A 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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.