What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three and a half months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
A couple of weeks ago, just before the Colts started their rookie minicamp, Andrew Luck was a guest on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access. Asked by host Scott Hanson how much more comfortable he felt going into this season compared to his first, Luck gave a platitude consistent with someone who owns this cell phone. “One hundred percent more comfortable,” Luck said. “On this day last year I was probably sitting in class.”
Like most things Luck has ever said, that doesn’t seem much worth reading into, but there’s still probably some truth to it. It’s important to remember that the era of the just-add-water rookie quarterback is still fairly new. When Matt Ryan threw for more than 3,000 yards in 2008, he was just the second rookie to ever do so. Last year, every rookie quarterback that started from Week 1 had at least 3,100. Luck’s 4,374 yards were enough to break Cam Newton’s rookie record set the year before, and everything about the Colts offseason points to Luck being even better in Year 2.
In part 1 of 2, Cousin Sal and Chad Millman join Bill to review the Week 17 action and look forward to the matchups on wild-card weekend. In part 2, Mike Lombardi offers his analysis of the NFL playoff matchups, and Joe House celebrates the Redskins' big win over the Cowboys.
To listen to this podcast, you can download it on iTunes here or go to the ESPN.com PodCenter for part 1 and part 2.
It was a year that provided plenty of personalities, story lines, and moments, but the question is, which of those moments got their due and which did not? Could LeBron James actually be underrated? Could the Olympics? They just might be.
Underrated: LeBron James's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Indiana
Everyone remembers the 45-point evisceration of Boston on the road in an elimination game, and the ultra-efficient inside-out torching of the Thunder in the Finals. But Game 4 against the Pacers has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle, which can happen, I guess, when a game kicks off one of the greatest 15-game stretches in the entire history of a sport. Miami felt like it was on the verge of a franchise-altering crisis going into Game 4, down 2-1 to a feisty Indiana team and missing Chris Bosh. Dwyane Wade had shot 2-of-13 and snapped at Erik Spoelstra during a Game 3 blowout loss. It wasn't an elimination game, but in that moment it was hard to imagine Miami coming back from a 3-1 deficit against a Pacers club that clearly didn't fear them.
And when Miami fell behind by 10 points in the first half of Game 4, looking a bit listless, it was tempting to start thinking about the consequences of a conference semifinals loss. Would they make a panic trade of one of the stars? Would they conclude James and Wade just couldn't coexist well enough to win a title? Would they fire Spoelstra before his extension — which was signed before the season — even kicked in?
Then LeBron and Wade went absolutely bananas, scoring 38 straight points for Miami in a second-half stretch for the ages. It wasn't just the production; it was the way it looked. Both were cutting actively off the ball and feeding each other for the sorts of semi-improv scores we all envisioned when they teamed up. Spoelstra began leaning on sets in which Miami cleared one side of the floor for LeBron and letting James go to work. He was dominant in those sets, which were rarely a major part of Miami's offense before, and they morphed into post-ups as the playoffs wore on — the post-ups for which Oklahoma City had no answer. It all just came together, at a startling speed. James finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and nine assists, numbers that no other player has ever put up in a postseason game since the mid-1980s. He hit post-up shots, jumpers, graceful floaters over Roy Hibbert in the lane — shots he just didn't quite have down even two or three seasons before. It was masterful, and the Heat needed every bit of it. — Zach Lowe
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit a preview for each of that weekend's games. The best preview from each game will be selected and combined with the others into one comprehensive guide, and points are awarded based on how many individual previews from each writer are selected. Get it? OK. We sorta do, too.
The BQBL got dark this week. Pointing and laughing at the Jets and Cardinals last week was a hoot. Their mutual ineptitude gave the game a humorous, whimsical vibe — like watching tee-ball infielders turn a ground ball to second base into an inside-the-park home run. This week against Seattle, watching the Cardinals was not like watching a tee-ball game. It was like driving behind a car that runs over an adorable bunny rabbit — that you’re then forced to watch die. Slowly.
December 2007: Wichita East High School’s Bryce Brown, a five-star running back largely considered to be the nation’s top junior prospect, verbally commits to the University of Miami. With no-nonsense head coach Randy Shannon, dual-threat quarterback Jacory Harris, super booster Nevin Shapiro, and Brown, a dynasty appears to be on the horizon at The U.
February 2008: As it turns out, Brown’s verbal was anything but solid. Handler/cell phone salesman/self-proclaimed “most connected guy in Wichita” Brian Butler — a slimier version of Buddy Garrity, if such a thing is possible — reveals that Brown might instead opt to play in the CFL, likely because of his longstanding affinity for Saskatchewanian literature.
March 2008: After a month of careful contemplation, Brown decides against becoming football’s Brandon Jennings and narrows his college search to six finalists: Miami, Kansas State, Tennessee, USC, Oregon, and LSU.
March 2009: Lane Kiffin lures Brown to Tennessee. In retrospect, it’s a minor miracle that this marriage lasted as long as it did.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Believing Is Art
I don’t know when a series of improbable events starts to mean something, but I do know it looks that way in Indianapolis. The Colts were dead on more than one occasion yesterday in Detroit, but when Andrew Luck got the ball back down five with 1:07 left, I’m not sure anyone watching doubted how it would end: with a 75-yard drive and a Colt in the end zone.
There are plenty of rational explanations for what happened at Ford Field in the final six minutes and 40 seconds, just after Luck’s pass for T.Y. Hilton was intercepted with Indianapolis down 12. Detroit has struggled to develop its running game all season, and few teams are less apt at draining the clock at the end of games than the Lions. The result was two stalled drives that could’ve ended the game but instead handed the ball back to Luck, who’s an explanation all his own. The most notable play on the Colts’ final drive wasn’t the throw to Reggie Wayne or the one to Dwayne Allen on the sideline. It was the willingness to spike the ball on an early second-and-1, understanding that in that situation, the down was inconsequential. Andrew Luck is going to be great, but I’m not sure any of us knew how much his head — or his legs — would play a part in it.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.
The arrival of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III into the National Football League could not have gone much more swimmingly. In fact, while expectations were high for the top two picks in the 2012 draft, it's arguable that they've both exceeded whatever lofty expectations they rode in on over the summer. Luck is leading a team that went 2-14 last season on an improbable playoff run in the AFC South, while RG3 has become the league's most exciting player and might even be the best player in the NFC East this year. Fans of the Colts and Redskins — and good football — have to be ecstatic at what their respective organizations are set up to do over the next 15 years.
It is said that the amino acid tryptophan in turkey (along with undue exposure to the Detroit Lions) makes you drowsy and disoriented on Thanksgiving. I consumed a behemoth of a turkey sandwich Sunday, so I was immediately skeptical when ESPN.com’s handy fantasy points leader board listed Chad Henne and Justin Blackmon among Week 11’s top scorers. Possible explanations: a rogue coalition of tech-savvy Jaguars fans hacked into Bristol’s servers for mysterious reasons, or my groggy, tryptophan-fraught eyes were failing me. Two days later, it appears that Henne and Blackmon were actually responsible for two spectacular fantasy performances. [Insert Mayans joke here.]
What angered me most about the Jags-Texans game was Blaine Gabbert’s elbow injury. Not because I’m Blaine’s distant cousin (I’m not), but because I had money riding on the Texans -15.5. Facing the very real prospects of a post-Gabbert world, it dawned on me that Jacksonville’s offense might play competently enough to cover the spread, my wallet be damned. With Henne under center for the remainder of the season, they might even play competently enough to harness Blackmon’s absurd talent into fantasy superstardom. Adding this beast to your roster will be as satisfying as Thursday’s plate of turkey, minus the subsequent fatigue.
So the fifth pick in this year’s NFL draft is currently first in the hearts and minds of fantasy owners nationwide. Blackmon, available in 55.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues, is the crown jewel/Thanksgiving turkey of Week 12’s waiver wire. But which players are Grandma’s best side dishes?
T.Y. Hilton, Colts WR, available in 96.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues
This slippery rookie isn’t the main dish — the distinction of being Andrew Luck’s no. 1 target belongs to Reggie Wayne — but Hilton is a serviceable WR3/flex, and he’s earned his spot at the table.
Danario Alexander, Chargers WR, available in 95.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues
Every football fan with a mouth has spent the past month lambasting Norv Turner, Philip Rivers, and the Chargers organization as a whole, but real-life wins and losses matter naught in fantasy. What do matter are Danario Alexander’s impressive stats from these two outings: 12 receptions, 230 yards, and three touchdowns. He’s supplanted Malcolm Floyd as Rivers’s no. 1 target. Claim him while you can.
Visanthe Shiancoe, Patriots TE, available in 99.8 percent of ESPN.com leagues
Fair warning: Aaron Hernandez could play on Sunday, rendering this waiver wire suggestion moot. Bill Belichick probably doesn’t want to start a dude best known for having his genitalia on national television, but he’ll deal with it. Remember that whoever lines up at tight end remains the most important member of the Patriots offense not married to an underwear model.
Player to Avoid: Beanie Wells, Cardinals RB, available in 52.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues
Beanie Wells is not the solution to your running back woes. I have nothing against the man — we both came of age in Greater Cleveland and matriculated to Ohio State. This is more a condemnation of any team with the audacity to start Ryan Lindley against the Cardinals meat grinder of a schedule, which features upcoming tilts against the Seahawks, 49ers, and Bears. Opposing defenses will stuff seven men in the box and dare Lindley to pass, leaving Wells with no room to run. I’d rather start a Browns receiver than have to rely on Wells down the stretch. If you need a running back, try Denver’s Ronnie Hillman.
No one is safe from the BQBL Summer Jam Screen. Atop the BQBL leader board this week are Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Matt Stafford. While these “elite” quarterbacks (whatever that means) had surprisingly atrocious performances, there was nothing surprising about Ryan Lindley’s debut as an NFL quarterback. He was all kinds of entertaining in that “Wow, this is what it would look like if you pulled a dude from the stands and put him under center” type of way. Oh yeah, one more thing: He almost beat the Falcons. Let’s review the carnage from Atlanta’s TAINTiest and FARTiest of football contests (I swear that will be the only FART joke. I swear).
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Andrew Luck threw for 227 yards and ran for two touchdowns as the Colts beat the Jaguars 27-10 for their fourth straight win. Based on the strange waddling run of at least two players on the Jaguars defense, along with embarrassed tears and the telltale stains, it was clear that the infamous "accident epidemic" is still alive and well in Jacksonville.
EJ Manuel hit Rashad Greene for the go-ahead touchdown pass with 40 seconds left, and no. 10 Florida State held on to beat Virginia Tech 28-22. After the game, at the midfield handshake, Frank Beamer and Jimbo Fisher found themselves unable to resist a spontaneous do-si-do.
After hearing the news about Tyron Smith and his family issues, I talked to Ephraim about the financial and personal strain family can be for young players entering the league. From there, we discussed Chuck Pagano's moving postgame speech, the most affecting locker-room speech Ephraim ever got, and the different kinds of relationships players have with their coaches. Because we're only capable of being mature adults for so long, the conversation than devolved into sophomoric double entendres about Charles Tillman's ball-punching and an argument about the notion of being "overrated" in the NFL. Finally, Ephraim picks out a few players he's been most impressed with halfway through the season.
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit waiver wires detailing their recommended pickups. The best waiver column will be published and awarded points as part of Grantland's ongoing contest to select our fantasy football writer. Get it? OK. We sorta do, too.
When you get invited to Robert Griffin III’s costume party, you RSVP immediately. What better company to keep on Halloween than ESPN.com’s standard-league scoring leader? With a whopping 158 points, Griffin has even made a believer out of Osi Umenyiora. Fantasy royalty past and present was slated to attend; RG3’s costume party presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mingle with dignitaries such as Priest Holmes (dressed as a rabbi) and Rob Gronkowski (dressed as a hulking member of the Breaking Amish cast), all while bobbing for apples and getting scared shitless by Mike Shanahan’s zombie mask. And it wasn’t even BYOB!
Of course it was a corporate affair — Dan Snyder signage was plastered on several walls, which had an unintentional chilling effect. Sporting a Waldo costume, Alfred Morris sat sullenly in an abandoned corner of the haunted house. I felt bad for him, so I moseyed over to make small talk. Morris explained his red-and-white-striped getup: He was in the midst of a stellar rookie season, yet no one seemed to notice because of The RG3 Show. “I’ve outscored flashier backs like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, but the average Redskins fan couldn’t recognize me if I was streaking down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he lamented.