Thank you, Milwaukee

Post-season baseball is an enigma of excitement, heartbreak, stress, glory, and nerves all rolled into one emotional ball.  Game seven of the NLCS was not any different for the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers. The ultimate elimination game held the fate of one team going to the World Series and the other’s season coming to a close.

The crowd provided their cheers of confidence at Miller Park for their home team to finally obtain a berth to the World Series under the National League, but the cheers had to fade one last time for the 2018 season as the L.A. Dodgers came out victorious on a 5-1 win. The Dodgers are better equipped to take on the Boston Red Sox for the World Series, but a lot of credit has to go out towards the Brewers for going as far as they did in the post-season this year.

On Tuesday the focus will be completely on the World Series to see which contender will be able to win another championship for their franchise. Until then, I’d like to give a sincere thank you to the Milwaukee Brewers for providing one of the most fun seasons to watch this year. Milwaukee has been pitted as the underdog since day one, sharing the NL Central with big market giants such as the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. The Brew Crew has proven that they have the talent, passion, and determination to push a team deep into the playoffs.

What a fun ride all season long, watching the newly acquired Lorenzo Cain and Christain Yelich emerge as huge playmakers both in the outfield and on the plate. Witnessing Josh Hader make a name for himself, even with his controversial Twitter posts from years past, as the team and fans supported his growth as a person from his naive youth. The votes to bring Jesus Aguilar to his first All-Star Game with the #IBelieveinJesus campaign, and watching his enjoyment of participating in the home run derby. Laughing with Brent Suter as he mimics Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber on a video that gained the appreciation of Jim Carrey. Chanting with the crowd as Christain Yelich emerges as the top candidate for this year’s National League MVP category. Hearing the crack of all the bats as the Brewers tied a franchise-best of 97 wins this season, placing them as the top seed in the NL for this year’s post-season.

The deep admiration for the game can only be matched with the voice that Bob Uecker provides each game on the radio waves. Listening to Uecker’s excitement for every home run and double play is a melody that no one else can match when it comes to broadcasting. Although the Milwaukee Brewers won’t be playing for a Commissioner’s Trophy in 2018, there is no doubt that Bob Uecker is still proud of his team.

We all should be. Everything that Craig Counsell and David Stearns has provided has given confidence to Milwaukee for the future. Milwaukee isn’t just a one-hit wonder — they will be back with a bigger goal in mind for next year. Until next year’s spring training, I want to express a sincere thank you towards the Brewers organization. Thank you for a great season, for the fun that was shown, and the memories we had along the way. The Brewers are a type of team that is easy to enjoy. Although being eliminated from the post-season can feel disappointing, the team should know that the fans are not disappointed by their efforts.

Instead of sulking of what could have been, or grieving the thought of being cut short of such a long journey, there is solace in knowing that the season provided to the fans was overall enjoyable. So from one fan to the Milwaukee Brewers, I say thank you for the great season, and more importantly: thanks for the fun.

Early season predictions on the worst teams in the NFL

For a good portion of the decade, there has been lousy football coming from the same three teams. The Cleveland Browns (0-16) had their last win in the 2016 season with Johnny Manziel as their quarterback. That feels like a lifetime ago already. The Chicago Bears (5-11) have notoriously been a two or three win team ever since losing the NFC Championship in 2010. Then comes the San Francisco 49ers (6-10) who has had a roller coaster ride all decade. Ever since losing head coach Jim Harbaugh the 49ers’ wins have been lacking.

The Bears and 49ers have already reached out of bottom feeder status as of last season. It’s no coincidence that acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo and Mitch Trubisky have helped tremendously. All three of these teams are currently heading in the right direction. The biggest question mark lies on the Cleveland Browns, coming from zero wins last year. Cleveland possibly has the most impressive roster we’ve seen in a very long time. Even four wins from the Browns would be considered a successful season at this point. With these teams currently on the rise to success, there can only be three new teams to take their place. What new franchise will take the dishonor of being the new bottom feeder?

1. Cincinnati Bengals

C.J._Mosley_fumble_return_2015

Only one thing prevented the Cincinnati Bengals from being the worst team in their division last year: the luxury of sharing the division with Cleveland. Last season definitely exposed some holes in Cincinnati’s arsenal. The Bengals missed every opportunity to pick up any top rated free agents to patch any of those holes. Most teams are becoming a running back by committee, and the Bengals have the same mentality. Between Jeremy Hill, Giovanni Bernard, and Joe Mixon they’re not sure which RB to use. The answer seems obvious: go with Mixon. There should be no doubt that Joe Mixon will eventually become a great running back. It will take longer to see results when he’s only allowed eight carries a game.

 

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

22475316335_6f52eb6729_z

Tampa Bay has some pretty great weapons on their team. Mike Evans has always been a top wide receiver each year. Gerald McCoy and Kwon Alexander have been crucial pieces that can provide help on any team in the NFL. Jameis Winston has proven himself as a good franchise quarterback. He has the unfortunate circumstance of sharing the same division with Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan. Winston is young and has plenty of time to hone in his talents. Despite all the pro-bowlers on the roster, the Bucs still have not been able to click into gear. Perhaps the blame should fall on the coaching staff. Tampa Bay is high on their first-round pick Vita Vey, a defensive tackle from Washington. Vey has high regards but still doesn’t fix their running back problem after releasing Doug Martin.

3. Miami Dolphins

7998493816_a5f2fb4f82_z

The Miami Dolphins have lingered on the border of bottom feeders for quite some time. Ryan Tannehill will be returning from his ACL injury this upcoming season. The Dolphins continue to believe in Tannehill being their starting QB, despite Adam Gase not achieving much success with him. Tannehill has fewer weapons to work with since Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry are no longer on the team. Minkah Fitzpatrick was a great first-round choice in the draft. Even the DB from Alabama won’t be able the save the problems Miami will face in the near future. Miami has a window of opportunity to build once Tom Brady retires from the Patriots. The competition will be severe as the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are doing the exact same thing. With the Dolphins allowing their best players to be traded, there is a high probability that they could be the worst team in the NFL this coming season.

For What It’s Worth

The economy is booming and financial investments aren’t as high risk as before. The NFL is no exception, but replace literal dollars with raw player talent. New stars keep emerging every year across the league. While some of these players help contribute toward a successful franchise, other teams seem to fall short. Here is a following list of teams to either buy in the hype, or sell out your shares from the bandwagon.

 

Buying: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams don’t need a hard sell in order to want to invest in their franchise. Jared Goff is going to be in his third year and continues to look more confident under center. Todd Gurley is a strong contender for being the best running back in the NFL. What separates this team apart from everyone else is how much talent they brought in during this past off-season. Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters in the secondary. Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald up front bringing the pressure. Match that with Wade Philips as defensive coordinator and the young established Sean McVay. It’s hard to find a weakness on this team right now.

 

Selling: Seattle Seahawks

Until Jimmy Garappolo wins either a Super Bowl or the MVP, it’s safe to say that Russell Wilson is still the best quarterback in the NFC West. Unfortunately for Wilson, there isn’t much support for him at the moment. The off-season was pretty vacant for Seattle as we watched the monumental Legion of Boom finally crumble. Shaquem Griffin getting drafted to the same team as his twin brother was a heart-warming story to watch unfold. The rest of the draft, however, felt very lackluster. Wilson has a lot of weight to carry on his back for the next few years. They are definitely heading into rebuild mode, but with the 49ers and Rams on the rise, don’t expect much from Seattle for the rest of this decade.

 

Buying: Green Bay Packers

I know, how biased of me. A blog that has Cheesehead in the name and wants to pick the Packers. Although there are plenty of reasons why the Packers are a good investment. The number one person to bet on is Aaron Rodgers, who will be hungry for a shot at the title once again. Take a short hop down memory lane and Rodgers has brought this team to the NFC Championship game three times in the past eight years. Green Bay did the smart thing and finally cut ties with Dom Capers to bring in Mike Pettine, a guy who has never had a defense ranked below tenth place. Packers also had one of the better drafts in the NFL, especially in the first three rounds. Green Bay continues to look better on paper this year, even after losing fan-favorite Jordy Nelson. Although the Minnesota Vikings are a worthy adversary, it is always safe to bet on the King of the North.

 

Selling: Detroit Lions

Every day more analysts are hyping up the Detroit Lions. People should pump the brakes a little on Matt Patricia taking over head coaching duties. He has all the potential in the world to be able to turn Detroit into a deadly team. But between the competition of the Packers and Vikings, it won’t be happening soon. Let’s also not forget that as a defensive coordinator Patricia had absolutely no answers for Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. It’s more realistic to allow him a few years to build a team before jumping the gun and claiming that he’s going to steal the division. Matthew Stafford will go down statistically as the Lion’s best QB ever to be on their roster. Unfortunately, if he couldn’t make a deep run with Calvin Johnson, chances are it won’t be happening this year either.

 

Buying: Los Angeles Chargers

It’s bizarre how two mediocre franchises seemed to flourish as soon as they moved to the City of Angels. The Chargers are almost a twin copy of their NFC counterpart when it comes to depth. Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Melvin Gordon make a great triplet to get the offense moving. Casey Hayward one of the best shut-down corners in the NFL, only to be complemented by drafting Derwin James on the other side. They still have huge weapons such as Joey Bosa and Marvin Ingram which helped bring their defense to be ranked third last year in the NFL. Their biggest weakness right now is being forced to share the StubHub Center, which feels like being an away team for sixteen games. The rest of the AFC West has been rebuilding and essentially don’t have an identity. Now is the time for the Chargers to strike and flaunt their identity to the rest of the AFC.

 

Selling: Oakland Raiders

There are so many potholes with this team that Jon Gruden feels more like a construction worker than a coach. So many questions are left unanswered for Oakland right now. Did Jack Del Rio really deserve to lose his job just because his last name isn’t ‘Gruden’? Did Derek Carr have a fluke year, or did he show his true colors? Is Amari Cooper overrated? Can the Raiders get a good running game with Marshawn Lynch, or is he past his prime? Will Jordy Nelson be a good replacement for Michael Crabtree? Oakland didn’t have an impressive draft to bring any of these questions at ease. Gruden brought in free agency talent but also has made his roster the oldest in the NFL. It’s hard to look too far into the future with the towering fact that they are moving to Las Vegas soon. Maybe by then they can mimic the Golden Knights and try to reach a championship.

Buying: Houston Texans

DeShaun Watson had the most impressive rookie start we’ve ever seen before getting hurt last year. It’s been easy to find a seat on the hype train for this young QB ever since he beat Nick Saban’s Alabama team. Now he has DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller as lethal weapons. Watson isn’t the only player anticipated to return, however. JJ Watt will be back and ready to throw some linemen and quarterbacks to the ground. Watt’s attitude and work ethic prove contagious for the entire team. That should be motivation for their talented new safety, Tyrann Mathieu. Houston has a tough road ahead of them as the south is by far the strongest division in the AFC. Between Jaguars’ defense, Titans’ roster depth, and Andrew Luck returning with the Colts, the road to the playoffs will be brutal. The Texans show no fear as they look toward their rivals to win the division. That courage is worthy enough to invest in this team.

Selling: Carolina Panthers

Make no mistake about this sell: Carolina is not a bad team by any means. Former MVP Cam Newton will always pose a threat to any opponent he faces. Luke Kuechly may go down as this generation’s Brian Urlacher. The Panthers’ downfall doesn’t come within bad coaching or a bad roster. It’s simply the terrible luck of how competitive the NFC South is lately. Three teams made the post-season last year and the chances of that happening again are slim to none. Somebody is going to have to fall off the wild card spot. Compare Carolina’s roster to the Saints and the Falcons and it appears they’ve drawn the short end of the stick. We may see the same scenario that the AFC West had a few years ago where the Panthers can have a 10-6 record and still miss the playoffs.

Why We Need an Eight Team Playoff

I feel like an undefeated UCF this year not making the postseason as well as the lack of a Big Ten champ should be reason enough for expansion. Maybe PAC-12 too, if you’re not into defense (zing!) I am aware that this isn’t enough for some people though so I have just a little bit more to say than that.

One of the biggest reasons I hear against expansion seems to come from old school fans, who just shrug expansion talk off as whining and think drama and controversy are just part of the game. If this is your opinion and you happen to be reading this then with I don’t really think you enjoy the product on the field so much as the atmosphere surrounding it. That’s fine I guess but thats what I thought the WWE was for ever since it went PG, but that’s another article. I prefer my drama to occur on the field like oh I don’t know the Double Overtime Rose Bowl we just witnessed. I also prefer my controversy to only be over the occasional close call, and that’s only because I don’t think we’ll ever fully be able to eliminate human error from officiating in football. I get sometimes players behavior will be in the discussion, but I’d much rather the discussion be about the actual product on the field than about “who is the real champion?” or “who’s a better person?” If you would prefer that debate maybe you actually would enjoy professional wrestling more (I kid, I kid, but not really.)

Another reason I hear against expansion is that it should be hard to get into the postseason, an argument I actually am sympathetic to. Here’s the thing though, an 8 team playoff would still be literally THE smallest playoff out of any sport today. Not having a quarterfinal round in any other sport would just seem weird wouldn’t it? Even the NFL allows 12 teams into its playoff and there’s no perception about that being a cake walk to get into.

So here’s my proposal. The playoff should have every Power Five Conference champion getting an automatic bid, making conference championships more meaningful as Alabama got in this year and Ohio State last year without even winning their conference. If you can’t get in the post season by winning your conference then what’s even the point? It’s essentially a meaningless award if it doesn’t result in at least a shot at the next level. Could you imagine a division winner in the NFL not getting a chance to be in the big game? What’s even the point in divisions in that case? I understand this is college so it’s a little different, but the NFL’s post season model has been undeniably successful. I suspect the ratings will be as high as ever despite record lows during the regular season due to largely to, surprise surprise, off the field controversy. Hell the NCAA already produces a ratings bonanza every March with a basketball tournament. College football should take notice, especially considering the powers that be seem to at least be mildly aware their post season is in the winter months when everyone is stuck inside otherwise they wouldn’t subject us to an “Insert Sponsor and Random Object Bowl Game” every day in December.

So aside from Power Five champions getting an automatic bid and my little tangent about ratings, what to do with the other three spots you may ask? Well, give it to the next highest three ranked teams, with one exception. Any Group of Five school that wins their conference with an undefeated record (ala UCF) gets an automatic bid, but only if they’re ranked. This way the GoF can’t intentionally schedule cupcake schools and will have to play a few better teams to at least earn respect. This system would also minimize the impact of the subjective ranking system without doing away with it entirely.

The only question after answering the who would be the how, as in how does seeding work? While I do think power five champions should get automatic bids I don’t think they should automatically be the top five seeds. The rankings could be sorted with the already existing playoff committees ranking system. Again, it seems like to me at least, a great compromise giving a nod to the history of reliance on polling while also taking steps toward a more objective and less disputable national champion.

Now I am against any further expansion and think 8 is the perfect number, at least for now. Jumping from 4 to 16 seems excessive and I doubt the Conferences are remotely prepared to organize that successfully. Also, as much as I mocked the excessive amount of bowl games it is nice to be able to watch random games throughout the month rather than the alternative, which is trying to catch eight games all in one wild weekend. Maybe one day we can have the discussion of twelve teams copying the NFL system of giving the top ranked teams a much deserved bye week as well as keep the number of meaningful games going on to a small enough number people actually have time to watch but today is not that day. I’d both settle for and demand at least eight, and so should you.

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.

Whose Catch Is It, Anyway?

Once again the NFL has updated it’s rules and regulations for the 2017 season. The biggest one that they focused on was penalizing end zone celebrations more. Taunting has already been established as a big no-no, and pretty much any celebration where a player touches the opposing team’s player is an automatic flag. Originally it seemed that almost any touchdown celebration was going to become a penalty, but the major rule change was that no celebrations can be “sexual”. It can probably go down as the unofficial Antonio Brown rule. Of course there were slight changes to what possession is, which seems to contradict every single year. Week 6 gave us the worst example of this complaint, and it has been lingering for years around the NFL. What in the hell exactly is a catch?

A good place to start is to reference what the official NFL rule book has listed as a catch. The explanation goes as follows:

A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:

  1. secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
  2. touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
  3. maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps (see 3-2-7-Item 2).

Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.

If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.

The first two parts make sense. As long as someone behind the line of scrimmage (assuming the QB) throws a ball forward and another eligible receiver secures the ball without dropping it on the ground. The second part being that both feet are in bounds. Easy enough to understand, we’re on the same page thus far. The third part though… that’s the gray area that none of the officiating crews can agree on. There were three particular games where part 3 of the catch rule was stretched to it’s breaking point.

The Green Bay vs. Minnesota game is receiving huge buzz because Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter, but the bigger story that no one wants to cover is how messed up the calls were on particular catches. There were four instances that the play was either challenged or reviewed by the booth to determine what the call was, and each time the outcome had everyone extremely confused. At one point Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, and Mike Pereira all were scratching their heads on the disagreement from the official’s calls. It got to a point that Aikman was flat out mocking the NFL that nobody can establish was an actual catch is. Here is a play that was set up to explain how it was: Green Bay were on the goal line and it was third down. Brett Hundley snapped the ball and threw a forward pass to Ty Montgomery (part 1 of the rule) who was wide open. Ty Montgomery had both feet in bounds (part 2) and turned his body forward, fell down, was not touched, and then continued running towards the end zone. After the ball crossed the goal line it dropped out of his hands, and although initially called a touchdown, the ruling was overturned from the review. The question though, is what overturned it? According to part 3 of the rules Ty Montgomery he held the ball long enough to become an established runner, both feet were on the ground, he was capable of avoiding impeding contact, tucked the ball, and turned up field. The only time the ball hit the ground was already when the ball crossed the goal line, which has already been established is considered a touchdown. At one point was there an infraction to cause an over ruling towards the play? The Minnesota Vikings also were handed a slap in the face with a play where Adam Thielen caught a ball, and despite his hands remained in control of the ball the entire time, neither feet touched out of bounds. They actually didn’t touch the ground at all, and because of such turn of events they ruled it not a catch. Before the official call, Troy Aikman reminded the audience how the NFL discarded the “force-out” rule, in which a defender can’t push an eligible receiver out of bounds in air to make it a non-catch. Despite the friendly reminder, the officials called it a non-catch. Perhaps that particular officiating crew didn’t get the memo that force-outs aren’t a thing anymore.

Things looked much worse in New York this past week, which now has the infamous call at the end of the game. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the tight end for the Jets, caught the pass and as he was falling across the goal line, as he was hitting the pylon, the ball switched hands without touching the ground, and it was ruled a fumble. I repeat: THE BALL DID NOT TOUCH THE GROUND. Just like the Ty Montgomery situation, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught the ball. He turned up field. Planted both feet. Tucked the ball for possession. Was aware of on-coming traffic. Everything that is in the rules to be a catch, and was ruled as such, but was called a fumble anyway? It should be said that being a sports reffing official is a very tough job, and these guys are trained for years to do what they do. There is always a margin of error as they are only human, but there hasn’t been that bad of a call since Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game. It’s almost as if the officials want the conspiracy theorists to add more traction for the New England Patriots still cheating.

What is the solution for determining what is a catch? We can’t blame the officials on not being able the agree on the rules, because the rules are vague. There’s too many “if’s” for a solution that should be clear cut and precise. Growing up the ’90’s every kid playing back yard football understood a “two-step rule”. If a receiver has the ball in his hands, is creating momentum downfield, and the ball is still in his hands after two steps, then it is a catch. The official NFL rules on a catch has the core, but with all the additions over the past ten years or so the confusion is clearly shown each and every week. What was so wrong with what we determined back in the ’70’s and ’80’s as catch? Granted, defensive rules have changed since then as well to make the offense have an upper-hand, but at least there wasn’t a dispute. As much as having booth reviews, numerous camera angles, and coach challenges enhance the game experience, the only negative consequence is it has refs second-guessing themselves on what catches truly are. The NFL can fix this by making it very simple: if a receiver has the ball in his hands, it does not touch the ground, and both feet are in bounds, then it is a catch. That’s it. End of discussion. No team can say it can be unfair, because it would be ruled that way on both sides. Not only would we eliminate the debate each year, but the game would be faster paced. It would destroy these horrible calls we witnessed this past week. It would create bigger and better highlights. With so many talented quarterbacks and wide receivers in the league right now, it is such a waste to downgrade their potential and momentum by having everyone question whether or not some plays are considered a catch.

Unpredictability Wins Again

Week 5 is officially over, and while head coaches and fantasy football managers are already looking ahead to week 6, there should be something to be said about the first quarter of the regular season in football. Sure, we can scratch our head or curse out particular teams, but that’s why we have the term “any given Sunday”. The upsets, uncertainty, and the unknown is part of the fun on watching football every week. That’s why every year to add to the fun, I like to make early-season predictions and see how many of them come true. As much as I want to boast that a couple of my predictions have come true so far, there has been so much that has happened that any Magic 8-Ball or Nostradamus himself could not see coming. Some of it is jaw-dropping. Some are head-scratch worthy. Some are laughable. Either way, all of it has made the 2017 season extremely interesting to watch.

I believe the best way to start out is to showboat a little. Don’t worry, I’m not putting myself on a pedestal by means for claiming these. As much as I’m proud that I got these two correct, I am primarily humiliated by all the things I have guessed wrong. So without further ado, here is my proudest prediction of this season:

Carson Wentz will have a better season than Dak Prescott and no one will notice. Granted, I can’t get 100% on this one, because with the Eagles on top of the division at 4-1, I believe more people each week are becoming a believer in Wentz. I understand the hype on the Cowboys. They got Zeke for at least one more year without a suspension. Dak Prescott has more experience and is ready for year two in his tenure. Dez Bryant and Prescott seem to have developed a better chemistry with each other. The difference though, is that Wentz is already used to losing, and can handle his composure as such. Dak and Zeke don’t know what losing feels like following the number one seed in 2016. Sometimes the fall is more difficult than the climb up, and for the Cowboys in the NFC East that seems to be the case. A critical eye is still on Wentz though, considering that he started the season 4-2 last year and still ended at 6-10. What we’ve seen this year is a more improved and durable Carson Wentz, and I think he can lead his team much further.

The AFC South will be the most competitive division in the NFL. This prediction is still a work in progress. Depending on how the second half of the season goes, I could still be proven wrong on this one. Originally I said that the Tennessee Titans could steal this division and win it, but that was during the preseason when the Houston Texans were still going with Tom Savage as their quarterback. What I didn’t see coming was Deshaun Watson making his debut and absolutely rocking it, and I didn’t see Jacksonville leading the division. I knew their defense was going to be young and talented, but I didn’t expect them to be so dominant. I did an article ranking the top rookie running backs this season, and I made a mistake by rating Leonard Fournette so low, and Christain McCaffrey so high. Everyone didn’t have much hope for the Indianapolis Colts this year with Andrew Luck’s injury, but they’re winning games and Jacoby Brissett isn’t too shabby. The “weakest” team in the division right now is the Tennessee Titans, with their lackluster defense, their star quarterback Marcus Mariota is temporarily injured, and the most surprising is their complete lack of a run game. We all were expecting a Dallas Cowboys version of DeMarco Murray, and instead we got the Philadelphia Eagles version of him. The division is still wide open for the taking, and I believe that the second half of the season will follow suit. Titans will get Mariota back and have already begun to fix some of their holes. Colts will get Andrew Luck back which immediately changes their demeanor. Jaguars probably have the best defense in the AFC and they need to make sure Fournette doesn’t get hurt and make Blake Bortles a game manager. Texans have an exciting offense and a talented defense. They just need to keep it up all year. Put all four of those teams into the mix and every divisional game is going to be crazy at the end of the year, because they’re all playing for number one — and right now there is no definitive number one in that division. Every team theoretically is going to get better as the season goes on, and that’s why right now I’m making a new bold prediction: not one team in the AFC South will be below an 8-8 record.

Looking at things again, maybe those predictions only came out half right. Can I get a half-point for each? So I’m 1 for 2. You could look at it that I’m batting .500, or you could say that I’m only completing 50% of my throws. Whether you’re a half-full or half-empty type of perspective, there have been a lot of follies among the NFL that no one saw coming. Let’s start with the biggest one:

The Giants are 0-5. This is personally the biggest surprise to me. Mostly because I predicted the Giants to win the division, but a little bit because the last time the Giants went 0-5 was 1979. At least in that season they won out the rest of their games, but I’m skeptical that the Giants can pull that off considering that all their starting wide receivers are injured. That’s something else I’ve never seen in my life before. I’ve seen all five of the starting O-line get hurt, but I don’t think I’ve witnessed all starting wide outs getting hurt — and it happened the same game! What a bizarre season for the New York Giants.

The Jets have won 3 games. Even more crazy to me, as of right now they have a winning record. I predicted the New York Jets to be worst team in the NFL, even going as far as to say they might lose all 16 games. Instead, they’re one spot ahead of the Patriots in the division. Who saw the Pats being in third place at any point this year? Buffalo being the division leader isn’t too shocking. They’ve held that spot temporarily in previous seasons during the Tom Brady era, but what’s confusing is Buffalo looks pretty good this year. They beat the Denver Broncos, right after destroying the Dallas Cowboys. They snapped Atlanta Falcon’s win streak. After two huge wins for the Bills, they follow it up by losing to Cincinnati? What is this team’s identity?

Deshaun Watson. That’s all I have to say. The guy is incredible to watch, and has made Bill O’Brien look like a damn fool for not starting him in week 1. The Texans went from a rely-on-your-defense, don’t-make-mistakes-on-offense type of team to a don’t-count-us-out, we-can-score-35-on-you-in-a-blink-of-an-eye type of team. As a rookie, he went up against the Goliath’s of foes this year — New England and Kansas City — and despite losing those games he made it close. He’s absolutely capable of taking control of a game, getting the audience involved, and inspiring hope within Houston after the Hurricane Harvey disaster.

The Fall of Big Ben. We all saw the butt spanking the Jacksonville defense laid out on Pittsburgh. At Heinz Field no less, which is notorious for Roethlisberger playing at his absolute best. Instead, we got five interceptions, no touchdowns, and a very confused Steeler nation. Big Ben hasn’t been exactly elite level status so far all season, but what’s more surprising is Antonio Brown still is the leader in receiving yards despite that. Or perhaps the most surprising thing is Pittsburgh gave the Chicago Bears their first win on the year. It’s not all Ben’s fault though. Look at all the quarterbacks that came from the famous 2004 draft class. Big Ben, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers all aren’t performing this year. In fact, the best QB to come from 2004 this year is Tony Romo, as he became an immediate fan favorite announcer. Could it be the day has finally come? The day where the most famous quarterback draft class of all time has become old. I said it myself in a previous article, that Steelers are going Super Bowl or bust. They might not seem as dominant as we all predicted, but they are still the best team in their division, if that gives any type of indication how strong the AFC North really is this year.

Alex Smith for MVP. I’m always a big advocate for Andy Reid and I liked what Kansas City did in the off season, but I still didn’t see Alex Smith playing the best season of his life. When I first saw the articles popping up that Alex Smith is already an MVP candidate I didn’t want to believe it. Game managing Alex Smith? Defense reliant Alex Smith? I figured it was just the easy way out considering that the Chiefs are the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but looking at the numbers my eyes have been adjusted to the blurry frame I made for myself. Alex Smith has over 1,300 yards, 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, is passing an incredible 76% completion rating, and a whopping 125.8 QB rating. That is just insane numbers! To top it off as well, if Alex Smith isn’t the front runner for MVP, the next best candidate is Kansas City’s rookie running back Kareem Hunt. It’s no wonder why the Chiefs are undefeated this year. Now the question will be who can be the first team to take down this mighty colossus.

Going in to week 6 we have quite the story building among these franchises. Usually after week 8 a big turning point happens for a lot of teams, and I’m excited to see what this season will bring. The emulation of emotion between players of frustration, joy, persistence, fatigue, annoyance, and glee is being shown on the field even during the distractions of the politics being involved with the sport. Wipe away the small stain that is being forced on us through different outlets, and we still have what is the golden goose to us all: another great season of professional football. We remember this by the outstanding touchdown celebrations being presented to us each and every week. Keep it up guys, because that stuff alone is worth watching for.

The Chargers Are Shunned in L.A.

I want to invite you to take a trip down memory lane with me for a second. The year was 2016. Barack Obama was in the White House. Dabbing was beginning its decline in popularity to make way for fidget spinners. Colin Kaepernick still played in the NFL. The New York Giants players rented a yacht and left all their talent on it. But the biggest thing to remember from 2016 is that the Chargers were still in San Diego. The very idea left a bitter taste in the mouths of every San Diegian, and the taste never sweetened as time went on. The day that Alex Spanos revealed that he was moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles the aggression and animosity towards the Chargers and the Spanos family grew so large that it could mean the end of the entire franchise all together.

To be fair, Spanos at least attempted to keep the team in beloved San Diego. He wanted to build a brand new stadium for Chargers, a team who hasn’t won their division since 2009, and after many meetings with Mayor Kevin Faulconer the city of San Diego decided to leave it up for a vote on whether or not to build an estimated $200 million stadium. November came, a new president became elected, and the referendum to build a new stadium for the Chargers in San Diego was a majority NO. Understandably, not every resident in the San Diego area is probably a Charger fan, or even a football fan for that matter. It makes sense on why bother raising taxes for a stadium that doesn’t necessarily have to be built? Most of the time fans enjoy their current stadium just for the history aspect. As for Spanos though, he already had a back up plan in case Faulconer wouldn’t allow a new stadium to be built in San Diego. Spanos and Mayor Eric Garcetti made an agreement to build a brand new stadium if the franchise moved to Los Angeles. Garcetti already was very vocal about wanting two teams back in L.A. to begin with. Oakland was his original choice, but after a deal was made for the Raiders to move to Las Vegas, it seemed all too perfect for the Chargers to move back to their original home again. Perfect for everyone except the Chargers fans.

During the off-season when the announcement hit that Alex Spanos was moving the franchise to Los Angeles the entire fan base of the Chargers erupted. They were livid, felt betrayed, and plagued all media sources to give their two cents on how the felt about the entire transaction. Some of the fans spread their faith and loyalty towards the Chargers no matter where they would go. Majority of fans renounced their patronage to the team, and decided to go towards the Bay Area to watch their football. The transition from San Diego to L.A. has definitely been a rocky one, with a fan base that’s not travelling with the team, but there also isn’t a place for the Chargers to play. Logically, it made sense for the Los Angeles Rams to share their temporary stadium with the Chargers the same way that the New York Giants and New York Jets share the same stadium, except the Rams owner Stan Kroenke wasn’t having any part of it. The best NFL and L.A. could come up with a temporary interim stadium for the poor Chargers was the Stub Hub Center, the home of the local soccer team L.A. Galaxy’s. The stadium is actually in Carson, a suburb that’s a half hour south of L.A. and a half hour west of Anaheim. The worst part is the stadium can only hold 27,000 seats, which is less than half of what the average stadium holds for every other NFL team.

The disaster of leaving San Diego has definitely shown in the attendance. Week 1 of the season was pretty much empty, and although the seats are being filled more and more every week, they aren’t being filled with Chargers fans — it’s the opposite team’s fan base! Talk about being embarrassed, being humiliated, and starting the season 0-4. That’s not to say that they haven’t been competitive in their games, but can you blame them not having the motivation? Los Angeles is a giant city, and within that city is a fan base from all 32 teams in the NFL. When the Chargers plays at “home” the people from L.A. that come to see them play in Stub Hub Center are literally fans of the opposing team. The Chargers don’t have a home field advantage, and part of that problem is purely that San Diego fans didn’t transfer at all. The L.A. Chargers have to start from scratch, as if they’re a brand new franchise, with an absolutely zero fan base in Los Angeles. On top of that, they’re competing with the L.A. Rams who have all the momentum. Not only did they have a small fan base to start off with — basically anyone who moved from the St. Louis area and now lives in Southern California — but right now the Rams are electric. Between Jared GoffTodd GurleySammy WatkinsCooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald this team is young, exciting, and most importantly: they’re winning. It’s a no-brainer that any new fans warming up to their new L.A. teams are gravitating towards the Rams versus a Chargers team that has zero wins.

The Chargers new stadium will get built… eventually. When it finally does get built in projected 2020, the Chargers will have a different team. Philip Rivers might not be around anymore, the coaching staff may be switched out, the whole division may have a new power surge. Through the uncertainty of the future, one thing is going to be the same: the absence of attendance at Chargers games. With the seats being as barren as San Francisco 49ers games, it makes a person wonder if the estimated $2.6 billion stadium is even worth it. Everyone loves new stadiums, and after the tape is cut and the shine wears off, the main thing will be whether or not the Chargers can win games. If they can’t, then this $2 billion investment might be the iceberg that sinks the franchise once and for all. If the San Diego fan base doesn’t start travelling to L.A., and the Los Angeles fan base still remain loyal to the Rams, it wouldn’t surprise anyone that Spanos decides to jump ship on the franchise entirely. Other owners have done it in the past, so it’s not an outlandish thought to have. Even if Spanos wants to keep an NFL franchise, or sell cheap and have it revamped, this could be the beginning of the end of the Chargers.

A brand new start may be exactly what the Chargers need. Unfortunately the Chargers would have to die out for it to happen, but the “new start” that they’re receiving in Los Angeles isn’t the answer. Perhaps the answer is for the Chargers to fold, a new franchise to emerge, and move to a new city with a brand new roster. It’s already happened in the past. The Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Titans. The Baltimore Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns. If the Chargers were to crumble and resurface with a new look, a new logo, and a new city, that could be the restart that they truly need for a fan base to finally start following them. A new city is the first place to start, and the most promising city that could accept a franchise again would be St. Louis. Sounds crazy, right? They just lost their team to Los Angeles, so why wouldn’t they just keep the Rams in that case? Except if history has taught us anything, it’s already happened to Baltimore and Houston. So maybe not so crazy. It might take another 15 or 20 years before any of this to happen, but if it does start heading that direction and the Chargers really begin to struggle, at least San Diego fans can have their own moral redemption by telling Alex Spanos that maybe he should have never left.