with the platitudes, the “Brick by Brick” and Team 119 crap, and just win. Just win. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Return of the Matt

College football is back in our lives again tonight, and I literally couldn’t be happier.

But first, where the heck have I been since this?

Last year I spent entirely too much time breaking this stuff down, arguing with myself about predictions, racking my brain for the perfect cross-cultural comparisons, and scouring the interwebs (mostly Youtube) searching for the correct humorous links that would hammer my point across. And, though it was sometimes challenging work, I loved every aspect of it. There was nothing quite like gathering my thoughts, sorting them together in some order, and pushing them out for whoever cared to see it.

But, at some point, I fell off. I don’t know exactly why that was. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy the process of writing what I wanted. I’m basically just constructing a zillion arguments, adding jokes, looking up stats, arguing with myself, and tying it all into a nice, neat bow. Maybe the entire process of getting where I want to go with writing overwhelmed me. Maybe I made the decision that it was easier to just not do anything than to actually try and pursue what I wanted. Maybe I felt like no one cared because I wasn’t getting the number of views I wanted. Maybe I went back, read some of my older stuff, and thought to myself, “Dang, this looks like it was written by an 11 year old”. I have no idea. All those thoughts probably played a part in my disappearance.

So for those of you that read my stuff every week, or even occasionally, I’m sorry I wasn’t here to supply you with humor, insight, or thoughts that made you feel better about yourself, like, “Man, I thought I was dumb, but this guy is actually stupid”. I want to be here for you guys like that again, and will be, for all football season, and even beyond, until I keel over and die, get arrested for blasting fireworks at 4 in the morning, or find myself banned from the internet for bad opinions, mind-numbing picks, and jokes so unfunny that they seemed like they were ripped straight off Carrot Top’s last comedy album.


So before we get into my opening weekend college football picks, why don’t I share with you one of my five favorite Youtube videos of all time, Shia Labeouf's motivational masterpiece.


Oh, I will Shia. I will.


Week 1 Predictions (Home Team in CAPS)

SOUTH CAROLINA over North Carolina

I’m picking the Gamecocks because they’re an SEC team at home with superior athletes at the majority of positions on the field. Then again, remember their opening game last year? You know, the first game ever on the SEC Network, when Texas A&M absolutely Seagal'd them for four quarters and won 52-28? We got a way too early nickname for a one hit wonder quarterback (Kenny Trill anyone? Whoops….) absolutely lost our minds over Kevin Sumlin’s offense, and declared that A&M had surpassed Texas as THE program in that state, and that they were the next dynasty, along the lines of USC in the early 2000’s, Florida in the mid 2000’s, and ‘Bama’s since then. So what happened? Hill’s gem against SC turned out to be much like the Baha Men’s Who Let The Dogs Out?, a one hit wonder that wasn’t indicative of any future success. Plus, their defense did their best impression of a revolving door, and their head coach, the “immortal” Sumlin, was completely incapable of doing anything about it. Their 59-0 beat down at the hands of Alabama later in the season was the Molotov cocktail of all their problems meshing together into one.

So what did we learn? Well, for starters, this game turned out to be one of the least consequential contests of the year. Both schools, ranked in the Top 25, finished 3-5 in conference play and far from both the national and conference championship discussion. The Gamecocks turned out to be exactly what they proved in Week 1; a semi-talented team with a lackluster defense that got torched on a weekly basis. The Aggies? Not so much. We never saw anything close to that level of dominance from them again. 

So what can we draw from any of these early season matchups? Not much, really. Remember Ohio State’s first two games last year? They lost star quarterback Braxton Miller in the preseason, which forced them to throw unproven redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to the wolves. And it wasn’t pretty… at first. The Buckeyes struggled mightily to put away Navy, and then lost by fourteen points at home to what would end up being a mediocre 7-6 Virginia Tech squad. The country collectively washed their hands of the Buckeyes, and we forgot about them for the next six weeks. However, quietly, during that time period, Barrett got more comfortable and started showing flashes, they committed to a running game that started pounding the rock down everyone’s throats, and the team came together so strongly throughout the season that they ran the table in the Big 10 and kicked both Alabama’s and Oregon’s butt (my two best teams all year) so alarmingly that I remember being completely shocked at how badly they outclassed them.

So Week 1, while being incredibly exciting, isn’t really all that important in determining the overall level of play for each team during the season. There are so many changes during the year, whether it being injuries, growth and development, or something as simple as confidence. It’s all about getting better every week and coming together as a team by the end of the season. Ohio State wasn’t close to being the best team in September. But January? There was no doubt. And you would’ve never thought that after they got throttled by the Hokies.

 UTAH over Michigan

The Harbaugh era will start off with a loss. I don’t think Utah is significantly better that the Wolverines, but any time one team has to fly at least two time zones to play an equally matched team; I’m always going to pick the home team. I think Harbaugh will absolutely be a slam dunk at Michigan (he has been everywhere else), but this feels like a 7-6 or 6-7 team to me. New coach, new system, new everything, and awkward interviews aside, I just don’t think there’s all that much talent on this Michigan roster.

#2 Tcu over MINNESOTA

I think the Horned Frogs are going undefeated in the regular season. They were one 10 minute brain fart against Baylor from doing it last year, and they return 10 starters from last year’s frightening effective offense. Trevone Boykin is the best quarterback in the Big 12, and he’ll put up monster numbers all year in a conference that has the Rhett Butler attitude towards defense. 

#23 BOISE STATE over Washington

#21 Stanford over NORTHWESTERN

I think I’m going to be really high on the Cardinal every year, even if they’ve been incapable of consistently driving the ball down the field with the passing game since Andrew Luck left. I just like how consistently they are committed to physically pounding the rock and punching you in the mouth on the defensive end. I think they’re going to win the Pac 12 North. And with that level of praise, I might have just tanked their entire season. Whoops.

#6 AUBURN over Louisville

I couldn’t mention this game without bringing up the Bobby Petrino-Auburn connection. You know, like that time when Petrino accepted the Louisville head coach job for the first time all the way back in 2003, and then followed up that exciting development in his life by immediately interviewing with Auburn boosters for their own head coaching job in his backyard, only behind the backs of his boss, Cardinals AD Tom Jurich, as well as the then Tigers’ coach Tommy Tuberville, who was still in charge of the program. Is their any individual in the history of sports with a more disastrous triumvirate of deception than Petrino? Don’t forget about him walking out on the Falcons in the middle of the night, escaping to Fayetteville to coach the Razorbacks, or his eventual firing from that school, after his motorcycle accident revealed that he had his significantly younger mistress on the payroll. I don’t have anything personally against Petrino… oh wait, never mind, I actually do. He a used car salesman, the type of guy that would steal like $60,000 from a church or children’s hospital. What a shady dude.

Auburn can win this game on talent alone, but here’s the real question; are they going to be able to stop anyone this year? Heck, is anyone going to be able to consistently play defense this year? I swear, last year it seemed like every offensive player in the country was allowed to dip themselves in arsenic before every game, and the defenders realized it just as they were going in for the tackle. They then thought, “Yeah, I mean I know it’s my job to being putting these guys on the ground, but I’m not trying to get arsenic on me. That’s scary. I’ll just let you go on by now”. And that’s everything you need to know about tackling and defense in 2014. Will new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp help the Tigers? Who knows? And honestly, does defense even matter anymore? Sometimes I feel like it really doesn’t.

#25 TENNESSEE over Bowling Green

Excuse me while I jump into full-on homer mode for a second….

Why not though?

#3 Alabama over #20 Wisconsin

Everybody’s really down on the Tide after they got manhandled by the Buckeyes in the playoffs last year, but why shouldn’t they be the prohibitive favorites in the SEC West again? Look at the other “contenders”…..

  1. Auburn doesn’t play any defense, and I have no idea if they’ll figure out how to do it this season.
  2. Ditto for Texas A&M. We’ll see if John Chavis makes a difference for them on that side of the ball this season.
  3. Here are the LSU’s relevant starting quarterbacks since 2007: Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson, Zach Mettenberger, Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris. Here are Tennessee’s (pre Josh Dobbs): Jonathan Crompton, Nick Stephens, Tyler Bray, Matt Simms, Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman. Lots and lots of mediocre quarterback play. Just abysmal in some places. And don’t give me Mettenberger, who was more of a game manager who just happened to have a strong arm. If you both programs switched quarterback situations over the last seven seasons, how would that affect the records of both teams? Don’t you feel like they’d be virtually the same? Both schools have trotted out a lot of crap at that position in that stretch. LSU’s advantage over the Vols has been their superior talent at virtually every other position, as well as the zany genius of the Mad Hatter, Les Miles. It also helps that the Bayou Bengals have had one coach during this stretch, compared to Tennessee, who is currently on their fourth different coach. LSU still has unsolved QB questions, and I don’t see them figuring it out this season either.
  4. Everyone loves Arkansas as a sleeper, but didn’t they go 2-6 in conference play last season? Oh…. Calm the Hog love down. Win five conference games in the same season first. Then we’ll talk.

So yeah, ‘Bama got decimated last year. It happens. Sometimes you just get beat. But they’ve still got the best coach in the conference, and just as much talent as everyone else in the division. It might not be pretty (and it rarely is with them), but I think picking anyone is ludicrous.

#25 TENNESSEE over Bowling Green

Excuse me while I jump into full-on homer mode for a second….


Why not though? The East is wide open, and in a lot of places, a wasteland. South Carolina tackles about as well as a team full of lepers, Kentucky has no shot, Vanderbilt should disband its football program, and Florida has a new coach, Jim McElwain, who is about a 7.5 on the “I’m Derek Dooley And Am In Completely Over My Head” scale. Georgia will find a way to screw it up, probably by blowing a winnable game in November. And then there’s Missouri…. I mean, I respect what the Tigers have done in the SEC thus far, but are they really going to win the East three years in a row? Really? There’s more optimism around the Vol program than I can ever remember, and it’s not like the fans are completely unjustified in feeling that way. They found their star quarterback in Dobbs, the recruiting is excellent, the schedule breaks their way a little bit this year, half the teams in the East are wandering around blindly in the dark, and Butch just seems like the right guy to guide the program back to its former glory. It’s almost too perfect, which is why I’m more nervous and anxious for this football season than any I can ever remember. There are so many unanswered questions with this team, one that is still extremely young and inexperienced. And what if they get blasted by Oklahoma next weekend? How will they respond? And what if Dobbs gets hurt? That offensive line is still somewhere between passable and putrid, and we saw how poorly it blocked for most of last season. I’m crossing my fingers, rolling the dice, and praying to Thor himself that this season turns out the way I want it to.

#1 Ohio State over VIRGINIA TECH

The Buckeyes will take care of business on Monday night, avenging last year’s embarrassing defeat against the Hokies, but hear this: they will not go undefeated this year. I know, I know, the schedule is laughably easy (their toughest game is when they host Michigan State on November 21), but somewhere along the way, they’ll slip up. Everybody is gunning for them now. I’m looking at that Penn State game on October 17th as the early favorite for a Buckeye defeat. Sure, it’s a night game in Columbus, but James Franklin is a really smart coach of a program that seems ready to really bust out at any point. Plus, the Nittany Lions’ game the week before is against the biggest cupcake program in the conference, Indiana. Keep an eye on that one.

Other game picks

#23 BOISE STATE over Washington
#15 Arizona State over Texas A&M
#11 NOTRE DAME over Texas

So enjoy college football this weekend. You deserve it.

I’ll leave you with here with my preseason predictions (and yes, I love USC, not just because of their talent, but also because Steve Sarkisian just stole the head coach/manager that would definitely be the most fun at a party championship belt from Kliff Kingsbury and Ron Washington.

Ohio State
Ohio State

Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech





(4) Alabama over (1) TCU
(3) USC over (2) Ohio State


USC 31 Alabama 27