After yesterday, I have all the proof I need. I don’t know what it is about this year, but I’m now convinced that more teams than ever just have no interest in going to the playoffs. The Bengals held off the Browns, but they needed two defensive scores and four turnovers to do it. And I’m starting to believe Andy Dalton is a double agent taking some off the side from the Ravens. Meanwhile, the NFC East is now a jumbled mess, and somehow an Eagles team that couldn’t stop anyone for the first month of the season is 6-5 and looking firmly in control — for now.
Nowhere, though, does the division crown resemble a game of hot potato more than it does in the NFC North. A week ago, the Lions were 6-3, holding a one-game lead, and fresh off a tiebreaker-clinching win over the Bears. It’s a division filled with flawed teams. The Vikings are the Vikings, Chicago is without more than half its defensive starters, and yesterday’s Packers game included the dreaded “Who’s that guy?” montage about their starting quarterback:
Another week in the NFL has brought us another bevy of coaching decisions to analyze in this Tuesday's edition of Thank You for Not Coaching. One of the goals in moving TYFNC to Tuesday was to make sure that some of the better decisions made by coaches during each weekend's action got their proper due; while coaches make a healthy number of missteps each week, there are a fair amount of decisions that do go right and a number of processes that make sense. Each week from here on out, I'm going to start this column with the moves that stood out to me as the smartest ones of the week, work my way down through some of the more curious decisions made by teams, and then finish with the three worst calls. So, now, let's get started with the smart stuff!
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 providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
We’re finally here. After 113 days, the NFL kicks off tonight, and what better way to celebrate than by considering what might go horribly, horribly wrong for every single franchise. Every football season comes with the sort of major surprises none of us saw coming, and often, that involves a few teams that run into enough problems to see their entire season torpedoed. Last year, it was the Eagles, who shipped Andy Reid out of town despite nine trips to the playoffs since 2000.
Figuring out which franchises may be willing to blow it all up if things go south is a matter of looking at just how stable its leadership is. In order to take stock of where each NFL team sits, and figure out who’s closest to punching in the launch codes, we’re looking at the head coach and general manager for every franchise, how long they’ve been in place, and what that means for the panic level of both ownership and a team's fan base. (Just a reminder, the lower the DEFCON level, the more on alert everyone should probably be.)
Robert Mays and I talk a lot about football. We exchange texts. We talk on Gchat. During those times when we are both in Grantland's Los Angeles offices, we talk about football at great length, even in times when there is very little football to talk about, because that is the extent to which football has taken hold of us.
What makes our discussions particularly fun, for me at least, is that we come from different perspectives. (Disparate opinions? On ESPN? You don't say.) Mays is a blood-and-guts die-hard Bears fan from the Midwest who would actually live in the cloud of dust that comes after the three yards if he could; as you may already know, I am an occasional Giants fan from the East Coast who trusts the numbers and thinks Andy Reid didn't pass the ball enough. We definitely agree on a few things: you build great teams from the lines out, people should chill out about Jay Cutler, and, OK, two things. Everything else is up for grabs.
You can listen to this podcast on the ESPN Podcenter here or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.
For defenders of the NFL draft as must-see TV, last night was tough. A total of five skill-position players in the first round, including just one quarterback, is a pretty tough sell to the casual fan. There was one group, though, who couldn't have enjoyed last night any more than they did. Just trust me when I say that for us line-play nerds, last night was crazy. But we understand that some of you don't spend a lot of time watching the MAC (we actually don’t either), observing guard play in the ACC, or keeping tabs on the left tackle when the Heisman Trophy winner has the ball. Don't worry. We’re here for you. It’s with all that in mind that we present a special draft edition of the Trenchie Awards with the hope that after today you might know each top-10 pick just a bit better.
1.Eric Fisher, Chiefs
2. Luke Joeckel, Jaguars
The prevailing wisdom in the lead-up to the draft is that an offensive tackle would go first overall. It just wasn’t this offensive tackle. From what I can gather, it was really Fisher’s excellent Senior Bowl week that got things rolling downhill, and by the time yesterday rolled around, no one was really surprised when he ended up jumping Luke Joeckel. The question is why he did.
Both — as you’d expect from players who go one and two overall — have elite feet and quickness. They each look very comfortable getting into their pass sets, and you’ll have to watch a ton of tape to catch a pass rusher getting to the edge on either. They stonewall guys so effortlessly that often, defenders just give up.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Detroit Lions were the NFL’s latest redemption darlings. Thanks to Matt Millen’s personnel blunders and Rod Marinelli’s flat effect, the Lions finished 0-16 in 2008, with an average point differential north of two touchdowns. Throughout its history, Detroit had typically been one of the league’s most snake-bitten franchises, but this was a rock bottom of unprecedented depth.
That spring brought complete overhaul. Millen was gone three games into the 2008 season and replaced with Martin Mayhew. Marinelli was replaced with Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in 2009. And with the first overall pick that year, the Lions hoped to usher in a new era under Matt Stafford. The group’s first season didn’t go much better — a 2-14 finish and only one spot lower in that year’s draft — but by 2010, signs of growth were already evident. Stafford played only three games, but Detroit still managed a 6-10 finish, with seven of losses coming by one score or less.
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.
Earlier this week, Pro Football Weekly ran a fairly rabble-rousing story in which a “rival GM” made his thoughts known about the surprising start for the 1-3 Lions. And those thoughts are that it’s not all that surprising. (My money in the “rival GM” pool is on the Packers' Ted Thompson. He’s always had a tendency to run his mouth.) The crux of the comments was that despite their trip to the playoffs last year, Detroit wasn’t the rising contender that so many had made them out to be. The question is whether the three main criticisms hold any weight.
1. Detroit is one-dimensional on offense.
They are a one-dimensional offensive team that if the quarterback (Matthew Stafford) is not on, people are figuring it out. If you take (WR Calvin) Johnson out of the game (one TD through four games, compared to eight TDs at the same stage last season), who else do they have that can beat you?
On Saturday night, the Detroit Lions play the New Orleans Saints. I've got my baby carrots and Nicorette lozenges, which translates to me being really excited. Why the hyped-up state when I have no rooting or gambling interest? Well, you know how people say football is a results-oriented business? You know how people say that to you in, like, the bank? Well, it's not. It's about the journey. It's about how things unfold and the road you take to get to where you're going.
Here's where I get into trouble: I fixate on how I think the narrative of a football game should play out and I get upset when things deviate from that. So for my sanity and your entertainment, here are three different (all totally plausible!) ways this Lions and Saints matchup could down that I would find acceptable.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
On Monday Night Football, the Jets beat the Dolphins 24-6. Despite threatening to get ejected in the second quarter, Brandon Marshall lasted the whole game, catching six passes for 109 yards. (Internal monologue: But, but I could have sworn Marshall would live up to his promise and get ejected. Oh well. I guess he's just crazy )
While much of the news out of the San Francisco 49ers 25-19 win over the Detroit Lions centers around the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz handshake-of-doom, there is another storyline to consider: The 49ers' close win. The victory was another step in the resuscitation of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith's career, which is not a complete surprise given that his coach, Harbaugh, was once an NFL quarterback himself. Yet Harbaugh hasn't brought a quarterback-dependent throw-it-around-the-stadium type of offense to San Francisco. Instead, he's doing what he did to rejuvenate Stanford, which seems to be to channel his old college coach Bo Schembechler's tough, physical approach to the game. And against the Lions, Harbaugh's 49ers didn't get their yards by running outside or getting the ball in space. Instead, the game plan was simple: run the ball right at Detroit's vaunted defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh.