(BLOGGER’S NOTE: as often happens this time of year, the weeks around the holidays have been busy, even for a guy with my copious free time. So I apologize for the lack of a Notes column last week. To make it up to you, this week’s Notes is a double edition, encompassing Weeks 11 and 12. I’ll be back on track next week. Thanks for your patience.)
So, once again, I filled my familial obligations by going back to my hometown of Porter’s Bay for Thanksgiving and enjoying my parents’ hospitality for a few days. This year wasn’t any different than other years. My mom made enough food to feed a platoon (I’m not exaggerating, I mean, an actual platoon of fighting men and women) despite the fact that she had fewer than ten guests. And two of them were my four year old niece Rachel (who seems determined to go through life eating nothing but macaroni and cheese) and my sister-in-law Linda (a health nut who feels the need to go for a five mile run if she eats anything larger than a lettuce leaf.) For the umpteenth year running, my biggest challenge was keeping a carload of leftovers from going bad during my three hour drive home. And the traditional progression of events took place. While Mom made dinner, the rest of us made awkward conversation until the wine went to our heads. We all waited for someone to make the first inappropriate remark over dinner (my brother Owen’s views on Syrian refugees took the honors this year.) After dinner, we retired to the living room to watch football while making no effort to help my mother clean up and do the dishes. And the kids and kids-in-law took bets on whether or not my father would make it out of the first quarter before falling asleep in his chair. (With each passing year, I’ve found it’s better to take the under on that one.) Added to this year’s festivities was the sight of Rachel hopping up on my lap and waiting until the room got quiet before asking (decidedly NOT in her indoor voice), “Uncle Joe, where’s your wife?” This was followed by a collection of “Yes, Joe, where IS your wife?” looks from my family and me contemplating how to make all the things I wanted to do to Rachel look like an accident.
So you might understand why I’m anxious to get away from this and talk some football…
AWARDS FROM THE COMMISH
FANTASY PLAYER OF THE WEEK (WEEK 11): Thomas Rawls
Rawls, who was benched earlier this year for making the mistake of not being Marshawn Lynch, got a second chance as a starter and has been making the most of it. In Week 11, he ran for over 200 yards, scored two TDs, punched out the entire 49ers defense, escaped from Alcatraz and took a dump in Colin Kaepernick’s car. He followed that up with a respectable 80 yard, 1 TD performance against the Steelers. Lynch, meanwhile, has been downgraded from Beast Mode to Figure of Menace In The Neighborhood Mode to Teacher, I Don’t Think Marshawn Made It To The Bathroom Mode.
FANTASY OWNER OF THE WEEK (Week 12): T.J.
A few weeks back, T.J.’s fantasy team was dead. I mean, kids-found-him-floating-face-down-in-the-pool dead. With the exception of Hal (sorry, Hal), T.J. was the fantasy owner you most looked forward to playing. After all, his line up was full of guys like Ben Roethlisberger (who couldn’t stay on the field), Matt Stafford (who really shouldn’t have stayed on the field), C.J. Anderson (last seen taking a copy of Atlas Shrugged into the men’s room) and Alshon Jeffrey (Jay Cutler’s favorite target, which is a bit like being Charlie Sheen’s favorite drinking buddy.) If your team was in a slump, it automatically got healthy when it went up against T.J.’s. The last few weeks, though, T.J. has shown disquieting signs of a housing a fantasy juggernaut. He’s won two games in a row and this week all of the above-mentioned players (with the exception of Brittle Ben) went completely nuts. The result was 81 points, about 50 more than he needed to beat the Artist-Formerly-Known-As Stoner. These are NOT the sort of things you want to see if you’re on the playoff bubble. At this point, I’m afraid to even mention T.J.’s name (whatever it actually is.) Let’s move on, shall we?
BUCKET OF ICE WATER AWARD (WEEK 11): Vikings’ Fans
With the season-opening egg-laying against the 49ers a distant memory and the Green Bay Packers playing more and more like Cobb-Cook Elementary (Go Cougars!), Vikings’ fans, my buddy Robbie prominently among them, have gotten rather chesty in recent weeks. Apparently all is forgiven with the homophobic special teams coach, the child-beating RB and the organization that enables them both. So I have to admit: I watched the Packers’ dismantling of the Vikings with not a little schadenfreude. However, Vikings’ fans, as I’ve noted, have notoriously short memories. All it took was a Packers loss to the Bears and a Vikings win over the punch-less Falcons for the previous cockiness to return. (Seriously, even Robbie saw nothing pathetic in his Tweeting, “Thanks, Bears!”) Leaving my personal feelings about the current Vikings aside, they DO say pride goeth before a fall. And seriously, over the last 50 years, who’s fallen more spectacularly, more often, than the Vikings? So as a piece of advice, Vikings’ fans, you may want to put the cockiness in dry dock. You might regret it later.
KICK IN THE NUTS AWARD (WEEK 12): Cleveland Browns’ Fans
There’s a sad little competition among Vikings’, Bills’ and Browns’ fans for which fan base is the most tortured. I’m willing to go with the Browns. Yes, the Vikes and Bill have each lost four Super Bowls. But that’s four more Super Bowls than the Browns have gotten to. Yes, the Vikes have the Darren Nelson drop, the choke job against the Falcons and the Brett Favre interception. The Bills have Scott Norwood going wide right and the Music City Miracle. The Browns will see that and raise you The Drive and Ernest Byner fumbling AS HE WAS GOING UNTOUCHED INTO THE END ZONE. And while the Vikes and Bills have had owners threatening to move their team, only the Browns had to watch their owner actually do it. Yes, they got an expansion team. But the version that left town has won two Super Bowls while the expansion version hasn’t been able to find it’s ass with a road map. For sheer suffering, it’s not even close.
Against that backdrop, the events of this past week are somewhat insignificant, but still painful, for Browns’ fans. Their supposed-franchise QB decided to take spring break in November (more on this in a minute) meaning that head coach Mike Pettine would have been more willing to play Bernie Kosar than Johnny Manziel on Monday night. That game, of course, ended in spectacular fashion, as the Baltimore Ravens blocked a last-second FG attempt by the Browns and returned it for the game-winning TD. Pettine watched it with the look of a guy whose dog ate his only bowling trophy. By the by, Pettine is currently in pole position for First Coach Fired on Black Monday. This would make him the seventh ex-head coach in the revived Browns 17 seasons. None of the last four (if Pettine goes) have made it more than 2 seasons.
On the bright side, it’s not like their owner had to pay almost a hundred million dollars to the federal government to avoid prosecution for fraud. Oh wait…
ASSCLOWN OF THE WEEK (WEEK 11): Johnny Manziel
The fact is we’ve ALL known a Johnny Manziel at some point in our life. He’s the guy with all the talent in the world. But that talent has given him a sense of entitlement rather than a drive to be great. Everything’s come too easy. Ultimately, the kid cultivates only one other true talent: the ability to tell authority figures exactly what they want to hear, even though the kid has absolutely no intention of following through on what he says. My buddy Mike shows a few of these tendencies, but Mike’s natural talents are limited and he’s such an artist at getting away with things, I have to think it’s his true calling. Manziel, on the other hand, has been given the keys to the kingdom time and time again. And all he’s done with it is to take a drunken whiz on the kingdom’s front steps. This past week proved no different. After a 300 yard passing performance against the Steelers, Manziel was named the Browns starter for the remainder of the season. He also promised not to do anything to embarrass the team during their bye week. Johnny followed through on this promise by going back to Texas, hanging out with his old drinking buddies and getting taped carousing in a bar. The Browns promptly busted Manziel down to 3rd string, likely because they don’t have a 4th string to demote him to. In the end (and I think we’re very near the end with Johnny Football) nobody’s been able to get this point through to Manziel: that while his talents make him unique, his immaturity makes him something all too commonplace; a talented kid who threw his talents away. The landscape of the NFL has been littered with the likes of him. Here’s to you, Johnny.
WORST FANTASY GAME OF THE YEAR (Week 12): Mike VS Carol
Carol has had the best team in the league all season. After a slow start, Mike’s team has been coming on strong in recent weeks. So, beyond the torturing Carol aspects, I was looking forward to this season’s second edition of the I’m No Longer Allowed To Call It The Break Up Bowl. What I got instead was the fantasy equivalent of a room-clearing fart. Carol’s entire RB and WR corps combined to give her a grand total of 4 points. The kicker and defense chipped in another 8. Only Andy Dalton came to Carol’s rescue, providing half of her eventual (and pathetic) total of 24 points. And it was enough to comfortably beat Mike, whose entire team took a road trip to Flushing Meadows and collectively produced 16 points. This was a disappointment. I mean, a Phantom Menace/Eddie-Murphy-at-the-SNL-reunion/Finally-got-Jeannie-Phillips-Naked-Only-To-Discover-She’d-Had-Breast-Augmentation-Surgery kind of disappointment. (Perhaps I’ve said too much.)
And finally, in honor of Jon Stewart, (soon to be ONCE AGAIN, the funniest man on TV) I give you…
YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN: The Case of the Really Lousy Division
It’s been nearly 15 years since the NFL went to the 8 division format. Since then, there have been two constants with every NFL season: one division will be completely and utterly awful (I mean, bad to the point where you think an expansion team could be cobbled together on Week 11 and still win the division) and talking heads, pundits and morons on the street (there isn’t much of a difference between any of them) will be howling for some sort of playoff reform. After all, how is it fair that a team that went 7-9 is hosting a playoff game against a team that’s 12-4? (Apparently, for these guys, the obligation to actually win the game is relieved if you’re playing on the road.)
I’ve never had a lot of sympathy for these people. The name of the game in football for the longest time has been: win your division. The wild card was created to generate further interest in the playoffs and to reward teams that have had a good season, but came up short in winning their division. It was NEVER, however, designed to be easy. Wild card teams were supposed to be at a disadvantage and have a harder road to winning the Super Bowl. It’s the price you pay for not winning your division. And football is nothing if not cyclical. A few years back, the NFC West was considered the garbage dump of humanity and the Seahawks became the first team with a losing record to make the playoffs. Since then, the division has produced three straight conference champions and has housed two or three of the best teams in football at various points. The Carolina Panthers were the scourge of football last year for getting into the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record. This season, they’ve won 11 straight and the notion they’ll go through the regular season undefeated is not ridiculous. Beyond the New England Patriots making the playoffs and Roger Goodell screwing up a disciplinary proceeding, there’s no such as thing as consistency in the NFL.
This season, though, I’m beginning to see their point. Not agree with it, but see it. Spreading teams out over 8 divisions seems to be a guarantee that at least one is going to be a Black Hole of Incompetence. This season, the league’s managed to produce 2: the NFC East (in which the Dallas Cowboys have lost 8 of their last 9 games and still have half a shot at making the playoffs) and the AFC South (in which Colts coach Chuck Pagano is working on his resume even as his team leads the division.) And in the old days, winning the division should have carried more weight. The divisions had five teams, meaning half of any team’s season involved playing division opponents. With smaller divisions, teams now play barely a third of their games within the division. Winning it no longer carries the same weight.
Still, I haven’t run across a compromise I care much for. Eliminating divisions is just plain stupid. It would eliminate too many good rivalries. Seeding according to overall record seems to take away the drive to win the division and won’t eliminate the possibility that a worthy non-division winner misses the playoffs. And while expanding to 14 teams seems an inevitability, I don’t think watering down the playoffs is the answer, either. I guess my solution would be to stand pat and understand that, as a fan, sooner or later your team will get a chance to make the playoffs after a sub-par season. Whatever happens, though, I know this much to be true:
Roger Goodell will figure out a way to screw it up.
-xPeyton’s Heroes (Carol) 10-2
Chuck (Chuck) 7-5
The Winter Soldiers (Mike) 6-6
The Rat Pack (Me) 6-6
The Sex Machine (Lars) 5-7
The Dropkick Murphys (Stoner) 7-5
Favre’s Dong (Jack) 6-6
The Jock Sniffers (T.J.) 6-6
Deflated Balls (Robbie) 5-7
The Electric Mayhem (Hal) 3-9