The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: The NFL Playoffs Cometh

The post-Christmas season is perhaps the best time of the year for American Football fans. Even though it’s not even week 17 in the NFL, many eyes are beginning to turn towards the playoffs. It’s not hard to blame them either, with only the Steelers and Jets jockeying to be included in the top 12 teams. Everybody else is playing for positioning, so without further adieu, let me introduce you to the wild card playoff and potential wild card playoff teams:

AFC:

Pittsburgh Steelers: If there’s anybody listening to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” it’s this Steelers team. Right now on the outside looking in, they have to win against the Cleveland Browns (not a hard task) and hope the Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets. Crazier things have happened, sure, but don’t get your hopes up Steelers fans. That being said, if they can make it, they’re a force to be reckoned with. I could easily imagine this Steelers team playing for a 7th Super Bowl in San Francisco. If they make the playoffs.

New York Jets: Win and they’re in. It’s just that simple. And it’s not like this is a bad team that got lucky. The Jets are sneaky good. The one potential matchup I don’t like for them is potentially at the Kansas City Chiefs. Otherwise I could easily see this team do well against every other team in the playoffs, including the Patriots.

Kansas City Chiefs: Where to begin with this team? Clearly they’re one of the best in the AFC right now. Winning potentially ten games in a row leading into the playoffs and looking more powerful each week is not something you see from bad or even average teams. This team is my personal pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year hands down. Anything is possible for sure, but if they somehow manage to gain a home field advantage in the Wild Card game their opponent better mutter prayers throughout the entire game. Because they’re gonna need all the miracles plus one to beat this Chiefs team.

Houston Texans: Even though this team could finish 8-8, NEVER underestimate a playoff team at home. The playoffs are entirely different animal, and home field advantage takes on an entirely new meaning in the playoffs. Just ask the 2010 New Orleans Saints and the 2014 Arizona Cardinals. Nevertheless, the Houston Texans should be hoping for a matchup between them and the Denver Broncos the most. I think the aforementioned Jets and Chiefs are just too good and the Broncos give the Texans the best shot to move on to most likely the Patriots.

Cincinnati Bengals: I’m so sorry Cincinnati fans. If the Broncos beat the Chargers next week then you’re just s.o.l. I have little faith in the Bengals because you’ve been good before but somehow lose everything you gained in the playoffs. Especially without Andy Dalton, my faith-o-meter is just above zero. I’m not saying you don’t have a chance, everybody has a chance in the playoffs (see the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants), but other teams would die to play you in the playoffs. Your best shot at moving on? The other team keeling over and dying of a heart attack.

Denver Broncos: Best case scenario? Beating the Chargers and getting a bye for the Wild Card. Worst Case Scenario? Losing to the Chargers, the Jets winning and having to travel to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Chiefs. Again, my faith-o-meter is barely above zero, and while it’s higher than the Bengals I don’t see this team beating the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.

Patriots fans don’t worry. You’ve got the bye during Wild Card week.

NFC:

Seattle Seahawks: This team can do it. Maybe. They’ve definitely gotten better since the start of the season, but they’re not as good as they’ve been the past two seasons. They have at least an even matchup in the playoffs against either the Vikings or Packers. Their best shot would be against the Redskins, but that matchup is highly unlikely at this point. I don’t expect to see them make it past the second round.

Minnesota Vikings: For all their talk about not wanting to see Green Bay win the NFC North again, it might be in their best interests to lose this week and hope Seattle loses to Arizona. If Seattle does as they hope they would get a favorable matchup against the Redskins and potentially avoid a game against the Arizona Cardinals until the Conference Championship. Making it to the Super Bowl with the stacked teams waiting for them in the Divisional Round is a tall order, but they could do it. Especially if they play it tactically.

Washington Redskins: For all the hate they’re getting from me (they’re the team all the other NFC teams want to play in the Wild Card), they’re going to get more love than the Bengals and the Broncos. Why? Because I’ve seen this before, 8 years ago and 4 years ago by another NFC East team called the Giants. Nobody gave them any chance either of those years, and this Redskins team reminds me of both of those squads. Does that mean they’re going to make it out of Wild Card weekend? Hell no. Their best bet to get out alive and advance to play either the Cardinals or Panthers is through the Vikings in the Wild Card weekend. And that’s hardly a good bet.

Green Bay Packers: Again, this team should be looking to lose this weekend to play the Redskins. This time it’s easier: they lose, they play the Redskins, profit. As much as they’d probably love to play at Lambeau Field, their best bet goes through FedEx Field. The critics would absolutely hate this because they’d miss out on a potential ratings bonanza between the Seahawks and Packers. That being said if they continue to play the way they played against Arizona last week this Packers team isn’t making it past the Divisionals, even if they play Seattle or Minnesota in Lambeau.

Cardinals and Panthers have both clinched the bye week.

With all that said and done, this appears like it’s going to be an entertaining Wild Card weekend no matter who wins or loses. I have never been more excited for the playoffs (okay that’s a lie. When I was 7 and watching my Buccaneers steamroll their way to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory, THAT was exciting). They will no doubt entertain everyone. Except for Bengals fans. For them it’ll likely be painful. (P.S. I will seriously eat my words if they win. And if they do y’all can comment with whatever humiliating punishment I should face. Nothing too extreme like running around in a bra though.)

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: The NFL Playoffs Cometh

Where The Chips May Fall: My Thought on The Firing of Chip Kelly

I was originally going to post something about the NFL Playoffs and how I thought everything was going to fall up into the Divisional Round. The Philadelphia Eagles had different plans for me tonight with their firing of Chip Kelly. That doesn’t mean I won’t my playoff preview, I’ll probably end up doing it tomorrow. But oh man did this really come out of nowhere. Where to begin?

I think we have to start with the firing itself. It’s not entirely surprising, considering the dumpster fire that the Eagles season has been. Losing back to back games with 40+ points dropped on them each of those games and with nearly 40 dumped on them during Saturday’s matchup against the Redskins it was pretty much inevitable. Except I can think of coaches that have had bad seasons like this before after doing well in previous seasons being given another chance. The difference between them and Chip is that Chip Kelly had just gotten control of trading and cutting players that he felt necessary a mere ten months ago. And, rather inadvertently, gutted this Eagles team in the process. Whether gutting the team and starting from scratch was his plan or that he thought he was upgrading is not something I know nor something I can speculate on. In essence his downfall is rooted in his Pyrrhic victory. Kelly the GM, as so many people have said already, killed Kelly the coach. But what happens next?

For the Eagles, it’s back to the drawing board. And as much as Eagles fans will hate to hear this, it’s going to be painful for a couple of years. Unless they can get the right combination of coaches and they can pick up the right players in free agency, I don’t expect this franchise to see the light of the playoffs until the 2018-2019 season. The next coach has to be at least decent though in order for that to happen, and even that’s stretching it if they make poor choices in their players. Take it from a Buccaneers and Bills fan. Going back to the drawing board is always painful and always results in short term struggles. Beyond the 2018 season? Nobody can really have a good idea of what happens beyond that point. Maybe the Eagles get a great head coach and draft the next Tom Brady and become the next dynasty. Maybe the Eagles pick a terrible head coach and draft the next Ryan Leaf and go on a playoff drought. There’s no way of telling what happens, only that in three years you’ll know whether your next coach was a success or failure.

As for the Chip Kelly, I think he’s likely going to be on another NFL team by the end of January. There’s speculation the Titans might grab him because he has ties to Marcus Mariota, but I’m thinking that the Cleveland Browns in particular might come a callin’, especially because of Johnny Manzeil. Chip Kelly did particularly well with quarterbacks like Manziel during college and even his first season with the Eagles. The rather listless Browns offense could use an invigoration from Chip. The San Francisco 49ers, depending on the patience of their owner with Jim Tomsula, might go after Chip Kelly as well. After all, you could do worse (like Joe Philbin). There’s also the (small) chance he could land back in college football for a season or so. If say (for example) the Dallas Cowboys fire Jason Garrett and choose Art Briles from Baylor to be their next coach, Chip Kelly could easily land that job no questions asked. Realistically speaking though the best chance he has of being a head coach next year is in the NFL.

In the end Chip Kelly is probably the winner in the big picture. Unless the unimaginable happens and he doesn’t get an NFL job within the next two years, he’s the obvious short term winner in this arrangement. He gets to go to greener pastures where the future is brighter than in Philadelphia. But, in an NFL where making the playoffs is hard, the Eagles are back to square one, a place they weren’t when they fired Andy Reid nearly three years ago.

Where The Chips May Fall: My Thought on The Firing of Chip Kelly

Called It!

I’m going to take a moment to gloat: most football fans thought that the Washington Redskins had no chance of making the playoffs when week three of the season rolled around. That was when I said that they were probably going to win the division. Most sports experts said “No way. They’re a dumpster fire.”

The Redskins clinched their division officially yesterday, marking an improbable turnaround from the last two seasons.

What I saw in the Redskins was simple: they were a scrappy team that played to the level of their opponents. Normally that’s a bad thing, but when they had to, they found ways to win, like against the Eagles in week four or the Buccaneers in week seven. They have a decent coach in Jay Gruden and a far better quarterback in Kirk Cousins than in RGIII.

Week nine, when they played the Patriots, was that kind of moment where it really hit me that they could win the NFC East. Not a hard feat this year, considering the injury struggles of the Cowboys and the lackluster shells of the Eagles and Giants. Even though they lost, the way they played and how the kept the Patriots from scoring more than 30 points was impressive. Sloppy? Definitely. Talented? Definitely.

Is this version of the Washington Redskins good? They could be. To me this team reminds me of the 2007 Giants and the 2011 Giants. Am I saying these Redskins are going to go on a miracle run and topple the Patriots in the Super Bowl, like both Giants teams did? Hell no. But if you underestimate this team in the playoffs, you’ll be going home to watch them play against the Cardinals and Panthers.

Called It!

Pats vs Cats: Are the 2015 Carolina Panthers Better Than the 2007 Patriots?

It’s an age old question sports pundits and fans love to talk about: Who’s better? Michael Jordan or Lebron James? Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? The 1996 Chicago Bulls or the 2015 Golden State Warriors?

Those are all being put on the back-burner for a later time. Maybe if I decide to do a series on this or something. The who would win question I’m asking today is not something I’m seeing a lot of, mostly because it hasn’t happened yet or because people dismiss it as “obvious”. Who would win a hypothetical matchup: the undefeated (so far) 2015 Carolina Panthers or the undefeated New England Patriots?

Now, there’s obviously a ton of variables that come into play: what’s the weather like? Sleep is even a factor. So let me set up the conditions of this matchup: both teams are fully healthy, well rested, the game is in Glendale, Arizona (the location of Super Bowl XLII), and since it’s played in a dome you have fair weather conditions. No snow, no rain, no freezing temperatures. Just two unbeatens (presumably) ready to leave it on the field.

The answer is obviously the 2015 Carolina Panthers.

I’m pretty sure if you’re a Patriots fan or a fan of football in general you’re probably cussing me out and about to leave. Hear me out. This has nothing to do with “Oh those 2007 Patriots SUCKED”. They obviously didn’t suck, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone undefeated. The 2015 Panthers are just better. Let’s take a look:

The 2007 Pats were excellent. They had excellent wideouts, an excellent quarterback, and they won. They had a capable defense led by Vince Wilfork and Mike Vrabel, two players who I see going to the Hall of Fame. They also set records galore. Records that probably won’t be broken in my lifetime unless something drastically changes in the NFL. How the hell can you beat them?

No team except the Giants could in 2007, and that was barely with a couple miracles in the Super Bowl. The 2015 Carolina Panthers could easily have shredded everybody that stood in their way if they magically replaced the 2007 Panthers. Why am I so confident in their abilities? Well:

Their defense is absolutely astonishing. Fully healthy, I don’t think there’s any team other than perhaps the 2015 Arizona Cardinals that could stand up to them and really win. Yeah, they do get overconfident, but that’s their only flaw really. They can shut down pretty much anybody for three quarters of a game, especially one dimensional offenses. Josh Norman is one of the best corners in the league, their defensive line is stellar, and they have a linebacker in Luke Kuechly that can do pretty much anything, and he’s not even the leading tackler on that defense. The Patriots from 2007 were really one dimensional. Their running game was “meh” at best, and that hurt them when they played against good defenses such as the Giants. And while the Patriots aerial assault was record shattering, it would have had trouble against the Panthers defense. Brady might not get sacked too much behind that impressive o-line, but receivers would struggle mightily. That’s not to say he couldn’t get an amazing throw and catch in there. He is Tom Brady after all. But even the greatest generals can’t win every battle, especially if they’re hopelessly outgunned.

The outgunning occurs when the Panthers are on offense and the Patriots are on defense. While the Patriots had a good defense, it was ill-equipped to handle an offense from 2015. In 2007 the league had yet to experience the Wildcat formation, let alone a versatile quarterback who can run and pass, run options or run the Wildcat. It also wasn’t a league where tight ends did a ton of catching, so Greg Olsen would be also shock to this defense. Even though this Carolina team hasn’t set the gaudy records that the Patriots have, I find it hard to believe that this defense could slow down the brutal attack that can be the 2015 Panthers offense (just ask the 2015 Washington defense).

Comparing their strengths of schedule, I would argue that if you try and frame this argument from that point of view the Patriots are actually weaker. People seem to forget that the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets that year combined just 5 wins total, while in the case of Carolina, their worst divisional opponent has 5 wins (the New Orleans Saints). The Panthers also had to win in Seattle (a rare feat only done by the best teams these days) and against a red hot Packers team. These things are hard to do, and while the Panthers may have to defeat somebody with the caliber of the Cardinals like the Patriots did with the Colts to convince some people that these Panthers are legit, these Panthers are surely capable of it.

The simple point is that I would take the 2015 Panthers any day over the 2007 Patriots, with no offense intended to them, just as I’d take the 2007 Patriots over the 1972 Dolphins any day. The Panthers are just simply a better team, perhaps not in every facet of the game, but overall they’re more complete. Bill Belichick is arguably a better coach than Ron Rivera, and Tom Brady-Randy Moss is arguably the best quarterback-wide receiver duo in the history of the sport. It doesn’t mean that team is better though. Time warp them to the present, it’s hard for me to see them doing as well now as they did back in 2007. Time warp that team to the last drive of last year’s Super Bowl, they probably aren’t going home with the Lombardi trophy. That 2007 Patriots team was indeed the best team in football history for a while. Today, though, that simply is no longer the case.

Pats vs Cats: Are the 2015 Carolina Panthers Better Than the 2007 Patriots?

Under The Radar: Alabama Men’s Basketball

I haven’t followed every NCAA basketball team this season. How can I? I am but a single man who has basic cable in a student apartment who has other duties outside of watching every basketball game. There’s just been one question, nagging at me as the season has gone on:

Where is the love for Alabama Basketball?

If you’re just a casual fan, this may come as a bit of a shock. Alabama has a basketball team? Indeed they do, and they are by far one of the most underrated teams in the sport right now. Sure, it doesn’t matter right now considering Conference play is just around the corner. It just irks me that such a good team is being overlooked by the nation, especially by the AP Poll.

Now, I have to address my Alabama bias. Yes, I love the Crimson Tide. I go to school here at the University of Alabama, and I’ll bleed Crimson until the day I die. With that being said, I want to assure whoever is reading this that what I’m saying is based on statistical evidence. I’m trying hard to not let my bias interfere with this, and for people in schools that are being overlooked like Alabama this is about you too. This same argument can be applied to your team as well. With that out of the way:

As of this post, the AP Poll currently has Kentucky at number 4. Now, that’s likely to change given that Kentucky lost to Ohio State, but they’re still probably going to be ranked. They have the same amount of losses as Alabama at the time of this post (2). Let’s compare the two losses: Kentucky has lost to UCLA and Ohio State. Both respectable teams to be sure, this is not a knock against a Kentucky team expected to be rebuilding. But if we compare that to Alabama’s losses (Xavier and Dayton), you can see that Alabama’s losses are stronger than Kentucky’s losses. Xavier is a top ten team, and Dayton is on the threshold of the top 25, while UCLA is also on that threshold and Ohio State is mere cannon fodder this season.

“Well, okay” you might say. “But what about the teams they’ve beaten? Surely Kentucky has that nailed.” Well, the schedule says otherwise. Alabama has beaten two powerhouse teams away from home (Wichita State and Notre Dame, both of which got votes by the AP Poll last week) and Kentucky beat Duke at home. Duke is pretty good, but that’s the only solid, good team they beat. And while Notre Dame isn’t solidly good, there’s a reason many experts expected them to go dancing before the season began.

My point isn’t to disparage Kentucky. They’re absolutely an amazing team that deserves the recognition for their good. My point is that there are teams that are good, like really really good. Teams like South Carolina, who thrash the teams they’re supposed to thrash (They’re 10-0 by the way. That’s not something you see non-Top 25 teams do.) They’re ranked 30th in the FPI. Guess who’s behind them? Duke. There are teams like Alabama, who are actually good but don’t get the recognition they deserve. Alabama is ranked 22nd in the FPI, but they haven’t received a single vote in either the AP or USA Today Polls. At least South Carolina is ranked in the USA Today Poll and has several votes in the AP Poll.

Alabama at least deserves some recognition for the gauntlet that they’ve run through this season so far. Avery Johnson deserves a ton of credit for how far he’s brought this team in only a year, from NIT nobodies to contenders for March Madness. It’s in the stats: this is a worthy team that deserves to dance far more than some teams that the people in the AP Poll are voting for. And if this team somehow manages to knock off Kentucky January 9th, everyone else might be shocked, but I wouldn’t be. They’re that good this season.

Under The Radar: Alabama Men’s Basketball