Detonator in Denver

Yet another devastating loss for the Denver Broncos in prime time. The final score this past Sunday night was 41-16 in Sports Authority Field. Losing to the New England Patriots doesn’t seem all that bad considering how tough it is to take down the franchise dynasty of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, except for Denver this is the fifth loss in a row. Eyebrows are being raised as Denver, a team that was once considered to be a Super Bowl candidate this season, is now falling in to a pit that looks impossible for the team to climb out of. It begs the question for any Bronco fan out there right now: what exactly is going wrong?

Looking back in previous weeks the Denver Broncos started off the season strong. They got the win against the divisional rival Los Angeles Chargers in week one, then followed it by completely stomping the Dallas Cowboys with a 42-17 victory. Trevor Siemian had the best game of his career thus far, and the Broncos showed their top-notch rush defense by halting Ezekiel Elliot to a mere 9 yards total. At only week two of the regular season, rumors began to float that Denver might be the team to potentially go all the way with all things clicking the way they were. In week three, however, the rumors became a little puzzled as the Broncos chalked up a loss to the Buffalo Bills. In week four Denver beat the Oakland Raiders 16-10, which allowed them to go 2-0 among the division, and then followed up that win with surprising loss to the New York Giants. In fact, the only win that the Giants have been able to muster yet this season was against the Broncos. Ever since then, Denver has been skunked by the Chargers, beat down by the Chiefs, embarrassed by the Eagles, and was shown no mercy at the hands of the Patriots on Sunday Night FootballWhat happened to the team who was able to put up 40 points on the Dallas Cowboys? Or better yet, who is to blame for this mess?

It seems pretty easy to put blame on the quarterback play right now in Denver. Trevor Siemian got benched, only to be replaced by Brock Osweiler, who hasn’t exactly proven himself worthy as a starting QB either. Denver is averaging 15.6 points per game in the past five weeks. While that’s not absurdly low, it’s definitely not great coming after the Peyton Manning era. Special teams hasn’t been spectacular either, as Denver allowed the New England Patriots to score 17 points generating from a muffed punt, a blocked field goal, and allowing 103 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. With the offense struggling to get points on the board, along with a miserable special teams unit, Denver must rely on its defense to take charge and make the big plays to help out with field position. They have had a dominant rushing defense, stopping big play makers such as Zeke, LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, and Kareem Hunt. Despite the impressive lock down in the run game, it appears that the No Fly Zone has departed and allowed teams to score with their deep pass threat. The past two weeks have been miserable for the rush defense as players such as Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Dion Lewis, and James White have all carved them up like turkeys.

The defense has become as unreliable as the offense now, and whether the team misses a play maker such as Manning, or a coordinator like Wade Phillips, it appears as though the blame has come down to John Elway. The same general manager who was praised for putting all the right pieces together to bring home the Lombardi Trophy in 2015 is now being heavily criticized for allowing such a pathetic season to unfold. Surely the two time winning Super Bowl MVP should be able to collaborate a better quarterback situation than a mediocre Trevor Siemian, and a Cleveland-bought Brock Osweiler. It may be quick to forget that the GM does not have the same job as coaching, but he does run the numbers in order to draft and acquire the right people in free agency. Perhaps it only shows proof that generating a winning team at a professional level in the NFL is much more difficult than anticipated. For John Elway this may create a lot of questions on what to do during this next off season. It will be interesting to see whether he decides to start from scratch and try to build a brand new team from the ground up, or if he continues going forward with his current team with some slight adjustments. Either way, something big needs to change in Denver for them to become relevant again. At 3-6 not only are the Broncos going to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, but they’re also on the very bottom of the division. Rebuild mode might not seem like such a bad option after all.

Big 10 Remains Wide Open

There are only three games left in NCAA Football, which means everything is on the line here for a lot of teams across the conferences. The same is to be said for the Big 10, which has received a lot of attention this season for its domineering rosters and very athletic programs. Some people argue that the Big 10 may be the most competitive power conference in college football, but SEC fans like to politely point out that Georgia and Alabama are forces to be reckoned with. That’s not to say that the Big 10 isn’t competitive, having six teams being ranked in the Top 25 (the most out of any conference). The competition however seems a bit one sided getting ready for the conference championship.

Wisconsin should be an easy shoe-in making it to the conference title game. The only team that is undefeated among the Big 10, along with one of five teams who remain undefeated in the entire country.  What makes it easier for them is Wisconsin is in the Big 10 West, where the second best team is Northwestern (6-3), a team who Wisconsin already has defeated. Iowa (6-3) is in third, but makes this coming up Saturday very interesting as they have taken down the mighty Ohio State, and now prepare themselves for the undefeated Wisconsin. A good argument could be made that Iowa is really the second best team in the Big 10 West, and we’ll find out after this coming week how good Wisconsin really is. Defeating Iowa should only gain more respect in the polls for Wisconsin, who are ranked #6 in the country right now, despite being below three 8-1 teams having an untarnished record. The reason behind this? Wisconsin has had a pretty easy schedule this year. Up until this point, Wisconsin’s hardest opponent on paper would have been a heavily criticized Michigan team. That is, until Iowa decided to make a name for themselves now. Getting wins against Iowa and Michigan may change a few votes for Wisconsin, but either way the committee has to be looking more in the direction of the Big 10 East right now.

It should be no secret that the playoff committee loves Ohio State. Urban Meyer is the second most respected coach right after Nick Saban, and it seems as though every year half of the Ohio State roster gets drafted by the NFL. It was shown last year when Penn State won the Big 10 Championship and Ohio State still made the playoffs. Between Ohio State and Penn State alone it looked as though the the Big 10 East was going to be a brutal battle getting to the top. Plus add Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines in to the mix and it’s a recipe for upsets and great football. While these three teams have been in the spotlight (all with tied records at 7-2), Michigan State has quietly climbed past them all and currently holds the top spot in the East. This Saturday Michigan State faces off against Ohio State, in a game that could determine the outcome of which makes the Big 10 Conference Championship. Meanwhile, Penn State and Michigan are trying to win out the rest of their season in order to have a chance towards the conference game. Michigan has the toughest schedule ahead of them. Maryland is next, followed by Wisconsin, and then Ohio State. Especially after losing to Michigan State earlier this year, Michigan looks doomed at the moment, but will still make a bowl game. Penn State has a cake walk the rest of the year with their future opponents being Rutgers, Nebraska, and Maryland. Penn State has to have their fingers crossed with a lucky rabbit’s foot in hopes that Michigan State can upset Ohio State and then lose a following match up in the next two games to follow that. It’s a long shot, but they still have a chance of making it to the championship.

As it currently stands the playoff picture looks to be Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, and Clemson. Within the next three weeks the teams officially in will be subject to change, depending on how everything plays out. Even teams that look like they don’t stand a chance still have a shot at the playoffs. Ohio State was ranked #14 in the playoff polls when they upset Alabama in the BCS Championship game. The odds are against any teams in the PAC 12 on making the playoffs this year. Clemson should have an easy invite, but that could all be changed depending on how the ACC Conference Championship goes against the Miami Hurricanes. Alabama and Georgia look pretty locked in their spots as well, unless somehow one of those teams gets majorly upset by an unranked team in next few weeks. That leaves Notre Dame and a good handful of teams in the Big 10 all fighting for one playoff spot. Notre Dame has been impressive this year — their one loss came from Georgia in an absolute heartbreak. They are also the only team that have come remotely close of taking down the mighty Georgia program.

Hypothetically, is Notre Dame more impressive than a 12-0 Wisconsin team who also wins the Big 10 Conference? Would they be more impressive than a sleek and subtle Michigan State team who takes down Urban Meyer’s Ohio State and also wins the Big 10? Or how about the Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield and his impressive Oklahoma team over in the Big 12? These are questions that will all need to be addressed in the next few weeks, and it makes the playoff hunt that more exciting to watch for college football this year.

The Saints Keep Marching In

“Who dat! Who dat! Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”

This is the chant that has been blaring across Louisiana like a horn from a trumpet for the past six weeks now. The New Orleans Saints officially have the longest win streak of the 2017 season with six wins in a row — a sentiment that no one saw coming after the Saints started off 0-2 for the third season in a row. Energy has been jolted back in to the city of New Orleans after years of starving. Fans were hungry to have that taste of familiarity again; the taste of being on top. Except the bellies can’t ever be full until the playoffs, and even then the drive won’t stop until the Super Bowl. So the question remains that the fans continue to mock towards the rest of the NFL. Who can beat the Saints right now?

Behind the ruckus of New Orleans fans marching towards victory, whispers will murmur in the alleys of being over-rated. “They have a weak schedule,” the pessimistic will say. Looking back at the first nine weeks, it can’t be that simple. Week one was a loss to the Vikings, a team that still had a healthy Sam Bradford, a very tough defense, and are under the radar for having home field advantage at U.S. Bank Stadium. New Orleans still trying to find a way to use Adrian Peterson, and their defense didn’t click yet. Week two was another loss against the Patriots, who needed a big game as a come back after being embarrassed by the Kansas City Chiefs the week prior. Saints still had the same problems as week one, and it didn’t fix itself until week three. The rumors began flying around the news: Saints going 0-3 again for the third year in a row. Sean Payton was on the hot seat, fearing for his job by the end of the season. A big divisional game against the Carolina Panthers and the Saints annihilated them. Week four Saints travel to London and completely skunked the Miami Dolphins — the same Miami team who beat the incredible Los Angeles Rams — and we saw the defense create their identity. By week six Saints cut their losses and drop the dead weight of Adrian Peterson to allow a highway lane for the impressive rookie Alvin Kamara. They came to Lambeau and beat the Packers sans Aaron Rodgers, and despite two interceptions in the first half after the rain, the second half Drew Brees does what he does best and proves once again why he’s one of the best to play his position. Week seven the Saints beat an under-rated Chicago defense and a talented Mitch Trubisky, and week eight go against a very injured Tampa Bay team only to reign higher on the NFC South totem pole.

New Orleans has rhythm, they have an identity, and can find more ways to win other than relying on their 38 year old star quarterback. Fans in Louisiana haven’t seen a good defense since Bounty Gate, and the feeling is a sight for sore eyes. Even if a defense has great pass protection, it’s hard to stop the one-two punch between Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Kansas City Chiefs get a lot of attention for having Kareem Hunt as a dangerous threat in the back field, but as Hunt has been slowing down the past few weeks, it seems as though Alvin Kamara only heats up more.

Talk about a polar opposite between the teams. When Kansas City started the season at 5-0 people only talked about how they are true Super Bowl contenders. Since then the Chiefs have been 1-3 the past few weeks, and Saints haven’t lost a game since week two. Despite the drastic changes, no one speaks of the Saints going to the Super Bowl at all. Brees and Payton already have Super Bowl experience together, so it doesn’t seem unfathomable. Perhaps it’s because they’ll have to go through the Rams and Eagles, both of whom scored 51 points on their opponent in week 9, before getting to the biggest game of the year. New Orleans will be able to answer one of those questions in week 12 where they will face off against the Rams away in Los Angeles. It’s no question the toughest game that the Saints will face to face the rest of the year, but until that game happens, prepare to continue hearing the who dat chant echo across the airwaves.

Motivational Mediocrity

The story line was set up perfect for the Buffalo Bills to be successful on Thursday Night Football. Only a half-game behind the New England Patriots, they needed a win to potentially be in first place among the division once again. All the cards were in Buffalo’s favor — they were going in to week 9 with a 5-2 record, and their five wins weren’t just push overs. In week one they already beat the New York Jets, who were their opponent once again in week 9. Since then have continue to win over teams such as the Broncos, who the week prior had completely destroyed the fierce Dallas Cowboys. They upset the Atlanta Falcons while simultaneously snapping the Falcon’s win streak. They climbed over a lack luster Tampa Bay Buccaneers team last second to beat them by a field goal, only to reply the following week by steam rolling over the Oakland Raiders. Buffalo’s only losses coming in to week 9 came from the Carolina Panthers, who have been pretty hit or miss this season, and a very confusing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. With their past set up, they came in to the Met Life stadium as the away team, and with one win already against the Jets. Considering that both teams are from New York, the travel time wasn’t a big deal for Buffalo. It was clear that the fans travel well with the team, as the cheers were loud and clear echoing throughout the stadium when the Bills took control of the ball. Their motivation and identity was at an all time high, as a win this week would have put them at 6-2; a record that the franchise have not seen since 1999. Despite having the stage set up for the Bills to take a hold of their own destiny, and  Las Vegas giving them a four and a half point advantage for odds, Buffalo does what they do best by embarrassing themselves.

Buffalo’s record still isn’t bad despite the loss. At 5-3 they’re surprisingly still one of the top teams with most wins in the NFL right now. It makes things still a little nerve-racking considering that the Bills currently have the longest playoff drought in the NFL, and unless they go on a massive win streak soon it might not be enough to even be a wild card team. New England is still predicted to win the AFC East once again, and Buffalo being in second place doesn’t seem entirely secure because they’re about on pace with the rest of the NFL this year. The 2017 season is both bizarre and exciting mended together, because there are just a few top teams who are on a clear pedestal above everyone else, and then a few bottom teams who are laughably dragging behind the crowd. Buffalo sits among the rest of the NFL — all wading in a pool of average mediocrity. Nobody in this purgatory is necessarily horrible nor great, and any time a rhythm begins to muster among these teams, the beat gets disrupted by a disappointing loss. Going by the current records, the teams who reign on top are the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Eagles, and Vikings. To parody the top, there must be teams scavenging the bottom which include the Browns, 49ers, Colts, Giants, and Buccaneers. That means there are 22 other teams all floating right in the middle; clawing and crawling among each other to be a top contender only to get nowhere in the process.

There are still plenty of football left. Any one of the teams in the mediocre purgatory could finally catch that rhythm to fight their way across the rest and place themselves into a definite spot for the playoffs. Buffalo still has potential to be that team, but they will need to figure it out quick. The NFL is ruthless, and any other team can make a name for themselves to knock the Buffalo Bills out of the playoff contention. This should be a concern for them. It should be their motivation to create an identity and finally clean that tarnished drought they lay in. Now is the time to pick themselves back up and make it time for Tyrod Taylor to prove he can be a franchise quarterback for them. It can be time for Sean McDermott to shine, and make the city of Buffalo believe in their franchise again. Until that day happens, it might be a wise choice to hold your bets on Buffalo for right now.