LOS ANGELES — It’s hard to believe seven months have passed since confetti fell on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks after their resounding Super Bowl XLVIII victory over Peyton Manning and the Broncos but it’s gone quickly. A brief rundown of what’s transpired since: Michael Sam had a press conference, Johnny Manziel wore pads for his pro day, Jadeveon Clowney was the top pick, Manziel partied… a lot, so did Jim Irsay, some 49ers got in trouble, Ray Rice and Josh Gordon were suspended, some guys got a whole lotta money, others got hurt and Hard Knocks disapppointed. Of course, other football things happened in between but those were the stories dominating the NFL offseason, which has become appropriately titled the Non-Playing Season because it seems not a day goes by without some kind of important pigskin news. But now all the mumbo jumbo is behind us and it’s time to put foot to ball, shoulders to pads and end zone to dances. Football is back and it’s not going anywhere for the next five months, so strap in, stay hydrated and make sure your fantasy roster is set. Most of all, enjoy.
As I’ve done the last couple years, here are the pre-Week 1 You’re The Man Power Rankings in the form of Burning Questions for each team, based on nothing except what I want to know about each franchise as we begin another glorious season. My playoff predictions and Super Bowl pick are also at column’s end.
Let’s do this.
32.) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-12, missed playoffs) — The only question I have about this team is why isn’t Blake Bortles starting from the get-go?
31.) BUFFALO BILLS (6-10, missed playoffs) — Based on the preseason it appears the Bills are in trouble this year, but will Doug Marone be around come Week 17?
30.) NEW YORK GIANTS (7-9, missed playoffs) — Tom Coughlin has already fined me for finishing this so late, but if Eli Manning struggles mightily again will the 2-time Super Bowl winning coach have his QB on a short leash?
29.) OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12, missed playoffs) — Oakland signed several veterans this offseason but it’s going to be rookie quarterback Derek Carr who determines how far this team goes this season, but who’ll be catching the ball from his talented right arm?
28.) CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-12, missed playoffs) — We all know what’s coming with the Browns this season, the questions is how long will the revolution take to be televised?
27.) TENNESSEE TITANS (7-9, missed playoffs) — Ken Whisenhunt will coach ’em up, there’s no doubt about that, and with some picking the Titans as a potential sleeper, can Jake Locker make it happen in a make-or-break year?
26.) ST. LOUIS RAMS (7-9, missed playoffs) — This season was already going to be the biggest of Sam Bradford’s career before he was lost with an ACL tear, now that Shuan Hill is leading the charge can he pull a Kurt Warner and take the Rams back to the playoffs?
25.) HOUSTON TEXANS (2-14, missed playoffs) — The Brinks truck was backed up for J.J. Watt, and while he deserves it, all the questions marks surrounding this team are on the offensive side of the ball, such as who is throwing the ball and will Arian Foster stay healthy for an entire season?
24.) MINNESOTA VIKINGS (5-10-1, missed playoffs) — Any team with Adrian Peterson and one of the best young tight ends in the game will have the offense to compete, but will the secondary toughen up to defend the aerial assault it’ll see on a weekly basis in division play?
23.) NEW YORK JETS (8-8, missed playoffs) — Everyone wants to make the Jets 2014 success about Geno Smith and his improvements between last year and this, but I’m more curious if the defense, specifically the secondary can match the artillery of its opponents?
22.) ATLANTA FALCONS (4-12, missed playoffs) — One play from the Super Bowl in 2012 to four wins a year later, Atlanta is a curious crew but the question is who are the real Falcons: the team that frightened opponents or the division doormat?
21.) DALLAS COWBOYS (8-8, missed playoffs) — Yes, Tony Romo is still recovering from offseason back surgery and the offense is poised to put up crazy fantasy numbers but just how bad is the Cowboys defense going to be?
20.) WASHINGTON REDSKINS (3-13, missed playoffs) — With a new head coach in Jay Gruden, the Redskins are going to live and die with the right arm and two feet of Robert Griffin III and if he chooses to play smart and remain the reckless headache who can’t stay healthy?
19.) ARIZONA CARDINALS (10-6, missed playoffs) — Patrick Peterson is finally paid but Darnell Dockett is out for the season for a Cardinals team on the verge of returning to the playoffs; can they really contend in the best division in football?
18.) DETROIT LIONS (7-9, missed playoffs) — The defense is always a curious case up in the D but I wanna know if new head coach Jim Caldwell can take all that talent Matthew Stafford has and mold him into one of the game’s best QBs?
17.) BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-8, missed playoffs) — These aren’t your daddy’s Ravens, which means there’s a lot of new faces and the defense isn’t as good as year’s past; can it do enough to make up for what was lost following their improbabe Super Bowl win?
16.) MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-8, missed playoffs) — A sneaky 2014 playoff contender, will Miami play spoiler in a division owned by the Patriots for the last dozen years?
15.) CAROLINA PANTHERS (12-4, lost in NFC Divisional Round) — It’s possible I’ll be getting a few snaps at wide receiver this season in Carolina, but with the corps already thin can Kelvin Benjamin put it all together and be the monster he showed this preseason?
14.) TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (4-12, missed playoffs) — We know Lovie Smith is going to have the Bucs flying around the ball on defense, but one stat I enjoyed was Josh McCown is one of four QBs 35+ starting the season across the league; will he make it through his first season as The Man?
13.) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-4, lost in NFC Championship) — It was not the best offseason in the Bay Area to say the least, the events played out like a soap opera, so the only question is are the 49ers set up for a monumental 2014 fall?
12.) CHICAGO BEARS (8-8, missed playoffs) — Defense is not the name of the game in Chicago anymore, and we saw how good the Bears offense could be WITHOUT Jay Cutler last year, but is No. 6 the man still or does the offense begin and end with Matt Forte?
11.) SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7, lost in AFC Divisional Round) — Philip Rivers basically willed his team to a playoff win a year ago, but does the Chargers defense have anything in its tank to back him up?
10.) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10-6, lost in NFC Wild Card) — It was a wild 2013 in Philadelphia, between Nick Foles 27-and-2 run and LeSean McCoy running wild, what does Chip Kelly have tucked deep in the playbill for an encore?
9.) CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-5, lost in AFC Wild Card) — For this team it’s seemed to come down to Andy Dalton, so now that he’s paid like an elite NFL quarterback, will he start playing like one when it matters most?
8.) PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-8, missed playoffs) — You know Dick LeBeau is going to coach up the defense, what I’m curious about is how this new high-tempo Steelers offense is going to look and how Ben Roethlisberger is going to perform in it?
7.) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5, lost in AFC Wild Card) — I know the Chiefs just extended Alex Smith for 4 years and $45M but how far can he really take them with his game managing style of play?
6.) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (11-5, lost in AFC Divisional Round) — I’ve seen some NFL experts picking the Colts to win the whole thing and while that’s bold, is anyone going to step up and win a game so Andrew Luck doesn’t have to do everything himself?
5.) GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-7-1, lost in NFC Wild Card) — When you have Aaron Rodgers I know it’s tempting to throw the ball like it’s backyard football, but will Mike McCarthy use Eddie Lacy like he’s one of the best backs in the NFL (which he is)?
4.) NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5, lost in NFC Divisional Round) — Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger but all of his offensive weapons return and they look poised for another huge season, but is Rob Ryan’s defense ready to prove last year’s vast improvements weren’t a fluke?
3.) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (12-4, lost in AFC Championship game) — It’s always Super Bowl or bust in New England, but is age finally catching up with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?
2.) DENVER BRONCOS (13-3, lost in Super Bowl) — Once again, for me, it’s all about Peyton Manning’s health; if #18 is on his 2013 game then there’s no stopping Denver, but if he takes a few big hits, will the 5-time MVP get up?
1.) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (13-3, Super Bowl Champions) — More than any defending champions in recent years, the Seahawks are set up for a repeat run, will they stay hungry enough for 17 weeks to keep that dream alive?
NFC Playoff Predictions:
Division winners: Packers, Seahawks, Redskins & Saints
Wild Cards: Bears & Eagles
NFC Title Game: Seahawks over Saints
AFC Playoff Predictions:
Division winners: Patriots, Colts, Broncos & Steelers
Wild Cards: Chiefs & Bengals
AFC Title Game: Patriots over Broncos
Super Bowl Prediction:
PATRIOTS over Seahawks
LOS ANGELES — Sports fans today are more informed than they’ve ever been. Information about your favorite team is everywhere: legit league and team websites, fan blogs, Twitter, you name it. If you want to know what your favorite player is eating or doing at a given moment, check their Instagram or wait for TMZ to have a report later that night. It’s a blessing and a curse, living in this know-it-all-the-second-it-happens time that we do. But there is once place that exists, a lone Fortress of Information Solitude where everything walks in but nothing seeps its way out, where what happens there, truly stays there: the NFL locker room.
Save for once a year when one team volunteers to allow HBO’s hidden and very public cameras to film every punching player, coaching quarrel and ridiculously resilient rookie for its duration of training camp. The result is annually the best show on television. It’s the access today’s sports fan can’t get anywhere. It can scour the internet and follow every beat writer on Twitter until there is nothing left to click and scan, but it won’t ever know the details of a very real conversation Falcons head coach Mike Smith had with five-year defensive tackle Piera Jerry, who up and announced his retirement near the end of the first week and didn’t have a clue of what he was going to do next.
Yes, the Atlanta Falcons are the featured team on this year’s “Hard Knocks,” and if it wasn’t clear right from the opening video montage of Smith screaming over guys popping each other in a fully padded Day 1 practice, then over the course of the entire 60 minutes you figured out the coaching staff wants the Falcons players to put to bed the notion their physicality is how you say, lacking.
“You’re tough if you play this game,” Smith said in the coaches meeting room, as if trying to convince himself his players have what it takes to stand up and be physical this season, “and we got tough guys.”
This theme of being tough and smart and physical played throughout the entire episode with repeated clips of guys battling at the line of scrimmage for the play and then immediately head-slapping each other and talking tons of trash well after the whistle and usually until they had to be separated by teammates. It got rather old relatively quickly for my taste as it seemed ramped up for the show. Whenever a team featuring Osi Umenyiora claims to be tough, you know it’s B.S. And I know this because last year during the first NFL GameDay Morning meeting I mentioned the two-time Super Bowl winning defensive end’s name as a reason the Falcons defense might be improved and Warren Sapp immediately looked at me, his eyes got very wide and he said, “WHAT!?!” like I insulted the very spirit of the game. “Ain’t so soft tissue in this room, boy,” he said. It was then I realized you never, and I mean ever, bring up Osi’s name in front of Warren Sapp.
Inevitably what happens each year on “Hard Knocks” is you head into the season not really caring about the team in focus, but after a couple episodes find yourself cheering for a particular rookie or enamored with a foul-mouthed assistant coach. Last season on the Bengals it was Giovani Bernard and Mike Zimmer who fit the bill, this time around it appears Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman, and offensive line coach Mike Tice and linebackers coach Bryan Cox who’ll be in the spotlight in that regard. One of the most amusing segments of this first episode was a cut-up of Freeman looking for an apartment somewhere in Atlanta and safety William Moore telling us about, and playing with his kids, inside his mansion, which featured not only an indoor pool with a waterfall but a palm tree. Also indoors. While Freeman was marveling in what appeared to be a relatively pedestrian 4×6-foot walk-in closet, Moore, who signed a five-year, $29.5 million contract a year ago, was showing the world his shoe closet which contained every Air Jordan sneaker ever made. Ever. Of Air Jordans.
Freeman, in what was probably the greatest single scene in the history of “Hard Knocks,” then rode in a golf cart back to his car saying how blessed he was while taking a sip from a Capri Sun.
Do I think this is going to be an interesting season of the Emmy-award winning show? Good question. It was a rather uninspiring first episode. I was pleasantly surprised with how much Matt Ryan was shown, as well as Roddy White, who will probably come away as the biggest TV star when it’s all said and done. If you’ve followed him at all on social media or seen him on NFL Network’s Top 100 show any of the last two years, that’ll come as no surprise. He has a big mouth and it was clearly on display this first go-around. I particularly enjoyed him dropping a line I’m going to now use: that’s the difference between eating steak and still eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Other episode highlites:
– Flowerly Branch, where the Falcons team headquarters is located, is the name of a city that could only be located in The South.
– Rookie linebacker Tyler Starr’s fiance Megan Wheeler may have overtaken Lauren Tannehill has the hottest WAG in the history of “Hard Knocks,” and overall it was a fantastic episode for player’s better halves. Harry Douglas’s wife, a Miss Georgia International (whatever that means) and tight end Bear Pascoe’s wife were both getting it done. Also, respect for getting calf roping and hay farming in this episode, HBO. Mad respect.
– Speaking of Harry Douglas (I never miss an opportunity to write out his full name), what a strange dude. The women’s deodorant didn’t bother me as much as him being really anal and clean about packing. And that giant white teddy bear in his room. Bizarre.
– Devin Hester is on the Falcons? Who knew.
– Steven Jackson opened an art gallery in Los Angeles and I didn’t get the invite? My Hollywood swag is wearing off. Anyway, some of the pieces looked pretty cool, I’ll admit. Though let me ask you all this, which was more surprising: Terrell Owens finding a way to get himself back on camera for a few seconds or Jackson getting hurt during the first week of practice? Tougher answer than you think.
– Why is Jacques Smith messing with Jake Matthews? That just seems like a terrible idea.
– I think we should do the before/after photos with NFL Network employees. On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t.
– It’s safe to say we all could have learned a thing or two if we just played high school football with Byran Cox.
– Am I the only one who had no idea Kroy Biermann’s wife is that chick from Real Housewives? Also, no surprise it was low-cut shirt night in the Biermann household this week. Can’t wait to see what she wears for episode 2. And how on earth does he meet this broad to begin with? He’s some hick from Montana.
– The TV producer in me loved the end credits payoff of the earlier shot of Steven Jackson being pissed that someone had “taken” his room only to be revealed it was Matt Ryan, who unknowingly threw is stuff in there because he was first to show up.
– Thomas Dimitroff might have the best hair in football. He definitely is in a neck-and-neck running for Best Wearer of a Visor with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
– First audio cut of the show was Atlanta rapper T.I.’s “Go Get It.” I’m really curious to see how they’ll use the bountiful music choices during this season. No doubt Ludacris makes an appearance. Also hoping for a Magic City segment. (look it up if unfamiliar)
LOS ANGELES — Unless you’re still in the theater watching Transformers 4 because that movie is 1800 hours long, or worse yet got traded by the Red Sox, you’re aware that NFL Training Camps started last weekend across the league in Cortland, New York, Oxnard, California and everywhere in between. Rookies are learning playbooks and carrying pads, while veterans are sharpening skills and honing in on what they hope is an upcoming season filled with good health and victorious Sundays. New coaches are finally realizing their dreams of sleeping less than four hours a night and never seeing their families, and us the fans are beginning the early stages of scouting for our upcoming eight fantasy football leagues. Ah, yes, football is back and not a moment too soon. This Sunday marks the officially opening of the 2014 NFL season with the festivities at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. This year’s class is another star-studded affair with Michael Strahan and Andre Reed highlighting the honorees, and of course, the game between the Giants and Bills Sunday night kicks off football every Sunday from now until February.
So with all that in mind, here’s the latest 8 Things To Look For: NFL Preseason Week 1:
1.) Get Ready For JFFTV — If you’ve noticed a theme in your football programing in the last week, you’re not alone. The Browns haven’t got this much coverage since Jim Brown’s days and why not, between Josh Gordon and Brian Hoyer, they’re actually interesting. Though I’ll be the first to admit, a quarterback battle on a team coming off a 4-12 season isn’t exactly the most appetizing meal, but when one of those quarterbacks is Johnny Manziel all bets are off. Johnny makes headlines whenever he speaks or leaves his house. First it was saying he’s not going to change, then it was his biggest challenge is the playbook, then he threw a couple interceptions in practice, then he got spotted on his off day at a bar. He can’t win. His coach and owner have gone out of their way to praise Brian Hoyer which leads you to believe JFF will start the year holding the clipboard. But why then did the Browns draft him? There was the story about the team being shocked his partying was as ramped up as it was between draft day and camp kickoff. Do none of them have Twitter or Instagram accounts? Look, my position on the kid is well known, but I’ll be excited when actual football is actually being played and we all can judge the kid on what really counts: what goes on between the lines on game day. Until then, hope you got your popcorn ready because we’re going to have a front row seat to EVERYTHING he does for the foreseeable future.
2.) Don’t Listen To Anything Anyone Says — If you’ve heard all the player and coach interviews recently a theme has probably been observed: everyone is awesome, we are going to the Super Bowl. Brandon Marshall told Michael Irvin at Bears camp this week that Jay Cutler could win the 2014 NFL MVP. Now Irvin probably believed this because he was the one who said last year Dez Bryant would be MVP, but that aside, Marshall has seen Jay Cutler play football, right? Cutler is the man who’s thrown at least 14 interceptions in a year five times, including a league-leading 26 in 2009. I know he’s Marshall’s boy but take step back, 15. Do you trust Cutler to win a big game for you? Fourth quarter, two minutes to go, down by six? Didn’t think so. The Bears have seriously high expectations this season predicated on their explosive offense. They are a chic Super Bowl pick. I’ve heard that Las Vegas types are putting serious cashola on them as well. But it all hinges on Cutler. All of it. That should make Bears fans very nervous.
3.) Vampire Injury Biting Back — Sure, “True Blood” is going off the air soon, but vampires are still cool, right? OK, forget it … Regardless, in consecutive days the league lost running backs Vick Ballard (Colts) and Kendall Hunter (49ers) to season-ending Achilles’ and ACL tears, and Giants back David Wilson got concussed again. Texans receiver Andre Johnson strained his hamstring this week and on and on. No quarterbacks have gone down yet, thanks goodness, and while injuries are part of the game, every year a handful of stars go down and the domino effect is palpable. You hate to see anyone go down this time of year, especially, but it makes you appreciate how hard everyone works and just how precious our time in this game is.
4.) Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons — Yearly, it’s the best show on television, and “Hard Knocks” returns next week down in Flowery Branch as the Falcons will be this summer’s featured team. What’s funny is that owner Arthur Blank and head coach Mike Smith volunteered for the gig. Atlanta didn’t fall under the new league-mandated guidelines with having made the playoffs in the last two seasons, but I’m guessing Blank wanted to ramp up the team’s profile and put a little pressure on his talented group of veterans in wake of a disastrous 4-12 2013 campaign. I think this will be a fun season of “Hard Knocks.” There are players we all know and are familiar with in Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Steven Jackson, and inevitably a few with personalities we never knew existed will emerge. That’s the beauty of the show; you go in not caring and come out invested in a whole new group of guys.
5.) How Will Holdout Affect Beast Mode — Marshawn Lynch proved last week he’s not only ’bout that action, boss, but he’s also ’bout that paper, boss. The Seahawks running back phoned into NFL Network to announce his hold out and returned Thursday with little bustle. Michael Silver reported Seattle tacked on a few more Skittles onto his existing contract for this season, $1.5 million to be exact, which is always nice. And while Money Lynch was the biggest name who held out this Training Camp others such as Lions all-world DT Ndamukong Suh and Chiefs QB Alex Smith want a new deals before the season kicks of in early September. Many thought Andre Johnson was going to skip Texans training camp but he showed and promptly injured his hammy. How will surrounding contract issues affect these guys? That’s always the question when it appears their main offseason focus has been their wallet and not their body. I’m guessing it’ll be minimal but you never know.
6.) Who’s Awesome/Who’s Trash — Did you hear the one on Monday where Nick Foles is garbage because he came from a rich family and neighborhood and doesn’t scream at his teammates like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Look, I like Buzz Bissinger as much as the next “Friday Night Lights” fan but seriously, Buzz, I think your leather pants are too tight on this one. It’s amazing to me a guy coming off one of the greatest statistical seasons in some time (8-2, 2,981 yards, 27 TD, 2 INT) could be criticized for not being a leader or having what it takes to be an elite quarterback in this league, but all it takes is a keyboard to take someone down, and that’s what Buzz did this week. This also plays into a larger preseason theme of declaring a player a superstar or on the cut list when no games have been played.
7.) Revis Island Taking Reservations for Weekend Getaways — The first English settlement of Martha’s Vineyard came in 1642 by Thomas Mayhew and since then the island off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has become a playground for the affluent. This fall, however, a new inhabitant will take over the 87.5 square mile paradise island and plant his flag: Darrelle Revis. By all accounts, the Patriots new defensive back has been terrorizing New England practices this July. He even had the gall to intercept Tom Brady not once but twice! In one day! How dare he?! Revis has proven thus far to be the real deal, which is good news for a Patriots secondary that couldn’t stop me and three friends in recent years. If he is locking down half the field this fall, coupled with a healthy Vince Wilfork and Jarod Mayo, New England will be back to being a force defensively.
8.) I Still Have No Idea Who I’m Keeping In Fantasy — I know my fantasy team is always on your mind, but it’s a serious problem I’m having right now and I know I’m not alone. Surely I can’t be the only one who is pacing like Scrooge McDuck trying to decide on two keepers among six legit possibilities, and then after having done a fantasy mock draft factoring in who I think everyone else in my league is going to keep, pacing even more because I can’t decide if I should take Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall or Jimmy Graham or Julio Jones with the third overall pick?! Right? Bueller? OK, fine. Screw you guys. Never mind. I got this. (no, I don’t. help.)
LOS ANGELES — To say that HBO’s “True Detective” has taken dramatic television by LSD flashback storm this winter would be a vast understatement. Anytime you can combine a mustachioed and pony-tailed Matthew McConaughey blowing your mind with existential theories on life while making little tin men with empty Lone Star beer cans, and mix it with young Woody Harrelson driving around the Louisiana backwoods looking like a pissed Roger Goodell after Brandon Merriweather just speared someone, you have a recipe for TV success. Throw in the most badass cinematography, the most mind-blowing monologues, and single shots you’ve every seen on the small screen – and did I mention McConaughey and Harrelson giving A+ performances? – then you have a certified hit.
So much so, that fans and media critics can’t even wait until this season’s 8-episode run concludes before throwing out suggestions on who Season 2’s crime-fighting duo should be. You might find this hard to believe, but Twitter has been fascinated in the last week, too, with half-serious, half-jokey ideas. I threw out a couple of my own on Thursday, but then I got to thinking: what NFL pairings would make for a fascinating criminal-hunting duo? Who could capture my attention for 8 riveting episodes of weird fiction? Who is going to give it to me straight or even take it way outside the box? Who would make fireworks? Here’s a few I came up with:
PEYTON MANNING & PAPA JOHN
Who knew these two would overtake Tony Romo and Jason Witten to become the league’s biggest BFFs, but look at them, gazing into each other’s eyes, their matching shirts, all those pizzas. Can’t you just imagine them driving to the crime scene, not even talking but knowing what each other is thinking? Their deep conversations would just be 7 minutes of cruising silence with lots of head nods and knowing glances, and every episode would end with them filling out police reports while brainstorming new topping combinations.
BILL BELICHICK & ERIC MANGINI
Here’s how this season would go down: Belichick would do all the cool stuff, like ya know, catch the killer or get the key confession, only he would bend a few rules, bribe a few hookers, inflict a little Jack Bauer/Frank Pembleton pain to get the job done. Mangini would be all rah-rah while it was going down, but then about 6 months later go to the commissioner and tell him about all the corners Belichick cut to crack the case. Belichick would then get fined and suspended, and Mangini would move on to another precinct where he’d get fired after less than two years because everyone realized he sucked at his job.
STEVE SMITH & AQIB TALIB
First off, just look at these two. Are you telling me you wouldn’t watch ANY show starring these guys?! I’d watch a cooking show, bird watching, you name it. So knowing what we’re working with, and that this pairing gave us arguably the phrase of the 2013 NFL season in “Ice Up, Son,” you can only imagine what viral quips they’d come up with. Stage this season in Atlanta and have every night end breaking down evidence at Magic City or Waffle House, and I don’t see why this wouldn’t be the highest-rated “True Detective” of all-time.
CORTLAND FINNEGAN & ANDRE JOHNSON
The legendary hothead Finnegan, and the known docile Johnson would be a fantastic contrast of emotions as partners for a season of TD. Oh, right, these two once fought in the middle of an NFL game, how could I forget? Yeah, so there’s some volcanic history there that could erupt at the drop of a hat. Couldn’t you just imagine these two on a stakeout having a conversation about jazz or where to get burger/fries and suddenly coming to blows inside the Crown Vic? Me too. They’d be too busy arguing about anything to make any kind case progress. Each week would be a guessing game of what sets them off this time.
BRETT FAVRE & JOHNNY MANZIEL
Favre recently said the player Manziel reminds him of is himself (no kidding, Brett?) which would makes them a natural pairing for a season of TD. And theirs would be your classic “grizzly old vet teaches the new hotshot the lay of the land.” Favre would show Manziel all the backwoods tricks, how to cut corners, the most effective way to interrogate and how to make it look like you’ve got nothing when you’re really close to nailing the bad guy. At some point during the season, Manziel would begin to “get it” and it’ll look like Favre is no longer needed, only the old guy will somehow save the day in the end, proving he still has the goods. That, or a task force or federal agency will come in just before victory, intercept all their evidence and close the case themselves.
RICHIE INCOGNITO & JONATHAN MARTIN
Too obvious? OK, but for kicks and giggles hear me out. Can’t you just see them taking separate cars to crime scenes, desks on completely other sides of the station, and having entire conversations, exchanges of notes and hunches over text message? “U C DA LAB REPORT?” “YA DAWG LOOKS LIKE I KNOCKED UP UR SISTER HA HA” “F U MAN I QUIT”
MICHAEL CRABTREE & RICHARD SHERMAN
McConaughey’s Rust Cohle never actually says he’s a superior detective to Harrelson’s Marty Hart but you know he thinks it. However Sherman wouldn’t just think it, he’d say so and often. Just think how hilarious it would be to see Crabtree screw something up in the field, or not understand where Sherman was going with a lead or idea, and then cut to the next scene where Sherman is storming into his boss’s office screaming, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU PAIRED ME UP WITH SUCH A MEDIOCRE DETECTIVE!!!” This would happen every episode, and I’d laugh every time.
JERRY JONES & JASON GARRETT
Obviously, these two are partners, but it would be great to see how Jerrah would try to undermine Garrett throughout the course of the season. Would it be subtle at first, such as insisting he walk through doors before Garrett, then taking away driving privileges, forgetting to pick up his lunch? Or would he just go straight to forgetting to tell him about witness questioning, stakeouts or even arrests? Like can’t you see Garrett sitting at his desk thumbing through reports while Jerrah walks in dragging the bad guy in cuffs while everyone’s cheering. Cut to Garrett with that dumb ginger look on his face like Tony Romo just threw another game-losing interception. AND SCENE.
REX & ROB RYAN
How could we not have these two buffoons leading the charge to find the next Reggie Ledoux? I just picture a lot of eating and not a lot of detective-ing going on. Rob would be driving and they’d pass a donut shop and he’d be all, “just a quick stop, Rex.” Or by a ribs place. “I promise, in-and-out.” Or by the Tastee Freez. “You want sprinkles on yours?” Meanwhile, Rex has this new figure, the lap band has done it’s thing, and he’s trying to be all good but he’s stress eating and hasn’t shaved in weeks. I also envision we’d break the cable record for F-bombs with this pair or at least flailing arms and notebooks thrown.
SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI & JOSH SCOBEE
I have no idea how the two are related aside from the fact they are the two most badass kickers I can think of and it would be hilarious to have a kicker season of TD. Scobee’s badassery is well documented here at The Chris Brockman Website, and SeaBass, well, I mean, come on, he’s been a legend since Jump Street. It would be hilarious to see them skip out on investigating to hit the driving range and 19th hole, fight through the language barrier (maybe we could set this season in Poland?!) and spend most of the 8 episodes complaining how they’re never taken serious by the other detectives; “just because we only show up at the end and either close or blow the case doesn’t mean we don’t put our pants on one leg at a time just like them!”
JON GRUDEN & KEYSHAWN JOHNSON
This season would be awesome if only for the scene around the midway point of the season where Gruden flips out for the final time at Keyshawn’s incompetence and kicks him off the case. Then, every time we see Gruden coming back into the office with a key piece of evidence or to celebrate a closure, there’s Key just sitting in the corner reading a book about being a good detective or interior decorating.
WARREN SAPP & MIKE SHERMAN
This pairing would be great just to see how many different ways Sapp would undress Sherman during the 8 episodes. “PUT YOUR BADGE ON!” “TAKE YOUR GUN OUT!” “WHAT!?” “BOY!” And then watching Sherman try to formulate a comeback only to finally mutter one out under his breath when Sapp has already walked away and moved on. Seeing these two sweat through their suits each week would be hilarious as well.
MARK SANCHEZ & BRANDON WEEDEN
The hilarity with this pairing is watching them week-in and week-out fumble and throw away the case with botched evidence collection, totally whiffing on obvious clues and constantly being told by their superior how even a monkey could solve this case. Some jokes write themselves and this season of TD would be full of them. Bad news if you’re a victim looking for justice, of course.
JIM HARBAUGH & PETE CARROLL
These guys hate each other, it’s well documented, but are forced to work together because no one else will be their partners. They spend the first few episodes barely talking while Jim is throwing guys through doors and spitting over everything while Pete just chews his gum and paces smiling while muttering phrases about competing and Zen. This happens over and over and after each time, when they get back in the car, they simultaneously look at and say, “What’s Your Deal?” Cut to black. No case ever gets solved.
LOS ANGELES — Wow. What a Week 1 in the National. Football. League. Hey, what do you think Ryan Seacrest? Cool. Seriously, though, it had stunning plays, fantastic finishes and rousing introductions to the league, it’s hard to believe we went seven months without football. Seriously, it’s almost as if the epic Super Bowl 46 and Ray Lewis’s final cry were an eternity ago, and combine that with what seemed like an offseason cloud that would never lift. But lift it has, and the 2013 NFL season couldn’t be off to a more amazing start.
When I last left you here at the “You’re The Man” rankings back in February, I asked questions each team should be thinking about heading into the offseason, along with their final rankings. Now, as we head into Week 2, I’m going to give you their rank along with how they answered my question plus one more to think about as we embark on 22 weeks of pure football bliss.
As always, these are scientifically proven and 100% accurate. Now let’s find out who’s The Man.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2013 record: 0-1) (2012 final YTM ranking: 32) — Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t get paid and Shad Khan didn’t bring in Tim Tebow, which means you can bet MoJo will be doing the Eisen Podcast End Zone Dance for another team next year while Blaine Gabbert continues to throw interceptions for the worst dressed team in the NFL. Seriously, how bad are those helmets? Burning Question: How do they get worse? Honestly, what do they do for an encore, sign that 9-year old girl from the YouTube videos last year to return kicks? Wait, that might actually work.
31.) Cleveland Browns (0-1) (26) — Brandon Weeden has some great AARP insurance because it guaranteed him the starting job this season, and would you believe the help he and Trent Richardson were seeking actually came? Maybe it’s because I watched two Browns preseason games and they looked above average, or maybe I got drunk listening to Bernie Kosar during the broadcasts. Burning Question: Every year there’s a team that surprises, could the Browns be this team?
30.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1) (16) — If you want to stop explosive passing offenses you go out and trade for a guy like Darrelle Revis. Or you just go get the man himself. Now, whether or not he’s 100% healthy is another question, but in the NFC South, the Bucs are the only team who improved defensively. That’s a start. Burning Question: Josh Freeman was all over the map in Week 1; if Tampa Bay wants to be a player, he needs to be consistent and consistently great. Jury’s out.
29.) Oakland Raiders (0-1) (30) — Well, it’s always nice to start the column off with a correct prediction, like I did in accurately guessing Carson Palmer would be let go in favor of Terrelle Pryor. What I didn’t anticipate is Matt Flynn crapping down his pants in the process after being given the keys to the… wait, what kind of car would the Raiders be? I’m thinking the burnt out minivan Thomas Kubb has to drive at the end of “Project X” (awesome movie). But hey, at least he had wheels. Burning Question: At what point this season will Darren McFadden just say “eff it” and stop showing up for work? Week 6? 10? 2?
28.) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) (15) — The Steelers thought they found some running help, then Le’veon Bell got hurt and is out six weeks. Now, their most important offensive player not named Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season, after Maurkice Pouncey’s knee injury in Week 1 vs. Tennessee. Burning Question: A team without an identity heading into the season, Pittsburgh’s back is against the wall immediately. What team will emerge from the smoke as the season rolls on?
27.) Carolina Panthers (0-1) (17) — So the Panthers went out and kept their roster basically the same as 2012 and what happened, Cam Newton had his lowest total yardage output of his career in Week 1. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Burning Question: This is something to monitor as the beginning of the season moves on, because Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and faster.
26.) New York Jets (1-0) (27) — Turns out Mark Sanchez got irrevocably broken sooner than I anticipated. But for the second year in a row, the Jets did Sanchez dirty (see what I did there) by bringing in another quarterback while at the same time pledging he was the man. He’s never been the man. Ask me point blank and I can’t tell you why I feel bad for Sanchez, I just do. He didn’t deserve all this. He could’ve been a fine NFL backup for a dozen years. Sadly, I think he’s out of the league in two. Burning Question: How exactly will Rex Ryan go down? Will it be guns blazin’ “Desperado” style? Will it be quietly in his sleep? Will there be a bloody horse head? Will he choke on a Krispy Kreme? I just hope it’s broadcast live on NFL Network.
25.) Minnesota Vikings (0-1) (12) — It’s almost as if the Vikings read my column back in February, because they went out and signed Greg Jennings and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson to be pass catchers for Christian Ponder. But in Week 1 they were hardly effective. And after a 78-yard jaunt on his first play, Adrian Peterson was held to 17 yards on 15 carries. Get used to this, Vikings fans. Burning Question: It’s still all about Ponder for the Vikings. If he can develop and make teams respect the pass attack, this will be continue to be a playoff team.
24.) Buffalo Bills (0-1) (23) — The Bills were 7 seconds away from beating the Patriots, and the Dolphins took care of Cleveland in Week 1, which means Bills fans have something to be encouraged by. However, CJ Spiller was held in check and failed to show anything really of what made people think last season he could be a superstar in this league. EJ Manuel, however, now there’s something Bills fans should be encouraged by. Burning Question: Will Manuel be the guy this season and make Buffalo forget about Fitz, Trend Edwards, Rob Johnson, and all the other jamokes it trotted out behind center since No. 12 hung ’em up?
23.) San Diego Chargers (0-1) (22) — Do you think Norv Turner watched the Monday night game? Let’s say that he did. What do you think his range of emotions were? Kinda like Deb on “Dexter” I’m guessing. In the end, Norv got the last laugh after the Chargers choked away what would’ve been a pretty big statement win to start the year. Now who do you blame? Philip Rivers? Burning Question: Will Manti Te’o get himself a real-life girlfriend this year? I hope that’s reported on to no end like we all did his fake one.
22.) Arizona Cardinals (0-1) (28) — Bruce Arians decided on his quarterback and the name he pulled out of his Kangol hat was Carson Palmer. I’ll let you make your own joke. I actually think the Blonde Bomber could have a big season and no, he didn’t pay me to say that. Burning Question: Will we see the Larry Fitzgerald of old this year or did the year’s of gawd-awful quarterbacking suck the superstar blood from his veins?
21.) St. Louis Rams (1-0) (21) — Tavon Austin might not be a huge, household name as we head into Week 2, but it was a splash, and a potentially explosive one for Sam Bradford and that Rams offense. Austin wasn’t showcased at all in the preseason and exactly how he’ll be used is something everyone is watching for. Burning Question: Is Sam Bradford going to finally show he was worth of that #1 pick back in 2010?
20.) Tennessee Titans (1-0) (25) — The Titans kept Chris Johnson and his 1,200 yards around this year and people are predicting a comeback season for CJ. Looking at his stats, he’s never had a sub-1,000 yard season, which is pretty amazing. You wonder how much he has left in that tank. Burning Question: What will the Titans get out of Jake Locker this season and can he be a franchise quarterback?
19.) Detroit Lions (1-0) (24) — I don’t think anyone on the Lions got arrested this offseason (though league-wide odds would say otherwise) so that’s a good start, but this team is still full of knuckleheads and it begins with the head coach. Burning Question: Matthew Stafford got a boatload of cash this offseason for his 17 career wins; does he improve from the chubby gunslinger to elite status to carry his team?
18.) Miami Dolphins (1-0) (20) — The Dolphins went and out signed Steelers big-play receiver Mike Wallace to catch the ball from Lauren Tannehill’s husband but that didn’t stop No. 11 from saying the media should “ask the coach” after the game as to why he wasn’t more involved in the offense. Uh oh. Burning Question: Do they have enough defense to stop the Patriots and win the AFC East?
17.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) (31) — Here’s the funny thing, even I’ve talked myself into being a Chiefs fan. I’m almost ready to pick them to win the AFC West. Unlike most, I don’t think Denver can repeat 2012 and San Diego/Oakland are completely inept. Burning Question: How much weight will Andy Reid put on this season? OK, a serious question: will Jamaal Charles carry the ball on consecutive plays?
16.) Indianapolis Colts (1-0) (9) — The Colts picked up right up where 2012 left off, meaning Andrew Luck had to lead them from behind to victory, against the hapless Raiders, no less. Indy didn’t get any better on defense so look for Luck to have a lot of games like Week 1. Burning Question: Peyton Manning made a huge leap in his second year in the league; can Luck do the same and a repeat playoff berth as well?
15.) Washington Redskins (0-1) (10) — In the first half against the Eagles, it looked as if My Good Friend Robert hadn’t run or played football in quite some time; which he hadn’t. He either a) shouldn’t have been out there or b) should’ve played some in the preseason. His health is paramount. Burning Question: Will Robert stay quiet this season (the opposite of his M.O. this offseason) and let his superb play do the talking?
14.) Baltimore Ravens (0-1) (1) — It isn’t exactly clear who replaced Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Dannell Ellerbe, or even Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin, but they still have the hardware and every team this year is going to give the Ravens their best. That is a fact. Burning Question: When the Ravens get behind in games, much like they did in Week 1, who is going to be their go-to guy to bring them back? Bueller?
13.) New York Giants (0-1) (14) — As it turns out, consistency is not for sale at any price, though Tom Coughlin probably wishes there was a price tag attached so he would at least know what it might cost him. You saw the famed Giants roller coaster on full display Sunday night in Week 1 vs. the Cowboys. Six, count ’em, six turnovers but yet there they were, a final drive touchdown away from victory. Get used to it. Burning Question: In the wake of Andre Brown’s injury and David Wilson pissing down his leg for the second straight season opener, what will New York do at running back to compliment Eli Manning? ‘Cause they have to do SOMEthing.
12.) New Orleans Saints (1-0) (19) — The Saints were DFL in the NFL in defense last season and hired Rob Ryan to make them less sucky. So far, so good, holding the explosive Falcons to 17 points in a huge Week 1 win. Hey, when you hit rock bottom, there’s only two ways to go: straight up or sideways. Burning Question: Will New Orleans consistently be able to stop teams so that Drew Brees doesn’t have to score 40 a game to win?
11.) Houston Texans (8) (1-0) — There’s no boost to the secondary like adding the words “Ed” and “Reed,” however you’d like to get the Ed Reed that was making Pro Bowls and winning Super Bowls, not the one who looks better in a tux at the Oscars Red Carpet with me. Unfortunately, that’s who the Texans have at the moment. Who knows when Ed is going to play again, because he sure doesn’t. Burning Question: Could this be the beginning of the end for Arian Foster? Simmons threw out Larry Johnson’s name in his Cousin Sal podcast and it doesn’t seem that far off given how Monday night played out.
10.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) (29) — Not only did Chip Kelly stick with Michael Vick, but after watching what a disaster Geno Smith has turned into with the Jets, I’m sure Mr. Hurry-Up is doubly glad he didn’t trade his whole draft away to get him. This new college-style offense seems tailor made for Vick, who is flying under the radar as someone who could have a potential monster season (OK, I’m talking myself into him after drafting him in my 5th fantasy league). 2013 Burning Question: When will the first column be written saying “I told you so” about Chip’s offense never being able to work in the NFL?
9.) Chicago Bears (1-0) (13) — It seems as if the Bears are going to replace Brian Urlacher with an even better version of 2012’s Peanut Tillman. It took him all of 15 minutes to have two forced turnovers. Though rookie MLB Jon Bostic looks as if he could be the real deal. Burning Question: As always, the onus is on Jay Cutler to lead this team and be the new face of the franchise. Whether he can do it is a whole other red hot question.
8.) Green Bay Packers (0-1) (7) — Green Bay didn’t get younger or faster on defense and guess what happened? Colin Kaepernick torched them again. Oops. Packers/49ers is turning into one awesome rivalry. Burning Question: Will Aaron Rodgers score enough points this season to render the inept Green Bay defense unnecessary?
7.) Dallas Cowboys (1-0) (18) — Dallas brought in Monte Kiffin to call the defense and Bill Callahan to call the offense, leaving head coach Jason Garrett to supervise and ya know, be the head coach. While try as they might to lose it, a Week 1 win against the rival Giants is a good start. Still, gotta be weary of Tony Romo’s bruised ribs. Burning Question: Will Dez Bryant be the all-world guy we saw the last 8 weeks of last season or the dog of the first 9?
6.) Atlanta Falcons (0-1) (3) — You want to know how the Falcons improved on defense? They let John Abraham and Brent Grimes walk, and signed Osi Umenyiora. That’s it. Not sure how they stop the 49ers and Seahawks with that, let alone the Saints, Cowboys or Packers. Burning Question: Can Matt Ryan complete 4th and Goal to advance to the Super Bowl? Because Arthur Blank sure has hell didn’t pay him serious Home Depot money not to.
5.) New England Patriots (1-0) (4) — The Patriots did sign a receiver this offseason. That is a fact. They did not sign a big-play corner guy (Aqib Talib re-signed) nor did they bring in a big-time rush end. Now, if you had Game 2 as the first Danny Amendola would miss, raise your hand. I see too many hands up. Maybe my roommate was right. Who knows what the Pats are gonna do this season. Burning Question: Who will emerge as the darkhorse offensive go-to guy, since it has to be someone?
4.) Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) (11) — If “Hard Knocks” star Jay Gruden uses his Week 1 gameplan for A.J. Green in the playoffs this time around, I’m guessing the Bengals will have a different result. Dude is a beast and could be better than Calvin Johnson this season. It’s just up to Gruden and Andy Dalton to get him the ball. Burning Question: How will the Bengals handle the title role of expected greatness?
3.) Seattle Seahawks (1-0) (5) — Despite the suspensions and notoriety the Seahawks got this offseason, I still stand by them being the most complete team in the NFL, though they’re not my pick to win the Super Bowl. I also can’t recall if they bolstered their offensive or defensive lines. Go Hawks! Burning Question: What will Percy Harvin look like when he returns to the team for the final month? Will he make an impact or will it not matter at that point?
2.) Denver Broncos (1-0) (6) — Wait. Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown pass. OK, back to the column… In other news, was I really that stupid to predict a Favre-in-2010-esque season for Manning this year? Jesus. No wonder I’ve never won the ROFFL championship. Burning Question: Will Rahim Moore be able to knock down a 2nd-and-72 Hail Mary?
1.) San Francisco 49ers (1-0) (2) — Oh, you want Colin Kaepernick to stand in the pocket and beat you? No problem. You didn’t think they had a deep threat with Michael Crabtree out? How’s Anquan Boldin doing these days? Forgot how awesome that defense was? How’s Aaron Rodgers feeling this week? Burning Question: As the tape grows on Kaepernick, will someone figure out a way to stop this kid, or will he continue to wreck the whole league?
Finally, we made our picks on the Rich Eisen Podcast last week and here’s who I said would take home individual crowns:
Passing Champion: Matthew Stafford, Lions
Rushing Champion: Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots
MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots
Super Bowl: Patriots vs. Falcons
LOS ANGELES — The 2013 season of HBO’s excellent “Hard Knocks” opened Tuesday with some of the Cincinnati Bengals rookies out to dinner with running backs coach Hue Jackson, who was offering sage advice on the eve of the neophytes’ first NFL training camp. Jackson, the former Raiders head coach, was also busting on Giovani Bernard for driving his girlfriend’s mom’s Honda minivan. Bernard said that any car with automatic doors was good enough for him; hard to argue. Almost simultaneously, all-world receiver A.J. Green was getting himself into, and learning how to shift, a brand new BMW luxury sedan. The difference between the two players’ football worlds was clearly on display: one an unknown rookie whose potential seems as high as the Queen City’s skyline, the other a league superstar who’s only getting better and brighter by the day.
There was a line the brilliant narrator Liev Schreiber said during the hour-long episode that struck me: the Bengals are thinking Super Bowl, which is amazing to think about considering where the team was a few years ago during its first go-around on “Hard Knocks” in 2009. Then, Cincinnati was a team with just one winning season in 18 years – the forgetful 2005 campaign which saw Carson Palmer go down in the playoffs against the Steelers with an injured knee – and in that span suffered 13 losing seasons and 4 years of 8-8. You don’t get the nickname “Bungals” for nothing. But something funny happened during that ’09 season: a return to the playoffs. In the aftermath, Palmer threatened sit out or retire before he was finally traded to Oakland mid-year, and a 4-win season in 2010 yielded a new era and leader: Andy Dalton. The result has been back-to-back postseason berths.
And that’s where we are when “Hard Knocks: 2013” begins, Andy Dalton doing pilates with his wife and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis bluntly stating how the team hasn’t won a playoff game despite being in the tournament 3-of-the-last 4 years. Will Cincinnati be among the final two teams when Super Bowl XLVII kicks off this February in New Jersey? My Magic 8 Ball says “check back later.” That’s the NFL’s beauty; no one knows. But what I do know is for the next 4 weeks I’m going to enjoy the hell out of the all-access look at this new beast of the AFC North.
Lots of thoughts from this week’s premiere episode. In no particular order:
- Geno Atkins has the biggest traps/shoulders I’ve ever seen. Is there even a neck on that dude? And I don’t know where that first pitch ended up, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a strike. Though I’m not going to tell him that.
- James Harrison is still, hands down, the scariest dude in the NFL. Didn’t you get the feeling that when Jay Gruden was joking to him about not touching A.J. Green that Harrison was completely serious that he was really going to jack Green up if he came across the middle? Even when Gruden tried to play it off, Harrison never broke. Just pure mean. How great was that montage of him flipping off the HBO cameras or slamming the door in their faces? What a first class a–hole. And who’s Ford station wagon was he getting into? Dude barely fit in the back seat!?
- Marvin Lewis; nice digs, son.
- Of course Pac-Man Jones would run out of gas minutes from the stadium on the first day of Training Camp. That is the most Pac-Man Jones of all things he could’ve done. Ya know, aside from shoot somebody in a “script club.” And could you imagine being that guy’s wife?
- Devastating what happened to Larry Black. Just shows how unreal the raw emotion this show seems to capture year-in and year-out when Black was on the phone with his dad (I’m guessing). I was wondering when the producers were going to introduce the player we all should care about and as soon as they did, he went down. Tragic. Wonder who that player will be next week.
- How many of you out there had the same “damn, I need to get him in fantasy” thought I did during that Tyler Eifert catching montage? Dude is going to be a MONSTER in the red zone this year.
- Does anyone really know what “Who Dey?” means? ‘Cuz I sure don’t.
- Think about this for a minute: if you were to have an Oklahoma Drill at your work, how would you stack up against the competition? And would you rather be on offense or defense?
- It never ceases to amaze me how great “Hard Knocks” is at making me care about a team that, under completely normal circumstances, I’d have zero interest in; same thing happened last year with the Dolphins. Oh, and if you’re scoring at home: Lauren Tannehill > Jordan Dalton. (look them up yourself)
- On that note, I didn’t even have the Bengals on my “Hard Knocks Wish List” that I wrote back in May: check it out.
- Cool off-day montage with some of the guys playing golf (terribly), air hockey and backyard ladder at Dalton’s house. You forget that these Sunday gladiators of the gridiron are really just 20-something year old kids who just wanna play football and have a good time.
- As always, the footage the HBO crew gets is beyond spectacular. The slo-mo montage of players walking out for their first practice into their throws, catches, runs and hits gave me chills. Of course, the music selection helped tap into that emotion. In case you were wondering, the track was “Feeling Good (Bassnectar Remix)” by Nina Simone. Yes, I went back and Shazam’d it.
What did everyone else think?
LOS ANGELES — The first time I ever saw “The Sopranos” was in the Spring of 2001. The show was leading into its third season, and as customary, HBO was replaying Season 2 every Sunday night as a buildup. I got hooked by my dorm neighbor and great friend, Rich Kiss, who like the Sopranos themselves, hailed from New Jersey. He was a junkie for the mobster hit and I figured, if he liked it, then I would, too. One of the first episodes I remember seeing was the one where Janice kills Richie Aprile. Blown away a semi-main character would just be offed like that, I turned to Rich in disbelief and he looked at me and said, “that happens ALL THE TIME!” Of course, he knew what was coming at Season 2’s end, but when Big Pussy met the fishes, let’s just say I was the one who had trouble sleeping for a few days.
And I was forever hooked.
It wasn’t the violence that intrigued me about “The Sopranos,” however, it was the performances. They were unlike anything on television, and the actors, writers and producers knew that as much as we did. (I couldn’t even begin to tell you what else I was watching on television at this point outside of “SportsCenter.” Probably “Survivor” or Craig Kilborn.) ‘Sopranos’ was edgy. Gratuitous with its swearing and excess, and hilarious with its rough dialogue. These guys were gangsters but real people with surprisingly normal problems. They argued with their wives, their kids were a pain in the ass, and their troubles on the job always came home with them. Sure, they talked funny and dressed gaudy but we kinda liked them, even though we hated them.
At the center of it all was Tony, played to perfection by James Gandolfini, whom the world was shocked to learn died Wednesday at age 51 while on vacation in Italy. Larger than life, commanding of your undivided attention whenever he appeared on screen, and surprisingly sympathetic as the ruthless and murderous lead of the show, Galdolfini consumed the role, swallowed it whole and spit out pure gold. He made you root for the bad guy and almost had you feeling guilty when you didn’t. (One of the best illustrations of this is in the show itself, when Agent Harris, a longtime nemesis of Tony, cheered out after learning of Phil Leotardo’s death, “we’re gonna win this thing!”) Gandolfini made wanting evil to triumph cool. Make no mistake, Tony Soprano is one of the baddest men in television history, yet because of Gandolfini’s weekly performance, you wanted him to come out on top. You wanted him to finally find peace and that loving relationship with his family, to get past the panic attacks, to defeat New York. You wanted those things and you looked coldly the other way when he stepped out of bounds from time to time.
Certainly no one looked like him on television, which was another part of his appeal – he was big and balding, not exactly leading man looks – and no one could cuss like him. I’d argue he brought back creative cursing. What fun it must’ve been to write those scenes in which he went off the deep end with Carmela or Christopher or Paulie or the poor bartender at the Bada Bing, and then watch Gandolfini flawlessly execute them.
All this paved the way for characters like Don Draper and Walter White and Vic Mackey and Dexter Morgan and all the rest of our cable anti-heroes who lead questionable lives but whom we all want to see come out squeaky clean in the end. The power of the individual performance allowed not only “The Sopranos” but the rest to take big chances and change how we consumed television. It allowed Showtime to take a chance on an anti-hero, and FX and AMC and Netflix to do the same. It made Sunday nights the must-see TV night. Think about all your favorite shows… they all air on Sunday nights. That’s because of the power and the emotion and the rage and the ability of James Gandolfini, of what he did every Sunday night on HBO for 86 episodes.
He was truly amazing.
So much was written Wednesday about the man and it was all incredibly moving and tugged at your heart strings. By all accounts Gandolfini was a gentle giant who never forgot a face or an encounter, no matter how small, and made everyone feel as if they were the most important person in the room. These reflections couldn’t have been more refreshing to read. Someone who achieved his level of fame could’ve easily acted differently and no one would look the other way. Just goes shows the type of man he was and the legacy he leaves behind.
I spent any free time Wednesday watching old ‘Sopranos’ clips, thinking about his other flawless cinematic performances, and reading countless lists and reflections about the man, A co-worker and I even went and ate Italian for dinner at a place called “Godfathers,” which even had a painting on the wall inside of Tony and his crew. Just seemed like the right thing to do. And who could forget my old 1999 Chevy Tahoe, which I aptly called “Stugots” after Tony’s boat on the show. I told my buddy, Jay, that it was a night like Wednesday night I wish I still had Stugots, so I could just take a drive and pretend I was Tony Soprano huffing up the driveway one last time.
Rest In Peace, James.
LOS ANGELES — With apologies to Don Draper and Walter White, an argument could be made the two most popular television programs in the country right now are anything involving the National Football League and “Game of Thrones.” So, logically, we here at The Chris Brockman Website decided to combine the two, matching our favorite backstabbers, schemers, and philanderers of Westeros with their respective NFL counterparts. You don’t need to be a loyal book reader of the George R.R. Martin series to appreciate these footballers are who we say they are. (some spoilers ahead)
TYWIN LANNISTER — Bill Belichick, Patriots: Leader of a dynasty and the self-proclaimed “smartest guy in the room,” the similarities between Belichick and the eldest Lannister are endless. Watching Tywin talk down to his Small Council, you can almost hear his Belichikian tone. All that’s missing is cutoff armor and hooded chainmail. There’s no question these two weathered veterans are winners, leaders, and probably not as smart as they or everyone thinks they are. But any time they’re on camera, you can’t look away.
TYRION LANNISTER — Steve Smith, Panthers: Both the undersized Carolina receiver and the Imp have been counted out their whole adult lives because of their physical stature, and while Tyrion has used his brain to get ahead, Smith has used his giant heart and fierce determination. The pair are extremely crafty despite being overlooked from most. Additionally, and this is a point we can’t harp on enough, each are equally despised by their own family as evidenced by Joffrey trying to have Tyrion killed at the Battle of Blackwater, and Smith getting in multiple fights with teammates and his alleged feud with Cam Newton.
BRONN — Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Money and winning are the only pure motivators for Bronn, who is fearless, reckless, and doesn’t play by anybody’s rules. Sounds a lot like the newly-minted, richest-man-in-the-NFL Rodgers if you ask me. Bronn is also funny – have you seen a Rodgers post-game press conference? – and petty – Rodgers got miffed at “60 Minutes” for suggesting he was short for a quarterback. Just not sure if the evil notions in Green Bay come free.
PODRICK PAYNE THE SQUIRE — Josh Scobee, Jaguars: Podrick has proved to have a way with the ladies, to the amazement of Tyrion and Bronn, and the same can be said for Scobee, who has one of the hotter wives in the NFL. Like the young squire, Scobee, as a kicker, knows his role on the team and when to speak up. And like Podrick saved his Lord’s life at the Battle of Blackwater, Scobee on occasion has lifted his teammates to victory in the closing seconds with a game-winning kick.
JAIME LANNISTER — Eli Manning, Giants: By virtue of being a Manning, Eli was automatically enshrined into NFL royalty, and like the one-handed Lannister, Eli has shown his prowess for taking what he wants. You could easily pass on the moniker “Kingslayer” to No. 10 for taking down the league’s Golden Boy not once, but twice in the Super Bowl, thusly denying Tom Brady championships 4 and 5.
WALDER FREY — Al Davis, Raiders: Old, crotchety, respected and always one to hold a grudge, there may not be a better Game of Thrones / NFL match that these two, especially after what took place at the Red Wedding. Davis is renowned for suing the league he helped create and living by his “Just Win, Baby” mantra, and well, we all know how Lord Frey likes to party.
BRIENNE OF TARTH — Joe Thomas, Browns: It takes someone lacking fear to defend a blindside, and no one does that better than Joe Thomas, even though whichever QB the Browns trot out any given Sunday is likely worthless. And like Brienne, a left tackle has to be big, bullheaded, and full of duty and honor. Often overlooked in the stat line, like the lady of Tarth, Thomas often has an impact when his master is unscathed.
DAENERYS TARGARYEN — Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Like the Mother of Dragons emerged from a hopeless girl to dominate across the Narrow Sea, Wilson came out of nowhere to be a real NFL power player after a breakout 2012 season. And while Khaleesi now has a trio of new weapons in her dragons, Wilson now has Percy Harvin’s plethora of talents at his disposal. Both are now major contenders to wear the crown after being unknowns when the season (and show) began.
JORAH MORMONT — Pete Carroll, Seahawks: Jorah was disgraced and booted out of Westeros, which is not unlike Carroll’s tail-between-his-legs exit from Southern Cal following the Reggie Bush scandal. Now, both are fortunate to have fallen into backing big-time winners. Loyal, slick, wise, and cheerleaders, Jorah and Carroll are cut from the same mold and seem to have positioned themselves for long-term success.
BARRISTAN SELMY — Dick LeBeau, Steelers: It’s not often that a battle-tested warrior lives to become an old man in the Seven Kingdoms, much like the NFL translates to “Not For Long.” So it makes sense that Barristan and LeBeau are counterparts. A pair of grizzly veterans of the game, they’ve seen it all, done it all, and have survived to pass on their defensive genius to a new crop of players.
ROBB STARK — Tom Brady, Patriots: Brady is the unquestioned leader of the North, untouchable, and received this tutelage from the best; very similar to Robb, who trained under his well-respected father, Ned. And like Robb, Brady has had moments of resounding brilliance (multiple Super Bowl championships & MVPs) and ones of shake-your-head foolishness (dancing in Brazil, water sliding, ridiculous haircuts). Brady’s big-game performance of late has also matched well with the eldest Stark son, whose actions have left his men wondering if he’s fit to be King.
TALISA STARK — Gisele Bundchen: Like Talisa, Gisele stole the heart of the King of the North, and an argument could be made both Robb Stark and Tom Brady haven’t won anything since. Brady has come up short in two Super Bowls since hooking up for the former Victoria’s Secret model. Stark, meanwhile, has upset his own men, soiled the faith of an ally, and been blundering away strategic position since shacking up with the battlefield Volantis nurse.
EDDARD STARK — Brett Favre: One of only two deceased GOT characters to make the list is a fitting match for Favre. Both Ned Stark and the Ole’ Gunslinger were honorable statesmen, loyal to their homeland for many, many years before abandoning what they knew for the perils of the Big City. Favre jettisoned Green Bay for New York and then Minnesota, figuring his built-up good faith would carry over into this new surroundings, not realizing he was out of his element. And while Ned showed he could hang briefly at King’s Landing – like Favre’s career year with the Vikings – he ultimately ended up backstabbed and without his head; Favre’s magical journey ended on the sideline, consecutive games-played streak history, and after he retired, he’s barely been heard from.
JON SNOW — Wes Welker, Broncos: You could say undrafted players are the bastard children of the NFL, which would make Welker much more than Jon Snow given his success. And whether it was by his own doing or not, Welker left the safe haven of the North and joined up with the enemy on the other side of The Wall, or on his case, the Rocky Mountains. If Welker is still working for his new team’s enemy or knows more than nothing, a la Snow, has yet to be seen.
BRAN STARK — Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Both heirs of the North, Bran was thrown from a tree and lost the use of his legs, while Peterson was chopped down and needed reconstructive knee surgery. Bran has since been running like the wind in his dreams, while Peterson went out and nearly broke the NFL single-season rushing record in 2012. You almost get the feeling that Bran is destined for great things and likewise Peterson is only scratching the surface of what he could accomplish, especially after his recent 2,500-yard pronouncement.
ROOSE BOLTON — Bill Parcells: So let’s say you’ve worked your entire career for one team, had a lot of success with that team and grown really close to that team. Now let’s say, a little later on you went to work for that team’s most hated rival because they paid you a lot of money and it’s gotten to the point so much that your other team doesn’t even know you anymore. Maybe you died your hair blond, I don’t know. That would make you kind of a traitor, huh? Thought so.
HODOR — Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: Could you imagine if Gronkowski had a press conference and just said, “Hodor, Hodor, Hodor” every time someone asked him a question? It would be the greatest YouTube moment in sports. Just a big, lovable galoof is what Hodor is, and you could make a serious argument that’s exactly what Gronk is, only with more alcohol. Now if we can just get GOT’s writers to work in “Yo Soy Fiesta” as a battle cry.
THEON GREYJOY — Mark Sanchez, Jets: No one has taken public abuse and been the brunt of more media scrutiny (warranted or otherwise) and sports radio rants than Sanchez, who like Theon, can’t seem to get out of his own way. Seemingly the toast of the New York only a few years ago when he had the Jets in the AFC Championship, Sanchez is practically in shackles after the drafting of Geno Smith. Theon tried to make a bold move in taking Winterfell only to have it backfire into this weird torture play that’s hashing out slowly in Season 3. Neither is a bad guy on the surface, and unfortunately not a winners either, and I suspect both will have an unhappy ending.
STANNIS BARATHEON — Jay Cutler, Bears: When coming up with words to describe Stannis a few immediately came to mind: dull, boring, and pussy-whipped. That led me to only one NFL counterpart: Jay Cutler. Who else embodies Stannis’ spirit of being at times awesome at his position while being an enormous d-bag? Stannis had his best friend, Davos, thrown in jail! Doesn’t that remind you of Cutler screaming at his offensive line for getting sacked all the time? Literally all that’s missing is a Smokin’ Stannis Baratheon Tumblr page and we have Internet perfection.
DAVOS — Ronde Barber, Buccaneers: Davos stood by his King, Stannis, until the bitter end at the Battle of Blackwater, and you could say the same for Ronde, who remained a faithful Buccaneer following their Super Bowl title in 2003, when he no doubt had opportunities to just ship and play for a contender. While he didn’t get made to walk the plank by ownership, he might have well been, as Tampa Bay went 69-91 over the next decade.
JOFFREY BARATHEON — Tim Tebow: The most hated man in the Seven Kingdoms easily could be the most talked about, over-hyped, and dare I say, hated man in the NFL in Tim Tebow. Both Joffrey and Tebow were unfairly placed in their position of power (one by his scheming mother, the other by the scheming media machine and Josh McDaniels) and seemingly have no idea what to do. Joffrey can’t lead his men at the Battle of Blackwater, and while leading seems to be only what Tebow can do, his elsewhere skills so limited at the pro level, as evidenced by his current ouster from the league all together. Joffrey, meanwhile, doesn’t seem likely to sit on the Iron Throne for much longer.
ROBERT BARATHEON — Rex Ryan, Jets:Robert was a terrible king, but by all accounts, a great guy to be around, and he was a helluva warrior. Rex really isn’t that great of a head coach, but he sure looks like he’d be a fun guy to go to the Old Country Buffet with, and he used to scheme a good defense. Robert really liked fathering bastards and Rex, well, he liked to, well, make weird videos with his wife. Both were blubbering idiots who were mostly all show and no go. We know what happened to Robert, so I’m guessing Rex’s days are numbered.
GENDRY — Andrew Luck, Colts: Whether he knows it or not, Gendry is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and by virtue of Peyton Manning’s bum neck, Luck is the future of NFL quarterbacking. The best prospect at the position since the man he replaced, Luck’s upside is exponential, especially after his record-breaking rookie campaign. And the best thing about him, is there’s no ego. Much like Gendry, who just wants to be a part of SOMEthing, Luck is happy to be here and help his team win. The future is bright for both these young, goofy men.
SANDOR CLEGANE — Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Natural counterparts, The Hound and Roethlisberger are both larger than life, fierce warriors, and survivors of life-altering facial injuries – Big Ben’s after his June 2006 motorcycle accident and The Hound’s after his brother shoved him in a fire. Both like to party (though Ben’s days appear to be over) and never back down from a challenge. Ben is known for always playing through pain and keeping plays alive by being nearly impossible to take down, and The Hound is lauded whooping serious ass and being loyal to those he has a soft spot for.
PETYR BAELISH — Jerry Jones, Cowboys: No other owner can truly stake claim to being the NFL’s Lord of Coin like Jerry Jones, who out of his own pocket practically built the world’s greatest sports stadium. Like Baelish, Jones is extremely crafty and always scheming (how else do you explain the multitude of Draft-day trades?), likens himself as the smartest guy in the room (what other owner is also his team’s General Manager?) and commands an audience. Though you get the feeling others in Westeros laugh at Littlefinger behind his back, as I suspect those across the NFL do as the Cowboys blunder away season after season.
VARYS — Mike Shanahan, Redskins: Not similar in stature but definitely in mind, Varys and Shanahan are without a doubt the ultimate backroom deviants who know who they are and are completely comfortable in their own skin. Varys waited his whole lifetime to get his revenge on the mad scientist who crippled him while Shanahan lived through all the Raiders madness before achieving success with the Broncos. Now, he has the ear of Robert Griffin III and knows good things are on the horizon.
BERIC DONDARRION — Peyton Manning, Broncos: Manning being able to come back and have the kind of MVP 2012 season that he did after four, count ’em four, neck surgeries is damn near the equivalent of Beric coming back from the dead a half dozen times after suffering fatal battle wounds. You could also make the argument now Manning is closer to the Lord of Light given Denver’s mile-high altitude, but you’d need to check with Thoros first, since he’s the one who actually returns Beric from the other side, which we know is dark. Speaking of.
THOROS OF MYR — John Elway, Broncos: If it wasn’t for Elway and his belief in Manning returning to his Colts championship and MVP form, then the Broncos No. 18 jersey wouldn’t be flying off shelves at ludicrous speed in the 303 and 720. It’s well known The Duke likes to throw ’em back, too, and that fits well with the Brotherhood Without Banners’ red priest’s mantra of getting drunk and searching for ways to swindle gold. Thoros was a renowned warrior who now is an adviser of sort to Beric, which fits well with Elway, who is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history and is doing a mighty fine job thus far as an executive.
MANCE RAYDER — Clay Matthews, Packers: Maniacs, defensive leaders who don’t play by anyone’s rules but their own, and strong men of the North, Matthews and Mance are quite the pair. While Mance doesn’t quite have Clay’s hair, they are both giant, rugged figures, who elicit loyalty from their men and fear in their opponents.
TORMUND GIANTSBANE — Brett Keisel, Steelers: The man with the best beard north of The Wall and the man with not only the best beard in the AFC North, but the entire NFL, are a match made in facial hair heaven.
— thanks to James Wright for his contributions to this column.
LOS ANGELES — Whenever NFL Network airs old episodes of “Hard Knocks,” no matter the team, I always tune in. In addition to being fantastically produced by the NFL Films team, they are hilarious to watch with the benefit of hindsight. When the Jets cut little Danny Woodhead in 2010 you had no idea he would turn into this all-world, do-everything back for the Patriots. Nearly three years later, after New York has proven to be the buffoons of the league, the move is even more laughable. Watching the Dolphins last summer you never got the impression they would ever sniff the .500 mark or be a competent football team; you were too busy waiting patiently for any scene with Lauren Tannehill. In 2009, Chad Johnson looked like a lock for Cooperstown and his career faded quicker than the yellow enshrinee jacket. And on and on.
So, with less than 3 months until the 2013 season begins – the Hall of Fame Game between the Miami and Dallas is on Aug. 4 – here’s my wish list for teams for this upcoming season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” (in no particular order).
Washington Redskins: They have the most dynamic young player in the league who just so happens to be coming off a horrific knee injury in Robert Griffin III, a squirrelly coach in Mike Shanahan, an owner who likes to meddle and flash his deep pockets, and a rabid, rabid fan base thirsty for a winner again. What’s not to like here?!
Seattle Seahawks: Football is back on the Pacific northwest and the Seahawks have a dynamic, rah-rah coach in Pete Carroll and some explosive players (Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice) to go with their charismatic young quarterback, Russell Wilson. Throw in the big mouth of Richard Sherman and the rest of the Boom Squad and this would be a very, very fun season of Hard Knocks.
Atlanta Falcons: I was pulling for them to be the choice last season, as the Falcons were a team on the rise, a thought confirmed as they were a play away from the Super Bowl. This time around is no different. Tony Gonzalez, the greatest pass-catching tight end of all-time, is back for a final season. Matt Ryan is one of the top quarterbacks in the league, Mike Smith looks like an extra on “The Sopranos,” Roddy White is among the chattiest in the league, Julio Jones as well; not to mention Brian Banks and his struggle to get back his football life.
Arizona Cardinals: Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I think the Cardinals would be extremely entertaining over four weeks of Training Camp. Bruce Arians and his Kangol hats would bound for laughs, Larry Fitzgerald is among the worldly NFL players, Patrick Peterson, the Honey Badger, not to mention Carson Palmer and his old tired arm and perfect hair. Sounds good to me.
New England Patriots: Yes, this is a homer pick, but who wouldn’t want to see exactly how Bill Belichick and Tom Brady perform their magic; to go behind the curtain with a 3-time Super Bowl Champion as they gear up for another AFC-dominating campaign. I know I would, and if you’re honest with yourself, you are, too.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL James Bond and is now paid like a Sultan, same goes for Clay Matthews, who now has enough cashola to have a room full of FatHeads of himself. Throw in Mike McCarthy, the people of Green Bay, the young and exciting Randall Cobb, and you have the recipe for entertainment.
Philadelphia Eagles: This one makes a lot of sense. You got a rookie head coach with a pretty high profile in Chip Kelly and the hype surrounding his new offense, of course there’s Michael Vick and the “dynasty” comments he’s made in recent offseasons, add in the outspoken DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, the fans who would be bound to call into local radio to complain about the show, and I can’t see how this wouldn’t be a hit.
Buffalo Bills: A bit of a sleeper here, but think about it: Stevie Johnson is the new Chad Johnson right down to the game to back it up, they have a rookie quarterback learning the NFL game in surprise-First-Round-pick E.J. Manuel, a rookie head coach with a larger than life personality and enthusiasm for life in Doug Marrone. I’m guessing C.J. Spiller will wear a bunch of outrageous outfits, Marcel Dareus will do something ridiculous and they’ll eat a lot of wings. I hope.
San Diego Chargers: Two words: Manti Te’o.
LOS ANGELES — Week 13 was the wildest we’ve had this season and in quite some time.
Let’s find out who’s the Man.
32.) Arizona Cardinals (record: 4-8) (last week: 31) — That’s eight straight losses, if you’re scoring at home, for the Cardinals. And in the last three games Larry Fitzgerald has 5 catches for 65 yards and probably single handily killing fantasy teams across America. #FreeFitz
31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) (26) — Of course Rex Ryan went with Mark Sanchez as his starter this week. He has 8.5 million reasons as to why he did this. And as if things can’t get any worse for Jacksonville, guess who’s coming to town in Week 14? Mr. Timothy Tebow and his two cracked ribs! Will he be active? Will he get more than 2 plays? Will the Jets score more than 6 points? So many questions. #FreeTebow
30.) Oakland Raiders (3-9) (28) — Remember 6 weeks ago or something when I said the Raiders were “close.” Well, I want to explain what I meant by that. I meant Oakland was close to securing the Top Pick in the 2013 NFL Draft which they will undoubtedly take on whomever runs the fastest 40 at the Combine.
29.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-9) (30) — As you watched the Sunday night game, was there at least a part of you that hoped Nick Foles would somehow engineer an upset win over the Cowboys and give Andy Reid something to smile about? Part of you?
28.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) (32) — There’s not much I can or want to add to the story surrounding the Chiefs. I’m glad they played and I’m glad they won. I hope everyone can heal and find some peace and find a way to move forward. It’s just terrible.
27.) Carolina Panthers (3-9) (25) — This team is not good and it’s not good for my fantasy team that I was forced to start DeAngelo Williams. But he did have 67 rushing yards. So thanks for the 4.5 points.
26.) Tennessee Titans (4-8) (24) — I don’t really have anything to say about the Titans so allow me to gripe about my DirecTV DVR for a second. I haven’t been on board with this season of “Boardwalk Empire” but I still recorded them, same with this season of “Homeland,” which I’ve never seen but heard is quite good. However, I just realized that my DVR has only saved the most recent 5 episodes. Apparently, that’s the default setting when you record a series. Talk about a wicked bummer.
25.) San Diego Chargers (4-8) (22) — Hey, remember when the Chargers were 3-1? Nope, me neither. They were actually 3.5-1 if you count them being up 24-0 on Peyton Manning and the Broncos (I just instinctively wrote “Colts” just now)? Well since then they’ve lost 7-of-8. Who hires Norv Turner next year? And has anyone seen Philip Rivers?
24.) New York Jets (5-7) (29) — I’m not gonna say I enjoyed what went down Sunday at the Meadowlands but it was pretty hilarious. Mark Sanchez getting benched has been on the verge of going down for weeks and it took three 1st half interceptions for Rex Ryan to pull the trigger. It’s only too bad that Tim Tebow was inactive. That would’ve been something and it would’ve been interesting to see how Jets fans reacted.
23.) Cleveland Browns (4-8) (27) — Rookie quarterbacks had a great Week 13 and that includes Brandon Weeden, who went into the Black Hole and threw for 364 yards and a TD (2INT) in a 20-17 win. Don’t look now, but the Browns have won 2 in a row. OK, you can look now.
22.) Detroit Lions (4-8) (19) — Back at the beginning of the year, I predicted Matthew Stafford would lead the league in passing yards. After 13 weeks, look who’s sitting atop the standings: Mr. Stafford at 3,742 passing yards. He has a 68-yard lead on Drew Brees. I feel proud of this because I picked Darren McFadden for the rushing title (currently 30th) and Lovie Smith for Coach of the Year (Bears fading).
21.) St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) (21) — Looked at the NFL standings today and did you know the Rams are currently unbeaten in the NFC West at 4-0-1? How in Sam Bradford’s bad hair did that happen? If they win out, they’ll win the division and make the playoffs. At least it’s better than the time they nearly made it with a losing record. Or did Seattle make it that year at 7-9? Man, the NFC West sucks.
20.) Miami Dolphins (5-7) (20) — OK, Dolphins. You’ve been my punching bag all season and now I turn to you. This week. Week 14. ROFFL Playoffs. One time. Let’s do this. See, there’s no chance I’m playing the Texans Defense against the Patriots this week so with the slim pickens on the free agents list, I went with the Dolphins at the 49ers this week, figuring (hoping) Colin Kaepernick struggles for the second straight game and throws the ball around the yard and takes some sacks. Either way, gonna take a Herculean effort from the Mammals. I believe in you.
19.Buffalo Bills (5-7) (23) — This literally has nothing to do with Buffalo, since I’m guessing he’s never been to the All-American City, but did you see that video of Jay-Z riding the subway to his 8th and final Barclay Center opening concert next to that old lady who didn’t know who he was? It was pretty awesome and and Jay-Z came off as cool as you’d expect him to handle a situation like that. Whether that was staged or not, it makes him look like a down-to-earth dude, which he has every right not to be. Well done.
18.) Minnesota Vikings (6-6) (17) — Adrian Peterson is not human, contrary to what he told Rich Eisen on his Thanksgiving Special, and is making a real threat to 2,000 yards rushing this season. With just 4 games remaining, he needs to average 138 per to to become AD2K. And big ups to Christian Ponder, who announced he’s engaged to ESPN personality Samantha Steele. #PodcastBump
17.) New Orleans Saints (5-7) (15) — This season can’t get over fast enough for the Saints, though they think they probably still have a shot at the playoffs; which they don’t. It’s o-v-a. Which makes this weekend’s game against the Giants interesting. They have traditionally struggled on the road and the giants can’t beat anybody at home.
16.) Dallas Cowboys (6-6) (18) — The Cowboys are so bad they barely beat the carcass Eagles on national television. If Nick Foles was anyone other than Nick Foles the Eagles would’ve won that game and then maybe kept Andy Reid’s job hopes alive. But man, can Dez Bryant ball out when he wants to or when his knucklehead isn’t in the way.
15.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) (11) — I’ll admit to being semi-wrong about this Bucs team. Sure, there’s a chance they win out and make the playoffs, but it seems unlikely. I thought for sure they’d be the 6th seed in the NFC, but it seems like that’ll be reserved for the 12th man. In other news, I have some conflicts with Doug Martin this weekend. Playing against him in ROFFL but have him in a 4-letter league. Let’s hope he throws up a 12-carry, 35-yard crapfest.
14.) Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) (16) — Here’s how this is gonna play out: the Bengals are going to rally to beat Dallas this week when they should beat them by 2 scores because the Cowboys aren’t any good. That sets up Week 16’s cage fight against the Steelers; winner takes the last AFC playoff spot.
13.) Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) (14) — Mike Tomlin announced Thursday Ben Roethlisberger is starting against San Diego, which is both shocking and not surprising at all. Roethlisberger had potential life-threatening injuries a mere 3 weeks ago and is now going back out to the field where he is most likely to get hit again in the same manner which levied the previous injuries. Only this time he’ll be wearing a Kevlar chest sleeve of some sort. Like anyone on Chargers cares. Wait, he’ll be fine. The Chargers haven’t hit anyone in weeks.
12.) Seattle Seahawks (7-5) (13) — Just when you think they’re out, Russell Wilson pulls you back in. It’s amazing, but Wilson not only has the Seahawks locked into the 6th seed in the NFC right now, but has vaulted himself into the discussion for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Coming into the season, it seemed like a two-man race, so that there’s even a debate on a third is impressive. Speaking of impressive, we uncovered the song Deion Sanders is referencing when he sings for RW. Enjoy.
11.) Washington Redskins (6-6) (12) — Mike Shanahan should declare the season over more often. All that’s happened since is My Good Friend Robert has beaten in succession the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants and gotten the Redskins back into the playoff picture. He’s the toast of D.C. He could run for president and win. He can balance the budget and avoid the cliff. I’m not changing the channel when he has the ball and I’d still rather have Andrew Luck.
10.) Baltimore Ravens (9-3) (7) — I said this a couple weeks ago and I’m going to repeat it: Wild Card loss to Indianapolis. There’s a small chance that the winner of Bengals/Steelers in Week 16 will win the AFC North. Baltimore is primed to blow it.
9.) New York Giants (7-5) (8) — It’s December, this means the Giants aren’t supposed to lose. This means they should be ramping up and hitting their stride. This means. They aren’t supposed to lose division games, especially to second-tier teams like the Redskins. Maybe these Giants aren’t on the same path as their predecessors.
8.) Chicago Bears (8-4) (6) — So the Bears lost a December game at home? There’s a very good chance that this team collapses and misses the playoffs. I think Chi-town should be prepared for this. Brian Urlacher is out for the season, too, doesn’t help that defense which has been killing it.
7.) Indianapolis Colts (8-4) (10) — Nothing that Andrew Luck does anymore surprises me. Nothing. Dude is a baller.
6.) Green Bay Packers (8-4) (9) — I hope you’re all prepared for a ESS-LOAD of chatter in the coming weeks about the screw job in Seattle from the Replacement Ref Era, because it’s coming. And it may end up costing the Packers a home playoff game.
5.) San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) (4) — OK, so maybe benching Alex Smith wasn’t the best idea. Actually, it still was. Colin Kaepernick will be better for the 49ers in the long run.
4.) Denver Broncos (9-3) (5) — Is Denver the best team in the league? I don’t know. Is Peyton Manning the MVP? Yes. Can the Broncos win the Super Bowl? If Von Miller is playing out of his mind still through the playoffs? Yes. Will that be absolutely insane considering
3.) Atlanta Falcons (11-1) (3) — The most disrespected 11-1 team in NFL history? Very likely.
2.) New England Patriots (9-3) (2) — Caught some of Aqib Talib’s locker room comments this week about the Texans; consider me still worried about the Patriots secondary. They’re going to give up a big play that’s going to cost them a game. Big time. Seattle redux.
1.) Houston Texans (11-1) (1) — Monday night is going to be a badass game. But until the Texans lose, they are the Man.