Hating Everyone: Divisional Recap

NFL Recap Header

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.


Worst QBs Ever, Marvin’s Fate, and Tainted Victory: Wild Card Weekend Recap

NFL Recap Header

A 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 Ryan Lindley’s place in history, the failure of our rivals, the logic in keeping Marvin Lewis, the reasons the Lions lost, and the Divisional games we’re most looking forward to.


 

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Derek: Is Ryan Lindley the worst quarterback you’ve ever seen?

Will: Hoo boy, we’re starting with the big questions. Considering that, when you Google “Ryan Lindley highlights,” the first result that comes back is a game in which he threw four interceptions…yeah, he’s pretty bad.

The “worst quarterback” title is generally given to high draft picks that flamed out, the JaMarcus Russells and Ryan Leaves of the world. Without wanting to dive too deep into the world of quarterbacking cow dung, I did a brief comparison of Lindley to Russell and Leaf, as they unofficially share the dubious Golden Raspberry of football throwing.

Perhaps surprisingly, Russell shines when thrown in with this lot. He had one season in which he threw more touchdowns than interceptions, which immediately disqualifies him from this conversation. He only went 5-10 as the Oakland starter in 2008, but his numbers weren’t that bad: 53.8 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, 8 picks, 5.7 yards per attempt. He is to bad quarterbacking what Harvard is to Ivy League football.

Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports

Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports

Leaf vs. Lindley, however, is a dogfight. I had forgotten how miserable Leaf’s rookie year was: 2 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 10 total games. He was sacked on nine percent of all dropbacks in his career, and completed just 48.4 percent of his passes when he managed to get it away. He threw interceptions on 5.5 percent of his passes, and touchdowns on just 2.1 percent. Impressive.

Lindley is no slouch himself. He has thrown 2 touchdowns against 11 INTs in his nine career games. His 50.8 career completion percentage is right down there with Leaf’s. His yards per attempt are even lower—5.0 for Lindley, 5.6 for Leaf. Their yards per game stats are nearly identical, with Lindley at 146.0 and Leaf at 146.6.

This is like deciding between Monet and Renoir, Beethoven and Mozart, peanut butter and jelly. I simply can’t choose. I hereby pass the buck back to you: Is Ryan Lindley the worst quarterback you’ve ever seen? And to what non-football player would you compare his brand of stink?

Derek: I think he might be.

When you consider someone’s greatness, signature moments can override all. If someone asks why Joe Montana is great, you can start listing his signature plays and signature drives in big moments. Either of us could do it, and he had the most success when we were infants or before. And while he did a lot of great things, when you talk about Montana, you think of either “The Catch” or his game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII. Those were his Mona Lisa performances. Every great athlete has them.

So, naturally, the reverse is true. If we’re going to talk worst of all time, I’m going to need signature moments or signature games. Mark Sanchez gave us the Butt Fumble. Ryan Leaf gave us “Knock it Off!” Jake Delhomme was intercepted five times and lost a fumble in a home playoff game. They may not be the worst quarterbacks ever, but their signature moments get them in the conversation, just like Joe Namath is pretty much only in the Hall of Fame because of Super Bowl III.

Lindley hadn’t given us his Mona Lisa. He was consistently bad, sure. But lots of quarterbacks are consistently bad, and we’ll never remember them as the worst because we simply forgot them. Have you ever heard of Rick Norton? Because I hadn’t until about five minutes ago when I was reading about bad quarterbacks. In five seasons, he threw seven touchdowns and 30 interceptions for a career QB rating of 30. That is absolutely abominable and, despite being fairly engrossed in football for most of my life, I had no idea who he was because his bad play was not immortalized in any way. Lindley was destined for the same.

Not anymore! He was the leader of the worst offensive showing in NFL playoff history, and he looked bad doing it. He averaged 2.9 yards per attempt. TWO. POINT. NINE. How is it possible that an NFL quarterback could, on average, complete three straight passes and still be more than a yard shy of a first down?!?! I mean, do you remember how much crap Rex Grossman used to get? He’s ten times better than Lindley!

The most deserving candidate we haven’t mentioned yet may very well be Logan Thomas. Remember when the Cardinals benched Lindley for Thomas, then immediately benched Thomas again after one practice? I’ve previously mentioned my curiosity about what happened in that practice, but now I feel we all have a right to know. I hope we find out one day. It could change everything.

Okay, enough of that. Did you manage to get any happiness out of the Steelers-Ravens game?

Will: I did. It was sort of guaranteed, as a Ravens or a Steelers loss is a lock to bring me a modicum of enjoyment, even if it’s at the hands of the other. I have more distaste for the Steelers than I do the Ravens, and the same is true of Ben Roethlisberger compared to Joe Flacco. I hope the Patriots wallop Baltimore in round two so that I can further delight in AFC North schaudenfreude.

More than that game, I took solace in the fact that I went 4-0 on our wildcard picks. 4-0! Four-and-oh! Perfect! I say this all with tongue firmly in cheek, as these picks are nothing other than pure crapshoot and I just stumbled into it, but still! FOUR AND OH.

Ahem. Did you take any joy in Arizona’s defeat? Do Seahawks fans have any beef with the Cardinals? Or did their limp to the finish line make rooting for their defeat like rooting against a dyslexic kid in the spelling bee?

Derek: Yeah, I didn’t really care. It would have been funny if it happened to the 49ers, and Colin Kaepernick had Lindley’s performance, and that was the final game of Harbaugh’s tenure, but I guess I shouldn’t be too greedy with so much 49ers dysfunction. I wanted revenge after the Cardinals were the Seahawks’ only home loss last season, but after two blowouts this season they’ve settled back into their usual home as the NFC West rival I hate the least.

Let’s head back to the AFC North. Should the Bengals do away with Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton?

Will: My first thought is yes. The Bengals, for all their regular season success under Lewis, have won exactly zero playoff games since 1990. They alone hold the record for the longest playoff win drought, at 24 seasons. That means that the Lions, Browns, and Raiders have won playoff games more recently, along with literally every other franchise in the NFL.

AP Photo/AJ Mast

AP Photo/AJ Mast

That said, at least they’re in the playoffs from time to time. Marvin and Andy Dalton are a decent bet to at least get you that far. They’re sort of like the Atlanta Hawks: good enough to make it to the postseason, but absolute roadkill once they get there. For some owners, there’s value in that.

It’s a question of choosing a great unknown quantity over a passable known one. Canning Lewis and Dalton would likely lower the team’s potential basement; is possibly raising the ceiling worth it?

I would say yes. I think most NFL fans would say yes. I think you would say yes. I think they will say no. Do you, in fact, say yes?

Derek: I do. The NBA analogy is very appropriate. What’s the point of toiling as a bottom seed every year and getting bounced in the first round?

I can’t say I blame them so much this time. A.J. Green didn’t play, and they lost Rey Maualuga and Dre Kirkpatrick over the course of the game. It wasn’t like the last few times, when they lost as home favorites. They were supposed to lose.

Still, Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in the playoffs. His regular season record is a respectable 100-89-2 (.529), but that doesn’t seem good enough to keep him around with his playoff record. For comparison, let’s look at the most famous example of a coach who won in the regular season but struggled in the playoffs: Marty Schottenheimer. Marty’s record in the playoffs was 5-13 (.277), but his regular season record was 200-126-1 (.613). Marty also got much closer to the Super Bowl than Lewis has. So it’s a bit surprising that Lewis has been with the Bengals since 2003, while Marty bounced around with Cleveland (1984-1988), Kansas City (1989-1998), Washington (2001), and San Diego (2002-2006).

So from an overall performance standpoint, Lewis should probably go. But if they didn’t let him go last year after losing as home favorites to the Chargers, why would they let him go after the Bengals lost a game they were supposed to lose after some crippling injuries? I say give him one more year. Why not? He’s still got a year left on his contract anyway.

Let’s take a look at the final Wild Card game. Was the Cowboys’ victory tainted?!

Richard W. Rodriguez/AP

Richard W. Rodriguez/AP

Will: It did have a whiff of taint to it. The pass interference no-call pictured above, with Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens defending Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew, was perhaps the most impactful play of the day. I was socialized into football under the impression that face-guarding merited a flag in the NFL, but that was not the case Sunday.

That call aside, the Lions had all kinds of chances to win this game. They had a two touchdown lead after 13 minutes of play. If they managed more than two field goals in the final three quarters, they would still be playing. As late as midway through the third quarter, Detroit had an 88.7 percent chance of winning, per Pro Football Reference’s win probability chart. Yes, that call sucked, but so did Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense for much of the game.

How say you? Who blew it: the refs or the Lions?

Derek: Both? Is that an acceptable answer? The call was atrocious for reasons that have been covered pretty thoroughly in the last 48 hours. Conspiracy theorists among us were unsurprisingly calling shenanigans. But the Lions still had golden opportunities.

For starters, they elected to punt after that play, even though it was 4th-and-1 and they were in Dallas territory. Not only did they punt but, sadly, fellow Appalachian State alumnus Sam Martin could only manage a 10 yard punt — and that was after the Lions took a delay of game penalty. It looked bad at the time and looks even worse in hindsight.

I feel for Lions fans, though. I know what they’re going through. All the way down to the “the NFL wanted the other team to win” part. I just hope the bitterness will go away since it was only a Wild Card game. My blood still boils every time someone refers to Bill Cowher as a Super Bowl champion.

I’m obviously biased, so I’ll pass this one on to you: what’s the marquee matchup of the Divisional round?

Will: I’m a child of the AFC, and it’s tempting to pick the Pats-Ravens showdown. These teams have met in the playoffs three times since 2009, with Baltimore ending New England’s season twice. There’s a lot to like in that matchup, including the bizarre notion that Joe Flacco is somehow just better in the playoffs.

However, I’m going with Cowboys at Packers. Mostly, this is because it’s just too fun to watch and wonder if Dallas can keep it together. The Cowboys went 8-0 on the road this season—no other team was better than 5-3—and now they head to Lambeau in January to take on Aaron Rodgers and company. The teams did not meet this season, and have played just six times since 2004. It is something of a rivalry regardless, even if that rivalry is still built on a nearly 50 year-old Ice Bowl matchup.

The Cowboys are the most entertaining team left, and I don’t think it’s close. Win or lose, especially if when Tony Romo does something crazy to put Dallas over the top or under the bus, the narrative will be delightful, and I cannot wait to be a part of it.