Sunday, December 27, 2015

Week 16 NFL notes

The American bureau of Al Jazeera apparently found a story no other American news outlet wanted to touch, because one of the NFL’s sacred cows, Peyton Manning, was being accused of using illegal drugs, in this case human growth hormone (HGH), supplied by an Indianapolis clinic in 2011 through his wife. When asked about it by an ESPN commentator, Manning reportedly reacted with a combination of dismay, hysterical amusement and then outrage; sure sounds “guilty” to me. After all, that was a “long” time ago, so why bring it up now? Alex Rodriguez only got banned from baseball for a year for something he did 10 years earlier. Look, why do you think the players’ union opposed HGH testing until last year? Manning was recovering from a serious neck injury; if he was a “private citizen” and not a professional football player, using HGH might be recommended for him. He doesn’t need to do a Roger Clemens when everyone knew that he was lying. I don’t think the story was “made up,” just that the sources of the source are mad that a “confidence” was revealed without their consent. We need to move on from this, so that accusations of hypocrisy don’t fill the air with too much of its stench.

This week perhaps had the most fascinating results all season. To wit:

Falcons 20 Panthers 13. The now 14-1 Panthers are not that good a team, just as the 1972 Miami Dolphins were not, but were fortunate to play a schedule which featured only two games against teams that had barely above .500 records (8-6) by season’s end (they also won each of their playoff games by only one score). The Panthers have played against only two teams outside their division currently with barely above .500 records (I’m not counting the Packers, because they proved once again that they can’t compete against above .500 teams), and a combined .433 overall. The team within their division with a winning record (the Falcons), are only so because they unbelievably won this game, after a 38-0 thrashing a few weeks earlier. The Falcons’ Julio Jones manhandled Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman, catching passes for more yardage (178) than Cam Newton threw (142). When people say that Newton was just “OK” in this game, what does that mean? He was bad in this game, showing what happens when teams actually pressure him all day; the “superman” failed to rally the troops at the end, with a sack/fumble with under two minutes to play.

Jets 26 Patriots 20. So people will talk about the “questionable” decision of Bill Belichick to defer the first possession in overtime to the Jets, but there was a “method” to the “madness,” as they say; after all, Belichick is a “genius” coach, is he not? The real story of the game was that the Jets did validate their season with this victory, and this was only possible with a “real” quarterback at helm; it goes to show how a team can waste two years trying to be stay ahead of the quarterback “curve” when in fact they were merely falling behind it.

Ravens 20 Steelers 17. In probably the most surprising result of the day, Ryan Mallett arrived back on the scene to have the best game of his admittedly checkered career, just in time to nearly ruin the Steelers’ season; along with the Seahawks they were supposed to be the most dangerous team heading into the playoffs, and now they will not even make it that far if the Jets win next week. 

Rams 23 Seahawks 17. Listening to Seahawks’ play-by-play announcer Steve Raible’s 200-decibel call of the Seahawks’ junk touchdown in the waning seconds of this lost game was annoying enough, but listening to some radio personality on another station (Dick Fain) first claim the game didn’t matter, then go on a sobsister tangent about everything that didn’t go the Seahawks way in the game, followed-up by Hugh Millen telling us how much contempt he has for Rams coach Jeff Fisher (did Fisher do something to make this “personal”?), just helped to remind me how much I get a “kick” out of this team losing. Russell Wilson threw an interception and fumbled near the goal line that ultimately cost the Seahawks the game, but all anyone wants to talk about is the offensive line play (again), even though it was Wilson and not the linemen who was responsible for his gaffes; like Newton, Wilson can be neutralized by pressure, and that is how a Rams team that gained only 207 yards of total offense can win.

Cardinals 38 Packers 8. I heard someone say that the Packers are the worst team heading into the playoffs, and I hate to admit it but that is probably right. The Cardinals are a good team, but the Packers are that bad. Although that stat line doesn’t necessarily show it, Aaron Rodgers had what can only be described as the worst game of his career in “leading” the Packers to their worst loss under his startership. After a Carson Palmer pass was intercepted giving the Packers the ball deep inside of Cardinal territory, Rodgers blew a chance to make it a three-point game heading into halftime by throwing an ugly interception at the goal line (something he has done before this season), and then fumbling the ball twice to be returned for touchdowns. Yes, he was sacked eight times, blame the line, blah, blah, but the truth of the matter is that the Packers haven’t had a quality win all year (not even the Seahawks game in the second week) against a good team. I still expect that Packers to take the division next week against the Vikings (because the Vikings are over-rated), but it is almost impossible to imagine how they can be competitive against any of the other playoff-bound teams.

Chiefs 17 Browns 13. Well, at least we can say that Johnny Manziel is “fun” to watch. He ran eleven times for 108 yards, and nearly pulled out a victory out of his fundament after the Chiefs led 17-3 at halftime. On the Browns’ final possession with under two minutes to play, Manziel completed just 3 of 9 passes, but somehow got the Browns down to the Chiefs’ 18 after a fourth down completion—except that time ran out; it might have helped if he had completed just one of those other passes. In the meantime, the Chiefs somehow have won nine straight games, but would it surprise you to learn that seven of those victories were against teams with losing records, and the other two against Landry Jones quarterbacking the Steelers, and a dead-armed Peyton Manning throwing four interceptions and having a passer rating of 0.00?

Redskins 38 Eagles 24. Three weeks ago the Redskins were 5-7 and written off after an inexplicable loss to the Cowboys. Three weeks later, they are the NFC East “champions,” if that means anything. They don’t have a single quality win under their belt, every one of the teams they have beaten having losing records. But at least the Redskins don’t appear dysfunctional, like the Packers.

Vikings 49 Giants 17. Isn’t this game over yet? Who needs an offense when you have the other team’s quarterback making plays for your team? Odell Beckham’s absence couldn’t make this much difference; maybe Eli Manning is having visions of him on the field and throwing it to him, except that the only guy there is the one for the other team. Not that the coach is doing any better; oh sure, onside kick it with the score 32-10 and you are out of the playoffs anyways, and then watch it actually returned 27 yards for a short-field touchdown to add further embarrassment.  OK, now they go for it on fourth-and-one deep on their side; that only leads to more points for the other team. “Smart” move. Teddy Bridgewater only had to sleepwalk through this game, throwing for just 168 yards—and only his second TD pass all year that travelled at least 20 yards downfield. The upshot is that the Vikings have clinched a playoff berth now; I had assumed that the Packers would take the NFC North with a win at home next week. Now I’m not half as certain. Unfortunately for the Packers, the game is being moved from its 1 PM slot to a “primetime” start of 7:30 PM—and I suspect that they will wilt under the glare of a national audience.

The rest of the schedule was fairly inconsequential. The Colts might be on life support after beating the Dolphins, but the Texans are going win the AFC South no matter what the “experts” say after their victory over the hapless Titans. How does Charlie Whitehurst still have a job in this league when Matt Flynn doesn’t? Because people mistake him for Jesus Christ with that beard and long mane of his (hence his nickname from his Seahawk days—“Clipboard Jesus”)? The Lions beat up on the 49ers, but I bet Blaine Gabbert is looking at his stat lines and thinking that at least he had a chance to “improve” on his previously merely horrible numbers—or at least they look better than Colin Kaepernick’s. As bad as the Cowboys played offensively, it was a succession of failed third down stops on a 92-yard TD drive late in the game that gave the equally hapless Bills a victory, 16-6. Drew Brees threw for more than 400 yards in a win over the Jaguars in what some are saying will be his last home game in New Orleans. 80 of Jameis Winston’s 295 yards passing came on a spectacular final minute drive; now why couldn’t he have played like that the rest of the game in a loss to the Bears? The Chargers and the Raiders either punted or turned over the ball 11 times in succession in the second half of their game, until the Chargers gave the game away by fumbling the ball all the way down to their own three-yard line, allowing the Raiders who had essentially done nothing offensively the entire game to take the lead. The Chargers would tie the game and send it into OT, but the Raiders prevailed 23-20.

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