Tag Archives: Ben Roethlisberger

The BielemaMeter: Remember to Respect the #MACtion

When, I find myself tasked with a difficult situation, I simply ask myself: if Bret Bielema were in this situation, what would Bret Bielema do? Then, once I have determined that answer, I proceed to do the exact opposite of that thing.

Why? Because, you see, Bret Bielema is an idiot.

On a highly-classified list of the MAC’s Ten Most Wanted, Bret Bielema clearly ranks Public Enemy #1. And it all goes back to September 9, 2015, when Bret Bielema unfortunately found himself in front of a microphone.

First off, everybody knows criticizing cupcake schedules is a thankless job reserved for stooges like me who write for college sports blogs. For the head coach of an SEC football team? Way out of bounds. Cool your jets, Bret. Bielema’s jab at a clearly better coach and a clearly better program also contained some hidden commentary. Ohio State’s 2015 schedule featured noteworthy bouts against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois- two of the MAC’s strongest programs. Was Bielema suggesting that the Mid-American Conference isn’t worthy?

That’s right, folks. Bret Bielema made a critical error. Bret Bielema didn’t respect the #MACtion.

Bret Bielema also paid the price. Just three days after dismissing the MAC as an inferior conference, Toledo stormed their way into Fayetteville and took Bielema to the cleaners, rocketing the Razorbacks straight back to reality. The takeaway? There is one, simple rule when it comes to non-conference #MACtion:

No one is safe.

With that in mind, let’s analyze all five of the MAC’s opportunities to pull off upsets against AP Top 25 teams early this season. I’ll break down each game and then rank the likelihood of an upset based on a super-duper scientific metric known as the BielemaMeter. Essentially, the more Bielema it sounds, the more Bielema it is; the more Bielema it is, the more likely a Power Five team is about to come crashing down.

Week 1: Miami (OH) at #17 Iowa

Last time the RedHawks faced the Hawkeyes, a young Ben Roethlisberger stood under center, throwing four interceptions in a 21-3 thumping at Kinnick Stadium. The RedHawks won every other game in the 2003 season, chalking up the Iowa game as another exercise in what could’ve been.

There will be no one loss seasons for the RedHawks this time around. Miami is still undergoing a Chuck Martin rebuild, leaving them at least another year away from any legitimate contention against a top echelon squad.

Meanwhile, Iowa returns much of the talent that garnered a Rose Bowl big a season ago. The defense returns eight starters, including Jim Thorpe Award-winner Desmond King. The offense also returns eight starters, including quarterback C.J. Beathard and many vital components to 2015’s vibrant rushing attack. In Week 1, Iowa will basically be starting where they left off. Miami? Not so much. There’s still too much work to do in Oxford.

BielemaMeter: a Rose Bowl victory. You can’t get any less Bret Bielema than a Rose Bowl victory. Iowa shouldn’t have any trouble dispatching the RedHawks, so long as Billy Bahl doesn’t morph into Ben Roethlisberger through some fratty, Miami wizardry.

Week 1: Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State

I won’t lie: I think Bowling Green can keep this game interesting for about a quarter. Then, Ohio State’s firepower takes over. It’ll be intriguing to see how Ohio State copes with the departure of twelve draftees, but it won’t be because Bowling Green displays any ability to expose them.

We’ve seen Ohio State slouch down to non-conference competition in seasons past. Remember when Northern Illinois almost caught the 2015 Buckeyes napping? I suspect, with a younger team now hungry to prove themselves, the 2016 Buckeyes won’t follow suit. Bowling Green needs to string together a load of big plays to mount any chance in countering the speed, size, and skill of this Ohio State team. As confident as I am in picking Bowling Green to carry the MAC East, I don’t see nearly enough experience in this team to warrant any expectation for a competitive game.

BielemaMeter: the state of Wisconsin. Bielema flirted with Wisconsin for a few years before defecting to Arkansas. I expect Ohio State to flirt briefly with losing before sending Bowling Green back to the wrong side of Ohio.

Week 2: Central Michigan at #21 Oklahoma State

These are two teams that everybody is sleeping on. In a questionable Big 12, who’s to say the Cowboys can’t claim the conference? And who’s to say Central Michigan can’t create some mischief in a hotly-contested MAC West?

Oklahoma State opens their season tomorrow against Southeastern Louisiana, which certainly isn’t a very inspired choice. Thus, the Chippewas provide Oklahoma State their season with its first real dose of competition. The same was true last year, when the Chippewas opened their season in Stillwater with a 24-13 defeat.

With offensive weapons like Mason Rudolph, Marcell Ateman, and James Washington, expect Oklahoma State to score many points and throw many passes. Their running game suffered last season, a weakness Central Michigan’s defense might be able to capitalize on. Ultimately, Oklahoma State is going to score a massive amount of points. Either Cooper Rush and Central Michigan reciprocate, or they become just another bullseye in a round of Pistol Pete’s target practice.

BilemaMeter: an SEC championship. Bielema has never won an SEC championship, nor do I ever expect him to. But, if one day every other SEC team vanished out of thin air, there’s at least a slight chance Bielema could win it. Similarly, I don’t expect Central Michigan to beat Oklahoma State, but I’m leaving the window of opportunity cracked slightly open as a member of the Cooper Rush fan club.

Week 3: Ohio at #9 Tennessee

I’m certainly not sold on Butch Jones and the Volunteers this early in the season. After Thursday’s atrocious showing against Appalachian State, nobody is.

Tennessee’s offensive line bordered on disaster last night, which is something they’ll obviously need to correct if they hope to make a run in the SEC. But never mind the SEC, how about the Ohio Bobcats? Ohio features perhaps the stiffest front seven in all the MAC, a battle in the trenches for which Tennessee might not be adequately prepared. Plus, Tennessee’s tilt against the Bobcats serves as a wedge between two very high-profile contests: one at Bristol Speedway against Virginia Tech, one against the Florida Gators that may decide the SEC East.

Ohio certainly lacks the flash you’d expect out of a promising underdog, but the skill pieces are in place for the Bobcats to compete. The Bobcats can out-grind even the grittiest of opponents when Frank Solich has them firing on all cylinders- even those in Bielema’s beloved SEC. Granted, Ohio doesn’t look quite as strong as in years past, and they’ll likely need poise from an inexperienced Greg Windham to secure a fighting chance. But Butch Jones is prone to slow starts, and the climate seems right for another SEC shakeup. When it comes to #MACtion, anything is possible.

BielemaMeter: Jen Bielema. Yes, the wife of the Bretmaster happens to be smoking hot– just like this matchup’s BielemaMeter. Tennessee, beware- the Bobcats are on the prowl. One more disappointing season, and we may forget why we’re even supposed to care about you.

Week 4: Kent State at #1 Alabama

LOL.

BielemaMeter: freshly-tossed salad. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Bret Bielema venturing among leafy greens, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody willing to bet against the Crimson Tide in a shameless, non-conference cakewalk. Remember to respect the #MACtion Bret, or you may be eating spinach and romaine for the remainder of your days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

College Football Playoff Lands MAC on Life Support

Approaching its third year, the College Football Playoff has undoubtedly defibrillated a BCS-weary college football crowd, invigorating the game with a newfound excitement sure to boost competition, TV revenues, and AD expenditures to unprecedented heights. Conferences have realigned to a Power Five structure supporting the best and biggest programs and the playoff committee has coerced teams into streamlining schedules to include more and more top talent, as the NCAA reaps the benefits. For the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the country, vital signs are strong.

The Akron’s and Toledo’s, however, are in critical condition.

Smaller schools in the Mid-American Conference and around the country simply cannot compete with these elevated levels of funding and competition. For better or for worse, the College Football Playoff consolidates both football and financial strength at the top, hyper-commercializing the game and leaving less prolific programs fighting for scraps at the bottom. A case study of the MAC yields all the evidence.

Remember when Mid-American Conference football meant something? Remember when “Mid-American” summarized not just the member schools’ geography, but also their quality of football: average? Think back only a matter of years and memories of MAC studs recall a conference of ages past. Remember a young Ben Roethlisberger rattling off a 4,448 yard passing season in 2003, gunslinging the Miami Redhawks to a 13-1 record? How about Toledo’s 1995 undefeated season led by Wasean Tait (“Little Barry Sanders”), or then-member Marshall catching the ultimate lightning in a bottle: Randy Moss? More recently, how about Jordan Lynch garnering Heisman consideration as Northern Illinois claimed back-to-back MAC championships in 2011 and 2012, culminating in an Orange Bowl appearance? These are the heroes of Mid-American Conference past, establishing the MAC as a watermark of spirited, though average, football.

Passing the contemporary MAC as “average” football is liable to make Bo Schembechler turn over in his grave. Last year, the MAC’s collective out-of-conference record totaled 25-35. Their results against AP Top 25 opponents totaled 1-15 (the sole win being Toledo’s victory over #18 Arkansas). Bottom-feeder Eastern Michigan picked up just one win. Certainly not the pedigree of a thriving conference, to say the least.

Attendance figures mirror these deficiencies. The MAC ranked dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision conference attendance last season, averaging 15,316 fans per game- a number eclipsed by ten FCS schools. Their attendance rate is declining at nearly double the FBS rate, even as teams like Akron have unveiled new stadiums (pictured half-empty above) as recently as 2009. Product on the field is turning south and fans are noticing, opting to spend their Saturdays stationed on the couch watching Power Five heavyweights duke it out with big time TV deals.

Thanks to these deficiencies, MAC athletic departments then face the impossible challenge of spending on par with these heavyweights just to patch together decent seasons. The result? Ludicrous, Enron-esque financial reports that cover their programs’ inherent disadvantages. In 2015, the average MAC program spent $29,361,692 amidst this athletics arm race, turning what appears to be $28,915,830 in revenue. This only tells half the story. The average student subsidy for a MAC program is an incredible 70.3%, meaning students of these universities are forced to pay exorbitant costs for teams already destined to fail given the realities of the game. Schools like Eastern Michigan require even more- an 80.4% subsidy. Clearly these athletic departments are incapable of maintaining reasonable margins with budgets dwarfed by their Power Five big brothers.

Just as it is unreasonable to expect Buffalo to land a spot in the College Football Playoff, it is unreasonable for smaller programs to exhaust funds to keep up with budgets two or three times their size. While football-centric markets like South Bend, Gainesville, or College Station can mount the argument that athletic spending pads enrollment, or inches them that much closer to a national title, Mid-American Conference towns cannot make these arguments. Still, they’re subjected to the ferocious competition of SEC-sized markets.

As the playoff committee continues to place emphasis on strength of schedule, MAC schools will no longer be included as an early-season appetizer for larger schools. Instead, Power Five conferences will inbreed strength and leave smaller, already-suffering schools out in the cold.

Rest assured, MAC football will continue in the short term. But how long will we wait before the playoff stratification is so dramatic so much that these programs literally can’t compete? What’s the answer? Will small programs continue to irresponsibly overspend just to maintain relevance in the Playoff Era? Or will the MAC- and conferences like it- ultimately be removed from life support, left to fend on its own while the rich get richer?

E-mail Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo via Adam Sonnett – Flickr

Browns Hope to Spoil the Steelers Season

 (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

While most 3-12 teams don’t have many reasons to play hard in week 17, the Browns have plenty of incentive to give their last game of the season everything they have.

First the Browns are going against their biggest rival in a game where they have the chance to keep them out of the playoffs. Second rumors are running rampant that Ray Farmer and or Mike Pettine could get fired, so players will go all out to help their coach, and put more good plays on tape for the potential new staff to look at.

There are some other factors that could keep this game close as the Steelers struggle on the road and they have a porous defense.

When the Browns have the ball:

The Browns are going to need to attack the Steelers through the air as they struggle in pass defense. One player to watch in the Steelers defensive backfield is corner Antwon Blake who is on pace to allow more receiving yards than any corner in Pro Football Focus’ records (since 2007). Odds are even Austin Davis can find ways to exploit this secondary. The Steelers run defense is better than average, so establishing the run could prove challenging. Overall, I feel that the Browns have enough firepower to put 20 or more points against the Steelers. After all Ryan Mallett, Buck Allen, and Kamar Aiken were able to.

When the Steelers have the ball:

The Browns need to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger if they’re going to have any chance. Tramon Williams and Charles Gaines stand no chance against Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton  and Martavis Bryant if Big Ben has a clean pocket. Last time these two teams played the Browns did a good job limiting DeAngelo Williams to only 54 yards. Perhaps the Browns can duplicate those results.

Prediction:

Steelers look rusty again (as they normally do against lousy opponents) but the Browns give up some late touchdowns and lose in some typical Cleveland Brown-like way.

Steelers 26 Browns 24

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: a Postmortem

For the Indianapolis Colts, this past Sunday began with good news…they saw their two closest division rivals, Houston and Jacksonville, go down to defeat. The Texans fell in Buffalo 30-21, while the Jags lost a 42-39 shootout in Tennessee.

The good news continued as their game against the Steelers commenced, when Pittsburgh’s Jacoby Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Then, there was, well…the rest of the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers sliced and diced Indianapolis en route to a 45-10 drubbing on Sunday night. The Colts were able to hang tough for most of the first half, holding a 10-6 lead late in the period. But from that point forward, the Steelers completely dominated play.

Pittsburgh (7-5) will likely need to earn a Wild Card berth to advance to the playoffs, and the way they played in this game, they absolutely looked the part of a playoff team. The Colts (6-6), by virtue of playing in the AFC South, continue to hold the division lead, despite this forgettable performance.

Last season, Pittsburgh handed Indianapolis a resounding defeat as QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns. Big Ben didn’t generate the same kind of numbers in the rematch, but that’s deceptive, to say the least. Roethlisberger was brilliant again, going 24-for-39 for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Indianapolis played some zone coverage early in the game in an attempt to slow down the Steelers passing game, but it didn’t work. When they went back to man-to-man, you guessed it: that didn’t work either. The Colts had no answer for anything Big Ben and his offense wanted to do on this night.

To add insult to injury, RB DeAngelo Williams was just as effective against the Indianapolis defense, gaining 134 yards on 26 carries. Let’s not forget, Williams is filling in for injured starter Le’Veon Bell…it’s nice to have quality depth, isn’t it?

Did anything go well for the Colts in this contest? Not really. Their offense was almost as inept as their defense, although RB Frank Gore had a solid outing, given that there was very little room to run against a tough Pittsburgh rushing defense.

Indianapolis’ offensive line couldn’t buy any time for QB Matt Hasselbeck to find his receivers, which was key for both teams – Pittsburgh’s defense against the pass has been poor most of this season, so that was the Colts’ best chance to compete in this game, and they could never get untracked due to the poor protection up front.

The Steelers certainly look the part of a playoff contender, but where does this leave the Colts? Actually, this hapless showing doesn’t change much for this team. They are still battling to fend off Houston (and perhaps Jacksonville) for the division crown, still sitting in first place, in fact. So, Indianapolis is still in position to make a run at the playoffs.

The more important question may be: if the Colts do win the division, can they make any noise once they get to the playoffs?

The overall talent on the roster, particularly if QB Andrew Luck returns and plays to his potential, says yes. But upon closer examination, Indianapolis just has too many holes to be a solid Super Bowl contender. The offensive line has been shuffled around all season in the hopes of finding an effective combination, but they have mostly been a liability. One of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, WR Andre Johnson, has been invisible in this offense. The defense has shown promise at times, but injuries and inconsistent play have left them searching for answers as well.

A healthy and effective Andrew Luck can cover up a lot of deficiencies, but his ability to get healthy or play effectively are very much in question right now. It seems that Indianapolis has played with fire for years now, counting on their young quarterback to make everything “right.” What we are seeing now is what happens when the many weaknesses this team has are no longer being disguised by one dynamic player.

The Colts may very well end up winning the AFC South and playing in the postseason. However, unless a lot of things come together for this group at just the right time, they won’t be playing in January for very long.

Indianapolis Colts: State of the Union and Week 13 Preview

Going into the 2015 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts were considered a strong Super Bowl contender by virtually every media outlet. A strong 2014 campaign that ended with a loss in the AFC Championship Game, along with the additions of WR Andre Johnson and RB Frank Gore had pundits convinced that this team was ready to take the next step.

After 12 weeks, the ride has been anything but smooth for the 6-5 Colts. This season of promise began with a dismal loss in Buffalo. The following week, another disappointing performance resulted in a Monday Night Football defeat at the hands of the Jets, leaving Indianapolis with an 0-2 record, and a lot of questions.

The Colts finally broke through in a comeback win over Tennessee in Nashville, but QB Andrew Luck sustained injuries that would keep him out for the next two games. The Colts turned to backup QB Matt Hasselbeck, hoping he could keep the team’s head above water until Luck was ready to return. In one of the more inspiring stories of the NFL season thus far, Hasselbeck has done far more than anyone expected from a 40-year-old backup quarterback.

Hasselbeck won those two games as the starting QB, and after Luck returned and sustained further injuries that have returned him to the shelf, all Hasselbeck has done is come back in and do what he has done all season – guide Indianapolis to victories. Hasselbeck is now 4-0 at the helm of the Colts offense this season, and one could argue that he has been the team’s MVP to this point.

Indianapolis has suffered from a number of maladies that have led to their mediocre record after 12 weeks, injuries aside. When he was playing, Andrew Luck was having by far his worst NFL season. There is a great deal of debate as to why Luck has struggled, but it appears to be a combination of things. The offensive line played poorly in the first few games, which led Luck to have to hurry his reads. Coupled with the fact that the team was getting behind early in games, Luck had to take chances in an attempt to get the Colts back into games, and that was leading to more turnovers than touchdowns.

Some of the other factors holding Indianapolis back include a defense that has not performed well, and a great deal of drama with the coaching staff. There is friction between head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson, and the offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) was fired earlier this season. None of this is a recipe for a Super Bowl contender, to be certain.

Despite everything, the Colts are currently in first place in the AFC South…playing in a weak division may be the key to a playoff berth for this underperforming group. If Indianapolis can win the division and sneak into the playoffs, this could be a dangerous team – their play of late has again given hints of that potential.

So, onto Week 13…what can we expect against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night? QB Ben Roethlisberger has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Seattle last week, but he will not face Andrew Luck, as he is still sidelined with abdominal injuries and a lacerated kidney. Statistically, the matchup looks like this:

Pittsburgh

Indianapolis

Offense: Overall

4

22

Offense: Pass

5

17

Offense: Rush

8

26

Defense: Overall

23

26

Defense: Pass

31

27

Defense: Rush

7

24

 

Pittsburgh’s offense is superior to that of the Colts in both passing and rushing. The Steelers are more vulnerable defensively, but they’re still a little better than Indianapolis overall. Pittsburgh’s rushing defense is solid; where they are weak is against the pass. Can Matt Hasselbeck exploit the Steelers DBs? That will likely be key to the Colts’ chances on Sunday night.

Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot, so the intensity/motivation should be high on both sides. The game will be played in Heinz Field, and frankly, the Steelers are just a better team, particularly with Andrew Luck (and his talent and comeback ability) on the sideline. The Colts will struggle to stop the Steelers offense, and the Colts will have a tough time running the ball, putting a lot of pressure on Matt Hasselbeck to make plays. It looks like Hasselbeck’s storybook run will end in Pennsylvania on Sunday night…he’s done a great job stepping in and guiding the Colts offense in Luck’s absence, but asking so much of him will finally catch up to Indianapolis in Week 13.

Browns Hope To Beat Rival Steelers

It’s Steelers week, the one of the weeks each season we stop thinking about which quarterbacks we should

 Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets wrapped up by Donte Whitner #31 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets wrapped up by Donte Whitner #31 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

draft next year and pray the Browns can beat the Steelers and hurt their playoff odds. This year’s contest should be interesting because Ben Roethlisberger and Josh McCown are questionable for the game, which could lead to an unpredictable outcome.

When the Browns have the ball:

Pittsburgh’s defense has been declining in recent years, and this year is no different. They sometimes show the dominance of old like against the Cardinals, but often have major defensive meltdowns like last week when they gave up 35 points against a young but explosive Raider’s attack. Perhaps we can have somewhat similar success.  If McCown starts, the biggest thing the Browns need to do is keep him upright, which could prove difficult with the injury to stud left guard Joel Bitonio.

First round pick Cameron Erving will likely replace him though he didn’t look that great in the Bengals game.  If McCown is healthy he should have no problem slinging against a very poor secondary. Barnidge and Benjamin could have great days. If Manziel plays, as reports seem to indicate, the key is to get the running game going. The Robert Turbin experiment failed so I’m hoping that we can see more of Duke Johnson the runner, since we already have seen enough of the Crow. If we can establish the run we can let Johnny scramble a bit on play action rollouts. Hopefully Johnny can make exciting plays outside the pocket without taking humongous hits in the process. This is another big thing as we don’t want to see Manziel get hurt.

When the Steelers have the ball:

Like usual I expect the opposing team to be able to run all over us. DeAngelo Williams proved to me that he wasn’t washed up like I thought before the season began. He has actually been one of the most dynamic and consistent runners in the game when playing.

In passing situations Landry Jones has proven to be a competent quarterback and an excellent one when throwing to Antonio Brown. Joe Haden and Donte Whitner are still questionable but if they play they will be hungry to stop their longtime rival, Brown.  If Big Ben plays odds are it will only be worse for Cleveland, as Roethlisberger always finds a new way to gouge our defense.

Special Teams:

The Steelers seem to have finally found a kicker that they trust in Chris Boswell who has only missed one field goal all year-long. Like our own Travis Coons he is still untested on long field goals. The Browns do have an edge in punting as Andy Lee has proven himself to be a great punter despite last weeks performance. The Steelers coverage teams seem strong but when you have a good returner like Travis Benjamin anything could happen.

Prediction:

With all of the uncertainty regarding the injured QBs I decided to give four predictions for the price of one!

McCown vs Roethlisberger– 31-24 Steelers- Big Ben is too good to overcome.

McCown vs Landry Jones 27-21 Browns- Really our only shot of winning.

Manziel vs Roethlisberger 34-14 Steelers- I’m just not sold on Johnny being a legitimate starting QB. Especially with the lack of weapons on the offense.

Manziel vs Landry Jones 24- 17 Steelers-Landry Jones seems to have found his groove with Antonio Brown.

More Than A Friday: I’ll Be Nice, Let’s Be Better

Thursday was a difficult day, a day highlighted by senseless loss of life. It was so difficult, in fact, that I considered blowing off the column this week, but that would be taking the tragedies of the day and making it about me. That’s simply not my style. Before I left the office, I learned of the C-130 (aka Sky Pig) that went down in Jalalabad, killing twelve people, but the 12 lives taken there weren’t the focus of conversation on Thursday, nor will it be in the coming weeks.

Look, we’re all fed up, if not fatigued by the stories of mass shootings. The incident in Roseburg, Oregon seems to be just another notch in the bedpost for someone’s agenda, and as much as we, most of us anyway, want to be sensitive to the families of the victims, we all have an angle. Most of us aren’t shy about discussing it. Blame the epidemic that is mental illness or blame the weapons used to obliterate the innocent, if you must, but my thesis here remains the same. Let’s treat each other better, and continue to strive to be worthy of all things we’re blessed with in this life.

I’m not sure what I was planning to publish for Friday, as I attempt to transition to sports in a not so subtle manner, but I’m definitely pivoting towards being nice this morning. I’ll be nicer about Jose Ramirez and how he should have been treated by the Minnesota Twins after violating age-old baseball code, and I’ll even be kind about two of my least favorite teams in all of sport being showcased in the NFL’s prime time event last night.

The Elite Quaterback1The misspelling is intentional.  If you get the joke, great.  If not, please just move on. and The Dog Killer

For very different reasons, I abhor the the football chapters in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, known affectionately by everyone involved with the National Football League as the Steelers and the Ravens. However, when they’re on the same field of play and we have to hear about how wonderful this rivalry is, I despise the sum a lot more than the combined value of its parts.

Generally, I am reminded that I’ve held on to grudges for too long as a Browns fan, and I reluctantly knowledge that to be true. Generally, I also don’t care about the accuracy of any of that; my irrational feeling is my prerogative as a fan. On this day, a day that senseless stole the lives of so many, I was going to put all of that to the side and be nice.

With Ben Roethlisberger out 4-6 weeks, or 2-3 weeks if you consult Dr. Bill Cowher, the Steelers turned to backup quarterback Mike Vick2He doesn’t want to be Michael.  He probably doesn’t want us to remember why he was sent to Leavenworth either.. Now, if I wasn’t being nice, I’d bring (allegedly) sexually assaulted women and tortured canines to the conversation, but I’m being nice. So, before the game, I thought, “Get well, Ben” and “Good luck, Mike”.

These are fellows with families and mothers who love them unconditionally. I would filter those mean things I might want to say about them, if I knew I were in the presence of those families, so I know I’m capable of doing so. On the other sideline, you have the franchise that once existed as the Cleveland Browns. Very few people affiliated with the events that took place in 1996 would be involved in Thursday evening’s match up, so again, I’ll be nice.

Pittsburgh, in addition to missing the services of their quarterback, is also missing their projected starting center, so at 2-1 on the season, they’re thinking about damage control. Vick is there because Bruce Gradkowski isn’t healthy and Landry Jones isn’t good. They were going to run the ball and keep it simple for the ex-con taking snaps from the backup center. They were fortunate enough to start this run with a taxi-squad at home against a winless Baltimore team.

While we argued how valid some of the 3-0 starts were on this week’s Suits and Laterals Podcast, on the flipside of that coin, you could also question the lack of substance behind the Ravens’ 0-3 start. Denver was understandable, Oakland wasn’t, and the letdown against the Bengals was what it was. I’m sure they’re not proud of how they look in the standings, but John Harbaugh isn’t going to lead a squad that gives up that easily.

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The games between these two are usually close, and it usually means quality, but Pittsburgh’s 10-7 halftime lead didn’t represent that in any way. The Steelers defense isn’t very good, but the Ravens offense couldn’t quite exploit that. I’ll admit that Joe Flacco can be everything the Ravens want from their quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he’s that guy all of the time, and he most definitely was not even close to that in the first half. The Steelers, on the hand, were basically in line with the low expectations you’d have had with Vick.

The Steelers had this game in hand; all they needed to do was close. And, they’re the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s what they tend to do when they play from ahead. Vick notwithstanding, they have Antonio Brown to pick up the slack, and Le’Veon Bell isn’t a bad second option, especially when you want to shorten the game by keeping the clock moving.

Vick to Brown occurred a few times, but it was never effective or efficient. It was Bell that got the touches, the yards, and the Fantasy Football points, but he didn’t get the ball in the end. If I recall correctly, the Steelers had five opportunities to finish off their division rivals and failed to do so. Now, even though I was trying to be nice, there was a little bit of anxious giddiness to me when I considered an 0-4 start for the Ravens. And, when the Steelers failed to use Bell in short yardage on 3rd and 4th down, it bothered me as a football fan. After Josh Scobee missed a second field goal, each promised to make life difficult for Flacco and company on Thursday, I was stuck in nice-mode and forgot how much joy I usually take in Pittsburgh failure.

Even before Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit from 42 yards in the final seconds of regulation, I felt that Pittsburgh deserved to lose a game, though they controlled everything about it for so long. When Tucker hit from 52, after a questionable 4th down call by Mike Tomlin, who refused to go to Bell on 4th and 1 (or trust Josh Scobee3Scobee, the Steelers’ third kicker since the start of the pre-season, missed two kicks in the game’s final three minutes of regulation.to kick a 50-yard field goal), I felt justice had been served.

I wasn’t content that a team I’ve spent my entire life disliking lost. I just felt Football Team A was punished for screwing the pooch, a fine example of the universe evening itself out.

Everyone Loves Showboating, Everyone Except Me

The Indians and Twins played 18 innings of baseball on Wednesday, with both teams running out of time to grab a playoff spot. In dropping the matinee 7-1, Cleveland gave Houston a chance to effectively end the Indians season, regardless of what happened in Game 2 of the double-header at Progressive Field. In the eighth inning of a game the Twins trailed 7-1, the Minnesota skipper opted to walk Jason Kipnis to get to Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez responded by pulling a Ricky Nolasco pitch over the right-field wall for a 3-run jack, a ball that sailed all of 331 feet into the Cleveland night. After hitting his sixth home run of the year, the Indians utility infielder admired it for longer than he should have, and then he flipped his bat towards the visitors’ dugout. I know that things change, and that few understand the etiquette involved here, but you really can’t do that.

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This isn’t a participation trophy thing; it’s more about respect for the game, and when you get over on a pitcher for one of those 4-base hit, your feat and the scoreboard have done all the talking that needs to take place. I never saw Bob Gibson pitch and couldn’t quote any of his stats to you, but I know that he was notorious for not tolerating that shit. I mean, you could do it, but at a cost, as Gibson would put the next pitch he threw you into your rib cage. That was the fee for patting yourself on the back, and everyone seemed to be on the same page with that. And hey, I’m actually down with that arrangement.

These days, everyone seems to want to make excuses for the grand-standing. Now, athletes allegedly come from different cultures and don’t understand unwritten rules. I, on the other hand, like that some things are kept off the books, and don’t need everything to be so literal. I’m all about hashing shit out like men, and I don’t say that like some fake tough guy. Short of the whole “snitches get stitches” thing, I like the idea of settling things face-to-face without calling the police over every stinkin’ neighborly dispute, and in baseball, I like when the game polices itself.

Since the home run and subsequent bat flip occurred late in Wednesday night’s contest, Paul Molitor and the Twins could only verbalize their dissatisfaction with Ramirez. To their credit, Terry Francona offered no justification and basically apologized on his player’s behalf. Among the baseball people involved, the only ones who have opinions that matter, the Twins gripe had weight to it. No, Ramirez didn’t kill a guy, as whiners and defenders of bat flips so annoyingly pointed out, but he was in the wrong with it. He even offered an apology.

His manager even put him in a place to take his medicine, batting him lead-off in the final meeting between the two teams on Thursday. I saw this one going down one way, and it went like this. If the Twins opted to get their pound of flesh from Ramirez, it had to happen on the first pitch, it couldn’t be at the batter’s head, and you don’t get a Mulligan if you miss. As Tribe color man Rick Manning predicted, the Twins put a priority on winning a ballgame over the fireworks that come with the unwritten rules. Fair enough, they’re in a playoff race and don’t need to lose a starter in the first inning of a game over something silly.

It’s my belief that the umpires respect that code, and no ejection would have taken place. I’m not sure that Jeff Kellogg’s crew would act that way, but it’s my personal opinion that they should have and probably would have. Where I disagree with Manning, is with the suggestion that the Twins get theirs down the road. Nope. There’s a statute of limitations on the mitigating circumstance of “he threw the first punch”, and it expired when Tyler Duffey went down and away with his first pitch to Ramirez.

It was okay to do nothing in that situation on the field. I’m not sure many will disagree, regardless of how they feel about bat flips. So, let’s bring this thing full-circle, and remember that doing nothing is the wrong way to react to Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College.

That includes bitching about nothing being done. There’s a group in Washington that can do something to initiate change. We all have the ability to vote for or against at least one of them. Next month or next year, before you blindly cast a vote for or against any of them because of a letter by their name4Letters like (R) or (D)., take the time to understand what they plan to do, and if you don’t know, ask them. This is our country, as in yours and mine, make sure your represented…if you care, that is.

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1. The misspelling is intentional.  If you get the joke, great.  If not, please just move on.
2. He doesn’t want to be Michael.  He probably doesn’t want us to remember why he was sent to Leavenworth either.
3. Scobee, the Steelers’ third kicker since the start of the pre-season, missed two kicks in the game’s final three minutes of regulation.
4. Letters like (R) or (D).

Down By Contact #3: It's Almost Over

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Some NFL teams know that they’re in.  Some know that they’re out, but many players and coaches around the league don’t know whether or not they can make plans for January just yet.  Our focus this week was all about who is jockeying for playoff position, and in some cases, it’s all about survival.  Mike Burgermeister is back once again for the Cheddar Bay segment; this time he’s joined by Jeff Geisinger, better known as “HitTheHorns” in Cheddar Bay circles.  Jeff approaches picks carefully and it shows in the results.

We also welcome Alex Squires back to the podcast.  Alex focuses on Fantasy Football for More Than a Fan, but he is truly a jack of many trades, and wears whatever hat he’s asked to wear.  Alex and Jeff Rich discuss a few Fantasy stars from Week 15, analyze a few players you might want to have in your Fantasy Championship, and then just go wherever the wind takes them in the conversation.  Note to fans, Johnny Manziel might not be your option at quarterback, but you never know.

The Players

Jeff Rich (host) – @byJeffRich

Mike Burgermeister – @603_brown
Jeff Geisinger – @HitTheHorns
Alex Squires – @ASquiresFF

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 15: Manziel, Midgets, and Making the Playoffs

Well folks, Johnny Manziel is going to make his first NFL start on Sunday at 1:00 pm ET when the Cincinnati Bengals come rolling into town. And I’m not really sure what to expect.

On the one hand, I could see Manziel exploding and leading the Browns to a decisive victory, leading to complaints from our rather ungrateful fan base about how Manziel wasn’t played against the Colts (which, by the way, was the correct decision by Mike Pettine) and how with him we would be much closer to getting into the playoffs. Or Manziel could drop a big deuce, leading to questions about whether the Browns need to consider getting another QB this offseason. Or Manziel could just be mediocre as the Browns defense either wins the game or doesn’t quite do enough to make up for the meh offense it’s been paired with. Honestly I could see any of these three things happening, but I have no idea which to expect. If I was asked to put money on what his performance would be, I would abstain. I’m just much too unsure about what Manziel will actually be capable of doing.

Apparently though, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis isn’t anywhere close to as uncertain as I am:

In an interview earlier this week, Lewis declared that he didn’t need to bother worrying about who the Browns QB was this weekend, seeing as even if it was Manziel, “you’ve got to go defend the offense, you don’t defend the player…particularly a midget.”

My first reaction to this: “Ha, that’s freaking hilarious!!”

My second reaction to this: “Ohoho, I really hope Manziel makes Lewis eat those words”

My third reaction to this: “Damn, Marvin Lewis is kind of an a**hole. A somewhat funny, somewhat ballsy one, but still an a**hole.”

But then I read a reaction by ESPN The Magazine writer David Fleming on how Lewis’s comment was extremely calculated, and I kind of grew a new bit of respect for the Bengals HC. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to see him and his team get absolutely crushed by Manziel and the Browns this weekend, but I am finding that I have to admit that he is a very smart guy. As Fleming puts it:

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is an old defensive coordinator and he knew exactly what he was doing when he trolled [Manziel] on the radio by making fun of his size. He’s a rookie who hasn’t done anything yet except sell a lot of candy bars. NFL defenders are absolutely dying to be the first one to cleanly de-cleat him. So Lewis wants him to have Little Man Complex and feel like he has to prove how tough he is by staying in bounds or taking on a linebacker. Why? Because he knows the odds behind those collisions favor the defense and he’s banking on [Manziel] not being a big enough man to show a little discretion and back down in order to fight another day.

If that was the goal behind his statement, then props to Lewis. That was very well played sir. Hopefully it doesn’t payoff.

And now on to the playoffs:

That loss to the Colts obviously hurt the Browns. Badly. A one point loss is painful to watch, definitely when your team is winning up until the last 30 seconds or so. And definitely when they had numerous opportunities to put the game out of reach. The loss itself knocked the Browns chances of making the playoffs down to about 4.5%, according to stellar statistician Nate Silver and his website FiveThirtyEight. So what exactly needs to happen for the Browns to be in, and who do we all need to root for over the next three weeks?

Well first off, the Browns need to win out. That means victories against the Bengals, Panthers, and Ravens, all of whom are playing for their playoff lives as well. And that would actually put is in a fairly good position to grab the last wildcard spot. Too illustrate this, let me show you the situations of other teams still in the hunt:

Bills (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England. I would say it is quite realistic to expect them to drop at least two of those. I don’t see them beating Green Bay this weekend, and New England will likely be still playing for home field advantage come Week 17, so I would expect them to probably drop that one as well. On top of that, Oakland has been playing surprisingly well lately, so that game could potentially be close as well. At best, I see them maybe pulling out two wins, but a 9-7 record isn’t going to be good enough to make the playoffs this year, so I think we can pretty much rule them out.

Chargers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City. The Chargers arguably have the toughest schedule of all the teams remaining in the hunt. However, if they can manage to secure just two wins, they are almost guaranteed the 5th seed in the playoffs, barring the Ravens winning out and the Bengals winning at least two more games, in which case we would likely see every AFC North teams except the Browns in the playoffs. Anyway, I think the Chargers should be able to handle what has looked like a completely defeated 49ers squad. However, the two divisional games will both be tough. The Broncos are the Broncos, and Arrowhead stadium is Arrowhead stadium, not to mention the Chiefs are still playing for the playoffs as well. I’m guessing the Chargers lose this weekend to the Broncos, but top a Chiefs team that has yet to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver. Philip Rivers should be able to outplay Alex Smith handily, and if the Chargers score more than 21 points, this game is probably out of reach for the Chiefs. Expect to see the Chargers playing in January.

Chiefs (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Oakland, at Pittsburgh, San Diego. For the Chiefs, the road is rocky. They were unable to beat Oakland earlier this season, although they should easily handle them at home. And then it would really come down to which Pittsburgh team shows up. I’d put my money on the Pittsburgh team of late though, and if that is the case, the Chiefs will most definitely not be able to go into Heinz Field and emerge with a victory. However, if they did, it would come down to their season finale against the Chargers, the winner of which end a rivals season while propelling themselves into the playoffs. If the Chiefs do win their next two, that Week 17 matchup is going to be real real fun to watch.

Texans (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Indianapolis, Baltimore, Jacksonville. They should win their season finale, but the other two will be real fights. A win against the Colts in a stadium where they have never won before seems a tad bit out of reach, despite how well the Texans have been playing of late. As for the Ravens game, both teams will be playing for their playoff lives, and I see the Ravens coming out on top, if only by a touch. Two losses will knock the Texans way out of the picture, so I’m not too worried about them or any potential tiebreaker they would have over the Browns either.

Dolphins (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at New England, Minnesota, New York Jets. Their only real obstacle, at least on paper, is the Patriots. If they somehow manage a win in Foxborough, then they suddenly have the easiest path to January football. The Vikings and Jets are both handleable, especially at home. However, with the way the Dolphins have looked the past two weeks, they aren’t going to come close to topping the Pats, which will probably end up putting them on the outside looking in come the end of the season.

Steelers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati. Unless they go full Pittsburgh against a sub-mediocre NFC South team, they are in the lead to win the AFC North. They should beat the Chiefs at home, and in a high pressure situation, I don’t expect to Andy Dalton to outplay Ben Roethlisberger. Welcome to the #4 seed in the playoffs, Pittsburgh.

Bengals (8-4-1): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh. I mean, they are obviously going to lose to the Browns this weekend. And the Denver game is in primetime on Monday night, so there is another loss. And, as I mentioned above, I think the Steelers will win that matchup. The Bengals are going from first place going into Week 15 to last place at the end of the season. Sorry Marv.

Ravens (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland. Again, obviously going to drop that Cleveland game. Other than that, they beat Jacksonville, and probably Houston. Just a note here, if Houston does win this weekend against the Colts, we as Browns fans are rooting for the Ravens against Houston, as painful as that may be. A 10-6 Browns beats the Ravens on tiebreakers, but loses to Texans on tiebreakers.

Overall though, as long as the Browns win out and the Dolphins, Bills, and Texans each drop one, which is very realistic, the Browns are playing in January. And that is pretty damn awesome. So let’s get excited folks. The season isn’t over quite yet.

Prediction: Browns ? – Bengals 20 (as noted above, have no idea what to expect)

11-on-11: Near-Perfect NFL Quarterback Play

In the era of shovel passes, bubble screens, and dink & dunk, it seems as though completion percentage should be an afterthought. So many quarterbacks start their days so perfect, or near-perfection anyway. It’s really no wonder that “video game numbers” have become the standard.

This is what you get from the out-of-town overlay, just statistics, no story. Sure, you’ll see Andy Dalton and Alex Smith missed on just one or two pass attempts early en route to victory, but make sure you don’t read too much into Austin Davis’s 5-of-7 start against the Chiefs.

These amazing performances don’t seem to dazzle these days, even on paper. Ben Roethlisberger threw just nine passes that didn’t land in the hands of a bumble-bee-outfitted receiver on Sunday. Considering the fact he threw six touchdown passes and accrued over 500 yards in the process, you wonder how high the bar will be set in the next couple of years. Andrew Luck threw for 400 yards for the Steelers opponent, in what we’ll likely consider a forgettable performance.

Is any of it even real any more?

Game I Anticipated Most

When you get a non-traditional power like the Arizona Cardinals in a marquee game this late in the season, it sometimes seems forced. That’s not the case with these Cardinals. They really look like they belong. They’re built with a certain edge to them on defense and hold their own when they have the ball. Injuries matter, but Bruce Arians has shown an ability to adapt and overcome. Take all of their positives, tack a bad afternoon in Denver on there, and that’s how Arizona was 5-1 entering play on Sunday.

The Eagle bring Chip Kelly’s fast-paced Saturday style to the Sunday game. Their offense moves fast and they run a lot of plays. A threat to score every time they have the ball, it’s all about possessions for them. Defense isn’t the first thing you think of with this team, nor should it be. The architecture of Bill Davis’s defensive unit is to stop teams built like the Eagles, a built that is consistent with the new direction of the league. Strong secondary play has netted them a shut out against the Giants. A trip to San Francisco last month netted them their only loss.

So much has been made about Larry Fitzgerald's best days being behind him.  It didn't show in Arizona's 24-20 win over the Eagles.
So much has been made about Larry Fitzgerald’s best days being behind him. It didn’t show in Arizona’s 24-20 win over the Eagles.

The Cardinals out-lasted their brotherly loving opponents by stepping up with the big play. Antonio Cromartie picked off Nick Foles twice at the most inopportune moments for the Eagles. On the ground, Andre Ellington did just enough to set up the big play for Carson Palmer and his receiving corps. His two touchdowns passes each went for 75 yards or better. If Larry Fitzgerald is getting long in the tooth, it didn’t show on his classic Fitz 80-yard catch-and-run to put the Cardinals up 14-7 to break a halftime tie.

After the Eagles added a field goal to take 20-17 lead just inside the two-minute warning, the hero of training camp John Brown ran under a ball that I can only assume was thrown as far as Carson Palmer can throw the pigskin. When it came down in the arms of the rookie from Pittsburg State, it only took a few strides for him to reach the endzone for the game-winning touchdown. Of his 4 scoring catches this season, 3 have been of the game-winning variety. Cardinals win 24-20.

Thursday Is My Garbage Day

You notice you don’t hear too much griping about player safety and the road team being at such a disadvantage in the Thursdy Night tilts, now that a couple of them have been competitive. My trash still gets picked up on Thursday though, so this section will keep its name. Not many teams have belonged on the same field as Peyton Manning’s Broncos this season, but the Chargers promised to be a worthy adversary.

The X-Factor here was our defending champion Sea Chickens. They went into San Diego in Week 2, and left with a 30-21 defeat at the hands of the very legitimate Chargers. The Broncos, on the other hand, have lost just twice in the 2014 calendar year. A week after taking that loss, Seattle hosted Denver in a game much closer than the laughable Super Bowl we all witnessed in February, but still a 26-20 loss for Denver.

Emmanuel Sanders game has helped Denver fans cope with the loss of Eric Decker

On the strength of three Emmanuel Sanders touchdown receptions, the Broncos won 35-21, but the Chargers didn’t play an awful game. They just ran into a buzzsaw in Peyton Manning, who had the convenience of playing at home. Even in a 21-point hole at various points in the game, you never counted out San Diego. The unstoppable passing game that Manning leads sets up the running game.

Forget that Knowshon Moreno is gone and that Montee Ball was not available, the Chargers weren’t honest to the run. Ronnie Hillman gashed them for over 5 yards per carry and Juwan Thompson had two short scoring runs to take the wind out of San Diego’s sails to move to 6-1 on the season.

House of Sea Chicken-East

Speaking of the champs, we generally tend to think their strength resides in their stadium. Opposing fans call it the belly of the beast, but the NFL makes the Sea Chickens play half their games away from Phone Company Field. In Week 8, they may have been lucky to pull one out in Charlotte, but isn’t that always the case when they visit the Panthers?

On Sunday, they treaded water in an early candidate for the week’s Actual Worst Game, but Russell Wilson led his team on a 10-play 80 -yard drive to score the first touchdown of the game with 53 seconds left. The Panthers counted on their kicker Graham Gano for all of their points, outscoring the visitors 9-6, until Wilson hit Luke Willson for the game-winner in the game’s final minute.

Wilson to Willson for the win away from home for the Sea Chickens

For the third time in three years, Seattle won ugly at Carolina. When Steven Hauschka added the extra point after Willson’s touchdown, it was the first one-pointer the Sea Chickens scored in Charlotte since he nailed the conversion after Golden Tate’s third quarter score in 2012. They won that one 16-12 at Bank of America Stadium, edged them 12-7 in 2014, and added the 4-point win on Sunday. If they play in 2015, that one will be played in the Pacific Northwest.

AFC North Pride

While the broadcast maps suggests most of you did get Pittsburgh’s rout of the Colts in your local market, many were denied the second edition of Ravens-Bengals in favor of that field goal fest in Charlotte. You were probably spared the Raiders and Browns if you weren’t local to either of the teams, unless you sought that game out.

The AFC North has been strong this season. Part of it is the Browns somewhat pulling their weight, but the schedule is a big aid as well. The division games all promise to be scrappy affairs for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, but they’ve all been afforded the luxury of games against all of the teams in the league’s two worst divsions.

Every team in the NFC South has a losing record, while Indianapolis is the only team in the AFC South with a winning record. Having one-win teams like Jacksonville and Tampa Bay pulling up the rear doesn’t help either. On the flip-side, every team in the AFC North currently sports a winning record.

Does Cincinnati have Baltimore’s number? In Week 1, they dominated most of the way, let the Ravens back in the game, and then won it in the end. It was the same story on Sunday in Cincinnati, only a little more scary. It appeared that Baltimore had done it again with an improbable 80-yard game-winning touchdown to Steve Smith Sr., but it was more improbable that the play was executed within the boundaries of the rules. The play was called back and Cincinnati hung on.

Win or not, that's some ugly-ass garb.
Win or not, that’s some ugly-ass garb.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers reminded us that we simply cannot write them off. On a positive note for Ben and company, it’s more than just playing pitch & catch with Antonio Brown. Brown got his, but Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are emerging as targets for Roethlisberger, as is Le’Veon Bell out of the backfield. For a team written off by their own fans, the Steelers are right in the thick of things at 4-3.

Wembley Wake-Up

Under no circumstances would I go out of my way to watch the 2014 Lions and Falcons play. Wait, what? Alright NFL, if you’re going to put a game on at 6:30 AM in the west, I’ll wake up for it. The game appeared to be all Atlanta, but still somehow came down to a last-second field goal attempt. This is part of why the AFC South is awful.

Me, I’m no fan of shenanigans when a field goal that will determine the game is imminent. I pay homage to Mike Shannahan for his strategy of calling a timeout a split-second before the ball is snapped, forcing a kicker to try the boot a second time. I call it “Shannahanigans”, but it wasn’t that type of nonsense for the Lions in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Detroit got two tries and needed the second one for their 22-21 comeback win over the Falcons in London. It appeared as though the Falcons would hang on when Matt Prater’s kick sailed wide right from 43, but the Lions were actually rewarded a reprieve by their own penalty. Since delay-of-game is a pre-snap penalty, Atlanta was left with no choice but to hope Prater would miss again from 48. He didn’t.

This lends itself to an argument against the whole idea of the aforementioned shenanigans. Many coaches have gone on record to say they don’t like the strategy. Why give the kicker a practice kick? Doesn’t the first kick just give the kicker a better feel for the task at hand? Sure, we’ve seen kickers whiff on the one that counts, but it seems fate is a better strategy then playing God in this situation. If the rules can’t prevent it, maybe common sense will.

Home Sweet Dome

It’s not just playing inside, Bill Simmons. Losses in Atlanta, Dallas, and Detroit should paint that picture as clearly as the Saints’ 3-0 record in the Superdome. Even a team as hot as the Packers are no match for what New Orleans can do in front of their home crowd.

Drew Brees is special and his performance in Sunday Night’s 44-23 win was no exception, but how about a nod for his supporting cast? Mark Ingram put up a very Trent Richarson-esque 16 yards on 10 carries in the Saints loss to Detroit last week, and his 83 rushing yards against Cleveland stood as his season-best before Sunday. The former Heisman winner ran the ball 24 times for 172 yards, ate up clock, and kept Aaron Rodgers on the sideline long enough to tilt the needle towards the home team on time of possession.

Who’s Whack for Dak

It’s not likely that anyone is going to unseat Marcus Mariota for the meaningless title of consensus #1 in the mocks, but we’re going to change it up each week here. Prescott still has Mississippi State undefeated and ranked #1 in the polls, and he will likely help an NFL team, even if not taken with the top overall selection.

Can he and will he play on Sundays?  Right now, Dak Prescott owns the Saturday game.
Can he and will he play on Sundays? Right now, Dak Prescott owns the Saturday game.

At this point, given their failure to achieve victory, the Raiders are in the driver’s seat to pick at the top. I don’t believe they’re poorly coached by Tony Sparano or poorly quarterbacked by rookie Derek Carr. At this point, they just lack talent in so many areas. They need to uncluster decades of bad football work by Al Davis and rebuild this team.

Actual Worst Game

Hard to go in any direction other than Oakland-Cleveland here. It was an ugly game all around that the Browns made more aesthetically pleasing on the scoreboard with a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns, but this was basically a field goal struggle for three quarters. Nobody wants to pay to see Janikowski v. Cundiff.

The same could be said for the Hauscka v. Gano game in Carolina, but struggling to find the endzone against Seattle is a different animal than what took place in Cleveland.

Dirty Laundry Award

Usually, this honor is bestowed on a team, but Walt Anderson’s crew really earned it this week, with Philadelphia and Arizona each being penalized more than any team in the league on Sunday. 11 flags on the Eagles awarded the Cardinals 103 penalty yards. Arizona gave their visitors 95 yards on 10 infractions.

For the Degenerates

The Cowboys look like world-beaters. The Redskins look inept in every phase of the game, but everyone is focused on the quarterback position. With Colt McCoy starting for Washington, it’s no wonder they’re a 9 and a half point dog on the road. Ordinarily, I might suggest throwing out everything you know and anticipating a close game. Not tonight.

coltmccoy

Don’t expect the visiting team to do much in the way of scoring points, but anticipate them turning the ball over. This is what McCoy does. Even if the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders, total points should stay under 50. There is an added element for Browns fans here with Tony Romo’s understudy being Brandon Weeden. If I were to predict a battle of Cleveland cast-offs here, I’d take the Redskins and the points, and also bet the farm on the under.

Random, Perhaps Unimportant

Peyton Manning wasn’t all smiles after Denver’s big division win over San Diego. He took exception to the actions of his scoreboard operator, who apparently amped up the crowd at the wrong moment(s). The expectation of the home crowd when Manning is on the field is complete and utter silence. He voiced his frustration through the media, which some people didn’t care to hear. I’m left to wonder if he’s tried to quietly voice this internally previously and became the grease-seeking squeaky wheel after it continued.

Nice one-armed grab and run by Theo Riddick in the final minute of Detroit’s win over Atlanta in London. He corralled the overthrown ball from Matt Stafford with his extended left arm and hustled to the Falcons 41, just outside of field goal range.

Sammy Watkins made the most of his three catches (for 157 yards) in Buffalo’s 43-23 win over the Jets on Sunday, but 84 yards is a long way to run to be denied a touchdown. Finish the play, and then you can celebrate.

On the flip-side of the near-perfect quarterback efficiency we’ve seen early in games so far, Geno Smith more than deserved to be benched with a line that read 2-for-8 with 5 yards passing. Good luck, Michael Vick.

These Jack-in-the-Box commercials don’t even pretend to market their product to the non-stoner.

I’m a little inspired by Denard Robinson’s first 11 carries for 90 yards against the Dolphins. I’m back to earth about his final 7 carries for 18 yards in the Jaguars 27-13 loss.

Ninkovich’s scoop and score was the Patriots third touchdown in 57 seconds, part of a 31 point 3rd quarter in Foxboro.
We can stop talking about how much better the Bears are away from Soldier Field, where they own an 0-3 home record. They stuck on the road Sunday, losing 51-23 to New England.

The Patriots scored three times in 57 seconds in the second quarter of their blowout win over the Bears. With a 17-7 lead, Tom Brady hooked up with Rob Gronkowski from two yards out, just inside the two-minute warning. Jay Cutler and the Bears offense killed just 41 seconds on a three-and-out, before Julian Edelman’s punt return put the Patriots back in businss at the Chicago 9. Brady got his fourth touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage, and New England scored again on the Bears’ next offenseive play when Ray Ninkovich did the scoop and score on a Cutler fumble.

Rest in peace, Martha Miles and Oscar Taveras. The mother of LSU head coach Les Miles passed away on Friday. On Saturday night, an emotional Miles led his team past #3 Ole Miss at home. Taveras, a 22 year-old prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic this weekend. Taveras never had much more than a cup of coffee at the big league level, but had a bright future with the club. So young, so tragic.

Next week’s slate includes Cardinals at Cowboys, Broncos at Patriots, and Ravens at Steelers. Until we get there, enjoy the week ahead.