LOS ANGELES — There’s a lot to be learned after just three weeks of a football season, yet at the same time it’s still a little early to come to conclusions about teams and players’ fate. I’m sure we all don’t expect Peyton Manning to keep this up or the Giants to be this dreadful, though surely we’re all surprised by Trent Richardson’s trade and Josh Freeman’s benching. This we do know: there are several teams and players performing very poorly and a few teams who look really good. One or two will stay on this path and everyone else will go up and down as the season ebbs and flows towards Super Bowl XLVIII.
That’s just how the National. Football. League. works. And why we live and die with it each week and why we love it. I can’t wait to see what Week 4 will bring. Until then, let’s find out who’s The Man.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) (32) — Of course, the game I bench Maurice Jones-Drew, since he’s playing against the vaunted Seattle defense, at home no less, he scores a late, garbage touchdown. Thank goodness that didn’t cost me a win, since my team is terrible. Then I really would’ve thrown something at my television. Even more so than watching the crappy “Dexter” finale.
31.) Minnesota Vikings (0-3) (30) — We’re about two more brutal losses to teams of the Browns quality (no offense, Cleveland) from me starting a Free Adrian campaign.
30.) Tampa Bay Bucanneers (0-3) (29) — How much would you pay to watch a webcam of the Bucs lockerroom? $2? $5? I think there’s some mess going on in there that I’m guessing is pretty damn interesting. Oh, and good luck, Mike Glennon, you’re gonna need it. And it’s time for a decent haircut, you’re a starting NFL quarterback now.
29.) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) (28) — When my dad knows the Steelers are in trouble, they really are. Seriously, how are they going to score points outside of Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown breaking free on a long bomb?
28.) Washington Redskins (0-3) (24) — Preseason Week 3 went about as well as it could go, right? And did you know this is the first time EVER the Giants and Redskins have both started the year 0-3?
27.) New York Giants (0-3) (20) — The Giants are only this high because they’ve shown in the past it doesn’t matter how they start, they always seem to make it interesting down the stretch. How many more losses before the New York media starts calling for Tom Coughlin’s job?
26.) Cleveland Browns (1-2) (31) — So apparently the formula is: trade your best player, start your 3rd string QB and start winning games. Which team will be the next to follow this to Ws?
25.) Oakland Raiders (1-2) (25) — I really hope Terrelle Pryor isn’t hurt long term because he could become a special player. Though it might be time to have the conversation about the end of Darren McFadden, or at him being in need of a change of scenery to inject some life into his career.
24.) Carolina Panthers (1-2) (27) — Thirty-eight points?! Where did that come from this week? And does it say more about the Panthers being capable of turning this season around (they’re on a bye this upcoming week) or how miserable this Giants season is going to be?
23.) Arizona Cardinals (1-2) (22) — Almost positive this Cardinals team is going to be the one this season where I have no idea what to write about it each week. Most weeks it’ll probably be a lot of me gushing about the Honey Badger.
22.) St. Louis Rams (1-2) (21) — The Rams are the Cardinals are very similar in the respect that both have quarterbacks who aren’t really good but can make plays every once in a while, have solid skill guys who are underused, and defenses who could be great but something or another holds them back. Doesn’t help they play in the hardest division in football.
21.) Buffalo Bills (1-2) (24) — Not sure why but I like this team. I like E.J. Manuel. I like Doug Marrone. And I like that Manuel likes throwing to Stevie Johnson (have I mentioned that before?) They went up against a tough Jets team (can’t believe I just typed those words) on the road and nearly won. They’re going to be OK here in a bit.
20.) New York Jets (2-1) (26) — A month ago, I really thought we’d be talking about the temperature of Rex Ryan’s hot seat, not a 2-1 team with a rookie quarterback playing decently and a defense near the top of the league. Just amazing. When you think you have the NFL figured out, you realize you have no idea.
19.) Detroit Lions (2-1) (18) — The Lions got their first-ever win in Washington last week and then in the most bizarre story we’ve had this season, Nate Burleson broke is arm in a car accident when he was distracted by falling pizza and then hit the median. Your move, Bengals.
18.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) (16) — We know the Eagles don’t play any defense, but we also know the Eagles are still figuring out their own offense. Since the first half of the win against the Redskins they’ve been punked by the Chargers and Chiefs. I still think they’re going to be OK though. Not enough to make the playoffs but enough to lay the foundation.
17.) San Diego Chargers (1-2) (15) — Tennessee has proven to be a tough, hard-fighting team, so there’s no shame in losing to them. It seems like the AFC West is going to be more than a Denver runaway and the Chargers aren’t going to be an easy beat this year.
16.) Baltimore Ravens (2-1) (17) — I don’t know how the Ravens are above .500 but somehow they are. Very good win last week. Emotional with the retiring of Ray Lewis’s number and they found a way. That’s going to be their M.O. this season: finding a way.
15.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1) (14) — See what happens when DeMarco Murray gets his carries? Now if only he could run against the Rams each week he’d be in Adrian Peterson territory. I happen to think Dallas will beat San Diego this week which will set the ‘Boys up nicely this season, but we’ll see. They’re bound for a stinker.
14.) Houston Texans (2-1) (7) — There’s something about the Texans I don’t like. I can’t put my finger on it. Matt Schaub has done some Matt Schaub-like things this year. Arian Foster seems a bit disgruntled. Andre Johnson is dinged. But J.J. Watt is still awesome, but how long can he carry this team?
13.) Tennessee Titans (2-1) (13) — I haven’t seen more than a few seconds of the Titans play but I know Warren Sapp loves their defense. And when a first ballot Hall of Famer tells you something, you listen. Jake Locker is also proving to be very dangerous with his feet, which is something you can’t ever prepare for.
12.) Indianapolis Colts (2-1) (19) — Andrew Luck bent his old coach over his leg and gave him a spanking last week. I don’t know how else to explain what happened against the 49ers. Trent Richardson’s first carry in the blue and white was a touchdown and Indy’s defense made Colin Kaepernick look like a novice back there. This could be a dangerous team.
11.) Atlanta Falcons (1-2) (10) — I’m not convinced the Falcons could be fine without Steven Jackson, but an unhealthy Roddy White is really limiting Matt Ryan’s vertical attack. His offensive line isn’t giving him much, either, but this still is an explosive offense and a playoff team.
10.) New England Patriots (3-0) (8) — It’s hard to be undefeated yet still drop each week in the rankings, but that’s just what the Patriots have done thus far. I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Tom Brady hasn’t been good through three games, tantrums, dropped passes or not. He’s missed a lot of throws. But as long as the defense keeps bringing its A Game, the Pats will be OK.
9.) Green Bay Packers (1-2) (5) — Their running backs ran hard, aside from Jonathan Franklin’s late-game fumble, and the defense was opportunistic, Aaron Rodgers made a couple bad throws late in the game which cost Green Bay. This is still a dangerous team but the jury is out if it’s playoff bound.
8.) Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) (9) — Andy Dalton is a good, not great, quarterback. He’s taken this team to the playoffs the last two seasons. He has playmakers all around him and a good defense. The Bengals should win the AFC North going away and contend in the conference. They should.
7.) Miami Dolphins (3-0) (12) — Raise your hand if you saw an undefeated start from the Dolphins coming? Anyone? Didn’t think so. Their running backs aren’t great and you can’t name one of their receivers other than Mike Wallace. But they play hard, Mr. Lauren Tannehill is slingin’ it and Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan are pinching the ends like mofos. They’re gonna be in the hunt all season.
6.) San Francisco 49ers (1-2) (4) — I still think the 49ers are good. I still think Colin Kaepernick is a superstar in the making, but as someone said to me last weekend, he’s feeling himself a little too much. He’s buying into his own hype a little too much. Take him favoriting all the “hate” tweets this week. Why? How does that motivate you?
5.) Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) (11) — What an awesome scene in Philly last week. Really proud of the fans for showing Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb the respect they deserved. Too bad they couldn’t show the same gratitude when the two of them were leading the Eagles to NFC East titles and conference championship games. Chiefs are making the playoffs. Mark it down. That defense and zero turnovers, along with Jamaal Charles, they might even beat Denver.
4.) New Orleans Saints (3-0) (6) — Would you believe the Saints are 4th in Total Defense (295.7 ypg) and 6th in Offense (404.3 ypg)? Jimmy Graham is out of his mind right now and though it appears New Orleans has zero running game right now, at least it doesn’t have to worry about always being in a shootout with teams.
3.) Chicago Bears (3-0) (3) — Jay Cutler has the mojo working so far but before we all get carried away, myself included, let’s remember he’s gotten off to hot starts each of the last few seasons with the Bears with nothing to show for it. So while he looks great now, let’s not count the cubs before they’re done hibernating.
2.) Denver Broncos (3-0) (2) — Actual Yahoo headline on Tuesday: “Is it too early to give Peyton Manning the 2013 NFL MVP?” Manning’s stat line this season is ridiculous with 1,143 yards, 12 TDs and ZERO picks, not to mention his 73% completion rate, only 4.2% higher than his previous career high, but MVP? After 3 weeks? Slow the truck down, people.
1.) Seattle Seahawks (3-0) (1) — Yes, the Seahawks gave up 17 points to the Jaguars. Yes, that is unacceptable. Yes, they’ve won 10 in a row at home. No, they will not lose at home this season. Yes, they are The Man until there’s a something in the “L” column.
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.