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. 

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