As I’ve pointed out, ad nauseum, in this space, I spend most Sundays during football season getting together with my friends Mike, Carol and Lars. The three weeks of the fantasy playoffs are always an unusual time, some years more than others. There hasn’t been a single year in which all four of us have made the fantasy playoff semi-finals. So Sundays become like a glorified (or simplified) game of Survivor. An increasing number of people no longer care about fantasy implications and simply watch the games (which, I know, is how football was meant to be, but still…)
This week, the dichotomy was near peak levels. Lars and I failed to make the playoffs. Mike was eliminated in excruciating fashion last week. So only Carol had something to play for. This lead to a gathering at Mike’s place that saw three of us drinking beer and morosely staring at the big screen TV while one of us paced the room, staring at her iPad and reacting, positively or negatively, to every new scoring development. And what says the holiday season more than a majority of people being indifferent to the joys and sufferings of others?
Merry Christmas. Here’s how the week went:
AWARDS FROM THE COMMISH
FANTASY OWNER OF THE WEEK: Stoner
Stoner had a bye week and then picked up right where he left off at the end of the regular season: beating the bejeezus out of a quality opponent. In the case of his destruction of Chuck, Stoner rode performances by Cam Newton, Antonio Brown, Amari Cooper, Brandin Cooks, the 1927 New York Yankees, Secretariat, Floyd Mayweather, Ric Flair and the starting line of the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers to victory. In fact, he had an ass-whupping in hand by the time Cooks and Detroit kicker Matt Prater played on Monday night, leading a weeping Ralph Wiggum to shout, “Stop! Stop! He’s already dead!” I don’t think anybody’s looking forward to next week…
HORSESHOE UP ASS AWARD: Carol
And now for something completely different. With injuries piling up, Carol’s fantasy (?) team most closely resembles an Indy car trying to get across the finish line on two tires and a stiff breeze. While her total of 59 points was certainly respectable, Jack was only down by four and had Calvin Johnson facing the Saints defense (?) on Monday night. It looked for all the world like Carol’s dream season was about to end. Instead, Johnson apparently stepped out to do some early Christmas shopping and was never heard from again. He was targeted three times and caught exactly one pass. Improbably, Carol survived to reach the Fantasy Bowl. It also led to this exchange from me and Mike:
ME: Jack got screwed by Jim Bob Cooter.
MIKE: Isn’t that a scene in Deliverance?
ASSCLOWN OF THE WEEK: Odell Beckham Jr.
Look, you’ll find no bigger fan of Odell Beckham Jr. outside the greater New York area than me. In not quite two seasons, he’s produced a career’s worth of highlight reel catches. He’s the first receiver since young Randy Moss who’s replaced “No way he catches this” with “Wait a second, he’s got a shot” every time I watch him. I can imagine every DB in the league living in dire fear of Beckham because he only needs a window as big as Kate Moss’ wrist to make a catch. Unfortunately, he’s also as volatile as Joe Pesci in Goodfellas; a trait that was on display against the Panthers this week.
After some pre-game jawing with Panthers’ CB Josh Norman, Beckham decided to take things to another (lower) level. After the completion of a play, Beckham took about a 7 yard running start and launched himself, helmet first, at Norman, as if he was The Human Bullet (Fire me, boy!) Shockingly, Beckham was not flagged on the play and, less shockingly, Giants coach Tom Coughlin left Beckham in the game. (Not to defend Coughlin, but Beckham is one of only two things the Giants have going for them right now. When your job security is on the line and you’re down 35-7, your principles are the first thing to take it in the shorts.) While the situation didn’t get uglier, the game certainly stayed chippy to the end. The result is that Beckham was hit with a one game suspension, meaning Eli Manning is on his own at the most crucial part of the Giants’ season. As Crash Davis might say about this whole sad situation, “Million dollar hands and a two cent head.”
HOW ROGER GOODELL IS RUINING THE NFL THIS WEEK: Concussions
While much is made (by me as well) about Goodell’s ham-fisted disciplinary proceedings, it’s actually a sideshow to the real problem stinking up Goodell’s tenure as NFL commissioner. It’s a problem so serious that it might eventually undo the NFL and the sport of football entirely. And with the movie Concussion coming out this week, it’s bound to be front and center once again. It’s Roger Goodell’s handling (or lack thereof) of the toll football takes on its players.
Concussion is decidedly not getting an endorsement from the NFL anytime soon. It tells the story of Bennet Omalu’s efforts to publicize the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the NFL’s attempts to suppress such information. It is a decided black eye for the league, the kind that deserves to see Goodell portrayed by Luke Wilson. Coming at the climax to the season, the timing could not be worse. You would think the NFL would want to be seen as dealing with such an issue head on.
Well, you’d think that if you haven’t been paying attention to Goodell’s tenure as commissioner.
This week, it was discovered that the NFL refused to provide funds for a Boston University study that’s trying to develop a way to diagnose CTE in living patients, a potential huge step forward in providing the help damaged players need. The reason for pulling the funding is that Robert Stern, the project’s lead researcher, has been critical of the NFL in the past. And so, the NFL once again circles the wagons when faced with any kind of conflict.
To be clear, the concussion problem did not start during the Roger Goodell era. But that’s the drawback to leadership. Things you didn’t create, didn’t have a hand in exacerbating and maybe don’t even approve of are often left at your doorstep. And they become your problem to deal with. It’s fair to say that Goodell has dealt with this issue in a way that is inconsistent at best and insincere at worst. Yes, he’s the commissioner who banned helmet-to-helmet hits and provided a league-funded payout to the families of former players with CTE. However, he’s also the commissioner who advocates an expansion of the regular season to 18 games and consistently denies the link between concussions and football.
Make no mistake, THIS is the most important issue facing Goodell’s tenure. While Muhammad Ali brought boxing to new heights of popularity, the sight of his Parkinson’s-ravaged body did more to move boxing to the fringe element of sport than anything. If Goodell chooses to bury his head in the sand in the name of “protecting the shield”, football may go the same way. Players have gotten bigger and faster as the decades have gone along, but there is no way to protect the brain from the kind of damage bigger and faster players inflict. As sad as it is to think about, there will come a time when a beloved former player like Brett Favre or Peyton Manning may become the poster child of his sport’s brutality in the same way that Ali became the poster child for his. And when that happens, all the “protecting the shield” in the world won’t save the NFL.
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 AFC coaching hot seat
As stated last week, the coaching carousel is my favorite part of the season. I took a look at the NFC’s who’s staying/who’s going drama last week, so this week it’s time to turn my reckless speculation to the AFC.
Rex Ryan (Buffalo)
I’ve seen Sexy Rexy on a few coaching hot seat lists, but I have a hard time believing he’ll be done. No, Rex has not set the world on fire and yes, Buffalo is an historically impatient franchise. But the season was certainly not a disaster, not enough to justifying canning a respected coach in his first season. Truthfully, there’s nothing for fans to lose in Rex’s return. If you like him, you want to see him back. If you don’t like him, you get to watch him suffer through another season of being slapped around by Bill Belichick. Personally, I’m in the middle. I like Rex, but I enjoy watching his constant failure against his rival. I’m hoping it ends with Rex losing his last game to Billy Bananas, shouting, “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” And then just throwing a trident at Belichick. (“Yeah, that’s right. Rex killed a guy.”) That would certainly be worth bringing Rex back for another season.
Dan Campbell (Miami)
Technically, Campbell’s not on the hot seat because the job he holds is actually vacant. Former coach Joe Philbin was given the mid-season swirlie and Campbell’s been filling in ever since. While the Dolphins have certainly played better under Campbell, the 4-6 record they’ve posted to date isn’t exactly conjuring up images of Paul Brown. Campbell’s a jumped-up position coach only a few years removed from being a player, so it would be prudent to question his readiness for the permanent job. The last time I saw someone in Campbell’s position get the top job, it was then-Vikings owner Red McCombs giving the gig to Mike Tice, pretty much on the basis of Tice coming cheap and knowing all the players’ names. While Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross has his own proclivities, running his franchise like a used car lot doesn’t appear to be among them. I’m guessing he’s going to want a more established coach to take over. Campbell, though, will probably put himself in line for another head coaching job, maybe as soon as next year. Stay tuned…
Mike Pettine (Cleveland)
In 2008, Romeo Crennel completed his fourth season as Cleveland Browns head coach. Despite just missing the playoffs the season before, the Browns finished 4-12 and Crennel was canned. I mention this because completing four seasons makes Crennel the dean of Cleveland Browns coaches since the franchise was revived in 1999. In fact, since Crennel was let go, other Browns coaches could only dream of that kind of longevity. Eric Mangini and Pat Shurmur only made it two seasons. Rob Chudzinski didn’t even make it that far, getting the axe after a single season. Pettine is about to complete his second season. At one point in 2014, the Browns were 7-4 and had genuine thoughts of a playoff appearance. They finished by losing five straight. This season, the best case scenario has the Browns finishing 5-11 (and you use “best case scenario” and “Cleveland Browns” in the same sentence at your own peril.) It’s hard to imagine Pettine surviving Black Monday. It’s hard to imagine many Browns fans WANTING him to survive Black Monday. But it’s another log on the fire of inconsistency that’s plagued Cleveland for a decade-and-a-half. I hope basketball season goes well for those folks.
This dumpster fire of a division is the AFC’s answer to the NFC East and should be treated in the same manner. One team will, largely through contractual obligation, win the division and probably save their coach’s job. With the other three, all bets are off. To whit:
Bill O’Brien (Houston)
O’Brien has the Texans playing better over the second half of the season. They’re probably better positioned to win the division than anyone else. If they should somehow fail (not inconceivable, mind you) O’Brien may have still have done enough to save himself. He’s about the only one in the division who has.
Chuck Pagano (Indianapolis)
Pagano has been on the hot seat from very early on, mainly because he gets along with GM Ryan Grigson about as well as Sideshow Bob gets along with rakes. Reportedly, both Pagano and Grigson are on the outs with Colts owner/prescription medication fan Jim Irsay. Irsay has three possible scenarios in front of him. Fire Grigson and keep Pagano, fire Pagano and keep Grigson or fire them both. Sadly, only the last two options seem workable. GMs tend to want to hire their own coach, so there’s no point in keeping Pagano and not Grigson. Don’t feel too bad for Pagano, though. He’s well liked around the league and has generally done sterling work for the Colts. He’ll get another head coaching job, probably in this round of the coaching carousel.
Gus Bradley (Jacksonville)
Bradley’s situation might be the most fluid. Yes, the Jags are guaranteed a third straight losing season under Bradley. But their current five wins exceeds the win total in either of Bradley’s first two seasons (not exactly a high bar) and they still have an outside shot at winning the division (ditto on the low bar thing.) If the Jags win their last two, or even one of their last two, Bradley could point to a three or four game improvement in the win column, a handful of close losses and some exciting young players as a reason to bring him back. However, if the Jags lose their last two, a 5-11 record and a cumulative win-loss record of 10-36 over three seasons would probably spell Bradley’s doom.
Mike Mularky (Tennessee)
Like Dan Campbell, Mularky’s holding down a job he doesn’t have on a permanent basis. The Titans were 1-6 when head coach Ken Whisenhunt was tossed out of the canoe on November 3. Since Mularky took over, they’ve gone 2-5. So not exactly a turnaround worthy of Bill Parcells. Mularky’s had previous head coaching gigs in Buffalo and Atlanta. Neither lasted long or went particularly well. He’s a respected coordinator who seems to have that Norv Turner/Wade Phillips conundrum of finding a head coaching job one step above his pay grade. I suspect the Titans will look elsewhere for a more permanent solution.
Mike McCoy (San Diego)
McCoy has a few factors working against him. This 4-10 (and counting) stink bomb of a season follows a couple of uninspiring 9-7 campaigns. McCoy’s a solid coach, but it’s becoming harder to believe he’s going to turn the Chargers around. And showing patience with him only wastes another year in the career of Philip Rivers, one of the NFL’s best QBs. On top of that, the Chargers are one of roughly 17 NFL franchises that plan to play in Los Angeles next year. They might want a new coach promising a new era in order to win over their new fan base. In which case, McCoy gets thrown overboard for a sexier hire (although, given that owner Alex Spanos was too cheap to thrown in the Chargers’ fair share to replace antiquated Qualcomm Stadium, it’s hard to believe he’ll break the bank on a new hire.) Stay tuned…
The Dropkick Murphys (Stoner) vs Peyton’s Heroes (Carol)