Tag Archives: Denver Broncos

Five Late Round Picks I Got My Eye On

The draft itself is only one part of the draft season storyline.

With no real games to watch, football fans go mad and cling to what they can.  The combine, pro days, contract signings and training camp all keep the draft and its players relevant in the offseason.  It’s how we get through the long winter, or summer, in this case.

Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete, it’s finally time to hypothesize which players will prove to be great picks for their team.  Early picks are n fun so here’s a list of late round picks whose professional prospects intrigue me for one reason or another:

Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State Buckeyes

Round 3, Pick 22 (85 overall) to the Houston Texans

If it weren’t for J.T. Barrett taking his spot when he was injured, Braxton Miller might not have been drafted at all.  His inaccuracy severely limited his quarterbacking potential in the pros.  Moving to receiver has given his career new life.  Even though he had an underwhelming first season at his new position, there’s still a ton of potential here.  The Texans are awful.  If they’re smart, they’ll find ways to get the ball in Miller’s hands and let him do his thing.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia Bulldogs

Round 4, Pick 14 (112 overall) to the New England Patriots

Had the Patriots had a reliable receiver last year, they might’ve been able to sneak by the Broncos in the AFC title game.  Mitchell (great name, by the way) is a guy who can step in and vie for that role.  He’s a possession receiver with great speed and elusiveness.  That’s what you ordered, correct Mr. Brady?  Mitchell has torn an ACL in the past and Georgia didn’t have a good season last fall.  Those are the only reasons he wasn’t taken much sooner.  Oh, and apparently he’s not just a dumb jock, either.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah Utes

Round 4, Pick 38 (136 overall) to the Denver Broncos

This pick was an absolute steal for the defending Super Bowl champs.  Booker’s stock fell drastically because of a torn meniscus suffered in November.  He says he’s at about 90 percent right now and it sounds like he shouldn’t miss much, if any, of camp.  Booker can catch, he can block, and he’s always running downhill, picking up extra yardage.  He can flourish in Denver if given a real chance to chisel out solid chunks of playing time.

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes

Round 4, Pick 41 (139 overall) to the Buffalo Bills

With such upside why not see what Cardale can turn into?  It’s not like the Bills know who their quarterback will be in five years.  They’ve tried a lot of different guys lately but none have stuck.  Let Cardale learn from the bench, give him some reps to show what he can do, and maybe he evolves into a somewhat reliable gunslinger.  He’s got two things you can’t teach: superior size (6’5”, 250) and a cannon for an arm.  So, the tools are there, he’s just go to learn how to use them to the best of his ability.  Taking a flyer on Jones was a great move for the Bills.

Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy Midshipmen

Round 6, Pick 7 (182 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens

That’s right, Kenan Reynolds, the running back now.  The old record-breaking Naval Academy quarterback will be making the sensible transition to running back in the offseason.  This will be quite the experiment.  Reynolds didn’t take any handoffs in college and orchestrating a triple threat attack is a much different task than anything he’ll be asked to do in Baltimore.  Even so, his work ethic is unquestionable and his ability to pick up tough yards is unique.  Nobody’s saying it’ll be easy, but it’s hard to bet against this guy.

Photo Courtesy: Erik Drost / Flickr

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

Monday Morning Breeze: When We Are Thankful for Football

Time stopwatches us these days,

When thanks get given and turkey hunger fades

to stuff-seeking shopper’s thunder storming Dark Friday,

Juxtaposing dollars and deities upon padded knees we pray,

Frayed Chicago streets scream rage, dismay

Graciously, when forced family, frozen leaves, and stuffed bellies

make minutes seem you nearly can’t breathe,

We’ve beautiful, vicious games for release

Pleased to see annual revisiting of rabid rivalries

Arm in arm with weekly NFL’s “What have ya done lately for me?”

To contests we escape,

Decided by masked, mashing males beneath shoulder-padded capes,

Complexly manipulating oblong balls across turf-traipsed play-scapes

Outcomes offer order craved while playoff places take shape,

Adele tingles soaring, “Hello from the other side,” an’ I just keep replaying the tape

COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 12 PORTION OF THE PROGRAM

College Football Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

FIRING SEASON: Will LSU’s Head Coach Les Milessuffer a swift, surprising fall from grace at the end of this year?NOOOOOOOPE, Miles remains as LSU AD voices support after year-end win…However, UGA HC Mark Richt fired in a shocker…Rutgers cans AD and football HC Flood?Texas will not go bowling once again, after losing at home to Texas Tech…Great article exploring the future of high school football in America……Nice piece by SI’s Andy Staples on college football teams as organisms…

CFB Game of the Week

#10 University of Michigan vs.  #8 That Ohio State

It’s The Game of the year in college football every year, especially if you grew up in Michigan (as I did) or Ohio (as Satan did). With Rivalry Week taking place all across college football this week we’re gifted with the King of Rivalries offering two teams that are quite relevant in the Big 10 title race for the first time in what seems like forever.

You know all about what Ohio State was supposed to be this year: they of the defending-national champs, the Unbeatables boasting so much damn talent NFL scouts have taken up 50% of the stands at most games (science), equipped with so many capable QB’s a 2-time Big Ten Player of the Year switched to WR to get on the field. The deafening hype gave way to question marks once the games started, as the Cardale Jones-led offense looked shaky early in the year leading to the dreaded two-QB platoon rotation with JT Barrett and continued mixed results. The uncertainty surrounding the team came to a head last week against Michigan State as the Buckeyes lost for the first time in 23 games, sending their National Championship and Big Ten title hopes spiraling, sparking outbursts from players about poor play-calling and seemingly teaching us once more the toxic undercurrents that come when unbridled success is finally checked.

Meanwhile, you had no idea what Michigan was supposed to be this year. What would Famous Jim Harbaugh, the Golden Boy-former-Wolverine-QB swooping down from the NFL to return his alma mater to its rightful, glorious peak be able to do in such a short timeframe? We knew he’d improve the product Brad Hoke had stockpiled with solid recruits but failed to translate talent to production, but we didn’t know how much improvement would come or how quickly. Well, we do now. UofM has suffered from some inconsistent QB with Jake Rudock but has ridden Harbaugh’s trademark stingy defense and smash-mouth O to a year that outpaced most anyone’s outsized expectations for the team. Michigan has won every game it was supposed to, suffering losses only to a very good Utah team in the first game of the year (behind 3 Rudock picks) and a shocking, inexplicable last-second punting gaffe against Michigan St. in a contest Michigan won, but didn’t. It’s a testament to Harbaugh’s steady hand Michigan didn’t implode after that heart-breaking defeat at the hand of their other rival, and instead have continued rolling up wins heading into The Game. A win this week would put the umpteenth positive exclamation point on Harbaugh’s rookie year and create untouchable momentum for the Maize n’ Blue heading into recruiting and next year.

#8 That Ohio State 42 – #10 University of Michigan 13

Here’s how that happened with The Game, 3 ways:

  1. This is the OSU we all expected to see all season: Clearly the MSU loss (and Ezekiel Elliot’s public outburst?) woke OSU up, and today they played like the team everyone expected for the whole season. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little too late as they’ll likely be left out of the playoffs with MSU advancing to the B1G title game in their stead. I’m willing to bet had OSU not lost to MSU last week, they would’ve sleep-walked into this game and it would’ve been much closer if not a UM win. In the end OSU’s staunch D and dominant running game (369 yards)  was too much for the still-developing Harbaughs.
  2. OSU’s Stars Shine: The future-NFL’ers were on-point for OSU today, and Michigan doesn’t (yet) have enough Jabrill Peppers clones to compete. Stud DE Joey Bosa was in UM’s backfield all day, with a nifty pick-6 and even knocking out UM QB Coker in the 2nd half. Bosa showed once more why he’s basically college’s JJ Watt, before he becomes the NFL’s Joey Bosa. OSU RB Elliot called out the coaching staff for not getting him the ball enough in their loss to MSU last week, and lived up to his boast this week as he was properly fed and responded with a huge 30 carries for 214 yards with 2 TD’s. QB-of-the-present-and-future JT Barrett stepped up with 3 scores of his own.
  3. Still great year for UofM, excitement for both squads’ near future: This game showed the difference between these two teams is depth and top-flight talent, especially in the offensive backfield and defensive front 7. Now the wars will be won on the recruiting front between Urban and Jimmy as they battle for Midwest supremacy and pick their share of cherry recruits from around the country. Can Michigan find a solid-to-transcendent answer at QB? They don’t need greatness at the position, but something slightly more than “game-manager” output would definitely propel a sturdy D and solid run game into Playoff contention. OSU has a nice head start talent-wise with top 5 classes coming each year of Urban’s Columbus tenure, but from here on who’ll stockpile and develop the best? Harbaugh’s passion, pro pedigree, and excellent first season bode well for the future of UofM football, and he’ll undoubtedly translate that to wins on the recruiting trail. It’ll be fascinating to see these two (and oh, Mark Dantonio’s MSU squad) continue to go head-to-head on and off the field.

At the End of the Day: CFB’s Top 25 Went this Way (Rankings via Official College Football Playoff Poll)

Oregon St. @ 17 Oregon

Ducks strike most in Pac 12 shootout, leave Beavers cleaver-ed, deceived of victory

20 Washington St. @ Washington

Huskies bruskly upset Leach’s Pirate people, happily Johnny Cage Coug’s collective Adam’s Apple

4 Iowa @ Nebraska

Hawkeyes remain unscathed, shuck Huskers while Omaha cries “Pelini! Why?”

15 Navy @ Houston

Cougars avenge last week’s fall from unbeaten ranks, crush Cadets right in the navel

Western Mich @ 24 Toledo

Broncos send Rockets spiraling, topple Toledo and their waaaaaay oustsider CFP hopes

7 Baylor @ 19 TCU

Rain soaks scoreboard’s firework potential but Horny Frogs Horn enough to upset Koresh’s in 2 OT

1 Clemson @ South Carolina

Tigers survive scare, drop ‘Cocks and roll to ACC title game and playoff top seed?

8 Ohio St. @ 10 Michigan

Meyer’s Move Mightier than even the Michigan-est Man as Bucks truck Big Blue

Colorado @ 23 Utah

Utes scoot Buffs butts, Utah’s too tough for upsets sho’ nuff

2 Alabama @ Auburn

‘Bama tussles Iron-ically with Tigers’ bowl cut, eventually slams upset door and opens clear Playoff path

22 UCLA @ USC

Trojans topple Bruins in showcase of Cali talent, ‘SC will see Pac-12 title game fame or flame?

16 Northwestern @ Illinois

Union-hungry ‘Cats hang on to keep Illini win-shy

14 North Carolina @ NC St.

Carolina dismisses State like class, passes through face Clemson in ACC Title-dom

Penn St. @ 5 Michigan St.

MSU stays true to B1G playoff potential, skin litany of Nittany Lions without much tryin’

UCONN @ 25 Temple

Philly boys’ bodies are Temples and they destroy the husky Huskies

18 Ole Miss @ 21 Miss. St.

The rebels smack Dak and dog the ‘Dawgs enroute to sweet, sweet, Mississippi victory

13 FSU @ 12 Florida

Jimbo puts McElwain to shame in the battle for Florida, as Free Shoes U. says “later, Gators”

6 Notre Dame @ 9 Stanford

Cardinal solve a big question for the playoff committee in upsetting the Irish, Hogan’s Heroes heroic

3 Oklahoma @ 11 Oklahoma St.

Sooners keep Boom Scooner soaring, smoke the ‘Pokes in Bedlam blitz

NFL WEEK 11 PORTION OF THE PROGRAM

NFL Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Dallas loses the game and Tony Romo for the remainder of year…Panthers’ stud CB Norman says Dez Bryant “popped off” at him early in the game, motivating Norman to shut Dez’s ass down, which he did….Peyton Manning to miss next two games, Broncos add Christian Ponder for depth…Marshawn Lynch out for a month w/hernia…TMZ continues take-downs as Browns’ Manziel demoted to 3rd-string QB after partying video surfaces…The ascent of Jameis WinstonArizona’s Honey Badger on focusing and dominating the NFL

NFL Game of the Week

New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos

What looked like a game between two explosive offenses when the schedule came out in the offseason has changed considerably as the season’s progressed.

The Patriots have kept up their end of the bargain coming into this matchup as one of two (Carolina) undefeated teams still standing in the NFL. Belichick’s machine appears primed for a long stomp through the playoffs and potentially facing that Carolina squad in Super Bowl 50. Though they’ve suffered their share of injuries thus far, Golden Boy Brady has kept healthy and the other faceless fellas continue to “do their job” with excellence.

Denver has undergone a slightly more tumultuous trend through the year. They started off on a tear, appearing to be the clear favorites to challenge New England in the AFC race with a dominant D and smooth offense helmed by Mr. Manning. However, questions about Peyton’s arm strength continued to grow louder as his wobble-passes increased in frequency, and Denver began winning in spite of, rather than because of him, cresting with Manning’s career-worst 5-for20 with four(!) interceptions versus the Chiefs, ironically in the same game where he set the NFL’s all-time passing yardage mark. Is his arm toast? Is he banged up? While the first question remains, the second is certain with Peyton’s painfully plantar-fascitis-ized foot hobbling him to the sideline and keeping him out of this game as well as next week’s.

What will no longer be Brady vs. Manning for the umpteenth time will now become a battle of D, and go a long way toward telling us if Denver can maintain their elite status with Brock Osweiler taking the snaps. QB controversy? The future of Denver’s offense?

New England Patriots – Denver Broncos

Here’s how that happened with Brock versus Brady, 3 Ways:

  1. Would Denver Miss Peyton?: Shitty weather, snowy, rainy, cold, Osweiler won first start on birthday first to do that ever. Brock played well enough to win in this game, and showed Denver’s a good enough overall team to not need transcendent QB play in order to win against top-flight teams (ya hear that Peyton?). In the end, Brocky boy had just one TO and made a number of OK throws to keep the Pats D honest, in leading DEN to the OT win. Can he do it again next week? We’ll see.
  2. Weather impacts both teams: Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman both out for this game for NE and the Pats were working Gronk all day in the snow. That combo seemed unstoppable until Gronk injured his knee being hit post-catch (hyperextension?) in the 2nd half, after which was a huuuuge turn in momentum leading to Denver’s comeback and eventual win. Regardless, the snowy weather slowed both teams’ downfield passing attacks.
  3. Welcome to the World of CJ Anderson: Ok besides the terrible call against NE’s Patrick Chung late in the game for holding against DEN’s D. Thomas, CJ Anderson (and Gronk’s potential injury) has to be the story of this snowy game. He was elusive all day on a terrible playing surface and eventually proved to be the difference for Denver. Will this be his coming out party, enroute to a dominant December and Denver run no longer needing to rely on Peyton’s pithy arm? We shall see. In this contest, he scored on same exact play from earlier in the game for a lovely TD run and the Broncos’ win in Overtime.

NFL Results Roundup

Lions vs. Eagles

Detroit wheels past Turdy Birds on Turkey Day, send Chip Kelly back to school?

Panthers vs. Cowboys

Cam-Pain keeps MVP campaign  Dabbing, undefeated Panthers scratch cowpokes, broke Romo

Packers vs. Bears

Chicago ruins Favre’s Green Bay retirement ceremony, punt Pack back down NFC North

Bills vs. Chiefs

KC sees victory and Rexy’s feet will need much rubb-y from wife-y

Rams vs. Bengals

Andy “Don’t call me Road House” Dalton keeps Cincy scorching, torching Rams gams, hams

Saints vs. Texans

O’Brien’s boys stomp Saints, continue NOLA’s slide minus Ryan’s hide

Buccaneers vs. Colts

Indy wins again behind Hasselbeck, Colts say “what the heck”, wreck Winston’s Bay

Chargers vs. Jags

Sand Diego’s “Whale’s Vagina” drags down Jags, River quivers at the thought loss to Jax

Dolphins vs. Jets

Jets make ‘Fins regret showing up as New York sticks fork in Interim Dan’s Dolph Lundgrens

Vikings vs. Falcons

Peterson’s ground dominance helps Minny keep Matty Ice and Hot-lanta cool, Vikes strike Birds

Giants vs. ‘Skins

Snyder’s sinfully named shame plays bigger than Giants, Washington bums NY

Raiders vs. Titans

Carr scars Mariota’s hope as Oaktown beats down Tennessee ya later

49ers vs. Cardinals

Palmer’s calmer than Gabbert’s guys, flies Arizona past Tomsula’s eyes

Patriots vs. Broncos

Brock busts Brady’s run in OT, great game all the same

Steelers vs. Seahawks

Pete-Hawks stop Big Ol’ Ben as Seattle staves off Michael Chabon’s faves

Ravens vs. Browns (Prediction)

Cleveland rallies to cries of “McCowns Clowns” and beat down Flacco-less Baltimores

How to Finish #1 in Your Fantasy League

Middle finger
Middle finger

Monday Morning Breeze: Football in Week 9 (or maybe 10)

College Football Portion of the Program

Annoyingly, ESPN and every major media outlet brushed the dust from last year’s “Separation Saturday” graphic and proceeded to splash the tired phrase off the ears and eyes nationwide all day. I’m sorry on their behalf. By the way, I’d love if enterprising individuals in unhappy relationships took the liberty to use this “Separation Saturday” motif to their advantage, and necessary-but-difficult break-ups fell like oversized JENGA towers today, and every “Separation Saturday” from here on out. I love Love, though.

Despite the tread-worn SS being thrown around by talking heads like a damn pigskin at Thanksgiving, it did live up to the hype, delivering a number of Top 25 upsets and helping illuminate the probable roadmap for conference championships and ultimately, the playoff picture. Clemson proved it deserves the initial top spot in the CFB Playoff Ranking by beating FSU, Alabama showed the playoff committee’s prescience as they mercilessly whooped LSU, Oklahoma State kept the offensive pyrotechnics going and handily stunned TCU, and Michigan State suffered a reversal of fate, getting upset at Nebraska under the cloud of a potential officiating gaffe and another controversial ending.

Laterals, man. laterals. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the acronym “ILS”, but it means “Invisible Lat Syndrome” and refers to those dipshit dudes that walk around life like they have coolers stuffed under their arms because their backs/lats are so developed, but actually they’re just peacock-style inflating their upper body size. AKA “bowing up” as a scared individual does before a fistfight happens. Well, after the last two weeks of this college football season have unfolded we may have to consider inventing “VLS” or “Visible Lateral Syndrome”, referring to the damage done to fanbases of programs that’ve lost heartbreaking games on plays that involve ridiculous, lateral-induced defeats. The Satan of Sideways struck Duke during their last-second loss to Miami last week, and we thought it was an anomaly…until this week’s Arkansas-Ole Miss fantastic finish featuring, you guessed it, Lucifer’s Ludicrous Laterals.

College Football Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Mizzou FB team “athletes of color” boycotting current school president, won’t play until change made!?…Terrible news, as Miss. St. father/son football combo killed in car crash…First CFB Official Playoff Rankings released, and does Alabama deserve a spot in the top 4 (yes, now clear to all)…The rise of ND’s DeShone Kizer…At halftime of the USC-Arizona game, ESPN’s Danny Kannell referred to ‘Bama’s win over LSU as, “…a curb-stomp. You can’t really call it anything else.” While I agree Alabama forcefully defeated the Tigers, can we all agree using the phrase “curb-stomp” in any context is disgusting, especially when referring to a college football game, especially when we all know this horrifying moment from the racially charged movie “American History X” is what popularized the term.

College Game of the Week: #2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama

This game would decide much in the heated race for the beast that is the SEC West. Would LSU continue to run Leonard Fournette to the Heisman and Lesticles’ second National Championship? Or would ‘Bama continue to rebound from their early-season loss to Ole Miss (which looks even worse now) and keep rolling opponents enroute to another SEC title?

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Well, it was the latter. Alabama whooped LSU 30-16 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a matchup of two of the top four teams in CFB’s initial Playoff Rankings. Bama’s D controlled LSU’s run game, Bama’s O rolled out a dominant, Derrick Henry-led rushing attack, and Saban skated off with another huge win over grass-eating Les-is-Less Miles. Three point summary:

Alabama Won the Trenches
There’s a man named A’shawn Robinson that roams the nose/D-tackle spot for Alabama. He’s nearly impossible to block, and, if you like, here’s a great feature on Robinson. He, along with the rest of Alabama’s O and D-lines, beat the hell out of LSU. This game boiled down to Alabama’s complete control of the line of scrimmage, which always determines these Tide-Tiger matchups. Roll Tide, for tonight.

Leonard Fournette Lost Heisman Ground
I hate that this is true, because I love Fournette and the transcendent beauty he’s brought CFB this year and LSU’s morbid passing game did nothing to help clear the box against the Tide, but this game did some damage to what was once his peerless Heisman campaign. In the game many billed as a battle of the backs in Fournette vs. Derrick Henry, Henry clearly came out on top. Fournette was stymied all day by ‘Bama’s fierce D-line, being held to a season-low 31 yards on 19 carries, well below his 193 yards/game average for the year. Henry meanwhile, bulldozed his way to 3 TD’s and 210 yards, looking unstoppable at times. With TCU’s Trevone Boykin throwing 4 picks and suffering his first loss of the year, the Heisman hierarchy was shaken up a bit this weekend. Now I’d say Henry’s near the top of the heap along with Clemson’s commander QB Deshaun Watson, Ohio State’s stud RB Ezekiel Elliot, and Stanford’s darting dynamo Christian McCaffrey.

Alabama Will Win the National Championship
It’s ridiculous to make predictions anytime, and especially this year given the crazy climate surrounding college football with controversy and madness now the norm, and no team rising head and shoulders above the rest, yet. It’s also silly to put the crown on Alabama’s head given their still-questionable QB Jake Coker and a defense that tends to doo doo in the bed versus spread teams, not to mention all the football that’s left to be played. But let’s get crazy. Let’s throw caution to the wind. ‘Bama just has the feel (and dominant running game, dominant line play, athletic D, competent QB) of a special team that was galvanized by their early-season loss to Ole Miss, and now’s on a mission. Preseason’s darling Ohio State has been building steam this year, but they still look nothing like the team that buzzsawed through last year’s playoff, and while Clemson appear to have gotten rid of their pesky penchant for dropping winnable games, I still don’t trust them. So I’m putting my neck out there and saying this: Ladies and Gentleman, Alabama will be your 2015 College Football National Champion.

At the End of the Day: CFB’s Top 25 Went this Way (All Rankings from College Football Playoff Poll)

#6 Baylor vs. Kansas State (Thursday, Nov. 6th)
Bears survive scare from Snyder’s frat ‘Cats, keep playoff dreams alive

#20 Miss. St. vs. Missouri (Thursday, Nov. 6th)
‘Dogs dump Tigers, Tigers Wish to Dump School President

#22 Temple vs. SMU (Friday, Nov. 7th)
Owls forget they’re supposed to lose to Dallas dudes, instead say “Who?” and bruise ‘Stangs

#10 Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Gators barely beat Vandy, clinch SEC East and keep Commodores least

#5 Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh
Kizer So Says, “Come with me!”, as the Irish stiff Pitt

#21 Northwestern vs. Penn State
We’ve reached the point in reality where it’s not surprising Northwestern beat Penn State. Bizarre.

#11 Stanford vs. Colorado
McCaffrey’s kid keeps rolling as Card roughs up Buffs

#25 Houston vs. Cincinnati
Cougars roast Bearcats, go searching for next young victims

#1 Clemson vs. #16 FSU
Dabo’s Dabos Dabo Wabo Seminoles, proving Dabo deserves to be top Dabo

#9 Iowa vs. Indiana
Hawkeyes keep playoff hopes alive, peck Hoosiers’ I’s out

#17 Michigan vs. Rutgers
Jim’s Joe’s smoke Red Knights

#8 TCU vs. #14 Oklahoma State
Cowboys shoot through swiss-cheese Frogs D, propelling OSU into playoff pic

#18 Ole Miss vs. Arkansas
More casual, late-game chaos brings Bielema’s Hogs rebelliously erotic joy, topping Mr. Ms. Miss

#23 UCLA vs. Oregon State
Bruins ruin OSU, leave it (losing) to Beavers

#13 Memphis vs. Navy
Midshipmen mush Memphis, dashing distant Playoff dreams

#7 Michigan State vs. Nebraska
Sparty falls from unbeaten ranks, skanked late by the Huskers and refs

#15 Oklahoma vs. Iowa State
Stoops’ Troops score sooner and later, smash Cyclones

#19 Texas A&M vs. Auburn
Tigers aggravate Aggies, A&M burned, upset

#12 Utah vs. Washington
Huskies a bit too “big-boned”, Utes race past Peterson’s Puppies

#3 Ohio State vs. Minnesota
Ezekiel 3:14 “Thou shalt never lose to Gophers Faux-Golden”…Bucks truck those with buck-teeth

#2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama
Bayside’s Bayou Bengals Bludgeoned by Alabama Man, Men

Duke vs. North Carolina
Tarholes dash Duke’s ACC dreams, demolish Devils

National Football League Portion of the Program

NFL Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Graphic photos of Greg Hardy’s alleged domestic violence victim surfaced this week, yet he plays on…Hardy was justly skewered (along with some other players/coaches) in these funny updated Madden RatingsFormer Raider charged with grisly murders in California…On the BRIGHTER SIDE, a nice piece on the ascent of Cam Newton.

NFL Quick ‘Cap Game of the Week: Green Bay at Carolina

Cam Can Cam Like Cam:Carolina jumped out to 27-7 lead at half, behind an unstoppable aerial attack and Cam Newtom playing like, well, superCam. The Panthers gave the Pack GB’s largest home deficit since 12/15/13

Thomas Davis SR is the Seniorest Sr.: TD Sr. had a number of nifty plays, including a nice, line-busting sack of A-Rod just before halftime and the game-sealing INT of A-Rod at the end. Davis SR is playing on his 16th ACL of the year, and why does Carolina seem to be the only breeding ground for guys tough/cool enough to use the SR tag on their last names, a la Steve Smith Sr. and now Mr. Davis Sr.?

Pack’s Second Half Comeback Squelched: GB scored quick in the 2nd half with a Rodgers-Cobb long TD pass early in the 2nd quarter leading to a furious rally in 2nd half to get it to 37-29. A-Rod drove Green Bay deep into Carolina territory late in the 4th quarter and, scrambling on 4th down and goal got picked by the man, THE SR Davis, to end the Pack threat and clinch Carolina’s best start ever. Is Carolina for real? It seems so, and their stranglehold on the NFC South is secure for now.

NFL Longer Lust Game of the Week 2: Denver at Carolina

This past week, Indianapolis fired their once-successful Offensive Coordinator, Pep Hamilton, due to the Colts’ early-season struggles on offense relative to the major investment (draft/free agency) the team made on that side of the ball in the offseason. It’s been spun in major outlets that this firing was largely a result of Andrew Luck’s ineffectiveness (injured ribs or not) so far this year, including MMQB’s own Peter King challenging Luck to step up and accept responsibility for being the reason Hamilton was fired, and questioning how Luck would respond in the face of such pressure.

It looked like Luck would have the toughest of times responding to a major shake-up on the offensive coaching staff facing a Denver Broncos D that was dominating the NFL so far. It looked like Luck was seriously suffering from some injury, whether it was the supposedly-kept-under-wraps rib injury or something else, as this year his typically picturesque form and performance had been relegated to rollercoaster status on a weekly basis. It looked like Peyton Manning’s sand-arm and the Elway Broncos would head into Peyton’s Old Oil Dome and dominate the Colts, keeping their undefeated record alive and sending the Horseshoes further into a tailspin, though remaining atop the weak-ass AFC South.

As it turns out, looks, and Luck, can be deceiving.  Colts win 27-24.  The game’s 3 pressure points:

Luck Don’t Throw No Wounded Ducks: It’s clear something’s been ailing Andy all season, and too see the media hop on his back lately has been interesting. Andrew Luck is a selfless beast that more often than not puts the Colts in a position to win. He may not be Peyton, but that’s a good and bad thing. This week, Luck and his new coordinator were on track early putting Indy up 17 through the first half and keeping things going well enough in the second to hang on for the win. Everyone else needs to get back on the Luck bandwagon; there’s plenty of neck hair to go around, keeping us all warm and entertained for the remainder of the year.

Last Game in Lucas Oil? Peyton Throws a Pretty Ball Too: Manning hit a bomb to Emmanuel Sanders early in the 3rd quarter to cut Indy’s lead to 17-14, and played well enough throughout. Emmanuel Sanders is impossible to cover, and Manning’s demise has been waaaaaay too overblown in the media this season. The man can still play, no matter how sad and old his face looked at the end of this one. However, in what may be his last game ever in the Lucas Oil Dome, Peyton suffered a surprising loss. In the end, that doesn’t mean to much as history holds Peyton as probably the greatest Colts’ QB ever, but it seemed refreshing and necessary for the young upstart Luck to get a win tonight, leading Indy into the near and distant future.

Peyton’s Path to History Paused: Mr. Manning finished the game just 3 measly passing yards shy of the all-time career passing yardage mark in NFL history. It would’ve been as fitting as a birthday suit for Peyton the Perfectionist to set one of the greatest records in NFL history in the home stadium of the team that drafted and reaped the rewards of Manning’s greatness for the majority of his career, before oddly jettisoning him because of concerns about his neck. However, due to a bizarre holding call late when Denver’s defense was called for the infraction defending an Indy FG kick, Peyton never got the final chance to get the mark in Indianapolis. Perhaps it’s better he’ll surely set the mark in his new home of Mile High, in Denver, next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

NFL Hyper-Headline Roundup

Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
Bengals bust Browns’ balls as Manziel hits sixth ring of hell, oh well

https://vine.co/v/eLgY6OLwYH6

Denver vs. Indianapolis
Andy punts Peyton’s pursuit of all-time passing yards record, as Colts become first to beat Broncos

Atlanta vs. San Francisco
Niners’ new QB sets offense free, sinks Falcons further south in NFC

NY Giants vs. Tampa Bay
Coughlin’s Cadets Crush Winston’s Regrets

Oakland vs. Pittsburgh
Raiders fall short late, Big Ben goes on an injury date, and Steelers win slim at the end

Miami vs. Buffalo
Rex says “Interim heads roll” and controls ‘Fins, as Bills win

Jacksonville vs. NY Jets
Jets set Jags back to the days pre-hot tub, rub South Florida the wrong/right way

Tennessee vs. New Orleans
Marcus the Hawaiian leads Titanic Dicaprios to OT victory over the Saints which must fire Roby Ryan train

St. Louis vs. Minnesota
Vikings ram Rams into FG submission

New England vs. Washington
Brady’s Bunch Native American burns the Snyders

Philadelphia vs. Dallas
Eagles fly, Eagles fly, right by Big D’s dysfunction in OT on Sunday night’s football flight

Commercial Skewering and Randoms

Tweets I Sent Cuz Drinks

Weekly Fantasy Football Insight/Tips/Updates/XXX Advice

Are Chiefs Primetime Ready?

Week three of the NFL season will conclude tonight as the Kansas City Chiefs go into Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. The Packers role into tonight as one of the best teams in football having won their first two games in convincing fashion. The Chiefs come into tonight’s game after one of the worst regular season losses in franchise history.

Last week the Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos in primetime on national TV. It wasn’t just that they lost to a division rival, it was how they lost. The Chiefs squandered an early fourteen point lead by giving the Broncos and Peyton Manning five turnovers. The final turnover was a Jamaal Charles fumble, on a pointless running play with thirty seconds left in regulation that the Broncos returned for a game winning touchdown.  It was Charles second fumble of the game and just one of many questionable play calls by head coach Andy Reid. The defense looked great early but could find no answer for Manning in the fourth quarter. Alex Smith was pretty much what Chiefs fans have come to expect from Alex Smith. He had one bad interception and a couple more tip balls that could be the fault of any number of factors. Otherwise, Smith had his usual “check-down Charlie” game plan. And for those keeping track at home, they did not throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver bringing that consecutive game streak to nineteen.

The odd thing about the game last week though, despite how horrible the Chiefs played, they still should have won. I feel confident in saying that the Chiefs were the better team on Thursday night. They gave Manning five extra possessions and were still in line for the win with under a minute to go in the game. It was the first time in NFL history that a team had scored two touchdowns in under one minute to first tie and then win the game. So what does that all mean for the Chiefs going forward?

For starters I believe it means that the Chiefs are a good football team. They have a top ten defense that will only get stronger with the return of corner Sean Smith next week. They have one of the best trios of offensive threats in the league with Travis Kelce, Charles and Jeremy Maclin. Smith has proven he can win when he’s surrounded with talent and as long as the offensive line can play decent than he should be able to find those weapons. A lot of people around Kansas City and in the national media expect the Chiefs to compete with Broncos for the AFC West crown while at worse being a wild card team. Being 1-1 after two weeks should not change those expectations for anyone.

The question is; as good as these Chiefs may be, are they ready for primetime? The Chiefs biggest problem since Reid took over three years ago is winning the games that mean the most. Everyone remembers the historic collapse against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2013 playoffs. The historic collapse last week is fresh in everyone’s mind. Reid is also 0-5 against the Broncos since he came to KC. The end of the season when teams hope to be playing their best ball, the Chiefs are 5-10 from week eleven on under Reid. The Chiefs did win a couple big games last season becoming the only team in NFL history to beat both Super Bowl contestants in the same season. But, the Chiefs also lost to the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans who combined to win only three other games all season.

That question will get answered tonight in Green Bay. The Chiefs don’t have to win this game to silence their critics, but they do need to look good. Smith can’t look frazzled and scared as he did against Denver. Reid can’t try to be cute and make crazy play calls trying to outsmart the other team. The defense needs to play at the top of their game for an entire game not just the first half. When the game ends tonight, whether the Chiefs win or lose, they need to show that they are a good team and that the moment is not too big for them. If the Chiefs can show that tonight than a lot more fans will jump on the band wagon and start to believe that this team could be something special. But, if the Chiefs perform the same way they did against Denver, than there will be a lot of warm seats in Arrowhead Stadium starting with Reid and Smith.

City of Rams

Let’s just get this out of the way, Los Angeles Rams has a nice familiar ring to it. The reality is that the NFL doesn’t need Los Angeles and LA definitely doesn’t need the NFL, but it’s going to happen, one way or another, and soon. The most notable thing that ends, should a team relocate to the City of Angels (or nearby), is leverage for NFL owers to get public funding to stay in their current locale. It’s fair to say the Rams are the frontrunner for Southern California, but it isn’t necessarily about leveraging the good people of St. Louis and they aren’t alone in their conquest to plant a flag in or around Los Angeles.

For years, almost since they left town in the first place, we’ve been hearing rumors about the Rams and/or Raiders returning to LA, but there’s never been any sense of urgency to actually make it happen. The Rams have called the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis home since arriving in 1995 and the organization isn’t thrilled with the minimal improvements to the venue over the last 21 years. The Raiders have played at O.co Coliseum since their return to the East Bay, and I’m guessing sewage back-up is just the tip of the iceberg the football team and their co-tenant, Major League Baseball’s Athletics, would cite in reasons for escaping Oakland. The leverage issue comes into play when you consider the Rams and Raiders found Los Angeles is a big enough market to share, so a single team landing there doesn’t necessarily eliminate another owner’s leverage.

Bring the Rams back to the west coast and watch the Raiders abandon the bay for the second time in under 35 years, and we can stop talking about teams like the Jaguars and Vikings heading west, right? If only it were that simple. The Rams do appear to have the best laid plans and pieces are already in place, with their owner Stan Kroenke buying the land of the old Hollywood Park in Inglewood. Speaking of being up to no good, there are other suitors looking to move to and co-occupy a new stadium in Carson, south of LA Proper. While no one would dismiss the idea of multiple teams in a gigantic market like the Los Angeles area, many would doubt even the Los Angelinos could support three team in a single market, squeezing Kroenke back to the Gateway City, or perhaps somwhere a little rockier.

The Chargers aren’t happy with Qualcomm Stadium and haven’t been for a long time. Even if as a dark horse, the Chargers, along with the 49ers have long been considered a candidate to head up I-5, but to cooperate with a division rival for a better venue is questionable. If I’m Chargers owner Alex Spanos, I’m not sure I want to partner up with the Davis family, even if it is Mark and not the late Al. Honestly, this could be a 20-year mistake in the making, but the Carson plan seems to have some legs. For football in the LA area, the Carson plan seems to eliminate wiggle room; it’s either the Rams and only the Rams, or no Rams at all, if the Chargers and Raiders can make Carson work.

Of course, money talks and the Kroenkes have plenty of it. Forbes values Stan’s net worth at over $6 billion and his wife Ann, of the Wal-Mart Walton family is worth over 5 billion herself. What does that mean? First, it means the $250 million they’ve put into the Inglewood NFL project, which was approved by the city on Wednesday isn’t the devastating loss that it is for someone like Cleveland’s Jimmy Haslam, who is worth less than half than either Kroenke. They would likely find a way to recoup the investment, maybe from the NFL, if they needed to jump ship. They also haven’t burnt the bridges in St. Louis and there is a new proposed open-air stadium that would be contingent on the Rams remaining in Missouri, so don’t rule anything out.

Behind Door #3, they could identify the weaker partner, and there always is one, between the Spanos and Davis families, and try to push them out of the Carson partnership. In my opinion, it makes more sense to have an AFC/NFC split between co-occupants in a stadium, and as bad as the accomodations are at Qualcomm, the Raiders are more desperate for a new home, since they will have a hard time getting a new facility in a shared market with the 49ers in the Bay Area. It’s a lot more likely that the Chargers can get something done in San Diego, though the prospects have died down in recent years. Should the Rams be able to force one or both of those AFC West franchises out of the LA picture, there’s sure to be more drama in the division because of it. Speaking of the AFC West…

Kronke has controlling interest in the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, so we may not want to permanent attach ourselves to Kroenke and the Rams. If Pat Bowlen, who is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, looks to sell the Broncos, expect Kroenke to deepen his footprint in the Denver market and sell the Rams to a local buyer in St. Louis. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch speculates on the Broncos situation, as it relates to Kroenke:

If Kroenke owned the Broncos — one of the league’s best and most financially valuable franchises — he would no longer have to worry about being in violation of the NFL’s cross ownership rules. And he would be in control of every franchise in the lucrative Denver market including the town’s MLS soccer franchise.

If Kroenke agreed to keep the Rams in St. Louis, perhaps the NFL would make sure that he had the first right of refusal to purchase the Broncos. (And then sell the Rams to local, St. Louis-based ownership.) Some will insist that the Broncos aren’t for sale, even with team owner Pat Bowlen in decline as he deals with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

All of that is just speculation though (Bowlen is trying to keep the team ownership in his family), and the most likely scenario, given that he already owns the land and Inglewood has approved this, the Rams will likely move to California before the 2016 season and play in the Rose Bowl until the venue is built at the old Hollywood Park. For St. Louis, this likely means the end of the NFL forever, and it has remnants of the Cardinals heading west in the 80s, in that few will miss the team this time around as well. At this point, it may just be a matter of whether they’ll have the market to themselves or have to compete for market share. Truth be told, their current reach is limited to the outskirts of Bears and Chiefs country, but in Southern California, there may be a village of Rams fans ready to dust off their Eric Dickerson and Jackie Slater apparel.

Of course, as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer has stated, the people of Los Angeles come from all over, with their own allegiances from elsewhere and there’s this mutual lack of need, even if there’s some level of desire to get the NFL back. There’s no longer time to contemplate the if and the why, but now it’s the when. The time is now, and the Rams are the most perfect fit. Expect it to happen.

Zone-Blocking Is Back With Kubiak Back in Denver

Peyton Manning doesn’t need to be told, I’m sure. No one wins without help. It’s a fact of life in the National Football League. Few, if any, team in the NFL can win without a quarterback, but no one will ever accuse a team that employs #18 of suffering that dilemma. Manning doesn’t need an all-star ensemble of receivers, though he always seems to be blessed with a corps that draws envy from around the league. Simply put, the guy needs a solid enough running game to keep defenses honest with his arm, which clearly is not what it used to be.

In John Fox, he had a coach that knew how to play to his strengths; in Denver’s case, it was the defense, before and after Manning signed with the Broncos via free agency, after he was released by the Colts in 2012. Casual fans tend to make the mistake of branding a guy as offensive or defensive, based on how one climbs the coaching ladder to the rank of head coach, but the best head coaches are simply coaches of the game, regardless of how long they spend as specialists on one side of the ball or the other. Fox left it to his lieutenants, Mike McCoy and then Adam Gase to engineer an offense to its own strengths, with varied levels of success. For failing to return to the Super Bowl or even the conference championship, Fox was shown the door, and Gase wasn’t far behind.

Enter Gary Kubiak, stage left. Kubiak is a Denver Bronco, through and through. From being drafted by the team late in the 1983 Draft and being John Elway’s understudy until he retired from playing in 1991, to returning to Mike Shanahan’s staff as an assistant in 1995 after winning a Super Bowl as Steve Young’s quarterbacks coach in San Francisco, to returning to the Rockies for the job that always felt like his destiny, no one will ever question Kubiak’s familiarity with the organization. Two years before Shanahan and the Broncos parted ways, Kubiak was named the head coach in Houston, where we improved the team overall, right up until a brutal 2-11 start cost him his job before the end of the 2013 season. A lot of things that worked in Denver ended up not translating to other organizations, but the zone blocking scheme (ZBS) the Broncos ran worked with an undeniable level of success for Kubiak and the Texans.

Even with the stable of weapons that Manning has to catch the ball, their success tends to hang in the balance, based on whether or not they can run the football well. With few exceptions, you need that type of balance to succeed in the NFL. In CJ Anderson, many believe the Broncos have their man to pound the rock and open things up downfield for the likes of Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker. Manning isn’t foreign to the idea of help, nor was his boss in the front office, John Elway, before him. There’s a difference between a quarterback making you very good and quarterback with the right complimentary pieces making you great. For Elway, it was the difference between handing the ball to Sammy Winder for 700 yard seasons and Terrell Davis for 1500+ yard seasons. It was the difference between being AFC Champs and the World Champions.

Now, Manning got into his own way a lot in Indianapolis. So, let’s not smear Edgerrin James in pointing out that Joseph Addai’s efforts as a rookie in 2006 and contribution to the offense in the subsequent post-season played a definite role in getting Manning his only Super Bowl ring to date. James was a fierce competitor and a certain upgrade from the likes of James Mungro and Dominic Rhodes, but he had the unfortunate distinction of watching his former teams play in Super Bowls. Addai split carries with Donald Brown, but still had the lion’s share of the touches on offense, catching 40 passes for 325 yards, to accompany his 1000 yards or so on the ground. In the years after the Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, the support from the running game wasn’t there, and it showed the most in Manning’s final game as a Colt, a 2011 Wildcard Game loss to the Jets.

Rex Ryan’s defense continually forced Manning to check down to the run, and Addai and Rhodes weren’t up to the task. They combined for 93 yards on 17 carries in a game where Manning completed just 18 passes on 26 attempts. It all equaled a 1-point defeat, and with Manning’s neck issues, he never suited up for Indianapolis again. In three seasons in Denver, he’s had a caravan of running backs behind him, most notably Knowshon Moreno, who left for Miami via free agency before the 2014 season. When Moreno was on, 18 didn’t have to throw for 400 yards to keep his offense on the field and his team in the game. When he wasn’t, the whole thing went plop, and it was most notable in a 43-8 Super Bowl loss to Seattle.

Now, even with a lot of the pieces returning to the 53, Denver has a new identity. They have the personnel to do it, but the Kubiak factor cannot be overlooked here. It took him a few years to get everyone to buy-in in Houston, but after inheriting Ron Dayne and Wali Lundy for the first two seasons, he made Steve Slaton a thousand-yard back and ultimately made Arian Foster a household name. After some tough breaks in Texas, Kubiak needed to take a stepping-stone job as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, and 1200 Justin Forsett rushing yards later, he was on Pat Bowlen’s short list to replace Fox in Denver. His first task in Denver, now that Manning confirmed his intention to return, must be to get a new group to buy into zone-blocking.

The sample size is small with Anderson, but it came during gut-check time. As the weather got worse, Anderson got more carries and led the team in most rushing categories, seeing his success play out over the second half of the season. We’ve seen this work with Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and Reuben Droughns in Denver before, and CJ Anderson is more than just a warm body. He’s a legitimate guy to watch, and Gase even ran some zone-blocking in 2014, so the idea isn’t completely new to anyone involved.

Behind Anderson, the Broncos have options. Montee Ball was expected to back-fill the production lost in Moreno’s departure, but injuries and fumbles have factored into him being a disappointment. Speaking of hit-and-miss, Ronnie Hillman remains an enigma. Hillman has had his flashes of brilliance, but it’s tough to judge who exactly he is, since he missed time to injury in 2014. Still, the former regime liked him, and with good reason. More Than A Fan’s own Dan Armelli explains on Denver’s Fansided page, Predominately Orange.

The Broncos will also be returning Ronnie Hillman, who gained the necessary weight in effort to become more durable. In a cruel twist of fate, he ended up missing the same amount of games in 2014 as he did in his first two years combined (8).

Even still, Hillman showed great improvement and proved to be an asset on this team. He can play on any down (though probably not every down), averaging a career high 4.1 yards per carry. Most of his 434 yards on the season came at a point where the Broncos offensive line could not run block worth a lick. Hillman was the perfect back at the time with his ability to bounce runs outside if and when it got messy between the tackles.

He was also able to earn the coaches’ trust on 3rd downs and passing situations. According to Pro Football Reference, Hillman improved on his pass block efficiency (which calculates how efficient a RB is when it comes to limiting sacks, hits, and hurries) from 88.5% in 2013 to 93.8% in 2014. Moreover, Hillman was targeted more in 2014 (34) than in his first two years combined (12, 14).

In another reboot of sorts for the Broncos, former head coach Wade Phillips will return to the charge of Kubiak, after serving as his defensive coordinator for three years in Houston, serving in the same role with Denver. If you’ve experienced the trauma of Phillips being your head coach, try to understand that he’s out of the way enough calling the defense, and he does that well. Jack Del Rio is a big loss for the players, but Phillips will have the unit ready to go without missing a beat once September rolls around. Overall, you expect some improvement from the 2015 Broncos.

They might even be able to afford some of the anticipated regression from Peyton Manning, and still be a better team, thanks to what Kubiak and the ZBS bring to the table.

Don’t Doubt Peyton Manning

For weeks I had wondered about the guy playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos. The back of his jersey read “Manning” but he sure didn’t look like Peyton. In the roughly 15 years that I have watch Peyton Manning redefine, and at times perfect, the quarterback position, I had never seen him struggle the way that he had over the past two months. After cruising through a stretch of 51 straight games with a touchdown pass, Peyton closed the season’s final four contests with only three TDs to six interceptions, including two games with zero touchdowns.

Then the regular came to close, and Peyton was afforded a chance at redemption in the form of a home playoff game against the Colts. Sadly, this brought no deviation from the recent play from Peyton, no return to his former glory. If anything, he was even worse on Sunday. In fact, that may have been the single worst first half of football that I can ever recall watching Peyton Manning play. Heading into the locker room, he was 7-18 for 71 yards.

He simply does not play that poorly. And it was not just his numbers; Peyton looked like a below average quarterback. He missed throws badly. He whiffed on wide open receivers. The offense struggled to sustain drives. Something was off.

Unwilling to condemn number 18, I searched for scapegoats. I blamed the cold. I blamed the wind. I credited the Indianapolis Defense. I blamed his receivers for dropping passes. I had to blame someone or something other than Peyton because it could not be his fault. I mean, this is Peyton Freaking Manning.

After the second half continued the trend, doubt started to creep in. I wondered about Manning’s declining arm strength. I wondered about his age. I wondered, “has Peyton Manning lost it?” A question that appeared unthinkable a few short months earlier had now become a very real possibility.

Still, I kept waiting for him to turn it around. I was expecting it. Then I was hoping. Then I was begging.

Sure enough, as time wound down in the final quarter, the Broncos took possession with a chance to mount an epic comeback. Peyton had been here countless times in his career. The all-time leader in fourth quarter comebacks, he knows how to succeed in these situations. Normally, I would feel confident that Peyton would quickly drive his offense down for one score, putting the pressure on the opposing quarterback to register a few first downs to drain the clock. But for some reason, I couldn’t imagine the quintessential Peyton drive. For the first time ever, I had no belief that Peyton’s team was going to pull this off. The comeback was not just improbable or inconceivable, but completely and utterly impossible.

As it turned out, the Broncos were not able to stage a comeback. Peyton suffered another playoff loss, another one and done. The inevitable post-game questions ambushed Manning, asking about his possible retirement.

He responded, “Uh, yeah, I guess I just can’t give that simple answer. I’m processing it. I can’t say that. I could not say that.”

I could not peg the exact moment when it happened, how it happened or even what “it” was, but Peyton had lost it. I was ready to throw in the towel for him. I was quickly convincing myself that Peyton Manning was done.

Then came Monday morning. In a Tweet, Adam Schefter revealed that Peyton was hampered by a serious injury. Manning was playing with a torn right quad. Ordinarily injuries are bad news. But in this case, I was relieved. This was the explanation that I had been seeking. This was why his already limited mobility had been reduced to infantile levels. This was why he was unable to step into his throws. This was why his normally flawless mechanics suddenly seemed faulty.

Of course, injuries do not spell unescapable doom for an athlete. Aaron Rodgers is dealing with his own injury issue, albeit of a different sort, and he still managed to play well enough to earn a victory. Therefore, a quality performance while wounded is possible, so the injury does not fully acquit Peyton of all his recent subpar play. But it does restore hope. I now have hope that Peyton can return to form next season if he chooses to continue playing.

The important note here is that it will be Peyton’s choice. He can choose to endure the grueling rehab process and offseason workout schedule. He can choose to usher in the era of a new head coach. He can choose to make one more run at another Lombardi Trophy. Or he can choose to close the book on his Hall of Fame career. It is all up to him. When the time comes, he will undoubtedly make the right decision. After all, he is still Peyton Freaking Manning.

A Revealing Night for the Broncos

In the season finale of Monday Night Football, the Bengals defeated the Broncos 37-28 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. This was a vital victory for Cincinnati since it punched their ticket to the playoffs. The Broncos, who have already giftwrapped themselves a playoff spot, were merely playing for a first round bye, which they can still secure with a win next week. Evidence would suggest that the game was simply more meaningful to the Bengals, but that’s not what I was left thinking when the game ended. While the Bengals celebrate their playoff berth, the Broncos may have just had their playoff dreams dashed.

 
Obviously the Broncos will play in the postseason, but they are not content with simply making the playoffs. Their playoff dream is to win the Super Bowl. After watching Monday’s game, I have a difficult time envisioning that dream coming true. Make no mistake about it—the Broncos are a terrific football team, however the playoffs will consist entirely of quality teams (aside from whoever emerges from the crapshoot that is the NFC South).

 
The Broncos, who boasted the most potent passing offense in NFL history a season ago, have lost their identity. During week twelve’s matchup against the Dolphins, the Broncos abruptly shifted their focus to establishing themselves as a run-first attack. Most analysts supported this decision. The consensus was that an effective running game would bolster Denver’s chances of winning playoff games and returning to the Super Bowl.

 
The plan seemed to be working well as Denver went streaking for four games following the shocking loss to the Rams. Picking up where they left off, the Broncos went to work on the ground Monday night. They fed C.J. Anderson a steady diet of early down runs to little avail. Even as the offense struggled to move the ball, they stubbornly stuck to the plan. With most of Peyton’s passes coming only on third down, he had little opportunity to establish a rhythm. The offense was held scoreless in the first half.

 
In the third quarter, the Broncos looked like a different team. Their patented quick tempo returned and so did the relentless passing game. Denver ripped off 21 third quarter points. Peyton looked sharp, and the entire offense was in sync once again. This was shaping up to be a prototypical Peyton comeback. As Gruden and Tirico mentioned, Peyton has 17 victories after trailing in games by at least 13 points, five more such comebacks than any other quarterback in league history. Peyton appeared poised to take home number 18.

 
Then something changed. Maybe it was the inclement weather, or Denver’s porous offensive line, or Peyton’s declining arm strength, or some combination of the three. Whatever the reason may have been, the Broncos offense fell apart. The Bengals pass rush put Peyton under constant duress, which completely disrupted the timing of the passing game. The Cincinnati secondary clogged the middle of the field, which forced Peyton to attempt lengthy sideline passes through the wind and rain. The results were unkind to Peyton. He floated three late interceptions and eventually lost the game by nine.

 
This fourth quarter reminded me of last year’s Super Bowl. The Broncos offensive line was overwhelmed by a fearsome pass rush, and Peyton struggled to complete passes against a ball-hawking secondary. Other teams undoubtedly took notice of what slowed Denver’s offense. If Denver’s playoff opponent can emulate Cincinnati’s strategy, their season will be ending early.

 
Now, I have never been one to doubt Peyton Manning. On many occasions I have anointed him the best quarterback that I have ever seen. But his remaining days in the NFL are numbered. No one denies his physical decline–his arm isn’t getting any stronger, and his spirals are becoming more wobbly by the game.  Since his tenure with the Broncos began, he had been able to overcome his physical limitations with anticipation and consistent football brilliance.  Last night, the Bengals caused Manning to make several mental mistakes.  Perhaps this was an aberration, but it revealed that Peyton’s margin for error is miniscule.  His dearth of mobility and waning arm strength require him to be flawless mentally.  Soon that burden may be too great for even the incomparable mind of Manning to bear.  His window of opportunity is quickly closing. I know it, and Peyton does too. Wednesday night while Andy Dalton is snug in his bed with visions of sugar-plums and a his first playoff win dancing in his head, Peyton will be wide awake wondering if he will ever win another Super Bowl.

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