MEH: Championship Sunday Recap

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wild and crazy Championship Sunday has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Panthers stomping the Cardinals, Cam Newton having fun, the Brady-Manning rivalry, the amount of fun Cam Newton has, the impending Pro Bowl, the extent to which Cam Newton has fun, the Gentlemen of the Week, a notation on how Cam Newton has so much fun out there, the Most Hungover Fan Bases, and an analysis on the relationship between Cam Newton and fun.


 

Associated Press/Academy of Fun Arts and Sciences

Associated Press/Academy of Fun Arts and Sciences

Will: Does the Panthers’ beatdown of the Cardinals make you feel any better about the Seahawks falling to them like they did? Could Carolina just be that good? What stood out to you about their play?

Derek: No, not really. I didn’t take anything away from that game other than Carson Palmer is either injured or way more terrible than we thought. Quarterbacks have more of an effect on their team’s success than any other position in professional sports other than pitchers. If your starting pitcher gives up 10 runs in the first inning, you’re not going to win. And if your quarterback turns the ball over six times, you’re probably not going to win that one either.

The bad news for Palmer is, in my opinion, he played even worse than the stat line indicated. It’s fair to say that this game didn’t have my absolute undivided attention, but when I checked the box score afterward I was surprised he only threw four interceptions. He was throwing it right to Panther defenders, and as a result the team looked completely demoralized.

So no, I don’t feel any better. The Seahawks would have kicked Arizona’s asses just as badly if Palmer played that kind of game. Most playoff teams would have. Put 21 other Pro Bowlers on the team and they won’t win when the quarterback is consistently giving the ball away. I didn’t turn off that game thinking the Panthers were a runaway freight train, which appears to be the consensus among football pundits.

Am I off-base here? Am I just completely blinded by my dislike of Cam Newton?

Will: Nah, you’re not off-base. Dripping with bitterness, sure, but not too far off-base. I didn’t watch this one too closely either — the Royal Rumble was on, for cryin’ out loud. When the scoreline read 17-0 after the first quarter, whatever degree of interest I had in the game vanished.

Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson were already out of the playoffs. With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both aging and struggling in the AFC Championship game (together they completed exactly half of their passes), how much “Cam Newton is the best quarterback in the NFL” talk are we in for over the next couple weeks?

Derek: That’s depressing. Why would you say something like that? Maybe I should just stay off the internet the next two weeks. The impending Newton lovefest could very well drive me to violence. Look at how much fun he’s having! Doesn’t he look like he has fun? He has so much fun! AGREE WITH US THAT HE HAS FUN!

See? It’s happening already.

The only thing that could “save” us is the original media darling: Peyton Manning. The narratives of “Peyton Manning’s last game” and “Peyton Manning could ride off into the sunset” and “old school vs. new school” could deter us from hearing about how much fun Cam Newton is having. Did you know he has fun? Football is fun for him. He has fun. Fun is fun.

Which Super Bowl storyline do you think will be beaten into the ground before the Super Bowl? Will Manning and/or Newton take the crown, or could an underdog like Michael Oher, Thomas Davis, or Poorly Timed Criminal Offender/Drug Test Failer X steal it?

Will: Here’s hoping for the latter, because sweet Christ I want nothing to do with any of it. I’m going to hide in a bunker until April. Super Bowl talk is the worst. The Super Bowl is quietly the worst. Aside from the game itself, I’m out. Good for Thomas Davis for playing with a broken arm. Good for Cam Newton for giving balls to kids. Good for Michael Oher for being in a movie. Good for Peyton Manning for being old.

I don’t know it’s just that they play under helmets or what, but football players are not compelling to me. This is probably unfair and born of my distaste for the NFL, but so be it. I dislike everything about football except for the football.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Did Brady vs. Manning, you know, do anything for you? Do you find their rivalry particularly compelling? They’ve been two of the NFL’s best for some 15 years, going head to head several times during that stretch. So why am I sitting here so underwhelmed? Can we blame it all on Phil Simms?

Derek: Such a negative recap today. The answer is, again, no. I’ve enjoyed their rivalry over the years, but Manning is a shell of his former self. I’m shocked the Broncos made the Super Bowl the way Denver’s quarterbacks have played this year. And that brings us to Mr. Simms, who continually refuses to acknowledge that Manning is at a different stage in his career. He praises Manning like he gets a bonus every time he does it. I can’t enjoy a rivalry between two players when I roll my eyes every time the color commentator mentions one of them. Add in the fact that neither quarterback was particularly impressive, and all of the fun (© Cam Newton) was sucked out of the rivalry. Sadly, it’s not over yet, since Simms will call the Super Bowl. Splendid.

Will: Were there any hidden subplots within the championship games? Aside from whatever Cam’s latest thing is, what are people going to be all mad about? What are the talking points? I was hoping for both Denver and New England to lose and had no rooting interest in Carolina-Arizona, so I wasn’t too absorbed by the proceedings.

Derek: Did you see that Panthers fan fall down?

panther fan fall

That’s about all I’ve got. I wasn’t kidding about my apathy for these football games. I can’t believe I’m reading mock drafts before February. This is stupid.

Let’s talk about something equally pointless: the Pro Bowl! What would it take to make you watch? Would you gamble on it or take part in a Pro Bowl drinking game? Would you require financial compensation? Will it even exist in five years?

Will: If you put a $20 bill in front of me and said that I had to watch the whole game, start to finish, with only limited phone and computer interruption, I don’t think I would do it. I certainly wouldn’t gamble on it, because the only thing worse than losing money is losing money on something so astronomically meaningless.

Drinking game? …Maybe.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Wade Phillips, come on down! The Broncos’ improbable upset was thanks in large part to your defense. Also, there’s this:

Will: That immediately makes Wade wittier than like half the league. I’ll go with that Panthers fan who fell over the barrier. He looked like he had a good time.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’ll say Carson Palmer’s fan base. I’d give it to Cardinals fans, but it looks like they already jumped off the bandwagon.

Will: I’ll go with that Panthers fan who fell over the barrier. He looked like he had a good time.


Championship Sunday Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

New England (-3) vs. DENVER

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Derek: I’ve been spoiled recently. I’ve spent the whole week thinking some variation of “This is what it’s like when the Seahawks aren’t playing for a Championship?” How things have changed. I knew I’d care less without the Seahawks, but I really underestimated my level of apathy when it became clear that there’s a 75% chance a team I hate will win the Super Bowl. I can’t remember the last time I was less excited for Championship Sunday.

How’s that for an introduction?! Excited to read picks from someone who doesn’t really care?! Let’s get this over with.

I’m sure the Patriots will slither their way into winning this game somehow. Of that I have no doubt. This looks exactly like the sort of game Peyton Manning would play poorly in even when he was good. I shudder to think how he’ll perform now that he’s nearing the end. Meanwhile, I do like the Broncos’ chances of limiting Brady’s success. Despite his faults as a head coach, Wade Phillips knows what he’s doing as a defensive coordinator. I think he’ll cook up a few (hopefully legal) surprises for Brady and Gronk. We also can’t ignore the piles of money being bet on the Patriots, which greatly increases the chances of something screwy happening. I’ll say the Patriots win but the Broncos cover.

Will: I’m with you on the enthusiasm front. I hope Sunday brings good games, because the world is a better place when good games are being played. That’s about as riled up as I can get, especially for Patriots-Broncos. Like you, I absolutely feel like New England is going to win. Like you, I’m worried about Peyton. I expect to see a bunch of sideline shots of his blotchy post-interception forehead. He hasn’t completed more than 60 percent of his passes since Week 7.  He hasn’t thrown more touchdowns than interceptions since Week 3. The Broncos have a fine defense, and there’s certainly a chance that they can pull it out, or at least keep it close enough to cover. I just think it’s the less likely outcome. Patriots cover on the road.

CAROLINA (-3) vs. Arizona

 Carolina Panthers - Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez

Carolina Panthers – Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez

Derek: Has the “I’m rooting for Bane” joke been made too many times? Can I use it just once more? Ugh. Either Cam Newton or Bruce Arians is going to hoist a trophy after this game, and good people are going to stand by and do nothing. This is a travesty.

Regardless of last week’s outcomes, I think the Cardinals are the better team. They’ve played tougher competition all season, and they won’t have to deal with some of the problems the Seahawks had, like fatigue from a third straight road game, a 10 a.m. PT start time, and ignorance as to the condition of the Panthers’ field. Once the Seahawks shook off the morning start and changed cleats, they blew the Panthers away and probably would have won if they had a little more time. Arians is a douche, but he’s a good coach, and I think he’ll learn from Seattle’s mistakes and prevent his team from falling behind early. If he can do that, he should be able to hold them off, seeing as the Panthers have been notably dreadful at times in the second half this season. I’ll say the Cardinals win, and I hope Larry Fitzgerald just keeps the trophy for himself.

Will: This game I’m more excited for. Much of it, however, is going to take place during the Royal Rumble — and I know where my viewing allegiances lie. It will take a heck of a ballgame to wrestle away my interest, and even then I’m more likely to tune into the WWE Network than FOX.

Still, I hope it’s a good one. I hope it’s a slobberknocker worthy of Jim Ross’ commentary. I hope Cam Newton throws for 400 yards and Carson Palmer throws for 450. I hope Josh Norman and Patrick Peterson both have three interceptions. I hope both offensive lines play well and there are two kicks returned for touchdowns. To lean further on wrestling parlance, I hope this game makes both teams look strong. I think it will, and I think it’ll be close. I’ll take the points.


Hating Everyone: Divisional Recap

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wild and crazy Divisional Weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks’ loss, Hue’s hiring, one man’s hatred of Cam Newton, the ridiculous Packers-Cardinals game, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


 

AP Photo/Mike McCarn

AP Photo/Mike McCarn

Will: How did your emotions fluctuate throughout the Seahawks-Panthers game? What was it like to see everything going Carolina’s way early on? What percentage chance did you give a comeback down 31-0 at the half? Were you resigned to your fate early on, or did you allow yourself some belief in the second half?

Derek: Well, 7-0 didn’t feel good. I wasn’t very fond of 14-0 either. Sadly, 21-0 prompted a trip to the liquor cabinet. It had been a long time since the Seahawks had gotten their asses kicked from start to finish, and I figured this was going to be the one to break the streak. They weren’t showing any energy after three straight road games and two straight 10 a.m. PT starts, and the Panthers certainly looked to have taken advantage of the fact that they got to relax at home while the Seahawks were playing in arctic conditions in Minnesota. It was tough to watch.

I slowly talked myself into the Seahawks making a game out of it during halftime, solely based on team history. Russell Wilson’s Seahawks have been a part of some big comebacks, and the 2015 Panthers blew some big leads. I figured if anyone could do it, it would be them. The feeling was magnified when Russell threw a touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse just 90 seconds into the second half. That really got me back in the game, as I could do fan things like yell at the offense to hurry to the line instead of blankly staring at the screen like a hydrogen bomb went off in my brain.

Of course, it wasn’t to be, and it was even rougher considering the opponent. But I’ll get to that later.

What do Hue think of the new head coach in Cleveland? Could he be the one?

Tony Dejak / AP Photo

Tony Dejak / AP Photo

Will: Of course he could! We Browns fans may not have much recent experience when it comes to the playoffs, but we’re grizzled vets when it comes to talking ourselves into new coaches. From Butch Davis to Romeo Crennel to Eric Mangini, every new head coach who has walked through the door in Berea has been the new savior. (Well, maybe not Mike Pettine or Pat Shurmur.) If nothing else, the wordplay has been delightful.

Seriously though, I like Hue. Loathe as I am to admit it, the Bengals have been among the better teams in football for the last several years, and over the past two he kicked their offense into another gear. He has a year of head coaching experience under his belt, and the Raiders have yet to match his 8-8 record since firing him. There are concerns, specifically with penalties and discipline. His Raiders were the most penalized team ever — ever! — and the Bengals ain’t exactly Boy Scouts.

In short, this is how I feel:

I will say — and take this with a Morton factory’s worth of salt — that I have a good feeling about Hue. He has good signs on him. He’s put decades of work into football. He has served under all different types of coaches rather than being trained in the same system his entire career. He’s down with the Browns’ analytics approach. He’s spent nine years in the AFC North. He got his big head coaching break once before, only to have it taken away. He showed hubris and was appropriately humbled. He’s made mistakes. And now, at age 50, he takes the reins of the Cleveland Browns.

So is he the guy? No idea. But I at least feel good about him, and that’s something I haven’t felt about the Browns in quite some time.

At risk of twisting the knife further, you’ve experienced losses on either end of the spectrum in a relatively short period of time. Is there any comparing the Super Bowl loss to this one? How do they compare? Are they close — in terms of loss type rather than stakes; the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl — in terms of unhappy feelings?

Derek: No, I’m not sure that another loss will ever feel quite like last year’s Super Bowl. At least, I hope not. After that game, just the mere thought of football brought me down. It didn’t really wear off until midway through this season. The Panthers loss was “better” in that I got over it fairly quickly. The Seahawks screwed themselves from the beginning, and have no one but themselves to blame for their playoff position after they constantly blew leads this season. It just seemed like this season was doomed from the start with the black cloud of Super Bowl XLIX hanging over everyone. Honestly, making the playoffs and winning a game is probably more than I could have asked for.

I’m already excited for next season, and I think the Seahawks are too. It’s a relief seeing the quotes from players after this game compared to last year. Losing sucks, but at least my love of football didn’t get kicked in the shins. I might even read mock drafts this year.

Let’s talk about the weekend’s wackiest game. Where does Packers-Cardinals rank on the list of weirdest games you’ve ever seen? Did you ever think you’d see two Hail Marys on the same drive, a coin toss controversy, and a fourth quarter ricocheting go-ahead touchdown pass in the same game?

 Rob Schumacher/AZ Central Sports

Rob Schumacher/AZ Central Sports

Will: It was awesome; I still can’t quite figure out what happened. I’ve seen other games end in weird ways — from Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss to the invention of the eponymous Dawson Bar — but never so many wild plays in such a short period of time. The Hail Marys were nuts, though I think the coin not flipping takes the cake in terms of sheer improbability.

My favorite part, far and away, was the Cardinals making damn sure that if they scored the winning touchdown, Larry Fitzgerald was going to be the man to do it. Their first play from the 5-yard line was a fade to him, which Carson Palmer chucked out of play lest he throw a stupid-ass interception. The next play was the game winner, a lovely little shovel pass that allowed Larry the moment in the sun. Loved it.

Do you have any ill feelings toward Cam Newton for the heinous act of throwing down a 12th Man flag? I feel as though the greater Seahawks community is having a bad light shone on it.

Derek: I think it’s fair to say Cam Newton is my least favorite player in the league, and it really doesn’t have that much to do with his healthy self-confidence or his penchant for property theft and destruction. The reason I dislike Cam Newton was on display in this game, though. He strikes me as that sneaky kid in high school who manipulates teachers and other adults with a consistent “yes sir, no sir” attitude but then bullies other kids when no one else is around.

Much has been made of his smiling, prancing, Favre-esque “He’s like a kid out there!” mentality. But he only ever does this stuff when things are going his way. He’s happy to prance and signal and take stuff from opposing fans when his team is winning. When his team isn’t winning, he’s pouting or screaming at other players and coaches. I submit to you, dear Reader, that it doesn’t take an amazing person to be happy and friendly when things are going your way. But everyone acts like he’s some kind of awesome guy because he can smile really big when he has a reason to smile really big, as if that’s some sort of accomplishment. He’s the ultimate front-runner. I’m telling you, if the Panthers had lost that game, he would have thrown the entire organization under the bus. And I’d still probably be subjected to pundits fawning over him like we’re watching two different players.

Rational or not, I can’t stand the guy. I’ve always maintained that the Panthers were my second favorite team after the Seahawks, but I just can’t root for them as long as Newton is on the team. Now I’m almost hoping the Panthers suffer an NFC Championship defeat similar to the one the 49ers suffered two years ago and Newton’s career will swirl down the toilet like Colin Kaepernick’s has. It would mean the dreaded Cardinals would make the Super Bowl, but I would enjoy the NFL more if Cam Newton wasn’t part of it.

Are you looking forward to Panthers-Cardinals more than I am? And are you excited for another Brady-Manning matchup?

Will: In short: No, I don’t think I’m looking forward to Panthers-Cardinals more than you. The potential Newtonian schadenfreude alone puts you on another level. I think it will be a fun game, and I’ll certainly watch, but I have no specific interest in it. I’ll enjoy Larry Fitzgerald’s smile as much as anything.

As for Brady-Manning: Kinda meh, honestly. I don’t particularly like either of them, and I feel like such matchups bring out the worst in the football commentariat. I think I get uneasy watching Peyton because I fear he could get irreparably damaged on any given play. Like, the guy cannot feel his fingers because of a significant neck surgery. I can’t get past that. I just hope no one gets hurt. (God, I’m a pansy.)

Do you care about the rest of the playoffs at this point? Is there any team you really want to see win or lose?

Derek: I’m at a loss. I would hate to see three of the four remaining teams (Arizona, Carolina, New England) win the Super Bowl, and the fourth (Denver) I’m neutral on at best. I’m sure I’ll talk myself into hate-watching the games, but I guess the only thing I’d somewhat enjoy is Denver winning. Unless of course Cam Newton gets a DUI the morning of the Super Bowl and Derek Anderson leads the Panthers to victory. Am I a bad person if I root for that? Let’s just move on.

Lots of coaching vacancies were filled this week. We saw Chip Kelly to the Niners, Adam Gase to the Dolphins, The Immortal Mike Mularkey to the Titans, and of course Hue to the Browns, among other hirings. Which teams do you think made the best and worst hires?

Will: HUE! And I think I actually mean that. Far as I can tell, he and Gase were candidates 1 and 1a. It should be said that I don’t know much of anything about Gase except he’s an offensive coordinator with a generally good reputation, but I suppose that’s all you need to land a top gig. I’m intrigued by Chip in San Francisco, especially with Kaepernick in the fold, but I can’t imagine that ending well. Mike Mularkey is 18-39 and taking over a team that just went 3-13. That should go well.

Are you looking ahead to next year’s Seahawks at all? Is Marshawn definitely a goner, and if so, are you at peace with that? What does the future hold?

Derek: Oh yes, very much. I think it’ll feel like a reset button. It doesn’t look like any of the coaching staff is going to leave this year, and this loss will be so much easier to bounce back from than the last. There are several unrestricted free agents, such as Russell Okung, Bruce Irvin, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Mebane, and Jeremy Lane. Hopefully at least a few of them will be back. And hopefully Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett won’t start complaining about their contracts until the end of next season.

Unfortunately, it looks like Marshawn is as good as gone. Thomas Rawls proved he could handle lead back duties, and even Christine Michael looked good when he rejoined the team. Marshawn is expensive and by all accounts has caused some locker room headaches. I won’t be surprised if there are Percy Harvin-like leaks after Marshawn is gone. It would take a whole lot to get me to turn on him, though. He was so fun to watch, and he was a key part of Seattle’s success since he joined the team in 2010. I’m going to miss him, and I hope he’s happy in Dallas or Oakland or retirement.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Screw it, I’m giving it to every single one of the Seahawks. They were down 31-0 and made a game out of it. Well done, Gentlemen.

Will: I’m going with Larry Fitzgerald. I just like his smile so damn much.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’m giving it to Packers fans, who suffered legendarily terrible playoff losses in back-to-back years. Along with their award, I’ll give them some free advice: in your drunkenness, make sure you stay out of Manitowoc County.

Will: I’m going with the Seahawks. Stay strong, friend.


Divisional Weekend Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

NEW ENGLAND (-5) vs. Kansas City

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Derek: Ah, who could forget the last time these two teams squared off? The day the Patriots dynasty ended, sort of. Now the Patriots seek revenge on a Chiefs team that hasn’t lost since October 19.

Well, I’m afraid that’s going to come to an end on Saturday. The Chiefs’ streak, though impressive, has mostly come against weaker competition. Two of their wins were against Pittsburgh and Denver, but Landry Jones started one of them and Peyton Manning had one of the worst games a quarterback has ever had in the other one. I want the Chiefs to win, but on the road and possibly without Jeremy Maclin, I don’t see a win or a cover. I’ll take New England.

Will: I’m inclined to agree with you. Of the Chiefs’ last four games — against the Raiders, Browns, Ravens, and Chargers — only a 34-14 win over Baltimore was a blowout. (Their 23-17 victory over Oakland was comfortable as well.) The Pats didn’t close the season nearly as strongly as they began it, but they’ve made four straight AFC Championship games. That earns them a little credit. Pats cover.

ARIZONA (-7) vs. Green Bay

Jeff Haynes/AP Images

Jeff Haynes/AP Images

Derek: I don’t trust the Cardinals. They’ve quietly been incredibly inconsistent this year. They’ve looked like the best team in the league at times, and absolutely terrible at others. Carson Palmer has never won a playoff game. Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, most of the Cardinals lack postseason experience. Now they’re facing a ton of pressure because everybody expects them to beat Green Bay by 30 again.

I have my doubts. Some notable rematches have gone the other way recently. The Falcons didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Panthers, then handed them their first loss two weeks later. Same with the Seahawks and Vikings last week, though it’s tough to say how much the weather affected the outcome of that one.

I like getting seven points with Aaron Rodgers and the experienced Packers. I still think Arizona will find a way to pull it out, but Green Bay covers.

Will: I could see all of that, but I keep coming back to Arizona’s defense — particularly its pass rush. Their 36 total sacks this season were only about league average, but we saw this team sack Rodgers eight times three weeks ago. They finished third in pressure percentage, per ESPN. The Packers’ offensive line will be nearer full health this week than the last time these teams met. I remain skeptical. Just as you distrust the Cardinals, I distrust the Packers. Arizona takes it.

CAROLINA (-2) vs. Seattle

John Froschauer / Associated Press

John Froschauer / Associated Press

Derek: Are you kidding? Of course I’m taking Seattle! I’m not betting against my team in the biggest game of the year (so far) no matter what!

If you want some #analysis, I’ll just say that the Panthers haven’t played a good team since the Packers on November 9. Then there’s my aforementioned comment about games going the other way in the rematch. Seattle had Carolina on the ropes earlier this year and let them steal it. And while it probably doesn’t matter, the Panthers were bounced by a Wild Card team in the Divisional round in their previous two opportunities. Same goes for their two playoff games against Seattle.

Then again, I’d say Minnesota’s history didn’t matter when Blair Walsh lined for the game-winning field goal last week, and look how that turned out. Homerism!

CAM DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE.

pete

Will: This line only being two points is amazing. The Panthers are a 15-1 team playing at home, but Seattle isn’t being given the standard three points as a road team…and I think it makes sense. Seattle surged into the playoffs, winning four of their last five games, and all by at least 17 points. They were the DVOA champs again. Russell Wilson is playing better than ever, as is Doug Baldwin. Carolina, meanwhile, has lost Peanut Tillman for the season to an ACL injury. I also like Seattle.

DENVER (-7) vs. Pittsburgh

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Derek: I thought for sure I’d pick the Steelers against Denver if I had the opportunity, but last week’s injuries have me cooling my jets. A hobbled Ben Roethlisberger is typically a horrendous Ben Roethlisberger, and the Landry Jones alternative is even less appealing. Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams could both miss the game. I just don’t see anything to get excited about with Pittsburgh other than the hope that Manning turns the ball over seven times. I expect the Broncos will be running a lot and the Steelers won’t be scoring much in a Denver win and cover.

Will: This spread has moved to eight in some places. Brown and Williams are indeed out, while Roethlisberger won’t be able to feel half of his body. But you know what? Peyton Manning won’t be able to feel half of his body either. It’s going to be cold, and I think both quarterbacks are going to get hit a lot. Roethlisberger has taken a beating, yet I feel oddly confident that he’ll be able to conjure enough points to keep this one semi-close. This is completely a gut pick: Steelers.


Wild Card Weekend Recap

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wild and crazy Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the miracle in Minnesota, the looming Seahawks-Panthers game, the Steelers-Bengals slugfest, the rejuvenated Packers, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Will: Alright, we’ve got plenty to talk about, so let’s start with the important stuff: HOW ABOUT THAT CHIEFS-TEXANS GAME?? I jest. The Wild Card round brought us one bonafide stinker (Chiefs 30, Texans 0), one fun game that wound up not that close (Packers 35, Redskins 18), and two nailbiters (Seahawks 10, Vikings 9; Steelers 18, Bengals 16) that ended in pretty dumb ways.

Let’s start with your Seahawks reaping the benefits of Blair Walsh sending a 27-yard field goal farther left than Hubert Humphrey. The obvious question: Does God’s clear preference for the Seahawks mean that He hates the Vikings? If so, why do you think that is?

Derek: God may hate the Vikings, but I do resent the notion of His everlasting love for the Seahawks. I’ve read lots of people say stuff like that this week, and I’d like to remind those people that we suffered arguably the most heartbreaking championship game loss in the history of professional sports less than a year ago. I’m going to need at least nine more miracle Wild Card wins to get even for that. Or a Super Bowl this year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t know why God hates the Vikings, and He clearly does. What with the four Super Bowl losses, and their three crushing playoff losses in my lifetime–The Gary Anderson Game, The Brett Favre Game, and now The Blair Walsh Game–that’s more heartbreak than anyone deserves. To any Vikings fans reading this, I offer one consolation: it can always be worse.

A question I’ve been asked several times in the last year is “Was the Seahawks’ miracle NFC Championship win worth their crushing Super Bowl loss?” with the implication being that I might have rather just gotten the losing over with against Green Bay instead of getting hit in the nuts with a crowbar against New England. I don’t really have an answer. But it made me think about the miracle Seahawk wins that almost happened, like their 2012 Divisional game in Atlanta. That one sticks with me to this day, but after Super Bowl XLIX I started wondering what might have happened to Seattle when they traveled to San Francisco for the NFC Championship the following week. Maybe the Falcons spared me something truly crushing. After all, losing to the 49ers the way we lost to the Falcons would have been so much less bearable.

So there you go, Vikings fans. The Seahawks might have saved you from losing 70-0 to the Cardinals, or Walsh missing a 19-yard game-winner against Carolina in the NFC Championship. It can always get worse.

Did you enjoy watching the Hawks-Vikings game as a neutral observer? Did the elements make it entertaining, or was it an unwatchable mess?

AP Photo/Jim Mone

AP Photo/Jim Mone

Will: Like so many others who have grown up in the cold, I have deluded myself into believing that the colder the weather, the better theater for the football. So I had a blast. I was worried that the game would be interrupted by news of former Viking coach Bud Grant’s death after he walked out for the coin toss in a short-sleeve polo, but apparently he’s a tough old bastard. That’s Minnesota in a nutshell.

I’m glad it was cold, because I doubt Minnesota could have kept it close otherwise. After any great play that the Seahawks made — Doug Baldwin’s Odell Beckham catch, Russell turning a botched snap into the biggest throw of the game — I waited for Seattle to break it open. But they didn’t. The Vikings’ defense stood as tall as the Seahawks’ did, and all in all it made for a compelling watch.

Moving on to the next round…SEAHAWKS! PANTHERS! This baby oughta be a thriller. Thoughts? Predictions? Hopes? Fears? Dabs?

Derek: I have a guarantee: if the Seahawks win and Cam Newton doesn’t die on the field, I’m going to make so much fun of his first down point. I’m giddy. I’m almost more excited to do that than go back to the NFC Championship.

I’ll save my predictions for when we make our picks, but I’m sure it will be properly homerish. I hope the Seahawks are underdogs all week and the Panthers do all of the talking. I fear that the Seahawks will be be spent from a tough game in Minnesota, and even more I fear that “it can always get worse” rant up there. My guard is 100 percent up. I’m absolutely terrified that people are going to start asking me “Hey, was Blair Walsh missing that field goal worth that horrendous loss to the Panthers?”

I think it’ll be a great game, though. I almost envy people who aren’t fans of either team. Is Seahawks-Panthers the Divisional game you’re most looking forward to, or is there another?

Will: Lemme do a quick ranking of the four games coming up…

4. Chiefs-Patriots — Pass. Even if Kansas City makes a game out of this…it’s just meh. Doesn’t do it for me. I don’t have to explain myself to you people.
3. Packers-Cardinals — I think this could be a great game, but there’s a non-zero chance that Arizona beats the hell out of Green Bay again.
2. Panthers-Seahawks — There’s just so much to like here. It’s been the year of Cam Newton — but could become the year of Russell Wilson. You have the Seahawks secondary going up against the crap factory that Carolina calls its receiving corps (and Greg Olsen, the one guy who could actually bother them). Earl Thomas on one side, Luke Kuechly on the other. The Panthers’ mean-ass offensive line against the Seahawks’ mean ass defensive line. It should be great. But it’s still behind…
1. Steelers-Broncos — This might actually be the game that I’m least looking forward to, because fuck both of these teams. Like any Steelers-Ravens game, and like last week’s Steelers-Bengals game, this is one where I’m just hoping for a meteor to hit the stadium. It’s petty to feel this way, especially since the Broncos haven’t really affected the Browns in 25 years, but to hell with them both anyway. I hope it’s a terrible game and no one enjoys themselves.

Hey, can you make an argument that Russell Wilson is not a huge dork? He’s a huge dork, right? Who wins in a dork-off between him and J.J. Watt?

Derek: Oh yeah, huge dork. But he’s our dork. I’m hesitant to say he’d beat J.J. Watt in any sort of competition, with the exception of a race to see who would disappear first during the Rapture. Go Hawks!

As a Browns fan, what was your reaction to Saturday night’s AFC North showdown?

Will: I’m still not sure. It made sense. Joey Porter stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong, the Bengals did something stupid, and Pittsburgh prevailed. Pick your goat from Steelers-Bengals. Jeremy Hill, who fumbled on a potentially game-ending drive? Vontaze Burfict, who decided the ensuing drive was the perfect time to try decapitating Antonio Brown? Pacman Jones — he doesn’t get to be called “Adam” after a game like that — for laying hands on Joey Porter and putting the Steelers in field goal range? (Kudos to Porter and the Steelers, those scummy cheating fucks.)

Derek: Burfict for sure. The hit on Brown was particularly scumbaggish, and he’s been doing this stuff for quite some time. Who could forget that time he casually knocked a camera over and injured a cameraman?

vontaze

I mean, there was no point to hitting Brown the way he did. It wasn’t even a catchable ball. It looked like he just wanted to hurt someone, like Maxx Williams in Week 17. Hill’s fumble was bad, but not as much in the grand scheme of things. A few fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of holding on to the football because of Hill. Millions of fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of not being a remorseless prick. Maybe we should be thanking ol’ Vontaze.

What did you think of the Packers showing some signs of life? Are they a threat to beat the Cardinals, or do they get no goodwill for beating up on the 11th or 12th best team in the playoffs?

Will: They were intriguingly frisky, but it’s tough to let one good week obscure a couple months’ worth of mediocrity. That applies both ways, as the Cardinals got destroyed by your Seahawks the last time we saw them in action. There’s certainly a chance that Rodgers gets it going and keeps them in the game, but Arizona seems superior in every other facet of the game. I think that has to, you  know, matter.

Your life depends on one of the following: 1) Brian Hoyer completing a full NFL quarter without a turnover, 2) Blair Walsh going through a 24-hour day without receiving a death threat, 3) Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones handling poor service at a restaurant in gentlemanly fashion. Which do you choose?

Derek: Tough choices. I’ll go with option two, since by all accounts Walsh is a really good guy. He’s supposedly one of the most well-liked guys in Minnesota’s locker room, and several media members were quick to rush to his defense after his miss. I’m sure it’s more difficult to mail death threats to a nice guy. Plus, Walsh was raised in the south and now lives in the heart of an iceberg. How could the average fan threaten him any more than he’s already threatened on a daily basis? Stepping outside to scrape ice off of his windshield is already dangerous enough.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: That would be my man-crush, Tyler Lockett. Patiently waiting for Russell Wilson to avoid pressure so he could make the play of the game was the mark of a Gentleman. I may or may not be sending him a handmade valentine next month.

Will: Brian Hoyer, you beautiful bastard, you. With all the crap going on with Johnny Manziel, you knew that there were still some folks in Cleveland saying that the Browns never should have gotten rid of you. Playing ahead of Brandon Weeden, of all people, you went out and had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen a quarterback play — and I’ve watched you and Brandon Weeden! Chin up, old sport.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: Tough choices this week, but it’s got to be Minnesota. That loss combined with the weather has to have them hating everything right now. Maybe they’ll win God’s favor someday. Until then, the bottle will have to suffice.

Will: I’m gonna go with the Bengals. I feel like Minnesota has been here before, including the bitter, unyielding cold. I see Minnesotans building a nice fire and dealing with it like grown-ups. Cincinnati, on the other hand — I mean, did you see the police report? Those Bengal fans need to stop emulating their team.


On the Road Again: Wild Card Weekend Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

Kansas City (-3) vs. HOUSTON

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Derek: Picking this game wasn’t fun. I don’t want to back the Chiefs because of Andy Reid, and I don’t want to back the Texans because they aren’t very good. I’ve come to the conclusion that “isn’t very good” should matter more in my packs than “coach has a bad history covering in big games.” As such, I’ll just reluctantly take Kansas City.

Will: First, this game has been advertised on national television as kicking off at 4:20 Eastern time, which is perhaps my favorite thing the NFL has done all season. In lieu of addressing the fact that the league is only slightly more likable than Vladimir Putin, they’ve decided to lean on stoner word of mouth to boost TV ratings. I love it. With a 4:20 kick, the Chiefs are the only choice.

Pittsburgh (-3) vs. CINCINNATI

Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Derek: I’ll like whoever wins this game going forward, but alas, one of them has to go down Saturday night. The tiebreaker for this one is simple: Ben Roethlisberger vs. AJ McCarron. Oftentimes, when I’m making a sports decision such as picking a game or start/sit in fantasy, I think to myself “which one is going to make me feel stupider if I get it wrong?” If I pick the Bengals and the Steelers win, I’m going to feel like a jackass for talking myself into McCarron over Roethlisberger. If I pick the Steelers and McCarron makes me pay, I can live with that. I’ll go Pittsburgh.

Will: We know that Pittsburgh’s offense is flame emojis. We also know that they’re down to their third-string running back, an apparently Irish-Creole fellow named Fitzgerald Toussaint. We know that Cincinnati hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Andy Dalton went down. We also know that Pittsburgh won this same matchup, in Cincinnati and all, a month ago.

Lump me in with everyone and their degenerate gambling mother in backing the Steelers.

Seattle (-5) vs. MINNESOTA

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Derek: Marshawn, noooooo! I was really looking forward to seeing him again. But the team has thrived without him, so hopefully reigning Gentleman of the Week Christine Michael will seize his big opportunity.

The Vikings are a good matchup for the Seahawks, as they showed in Week 13. They should be able to key on Adrian Peterson and force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them. Then again, I thought something similar in Week 16 and the Seahawks lost at home to the Rams. Plus the cold can’t be a good thing for Seattle. There certainly are a few reasons to believe the Vikings will put on a better performance, but I don’t think it will be enough to stop a Seattle cover.

Will: So the high temperature in Minneapolis on Sunday is forecast to be 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill could knock it down another 10 or 15 degrees, easy. One might assume that that will make the running game a bigger deal, which could help the Vikings keep it close, at least close enough to cover at home. But much like Steelers-Bengals, we saw this same matchup about a month ago. The Seahawks won by 31 points and held Minnesota to 31 rushing yards. The weather will throw some kind of kink in things, but 26 points’ worth? Nah. Seahawks.

WASHINGTON (-1) vs. Green Bay

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America

Derek: I’m applying the same logic to this game that I applied to my Steelers pick. I’m going to feel really, really dumb if I pick Kirk Cousins over Aaron Rodgers and lose. And while at this point I think it’s pretty clear that the Packers aren’t particularly good, I think Rodgers can have success against Washington’s secondary. I also think a lot of people are underestimating the value of playoff experience. The Packers are loaded with guys who have played in big playoff games. We haven’t seen them miss the playoffs since 2008. Not too many current Redskins played a big role in Washington’s last playoff game.

Furthermore, the Redskins have only played two games against playoff teams this season–at New England and at Carolina–and got trounced in both of them. I could see them getting nervous and making mistakes early like they did in New England. Meanwhile, the Packers played seven games against playoff teams. Despite that (and being in a tougher division) they still won more games than the Redskins. I say the Packers put an end to Washington’s win streak.

Will: I’ve reflexively backed the Packers about a hundred times this season because Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay’s offense has been like the tumbling skyline at the end of Fight Club, leaving him to conjure points out of rubble. The Packers have had some offensive stinkers this year, and they finished 15th in points scored this year. If Washington had a more fearsome pass rush, I think I’d actually pick ’em. Alas, they get to the quarterback at just an average rate. Let’s back the Pack for the 101st time.


Roman Reigns’ Ridiculous Royal Rumble Challenge: Wrasslin’ Thursday 1/7/16

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from San Antonio! Monday marked the first Raw of 2016, and it was nice enough to give us this:

vince flex

Yes, that man is 70 years old. Nothing weird about any of this. Bless you, wrestling.

So as you can see, Mr. McMahon did a bit of special refereeing this week, as he took it upon himself to call the match between Roman Reigns and Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Chaympiachiaaa. Regular viewers will recall Reigns beating up the boss in recent weeks, so Vince (to my delight) has taken a more active role in relieving Reigns of his title. He made sure to pull out some special referee staples, such as fast counts for Sheamus and slow counts for Roman. Roman finally realized his best course of action was to attack Vince, seeing as he can’t lose the championship via disqualification. Anyway, after Vince (and another referee) went down, Referee Number Three came in and Roman won the match via pinfall.

Will: The second ref was the apparently notoriously crooked Scott Armstrong. (I’d forgotten about him; well done by the announcers to explain who he was.) He went so far as to hold Reigns in place for a Sheamus attack. He caught a Superman punch for his efforts, which led to a third, fair ref coming in and counting an impartial 1-2-3. It was all a bit convoluted, but it was entertaining enough.

I think Vince has to fire that third ref and blame Roman for it and make him feel awful for taking food out of that man’s family’s mouth. Mr. McMahon wouldn’t let that sort of insolence go unpunished. I expect the whole thing to never be mentioned again.

Derek: As you can imagine, Vince wasn’t very happy about the match result. So he decided that Roman is going to defend his title at Royal Rumble, but he’s going to defend it in the Royal Rumble match —

Will: Michael Cole explained that that stipulation had been in place for the Rumble once before (1992, when the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was vacant; Ric Flair won the match). He then referred to Vince’s decree as “an unprecedented decision.” It was wonderful.

Derek: — So instead of the winner of the match earning a shot at the title at WrestleMania, the winner will earn the championship and presumably the right to defend it at WrestleMania.

That is, of course, assuming Roman doesn’t win. And he might. There’s some ROMANWINSLOL potential here, in which Roman enters the Rumble second and somehow fights off 28 other people to retain his title. That’s entirely possible, and I almost think that’s going to happen. But let’s pretend, for a moment, that WWE won’t screw this up.

This could be one of the greatest Rumbles of all time, which would be very much welcome after the last two years. With the title on the line, every decent wrestler should want to enter. Will Brock enter? Triple H? Daniel Bryan? Undertaker? A returning part-timer, like Rock or Batista? And for every one of these awesome or popular wrestlers that enters, that’s one less “no chance” candidate we have to watch. There’s nothing worse than the clock ticking down at the Rumble and seeing it’s one of the Usos or the Ascension or Los Matadores. The more guys in who actually have a shot, the better.

And that’s one of the things that has killed previous Rumbles. There were three or four guys who might actually win it, two or three fun cameos from old-timers, a few acrobatic moves from the high-flyers, and a bunch of filler. I know it’s not realistic to have 30 potential WWE Champions, but what about, say, eight? Let’s say Roman, Brock, Trips, Taker, Rock, Batista, Bryan, and Cena enter. I’m sure that’s far too optimistic, but that would be a hell of a Rumble. Any of those guys could headline ‘Mania, and they could start a feud with one of the others during the Rumble. I’m giddy just thinking about it, until I realize hoping WWE does something incredible with an incredible opportunity leads down the path of extreme disappointment. I’m sure of the guys I listed only Roman and Cena will enter, and Cena will win.

BUT WAIT! Just moments after I wrote this, it looks like John Cena is injured and out of WrestleMania. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Did Vince break a mirror or something? Is this The Curse of CM Punk? We’re now down Cena, Rollins, Bryan, Cesaro, and Randy Orton. Is there anything we can do to reinforce the ACL’s of Brock, Ambrose, Kevin Owens, and everybody in the New Day? Something tells me a Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman main event wouldn’t sell out AT&T Stadium.

Will: My favorite new conspiracy theory is that Daniel Bryan has actually been cleared to participate in the Rumble. He tweeted “Can @WWE clear me already?!!!”, which led Redditor r/obcdexter to write, “He’s already cleared. They are trying to trick us into thinking he won’t show up at the Rumble. Right? Right??” I’m in love with that idea, not just because it would be awesome to see Bryan in the Rumble but because there’s nothing better than a wrestling promotion working an entire audience.

Including Roman, there are 17 declared Royal Rumble entrants. That leaves 13 unclaimed spots. Here’s who we know will be in:

Big Show
Curtis Axel
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan)
Ryback
Dolph Ziggler
Chris Jericho
The Miz
The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E, Xavier Woods)
Goldest
Neville
R-Truth

We’ll talk more about the Rumble later, but there are some things we can bank on. The Wyatt Family is going to make some noise, because there’s no way the Wyatts would get a huge build-up just to unceremoniously lose. (Crap, they might be the first four out.) We know Kofi will have a close call, possibly with New Day cooperation (hanging on to Xavier’s trombone, perhaps?) Kalisto and Neville will do some cool flippy shit. R-Truth will do something funny.

I hope Roman doesn’t win, but that’s what I’d wager on.

Derek: In other news, Charlotte and Becky Lynch had another “friendly” match, and they are friendly no more. Becky won, which led to Charlotte administering a post-match beating. It looks like WWE is going full steam ahead with a Charlotte-Becky feud, as Paige was nowhere to be found. Maybe she can enter the Rumble?

becky lynch

We have a new, powerful stable, as Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas, and Adam Rose have joined forces to create The Social Outcasts. Damien Sandow is conspicuously absent. This is probably doomed to fail (unless the Insane Clown Posse gets involved) but it’s nice that they have something to do now. I’m fine with whatever puts Bo Dallas on TV more. And I’m pretty sure nobody ever thought the New Day would become as popular as they are now. Maybe they’re on to something.

Will: I enjoyed them! Bo is hilarious. I like Heath Slater but I can’t explain why. It’s fun to think of Axel as Ryback’s drunk cousin. Adam Rose is legitimately weird. With all the injuries and everything else, why not throw a few jobbers together and see what happens? I especially enjoy that Slater’s nickname is the One Man Band, his music speaks of a Three Man Band, and now he’s part of a four-man stable.

One last note about Chris Jericho, who returned to 1) cut a promo on the New Day, 2) lead the arena in a chant of “rooty tooty booty,” which was as delightfully strange as it sounds, and 3) celebrate the 16th birthday of the Y2J gimmick. Most interesting to me was how much he addressed WWE’s falling TV ratings, and juxtaposed himself as the savior. It was a very Reality Era move — whereas the Reigns-Vince clash is very Attitude Era.

I embrace the nostalgia of a good ol’ Mr. McMahon storyline, but I suppose it’s worrisome that WWE is responding to sagging interest by leaning on old structures. That’s been the big picture problem for a while now, right? Cena getting injured — he’s 38, mind you — tilts the spotlight further that direction. I think that’s why the company is so hell-bent on turning Roman into a super-duper-star. WWE as a whole has a ton of talent, but it needs tentpoles to prop up the rest of the show.

That makes me fear that LOLROMANWINS will be the order of the day come January 24. Still, with 29 other guys involved and the big belt on the line, WWE has a bunch of ingredients to work with. Let’s see if they can’t make a good soup out of them.