Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Random Late Season NFL Power Rankings

After a series of overly righteous rants, the FGR is past due for some mindless fun which immediately calls to mind the modern day Roman Empire that is the NFL. Before you scoff at that, remember that there was a time when the thought of baseball not being the most popular and powerful sport in America was unfathomable. Then the players and owners started treating each other like the Real Housewives of Wrigley Field at roughly the same time that the NFL was being run by Pete Rozelle, almost inarguably the savviest commissioner in the history of sports. At some undefined point in the 1980's under Rozelle's leadership, the NFL blew by Major League Baseball so fast that it made Mookie Wilson's bobblehead spin.

You can literally find a picture
of anything on the internet.
Now the NFL is being run by Roger Goodell, almost inarguably the least savvy commissioner in the history of professional sports (not named Gary Bettman). With the injuries piling-up, the quality of play deteriorating and the referees displaying the competence and proficiency of a Chipotle food inspector, the league appears to be ready to take at least a minor tumble. (The fact that Hollywood is about to release a movie that basically takes the position that football = brain damage sure isn't going to help grow the young fanbase).The NFL isn't even selling the best football product anymore. College football has become Coke to the NFL's Pepsi since the upstanding men and women who run the schools finally committed to selling-out completely and having a playoff . . . not that I'm complaining.*         

But we're getting ranty again and this was supposed to be about fun so let's get back on track. We were going to base these rankings on which team would beat which other team on a neutral field if the game was played this Sunday but that's a waste of time because the last time I checked (which was about five minutes ago), NFL teams don't play on neutral fields until the Super Bowl. So we'll go the extra yard (see what I did there . . . extra yard) by predicting the playoff teams and then factoring in likely homefield advantages and bye weeks to ultimately reach a Super Bowl prediction. We're also going to give consideration to a team's head coach and quarterback situation when it looks like it might lead to future success or impending disaster. Let's build the drama slowly by going worst to first: 

32: Baltimore Ravens: Put quite simply, the Ravens could not beat another NFL team right now if the Harbaugh family was reffing the game. If fans can draw one positive from the blowout losses the last two weeks, it's that they no longer have to hear how every game this season has been decided by eight points or less. As a Ravens fan, I found that very irritating because it's the kind of thing you'd overhear a group of Browns fans say at the trailer park holiday party.

31. San Diego Chargers: Their four wins this year are against the Lions, Browns, Jaguars and Dolphins. They've lost eight of their last ten games. They just gave a four year, $83,000,000 contract to a 34 year old quarterback who's 46-48 in the regular season since 2009 and has only been to the playoffs once during that stretch. On a positive note, their first round draft pick is averaging 3.5 yards per carry with no touchdowns and four fumbles so they've got that going for them . . . which is nice.

30. Dallas Cowboys: They might deserve to be one or two spots higher but we're putting them here because Jerry Jones, Greg Hardy and Dez Bryant are like the guy who shows-up to court wearing a t-shirt that says "Eat Me Your Honor." They're not going to get the benefit of the doubt. It's going to be fun watching Sean Payton toy with Jerry this offseason before blowing him off to coach somewhere else.

29. Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons started the season 6-1 and have now lost six of their last seven including two to Tampa Bay and one each to the 49ers and the Colts who were being quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert and Matt Hasselback respectively (as opposed to respectably). The Falcons are now 16-29 since the start of 2013 which was right about the time they signed Matt Ryan to a five year, $103,750,000 contract. Who says money can't buy crappiness?      

28. Tennessee Titans: When judging the Marcus Mariota v. Jameis Winston debate, keep in mind that Winston's skill position players are Doug Martin, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson while Mariota has . . . hold on . . . give me a second I know they have a tight end named Clancy or Demetri or something . . . (you mean Delanie Walker?) . . . Mariota has the worst supporting cast since John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

"I don't know what to tell you Jerry.
Blaine Gabbert just wasn't my type."
27. San Francisco 49ers: On the morning of February 4th, 2013, 49er fans woke-up to the sting of a Super Bowl loss that was tempered by the fact that they had arguably the best young head coach/quarterback combination in the game. On the morning of December 14th, 2015, 49er fans woke-up to the sting of an uncompetitive 24-10 loss to the Browns that was tempered by the fact that their team is coached by Jim Tomsula and their quarterback is the NFL equivalent of the girl who "just didn't do it" for Newman. (I'm not sure that's what "tempered" means).

26. Cleveland Browns: Mike Pettine has brought "helicopter parenting" to the NFL. Rumor has it that he's already bought Johnny Manziel a hoverboard for Christmas and told him he can ride it on the team plane.  

25. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts gave-up a combined 96 points to the Steelers and the Jaguars (yes, the Jaguars) and just lost a game, and essentially the division, to a Texans team quarterbacked by a guy who was cut by the 4-10 Cowboys last month (Brandon "The Weed Man" Weeden). I once quit a job where I was hardly doing anything anyway and the company asked if I would stay for another two weeks so I obliged them by showing-up at 10:00 a.m. every day, having a cup of coffee while wasting other people's time and then going to lunch and a matinee at the movie theatre down the street. Let's just say that Chuck Pagano picked a great time to enter lame duck territory because between the new Star Wars movie, Creed, Point BreakThe Big Short, Spotlight and more, there's never been a better two weeks to be on coaching auto-pilot.

Hey, you'll always have 2009.
24. New Orleans Saints: I'm glad we held-off writing about the Saints until Tuesday morning so we could properly factor-in whatever that was on Monday night. Of all the teams about which you could say, "it's time to blow this shit up" (and there are many), none appears more in need of a complete demolition job than the Saints. Drew Brees is nearing the end of his contract which means that a different team that believes it's only a quarterback away may be willing to give-up something to rent him for a year or two (Houston? Do you read me Houston?). Also, Sean Payton needs a new challenge and there is a dome team with a franchise quarterback about 700 miles north that he could make a Super Bowl run with next year. Sorry Saints fans but welcome to the Adam Gase/Garrett Grayson era. Might be time to dust-off the paper bags.     

23. Detroit Lions: Well Detroit, you took your shot with a quarterback who chucks it off his back foot to one of the best receivers in NFL history and it yielded two winning season out of seven and no playoff wins. The good news is that it was a better run than the previous eight years when you went 31-97 with no playoff appearances. The bad news is that the last seven years qualified as good news.         

22. St. Louis Rams: In the battle for 23rd place supremacy against Detroit two weeks ago, the Rams under-sucked the Lions so congratulations St. Louis fans. Your prize is at least one more year of Jeff Fisher, the coach who always gets fired three years too late but you can take solace in the fact that the team will probably be playing in California so most of you will be rooting for them to implode anyway.

21. Miami Dolphins: Sometimes it's hard to tell if the Dolphins are the Falcons of the AFC or if the Falcons are the Dolphins of the NFC. I think this year the Dolphins are the Falcons of the AFC because they gave their fans just a shred more false hope that they were almost going to be a playoff team and kept it going later in the season. Ryan Tannehill also still appears to be trying. Bless his heart. This could be Plan "B" for Sean Payton if he opts for warmer weather than Indy has to offer and an owner less likely to star in a reality show called "Billionaire Rehab."

20. Chicago Bears: We are nearing the end of the seventh year of the Smokin' Jay Cutler era in Chicago and it appears to have peaked with two winning seasons and one playoff appearance. It might be time to cut ties so it's a good thing they didn't just sign him to a seven year $126,700,000 contract in 2014. Wait what? Never mind. Smoke-up Chicago!    

19-17. Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers: From a purely statistical standpoint we know that one of these teams has found a viable starting quarterback and the other two are doomed to wasting at least the next three years under the false perception that they have (a/k/a the "Boller Blackout Period"). And while I have no actual statistics to back this up, allow me to distract you with a long overdue cheerleader shot while we move on to the next team.

There could be much to smile about 
in Tampa Bay. I know I'm smiling.
16. Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Bradford is a free agent after this season so Chip Kelly gave-up Nick Foles, a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick for what will be at best an 8-8 season. The good news for Kelly is that Philadelphia players and fans have expressed nearly universal support for him and . . . sorry, couldn't finish it with a straight face. BOOOOO!!!!!!   

15. Buffalo Bills: The last time the Bills won more than nine games was in 1999 when their coach was Wade Phillips and their quarterback was . . . (wait for it) . . . Doug Flutie. Here are their win totals per season since: 8, 3, 8, 6, 9, 5, 7, 7, 7, 6, 4, 6, 6, 6, 9, ?. Not surprisingly, when you run those numbers through the Germans' World War II Enigma Code machine, they spell "M-E-D-I-O-C-R-I-T-Y."     

14. New York Giants: The Giants appear to have found the next great receiver from the Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco mold which is great unless you're into things like team chemistry, class, dignity, etc.

13. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs should probably be in the 7th spot instead of the Jets because they have the easiest schedule of the three 9-5 teams trying to land the last two playoff spots but come on. They're the Chiefs. Stop it.    

And now for your 2015 NFL playoff teams led by the. . . [covering microphone](. . . is this right? . . . are you sure?) . . . like I said, led by the. . . 

12. Houston Texans: We know for a fact that a team has to win the AFC South which recently purse-snatched the worst division in football title from the NFC East. The Texans appear to be that team which means that we are heading for a playoff game that could feature The Weed Man against the Jets which in turn means that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be favored on the road in the playoffs. How in the hell did we get here?   

11. Washington Redskins: I'm not sure I'm ready to live in a world where the Redskins appear competent and apparently neither are Redskin fans because I told a half dozen of them on Monday that they've wrapped-up the division and every single one of them immediately covered their ears and started a heated argument with the voices in their head that ended with them saying "fuck you Dan Snyder!"   

10. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings are an anomaly in today's NFL because they would absolutely beat every team ranked lower than them on this list and, at the same time, there is no way they're beating any team ranked above them. We need a name for this like the "Peterson Principle" or the "Bridgewater Line" or the "No We Don't Need a Name for this Dork."    

9. Green Bay Packers: On two possessions late in the game at Oakland, the Packers had a chance to slam the door on the Raiders and here's what they did. From first and goal at the one, they went shitty pass, run for a two yard loss, another shitty pass and field goal. A few minutes later, they were at the Oakland 15 with 2:44 to play and Aaron Rodgers threw an up for grabs interception that could only be described as Delhommian. The Packers currently look like a drunk who is right on the borderline of functional and dysfunctional (not that I've had any experience with that).

Why not? He's won big
games in Baltimore before.
8. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton is out for the foreseeable future which means the keys to the inevitable playoff Titanic have been handed to back-up A.J. McCarron who will carry-on the not so proud tradition of former Crimson Tide quarterbacks. The good news for McCarron, Cincinnati and Alabama is that (a) the Bengals end the season at home against the Ravens who might be starting Shane Falco by then and (b) their recent playoff record can only improve with McCarron at quarterback. (That one I can back-up with statistics).

7. New York Jets: If Todd Bowles asked me to write his speech before the fictional coach of the year selection committee, it would go something like this. "Hello. In support of my application for coach of the year I would just like to say 'Ryan Fitzpatrick' . . . Thank you."

6. Denver Broncos: You have to give the Broncos credit for rolling the dice on Peyton Manning and really, who knew that it would end-up with them in this odd state of quarterback limbo not knowing the exact condition of Manning's health and how it would affect their future? (Um, everybody knew that). Right. Good luck with that John Elway. Remember, Tim Tebow is only a phone call away.

5. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are a great story as they prance and preen to the top seed in the NFC like one of those college dance squads (not cheerleaders . . . dance squads) that "straddles" the fine line between mischievous and Motley Crue video. I just think they're a year away from winning two games over the likes of Arizona, Seattle and Green Bay. But what do I know? I also thought that Aaron Rodgers might actually be a viable fantasy quarterback in the playoffs because he's AARON FUCKING RODGERS WHAT THE FU . . .!!! I'm ok.  

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: With the Ravens' season in the toilet, I find myself strangely rooting for the Steelers to succeed. Maybe it's because I despise the team that sits at #2 in the rankings so much that it has driven me to some kind of bizarre case of NFL Stockholm Syndrome. Or maybe it's because the Steelers have assembled the coolest and most fun to watch quarterback/receiver combination since the Don Coryell Chargers. Regardless of what's causing it, it feels about as comfortable as a pair of loose socks (note to self: change socks when you get home).

3. Seattle Seahawks: Forget the wins over the Ravens and Browns because those were essentially scrimmages. They dismantled the Vikings and beat the Steelers fairly convincingly in consecutive weeks. They might be the best team in the league but they're probably going to have to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl and that's probably not going to happen. It's a shame that we're not going to get to see or hear about the "12th Man" in Janurary and by "shame" I mean "relief."

2. New England Patriots: If you still don't believe that Bill Belichik is the devil and Tom Brady is the son he fathered with an East German javelin star back in 1977, then check-out the way that the 2015 AFC universe has been manipulated to guarantee success for the Patriots. If the current seedings hold, these A-holes won't even be tested before the Super Bowl unless they run into the Steelers. Their other playoff opponent will be quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, A.J. McCarron, Brock Osweiler or Zombie Peyton Manning. Don't be surprised if Ben Roethlisberger is injured in a bizarre domestic accident between now and the first week of January. They already tried hitting him with a car back in 2006. Look for them to up the ante this year with something like hot water heater explosion or a freak drone crash.

Bruce Arians has come a long
way from middle school bully to
top notch NFL head coach.
1. Arizona Cardinals: They need to win one of their next two to lock-up the #2 seed and, if they do that, their path to the Super Bowl should be fairly clear as they would likely host Green Bay before going to Carolina or hosting Seattle. Tough games to be sure but they should win them. Then it will probably be a showdown with the Patriots where we will finally be able to answer the question, "is there a God?" because there is no way a benevolent creator of the universe and source of all moral authority would allow Belichik and Brady to win yet another Super Bowl. If he/she were to permit such a thing to occur, I'm afraid all hope is lost. Merry Christmas!  

* Now they just need to expand it to eight teams and play the first round with two weeknight doubleheaders before Christmas. If they had done that this year, we could have had the following match-ups on December 22nd and 23rd: Clemson v. Notre Dame, Alabama v. Ohio State, Michigan State v. Stanford and Oklahoma v. Iowa. Is that something you might be interested in? Holy shit if Bud Light and the National Chicken Wing Council haven't offered $10 Million to make that happen already, then they're asleep at the switch.     

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fumbled Opportunity

You'd be hard-pressed these days to identify the single most scum-baggish thing about politicians and the media but allow me to take a shot by calling them out for the way that they disingenuously use the men and women of the military to impress us with their patriotism. The politicians are the worst as they litter the campaign trail with promises to improve veterans services then do next to nothing once they're elected. It's a massive cluster fuck of an injustice that is frankly way beyond anything I'm qualified to write about.*   

So let me climb down onto a smaller soapbox to address a far more minor military related clusterfuck of an injustice. The clusterfuckers in this case were ESPN (shocker), the Heisman Trust (see . . . we put the word "trust" right in our name) and several hundred sportswriters who once again made it clear that they shouldn't be allowed to vote on anything more significant than the first two rounds of American Idol. The wronged party in this case was Naval Academy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.  

Keenan Reynolds has been the starter at Navy for the past four seasons. He is college football's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 83. So far in 2015, he has led Navy to a 9-2 record and a top 25 ranking while rushing for 1,093 yards and 19 touchdowns (tied for second most in the country). Based on his performance, the ESPN "experts" added him to their Heisman Trophy experts poll which in turn meant he was listed on the fan ballot for Nissan-ESPN's Heisman House fan vote, a contest that would award the winner one actual vote for the Heisman Trophy. Soon after he was placed on the ballot, Reynolds took the lead in fan voting for obvious reasons that had nearly everything to do with his impending military service. I mean who wouldn't vote for the guy from Navy? (Besides SEC fans). 

"I don't know how the names
get on the website. Who do
I look like Harry Potter?"
In his most recent game against 19th ranked Houston, Reynolds passed for 312 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown. A few days later, his name was removed from the fan ballot. When ESPN was asked why the player leading in the poll would be removed from the ballot, their public relations department coughed-up the following explanation via email: "When the names change on the ESPN Experts’ Poll, they automatically change on the Heisman House site. ESPN and Nissan have no control over what names are on the Heisman House ballot.

That pathetic hollow explanation would seem lame enough if that's where the story ended but, after a minor public outcry, it was announced that Reynolds' name would be put back on the ballot. Apparently, amid a showering of well-deserved boos, ESPN and Nissan found the magic button that took them from having "no control over what names are on the Heisman House ballot" to having full control over what names are on the ballot. Funny how being loudly called-out for doing the wrong thing makes people realize that the option of doing the right thing was available to them the whole time. Maybe one of these days ESPN will avail themselves of that option before someone has to hand them a map showing them how to get there.**

With his name back on the ballot, Reynolds won the fan vote with 40% to 32% for Alabama running back and probable winner, Derrick Henry (no other player received more than 3%). Based on the Heisman poll, his career accomplishments, his strong 2015 season and the fact that, upon graduating, he will serve as an officer in the United States Navy, many expected that the Heisman Trust would invite Reynolds to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York this Saturday. They didn't. 

Now it's no surprise that Reynolds didn't receive enough votes to qualify for an invitation. As noted earlier, most of the voters are sportswriters who treat their ballots as if they will ultimately be burned to create white smoke rising from the Vatican. So, despite the option to name up to three players on the ballot and the fact that most of them never see some of the candidates actually play, they likely deemed their ballots too hallowed to include a player from a lesser conference. Even when that player lapped the field in the intangible qualities that are supposed to be factored into the voting process (more on that in a second).

We do, however, know that Reynolds received some votes because the fans gave him one and he got a couple more from past Heisman winners and Naval Academy graduates Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino who wrote in a joint statement, that "[i]f the voters carefully read the mission of the Heisman Trophy, the first person that should come to mind is Keenan Reynolds." The "mission" to which they refer is the Heisman Trust Mission Statement which begins: "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." You know, like Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston ("But I thought the crab legs were free").

"I'm looking at you Mr. Booster."
So why not just invite him anyway? Well, applying Kanell logic, the invitation process is either run entirely by soulless computers or the Heisman Trust and ESPN didn't recognize the opportunity they had. The Army-Navy game is this Saturday at 3:00 p.m. in Philadelphia. The Heisman Trophy ceremony starts at 8:00 p.m. Arrangements had already been made to fly Reynolds from Philadelphia to New York by helicopter for the ceremony where he would have appeared in his Navy dress uniform. To say it would have been inspiring would be an understatement.

It's just hard to fathom that ESPN and the Heisman Trust would whiff on this considering how much the media likes to hype their own "salutes to service." It doesn't even make sense from a business standpoint as Reynolds' presence at the ceremony would have increased ratings. And imagine the goosebump inducing video they could have produced interweaving his highlight runs (and there were many) with examples of the hard work and commitment it takes to graduate from the Naval Academy. Either they considered all of this and decided it was a bad idea or they failed to consider it altogether. Either way, they're inept.      

To invite Keenan Reynolds would have been the equivalent of going for two to win on the final play of the game except with absolutely no risk of failing. What possible downside could there have been? Baker Mayfield fans protesting outside the ceremony? (The fact that no one outside of Oklahoma knows who Baker Mayfield is kind of proves my point). It would've been such a simple gesture that would have meant something to all members of the military and it was right there in front of them. All they had to do was invite him. Instead, they decided to kick the extra point and play for overtime . . . and they fumbled the snap.


* If you want to read something about this cluster fuck that's written by someone qualified, t
he Washington Post published a Pulitzer Prize winning in-depth report on the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center back in 2007 which apparently served as a wake-up call to a whole bunch of people including those responsible for the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I'm pretty sure someone got fired. Beyond that, not much has changed considering that veterans are still waiting too long to get substandard medical care at shoddy rundown facilities.   

** Earlier this week, ESPN's Ryan Russillo and Danny Kanell, who have a radio show that should be called "Mommy Look at Me," decided to devote ten minutes of airtime to explaining how ESPN was actually the victim in this controversy. There were two plausible scenarios according to Kanell: (1) ESPN had no control over the process and was therefore being unjustly criticized or (2) ESPN hated Keenan Reynolds. This is straight out of the 24 hour news channel Jedi mind-trick textbook of offering two explanations for something, one that makes you look good and another that's too outrageous to be true so the listener is left with only the option of believing the one that makes you look good. Except in this case there was a third option as ESPN effectively acknowledged that it screwed-up when they fixed their mistake by putting Reynolds back on the ballot. Just admit that your company botched it Danny and get back to talking about what you and Ryan do when you're not talking about each other on the radio.