What a polarizing weekend of football.
In the “holy shit, what an amazing Sunday” department: Seven of the 13 games yesterday came down to a final minute score or failed game-winning drive. If you’re a betting man, you can add three more games to that list of excitement as the covers for three big favorites were in doubt until the very end (Atlanta, Carolina and Green Bay). So really we only had three games that didn’t register on the overstimulation meter (Dallas over Philadelphia, San Diego over Jacksonville and San Francisco over Tennessee). And the whole thing was capped off by one of the best games of the year when Indianapolis held on to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos. A great, great weekend of football.
Or was it?
In the “holy shit, what a terrible Sunday for the NFL” department: Way too many players suffered season-ending/long term injuries. Sam Bradford is done for the year in St. Louis (and possibly done forever for that particular team). Jay Cutler could be done for a while in Chicago (like Bradford, he’s a free agent after the season, terrible timing). Nick Foles is the only one of these three QBs who suffered a possible concussion, but he might be the only one not out for the season. Either way Philly is screwed if Matt Barkley spends any time as their starter. Doug Martin and Arian Foster are causing fantasy football owners everywhere to hold their breath as we wait for word on the severity of their injuries (UPDATE: I just turned on the NFL Network and saw that Marin has a torn labrum and is done for the year). Poor Brian Cushing is out for the season for the second consecutive year with a knee injury. The Colts probably felt like their huge win over Denver was bittersweet as news spread late last night/early this morning that Reggie Wayne might have a torn ACL (UPDATE: I’m also seeing now that the torn ACL is confirmed. Welcome to infirmary Monday). And worst of all…Jermichael Finley is in an intensive care unit with a neck injury as I write this. He took a vicious hit to the head in the Packers’ win over Cleveland. He also suffered a concussion in week 3. You’ve got to figure he’s out for the year.
And the lone overtime game of the weekend was marred by a controversial penalty that put the Jets in position to knock off the Patriots (This is not me saying the penalty was incorrect, just that it looks bad for the NFL to have a game end in such a questionable way…more on this below).
Football giveth and football taketh away…
It seems every year that most of the 32 NFL teams get leveled by injuries at one point of the season or another. If you got to choose for your team, you’d obviously pick for them to suffer key injuries in the preseason or early in the regular season rather than mid-to-late season.
Some examples of teams that started the year with key players missing (or lost them early in the season) and are just now getting them back healthy: Seattle (Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, Percy Harvin), Buffalo (the entire secondary it seems, and Stevie Johnson), Denver (Champ Bailey, Von Miller), Baltimore (Jacoby Jones, Ray Rice).
Some examples of teams that have only recently been decimated by injuries: Green Bay (Randall Cobb, James Jones, Finley, Clay Matthews), Chicago (even if Cutler is the only one, their season is ruined), Atlanta (Julio Jones is the new one, Roddy White, Steven Jackson and Sean Weatherspoon are the lingering injuries from earlier in the year), New England (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen), Houston (Matt Schaub, Cushing, possibly Foster and Ben Tate).
Most of those teams I just listed were legitimate playoff and even Super Bowl contenders. Unfortunately, like every year, injuries will play a major part in determining which team will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 2nd, 2014.
I’ve been patiently giving teams the benefit of the doubt for seven weeks, but it’s time to eliminate a handful of this year’s disappointments from playoff contention. If you remember back to weeks 9 and 10 from last season, I incorrectly wrote that Washington and Cincinnati were two teams with no shot at the playoffs. They both rallied in major ways to make me look bad (as if we needed more examples of my terrible NFL predictions). It wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of the following teams does the same thing this year. But let’s take a stab at it anyway:
Why? At 0-7 it’s pretty self-explanatory, but let’s go with…because they haven’t scored a friggen touchdown at home yet this season. Seriously, they have three field goals and a safety to their credit through three home games.
Why? Because at 2-5, they can only lose two more games to have a chance at the playoffs. They still have two games against Indianapolis and one each against Denver and New England. With injuries at quarterback as well as to both running backs and key linebacker Cushing, it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to win any of those four games.
Why? Their next three games are @New Orleans, home vs Kansas City and @Pittsburgh. They also have to go to New England in week 17. With EJ Manuel out for a little while longer, there’s no reason to think they’ll win any of those games. That means 8-8 is their best case scenario.
Why? Because by running Brandon Weeden out there week after week, they are basically admitting they’re not interested in competing this year. That’s not to say they’d be a Super Bowl contender without Weeden, but they’re good enough to maybe squeak out 9 or 10 wins in that division if anyone else with a pulse was playing QB.
Team I’m not eliminating yet that might surprise you: Oakland
Why? Yes, they’re 2-4. Yes, they were projected to be the worst team in football. But they’re not really playing that bad. And their QB situation is in much better shape than a lot of other teams. Oakland’s upcoming schedule after their bye looks like this: home Pittsburgh, home Philly, @Giants, @Houston, home Tennessee. What if they go 4-1 in those games? Anyone can beat the Giants in New Jersey right now, and Houston is falling apart quickly. It’s a long shot, but I’ll wait a couple more weeks before I write them off.
Why? Because their coach is probably getting fired after week 9. Because Mike Glennon is their QB. Because even if they magically become competent after their 0-6 start, they still have dates with Carolina (twice), Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans.
Why? Julio and Roddy. They just can’t compete with the good NFC teams due to key injuries. There are at least four more losses on their schedule, which puts them at 8-8 in a best case scenario.
Why? After tonight they’ll either be 1-6 or 0-7. There’s just no coming back from that hole.
Why? I’m counting on the Vikings being 1-5 after they lose to the Giants tonight, but even if they win that game, they’ve still got games against Green Bay (twice), @Dallas, @Seattle, @Baltimore and @Cincinnati. Without consulting the numbers, I’d be willing to guess they have the hardest schedule in the NFL from now through the end of the year.
Why? This team was already worse than its 4-3 record showed before Cutler apparently suffered a serious groin injury on Sunday. The defense is terrible. If they’re going forward with the Josh McCown/Jordan Palmer combo at QB, they’re beyond done.
Why? They weren’t likely to make the playoffs with a healthy Bradford. Now that his season is over? They might be one of the worst teams in football going forward.
Team I’m not eliminating yet that might surprise you: Arizona
Why? They’re the Cleveland of the NFC. Good talent on defense and special teams but a QB/O-line combo that’s holding them back. But the schedule might break right for them. They’re actually OK at home and they still get to host Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, St. Louis and San Francisco (in week 17 when the 49ers could be resting). Let’s say they go 3-2 in those games. Their remaining road games are Jacksonville, Philly, Tennessee and Seattle. All but the Seahawks could be in shambles by the time Arizona gets to them. What if they go 3-1 in those games? By my math, that’s a 9-7 record for the Cardinals. I know, I know, I should have just put them on the eliminated list and written “Carson Palmer.” But having a wild imagination is so much more fun.
This means the AFC has 12 teams fighting for six playoff spots, and the NFC has only 10 teams fighting for the same amount. Aren’t you glad we went through that useless exercise?
Going into the 2013 season you could have argued the following coaches were on the hot seat:
Here’s what that hot seat list looks like after 7 weeks:
Gary Kubiak – Probably more of a warm seat here. He did just lead this team to 12 wins last season and back-to-back playoff appearances. But it looked like the Texans were heading for a rough season regardless of health. Now that Matt Schaub is missing time, Cushing’s out for the year, and their running backs are banged up, the heat is off Kubiak because he’s not playing with a full deck.
Gus Bradley – Another warm seat more so than a hot seat. Typically a first year coach who was hired into an obvious rebuilding situation wouldn’t sniff the hot seat. But if the Jaguars go 0-16 and never score a touchdown in a home game? The organization might want to distance itself from 2013 as much as possible.
Tom Coughlin – A room temperature seat. Two Super Bowl Championships and possibly the most injured roster in the league gives him the leeway to lead this team to an utter disaster in 2013 without ownership relieving him of his duties.
Leslie Frazier – Lukewarm. I have no idea what ownership thinks of Frazier’s coaching skills. I have no idea what I think of those skills because he’s been hamstrung with Christian Ponder for the past couple years. Since I don’t hear any rumors in the media, I’m going to assume he’ll be given another chance in 2014.
Greg Schiano – BURNING HOT SEAT! THIRD DEGREE BURNS ON HIS ASS! I mentioned above that he might get fired after week 9. Why that specific spot on the schedule? Because I think the last straw comes when they lose at home to Carolina on Thursday. But you don’t want an interim coach’s first game at the helm to be at Seattle, which is where the Bucs play in week 9. So after Tampa falls to 0-8 with an embarrassing loss in Seattle, Schiano gets the pink slip. Part of me is excited to be right about this, part of me is sad that his foolishness will be out of our lives at least temporarily.
So if you’re keeping score at home, Schiano is the only coach to make the preseason hot seat list and the current hot seat list. What’s most exciting to me is that Josh Freeman was jettisoned from the Bucs because Schiano wanted to get his own guy, Mike Glennon, in as the starter. When a new full-time head coach takes over next year and ultimately drafts a QB in May, will Glennon suffer the same fate as Freeman?
Let’s quickly empty out the week 7 notebook:
- During Thursday night’s broadcast of Seattle’s win at Arizona, the NFL Network guys mentioned that the Cardinals’ athletic trainer is retiring after this week, ending a lengthy career as the team’s trainer. Is that a really weird time to retire from your job? Or is it normal for trainers of sports teams to retire midseason? Did he see the direction this season is going for Arizona and decide he wants out before the shit hits the fan? I’d like someone to tell me if this is normal or not.
- It seems like every Sunday morning a near-disaster almost causes me to miss the start of the early games. Last year my puppy suddenly came down with a severe flea infestation just one hour before week 1’s kickoff. Twice this year my internet went down about 30 minutes before kickoff (setting fantasy lineups and placing bets gets difficult without internet). Well yesterday the disaster was self-inflicted. My dog was laying on my bed. I decided to be funny and throw a blanket over her. As the blanket was in the air, I noticed a full glass of wine sitting on my nightstand. The blanket obviously knocked the glass over…except it was one of those stemless glasses, so rather than just fall onto the ground, the glass started spinning around on the nightstand, splattering red wine all over the bedroom. I’m talking on the walls, in the closet, all over my girlfriend’s clothes, on every piece of furniture in the room, and even on the dog. This resulted in a 30-minute cleanup effort that almost forced me to have to choose between hunting down a breakfast burrito and catching the opening of the Patriots game. I need to start waking up earlier to account for these interruptions.
- I love watching good football, but a close second for me is seeing completely inept football. You can imagine I loved the opening 10 minutes of the early games on Sunday since we got opening drives across the league that resulted in two Pick-Sixes (Ryan Tannehill and Sam Bradford) and a Fumble-Six (Mike Glennon).
- Pick-Sixes would rule the day as Geno Smith, Tom Brady and Jay Cutler would all join in on the fun.
- This week’s example of football making no sense on a week-by-week basis: It took nearly 42 minutes of game time on Sunday for the first points to be scored in the Dallas-Philadelphia game. Going into week 7, Dallas had the 8th-ranked offense and 21st-ranked defense. Philadelphia had the 2nd-ranked offense and 30th-ranked defense. This should have been a shootout, except football makes no sense.
- I’m going to take the high road on the ending of that Patriots-Jets game. It sounds to me like the rule actually exists and the referee called it as the rule book states. But I saw several reporters mention that the NFL recently circulated video to the refs showing that they were repeatedly missing this call. The refs were on high alert, and the Patriots were just unlucky to be the first team to commit the infraction under the heightened scrutiny. And really, what are we arguing about? If I played a game of 1-on-1 basketball against a four-year-old right now, and I was called for a foul at the end of the game that A). was a bullshit foul, and B). resulted in that four-year-old pulling off the win, I would look ridiculous blaming the entire thing on that one foul. Why is the toddler within one basket of me when I should be absolutely dominating him? That’s a perfect comparison to that game.
- The Patriots clearly win my Vitriol Award of the Week. Especially the 2nd and 3rd quarters when they had chance after chance to stretch the lead to 18 or 21 points.
- It was with 1:30 left in the 3rd quarter, when the Jets took a six-point lead, that I uttered these words for the first time in my life: “I wanna quit watching football forever.”
- Still looking for a silver lining to that game, Pats fans? Well for long stretches of last night’s game against Indy, the Broncos’ offense looked as bad as the Patriots’. Yes, even the record-setting Broncos, with a mostly healthy offense, can look terrible.
- Jim Irsay’s comments, the tribute to Peyton Manning while he was warming up, having the roof open (which they never do)…you gotta give Indy credit. They weren’t shy at all about going to great lengths to throw Manning off his game.
- Speaking of the Colts…I was screwing around on my betting website on Saturday night and noticed their odds to win the Super Bowl were still 20/1. I immediately put a few bucks down on them to win it all. Call it a hunch, call it financial irresponsibility…all I know is that as of this morning, their odds are down to 14/1. If Andrew Luck stays healthy, this is an 11-5 team at worst. And very possibly the #2 seed in the AFC.
- This week’s “semi-amazing cover”: I had Houston as a 7-point underdog. They’re down by 1 with the ball on their own 5-yard line with under two minutes to play. Case Keenum gets strip sacked by a Kansas City defender who grabs the ball and rolls to the 1-yard line. He’s barely touched by a Houston player so he’s down at the 1. My first thought is, “Fuck, from the 1-yard line they’ll probably still punch it in because what else are you gonna do from that spot on the field?” And then I realize scoring a touchdown gives the Texans the ball back and it would still be a one score game. Three kneel downs by Alex Smith later and I’m a slightly richer man. Thank you, gambling gods.
- Oh, but my record for the week sits at 6-8, another disappointing set of picks. Bite me, gambling gods.
Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.