2012 NFL Burning Answers
LOS ANGELES — The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is always the most exciting. The final eight teams. The truly best eight of a long, arduous season left standing. And if you break down who’s remaining as we enter Week 19 there’s no question these are the elite eight: Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Ravens in the AFC, and Falcons, Seahawks, Packers and 49ers in the NFC. My preseason Super Bowl pick is still alive and we’ll see if Green Bay and New England make it through the weekend. I know I’m pretty excited after a lackluster Wild Card Weekend.
With the end of the season comes the end-of-the-year awards. Here are my picks:
MVP — Adrian Peterson: carried Vikings to the playoffs and averaged more yards per carry than Christian Ponder averaged per pass. Oh yeah, he blew out his knee just over a year ago and didn’t miss a single snap due to injury this season.
Comeback Player of the Year — Peyton Manning: missed the entire 2011 season and made most who said he should have retired or wouldn’t be the same eat crow with a remarkable 2012.
Offensive Rookie of the Year — Russell Wilson: didn’t get injured or turn the ball over as much as the other rookie candidates, and led the Seahawks to 11 wins and a playoff triumph. Good enough for me.
Defensive Player of the Year — J. J. Watt: 20.5 sacks and another 15 pass deflections. A must-double team on every play or risk him blowing up your whole offensive game plan.
Coach of the Year — Pete Carroll: with all due respect to Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians, the Colts got some fortunate in-game luck this season (no pun intended) while Seattle played in a tough division, went with a rookie QB and finished undefeated at home. Always compete.
This will double as my end-of-the-regular season You’re The Man Rankings column as well as recapping my preseason Burning Questions for each of the 32 teams. Check that out here to see how I did.
Been an awesome season and it’s only gonna get better the next 3 weeks. Enjoy and thanks for coming along for the ride with me.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (final record: 2-14) (preseason YTM rank: 28) – Back before the season started, one of the cornerstones of my fantasy team was Maurice Jones-Drew and one of my questions was what week do I start him in fantasy after his offseason holdout? Well the answer should’ve been NEVER. Like never start him ever. Or trade him immediately. Or how about this: don’t keep him AT ALL. Don’t even consider keeping him. He ruined my fantasy season. Also, me not executing a trade the same week he got injured forced me into scramble mode the entire second half of the year; 418 yards and a TD from my keeper!!?! Sigh. And as for Justin Blackmon, he thrived with Chad Henne at QB and finished the season strong with 38 grabs and 5 TDs in the last 7 games. Certainly something to build on heading into 2013 and on his way to living up to my Anquan Boldin comparison.
31.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) (17) – Clearly, I missed pretty bad on my preseason prognostication of the Chiefs; like 14 spots bad. Though, I wasn’t alone. The Chiefs had all the tools to be a contending team this season and it just never got together. And it started with the quarterback. Matt Cassel was atrocious. Like got-his-coach-fired atrocious. I asked if Cassel was the man like people thought he was, well those who thought that are clearly idiots. He turned the ball over at Sanchezian rates – 12 interceptions and 7 lost fumbles – before he was benched in Week 10 and it appears his career as a starting QB are over. Hope he invested his large signing bonus wisely. I’m not sure where Cassel ends up next season, but wherever it is, it’ll be as a handsome backup.
30.) Oakland Raiders (4-12) (22) – Could the Raiders defense carry its weight; that is what I asked to start the season, guessing the offense would be in good shape. Well, let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we. Oakland finished 18th in total offense (8th in passing yards, 28th in rushing), 26th in points scored and 27th in 1st downs. Defensively, the Raiders were 15th in total yards (13th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing) and 28th in points allowed. So, in a way, you could say the the defense out-performed the offense but it just gave up too many points, which translated to only 4 wins. Oh, and Darren McFadden getting hurt AGAIN didn’t help anything. Wait, Carson Palmer just threw another interception.
29.) Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) (16) – Debacle. Disaster. Deserving. An overrated player didn’t use any of these D-words to describe the Eagles but they would’ve fit pretty much from Week 1 through their Week 17. This year didn’t just cost Andy Reid his job but it might’ve cost him his sanity. He had LeSean McCoy but barely used him. He benched Michael Vick for Nick Foles. And he thinks he can coach up the Chiefs into a playoff contender. After what Reid went through in the preseason he probably should’ve sat out this season. Then again, I said Peyton Manning should’ve retired. What do I know?
28.) Arizona Cardinals (5-11) (30) — I nailed this one right on the head this preseason. I wondered if I was up next on the Cardinals QB Carousel and as it turned out, they trotted out four different jamokes. FOUR!!?! Kurt Warner changed his phone number at least that many times this year ducking Ken Whisenhunt’s calls. Poor Wiz got canned, too. That was a theme this offseason.
27.) New York Jets (6-10) (26) – So as it turned out, Tim Tebow got used as much by the Jets as much as I did. I wondered how bad their offense was going to be this year and let’s find out: 30th in total offense; 30th in passing yards per game; 12th in rushing yards per game. Mark Sanchez was 31st in passer rating, ahead of only Matt Cassel, 26th in passing yards, 2nd in interceptions and 1st in turnovers. Yup, that’s pretty terrible.
26.) Cleveland Browns (5-11) (32) — So, the running game ended up being pretty decent in Cleveland, this fall. Trent Richardson ran for 950 yards and the 5th most rushing TDs in the league with 11. I may have cut Greg Little from my fantasy team in Week 4 or 5 (I’ve really tried to forget this season already) but Brandon Weeden (3,385 yds, 14 TD, 17 INT) wasn’t as bad as Mark Sanchez, so that’s a win. Sort of. The Browns were 30th in First Down Percentage, and whatever that means, I’m guessing it’s not good.
25.) Tennessee Titans (6-10) (24) – I figured the Titans would go as far as Chris Johnson took him, what with Jake Locker being the consistent starter for the first time, and I wasn’t exactly wrong. Surely, they expected more than 6 wins, but after a disappointing 2011 campaign, CJ bounced back with 1,243 yards and 6 TDs this season. Locker was again hurt and questions should be asked about his durability.
24.) Detroit Lions (4-12) (11) – Matthew Stafford finished 2nd in the NFL in passing yards this season, which we all kind of figured; he just missed a second straight 5,000-yard season by 33 yards. But 2012’s 4-win effort was definitely a disappointment especially after being a playoff team in 2011. I wondered if the secondary would let them down and it wasn’t terrible. Their unit allowed the 19th most passing yards per game but the 13th most touchdown passes. Still, how do you go from the playoffs to 4 wins in just one year?
23.) Buffalo Bills (6-10) (18) – Mario Williams did his part this year, registering 10.5 sacks and the Bills defense gave up the 23rd most passing yards per game. However, the offense was mediocre at best: 19th in total yards and you could argue C.J. Spiller was underutilized. Either way, it’s now former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone’s problem. Rumored to be replacing Chan Gailey on Sunday, Marrone led my beloved Orange to its second bowl win in 4 years.
22.) San Diego Chargers (7-9) (19) – Again, I nailed this one. There’s no way the Chargers weren’t finishing out of the playoffs and there’s no way Norv Turner and A.J. Smith weren’t getting fired and there’s no way I’m speaking proper English right now. Regardless, the Chargers were a disaster from the second half of the Denver game, on. Why? Who knows. Was Philp Rivers the problem? Beats me. Is Ryan Mathews a bust? I mean, it looks that way. Who’s gonna be the coach? Can they catch the Broncos next season? Should they just wear the powder blues all year? Probably.
21.) St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) (27) – I was really at a loss when it came to words for this Rams team in 2012, but back in the preseason I wondered who would emerge as a legitimate pass-catcher for Sam Bradford. This no-name group of receivers needed someone to emerge and that man appeared to be Danny Amendola, who despite missing 5 games and parts of two others, had 63 receptions. As a team, the Rams had 7 guys catch TD passes so we’ll see if anyone steps up next season. As for Steven Jackson, he did take a pounding this year but managed to gain 1,000 yards for the 8th consecutive season.
20.) Miami Dolphins (7-9) (31) — At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you thought, watching Hard Knocks, the Dolphins were going to win 7 games, you’re the big winner at the casino tonight, Mikey. I was hoping Mrs. Tannehill would suit up at WR this year, but the Dolphins’ band of no-names led by Brian Hartline wasn’t terrible catching the ball. Sure, Reggie Bush didn’t lead the league in rushing or even 1,000 yards (he was 14 short), but this team was one of the surprises in the league and will contend for a playoff spot next year. Oh, and Mrs. Tannehill will be around A LOT.
19.) New Orleans Saints (7-9) (7) – Turns out the head coach is pretty darn important. Turns out the interim coach is pretty important, too. Turns out you can’t start the first 4 weeks winless and expect to have it be in the Super Bowl game being played in your stadium. The Bounty Gate situation was a black cloud over the team, city and league for what seemed like the entire season. New Orleans would love nothing more than to put 2012 behind it. Sure, Drew Brees signed a bajillion dollar contract, his coach did, too, and he threw for more than 5,000 yards (again), but he surely would’ve given it all up (and those terrible Pepsi commercials) to have made the playoffs. Next year.
18.) Dallas Cowboys (8-8) (21) – One of the big Cowboys stories heading into this season was Jerry Jones giving Dez Bryant his own set of bodyguards. Well those guys did their job as Dez had one of the more memorable receiver seasons by someone not named Calvin or Johnson. All Dez went out and do was haul in 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, including 10 scores in the last 8 weeks and doing it with a broken finger. He balled out. No question about it and really answered the bell when many were questioning him throughout the year. He’s an elite receiver. Wish the Patriots had him.
17.) Carolina Panthers (7-9) (15) – If you have a younger sibling, you remember what it was like when they were born and suddenly you weren’t the toast of the town anymore. I get the feeling Cam Newton’s feelings were hurt by all the buzz around Andrew Luck and My Good Friend Robert. Look at the season splits; in the first 10 weeks the Panthers were 2-7 and came had 10 INTs and only 8 TDs. Down the stretch, Cam lit it up as Carolina saved not only its miserable season but Ron Rivera’s job, throwing for 11 TDs and only 2 INTs. Sophomore slump? Sure. But I’d be back on that Camwagon next season, if I was you.
16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) (13) – I thought this Bucs team was going to make the playoffs; even said so when they started 2-4. I believed. And was looking even better after rattled off 4-straight wins to get to 6-4 and were in the drivers seat for the Wild Card. Josh Freeman was in shape, making plays and Doug Martin was running rampant. Then … yeah, I don’t know. Then the wheels came off and the Bucs lost 5 in a row and Freeman threw 10 picks. It was brutal. 6 and 4 became 7 and 9 with lots of questions heading into the offseason.
15.) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) (12) – Nailed this one, too, and I don’t feel good about it. Mike Wallace couldn’t have been more terrible; don’t know the exact number but he had to have led the league in drops while killing my fantasy team in the process. Ben Roethlisberger nearly got himself killed by playing with fractured ribs and Rashard Mendenhall probably won’t even be on the team next year. Oh, and Todd Haley is talking to the Cardinals about their coaching vacancy. Yup, a season to forget in Pittsburgh.
14.) New York Giants (9-7) (1) – Normally it’s the Super Bowl loser who struggles the following season but the Giants gave Tom Coughlin little to smile about this season. I’m not sure if it was the 3-5 collapse after a 6-2 start or if it was watching the hated Redskins win the division for the first time in 13 years or if it was just he constantly has a sour puss look on his face. Actually, his A Football Life was one of the more enjoyable this year and gave some insight as to why Coughlin is who he is. Check it out if you haven’t had the pleasure.
13.) Chicago Bears (10-6) – Brandon Marshall was tied for 2nd in targets (195) with Reggie Wayne and receptions (118) with Wes Welker, trailing only Calvin Johnson in both. Marshall was 3rd in receiving yards (1,508) behind Megatron and Andre Johnson. BM15 also scored 11 touchdowns. So, yeah, I’d say he and Jay Cutler made sweet music this season on the Midway and should be a great combo moving forward. Though we’ll see who the Bears new coach is what he has to say about it.
12.) Minnesota Vikings (10-6) (29) — Remember all those ones I said I nailed earlier? Well I definitely screwed the pooch on this one. Here’s exactly what I said again about Mr. Adrian Peterson before the season: “If I’m Adrian Peterson, for starters I’d probably spend an uncomfortable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror, but I also wouldn’t be in any rush to get back on the field in Minnesota.” Yeesh. So 2,097 yards later, how’s that taste, Brockman? But my real preseason question was about the Vikings defense, so a quick statistical analysis tells me that it was it gave up the 9th most passing yards in the league, and worst in the NFC North.
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (8) – The 2011 Bengals went 9-7 and were the AFC Wild Card. Andy Dalton threw for 3,398 yards, 20 TD and 13 INT and made the Pro Bowl, while rookie wide receiver A.J. Green caught 65 balls for 1,057 yards and 7 TDs. But they ultimately lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Texans. The 2012 Bengals went 10-6 and were the AFC Wild Card, Dalton threw for 3,669 yards, 27 TDs and 16 INTs, Green caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 TDs but lost to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card. So yeah, I’d say they equaled last year.
10.) Washington Redskins (10-6) (20) – What went on in the NFC Wild Card aside, there’s no question that My Good Friend Robert (as he’s been known as this season in this very column) was one of the chief stories of the 2012 NFL Season. What he did to shock to life the football-crazed DC area was nothing short of a miracle and to call him a Cam Newton-lite, like I tried to do in the preseason was a vast understatement. Here’s Cam’s 2011 season numbers: 4,051 passing yards, 21 TDs, 17 INTs, 706 rushing yards, 15 TDs. Here’s Robert’s 2012 season stats: 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 815 rushing yards, 7 TDs, AND he was 3rd in the league in passer rating behind two guys named Rodgers and Manning. Ho hum. Unreal. And Mike Shanahan went the other direction used just one main running back this year, another rookie, who only rushed for 1,600 yards in Alfred Morris. Football is back in Washington.
9.) Indianapolis Colts (11-5) (25) – What an amazing season in Indianapolis from the play of their rookies, a rejuvenated Reggie Wayne and the story of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, who deserve to share Coach of the Year honors. I had the Colts 25 in the preseason and predicted that would be their lowest ranking of the year. Turns out I was more than correct. I didn’t envision a playoff team, but thanks to Luck’s astounding rookie season (4,374 passing yards, 23 TDs, 17 INTs, 5 rushing TDs) and some timely big plays, the Colts won 11 games and should be again contenders for the next decade or so.
8.) Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (4) – The Ravens began this year with an undrafted, 22-year-old rookie kicker from Texans named Justin Tucker, who replaced Billy Cundiff, who if you remember, missed from 32 yards in last year’s AFC Championship game and cost Baltimore a trip to the Super Bowl. So I wondered if its new kicker could indeed make a 32-yard field goal. And while Tucker had a fine 2012 season in which he only missed 3 field goals the entire year, he did not make one from 32 yards out. He was 8-for-8 on kicks between 30 and 39 yards, including three each from 38 and 39 yards, but not from 32. Tucker was perfect from 50-plus yards, but none from 32. So we’ll see this weekend and beyond if he is called upon can he deliver from that distance.
7.) San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) (5) – Maybe the real question I should’ve asked was whether or not someone OTHER than Alex Smith will make everyone forget Jim Harbaugh tried to woo Peyton Manning last offseason. Man. Poor Alex Smith. Who saw his benching coming? Guy was leading the league in passer rating, got knocked out, and then Wally Pipp’ed. Colin Kaepernick has come in and gone 5-2-1 as a starter and looks explosive and unguardable at times. He has a cannon and runs like a gazelle. He beat the Saints and Patriots on the road and the Bears at home. Battle tested? Not exactly. We’ll find out very, very soon against Green Bay. But remember, Smith got them to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl last year, anything less is a disappointment out of CK1.
6.) Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (23) – This will be my shortest response of the column. I asked if Russell Wilson could make the Seahawks a contender when the games counted for real: YES. YES. YES. I’m a believer. He did it. And he kills it on this week’s Eisen Podcast, listen for yourself and tell me you’re not all-in on this kid.
5.) Houston Texans (12-4) (6) – Arian Foster continues to dominate NFL defenses and the Twitterverse, while the bow is catching on as a favorite end zone celebration. He bowed a total of 17 times this season and led the league with 351 rushing attempts, so clearly Gary Kubiak was a fan of the bow, as well.
4.) Green Bay Packers (11-5) (3) – Well, as it turned out, Cedric Benson wasn’t the answer for the Packers running game, and in reality, there have been a few answers to that question this season. In all, the Packers used 6 different running backs (including fullback John Kuhn) with Benson being the go-to guy before his Week 5 injury. From there, James Starks picked up on his 2011 postseason run, then Alex Green and now DuJuan Harris appears to be the featured back. Still, when you have Aaron Rodgers, you’re offense is in good shape.
3.) New England Patriots (12-4) (2) – Lost in the amazingness that was Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson’s 2012 seasons was the once again masterful season-long campaign of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. A strong case could be made Brady should win this third MVP award. All he did was lead the Patriots to another ho-hum 12-4 season by throwing for 4,827 yards, 34 TDs and only 8 INTs; his third career season of single-digit interceptions. I wondered preseason if Brady could get better looking and the answer is, duh. Look at him. Whenever I see his Uggs billboards I scream “TOMMY!!” at them. People look at me like I’m nuts. They’re not wrong. I also asked if the dreadful 2011 Patriots defense could be better than 31st and they improved slightly to 25th. Hey, offense (and being attractive) wins games, right? (reminded of Super Bowl 42 and 46) Sigh.
2.) Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (9) – For the first few weeks of the regular season, probably up until he threw 5 picks against the Cardinals, Matt Ryan was a legitimate MVP contender. The Falcons were rolling everyone in their path and while they stumbled going 2-2 the last month of the year, they still finished 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. Ryan, my fantasy QB I might add, accumulated 4,719 passing yards, 32 TDs and 14 INTs; all career highs. Still, if they don’t beat the Seahawks this weekend it’ll be considered an unmitigated disaster year and both Mike Smith and Ryan will take an enormous amount of offseason heat for failing, once again, to win a playoff game. Not to mention, Tony Gonzalez will retire winless in the playoffs.
1.) Denver Broncos (13-3) (14) – In a way, it’s fitting that my biggest whiff of the preseason predictions would go on to become the top team the NFL as we enter the Divisional Playoff Round. Peyton Manning had a throwback season for the ages after missing 2011 in its entirety following four neck surgeries, and most think he’s at least a 50/50 shot at winning his record 5th MVP. Hard to say he transformed the Broncos since they were a playoff team (and winner) a year ago, but he gave them a true identity and a definitely attitude and swagger they haven’t had since John Elway roamed the backfield. Riding an 11-game winning streak, I wouldn’t want to come anywhere near them in the playoffs. That’s good enough to earn you billing as The Man.
Stay tuned for my final 2012 NFL Season You’re The Man rankings which will come after the Super Bowl, where I’ll focus on the one thing each team has to look forward to or be concerned with heading into the 2013 offseason.
2012 NFL ‘You’re The Man’ Rankings — Week 5
LOS ANGELES — The real refs returned in time for last Thursday night’s game in Baltimore and you can guess how long the love affair lasted. Right, about a quarter. Ask Green Bay if they like the replacements or the regular refs better? If New Orleans can have an interim to the interim head coach, maybe we can get some replacements for the replacement refs just for Packers games. Good thing Rodgers’ Ruffryders came through this week (thanks to a Garrett Hartley missed field goal, to boot) or we might have a Mike McCarthy-led mutiny on our hands. But it was good to see ‘ole Ed Hochuli and his guns out there again. Apparently Sports Illustrated thought so, too. Speaking of, does it look like a lot more of these officials are yoked up these days? Did the new deal involve free Bowflex’s and GNC Gold Card memberships? This is making me feel like a weakling.
OK, I’m gonna mix in some push-ups here while you read who’s the man. Let’s get it.
32.) Cleveland Browns (0-4) (32) — Does anyone on the Browns have a hot wife I can post pictures of to make the bottom of this poll more entertaining and attractive? Someone has to, right? Quick, lemme Google Brandon Weeden’s wife real quick … OK, so this ain’t so bad. I mean, that’s a great view, right? AmIright? [crickets…]
31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) (28) — I never thought it would ever come to this, but I actually considered trading MJD from my fantasy team this week. That’s how bad it’s gotten in Jacksonville.
30.) Tennessee Titans (1-3) (27) — OK, Chris Johnson fantasy owners, you can all calm down now. CJ ran for 141 yards this week and while he didn’t score, you have to be encouraged that he did SOMETHING, right? And while you never want to see anyone get hurt, I am glad that my brother Matt Hasselbeck is going to get some burn here for the next couple weeks. Go easy on the Pick 6s, though. #BaldIsBeautiful
29.) Oakland Raiders (1-3) (29) — Richard Seymour, I love ya, buddy. You were a Patriot for years. Won some Super Bowls. But you can’t honestly think your defense is “close” like you said this week, can you? Close to what? Last place in my poll? Yes, you’re close to that. Again. Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown pass.
28.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-3) (23) — Did I read that right? Matt Cassel has 10 turnovers in four games? Wow. That’s impressive even for me, someone who’s been known to sling it all over the yard in my day. At least that’s what the Biddeford head coach told me when I returned to the area as a reporter. Seriously, first time I interviewed him, he said: “yeah, I remember you. You used to sling it all over the yard at TA, right?” I thought that was pretty cool. And yes, against the Tigers, I threw three interceptions and we lost 42-7. That was 12 years ago. Remember it like it was yesterday.
27.) New Orleans Saints (0-4) (26) — Poor Aaron Kromer. The aforementioned interim to the interim head coach just wants to not go winless in his short coaching stint. Well, he’s got two more games to get one and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Chargers coming to the Dome. The Saints played their best game of the season in Green Bay, got a gift from the real refs and still lost. Sometimes it’s just not your year.
26.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) (18) — This team and the Rams I really don’t get. I thought the Bucs were a lock to make the playoffs, then the Falcons have gone out and been the best team in the league and the Saints have been the worst. But Josh Freeman hasn’t improved. Doug Martin hasn’t been the dynamite back we all thought and people seem to think Greg Schiano is an a-hole. Might be a long year in Tampa. And it’s hot there, which sucks.
25. Detroit Lions (1-3) (22) — Remember when I said the Lions were frauds and that I was rolling with the Vikings? Yup, they went out and proved that this week by losing to Minnesota. At home. Detroit’s special teams is atrocious and that vaunted run defense gave up 100+ to a one-legged Adrian Peterson. I hope Jim Schwartz rented his home.
24.) Carolina Panthers (1-3) (24) — I really wish you could have seen what I saw from a certain player in the locker room after the game. It was priceless and tells you all you need to know about the Panthers. They are a mess. But I did like the effort this past week against Atlanta. They can win some games, but they’re definitely not celebrating the win afterwards together, despite what Ryan Kalil has printed on a t-shirt.
23.) Miami Dolphins (1-3) (31) — I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this is the last time the Dolphins are behind the Jets in this poll. Mr. Lauren Tannehill really showed me something. Sure, his stats (26-of-41, 431 yards, TD, 2 INT) were helped by a couple of great catch-and-runs by Brian Hartline, but still, someone has to throw him the ball and that someone was Lauren Tannehill’s husband. Also, if you haven’t watched a Joe Philbin presser, check it out. Underrated funny.
22.) New York Jets (2-2) (19) — I tell ya what, that was some Rex Ryan post game press conference after Sunday’s spanking by the 49ers. Is it what the Jets needed? Will it work? Who the hell knows. Personally, I think Rex is seriously on the hot seat. This could end badly. Like worse than his lapband surgery. In a way, I kinda miss the fat Rex. He was much more fun and prone to say real stupid junk. How bad is Houston gonna blank them this week on Monday Night Football? 45-0? That’d be great.
21.) Indianapolis Colts (1-2) (25) — Don’t play and move up 4 spots. Why not? But seriously, this Chuck Pagano thing is downright terrible. When I was in elementary school, one of our classmates had Leukemia and I remember our teacher would have a few of us write her letters every couple days. I wasn’t close with her, in fact, her name escapes me at this moment, but I wrote her the best letter I could. And I’m sure that reading them, even from someone like me whom she barely knew, made her feel well and alive. I’m wishing Chuck Pagano my best.
20.) St. Louis Rams (2-2) (30) — I’m excited to get my first real look at this Rams team on Thursday night on NFL Network against the Cardinals. Pretty much if Sam Bradford stays healthy then they’re fine. Danny Amendola is turning into the poor man’s Wes Welker and Steven Jackson is still a beast. I don’t know much else, but beating the Seahawks is good enough for me.
19.) Buffalo Bills (2-2) (21) — Realizing where I just ranked the Bills, I said to myself: “The Bills got shellacked and moved up? That can’t be right.” Well, it is. There are a lot of bad teams right now in the NFL and while I don’t think Buffalo is good by any stretch, they did have the Patriots on the serious ropes for a half. If Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t turn the ball over, the Bills seriously could have won. But where was that defense everyone talked so much about this offseason? I mean, 243 rushing yards to Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden? Jeez, Louise.
18.) Seattle Seahawks (2-2) (14) — Is our love affair with Russell Wilson over yet? Brandon Weeden didn’t play terribly against the Ravens and with Ryan Tannehill throwing up 431 yards, that would push Wilson into the 5-hole among the rookie QBs, right? Seattle’s defense is going to carry this team for a bit until Wilson either flames out or Matt Flynn is healthy enough to assume the starting job.
17.) Dallas Cowboys (2-2) (13) — Where to begin with last night’s Cowboys/Bears game? My friend dubbed this the Douchebag QB Bowl but that’s not really right. I don’t think Tony Romo is a d-bag but he certainly played like one last night. Sure, two of the picks were deflected but the other 3 were terrible. Not even I threw them that egregiously. All that was missing last night was T.O.
16.) Washington Redskins (2-2) (16) — Blow a huge lead and then come back to win it. Well damn, that’s some moxie. Even if it shouldn’t have been that close. Billy, Billy, Billy. What are we going to do with Billy Cundiff? Misses what, three field goals that would’ve put this game out of reach well before Tampa’s comeback and then hits the game-winner? Oh, and tell my good friend Robert it’s OK to SLIDE every once in a while.
15.) New York Giants (2-2) (4) — Maybe this is too far of a drop, but seriously, where in the hell was Eli throwing that ball on the end zone interception? Where? And to whom? Because all I saw were three Eagles there waiting for it. I told you it was going to be one of these seasons. No rhyme or reason. And you’re the NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS, gotta have more than 57 yards rushing. Gotta.
14.) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) (10) — You know what I love? Stats like Mike Tomlin is 4-1 coming off a Bye Week. I love that shhh. Totally meaningless, but yet it completely makes sense. Random story about Mike Tomlin. He was at the Senior Bowl earlier this year in Mobile, Ala., as was I. And he wore the same exact outfit two consecutive days, which made me wonder what he was doing the night before. In Mobile. Now I’m not saying I’ve never done it, but I’m also not a Super Bowl-winning head coach who makes millions of dollars a year. But he did have on the tightest Air Force 1s. Dude has serious swag.
13.) Minnesota Vikings (3-1) (20) — Let’s check in with my Vikings fan buddy Jimmy: “D looks like the purple people eaters of old” … “We’re for real Just gotta believe. Remember how everyone laughed when they drafted Ponder? He’s gonna be ok” … “The glory days are back baby.” Yeah, he’s feeling good and those good feelings should remain after they roll through the Titans on Sunday.
12.) San Diego Chargers (3-1) (17) — Probably not a good sign when you bench your 1st Round running back from a couple years ago because he can’t hold onto the football. I’m not expert, but that’s an important skill to have. I wonder if Norv has Ryan Mathews walking around the facility like Omar Epps in “The Program?” Talk about an underrated movie. That one should get remade in a few years, I’m guessing. I’d be down for that. Maybe I could get a part as an assistant coach in charge of HGH administration.
11.) Denver Broncos (2-2) (9) — Quick look at Peyton Manning’s line from Sunday: 30-of-38, 338 yards, 3 TDs. I’d say he’s back. Funny, listening to Bill Belichick talk about Manning (it’s Patriots v. Broncos in Week 5) and he said No. 18 looks like his old self and the Broncos are running 95% of the Colts old offense; really interesting. Let’s hope the results follow history’s path. Brady is 8-4 against Manning all-time.
10.) Chicago Bears (3-1) (12) — That’s what everyone envisioned what Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall would look like when the Bears traded for the enigmatic receiver. He sure torched the Cowboys, didn’t he? Look, I hate Cutler just as much as the next guy, but I love how every move he makes on the sideline now is scrutinized like the Zapruder Film. In his defense, though, I wouldn’t want to stand next to Mike Tice for that long, either. Oh, and Chicago’s defense sure looks pretty good, huh? Though, Tony Romo made it pretty easy for them.
9.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) (15) — Well, that was an impressive win against the Giants, Sunday night. I still don’t think Michael Vick is going to remain upright for the entire season. However, if Andy Reid wants to keep winning, he’ll keep feeding LeSean McCoy (123 yards vs. Giants). There isn’t another back in the league who makes open-field moves like Shady. He should get 30 touches a game.
8.) New England Patriots (2-2) (8) — The first half of last weeks’ game illustrated the Patriots’ deficiencies; the second half showed how explosive this offense can be and why some said it could be better than 2007. Tom Brady was Tom Brady, but who knew the running game could be that dynamic? Stevan Ridley? Brandon Bolden? I went and picked up Bolden when he was around the 70-yard mark, who knew he still had 70 more to go?
7.) Arizona Cardinals (4-0) (11) — I’m not quite a believer in the Cardinals, but I’m getting there. But, I did like this stat: they’ve won 11-of-their-last-13 games dating back to last year. That has to count for something, right? And by a show of hands, how many of you immediately picked up or put in a waiver claim for Andre Roberts as soon as Kevin Kolb’s ball hit his hands for a touchdown on that last drive?
6.) Green Bay Packers (2-2) (6) — The highest ranked of the .500 teams, the Packers finally played a complete game and it almost still wasn’t enough. But it was good to see Aaron Rodgers go off (319 yards, 4 TDs) for fantasy owners and I’ve decided there’s not a cooler sack celebration than Clay Matthews’ beast. Jared Allen’s calf rope had been my No. 1 but I’m down with Matthews now. Plus, I’m still diggin’ those State Farm commercials: “Show me, show me what ya got, Raji”.
5.) Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) (7) — The Ginger Rocket is no joke (5th in Passer Rating and 4th in TDs). And I have to hear every Sunday night how awesome A.J. Green is because he went to Georgia from Jantzen, but don’t you get the feeling that at some point Marvin Lewis is going to remember he’s Marvin Lewis and FUBAR this whole operation up? Until then, the Bengals are going to Who Dey all over everyone to more wins.
4.) San Francisco 49ers (3-1) (5) — That’s more like it from the 49ers; a spanking of an overmatched opponent. Before the season, I was talking to some people about fantasy running backs and wondered why no one had Frank Gore near the top. Got a lot of, “he’s too old” comments. How about the 1,300-yard pace he’s on now? That OK for everyone? Thought so. Would like to see more from their WRs though. Mario Manningham can’t be your No. 1. He just can’t.
3.) Baltimore Ravens (3-1) (3) — As is the case with all the Thursday night teams, I have basically forgotten what you did to make you so impressive, but I know you didn’t do anything to drop. So here are the Ravens. Torrey Smith is ballin’ right now. And in my fantasy league, my buddy still has Joe Flacco on his bench, which just seems silly at this point, even if he is starting Cam Newton.
2.) Houston Texans (4-0) (2) — Number one in total defense. Second against the pass. Fifth in sacks. Yes, the Texans opponents have a combined 6-10 but you can only play who’s in front of you and they’ve dominated all comers to this point. Arian Foster is on a 412-carry pace, which concerns me and Andre Johnson has been real quiet so far. More offensive balance would be nice but with that division, expect Gary Kubiak’s mug to be near the top all season.
1.) Atlanta Falcons (4-0) (1) — How ’bout the onions on Matt Ryan on that throw on 1st and 10 from the 1-foot line late in the Panthers game last weekend? That would make me react like this, too. In fact, that last time I saw someone literally just drop back and throw the ball as far as they could, well, it was me. Senior year at Syracuse, first game of the flag football season. For some reason, our game against these freshman came down to the wire and on the last play of the game I reared back and let it fly 60 yards to the right corner of the end zone, where it landed in the hands of my buddy James for a touchdown. My now buddy, Sean McBride, was defending and will tell you exactly how it went down. Oh, right, the Falcons are good.
Johnson’s Release Keeps ‘Hard Knocks’ Audience On Toes
LOS ANGELES — True reality television – and let’s be honest, what claims to be real isn’t by any stretch these days – is raw, emotional and has you on the edge of your seat. The second episode of “Hard Knocks” was reality television at its finest. Osi Umenyiora agreed. Chad Johnson, not so much.
When news broke last Saturday evening that Johnson had been arrested following a domestic dispute with his wife of a month, “reality star” Evelyn Lozada, I was shocked. Like most, I didn’t think of Johnson rolled that way. His off-field shenanigans were just that: usually playful, over-the-top, yes, but never brought true harm to anyone. He had never been arrested during his playing career so it wasn’t anything you expected.
The dispute, which depending on who you believe involved a receipt for condoms, and according to the police report, a headbutt, clearly, went too far this time and ultimately it cost him his job and probably his NFL career. At 34, Johnson is years removed from the peak of his playing days and endzone dance routines. He had a nice run with Carson Palmer in Cincinnati but completely lost it in New England last year, and early reports in Miami was he was too slow and didn’t have the hands to compete, despite its lack of wide receiver depth. One scene in Episode Two was telling for me, where the QBs were talking in their meeting about how even they didn’t know what Chad was doing half the time. David Garrard even wondered if he was getting the plays.
The NFL is a production-based league – like all sports – and if you can still perform at a high level people will continue to make excuses for your poor behavior. Johnson couldn’t and so he was let go. It’s sad, yes, because of the circumstances surrounding the release.
When the news broke, I immediately wondered how the producers would handle it. Turns out they went with some buildup talking about the other receivers and how Johnson was struggling, even dropping a sure catch in the Dolphins preseason game that Friday. Then, it happened and Joe Philbin took almost immediate action. In the room, I thought the coach handled it with class. It was obvious Chad was nervous, pensive, bewildered and knew it was coming. In fact, the director of security who talked with Chad said he was freaking out and “he may have an inkling of what’s coming.” But as someone pointed out on Twitter, he never once denied the incident, just that he’d never gotten in trouble before. “I let you down,” he told Philbin, who was not amused from the get-go with Johnson’s behavior. On the phone before the meeting, Philbin told someone, “(Johnson’s) temperament isn’t right for us.”
There was an amazing shot from the locker room of the Dolphins equipment guy cleaning out Johnson’s locker while Les Brown, the former basketball-playing finance man who’s trying to become an NFL tight end, looked on. It was telling because it appeared, almost with certainty, that Brown would be among the first Philbin cut. Alas, it was Johnson, who not only lost his job but his VH1 reality show he was filming with Lozada which was set to premiere in September. It was canceled in wake of the news.
The NFL, the ultimate reality show.
Other things I liked/noticed from this week’s episode: It’s really too bad the Chad Johnson situation overshadowed what started the episode, the tragedy involving Eagles coach Andy Reid and the passing of his son, Garrett. Philbin lost his son within the last year as tragically and knew exactly what Reid was going through. I thought that segment was well done … my man, Les Brown, got a lot of air time this week. He was the first to show up for the meeting and one coach wondered if it was because the HBO was there; “I was in here before the coaches, coach.” Too bad he didn’t see any passes come gametime … Mike Sherman = Dan Campbell = badass … poor David Garrard, who earlier said he was happy and healthy, apparently hurts his knee playing with his kids in the pool. Also, loving the Louis V man purse … It took 32 minutes before we saw Mrs. Tannehill and 39 before the Dolphins cheerleaders made an appearance. Come on, guys … The rookies’ haircuts was easily the funniest part of the first two episodes. Shaving eyebrows makes the bleach blonde hair from earlier look good. And how awesome was Philbin’s reaction to JC’s head penis? “Glad we’re such a first class organization.” Dying for the McKayla Maroney meme with the Philbin NOT IMPRESSED face … Loved the storm time lapse and the helmet in-bump before the preseason game … Offensive line coach Jim Turner’s becoming a quiet star along with Sherman, with the line of the show in reference to showing the cheerleaders’ “Call Me Maybe” video: “I saw the happy faces and the desks were up 6 inches.”
‘Hard Knocks: Miami Dolphins’ Debuts
LOS ANGELES — When it was announced months ago the Miami Dolphins would be featured on this season of HBO’s fantastically produced preseason series “Hard Knocks” my reaction was a common one: not interested. The Dolphins are a .500 team at best with no real star power to carry a show like “Hard Knocks,” have a rookie head coach and play in a division – the AFC East – already loaded with personality and pedigree.
When teams like the Falcons, Buccaneers, Broncos and Texans all reportedly passed on being profiled this year, however, you take what you can get. And what we get is the Dolphins. But when Chad Johnson signed with Miami, the show got 10 times more interesting, even if he was invisible last year with the Patriots and his appeal has grown tired. Then Reggie Bush said he could win the rushing title, and Ryan Tannehill’s wife just happened to look like a bikini model and voila, you have compelling TV each week.
Tuesday, “Hard Knocks” debuted with an sunrise over Miami Beach two months before camp officially opened. Head coach Joe Philbin was addressing his other coaches. The b-roll while he spoke was a construction crew tearing down the existing locker room for new digs before narrator Liev Schreiber chimed in, saying, “the Miami Dolphins are in the process of an overhaul.”
An understatement, yes. And a natural transition as we go from the open to the Dolphins three quarterbacks fighting to become QB1: Matt Moore, David Garrard and Tannehill, in their homes. Moore, shown with his wife and child, played well above average in the final 9 games of last season, leading Miami to a 6-3 record while tossing 15 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions but was almost relegated immediately to third string after the signing of Garrard and the drafting of Tannehill. Garrard sat out of all of 2011 after he underwent back surgery and Tannehill, the gigantic rookie from Texas A&M only has 13 career collegiate starts under his belt and was once a wide receiver.
The biggest issue for the Dolphins as a football team entering this season is who’s going to start at quarterback. They’ve been searching the successor to Dan Marino since he retired in 1999. This offseason, Miami flirted with Matt Flynn before he signed with Seattle and were rumored to be in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes before he signed in Denver. So it’s hard not to feel for Moore when he bluntly states into the camera, “I understand there’s other guys in the running as well,” after he’s asked about the starting job. Clearly, he thinks he’s done enough to be the top guy entering camp. It’s hard to disagree with him.
Of course, the star of the first episode was Johnson, who makes his first appearance by sticking his head into a coaches only meeting and asking for a chair, saying he can’t go home until after training camp. He eventually leaves but it’s apparent he’s reverted back to the old Chad, the one who celebrated vibrantly and without abandon; not the one who failed to learn the Patriots playbook or mesh with, or learn from, the greatest quarterback of all-time. No surprising, his wife, Evelyn Lozada, was on hand for a practice and had on the biggest hoop earrings I’ve ever seen. She then proceeded to tell the story of how Chad and her met; on Twitter. Of course they did.
He did manage to drop a few good one-liners, not to mention show off his enormous pink watch he displayed while playing FIFA with Bush. On his terrible 2011 season: “last year I took a year off to give everybody a chance to catch up.” On how he knew Lozada was the one: “if you pause call of duty for someone, that’s the f—ing one.” On if he still has his once-fantastic speed: “I feel like a cheetah, I feel black.”
One of the coolest segments of any Hard Knocks season is the underdog, that player who really shouldn’t have any shot to make the team, but for one reason or another you root for. This season, that is tight end Les Brown, who hasn’t done anything athletic in two years and played basketball at Westminster College. He is this year’s Danny Woodhead, a finance guy who’s trying to play football. He’s basically Rudy. It’s clear he’s undersized and overmatched against even other rookies. He asks for another chance after getting blown up in drill. Later, in a coaches meeting, someone says Brown is a “complete liability in pass coverage and run blocking.” I’ll put his chances of making the team at 15%.
In addition to the crisp, majestic slo-mo b-roll shots that NFL Films is known for, my favorite aspect of the show are the personnel meetings. It’s that insider, backroom honesty that people love; talking about how’s rising, who’s falling and who flat out can’t play. Seeing the Dolphins meeting makes me wonder what the world class organization’s meetings – Patriots, Steelers, Giants – would be like. How amazing would a “Hard Knocks: Patriots” be?
Other things I noticed/liked from the premiere episode: the biggest fail is that it took 43 minutes to show the Dolphins cheerleaders and we only got one shot of Mrs. Tannehill … David Garrard looked pretty comfortable on water skis … Mike Pouncey getting his hair cut in the kitchen was awesome, though I could’ve done without the nose hairs close up. It was pretty cool, though, him defending Tim Tebow later during a massage … Joe Philbin towered over Chad during their sideline practice chat following Chad’s expletive-laced presser, he’s gotta be at least 6-foot-4. Also, does Philbin look a little like Joe Hagen’s (think “Godfather”) younger brother? … great framing on the shot of Tannehill signing his contract with the photo of Dan Marino in the background … Wiz Kahalifa on the soundtrack = nice.