WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 8 (Part 2)

Week 8 action of my simulated Greatest of All Time season wraps up today; if you missed yesterday’s action, well, then you’re SOL, it’s gone forever. Just kidding! Here’s the link. Six more games wrap up this week’s action, including ’90 Bills-’07 Patriots and ’62 Packers-’69 Chiefs. I realize the past couple times I’ve been hyping that Packers-Chiefs game, I’ve noted the simulated game will be played at the raucous atmosphere of Arrowhead Stadium. Sadly, I now realize that 1969 was one of the last years the Chiefs played at Municipal Stadium and the ’62 Packers will have no chance to live through the Arrowhead mystique. We regret the error. LET’S GET SIMMING.

1976 Oakland Raiders (2-5) 24, 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) 21

Fred Biletnikoff’s 34-yard touchdown reception from Ken Stabler with 11:57 remaining turned out to be the winning score, as the Raiders rallied from an early fourteen point deficit and snapped their four-game losing streak. Stabler was his usual high-risk, high-reward self, throwing two interceptions but also two touchdowns and gaining 209 passing yards on just 18 attempts. Mark Van Eeghen and Clarence Davis added 215 rushing yards on 27 combined attempts for Oakland. Mark Brunell threw three touchdown passes for the Jaguars, including a two-yard score to Fred Taylor on the first play of the fourth quarter that briefly gave the Jaguars a 21-17 lead. After Biletnikoff’s answer on the following possession, however, the Jaguars could only gain one total first down on their last two possessions.

2007 New England Patriots (7-1) 30, 1990 Buffalo Bills (4-3) 23

Tom Brady went 19-of-32 for 318 yards and two touchdowns – 101 of those yards and both touchdowns going to Ben Watson – and the Patriots finished a season sweep of the Bills, placing them in complete control of the AFC East. Stephen Gostkowski added five field goals for the Patriots, who racked up 461 total yards of offense. Buffalo’s defensive struggles ruined a fabulous effort from Thurman Thomas, who ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 attempts and also added receptions of 51 and 32 yards through the air. Jim Kelly also hit a huge number of big plays, gaining 267 passing yards on only 18 attempts; his two turnovers in the second quarter, however, set up ten New England points, which may or may not have had a major impact on the game’s outcome.

2000 Tennessee Titans (6-1) 24, 2005 Carolina Panthers (3-5) 10

Steve McNair was an efficient 16-of-20 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and the Titans moved two games ahead of both the Jaguars and Oilers in the loss column in the AFC South. Eddie George added 110 yards on 26 carries and one receiving touchdown for Tennessee. Carolina kept the game close into the fourth quarter, but two Brad Hoover fumbles on consecutive possessions eventually proved to be their undoing; the second gave the Titans the ball on the Panther 15, setting up a McNair-to-Yancey Thigpen touchdown pass and subsequent two-point conversion.

1972 Miami Dolphins (3-5) 41, 1960 Philadelphia Eagles (1-6) 3

The Eagles’ one-game resurgence proved to be short-lived, as they gave up an unfathomable 442 rushing yards to the Dolphins and returned to their place as probably the worst team in the league. That rushing total actually represents far more total yards given up than when they faced the Packers two weeks ago and let Jim Taylor set the new single-game rushing record. Mercury Morris rushed for 258 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, Larry Csonka had 116 and two TDS on 19, Jim Kiick added 53 and a score on 11 – heck, even Paul Warfield had a fifteen-yard run and he was a wide receiver. Naturally, the Dolphins’ offensive success did not extend to their passing game – Bob Griese somehow managed to only go 9-of-19 for 81 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Just goes to show how you need to ESTABLISH THE RUN in order to win in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

2009 New Orleans Saints (4-3) 29, 2005 Seattle Seahawks (2-4-1) 27

Drew Brees went 14-of-24 for 242 yards, John Carney kicked five field goals and the Saints gained 490 total yards of offense to come away with a road victory and get above .500 for the first time all season. Marques Colston added 78 receiving yards on four catches and somehow had a 55-yard touchdown run as well – because when you think of speedburner wide receivers, you think of Marques Colston first. Whatever. The Seahawks had quite a few offensive standouts themselves – Matt Hasselbeck went 21-of-28 for 205 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and Shaun Alexander had 146 rushing yards on 19 carries. Still, the fact that they were more efficient than New Orleans in the red zone couldn’t make up for the massive disparity in total yardage (490-387).

1962 Green Bay Packers (6-1) 13, 1969 Kansas City Chiefs (3-4) 3

Jim Taylor’s 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter proved to be all the scoring Green Bay would need as the Packer defense harassed Len Dawson into three interceptions and held the Chiefs to 91 total passing yards. Taylor finished with 101 yards on 20 carries and added 39 yards on three catches to serve as Green Bay’s leading receiver as well (an offensive masterpiece, this game was not). The costliest, by far, of Dawson’s three interceptions came on a 2nd-and-goal play from the Packer 3-yard line in the third quarter when Willie Wood picked him off, ending Kansas City’s last major scoring threat.

Next week: The ’62 Packers continue their swing out west with a game against the ’98 Broncos, the ’79 Chargers try to move to 7-1 against the 5-3 ’99 Jaguars, and the ’92 Cowboys and ’91 Redskins renew their storied rivalry at RFK Stadium.

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 7-1
  2. ’90 Buffalo: 4-3
  3. ’72 Miami: 3-5
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 2-6

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 5-2
  2. ’81 Cincinnati: 4-3
  3. ’58 Baltimore: 2-5
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 1-6

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 6-1
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 5-3
  3. ’91 Houston: 4-3
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 2-5

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 6-1
  2. ’98 Denver: 4-3
  3. ’69 Kansas City: 3-4
  4. ’76 Oakland: 2-5

NFC East

  1. ’91 Washington: 5-2
  2. ’92 Dallas: 5-2
  3. ’86 NY Giants: 2-6
  4. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-6

NFC North

  1. ’62 Green Bay: 6-1
  2. ’85 Chicago: 6-2
  3. ’52 Detroit: 2-5
  4. ’73 Minnesota: 1-6

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 5-2
  2. ’09 New Orleans: 4-3
  3. ’05 Carolina: 3-5
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 1-5

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 5-2
  2. ’08 Arizona: 4-3
  3. ’05 Seattle: 2-4-1
  4. ’89 San Francisco: 2-5-1
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WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 8 (Part 1)

Alright, time for Week 8 of the Greatest of All Time Season to commence. Once again, we’re running single-game matchups through the WhatIfSports sim engine and going with the first result we get – UPSETS CAN AND WILL HAPPEN. Today, we’ve got a game between surprising 4-2 teams (the ’91 Oilers and ’02 Buccaneers), another game between old Super Bowl foes (the ’81 Bengals and ’89 49ers) and one more between underachieving New York teams (the ’86 Giants and ’68 Jets). Your bye teams for this week are: the ’12 Falcons, ’75 Steelers, ’98 Broncos, ’92 Cowboys, ’99 Rams, and  ’08 Cardinals. TO THE SIM ENGINE!

2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) 10, 1991 Houston Oilers (4-3) 7

The Buccaneer defense harassed Warren Moon into a 10-of-26 for 104 yards and two interception performance and their ten first quarter points turned out to be all that was needed to secure their fifth win of the season. Tampa Bay only gained 155 yards offensively all day, but Derrick Brooks’ interception of Moon on the second play of the game set the Bucs up with great field position and Brad Johnson subsequently hit Joe Jurevicius with a 12-yard touchdown pass. Martin Gramatica made a 28-yard field goal later in the period to provide the ultimately winning points. The Oilers finally scored early in the fourth quarter after a 53-yard Allen Pinkett run set Lorenzo White up for a three-yard touchdown plunge, but on their final three possessions of the game they couldn’t gain a single first down and actually lost a total of six yards.

1964 Cleveland Browns (1-6) 44, 1958 Baltimore Colts (2-5) 21

Jim Brown rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 rushing attempts and the Browns became the final team in the league to win a game with a throttling of the home Colts. Brown scored from 1, 33, and 41 yards away and Paul Warfield added a 67 yard touchdown catch from Frank Ryan, as Cleveland used 24 second quarter points to pull away from Baltimore. Lenny Moore scored two rushing touchdowns for the Colts but only rushed for 25 yards total.

1979 San Diego Chargers (6-1) 44, 2006 Indianapolis Colts (2-5) 17

It’s apparently written in stone that Colts teams have to give up 44 points at home in Week 8, as the Chargers gained an incredible 384 yards on the ground and continued their ascendancy to the top of the AFC with a dominating win in Indianapolis. Clarence Williams rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns on only 19 carries (he also added a receiving touchdown), Mike Thomas added 128 yards and two touchdowns of his own on only 11 attempts and the Chargers scored touchdowns on their first four possessions to jump out to a 27-0 lead in the second quarter. It would have been 28-0, but Rolf Benirschke missed the extra point attempt on the fourth touchdown. JEEZ WILL YOU EVER DO SOMETHING RIGHT, SAN DIEGO?

1986 New York Giants (2-6) 9, 1968 New York Jets (2-6) 7

This one turned out to be all about the field goal kickers: Raul Allegre made all three of his attempts for the Giants and Jim Turner missed both of his attempts – including a 42-yarder as time expired – for the Jets. Phil Simms was effective for the Giants, going 18-of-30 for 263 yards and no interceptions; Matt Snell ran for 107 yards on 16 carries for the Jets. Joe Namath led the Jets from their own 23-yard-line with 1:39 remaining to the Giants’ 25 with three seconds left over the course of ten plays, but unlike in Super Bowl V, Turner didn’t turn out to be the late-game hero.

1981 Cincinnati Bengals (4-3) 17, 1989 San Francisco 49ers (2-5-1) 14 (OT)

Dan Ross caught a game-tying 10-yard touchdown pass from Ken Anderson with 51 seconds left and the Bengals never let the 49ers see the ball in overtime, culminating a nine-play, 54-yard drive with a Jim Breech 38-yard field goal. The 49ers had scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead and were in position to ice the game away with a little over two minutes remaining, but Joe Montana threw his third interception of the day at the Bengals 28 yard-line and Cincinnati took advantage of their new life, tying the game up on a seven-play, 62-yard drive. Anderson finished 24-of-38 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception; Montana was a miserable 9-of-16 for 122 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

1985 Chicago Bears (6-2) 20, 1952 Detroit Lions (2-5) 3

Walter Payton rushed for 129 yards on 21 attempts and Jim McMahon threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 27 pass attempts, as the Bears swept the season series with the Lions and won their fifth game in a row. The game was close at the beginning of the fourth quarter when McMahon found Emery Moorehead with a 61-yard touchdown pass to give the Bears a comfortable 14-point lead. Bobby Layne was both the leading passer and rusher for Detroit – but he only mustered 89 yards on 23 pass attempts, so don’t be too impressed by that first accomplishment.

1991 Washington Redskins (5-2) 24, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-6) 3   

Three Washington touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter shifted a 3-3 nail-biter into a 24-3 blowout road victory for the Redskins. Over the course of just eight offensive plays, the Redskins marched 162 yards and scored on Mark Rypien touchdown passes to Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders and a 48-yard Ricky Ervins touchdown run. Rypien finished a dazzling 12-of-15 for 181 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Fran Tarkenton went 16-of-29 for 192 yards for Minnesota.

Tomorrow: The ’00 Titans and ’99 Jaguars both try to get their sixth wins of the season against ’05 Carolina and ’76 Oakland, respectively; the ’62 Packers march into Arrowhead to play the ’69 Chiefs; and the ’90 Bills try to get some revenge against the ’07 Patriots.

Random Mid-Week Headlines

I’m hurting for post ideas today, so I’m going to take the easy way out and post links to news stories from the past couple days and provide my own “insight” on each item as a way to justify the complete link dump. As someone whose main experience playing football has come via two-hand touch games in a church gym, obviously I am over-qualified to dole out my expertise. TO THE LINKS.

  • The Seahawks are shopping Matt Flynn pretty heavily, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora and the Jaguars, Bills, and Raiders are all currently in the mix to secure Mr. Flynn’s services. If Flynn is an above-average NFL starting quarterback (and I think he is), then this is one of the most important subplots of the offseason. The AFC is in the midst of a terrible downturn – only the four division winners (New England, Baltimore, Houston and Denver) rated as above-average teams in the year-end Predictive Yards per Play rankings, largely because those four teams (plus Buffalo) were the only ones in the conference to finish above-average on offense. With a few important exceptions, ALL THE GOOD QUARTERBACKS right now belong to the NFC. That’s why finding even an okay starter at quarterback (which Flynn can absolutely be) could turn a downtrodden AFC laughingstock into a 2013 playoff team. Yes, even the Jaguars. Personally, I was hoping that the Chiefs would have held out a little longer in their quarterback search to wait to get into the Flynn Sweepstakes because his accuracy and anticipation seems like they would be perfect fits for Andy Reid’s offense. And even should the Jaguars, Bills or Raiders land Flynn, all three teams have glaring issues defensively that could offset any potential improvement in the passing game. Still, keep an open eye out for wherever Flynn winds up.
  • Dez Bryant thinks that a 2,000 yard and 20 touchdown year receiving “can potentially happen” for him this year and that he’s just “scratching the surface” of his potential. The second part of his statement is undoubtedly true and I’d give him more of a shot to prove the first part true as well if it weren’t for two things – 1): The NFL schedule isn’t 18 games yet and 2): he suffered a back injury at the end of last season that’s kept him from running any routes this offseason and might keep him from participating in OTA’s. Also, there’s the fact that 85% of Tony Romo’s passes are six-yard stop routes to Jason Witten. WHERE WILL DEZ’S NECESSARY PASS TARGETS COME FROM? Also also, Dez is a knucklehead who might get suspended for injecting himself with purple drank or something. So there’s that, too.
  • The Chargers decided that taking a $6 million cap hit was preferable to watching Jared Gaither bumble around at left tackle again next year, so they cut him and proceeded to burn six million one dollar bills in a symbolic gesture at the team’s practice facility. Let’s face it: when Norv Turner is throwing you under the bus, there’s probably not a whole lot of other avenues of employment for you in football. Maybe the 6’9” Gaither can try massively underachieving at basketball?
  • And, finally, this isn’t football news, but it’s the best news I’ve heard in a very, VERY long time, so I’m sharing it with you, anyway: Tim McCarver’s retiring from broadcasting after this season. Now I’m not one to get overdramatic or deliriously happy very often, but…YES! YESSSSS!!!! YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We’re gonna be free, everyone! We’re finally going to be free from the worst announcer still gathering a paycheck! No longer will we be subject to the occasional Dick Stockton-Tim McCarver MLB on FOX broadcast, which always threatens to choke the life out of our very souls. In 2014, Joe Buck will begin overselling the terrible jokes of another unqualified former major leaguer. And I couldn’t be happier.

Paup Fiction: The Cafeteria (Part I)

Don Shula placed the Granny Smith apple on his tray and walked over to pay the cashier at the cafeteria. This, right here, has the makings of a fine, well-balanced lunch, he thought to himself with a wry smile. The Turkey BLT on wheat bread stridently walks the line between satisfying taste and heart-healthy prudence. The apple gives me a little extra joy inside every time I bite into its green, luscious goodness – AND it’s an excellent source of fiber, of which I need plenty of to avoid pain-staking bowel movements. And, finally, I’ve got an oatmeal raisin cookie that I know full well I probably shouldn’t be eating. But it just tastes so gosh darn good! And you have to eat a little something naughty every once in a while – being a full-fledged disciplinarian 100% of the time simply DOES NOT WORK…unless you’re trying to keep Garo Yepremian from drowning in the bathtub, anyway.

Just then, a husky voice called out from the distance.

“That’s a good meal you’ve prepared for yourself, Don…if your entire remaining life’s goal is to end up as an even fatter and bloated corpse than Elvis.”

Don dropped the tray in shock. There was only one man who knew of his secret intense love of The King – and his even more secret and intense fear of dying in the same exact fashion.

“You know full well that a man who has fully bought into the NutriSystem philosophy of life has little chance of dying while sitting on the toilet, Dick,” he said while slowly turning around and reaching his hand for the banana in his pocket.

Dick Butkus slowly ran his hand through his remaining hairs, laughed and shook his head. “Being aware of NutriSystem’s legendary effect on the human cardiovascular system has its benefits, but I didn’t know that curing a senile old man’s fear of constipation was one of them.”

“Well, it is! You should re-read the pamphlet again,” Don said while gazing uncomfortably at his shuffling feet. “What, exactly, is it that you want with me this time, Richard?”

“A moment of your time,” Butkus said with a shrug. “A simple moment where I can let you know about all the dreadful mistakes you’ve been making. You see, when a coach wins the most games in NFL history and gets patted on the back for the greater part of fifty years, there comes a point where he starts getting…sloppy, shall we say, with his personal choices and actions. Maybe you thought you had ascended above the rule of law; maybe you didn’t. The point is, there’s someone who’s seen you commit serious transgressions against mankind for far too long and has finally summoned the courage and wherewithal to buy a Hoveround scooter and track you down in person.”

Shula kept a blank expression on his face, but his pulse was soon doubling its previous rate.

“You saw me hold up all those Burger Kings last month, didn’t you?”

Butkus took a long, slow drag from a hookah and grimly nodded. “At first, I wasn’t going to say anything because those places are insured up the rear and the only people you’re really robbing – other than the employees at the franchise locations you stole from – are a bunch of nameless and faceless scumbags who have more than enough money for three or four lifetimes. But you just kept pushing the envelope further and further. One minute, you’re using a terrible German accent to ask for a cup of iced tea at a drive-through window; the next, you’re wearing a Lindsay Lohan mask and funneling hundreds of dollars into a burlap sack while cocking a glock at some poor assistant manager’s head and telling him you’ll rob his mom’s house as soon as you’re done with this joint. It’s just…reprehensible, Don. It’s reprehensible.”

Shula was used to performing under pressure in the withering South Florida heat, so a heated conversation inside the air-conditioned cafeteria of an Ikea in Fort Lauderdale wasn’t about to cause puddles of sweat to form beneath his oily, tanned skin.

“Fine, Dick. You caught me. I held up 13 Burger Kings in between Pompano Beach and Homestead in the last two weeks of February. Is that what you wanted to hear?” Upon hearing no immediate response, he derisively continued, “No? That’s not good enough? Well, I suppose you came down here with the intention of forcing me to make an apology and making amends for my actions. That’s the only reason you’d drive the 1400 miles from Chicago to Miami on your Hoveround in less-than-ideal spring conditions. But I’m afraid I simply have nothing to apologize to you – or anyone, for that matter – about. The greatest thrills in life are the ones where you take off the repressive shackles that chained on your limbs by society and simply go with your gut. I learned that late in life. Too late, for it to make a meaningful difference in the way I’d wanted my life to be shaped. But once you learn that truth, you simply cannot go back to the days when you didn’t ride through the front doors of fast-food restaurants in a tank and sprayed mace in the face of any drive-through attendant who tried to stop you. Not even for well-intentioned and previously-terrifying gentlemen such as yourself.”

And with that, Dick reached for the banana in his pocket and was about to prime it into action when he was suddenly knocked out by a right hook to the back of his head. He dropped to the floor instantly, his head bouncing twice off the gleaming tile floor. Butkus’s eyes grew wide with fright and a dark, wet circle soon began expanding in the midsection of his trousers.

“G-g-good God, JaMarcus…when did you get here?”

To be continued…

Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears Linebacker: 2000-2012

When Brian Urlacher suffered a bizarre wrist injury in the opening game of the 2009 season and subsequently missed the rest of the year, the rest of that Bears season looked and felt awfully strange and I’m sure that will be the case for at least the opening stretch of the 2013 season as well. 2012 Urlacher was a shell of his 2001 self athletically and the Bears will likely find an adequate  middle linebacker who can replace what he brought to the field (on the other hand, no one man will probably be able to replace what Urlacher brought to the locker room). Phil Emery was right to play hardball with him and offer him a contract strictly based on what his future performance was likely to be. And after season-ending injuries in two straight seasons (and, I suppose, three out of four, counting ’09), it’s tough to pay a middle linebacker $5 million when you’re not sure that he’s going to be around for all 16 games. It was time to move on for both parties.

My original point in writing this post, as a Bears fan was to highlight my favorite all-time Urlacher moments…but after thinking about it for a while, I’m not sure I have that many. It’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed watching him play in Chicago or appreciated having a perennial Pro Bowler playing one of the highest profile positions on defense. It’s just that when I think of most of my favorite moments as a Bears fan from the past 10 or 12 years, I tend to think of plays made by three guys: Devin Hester, Mike Brown and Peanut Tillman. It was that triumvirate that scored all the non-offensive touchdowns in the Monday Night Miracle win in Arizona back in 2006. Brown symbolized the 2001 Bears’ incredible good fortune by scoring back-to-back game-ending pick-sixes. Hester’s rope-a-dope missed field goal return against the Giants (also in 2006) was arguably the coolest single play in Bears history and his brilliance was the sole reason the 2007 season was watchable. And just say some combination of the words “Peanut,” “Tillman” and “ball punch” and I’ll have all his forced fumbles running on a loop in my mind.

Urlacher, on the other hand? It’s tough. There’s this pick-six of Favre in 2007 that was mighty enjoyable (especially because of Joe Buck’s most monotonous call ever), but it came at the end of a game the Bears won 35-7 at the end of the season in which they went 7-9. His pick-six last season against the Titans was a lot of fun because of the way it highlighted how much he had to chug nowadays – but again, a blowout win for the Bears in a midseason game against a bad opponent isn’t exactly stuff you remember for the rest of your life. Honestly, the two plays that first spring to mind when I think of Urlacher are pretty negative ones – Jerome Bettis trucking him during the season he won Defensive Player of the Year (2005) and Tom Brady (TOM BRADY!) juking him out in the open field the next season. I’m not mentioning this because I want to suggest Urlacher was overrated – he probably was, but only because he was mentioned in the same breath as Ray Lewis for most of his career and you’re always gonna look bad in a comparison with (possibly) the greatest middle linebacker ever. I just find it interesting that Keith Traylor has a more memorable Bears moment than the guy who defined the franchise for a decade.

Perhaps Urlacher made so many other plays that after a while (i.e. 2002), we just got used to it and said, “About time Urlacher showed up” instead of “HOLY CRAP WHAT A PLAY!” Maybe the man’s brilliance was more about the little things on every down than making spectacular plays occasionally. After all, truly great players tend to make tough plays look routine. And now that I look upon Urlacher’s Pro Football Reference page , I can actually say that I vividly remember all four of the touchdowns he’s scored in his career: the two aforementioned pick-sixes, falling on the ball in the end zone in the opening game of the 2011 season, a return of a Michael Vick fumble in 2001 and the touchdown pass he caught from Brad Maynard on a fake punt that same year. Just took a little jogging of the memory to get there. Eventually, that’s what happens to most great players after they stop playing for our team. We remember the name and the good times, but we can’t necessarily put any images to those times unless you give us a few hints. Sad fact of life, for all you past, present and future Hall of Famers out there. Good luck at your next destination, Brian.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 7 (Part 2)

If you missed the first half of this week’s simulated games, click here. Once you’re caught up with that, scroll down for more games pitting the greatest NFL teams of all time against each other (yes, we’re calling the ’08 Cardinals one of the greatest teams of all time. Bear with us).

1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) 30, 1990 Buffalo Bills (4-2) 7

Franco Harris ran for 108 yards and a touchdown and the Steelers harassed Jim Kelly into an 11-for-33 performance for a blowout victory in Buffalo. Glen Edwards intercepted Kelly twice, who wound up throwing for as many yards in 33 attempts (101) as Thurman Thomas ran for in 16. Jack Lambert recorded two of the Steel Curtain’s four sacks on the day and Pittsburgh also scored on an 88-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. Not that we know who ran the punt back for a touchdown because apparently that’s not important to WhatIfSports, but that’s okay!

2007 New England Patriots (6-1) 27, 1958 Baltimore Colts (2-4) 24

Laurence Maroney scored from three yards out with 1:32 remaining in the game to give the Patriots the lead and, on the subsequent possession, Steve Myhra missed his third field goal of the game, sending the Patriots to 6-1 and plummeting the Colts to 2-4. The Patriots had taken a 20-14 lead with a little over five minutes remaining on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, but the Colts returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and added another three points after intercepting Tom Brady (23-of-34, 270 yards, 2 TDs) on the first play of the next possession. Unfortunately for the home Baltimore fans, Brady led the Patriots on an eight-play, 64-yard drive in a little under a minute that culminated in Maroney’s go-ahead touchdown run. The Colts still had a chance when Alan Ameche sprung a 46-yard run, bringing his total for the game to 193, but Myhra’s 35-yard attempt failed to go through the uprights as time expired. HOW MANY GAMES MUST YOU RUIN, STEVE???

1979 San Diego Chargers (5-1) 29, 1998 Denver Broncos (4-3) 13

Dan Fouts was sensational, going 18-of-23 for 257 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions as the Chargers grabbed control of the AFC West with a sixteen-point home victory over the Broncos. John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner and Clarence Williams all caught touchdowns for San Diego and Wilbur Young and Don Goode added two sacks apiece on John Elway (15-of-27, 190 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs). Terrell Davis was limited to just 71 yards on 23 carries.

1985 Chicago Bears (5-2) 25, 1991 Washington Redskins (4-2) 13

Kevin Butler made all six of his field goal attempts and the Bears sacked Mark Rypien five times to halt the Redskins’ winning streak at four games and extend their own personal run to four as well. Jim McMahon went 11-of-19 for 162 yards and Walter Payton added 113 rushing and receiving yards and a touchdown on 23 touches. Meanwhile, the home Redskins turned the ball over three times and could only muster 252 yards of offense against the Bears defense.

1999 St. Louis Rams (5-2) 34, 1989 San Francisco 49ers (2-4-1) 31

Jeff Wilkins kicked field goals from 55 and 29 yards away in the last three minutes of the game and the Rams came back from a 31-20 deficit with 4:25 remaining to send the 49ers to a shocking 2-4-1 record. Roger Craig’s three-yard touchdown run with twelve minutes remaining gave the 49ers an eleven-point lead, but contrary to their usual tendencies, the Rams pounded out a long, agonizing seven-and-a-half minute drive over 14 plays that culminated in an Isaac Bruce touchdown catch from Kurt Warner and a Marshall Faulk two-point conversion. Then, after Joe Montana threw his third interception of the game, the Rams couldn’t move the ball at all from the 49ers’ 38, but Wilkins nailed a 55-yarder to tie the game up. The 49ers subsequently went three-and-out and Warner (23-of-40 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) led the Rams on a 46-yard drive that ended with Wilkins’ game-winning 29 yard field goal.

1969 Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) 34, 1964 Cleveland Browns (0-6) 13

The Chiefs ran for 234 yards on 43 carries and put the game away with seventeen points in the fourth quarter as the Browns remained the lone winless team left in the league. Len Dawson went 12-of-19 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and Warren McVea, Mike Garrett and Robert Holmes all rushed for at least 60 yards for Kansas City. Jim Brown rushed for 103 yards on just 12 carries for the Browns.

2000 Tennessee Titans (5-1) 17, 1991 Houston Oilers (4-2) 13

In the first of the two highly anticipated Al Del Greco Bowls this season, Steve McNair found Derrick Mason with a three-yard touchdown pass with 1:16 remaining and the Titans gained momentary bragging rights over the earlier incarnation of themselves and sole possession of first place in the AFC South. 1991 Del Greco had just given the Oilers the lead thirty seconds prior with a 28-yard field goal, but someone on Tennessee (we’ll assume it was Mason, since he was a Pro Bowl returner back then and everything) returned the ensuing kickoff back to the Houston 3 yard line. Two plays later, McNair found Mason for the go-ahead touchdown. The Oilers’ final chance was thwarted when Warren Moon threw an interception to Samari Rolle. For the record, neither Del Greco missed a field goal attempt: ’91 Del Greco converted from 36 and 28 yards and the older, wiser ’00 Del Greco made his lone attempt from 24 yards. Oh, that we could have seen the post-game handshake between those two!

Next week: The ’90 Bills try to avenge their earlier Hail Mary loss to the ’07 Patriots with a win in Foxborough; the ’86 Giants and ’68 Jets meet in a crosstown battle to decide who’s more disappointing; and the ’69 Chiefs try to gain some measure of revenge for Super Bowl I against the ’62 Packers at Arrowhead.

AFC East

  1. ’07 New England: 6-1
  2. ’90 Buffalo: 4-2
  3. ’72 Miami: 2-5
  4. ’68 NY Jets: 2-5

AFC North

  1. ’75 Pittsburgh: 5-2
  2. ’81 Cincinnati: 3-3
  3. ’58 Baltimore: 2-4
  4. ’64 Cleveland: 0-6

AFC South

  1. ’00 Tennessee: 5-1
  2. ’99 Jacksonville: 5-2
  3. ’91 Houston: 4-2
  4. ’06 Indianapolis: 2-4

AFC West

  1. ’79 San Diego: 5-1
  2. ’98 Denver: 4-3
  3. ’69 Kansas City: 3-3
  4. ’76 Oakland: 1-5

NFC East

  1. ’92 Dallas: 5-2
  2. ’91 Washington: 4-2
  3. ’60 Philadelphia: 1-5
  4. ’86 NY Giants: 1-6

NFC North

  1. ’62 Green Bay: 5-1
  2. ’85 Chicago: 5-2
  3. ’52 Detroit: 2-4
  4. ’73 Minnesota: 1-5

NFC South

  1. ’02 Tampa Bay: 4-2
  2. ’09 New Orleans: 3-3
  3. ’05 Carolina: 3-4
  4. ’12 Atlanta: 1-5

NFC West

  1. ’99 St. Louis: 5-2
  2. ’08 Arizona: 4-3
  3. ’05 Seattle: 2-3-1
  4. ’89 San Francisco: 2-4-1 

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 7 (Part 1)

Today’s the start of the best four-day sports stretch of the year: the opening weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In honor of such a momentous occasion, we’re going to write absolutely nothing about the tournament today and instead pay attention to a fictional season of a sport that is out of season played through a simulation engine that thinks the ’72 Dolphins were a 3-win quality team. That’s right – it’s time for Week 7 of the Greatest of All Time season through WhatIfSports’s sim engine! The bye teams for this week are the ’62 Packers, ’76 Raiders, ’02 Buccaneers, and ’81 Bengals. In today’s batch of games, we’ve got the Purple People Eaters traveling to Texas Stadium, the No-Name Defense trying to eke out a win against Broadway Joe and Jake Delhomme trying to avoid a disastrous mistake of the brain-dead variety against the ’52 Lions. EASIER SAID THAN DONE. To the games!

2009 New Orleans Saints (3-3) 55, 2012 Atlanta Falcons (1-5) 29

Drew Brees went 24-of-34 for 327 yards and a touchdown and the Saints racked up 590 yards of offense on their way to a laugher at home. New Orleans added 263 yards and six touchdowns on the ground as well – Pierre Thomas rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns on only ten carries and Reggie Bush added a couple rushing touchdowns of his own. Matt Ryan actually played very well himself, going 16-of-28 for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a hopeless cause. Somehow, though…Julio Jones was named player of the game. Really? Really? I mean, four catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns is pretty good…but they lost by 26. I’m perplexed. Oh well.

2005 Carolina Panthers (3-4) 33, 1952 Detroit Lions (2-4) 0

Turns out when the opposition is only picking up a robust 13 yards through the air…for the entire game…you don’t have to worry about Jake Delhomme choking as much. Jake went 16-for-26 for 226 yards and two touchdowns and the Panthers effectively put the game away in the first quarter on a blocked punt return for a touchdown. Bob Hoernschemeyer rushed for 118 yards on 12 carries but Bobby Layne went just 4-of-14 for 31 yards and was also sacked three times.

1992 Dallas Cowboys (5-2) 26, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-5) 10

Emmitt Smith rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, Troy Aikman added 163 passing yards on only 21 attempts and the Cowboys cruised to a 16-point win to raise their record to 5-2. Alvin Harper added 67 receiving yards on three catches for Dallas, who jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead behind a Lin Elliott field goal, an Aikman touchdown throw to Jay Novacek and Smith’ s first touchdown and never looked back. Fran Tarkenton ended up with 178 passing yards on 25 attempts.

1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2) 33, 2006 Indianapolis Colts (2-4) 27 (OT)

Fred Taylor scored on a 33-yard run with 9:37 remaining in the overtime period to cap a 256-yard rushing day for the Jaguars and send the Colts to 2-4. Indianapolis had a 24-20 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Mark Brunell capped a nine-play, 74-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown throw to Jimmy Smith to give Jacksonville a 27-24 lead with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter. Peyton Manning (25-of-38 for 321 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception) converted a 23-yard pass to Reggie Wayne on a 4th-and-18 on the ensuing possession, however, leading to an Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired. The Colts won the toss in overtime but went three-and-out, leading the way for Jacksonville’s game-ending seven-play, 83-yard drive – all but nine of which came on the ground. Taylor finished with 137 yards on 15 carries and James Stewart added 93 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

1960 Philadelphia Eagles (1-5) 26, 2008 Arizona Cardinals (4-3) 10

A week after losing 57-3 to the ’62 Packers and allowing Jim Taylor to set a new single-game rushing record, the Eagles earned their first victory of the year behind an 18-of-25 for 276 yards and one touchdown performance from Norm Van Brocklin. Kurt Warner was an efficient 11-of-16 for 142 yards and a touchdown for Arizona, but the Cardinals only ran 39 plays from scrimmage as the Eagles gained 15 more first downs and possessed the ball for nearly seventeen more minutes. Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff each had over 80 yards receiving for Philadelphia.

1972 Miami Dolphins (2-5) 21, 1968 New York Jets (2-5) 15 (OT)

Jim Kiick scored the Dolphins’ lone touchdown of the game on a three-yard run with 42 seconds remaining in overtime and Miami sent the Jets’ losing streak to five games. Mercury Morris rushed for 142 yards on 20 carries and Garo Yepremian’s five field goals had the Dolphins ahead 15-7 late in the fourth quarter. However, after a short punt gave the Jets the ball at the Dolphin 33, Joe Namath hit Don Maynard with a touchdown pass on the very next play to bring the Jets within two and then subsequently found George Sauer for the tying two-point conversion with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter. Miami had an opportunity to end the game on their first possession in overtime, but Yepremian missed his first field goal attempt of the game. After the Jets were forced to punt, the Dolphins then went on an 11-play, 85-yard drive that took Yepremian out of the equation and punched the ball into the end zone for the first time all day.

2005 Seattle Seahawks (2-3-1) 20, 1986 New York Giants (1-6) 13

The Giants’ nightmare start continued as Bobby Engram caught a go-ahead 71-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck in the third quarter and the Seahawks kept New York winless at Giants Stadium. Engram ended up with 145 yards receiving on four catches and Shaun Alexander added 147 yards and a touchdown on 19 rushing attempts. A Phil Simms-to-Stacy Robinson touchdown and a Raul Allegre field goal staked the Giants to an early 10-0 lead, but the defense couldn’t hold it and New York’s final opportunity was thrown away when Simms ran out of bounds after gaining only a yard on a 4th-and-10 play.

Tomorrow: The ’75 Steelers play the ’90 Bills; Tom Brady goes up against Johnny Unitas; and the ’85 Bears and ’91 Redskins meet in a battle of two of the hottest teams in the NFC. Oh and the 4-1 ’91 Oilers meet the 4-1 ’00 Titans in a hugely important AFC South game. Who saw that coming?

Predictive Yards per Play Rankings: 2005

A quick note before we dive into the 2005 rankings: today’s Predictive Yards per Play post will be the last in this series for a little while. My feeling is throwing so many numbers at the reader week after week after week is leading to nothing sinking in and there’s only so many times in a six week period you can feign serious interest in who should have won the Comeback Player of the Year award. So I’ll probably give this series a break and start it back up after the draft’s over. Sound good? It better! Here’s your PY/P ratings for 2005…

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a metric which uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play.

  1. Denver Broncos (13-3)1.66 (2006 ranking: #15)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)1.53 (2006 ranking: #12)
  3. San Diego Chargers (9-7)1.34 (2006 ranking: #3)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)1.25 (2006 ranking: #1)
  5. Washington Redskins (10-6)1.04 (2006 ranking: #24)
  6. New York Giants (11-5)0.97 (2006 ranking: #17)
  7. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)0.97 (2006 ranking: #29)
  8. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)0.97 (2006 ranking: #8)
  9. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)0.62 (2006 ranking: #11)
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)0.39 (2006 ranking: #2)
  11. New England Patriots (10-6)0.29 (2006 ranking: #6)
  12. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)0.23 (2006 ranking: #10)
  13. Oakland Raiders (4-12)0.20 (2006 ranking: #30)
  14. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)0.15 (2006 ranking: #4)
  15. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)0.12 (2006 ranking: #31)
  16. Miami Dolphins (9-7)0.09 (2006 ranking: #7)
  17. Carolina Panthers (11-5)0.07 (2006 ranking: #16)
  18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)-0.07 (2006 ranking: #28)
  19. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)-0.07 (2006 ranking: #5)
  20. Green Bay Packers (4-12)-0.23 (2006 ranking: #13)
  21. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)-0.44 (2006 ranking: #18)
  22. Tennessee Titans (4-12)-0.48 (2006 ranking: #23)
  23. St. Louis Rams (6-10)-0.55 (2006 ranking: #21)
  24. Cleveland Browns (6-10)-0.58 (2006 ranking: #32)
  25. Chicago Bears (11-5)-0.68 (2006 ranking: #14)
  26. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)-0.70 (2006 ranking: #22)
  27. New Orleans Saints (3-13)-0.77 (2006 ranking: #9)
  28. New York Jets (4-12)-0.88 (2006 ranking: #20)
  29. Detroit Lions (5-11)-0.98 (2006 ranking: #25)
  30. Buffalo Bills (5-11)-1.30 (2006 ranking: #19)
  31. Houston Texans (2-14)-1.85 (2006 ranking: #26)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)-2.68 (2006 ranking: #27)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.38)

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)5.66 (2006 ranking: #13)
  2. Denver Broncos (13-3)5.57 (2006 ranking: #20)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)5.48 (2006 ranking: #5)
  4. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)5.38 (2006 ranking: #1)
  5. San Diego Chargers (9-7)5.34 (2006 ranking: #2)
  6. New England Patriots (10-6)5.21 (2006 ranking: #9)
  7. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)5.14 (2006 ranking: #30)
  8. New York Giants (11-5)5.05 (2006 ranking: #16)
  9. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)4.82 (2006 ranking: #6)
  10. Washington Redskins (10-6)4.76 (2006 ranking: #11)
  11. Oakland Raiders (4-12)4.54 (2006 ranking: #32)
  12. St. Louis Rams (6-10)4.51 (2006 ranking: #10)
  13. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)4.50 (2006 ranking: #12)
  14. Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)4.48 (2006 ranking: #7)
  15. Carolina Panthers (11-5)4.37 (2006 ranking: #21)
  16. Tennessee Titans (4-12)4.36 (2006 ranking: #18)
  17. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)4.32 (2006 ranking: #28)
  18. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)4.19 (2006 ranking: #8)
  19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)4.17 (2006 ranking: #4)
  20. Miami Dolphins (9-7)4.16 (2006 ranking: #17)
  21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)4.15 (2006 ranking: #31)
  22. New Orleans Saints (3-13)4.09 (2006 ranking: #3)
  23. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)4.06 (2006 ranking: #27)
  24. Green Bay Packers (4-12)4.00 (2006 ranking: #19)
  25. Cleveland Browns (6-10)3.89 (2006 ranking: #29)
  26. Detroit Lions (5-11)3.85 (2006 ranking: #23)
  27. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)3.74 (2006 ranking: #14)
  28. Buffalo Bills (5-11)3.47 (2006 ranking: #22)
  29. Houston Texans (2-14)3.38 (2006 ranking: #25)
  30. New York Jets (4-12)3.29 (2006 ranking: #15)
  31. Chicago Bears (11-5)3.19 (2006 ranking: #26)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)2.83 (2006 ranking: #24)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 4.38)

  1. Washington Redskins (10-6)3.72 (2006 ranking: #32)
  2. Baltimore Ravens (6-10)3.81 (2006 ranking: #2)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)3.86 (2006 ranking: #13)
  4. Chicago Bears (11-5)3.87 (2006 ranking: #5)
  5. Denver Broncos (13-3)3.91 (2006 ranking: #9)
  6. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)3.95 (2006 ranking: #19)
  7. San Diego Chargers (9-7)4.00 (2006 ranking: #14)
  8. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10)4.02 (2006 ranking: #12)
  9. Miami Dolphins (9-7)4.07 (2006 ranking: #1)
  10. New York Giants (11-5)4.08 (2006 ranking: #15)
  11. Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)4.09 (2006 ranking: #3)
  12. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)4.13 (2006 ranking: #17)
  13. Indianapolis Colts (14-2)4.13 (2006 ranking: #18)
  14. New York Jets (4-12)4.16 (2006 ranking: #23)
  15. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)4.18 (2006 ranking: #20)
  16. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)4.21 (2006 ranking: #27)
  17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)4.22 (2006 ranking: #16)
  18. Green Bay Packers (4-12)4.23 (2006 ranking: #10)
  19. Carolina Panthers (11-5)4.29 (2006 ranking: #8)
  20. Oakland Raiders (4-12)4.34 (2006 ranking: #6)
  21. Cleveland Browns (6-10)4.47 (2006 ranking: #28)
  22. Minnesota Vikings (9-7)4.76 (2006 ranking: #7)
  23. Buffalo Bills (5-11)4.77 (2006 ranking: #11)
  24. Detroit Lions (5-11)4.83 (2006 ranking: #25)
  25. Tennessee Titans (4-12)4.84 (2006 ranking: #22)
  26. New Orleans Saints (3-13)4.86 (2006 ranking: #24)
  27. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)4.86 (2006 ranking: #26)
  28. New England Patriots (10-6)4.92 (2006 ranking: #4)
  29. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)4.93 (2006 ranking: #21)
  30. St. Louis Rams (8-8)5.05 (2006 ranking: #31)
  31. Houston Texans (2-14)5.23 (2006 ranking: #29)
  32. San Francisco 49ers (4-12)5.50 (2006 ranking: #30)

Some thoughts on the above ratings…

  • My guess is Super Bowl XL will probably forever be the closest matchup according to Predictive Yards per Play – since we’re into splitting hairs around here, the Seahawks had a positive differential of +0.969736 and the Steelers were ONLY +0.965407. If we were to convert those PY/P figures to points, our numbers would have suggested that the Seahawks deserved to be favorites in Super Bowl XL by a robust .02 points. WHAT A SPREAD. Of course, the Steelers’ offensive rating was brought down significantly by the four games that Ben Roethlisberger missed during the year. Tommy Maddox lost the two games he started and generally played horribly in both; Charlie Batch, on the other hand, won both games he started and performed slightly above-average but nowhere near Roethlisberger’s 7.5 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure. So if we ran the numbers and included only the games that Roethlisberger started for Pittsburgh in 2005, their offensive rating would have jumped and, if we were around back in 2005 to make predictions on the internet, we would probably would have picked the Steelers over the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. HUZZAH WE WOULD HAVE GOTTEN ONE RIGHT!
  • Neither the Steelers nor the Seahawks were near the top of the leaderboard for the season, however. A crazy AFC West triumvirate of Denver, Kansas City and San Diego (only one of which actually made the playoffs in 2005) took the top three spots in the Predictive Yards per Play differential rankings for the season. Largely only remembering Jake Plummer crapping the bed in the AFC Championship Game, this came as a surprise to me. The answer, as usual, lies in strength of schedule – all three teams played schedules that were among the five hardest in the league, with San Diego playing the absolute toughest. The Broncos were very good at everything, the Chargers had a strong defense to go along with LaDainian Tomlinson and the last year of Drew Brees’ stay in San Diego and the Chiefs were in the last year of one of the most underrated offensive runs of all time. Hold on, this deserves its own paragraph…
  • When people talk about great offenses from the past, you NEVER hear the early-to-mid 2000s Chiefs mentioned. Ever. Yet who led the league in points scored from 2002 to 2005? Why, that would be Kansas City, sir. If we wanted to measure these things by Predictive Yards per Play, the Chiefs rank first offensively in every year during that span except 2004 – and that season was actually their highest rating out of the whole bunch (6.26), there’s just no way they were going to beat out Peyton Manning that year. For some perspective, the Patriots since 2007 have ranked #1 in PY/P three times, the Colts in Peyton Manning’s prime (2003-2007) ranked #1 only twice and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams did the same. So, ahem…excuse me while I bust out the all-CAPS for a second, but…THE 2002-05 CHIEFS OFFENSE WAS PRETTY DAMN GOOD. The reasons we never think of them in such lofty terms, I think, are twofold. First, they never won a playoff game, primarily because their defense was horrible in every year except ’05. And, second, most of their Hall of Famers came from non-glamour positions. Willie Roaf is in the Hall of Fame, Tony Gonzalez will get in five years after he retires and Will Shields should get in sometime in the next couple years. But those are two offensive linemen and a tight end. Trent Green and Priest Holmes will never get into Canton unless they buy a ticket and that’s not the end of the world. But let’s just take a moment to recognize how good they were for a few years last decade.
  • We’re obligated to mention the NFC somewhat, even if they were still in the midst of a long downtrodden stretch. 2005 wasn’t actually too bad for the conference according to PY/P – seven of the 16 teams finished with above-average differentials. However, three of those teams missed the playoffs (including the 6-10 Eagles and 5-11 Cardinals – I’m particularly perplexed at how Arizona ended rating decently, but that’s a question that’s not particularly interesting or relevant) and the Bears wound up with a bye despite finishing 25th overall (thanks to the legend of rookie Kyle Orton). I’ve never Joe Gibbs’ second stint as Redskins coach described in particularly glowing terms, but Washington DID rate as the best team in the conference in 2005, largely thanks to the best-rated defense in the league – a defense that would go on to finish dead last in 2006 and then back at the top in 2007. You look up the term “mercurial” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Gregg Williams’ creepy mug staring right back at you. Given Seattle’s tremendous home-field advantage, however, it was always probably a long-shot for any other NFC team to make it to the Super Bowl once the Seahawks wrapped up their 12th win.
  • On the futility side of the equation, just try to look at that 49ers rating without throwing up. Can’t be done. To put things into perspective, Alex Smith threw one touchdown against eleven interceptions this season…and wasn’t even the worst performing quarterback on his team (hello, Cody Pickett!). The fact that Mike McCarthy somehow got the Packers’ head coaching job after offensive coordinating this disaster either speaks to the brilliant foresight Green Bay’s front office had or the incredible good fortune they lucked into after hiring him. For me, personally, it’s a toss-up between the two.
  • In the 2005 individual awards watch…Shaun Alexander won the MVP award for having the good fortune of running behind a great offensive line and getting every conceivable red zone and goal line carry so he could break the single-season touchdown record. Even if you didn’t think giving the MVP to a running back was stupid, you could make a strong argument that Alexander wasn’t even the best running back that season – go check out Tiki Barber and Larry Johnson’s all-around stats and tell me Alexander was THAT much better than them. Harrumph. As usual, the guy who actually deserved it was Peyton Manning, although Carson Palmer was actually a close second. Oh, if only his knee hadn’t got Kimo von Oelhoffen’d…MVP was actually the second of two undeserved awards Alexander won in 2005, as he also took home Offensive Player of the Year. Not to beat a dead horse, but Thomas Jones probably could have broken the single-season touchdown record running behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson. Peyton or Tiki Barber would have been better choices…As a Bears fan, I obviously love the crap out of Brian Urlacher, but even I have to admit he probably didn’t deserve Defensive Player of the Year this year. Jason Taylor had twelve sacks, four forced fumbles and ten pass deflections, but Champ Bailey had eight picks (two of them returned for touchdowns), twenty-three pass deflections and played great in run support. Plus he almost single-handedly ended the Patriots’  dynasty with his 100-yard interception return in the playoffs. That doesn’t technically count for anything here, but…okay, it means a lot…Cadillac Williams eked out a close Offensive Rookie of the Year win over Kyle Orton (he went 10-5 as Bears starting quarterback! He was a stabilizing influence and THE main reason the Bears won the NFC North!)…Shawne Merriman picked up ten sacks for the Chargers, won Defensive Rookie of the Year and proceeded to have one more good season before falling off the face of the earth. That’s a good job by you, Shawne!…Steve Smith and Tedy Bruschi shared Comeback Player of the Year and while you’d have to be a PRETTY BIG CURMUDGEON to begrudge media members voting for a guy who came back from a stroke…I mean, do you remember the way Steve Smith played that year? He was frigging terrifying! I still have nightmares of him running circles around Peanut Tillman and humping the Soldier Field goalposts in the playoffs. GAHHHHHHH. Let’s just forget I brought that up…And I was about to launch into a spiel saying that Joe Gibbs should have won Coach of the Year this year. But then I remembered that Lovie Smith got the Bears into the playoffs with Kyle Orton as his quarterback. So…touche, Lovie. 
  • Coming at some point in the future: 2004 – where Peyton Manning has arguably the best season of all time and it only gets the Colts a #3 seed…

Are the Ravens Going to Have to Open the Season on the Road?

Since 2004, the opening game of the NFL regular season has typically been held on a Thursday night (unless Barack Obama is speaking that night, in which case they move it to a Wednesday night) and played at the home stadium of the previous season’s Super Bowl champions. For my money, it’s the perfect way to get back to football – you start the season essentially where the last one ended, the Super Bowl champs get to raise their banner and their fans get their moment to scream their lungs out and bask in the post-championship glow one final time in front of the whole country. Not bad!

Unfortunately for the Ravens, this tradition is in danger of being broken this year because of…baseball? Frigging baseball? Sadly, it’s true. You see, M&T Bank Stadium (the Ravens’ home field) and Camden Yards (the Orioles’ home field) share the same parking lots and the Orioles are currently scheduled to play a home game against the White Sox on September 5th (the night the NFL season is scheduled to open) at 7:05. Leave it to the White Sox to screw everything up, am I right? In any event, the NFL doesn’t want to move the game to Wednesday the 4th because that’s the beginning of Rosh Hashanah (even though the Lions and 49ers played on the first night of Rosh Hashanah last year) and the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 prohibits the NFL from playing games on Fridays or Saturdays during the high school and college seasons. So…that basically means either the Orioles and White Sox move their game up to the afternoon on Thursday the 5th or the Ravens have to open the season on the road. NOT COOL.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, obviously having a vested interest in keeping the tradition alive, has offered to make up any revenues the Orioles may lose from potentially moving their start time up, but right now MLB (through the mouth of Katy Feeney, the league’s senior vice president for club relations and scheduling) is talking a big game:

The White Sox would take a broadcast revenue hit and the O’s would take a broadcast revenue and attendance hit. And there is a baseball operations impact. Conceivably both teams could be in playoff contention, so it wouldn’t be fair to them to make them play a day game after both teams played a night game and traveled the night before. We make accommodations in our scheduling in the postseason. We work with the NFL. But this was something that was brought to us as a possibility just three weeks or a month ago. We always want to work with whoever wants to work with us, but why should these teams be punished?

Because no one cares about those two teams? Would that be a good enough reason? The Orioles made the playoffs in 2012 and the White Sox were in contention until the last week of the season, but neither team could fill 60% of their home parks on an average night. And according to these articles, the Orioles were watched by an average of 61,200 homes last year and the White Sox about 70,000. Let’s be charitable and say each of those households had three or four people watching the Sox-Orioles game on September 5th. Even with that figured in, you’re talking about 500,000 people at an absolute MAX who have a vested interest in the outcome of that game. Tell me, internet: just how many people watched last year’s season-opening NFL game between the Giants and Cowboys?

Overall, NBC averaged an estimated 20.585 million viewers to go with a 12.7 rating/20 share for Wednesday primetime.

So there would only be 40 times more people watching an NFL game that Thursday night than local telecasts of a likely meaningless baseball game. No biggie. By all means, MLB, keep the White Sox and Orioles at 7:05 on September 5th! We’ve got to get our priorities in order here.

NFL Free Agency Week One Recap

I was on vacation for most of last week and had actually written all of my posts the week before – hence the “Which NBA Players Would Make the Best NFL Team?” article on the opening day of the new league year. DID I MISS ANYTHING? Other than the Ravens losing half their defensive starters from the Super Bowl, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings signing massive deals to catch passes from vastly inferior quarterbacks and Wes Welker signing a reasonable deal to catch passes from another Hall of Fame quarterback, no, I did not miss anything. It’s highly unlikely your team dramatically improved one way or another last week – three or four new free agents won’t automatically shift your team from last place to first – but because I’m feeling rash and juuuuuusssst a bit judgmental this morning, I’ll run down my list of teams that either probably got better or probably got worse…or stayed about the same because the jury’s still out. How’s that for conclusive analysis?! Let’s begin.

Teams that probably got better:

Seattle Seahawks. I’m not a huge fan of sending 1st and 3rd round picks to another team for the right to sign an oft-injured player to a six-year, $67 million contract. But there’s no doubt that Percy Harvin’s legitimately one of the most electric players in the league when he’s healthy and, given the incredible amount of young talent the Seahawks already have on the roster, not having a low first-round pick for one season won’t end up killing the talent pool. The two unequivocal wins Seattle had last week, however, were signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett both to modest deals and further fortifying their already excellent pass rush. Does the combination of an Avril-Bennett-Bruce Irvin-Chris Clemons (if he’s healthy) pass rush and a Richard Sherman-Brandon Browner-Earl Thomas secondary sound appetizing to throw on? I THINK NOT.

Kansas City Chiefs. The big improvement happened a few weeks ago when the Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, giving their offense a legitimate league-average starting quarterback (and, yes, league-average is a big step up over Matt Cassel). Kansas City also shored up a huge weakness from last season, however, by signing cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson; Robinson probably hurts as much as he helps in the final analysis, but Smith is an above-average corner who should fill the void Brandon Carr’s departure last offseason created and, along with Brandon Flowers, once again give the Chiefs one of the better starting cornerback duos in the league. Receiver Donnie Avery could also be a difference-maker if he stays healthy.

Detroit Lions. The Lions lost their two starting defensive ends in Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but those two only combined for 12.5 sacks last year and with arguably two of the best three pass rushing defensive tackles in the league lining up next to one another (Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley), Detroit shouldn’t have to look too hard to make up that production. More importantly, the Lions shored up two huge, glaring weaknesses by signing safety Glover Quin and running back Reggie Bush. Bush gives the pass-happy Lions the receiving threat out of the backfield that consistently get them into shorter down-and-distances and, unlike whoever they trotted last year, Quin is an actual starting-level safety in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Remember: they still also have the fifth overall pick in the draft this April to look forward to as well.

Teams that probably got worse:

Baltimore Ravens. Remember that little game called the Super Bowl the Ravens just played in six weeks ago? Here’s a list of all the starters from that game who won’t be wearing a Ravens uniform next year: Ray Lewis. Matt Birk. Dannell Ellerbe. Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger. Bernard Pollard. Cary Williams. And Ed Reed’s probably going to join that list pretty soon, too. Good luck, Joe!

Pittsburgh Steelers. Their salary cap woes led to the forced departures of Mike Wallace, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Colon, and Keenan Lewis; so far, their biggest moves to counteract those defections have been to sign William Gay, Bruce Gradkowski, and Matt Spaeth. As much as I like the sound of Bruce Gradkowski taking snaps at 3-4 rush linebacker, I just don’t know if that’s an adequate replacement for James Harrison.

New England Patriots. Disclaimer: if Danny Amendola and (more importantly) Gronk and Aaron Hernandez stay healthy, then the Patriots won’t miss Wes Welker at all and they’ll keep scoring 30 points a game like it’s nothing. Actually, they’ll probably still do that anyway. But the chances of Amendola and Gronk staying healthy for a full 16 games seem pretty remote and if(/when) they go down, Welker won’t be around to keep piling up yards after the catch. I normally agree with Darth Hoodie’s mantra of phasing out older, more expensive players for younger players who essentially do the same thing at a fraction of the cost. But at this point, Tom Brady’s going to be 36 when the season starts – there aren’t going to be THAT many more Super Bowl runs with this current core. Why not go all out during these last few years of Brady’s prime and bring his favorite receiver back?

The jury’s still out:

Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins probably made the splashiest signings on the first day of free agency by signing Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe, but I’m skeptical either of those moves are going to bring the Dolphins within striking distance of the Patriots in the AFC East. Ellerbe and fellow free-agent signee Phillip Wheeler probably represent upgrades over the departed Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but not significant enough to push the Dolphins’ above-average defense to another level. And Wallace was one of the most efficient receivers in the league in 2010 and 2011, but he’s not a possession receiver at all and is likely to find that Ryan Tannehill isn’t quite as accurate on deep bombs down the field as Ben Roethlisberger was.

Chicago Bears. Seven months ago, Martellus Bennett was one of the biggest jokes in the league, a supremely talented player whose poor work ethic left him riding the pine in Dallas and committing boneheaded mistakes when he did enter the game. Now that he’s parlayed one starter-level season in New York into a huge long-term deal, let’s just say the bust potential is high for ‘ol Martellus. On the other hand, the Bears’ signing of Jermon Bushrod gives them their first starting-level left tackle in six years. In a vacuum, Bushrod isn’t worth $36 million ($22 million of it guaranteed) over five years; on the Bears, he might be worth double that.

Denver Broncos. Signing WELKAHHHHH was a near-genius move that arguably gives Peyton Manning the best group of wide receivers in the league AND damages their biggest AFC rival in the process. On the other hand, the whole fax machine snafu with Elvis Dumervil costs Denver one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league; Von Miller’s going to pick up double-digit sacks every year for the next seven or eight, but will a four-levels-beyond-washed-up Dwight Freeney or whoever winds up replacing Dumervil be able to pick up eight or nine sacks on the other side? The lesson, as always: agents are the worst.