January 29, 2016

Bleach 660 - The Visible Answer

A new chapter of Bleach is out, so let's talk about it.

Spoilers and unbelievably stupid choices after the cut.

January 25, 2016

Championship Round

We know who'll be in Super Bowl 50 and have two weeks to stew over who will win.  In the meantime, let's take a quick look at the Championship games.

2 New England @ 1 Denver:

Why was Denver #1 in the AFC?  The Patriots went to Miami in Week 17 and lost.  Were it not for that result, the AFC Championship would have been played in Foxboro and probably would have turned out differently.

Brady and co. play poorly in Denver; that's been established and there was little to no deviation from it on Sunday.  It was an effort much like the one that was on display in Week 17.

Because of that and a few calls that went against the Patriots, the Broncos are an improbable Super Bowl entrant.

I don't think the Broncos deserve to be in the Super Bowl.  Yes, their defense is good.  The QB play leaves a lot to be desired and the offense in general is lackluster.  I don't care for Kubiak's head coaching style and I think he was lucky that his right tackle didn't get worked over like he had in a couple previous games.

I also think that the Patriots weren't really prepared for this eventuality.  When the draw came out, I think they expected that they would be in Foxboro hosting Pittsburgh for the Championship.

Denver was lucky to get past Pittsburgh and weren't a whole lot better than the Pats on a day where Brady was knocked around regularly.  In order to win Super Bowl 50 (a likelihood I don't see, even after the previous two weeks), they'll have to be a lot better than they've showed to even be slightly better than the team they'll be up against.

2 Arizona @ 1 Carolina:

Over in the NFC, we had an old fashioned beatdown.

Carolina put it to Arizona pretty much from beginning to end, dominating on both sides of the ball as they put up 49 points.  Cam Newton in particular was excellent, putting up two passing TD's and two rushing TD's.

The Panthers also made Palmer look completely foolish, which was a nice bonus. While some are already circling the wagons around their so-called MVP candidate, this was his third terrible game in a row and he really let it all hang out.  He threw four INT's, most of which were inexcusably bad, one of which was a pick-six and fumbled twice to boot.  His O-line wasn't great, to be sure, but the mistakes were generally on Palmer alone.

Newton made one mistake, an INT by Patrick Peterson that almost (but not quite) made up for his odd gaffe in special teams.  However, Cam was helped out by Ted Ginn, Jr., who tackled Peterson before he reached the end zone, and safety Kurt Coleman, who picked off Palmer in the end zone on a nice play.

While I wouldn't call it a fait accompli, necessarily, I will say that the NFC Championship was basically the game that decided who gets the Lombardi Trophy.  Carolina was the better team and I expect that to be the case in two weeks.

Given that the Panthers are coached by Ron Rivera, who played on the 1985 Bears and won Super Bowl 20, I thought it might be interesting to see which team the '85 Bears and 2015 Panthers lost to.  Each of these teams lost once, the '85 Bears to Miami, the 2015 Panthers to Atlanta.

The '85 Dolphins went 12-4 and lost in the AFC Championship to New England.

The 2015 Falcons went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

I'm not sure that means anything either way, but I found it to be an interesting tidbit.

As far as the picks went, I split.  I took New England and Carolina and was quite close to being rewarded with a perfect Championship Round.  Alas.

I'm going to take a week off, as I have no interest in Super Bowl 50 hype (which is sure to be even more outlandish than usual).  See you in two weeks.

January 21, 2016

Bleach 659 - There Will Be Frost

A new chapter of Bleach is out, so let's talk about it.

Spoilers and chilly relations after the cut.

January 19, 2016

Divisional Round

The second weekend of the 2016 NFL Playoffs is done, so let's take a quick look at what happened.

5 Kansas City @ 2 New England:

Brady-to-Gronk is pretty much unbeatable.

People have focused on the clock management on KC's side, and I agree that it was problematic.  But really, were they going to win?  Were they expected to win?

I think not.  What we did see, on the other hand, is Alex Smith's ceiling, especially when the coaching is not perfect at all times in all situations.

It may have helped to have a couple of the guys healthy.

Even still, Brady-to-Gronk (and Edelman) won the day.

5 Green Bay @ 2 Arizona:

The most exciting and ridiculous game of the weekend.

Carson Palmer was terrible; his performance (or lack thereof) allowed the Packers to stay in the game for as long as they did.

And much like the clock in the previous game, the coin toss and overtime rules have been scrutinized.  However, I find that there is little merit in criticizing how overtime is carried out.  Changing the rules would be overly reactionary.

Rodgers didn't get the ball?  Oh, well.  Arizona did what they had to do: they got the ball to Fitzgerald and he put in supreme effort to win the game.

That's right, people.  Herm Edwards' admonition that "you play to win the game" is still accurate and relevant even in 2016.

6 Seattle @ 1 Carolina:

Going up 31-0 was a big deal.  That's five scores and a guaranteed win.

Seattle then went out and proved it by coming up short.

It's not that they didn't play well in the 2nd half.  They just dug themselves a hole so big that they had no chance to recover.  Russell Wilson was primarily responsible by throwing a terrible pick-six that essentially sealed it.

He has a lot of fans who want to defend everything he does and claim that his late-season run of 19 TD's and 0 INT's somehow meant that he had "turned the corner" or whatever.  I didn't buy it then, I don't buy it now.

What Wilson has done is benefit from a great defense and strong running game.

And in going down 31-0, you could safely argue that the defense let him down. But he was definitely an accessory.

Also, Cam Newton played excellently (befitting an MVP, I'd say) in the first half and rightly threw some blame on the coaches for their pathetic second half game plan.  You have to score to win in the NFL, even when you're up 31-0, because we all knew the comeback was coming.

Of course, we all knew it'd come up short, but it still doesn't hurt to put more points on the board.

6 Pittsburgh @ 1 Denver:

Was it the wind that made this such a mediocre game?

Either way, it was mostly even until a late turnover by Pittsburgh's third-string running back.

Peyton Manning was again nothing special, but they won the game, so in a way it doesn't matter as much.  Playoff wins don't come around every day, after all.

Really, the only interesting thing to look at is how Peyton and Denver will play against New England.  The obvious conceit is that if he plays like he did against Pittsburgh, Denver will go down in flames and it will be ugly.

That's all for the Divisional Round.

I went 3-1 straight up in my picks (again).  For whatever reason, I had Pittsburgh winning and was damn close...until late in the 4th.  Oh, well.

January 14, 2016

Bleach 658 - Fatal Matters Are Cold

A new chapter of Bleach is out, so let's talk about it.

Spoilers and unwelcome comebacks after the cut.

January 11, 2016

Wild Card Weekend

What the first weekend of the 2016 NFL Playoffs lacked in scoring and general offensive production, it made up by being dramatic and producing memorable games.

Let's go through them one-by-one.

5 Kansas City @ 4 Houston:

Was it over after Knile Davis' 100+ yards kickoff return for a touchdown?

The rest of the game sure seemed like a formality.  Kansas City had little trouble dispatching the Texans, winning 30-0 and getting that rarest of prizes, a playoff shutout.

The Texans' offense didn't gain traction at any point and the one time they were in the red zone, they ran an incredibly stupid play that had J.J. Watt running the ball behind Vince Wilfork...and losing a yard or two.  Much of the futility rests on the shoulders of QB Brian Hoyer, who threw four INT's and lost a fumble.  Each interception was indefensible.

Kansas City looked as they usually do.  QB Alex Smith ran around a little and threw the ball to TE Travis Kelce and WR Jeremy Maclin, just as expected. Unfortunately, Maclin went out with an injury.  That didn't slow KC in the 2nd half, but it may be problematic in the next round.

6 Pittsburgh @ 3 Cincinnati:

Probably the wildest game of the weekend.  Pittsburgh took a 15-0 lead and then watched in horror as Vontaze Burfict took QB Ben Roethlisberger to the ground and injured his shoulder.  It looked like that injury to Roethlisberger would end up defining the game.  And it would have, as Landry Jones' late INT to Burfict sealed it for Cincy.

And then something funny happened: RB Jeremy Hill fumbled.

It wasn't something I expected, to be sure.  With the lead and game secure, all Cincy had to do was run out the clock.  Mistakes in that part of the game usually don't happen.  And yet, the fumble happened and Roethlisberger gamely made an effort to return to the field.

It was obvious that he was hampered, yet he took the Steelers into opposing territory.

And then another funny thing happened: Burfict tried to level Steelers' WR Antonio Brown.

On replay, it's a lot less vicious than it appeared in real-time.  Though I'll grant that Brown's fall (with his neck snapping back and forth in what appears to be painful fashion) still made the hit look bad enough to be flagged.  The flag was thrown and the Steelers got a well-earned 15 yards, enough to make a field goal try a possibility.

And then Adam Jones got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, perhaps egged on by one of the Steelers' coaches, former LB Joey Porter.  The Steelers suddenly had a make-able field goal of a mere 35 yards, made it, and won the game.  They went from coasting, to losing, to scraping by with a win as the 4th quarter progressed.

While most will point to the penalties and the stupidity behind them as the reason that Cincinnati lost, I have another take on it.  Down 15-7, Cincinnati had the ball and was driving.  They were stopped in Steelers' territory and inexplicably chose to go for a field goal that made it 15-10.  Had they gone for the TD and the two-point conversion (which they did later and missed, granted), they would have been tied.  And had events played out, WR A.J. Green's TD would have given the Bengals a seven point lead, thus forcing the Steelers to go for a TD just to tie.

Now imagine that the Steelers are in Bengals territory with :18 on the clock and less than 20 yards to go to get in the end zone.  Can you see them scoring a TD with all that had happened?

Honestly, I can't.  But because Marvin Lewis played it conservatively (as usual), we'll never know.

6 Seattle @ 3 Minnesota:

Winter in my neck of the woods is hardly a scary proposition.  It wouldn't stop anybody from playing football.

Minneapolis is a lot different.  Did the -9 degree temperature at kickoff, not to mention the well below zero wind chill, affect the game negatively?

Absolutely, though there were a couple of plays where the guys on the field transcended the conditions.

Seattle ended up winning on a missed field goal by Minnesota's Blair Walsh. Minnesota's offense was nothing but field goals and even in sub-zero temps, if you settle for field goals, you lose.  Minnesota found that out the hard way.

And while Seattle didn't do a whole lot to win the game, they get to move on to the next round.  How they'll do there is anyone's guess, though I personally doubt that they are suddenly "a contender".

5 Green Bay @ 4 Washington:

As it turned out, the Packers were the better team.  Either that, or Washington just choked the game away.

The game turned when the Packers scored 17 unanswered points.  Washington did score another TD to make it 18-17, but by failing to put the Packers away early when they had a great opportunity to do so, Washington practically guaranteed a win for the opposing team.

All the things that we had seen the Packers flub over the past few weeks suddenly worked and did so beautifully.  The O-line had no problem with Washington's front seven; Lacy and Starks ran it well; the receivers got open and didn't drop the ball.

So the Packers move on to face Arizona, a team that drubbed them as recently as Week 16.  Yet, despite Green Bay's performance this past weekend, I see nothing to convince me that anything will be different next week.

That's it for Wild Card Weekend.

As usual, I made picks for all the games; I went 3-1 straight up.  My one loss was the foolish consideration of going with Washington against Green Bay. Still, given that four road teams won this past weekend, I think it would have been rather interesting had I gotten them all.  Interesting, and impossible.

January 5, 2016

2015 NFL Power Rankings, Week 17

2015 bled into 2016 just a bit.  But now the season is over and we know where everyone stands.

Not all of the playoff teams are looking strong.  Injuries have prevented some from being at their best, while others dropped off performance-wise.

In the final week of picks for the regular season, I had another lackluster effort. 9-7 straight up, for a season total 153-103.  If that sounds bad, yes, it is quite bad.

Still, it's been a great season, even if there are fewer great teams at the top than we're used to.

Here are the Rankings for Week 17: