It’s the very first playoff edition of the fantasy football preview post! Let us start by acknowledging our patron saint, Jim Mora.
We do want to talk about playoffs, Jim, because there is so very much to discuss. For instance: Is Andrew Luck’s recent slump a cause for concern? (Kinda.) Should I start Ryan Fitzpatrick over Luck? (NO.) How about Carson Palmer? (Yeah, as crazy as it sounds.)
There’s more: I know friends don’t let friends start Jets, but isn’t Chris Ivory in line for a big game against the Raiders? And what to make of Drew Brees, who’s on a short week and coming off his worst outing of the season? Hell, how plump is Eddie Lacy looking these days?
As you can see, only the most important questions will be answered in our Week 14 preview. Here's hoping your postseason starts off with a W instead of a Mora-esque rant.
In case you were out getting a terrifying vote of confidence from an eccentric Russian oligarch, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A rough day for the Manning family saw the Dallas Cowboys all but eliminate the Giants' scant playoff hopes with a 24-21 win at the Meadowlands. "The bad news is, we're probably headed home in December," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after the game as he stroked his weird red mustache. "The good news is, Cooper said I can finally go to Space Camp this offseason. So it's all good news, because Space Camp is gonna be so worth it!"
A punt misplayed by Denver's Tony Carter in overtime proved to be the difference, as the New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31, in an instant classic. "At least I'm not that guy. At least I'm not Tony Carter," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson while watching the game's highlights from a motel room in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Ultimate Clarity: A Life-Changing Life System information session he had attended at the Memphis Airport Marriott had been a bit of a bust, if Pittson was being honest with himself. Sure, the day's speaker, former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tony Jones, was possessed of Ultimate Clarity, but he couldn't see how the principles of confidence and serenity that Jones was espousing could apply to his life. Jones was a millionaire, and he was famous, and he was a Super Bowl champion. Pittson was a nobody. Also, the session was expensive, so much so that after paying for his flight and the fees and the books, Pittson certainly couldn't afford to stay at the Marriott, but being so far away made it hard to participate in the more social aspects of the information session. Pittson shook his head, looked back up at his TV, and took a deep breath as the highlight repeated itself. "At least I'm not that guy," Pittson said to no one. "At least I'm not Tony Carter."
When it comes to “rings,” Brady is obviously ahead, but when it comes down to actually passing the football, the question is not so simple. These two quarterbacks are among the finest their sport has ever seen, but both have unique strengths and tendencies.
Explaining the excitement about the past six weeks of Panthers football is fairly easy. So many of us were rooting for Carolina last night against the NFL’s bluest blood because the Panthers are new, and new is what we want. As ESPN flashed graphics about how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick compare to Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi, the Panthers — wrapped in black — lined up and beat the Patriots with a 22-year-old superstar linebacker and a 24-year-old superstar quarterback.
Amid all the newness, though, resides someone very familiar, and last night he was everything we might expect. Steve Smith finished the game with four catches for 62 yards — the same sort of pedestrian night that has become standard for him at age 34. But when you consider when those catches came, whom they came against, and Smith’s general presence for Carolina, it’s not hard to see how he’s the final ingredient to the Panthers’ newfound potency.
The Patriots didn't lose to the Panthers last night because they got jobbed by a bad call on the final play of the game. That's wildly inaccurate. The Patriots lost because they let the game come down to one play from the 18-yard line down four points. They lost because they put off the moment of truth, because they let themselves down with subpar execution in key moments, because they were victimized by the same issues that seem to haunt this team through every one of its notable losses. The Patriots lost to the Panthers on Monday night because they're not as good of a football team as the Panthers, who did all the little things that the old Patriots teams used to get credit for. And that includes daring the refs to call for a game-changing pass interference on the game-deciding play.
There's so much more to what happened in this game than its final play, so let's get it out of the way first. My guess is that about 75 percent of the outrage regarding the no-call on the Panthers defense for wrapping up Rob Gronkowski revolves around the fact that, for a moment, the flag was thrown. Everybody watching the game with a vested interest went through that emotional cycle of dealing with the repercussions — an untimed down for the win from the 1-yard line for the Patriots — before the flag was picked up. For Patriots fans, I can imagine that's a huge portion of why it feels like that game was taken away from them; they had allowed themselves to believe that the penalty had occurred in a way that would not have happened if the flag had never come out of back judge Terrence Miles's pocket. Had this play happened exactly as played with no flag ever touching the ground, Patriots fans would still be angry there wasn't a call, but it wouldn't be anywhere near the flash point it appears to be right now.
In case you were busy officially filling out the paperwork necessary to hand over the title of "World's Most Obnoxious Argonauts Fan," here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Cam Newton's late-game heroics, and a controversial non-call on a game-ending interception, gave the Panthers a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots, their sixth straight win. Bill Belichick was furious with the officiating after the game, asking quarterback Tom Brady, "Who are those officials carrying all those flags for anyway? Goodell? Is that it? Goodell? Well I tell you, let me give you a little inside information about Goodell." Flames roared behind Belichick, and the stench of brimstone hung in the air as he added, "Goodell likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives men instincts. He gives players this extraordinary gift: instinct. And then what does He do — I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel — He sets the rules in opposition." An increasingly animated Belichick continued, "It's the goof of all time. Look, but don't touch. Touch, but don't grab. Grab, but don't catch." Belichick then let out a horrible laugh, pointed to the ground, and yelled, "And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He's laughin' His sick ass off! He's a tight-ass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship Goodell? Never!"
Tony Allen was ejected for kicking Chris Paul in the face, but his Grizzlies held on, beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 106-102, at Staples Center. After the game, an excited Blake Griffin ran to Paul and said, "Dude, dude, dude. I have the best idea for a dunk-contest dunk, dude. Dude, will you help me do it?" Paul nodded and asked Griffin, "Does it involve kicking me in the face?" Griffin's eyes got wide as he said, "How did you know? Dude. Dude. Are you psychic?" But Paul didn't answer, and instead just shook his head and walked away.
As we near the halfway point of the 2013 NFL season, the teams and lineups we expected to see trotted out on the field this season are now shells of their former selves. The Falcons are already down seven starters from the guys they would have expected to be in the starting 22 in July. Of the 32 quarterbacks who were expected to start on the opening day of training camp, 12 have been benched or suffered an injury that has caused them or will cause them to miss time. If you can start the same guys who you were expecting to suit up over the summer, you're the exception, not the rule.
Every team has some veterans that they can plug in as competent backups, but every team also has a few spots where they're absolutely, positively screwed if their starter was to go down with an injury or suffer a dramatic decline in his performance. Others have found a diamond in the rough who has come out of nowhere to emerge as a viable starter at their position. In either scenario, there are now players on virtually every team who have risen out of professional obscurity to get meaningful NFL reps.
In case you were busy pouring one out for the Dawgfather, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
After a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty call went against New England, Jets kicker Nick Folk hit a 42-yard field goal in overtime to give New York a come-from-behind 30-27 win. Jets head coach Rex Ryan defended the officials when asked about the penalty after the game, saying, "Look, it was a new rule, and besides, we all got to see some more kicking out there as a result. So how is that not a win for everybody? I know I just love the kicking game; it's absolutely at the core of why I love football. Gotta love the kicking of the football." Ryan then adjusted himself and added, "Now if ya'll excuse me, I have to contrive a reason to leave right now."
In case you were busy cheering Matt Schaub's ankle injury because that's the only way to fill the pit of sadness that lives in your chest, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
New England handed New Orleans its first loss of the season as Tom Brady's last-minute heroics gave the Patriots a stunning 30-27 comeback victory. "Well, that's the best comeback this city will see for a long time," Brady said after the game. "I mean, I hate to use the word untoppable, because I don't think it's a real word, but I'm positive this win will prove to be the most untoppable win this city has ever seen. Everyone might as well just take the rest of the day off from caring about Boston sports, because it cannot possibly get better than this — hold on, let me just flip over to the Sox game, and yeah, see? They're down four in the eighth inning. As I was saying, untop— whoa "
David Ortiz's eighth-inning grand slam set the table for another miraculous Sunday night comeback in Boston as the Red Sox evened up the ALCS at a game apiece with a 6-5 walk-off win over the Detroit Tigers. Ortiz's fifth go-ahead or game-tying hit in the final two innings of a playoff game tied him for third all time on the list with former teammate Manny Ramirez Jason Varitek Johnny Damon Kevin Millar Dave Roberts Kevin Youkilis? Who is it? Um Trot Nixon? No? Gosh. Dustin Pedroia is still on the team, so it can't be him. Oh, duh, Nomar. No? OK, long-shot guess: Curt Schilling? Obviously not. Well it can't be J.D. Oh, you have to be kidding me. Really? J.D.? No, I won't do it. I won't type his whole name. The only people ahead of him on this list are Bernie Williams and Pete Rose? It's too weird, though I guess he has an unfairly bad reputation given his contributions to the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox. Plus, it was such a big weekend for all three of those teams you know what, fine: J.D. Drew. Ortiz and J.D. Drew are now statistical equals when it comes to clutch postseason performances.
In case you were busy signing with the Vikings in order to guarantee a Super Bowl ring, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a game away from the National League Championship Series after Pedro Alvarez powered them to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "Don't say anything," said Pittsburgh superfan Willie Langdon after the game. "Just no one say anything. This isn't happening. No one talk about this." When asked if he was excited, Langdon yelled, "Shh, shh, shh. No. Not excited. Why would I be excited?" before whispering under his breath, "You shut your damn mouth before this whole damn thing falls apart. It's built on Popsicle sticks and Silly Putty, and if you crush this dream I'll crush you."
Today's the day, Tony Romo thought to himself as he sat on the bench, helmet in his hands, feeling a feeling: pride? He was almost sure it was pride. He glanced at the scoreboard. 48-41. He looked at the field; his team's defense was outmatched. Didn't matter. Don't think about being a hero, don't think about being a hero. You become a hero by being a hero, not by thinking Be a hero. Also, maybe the defense will keep things together. Maybe. So just think about anything else. Like why do humans feel pain? Huh, that's a brain tickler. Think, Anthony, think why do humans feel pain?
What is reality? I think Bill Belichick asked that at a press conference once, and it's a question I've been pondering mightily regarding Philip Rivers. In the corporeal sense, sure, I'll concede that he's real but is he actually fantasy's third-best player?
Chargers coach Mike McCoy has worked miracles before, but we're now beyond the season's quarter point, and this is usually when miracles start to die a slow and painful death. Mirages melt away, Lil Bow Wow loses his magical sneakers, and the Eagles call on Nick Foles to replace an injured Michael Vick.
For the record, I believe in Rivers, Jordan Cameron, Bad Eli Manning, Giovani Bernard, Kansas City's defense, and, of course, HOYER THE DESTROYER. On the flip side, I doubt the long-term viability of Michael Vick, Fred Jackson, DeMarco Murray, Julius Thomas, and, of course, Eddie Royal. What are some of your hot takes? Feel free to share them in the comments, but remember: The only way to determine whether reality's really real is with the passage of time.
As it stands now, the Tom Brady–Peyton Manning rivalry feels like a colossally rigged episode of Chopped. While Manning has received an assortment of first-rate ingredients with which to cook, Brady is forced to make chicken salad out of a spare tire, some stones, a rabid gerbil, and Rob Gronkowski’s bloodied forearm cast. This sucks for Brady, of course, but it makes for some incredibly entertaining television, especially when Brady single-handedly elevates that chicken shit into something passably gourmet. Sunday night in Atlanta was one of those times.
In case you were busy arguing that Lane Kiffin really hasn't gotten a fair chance to prove himself as a head coach with a particularly stubborn stop sign, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tom Brady finally synced up with his young receiving corps, as the New England Patriots built an early lead and held on late, beating the Atlanta Falcons 30-23. "It's tough to beat them when Brady is back on track, but we gave it our all, and I'm impressed with my team," said a gray-haired man claiming to be Atlanta's head coach. "Wait, seriously, I'm Mike Smith," the man said, giving a clearly fake name, before adding, "You've heard of Dan Reeves? Well, I'm the most successful coach this franchise has ever had. We were in the NFC title game last year." The man, likely a deluded extra who wandered off the set of Boardwalk Empire, then added, "No, I'm not the mayor from Boardwalk Empire. For chrissake, come on, are you messing with me?"
The Major League Baseball regular season ended, but there's yet more to be decided as the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers finished the season tied for the second AL wild-card slot, and will play a one-game playoff. That game will determine which team will face the Cleveland Indians in another one-game playoff, which will determine who will be the AL wild-card representative in the postseason. This will be followed by a series of three-inning "mini-games" to determine home-field advantage in each round, which will be followed by a series of three-out home run derbies to determine which manager will be forced to turn in his lineup card first. Then, naturally, will come the dizzy bat competition, which will be just for fun, followed by a three-legged race, which will supplant this year's World Series, and for which, naturally, the Boston Red Sox are the favorites to win what with their flashy red socks likely to be advantageous for maintaining a three-legged race rhythm.
I found out about the Trent Richardson trade as I was driving home last week, and I responded the same way I think a lot of people did: “Holy shit.” That’s exactly what I said, loudly, happy to be in the privacy of my own car. The news triggered a series of texts and tweets that no NFL news has in a long time, and through it all, it was clear that as popular as football is, moves like that one are just too rare. We love trades, and we want more of them.
There’s a reason, though, that NFL trades never happen. Well, there are several. One is that NFL GMs seem to love their draft picks as much or more than they love their children. The draft is the cheapest, most efficient way to improve, and mortgaging that opportunity is a risk — one that rarely works out. Another hurdle is that football is not baseball, or even basketball. The difference in schemes, terminology, and even the subtlest difference between positions means that sticking with in-house players feels like the safer choice. There’s also the issue of parity. The league’s deadline is still too early for teams to know if they have a shot at the playoffs, and too many times turnarounds come in just a couple years. The 2-14 Chiefs were probably right in not having a fire sale last season.