Archive for the ‘NFL Preview Bonanza’ Category

Unabated to the Quarterback: The NFC East

We’re taking a different route with our NFL preview this season. Eschewing typical predictions—those require some form of legitimate knowledge—we’re asking what each NFL team means. An NFL season is a research paper, and each team enters it with a thesis statement.

New York Giants (11-5)

Why Aren’t the Giants Any Better?

“Virtue is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to excess, becomes vice.” —Thomas Babington Macaulay

Our introductory question is perhaps a counterintuitive one, given how, you might remember, the Giants won the Super Bowl last season for the second time in five years. But New York was, by the basic measurements, the worst team to ever do so: Its 9-7 record was the worst by an eventual champion, and no team had ever advanced to the Super Bowl after accumulating a negative point differential during the regular season, let alone win one.

It is hard to reconcile, then, these two different Giants teams — the one that was so thoroughly mediocre during the regular season (they lost to the Redskins! Twice!) and the one that steamrolled the 15-1 Packers and edged the Niners and the Patriots in the playoffs. Which team are the Giants really?

The answer, and this has been true for some time, is frustratingly in the middle. The Giants are a flawed team capable of overcoming those flaws in short bursts but not, it seems, for sustained stretches.* They are the modern sports franchise that thrives when it is counted out: the embodiment of every “Nobody believed in us!” cliché. The us-against-the-world mentality seems particularly powerful in football, a sport so built on emotion and where wanting it more might actually mean something.

*The counter-argument you can make here is the first dozen games of 2008, when New York was 11-1.

On the other hand, the Giants would also be better served if the NFL were like the NBA, where mediocre regular seasons were routinely rewarded with playoff berths, so New York could coast from Weeks 1 to 17 and then do its thing each January.

People believe in the Giants again, which is precisely why they shouldn’t. Continue reading

Unabated to the Quarterback: The Last Judgment in the Preseason, NFC

“Don’t wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day.”

–Albert Camus

Don’t worry. Over the course of this, the second season of Unabated to the Quarterback, I do plan on expanding our epigraphical purview beyond simple Albert Camus. Eventually.

But why, indeed, shall we wait for the Last Judgment of the NFL postseason and the Super Bowl to level our own indictments and criticisms and praises of the 32 franchises that constitute America’s favorite sport? Why not just start now?

There are so many ways to format a season-opening NFL post. Just last season, I pulled out all the stops in our NFL Preview Bonanza. I’m afraid I shot my wad a bit on that, and there seems to be no real point of me rehashing the same favorite players and the same classic games for all 32 franchises. I thought of following the Bill Simmons route of summing up plotlines with quotes from a film; alas, those are only fun if you’ve seen and admire the film in question.* I could assign correspondences between each team and a character from The Wire, as well, although this would lead to massive stretches, spoilers, and alienation for those who haven’t seen the show.

*We get it, Bill. You REALLY like Rounders.

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NFL Preview Bonanza: NFC West

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Last Season: 4-12

This Season: 10-6, NFC #2

Healthy again after a season of injuries, the Seahawks return to their usual perch atop the NFL’s weakest division. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is the best receiver Matt Hasselbeck has ever had in Seattle, and Edgerrin James is still a good enough running back to keep teams honest. I don’t think the Seahawks are a great team, or even a very good one. They’re decent, and decent has been enough in this division for a long time.

Tim’s favorite player in Seattle Seahawk history is…: Dave Krieg beats out the man he always threw the ball to, Steve Largent.

You didn’t pick Largent? I know; that would have been too easy.

A Great and Recent Seahawk Game: This was already a pretty wild Wild Card Game, and then came the end.

That’s just another gratuitous shot at the Cowboys: True, but what did you want me to pick? That “classic” NFC Championship against the Panthers?

That’s right! The Seahawks went to the Super Bowl! I had this exact conversation with my brother the other day. The Seahawks actually went to the Super Bowl.

Remember when Matt Hasselbeck made that bold coin toss prediction in Green Bay? Who could forget?

If the Seahawks were a mainstream North American band, they would be: Nickelback. Because I’m kind of getting sick of them. (Doesn’t it suck how they don’t match a Seattle band?)

Did you know? There is actually no such thing as a “seahawk.”

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NFL Preview Bonanza: NFC South

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Last Season: 8-8

This Season: 10-6, NFC #3

In a division that’s become tougher and tougher, it’s about time the Saints justified their 2006 breakthrough. Drew Brees is still the best quarterback in the NFC by a wide margin, he has a ton of weapons in the receiving corps, and Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are an excellent running back duo. Offense hasn’t been the concern in New Orleans for some time, though. The defense, however, should be good enough—and by that, I mean, just slightly worse than the league average—to allow the Saints to consistently outscore teams.

Is Brees the greatest quarterback in Saint history? I’d be interesting in seeing how New Orleans fans rated him next to Archie Manning. I think Brees beats the infamous Billy Joe Tolliver and even Bobby Hebert.

Tim’s favorite player in New Orleans Saint history is…: One of my favorite nicknames of all-time belongs to the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward.

Of the Zest commercials? Oh yeah, of the Zest commercials.

A Great and Recent Saint Game: What the Mike Piazza home run was to New York, the Steve Gleason blocked punt was to New Orleans.

What about the lateral game? That was great too. Until, you know, they lost.

As a Giant fan, what other Saint game stands out? You mean the one that helped us get to the Super Bowl in 2000? That one stands out a lot. (We were toast against the Rams in Round 2.)

If the Saints were a Star Wars location, they would be: Cloud City. Everything’s a little bit different there, and if Sean Payton wants to get to the big game, he’s going to have to sell a part of his offense-only soul Lando Calrissian style to get there.

Did you know? The Saints have two playoff wins in their history.

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NFL Preview Bonanza: NFC North

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Last Season: 6-10

This Season: 9-7, NFC #4

I’ve vacillated a lot on the Packers already this season, initially having them at 11-5 then down at 7-9 and now splitting the difference. I think Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback but not the great one many people expect him to be, and the offense will be above-average again. It basically comes down to whether the defense, behind new coordinator Dom Capers, can return to the form it had in 2007 when Green Bay made it to the NFC Championship. If Capers can pull it off, the Pack have as good a chance as anybody in this wide-open division and conference.

Tim’s favorite player in Green Bay Packer history is…: You can make a case that Sterling Sharpe had the best name in NFL history. I mean, both his first and last name are adjectives that describe him.

Are the Sharpe brothers the greatest receiving duo in NFL history? Umm, sure?

A Great and Recent Packer Game: The game that made Brett Favre: his first playoff win at the Pontiac Silverdome against the Lions.

Can you give us one without Favre? No.

Was that the loss that killed the Lions? No, this was the loss that killed the Lions.

If the Packers were a Nintendo video game, they would be: Super Mario 2. While the original Super Mario and Super Mario 3 get all the pub, Super Mario 2 was totally off-the-wall, creative, and very fun to play. This won’t be a traditional Packer team, but it might all work out in the end anyway.

Did you know? The Packers had never lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field until 2002. They have lost three of their last five since.

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NFL Preview Bonanza: NFC East

DISCLAIMER: I will be particularly unfair and subjective in this divisional analysis.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Last Season: 12-4

This Season: 11-5, NFC #1

First of all, let’s chill out about the receiver situation. Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon are tenable NFL receivers. Especially when you complement them with the league’s best rushing attack—as much a product of the offensive line than Brandon Jacobs and, this season, Ahmad Bradshaw—and arguably its best defensive line. The Giants are, to me, the NFC team with the fewest unanswered questions, and that’s why everyone harps so much on the receiver one. The bigger question, though, is if Eli Manning can throw a football through wind. Because he hasn’t done that yet, and if he still can’t this year, I’ll be hoping Big Blue can go on the road in the playoffs again.

Tim’s favorite players in New York Giant history is…: You expect me to settle for one? I own jerseys of Rodney Hampton, Jason Sehorn, Tiki Barber, Jeremy Shockey, Michael Strahan, and Lawrence Taylor. If pressed to choose one player, I’d go with the greatest defensive player of all-time. If you give me more latitude, I’ll throw in Simms, Hampton, Tiki, Amani Toomer, Dave Meggett, Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson, Jesse Armstead, Matt Bahr, Jeff Feagles…

Greatest Ever? Greatest Ever.

Remember when Giant fans liked Tiki Barber? It seems so long ago. Back then, we thought he’d be a good broadcaster, too. We were so naïve.

And Sehorn? Now hold on. Sehorn was en route to stardom until he tore his ACL in that preseason game against the Jets in 1998. August 20, to be exact—the same night Mark McGwire hit two home runs (Nos. 50-51) in a doubleheader at Shea Stadium. If not for that injury—particularly devastating to a cornerback who didn’t have a lot of margin for error in terms of speed—Sehorn would have been a legit Pro Bowler.

A Great and Recent Giant Game: The Greatest from February 3, 2008. But let’s not forget other Great and Recent Giant Games, such as “Third Tynes the Charm,” the last regular-season game against the Broncos, 41-0, that other regular-season game against the Broncos, Mark Ingram! (or Scott Norwood!), and Matt Bahr!

Yeah, field goal kicking was important in 1990: Yes, yes it was.

Can we get that Montana hit? That might be the iconic hit on a quarterback.

Not Theismann? That’s just mean. (P.S. I still can’t watch that. It’s too painful. And I really dislike Joe Theismann!)

Can you say one thing bad about the Giants? Of course. But I won’t.

Not even about Tom Coughlin? You mean “The Debacler”? Nah, we’re cool now.

If the Giants were a historical event, they would be: The Treaty of Verdun. Charlemagne/Plaxico Burress’ responsibilities have been split up and delegated to several more individuals. How will the new leaders cooperate in response?

Did you know? I love the Giants.

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NFL Preview Bonanza: Ranking the Refs

I’ve always been disproportionately proud of my ability to discern all NFL referees by both sight and voice. It’s a talent developed over years of watching myriad NFL games and unnecessary research on Wikipedia.

The fruit of my toiling is here for you now, a completely personalized and very arbitrary ranking of the NFL referees.

17. Ron Winter

Ron Winter is a ref who doesn’t play by the rules, and that’s really the problem. Winter, who seems like a nice guy who just doesn’t give a crap, captained the biggest officiating debacle of the decade in the 2002 Wild Card game between the Giants and 49ers, so suffice to say we’re not on good terms. Plus, I used to get him confused with former ref Ron Blum, who was also not very good.

16. Carl Cheffers

I have no idea who this guy is, which means he’s never reffed an important game.

15. Jeff Triplette

I’m pretty sure one of the first things you learn at Referee College is not to blind one of the players. Triplette also didn’t have the guts to call this a safety.

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