Lions 40, Packers 10
Over Thanksgiving, Lord Kelvin and Niels Bohr ask me what I think Kurt Cobain would be doing if he were alive today. I'm weirdly super-prepared for this question because I've spent an afternoon writing 47-Year-Old Kurt fan fiction because of this picture. In my 47-Year-Old Kurt story, 47-Year-Old Kurt is retired from performing, divorced, living in Seattle, a little chubby from the Paxil, halfheartedly producing records. 47-Year-Old Kurt doesn't hear from Frances much. 47-Year-Old Kurt won a Grammy in 2004 for a King Buzzo spoken-word album he played some feedbacky guitar on. 47-Year-Old Kurt tweets out suicide-hotline numbers around the holidays but doesn't really "get" Twitter.
It felt like the end for Knowshon Moreno. Only two years earlier, the Broncos had made the Georgia product the 15th overall pick, but as Moreno was helped off the field in November 2011, that status as a coveted prospected felt much further away. Already bypassed on the depth chart by Willis McGahee and hemorrhaging carries to Lance Ball, Moreno was diagnosed with a torn ACL and his career in Denver seemed like it might be coming to an end.
That’s hard to imagine now. Because when the Broncos — boasting one of the most prolific offenses in league history — take the field tonight in San Diego, it will likely be Moreno flanking Peyton Manning. Two years removed from third-down duties and possibly being cut, Moreno is having the best season of his career. He has averaged 4.3 yards per carry on his way to 920 yards — the eighth-highest total in the league — and he's made huge contributions in the passing game, where he’s in the top 10 in receiving DVOA among running backs. Only five players — LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, and Josh Gordon — have more yards from scrimmage.
Skeptics will say that Moreno’s success is nothing more than a product of the Broncos’ offensive dominance, that running backs will always thrive with Peyton Manning because they’ll run only when they should. But Moreno’s place in the Denver offense speaks to more than just how great Manning has been. It’s just another example of the ever-changing way that running backs fit in today’s league. Context is almost everything.
The All-22 All-Star Team is an attempt to provide some insight on the NFL's 22 most underappreciated players. Some will be All-Pros who haven't fully gotten their due; some will be names few casual fans have ever heard. All will, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.
With 34 seconds left in Week 1, the Jets’ offense walked back onto the field trailing 17-15. By that time, every other game from the 1 p.m. slot had already ended. Any idle TV in any sports bar around the country likely featured Geno Smith, in his first start, looking to begin his career with something memorable.
Most of those casually watching the final minute of Jets-Buccaneers probably hadn’t heard of Lavonte David before that Sunday. A second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2012, David had started every game for Tampa Bay in his first year, but even finishing eighth in the league in tackles isn’t enough to earn attention for a rookie on a 7-9 team featured in just one prime-time game. For many, their first exposure to David came on the second-to-last play of that Week 1 game, when the linebacker hit Geno Smith just as the quarterback stepped out of bounds on a scramble. Out of field goal range and without any timeouts before the play, the Jets were gifted life with the personal foul, and those 15 yards were just enough for Nick Folk, who drilled a 48-yard field goal to win the game.
Considering how well he played as a rookie, it would be a shame if that were the first time some football fans heard Lavonte David’s name. But it wouldn’t even compare to the shame of not hearing it since.
When the Panthers produced a disappointing 1-5 start to the season a year ago, Marty Hurney was the guy who paid the price. The Panthers general manager was fired after 11 seasons at the helm, a run that admittedly saw its ups and downs. During Hurney's tenure, Carolina won the NFC South three times and made an unlikely run to the Super Bowl in 2003, but the team collapsed to a 2-14 season in 2010 and was on a 9-29 stretch when Hurney was fired. Several weeks before the move, I wrote a piece on Grantland that documented some of the decisions Hurney had made and how they had prevented the team from contending in the NFC South.
A year later, and the Panthers look like a totally different franchise. With the same head coach and many of the same players, Carolina is now 9-4 and almost surely in line for a playoff berth in the NFC, its first since 2008. Ron Rivera's metamorphosis into an aggressive coach has been well covered, but less has been said about the personnel side of things. General manager Dave Gettleman had an impressive debut draft with the team, bringing in talented defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, but many of the players who are starring on this Carolina team were drafted or otherwise acquired by Hurney.
It was fair to criticize Hurney a year ago; he had made some clearly aggressive decisions with his spending on and valuation of personnel, and it hadn't worked out. It's also appropriate now, though, to go back and give the choices Hurney made a second look. Did Hurney get a bad rap with another year of hindsight to judge his decisions? Or are the Panthers succeeding in spite of his work from the past? Let's review the work he did in constructing much of this Carolina roster.
No franchise in the NFL is fueled by turmoil more consistently than Washington. Even for the fans who have suffered through the agonizing valleys of the Daniel Snyder era, this has been a particularly brutal season. The expectations produced by a stunning playoff run and a brilliant rookie season by Robert Griffin in 2012 have given way to a 3-10 campaign and a season-long debate over Griffin's health. That discussion — and I'm being generous there — has now somehow merged with the possibility that Mike Shanahan will be fired before the 2014 season.
As the year has gone along, the calls to remove Griffin from the starting lineup have grown louder. Some of that revolves around the idea that Griffin is unhealthy and unable to perform at his previous level, an argument that isn't supported by his cumulative performance this year. Almost all year, though, there has been a small but significant portion of the fan base and the circus surrounding the team that genuinely believes that Kirk Cousins deserves a chance to be the starter in Washington based upon his play in relief of Griffin. (Super Bowl–winning ex-coaches, too.) This has been coming, strangely, for a while.
Mike Shanahan is going to get fired. Usually there's some uncertainty when we say something like that. But there's no uncertainty here. We know Mike Shanahan is going to get fired because it's pretty obvious that Mike Shanahan is trying to get fired, and unless life at FedEx Field is actually just a screwball black comedy taking place in the mind of someone living in another dimension for their own amusement (which we haven't totally ruled out), most people who try to get fired usually get what they want. The real question is this: Is he trying hard enough?
Sometimes it takes a really weird context to get coaches to be aggressive. I'm not going to be naming any of the myriad decisions to go for two from the Eagles-Lions snowstorm as candidates for good or bad calls in this week's Thank You for Not Coaching, because the coaches were really choosing not to kick as opposed to choosing to try to succeed with an aggressive conversion, but it raised a thought for me: Is a team ever going to be that aggressive and go for two just about every time in a game that isn't taking place in a snowstorm? That should happen at least once in a while, right?
Take last night's Bears-Cowboys game. There's little reason to think that the bitter cold would have affected Robbie Gould or Dan Bailey in terms of their ability to kick extra points, but that was a game between two teams that couldn't tackle or do anything to stop the opposing offense at the point of attack. The four running backs who received carries combined to rush for 339 yards on 55 attempts, an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Theoretically, if your chances of succeeding on a two-point conversion are greater than 50 percent, that play should be your default choice in a vacuum at every opportunity, since you would expect to score more points on each average attempt by going for two than you would by kicking the sure extra point. I'm pretty sure that would have been the case in the Bears-Cowboys matchup had those teams tried to go for two each time. Alas, the Bears had to settle for a mere 45 points, aided by a lone two-point conversion along the way. Oh, speaking of
LeSean McCoy: Weather was a theme all over the league yesterday, but what happened in Philadelphia was something entirely different. I can’t remember a game in which diving for the ball meant players temporarily disappearing.
When McCoy did this to Glover Quin in his (ridiculous) second half, part of me was worried it would end with Quin buried deep enough that he’d never be found.
This was the McCoy game that has seemed so close all year but has never quite happened. His 184-yard debut came on 31 carries, but since Nick Foles took over, there have been plenty of underwhelming outings. Apparently it took a blizzard to finally bring McCoy’s open-field advantage to an unfair place. McCoy has led the league the past two seasons in broken tackles, according to Football Outsiders, and I’m guessing he will again this year. His 1,305 rushing yards now lead the league, and if he somehow managed to string together a couple more big games and got to 1,600 for the year, I don’t know who would be surprised.
Season Total: 0 jermajesties (Is that even possible?)
Yes — that is possible and accurate. After 13 weeks and 20,000+ nonsensical babbling words, my NFL proposition picks have netted you exactly zero jermajesties. (Obligatory weekly explanation: A “jermajesty” represents the fake name given for a dollar amount in this series. It’s also the unfortunate name of one of Jermaine Jackson’s sons.)
As ineffectual as I’ve been, I refuse to take the blame for last week. That Titans first-half screw job was one for the ages. Not to mention, I went a remarkable 0 for 3 in a three-team 10-point teaser. That’s very difficult to do. In fact, I really should receive something for that stellar effort. Maybe malaria?
Robert Mathis, OLB, Colts v. Andrew Whitworth/Anthony Collins, Bengals Evan Mathis, G, Eagles v. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions
Two of the better line-play matchups of the week happen to come in games that mirror each other across conferences. Each pair of these teams shares the same record, and as everything currently stands, these are probably matchups between the 3- and 4-seeds in both the NFC and AFC.
The Bengals and Colts are almost assured of winning their respective divisions, thanks to the Colts’ win over the Titans last week and the general mediocrity that defines three quarters of the NFC North. What this game really means for each team is a tiebreaker advantage for seeding purposes. The 3-seed would get the benefit of playing the “winner” of the Dolphins-Ravens-whomever jumble, while the 4-seed hosted Kansas City.
With Monday night’s shellacking in the books, we now have a rough sketch of the NFC playoff picture. The Seahawks need something biblical to derail them from home-field advantage, Detroit’s win over Green Bay (and the Bears’ loss to the Vikings) gives the Lions a clear path to the NFC North title, and Philadelphia’s win over Arizona gave the Eagles a leg up in the NFC East and the Cardinals a knock down the wild-card ladder. New Orleans and Carolina still play each other twice, and with the Panthers refusing to slow down, that division is still very much in question. But for the most part, we have a pretty defined idea of what our six or seven playoff teams/seeds will look like:
2. Carolina/New Orleans
5. New Orleans/Carolina
6. San Francisco
Of all those teams, San Francisco seems to be the one no one’s excited about. Detroit has Calvin Johnson; Philadelphia has Nick Foles. The Niners are just a team that a year ago seemed poised to annually challenge the Seahawks for NFC supremacy but instead have taken up residency among the conference’s also-rans. With Arizona dropping a game in Philadelphia, even a loss to Seattle would leave the Niners as the likely final team into the playoffs. But for a team one play from the Lombardi Trophy, that finish is nothing less than a disappointment.
Believe it or not, we're already three-quarters of the way through the NFL season. As we approach Week 14, each team has 12 games in the books and four games left to go, which means that it's time to take stock of the league at the quarter pole. Today, that means our scheduled look at the candidates likeliest to win the various league- and media-sponsored awards that'll come out at the end of the NFL campaign.
We've been tracking each of the league's key races, four games at a time, and it's been surprising to see how different things can look with only a month of change. Award winners who seemed like competitors after the first four games of the year or even at the halfway point are now jokes, and at least one candidate who seemed like a lock as recently as Week 9 might be usurped for his award by the time things are said and done. Nobody is having a truly dominant season the way that J.J. Watt and Adrian Peterson did a year ago, and the only guy coming close to that stratosphere has won this award so many times that the voters might very well be sick of him.
So let's go through the league's seven most notable awards and see where they stand with four games to go, starting with the one that actually appears to be locked up. Keep in mind that my picks here aren't necessarily my choices for who should win the award, but instead the person who I think is most likely to win, given the historical preferences of the electorate.
You demanded it! Thank You for Not Coaching is back in its usual Tuesday time slot to review the sprawling action of Week 13. Of course, while the NFL stretched out and played this week's games over a five-day stretch, the most-discussed decisions of the past seven days both took place on Saturday, when Michigan and Alabama made calls that had an enormous impact on the college football season. There wasn't a coaching decision quite as meaningful in the pro ranks this past week, but one team did critically injure its playoff hopes with a surprising misstep. As you might suspect, they're at the very end of this week's column, and as always, we'll start on the positive side of things.