There's actually an exciting slate of Thanksgiving Day football games this year! Well, sorta. Lions-Packers would be a monumental tilt, but with Aaron Rodgers almost surely out with his broken collarbone, the Packers will have to turn to Matt Flynn for a spot start against the Lions, who seem to find new ways to beat themselves on a weekly basis. The Raiders will bring Matt McGloin, roughly the football equivalent of a student film with potential, to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, who are starring in the big-screen adaptation of the story of the Lions. And then, at night, we get a game that should have playoff energy between two teams that shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the playoffs in their current shape, the Steelers and Ravens. Squint and you can see five — maybe even six if you're a McGloinomaniac — teams with legitimate playoff hopes. Put your glasses on and you see six teams capable of playing brutally ugly football.
Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. We're blessed to have three football games to break up the monotony of talking to family members and eating. So let's not come here and bury six football teams whose games leave us wanting; let's celebrate them. Here's a whole list of things to watch for and enjoy during tomorrow's Turkey Day action.
On the craziest day of the NFL season — as the Chargers hung 41 on the Chiefs, Tom Brady put together another classic, and the Cardinals stepped right into the playoff race — the NFC North still did its best to remain the most insane situation in football. In a span of about four hours, somehow, three different teams managed to gain control of their playoff futures only to lose them again.
Any referendum on the weirdness probably has to start with what happened at Lambeau yesterday afternoon. With the Packers trailing a Vikings team 23-7 at home, it looked like everything we thought about Green Bay a month ago was true. Losing Aaron Rodgers was maybe the most significant blow any team could suffer. Before Rodgers went down, the Packers were a 5-2 team whose only two losses came to San Francisco and Cincinnati on the road. Losing Rodgers meant a fall from clear division front-runner to a team that puts up 13 points against the Giants. With Scott Tolzien completely unable to get anything started for the Packers yesterday, Rodgers’s MVP case was somehow stronger than it could ever be while he was actually playing. As Detroit started its comeback against the Bucs, it looked like one more Packers stumble would be enough to end their chances in the division. Then Matt Flynn scored 16 straight points, Matthew Stafford threw the ball to the other team a bunch, and somehow Green Bay is a half game closer in the division than it was before yesterday began.
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:
There’s no use in deluding ourselves — this week’s slate of games is pretty terrible. After maybe the most anticipated prime-time matchup of the season last Sunday, the most we have to look forward to in Week 8 is a Cowboys-Lions game in which the main appeal is a chance at 80 total points and about 800 yards of offense. Doug Marrone’s return to New Orleans doesn’t exactly have the same appeal as Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis.
I believe, though. Together, we can get through this. The marquee pairings might be underwhelming, but there’s always something worth watching, even if this week those things were a little harder to find.
So, this is happening. It doesn’t get much better than the NFL’s best defensive lineman against the NFL’s best offensive line. I’m putting this game right up there with Gravity in terms of making me think about the vastness of the universe and mankind’s place within it.
The Niners’ line played its best game of the season last week against St. Louis as San Francisco seemed intent on committing to its running game. Frank Gore’s were the most he’s had in a game since Week 14 of the 2009 season, and his 7.65 yards per carry was the 10th best mark of his career.
Watt will spend most of the day dealing with guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone, both of whom were Pro Bowl–level players a year ago (Iupati went; Boone did not). Boone was one of the better run blockers in the entire league last season. He’s a massive 6-foot-8 mauler, but he occasionally struggles in pass protection. Watt doesn't struggle with anything.
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.
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 month and a half providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
In what now seems like a weekly occurrence, another NFL quarterback has been handed an absurd amount and will be inextricably linked with the success of his franchise for the foreseeable future. Matt Ryan agreed to a five-year, $103.75 million (with $59 million guaranteed) contract extension with the Falcons this afternoon, becoming the latest QB to pull in a massive haul this offseason. Just to recap, we've also had:
Tony Romo: six years, $108 million, $55 million guaranteed
Matthew Stafford: three years, $53 million, $41.5 million guaranteed
Joe Flacco: six years, $120 million, $52 million guaranteed
Aaron Rodgers: five years, $110 million, $62.5 million guaranteed
As with all NFL deals, the most important number here is the last one. The massive nine-figure totals are fun for headlines, but the telling investment is the one teams can't get out of. With that number in mind, Ryan's deal falls right where it should among the ones already handed out — below Rodgers, but ahead of the rest. It's a deal that clearly suggests Atlanta believes that last year's Ryan — the upper-echelon production combined with a bit of playoff success — is the one they expect going forward. With the money that's getting thrown around right now, that version of Matt Ryan is among the more favorable options.
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.
This morning, Calvin Johnson reportedly confirmed something that we’ve sorta known, but not really known, for a few months. Then he didn’t. Right now, we know this much: For a significant portion of a season in which he broke the single-season record for receiving yards, Megatron played with at least one messed-up finger.
Now, as others have noted, broken fingers for wide receivers are not uncommon. Torry Holt looks like this. Antonio Freeman can’t wear his Super Bowl ring because notorious asshole/finger-breaker Brett Favre ruined his hands.
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.
Congratulations, you won the five-day holiday war and the fantasy postseason remains a distinct possibility. Thanksgiving meant forced pleasantries as NFL guardians combined to pile on 202 points — the most ever scored on a Thursday. Black Friday was for second-guessing your lineup, reeling from Matthew Stafford’s big day. The weekend brought conventional stress. I’m sorry you had to keep tabs on the Eagles and Panthers, but the goal is still four more weeks of chaos. Office parties are for the weak-minded. Ice-skating and hot chocolate with lovers is an exercise for quitters. Vapid consumerism is for victims of manufactured consent and people that traded for Dwayne Bowe.
You are George Costanza in the bunker. Gather inspiration from luminary thinkers with their backs against the wall: Winston Churchill, Tom Landry, Lil Wayne: “All I have in this world is a pistol and a promise / A fist full of dollars, a list full of problems — I'll address them like P.O. Boxes.”
Sever ties with good luck charms like Randy Moss. Stop waiting for Antonio Gates to do something. Don’t be the contending force that eventually loses by standing pat when it most matters. Most leagues no longer allow trades, and that means the waiver wire has never been more important. With so many ripe prospects breaking, today’s claims are a critical guessing game. There’s so much intriguing talent available, in fact, that I’ve itemized these gentlemen into distinct A and B Teams.
My mind was made up. I sat at the kitchen table and typed an e-mail to my friend Richard Feynman, whose name is not really Richard Feynman.
"I'm starting Matthew Stafford instead of Matt Schaub on Sunday," I wrote.
"This will end in blood and tears," Feyman replied. Then, after a minute: "Are you watching AM games at Ye Rustic tomorrow? Need a ride?"
"I always need a ride," I wrote back. "But you're not going to change my mind about this QB situation. Your team needs a shakeup."
It was Saturday night and I was drunk with power. Feynman had given me control of his fantasy team for a week so I could write about what it felt like to watch a day of football the way people in a fantasy league watch a day of football.
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?
The Titans are trailing by 25 points, deep in the third quarter, when they score a touchdown. The extra point is converted, the onside kick is well-executed, and the opposing team flubs the catch. Players fling themselves at the loose ball from all directions, and it is quickly lost under a pile of bodies. Two referees arrive on the scene, take a moment to sort through the melee, stand up, and point in opposite directions. The referee who had originally signaled against Tennessee realizes that there is dissent in the zebra ranks, and swiftly defers to his colleague, swapping arms to rule in favor of the Titans. Unfortunately, his colleague’s desire for conformity is just as strong, and as one right arm falls, another rises, and once again, the two officials point in opposite directions. The pair of them look less like referees and more like a novelty two-man dance troupe on America’s Got Talent, possibly called “Flip-Flop, Don’t Stop”.
Look, there are plenty of places on this very website and many others where you can read thoughtful, measured responses to Week 1 quarterback performances. This is not that place. KEVIN KOLB IS THE GREATEST QUARTERBACK IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND! PEYTON MANNING IS A CYBORG FORGED OUT OF OLD CAR PARTS AND VICTORY JUICE! TIM TEBOW SHOULD BE A SLOT RECEIVER! What was that? That last one is actually a thoughtful, measured response? My bad.
Quick update on the (aptly named) BQBL Failure Machine. Like the quarterbacks we celebrate, its performance has not been perfect. We are feverishly working on ironing out all the kinks, and your super-friendly, understanding e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org are a big help with that, so don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We’ll figure it out.