Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Half Time...

The NFL is a week-to-week league.  Last week's chump is this week's champ.  And the media's weekly (over)reaction doesn't help any.

Case it point:  the Dallas Cowboys, who were clearly going to the Super Bowl*, lost at home last night to the two-win Washington Redskins... a team which had resorted to starting their third string quarterback. [*sarcasm font]

Instead of a slam dunk sure-fire victory, the Cowboys six game winning streak was snapped.

The reaction from this morning's Dallas Morning News was typical: "After Stunning Loss, Where Do Cowboys Go From Here?"

Yes, the sky is frickin' falling!

It is simultaneously fascinating and maddening.  A loss isn't a loss.  It is a catastrophe of epic proportions.

And accurately picking winners and losers each week is next to impossible.  I'd hate to be an odds-maker in Vegas.  (Actually, I'd love to be, but that's a whole other discussion).

When I was a boy, my dad and I used to predict the winners of every NFL game each week.

From the time I was eight until I was 18 -- roughly from 1977 to 1987 -- Dad and I would pick our winners separately every Saturday afternoon, then compare our prognostications.  Whoever had the most right each week was the winner.

It was a very special time for me, spending that time with my dad, and I have no doubt he enjoyed it as well.  Undoubtedly, it is one of the reasons why I love football to this day.

My dad picked the games correctly about 70% of the time back in those days.  But I couldn't imagine having that high of a success rate now.  The league really has changed that much.

But just because a team or player has a bad day doesn't mean the sky is falling.  After all, we are just halfway through the 2014 regular season campaign.  Having said that, it's time to make a few observations around the league with nine more weeks to go....

1.  So far this season, two linebackers have torn ACLs while celebrating quarterback sacks.  Most recently was this week: Bears LB Lamarr Houston, who is now out for the season after celebrating a sack.  It should be mentioned it was against a second string quarterback with three minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Bears were trailing by 25 points.  This was after Tom Brady was done for the day, having destroyed Lamarr's defense with 354 passing yards and five touchdowns.  That's a league record for stupidity.

2.  Bruce Arians has won 25 of the first 35 games in which he's been a head coach.  Watch out for the Cardinals.

3.  In his past five starts, Austin Davis has thrown for 10 touchdowns.  No one ever heard of Austin Davis in the beginning of September.

4.  Vikings rookie LB Anthony Barr is for real and is on his way to becoming the defensive rookie of the year.

5.  The Steelers lost to the Jaguars, who beat the Browns, who annihilated the Steelers, who lost to the Buccaneers, but then whipped the Colts.  You figure it out. That's today's NFL.

6.  Andrew Luck leads the league in pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns.

7.  Not-so-coincidentally, T.Y. Hilton leads the league in receiving (866 yards).

8.  No team in the NFC South has a winning record.  Yes, this is the same division with the Saints, Panthers and Falcons, all of which have been playoff contenders over the last two years.

9.  The Detroit Lions are 6-2.  Don't worry, they will find a way to self destruct.  They do every year.

10.  Josh Brown, Adam Vinatieri, Nick Novak and Chandler Catanzaro have not missed a field goal or extra point yet this season.

11.  The AFC North is the only divison in the league in which every team has a winning record.

12.  Browns S Tashaun Gipson leads the league with five interceptions.  Unless you're a Browns fan, I bet you've never heard of him.

13.  DeMarco Murray already has 1,054 yards rushing in eight games.  He is on pace to absolutely shatter Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record.

14.  The Oakland Raiders are the only winless team in the league.  Incidentally, they are the only team in their division with a losing record.  You could say their season is over.  In Oakland, the sky really is falling.  Oh, and they fired their head coach several weeks ago.  Yep, that was the answer.

15.  Speaking of fired head coaches, who is next: Mike Smith or Rex Ryan?

16.  Geno Smith has played himself out of a starting job.  I'm pretty sure Browning Nagle is available.  Or maybe Ray Lucas?  Perhaps Brooks Bollinger?

17.  Kyle Orton has thrown for nine touchdowns and 1,128 yards in his first four games as the starter for the Bills.  No one saw that coming September 1st.

18.  Matthew Stafford has already been sacked a league-leading 24 times this season.

19.  The Seattle Seahawks are not infallible.  The team that everyone thought would be unbeatable is a very average 4-3.  They still have to play the Eagles, the 49ers twice and the Cardinals twice.  It's very possible they will join the all-star cast of past Super Bowl champions that did not make the playoffs the year following their championship.

20.  Chiefs LB Justin Houston leads the league with 10 sacks in seven games.

21.  After losing their starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, the Rams have now lost their outstanding offensive left tackle (Jake Long) and their leading receiver (Brian Quick) for the season.  Some teams can't buy a break.

Here's to a great second half of the NFL season!

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm Not a Sprinter

I love football and for all its warts and flaws, I love the NFL.

You see, I don't think the National Football League is any more flawed than Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League or the National Basketball Association; the NFL is simply bigger and it is therefore under a higher-powered microscope.

Its blemishes simply look larger.  It's an optical illusion.

Even though the NFL drives me crazy with some of its rule changes; even though they have made a relatively simple game into something rivaling rocket science, I still love the sport.  Sitting down on a Sunday afternoon or Monday night to watch pro football is more than tradition to me.  It's a birthright.

One thing that I had always loved about the NFL was that you waited all week for the games.  The contests were special because they were played on Sundays and Monday nights.  

Once the lights were turned out and the party was over on Monday night, you had to wait five days for the next "wave" of the storm.

Back then, in fantasy football, you could take a deep breath Tuesday.  You could take that day to revel in victory or agonize in defeat.  You could analyze your roster and figure out what went wrong (or what went right).  Heck, you could even take the day off and forget about fantasy football.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, you were able to work the waiver wire, scour free agency and negotiate trades with potential suitors.  

You had time.

On Saturday, you set your line-up (and, if you are like me, re-set it and change it around three times until it was back to what you originally had).

On Sunday, the fun started all over again.

Unfortunately, it's not like that anymore.  

And if you play fantasy football (if you're reading this, you probably do) you know exactly what I'm talking about.

There is an old saying that goes something like "Too much of a good thing is a bad thing."  And that is how I have felt about the NFL for the past couple of seasons.  Specifically, I'm talking about the Thursday night games.

Because of Thursday nights, fantasy football is no longer a marathon.  It has become a sprint.  And I don't think that's the way the hobby was meant to be played.

As a fantasy owner, you no longer have the privilege of taking that deep breath, especially if you are in more than one league.  

On Tuesday morning, hours after the conclusion of Monday night's game,  you'd better be hitting the waiver wire and start negotiating trades with potential suitors.  

After all, you have just 48 hours.  And, unless you play fantasy football professionally... if you have a life and career outside the fantasy world of football, 48 hours ain't very long.

And it doesn't stop there.  Besides waivers and trades, the decision to start banged-up players is very tricky on Thursday night as well.  Do you start your star running back Thursday night with a questionable ankle, or do you sit him and start your healthy back-up on Sunday?

Instead of days, you have hours to make that decision, just as players have hours to get treatment for their injuries.
And there's no break... week after crazy week.  Honestly, the Thursday night games have taken a bit of the fun out of fantasy football because a fantasy owner doesn't get that opportunity to take in the fantasy season anymore.  

You don't really get a moment to look around and survey the field.  It is a pedal-to-the-metal, relentless campaign.  

In my opinion, it's too much of a good thing.

Honestly, I think the NFL has crossed that invisible barrier called "over-saturation."  There are games on Thursday nights, Sunday afternoons, Sunday nights and Monday nights.  As a result, NFL games have lost a bit of their "specialness."  

And the Thursday night games are what tipped the scale.

I know nothing is going to change.  The main goal of the NFL is to make as much money as possible and Thursday night games are, of course, a money maker, even if the product on the field isn't quite up to standard (after all, NFL games were never meant to be played three days apart).

But I, for one, will always long for the days when games were played on Sundays and Monday nights; back to when fantasy owners had the opportunity to enjoy the marathon.

Because heaven knows I'm not a sprinter.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Shotgun Blues Volume 1, Issue 5

It was another wild week of NFL football.  If you started Branden Oliver in fantasy football, a hearty congratulations... and I can only guess that if you did start him, you somehow cheated.

Yes, this is the time of year when injuries start accumulating and the mantra is "next man up."  The key in fantasy football now is finding the right player and starting him at the right time.

If only it was as easy as it sounds.

Without further ado, it's time for this week's installment of "Shotgun Blues."


In week 5...

Chargers' undrafted free agent RB Branden Oliver had 114 yards rushing, 68 yards receiving and two touchdowns.  He started the season fourth on the depth chart.  Some guys just need a chance.

The Packers blew out the Vikings by 32 points; that is their third-largest win over the Vikings in the rivalry's long history.

Things can only go up from here...

Cam Newton had all four wisdom teeth removed earlier this week before throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:  Jamaal Charles needs just 43 rushing yards to surpass Priest Holmes for the most in Chiefs franchise history.

Jay Cutler finally scored the Bears first rushing touchdown of the year this week.  Matt Forte, wherefore art thou?

The Cleveland Browns overcame a 25-point deficit to defeat the Titans, which is the greatest comeback by a road team in NFL history.  Yes, the Browns.  At one point, they trailed 28-3 in the second quarter.

Russell Wilson rushed for a career high 122 yards; that's also the most rushing yards for a quarterback in Monday Night Football history.

Percy Harvin had three.... THREE... touchdowns called back on penalties.  This is why fantasy owners drink.
Percy Harvin fantasy owners

Demaryius Thomas had 226 receiving yards which was a career high and the most in Broncos franchise history.

The Eagles have scored four special teams touchdowns so far this year.  No other team has scored more than one.

DeMarco Murray broke Emmitt Smith's record with five consecutive 100+ yard rushing games.

The Detroit Lions offensive line has allowed 16 sacks in the past four games.  Somehow, Matthew Stafford still has the fifth-most passing yards in the league.

Kirk Cousins is now 0-6 in his last six starts.

Drew Brees became the fastest quarterback in league history to reach 40,000 yards passing with one team.

Reggie Wayne surpassed Hall of Famer Cris Carter with the eight-most receiving yards in NFL history (13,950).

The Jets offensive juggernaut was shut out; the first time an NFL team has put up a goose egg this season.

In a related story, the Jets dynamic duo of Geno Smith (39th overall in 2013 draft) and Michael Vick (first overall in 2001 draft) combined for 60 passing yards.

In a completely unrelated note, Peyton Manning became the second player in NFL history to throw for 500 touchdown passes.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:  Peyton Manning needs six more touchdown passes to have the most in NFL history.

From the "Oh, By The Way" department:  Peyton Manning has had five games with 400-yard passing in the past two years (since joining the Broncos).  That's as many as Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Tony Romo have had in their entire careers.

Tom Brady became the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw over 50,000 yards

The Lions kickers have hit a horrible 4 of 12 field goals so far this season.  That's 24 potential points missed.

Stupid kickers.

That's all for this week, good luck in week 6!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Shotgun Blues: Volume 1, Issue 4

We are a month into the season.  One would think a few story lines would be crystallizing in the league.  Instead, the further we wade into the 2014 campaign, the more nebulous the landscape becomes.

The only thing I know for sure is I don't know anything for sure.

EJ Manuel has been shown the bench.  The 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft is riding the pine as head coach Doug Marrone fights to keep his job.  The Kyle Orton era (the guy who lost his starting job to Tim Tebow) begins in Buffalo.

Speaking of coaches grasping at straws, Dennis Allen is fired in Oakland.  He was the franchise's 10th head coach since 1996.  This team is beyond a mess.

Are the Saints really 1-3?  Has Bill Belichick finally outsmarted himself?  Are the Cowboys going to the Super Bowl? (Sure they are!  Just ask any Cowboys fan... at least for this week).

And how about Teddy Bridgewater?  After the thumping the Falcons gave the Buccaneers in week 3, I was prepared for Sunday's match up with the Vikings to be an embarrassment for Minnesota.

After all, the Vikings were starting a rookie quarterback and were without their franchise player.  But rather than getting kicked around, the Vikings put up 41 points and came away with a victory.

The truth is this: no one really understands the NFL (which is what makes it so interesting).  Check this out...

On Sunday, 12 out of 13  NFL experts on picked the Falcons to beat the Vikings.  Only Adam Schefter got the pick correct.  How could this happen?  I mean, these guys are experts, right?

I've boiled the mystery down to two possible answers.

1) These guys don't know as much about football as they think they do.  They are just as flabbergasted by the unpredictable parody of the league as the rest of us.


2) This is a classic case of lemmings following one another over a cliff.  No one was willing to expect the unexpected.  The result was a cookie cutter product.

It often pays to zig while everyone else is zagging, even if it seems crazy.

Okay, time to scour the internet high and low and bring you the latest installment of...


DeMarco Murray is just the fourth player in NFL history to start a season with four consecutive 100-yard rushing games, joining O.J. Simpson, Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown. a related story, from the "Way Too Early To Be Talking About This" file: Murray is on pace to break Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record.  (However, it's worth mentioning that Murray has never played a full 16 regular season games in his career).
His diabolical plan to take over the world is coming to fruition... as a minion looks on in admiration.

The Bears/Packers game was just the second in NFL history without a single punt.

The Eagles scored on a blocked punt, interception return and a punt return all in the first half... yet somehow found a way to lose.  That hurts.

Brian Leonhardt became the first graduate from Bemidji State University (Minnesota) to score a touchdown in the NFL.  He is just the second BSU alumni to play in the NFL (Al Wolden).

Undrafted free agent Larry Donnell is the first Giants tight end to catch three touchdown passes in a game since 1962 (Joe Walton).

So, the Falcons whip the Buccaneers, then the Buccaneers stun the Steelers while the Vikings get pounded by the Saints, and then beat the Falcons.  How can you not love this?

J.J. Watt is just the second player since the AFL/NFL merger (1970) to have a touchdown reception and an interception return for a touchdown in the same season (Mike Vrabel, 2005).  Interestingly, Vrabel is now Watt's position coach.

Ben Roethlisberger became just the 12th quarterback in NFL history to go over 35,000 yards passing.

Teddy Bridgewater posted -- by far -- the best numbers for a rookie quarterback debut in Vikings franchise history.

Despite being 2-2, the Steelers are one of five teams averaging 400+ yards-per-game.  They also have the eighth-most points in the league. a related story, the Steelers were 65-0 when leading by seven or more points in the fourth quarter.  That streak was broken by the Buccaneers on Sunday.

When is Frank Gore going to start acting like a 31 year-old running back?

Jay Cutler has faced the Packers 10 times in his career.  He's won once.  Also, he's thrown at least one INT in each game.

Some times a tee shirt is worth a thousand words.
Martellus Bennett was the first Bears tight end to post 100+ yards receiving against the Packers since Mike Ditka did it in 1961.

Buffalo held Houston to just 37 yards rushing (1.5 yards-per-rush), yet the Bills still lost the game.

The Colts have scored 85 points in their last two games combined.

Geno Smith has committed two or more turnovers in 11 games over the past two seasons.  That's the worst in the NFL... even worse than (gasp!) Eli Manning.

Antonio Brown set an NFL record with 20 consecutive games with at least five receptions.

LeSean McCoy had a career low 17 rushing yards (as a starter).  In the past two weeks combined, he's had 29 carries for 39 yards.

Lastly, here's a cool little photo I found while doing my research.  I thought it was well worth posting...
The 14 starting quarterbacks of the 1961 NFL season.   How many can you name?  There are a few Hall of Famers here.