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.
In case you were busy trying to solve the Heat's chemistry issues using stoichiometry, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
It was a weekend of big comebacks in the NFL as contenders Seattle and Indianapolis mounted stunning symmetrical rallies behind their Pro Bowl second-year quarterbacks to beat Tampa Bay and Houston, respectively, 27-24. When asked if they were disappointed to have fallen behind relatively poor opposition, both Seattle's Russell Wilson and the Colts' Andrew Luck replied, "It's easy to look at records and dismiss an opponent, but every team in the league is good." Then both men said, "There are no excuses in this league. Sure, we lost a top receiver to an ACL injury last week, but every team deals with injuries, and it's on me to avoid mistakes," before both said, "But what's special with this team is its belief and resolve." When asked if they were considering a presidential run after their careers were over, both men laughed and replied, "Well, I don't want to get ahead of myself but who knows?" Then both men pointed directly at the camera and said, "But I do know this: There's only one man standing in my way. And he knows who he is. And I will stop at nothing until I am the most powerful man in the world." Then both men let out uncharacteristically evil maniacal laughs, before clearing their throats and adding, "Go Hawks," and, "Go Colts."
In a battle of ACC unbeatens, Florida State throttled Miami 41-14 as they narrowly moved back to no. 2 in the BCS standings. "Don't worry, folks," said Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher after the game, "we're not gonna run up the score for no BCS computer. No siree, Bob." Fisher then pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose, peered out over them, and said, "We're gonna run up the score because scoring lots of points is real fun."
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 being harassed by Brian McCann and the party police, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Detroit Red Wings made an early two-goal lead stand up in their first game as an Eastern Conference team, taking their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. "It's tough," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game. "We had to get rid of all our board shorts and flip-flops, invest in some blazers and khakis." Zetterberg then looked down at himself, attired nattily by Brooks Brothers, and sighed, before saying, "The Eastern Conference sucks. I feel like I sold out, man."
The Tampa Bay Rays will be playing more postseason baseball after surviving their second consecutive elimination game, with a 4-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in the AL wild-card game. When asked how his team dealt with the pressure of back-to-back one-and-done situations, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "Terribly. Everyone in the clubhouse is a wreck. Lots of shaking and crying. We were this close to just forfeiting." When asked if he was worried about facing the Boston Red Sox, who had the AL's best record this season, Maddon screamed, "Ahhhh! We get the Red Sox? Why?" before vomiting on himself.
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.
In case you were busy trying to shake off seeing the Raider Rusher, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
For the first time in 21 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be playing postseason baseball after clinching at least a wild-card berth with their 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. "Congratulations, I'm so happy for you guys," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told Pirates manager Clint Hurdle after the game, "we're doing great too, really, really, really great. Me and Theo, and everyone here. We're really happy." Hurdle opened his mouth to talk, but Sveum continued to speak, "and we're happy for you. But really we're just happy, so, so happy. And sure, we don't have everything you have. Who does? I mean, Andrew, what a kid. What a kid. We know all about Andrew and his exploits. I mean, our Anthony is great, but he's no Andrew. No, no he isn't." Hurdle nodded sympathetically as Sveum briefly lost his train of thought. "I'm sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes, how happy we are here as Cubs. That's the important thing; that we're happy. And you're happy. Everyone is happy." Sveum smiled, content with his self-presentation, and Hurdle didn't have the heart to tell him that his jersey had been tucked into his underwear the entire time.
Peyton Manning led the Broncos to their 14th straight regular-season win as they easily beat the Oakland Raiders 37-21 at home. Things got even worse for the Raiders as quarterback Terrelle Pryor was knocked out of the game with a concussion, or as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell referred to it, "Terrelle who? What are you talking about? Never heard of the guy in my life, have you, Mark? Terrelle Pryor?" to which NCAA president Mark Emmert responded, "Nope, Roger. Me neither. Never heard of this 'Terrelle Pryor' before. Weird."
I had an assignment Sunday afternoon: Go to the Coliseum in Oakland and watch three hours of the absolute worst product the NFL has to offer.
It was Jacksonville at Oakland. The team whose over-under Vegas set at 5 wins against the team whose over-under was set at 5.5. The guy starting instead of Blaine Gabbert (Chad Henne) against the guy starting instead of Matt Flynn (Terrelle Pryor). The future Los Angeles Jaguars against the past (and maybe future?) Los Angeles Raiders. All from the most maligned stadium in major American team sports.
So I get to Ye Rustic just before ten in the morning, and down at the end of the bar there's this gray-haired guy drinking a whiskey and eating a piece of chocolate cake. You think you were ready for some football on Sunday? You were not as "ready for some football" as this cat. He's in his fifties, maybe older. Doesn't seem to have his eyes on any particular game. He's just going in on this whiskey and cake right quick, hunched over it like he's taking the SATs. I immediately want him to be my spiritual adviser. He could teach me to be unpredictable, to throw off the competition by ordering dessert in outside-the-box time slots. That gnomic, Walk without rhythm and you won't attract the worm kind of wisdom. How to be old. Which bars serve cake. That kind of thing. But not long after the games start I look over and he's disappeared.
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 few weeks providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
It all got ugly fast in Oakland on Friday night. Enthusiastic boos aren’t typically a part of the preseason, but by the midway point of the second quarter, they came from everywhere. Matt Flynn had just thrown his second interception of the first half, bringing his line on the night to a paltry 3-for-6 for a total of 19 yards. The jeering had followed a few of Flynn’s five drives — which had resulted in just two first downs — but after Isaiah Frey’s interception, the boos turned to chants. It was hard to make out the exact words, but the gist was clear: We want Pryor.
There's one enormous misconception that keeps cropping up this NFL offseason in the reaction to surprising personnel decisions. In terms of evaluating how much a particular player is worth (to his team or another), one little tidbit matters more than anything else: Past performance, future performance, personality, and name value all fall by the wayside to this most essential bargaining chip. It explains both the Tony Romo deal from this past weekend and Carson Palmer's desperate attempt to flee the East Bay. In the NFL, leverage is everything.
Consider Dallas's predicament with regard to its occasionally brilliant, frequently embattled quarterback this offseason. With a team of expensive veterans surrounded by a relative paucity of players on cheap, team-friendly rookie contracts, the Cowboys normally would be up against the salary cap. It didn't help when the Cowboys failed to come to terms with Anthony Spencer on a long-term deal and were forced to franchise him for the second consecutive year. Throw in the cap penalty they're eating after the NFL took away $10 million over two years for their handiwork during the uncapped year, and the Cowboys were really struggling to create space under the cap. Cap figures aren't released publicly, but by some accounts, the Cowboys couldn't have fit a Crown Victoria into their cap space this offseason, let alone Victor Butler.
In case you were busy crashing Lark Voorhies's birthday party (and if so, kudos to you), here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Tiger Woods had a vintage weekend as he both reclaimed the no. 1 world ranking in golf and won his record eighth Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. When asked if things could be any better than they are right now, Woods responded, "Um, yes. Yes, they could. You have no idea." When asked to elaborate, Woods responded, "No, I better not. I I better not."
The Miami Heat ran their win streak to 27 games after a 108-94 win over the Orlando Magic. Miami forward Chris Bosh was jubilant after the performance, saying, "Big things are happening in Miami. I'm hoping this will finally get the media to pay attention to us down here. These 27 straight wins should definitely get us the attention we deserve."
When the rumor was circulating on Friday morning that the Packers were going to release Charles Woodson, I got more than one text message with the same question: “HOFer?” What makes Woodson’s time in Green Bay so notable isn’t my answer to that question — it’s how emphatically I gave it. I have no doubt that Woodson will give a speech in Canton one day, but the certainty in that assessment tends to make me forget about the uncertainty that came with Woodson signing in Green Bay.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Detroit Tigers took a 2-0 lead on the Yankees in the ALCS with a 3-0 win on Sunday after Derek Jeter suffered a season-ending ankle fracture during Saturday's loss. "As horrible as the pain was, I noticed it made Nick Swisher stop grinning for a second," said Jeter. "So, you know, it's a wash. The whole thing is a wash, because as much as I hate — as we all hate — Nick Swisher, he's so much more despicable when he grins like a buffoon, which is always. Seriously, I'll pay anyone $500 if they can find a photo of him where he's not smiling in a way that makes you want to slap him. So for, like, three seconds after I went down, he was just this annoying idiot with stupid sideburns who can't hit or field but who, for once in his obnoxious life, wasn't grinning. If I had to fracture my ankle to make that possible, then I guess I'm some kind of martyr. I'm Saint Derek, and all my apostles are guys who can't hit a curve."
On paper, if you let your eyes blur just a little, Lane Kiffin is a genius and a boy wonder. He became the youngest head coach in NFL history with the Raiders, moved on to a plum job at Tennessee, and now heads up one of college football's most historic programs, USC, as the youngest coach of a BCS conference team. He's only 37, but his résumé to date implies someone with a virtuosic football brain, a maturity belying his years, and a precocious instinct for people and systems.
But in fact, the reality doesn't match the perception. Lane Kiffin has made a fool of himself at every career stop, shown a penchant for lying and selfishness, and rarely produced on-the-field results that would seem to justify his meteoric rise. The latest example was Saturday's 21-14 loss at Stanford, which ended USC's national title hopes and sent them plummeting from no. 2 to no. 13 in the AP poll. Before I get into why this might be happening, let's take a quick tour through Kiffin's career highlights.