Fantasy football proved, once again this week, that it is a harsh mistress. (Carol thinks it’s sexist when I say that, but when she’s gone 9-3 with a team that by all rights should be 4-8, there’s no way in hell I’m calling fantasy football a “harsh mister”. Not that I am bitter.) I managed to pull out a win over Jack (one I had to sweat out despite brilliant performances by Ezekiel Elliot and Antonio Brown on Thanksgiving) and clinched at least a winning season. That celebration was short-lived when I looked at the standings and realized there is a possibility I could wind up in a five-way tie for one of the final four playoff spots. Seriously, there could be five teams tied at 7-6. I don’t even know how to break that damn thing. I’m going to get to work on it when I’m done with this column. (Actually, I’m going to feed the cats, grab another cup of coffee, call my ex-girlfriend Toni and see if she’s willing to give me back that book I loaned her even though there’s a 99% percent chance she took a pair of scissors to the damn thing because she’s pissed that I didn’t drop the remainder of my life to devote my every waking hour to her…perhaps I’ve said too much. But anyway, THEN I’m going to get to work on that tie-breaker.)
Of course, I could short-circuit all kvetching about the tie by simply winning my last game and clinching a playoff spot. When I brought this up to Mike (my opponent for next week and someone who’s off-the-charts bitter about how his season has gone) I made the mistake of telling him that, playoff-wise, I control my own destiny. He snorted and replied:
“Dude, it’s fantasy football. NOBODY controls their own destiny!”
Sigh. I really have to wonder why I keep doing this to myself..
AWARDS FROM THE COMMISH
FANTASY OWNER OF THE WEEK: Hal
While the overall playoff race is a bit of a mess, the division championships are not. In fact, both were decided this week. As pointed out above, I’m not inclined to give a big pat on the back to Carol’s UNBELIEVABLE run of sheer, unadulterated, proof-that-there-is-no-law-or-order-in-the-universe good luck. Hal, on the other hand, has steadily improved his team over the course of the season. At this point, he’s got Aaron Rodgers as his cornerstone, the ability to rotate David Johnson, Latavius Murray and DeMarco Murray through his RB lineup and a WR rotation that includes Emmanuel Sanders, Delanie Walker, Jordy Nelson, Willie Snead and, when he feels like showing up, Sammy Watkins. He’s quietly laid waste to everybody he’s run across in recent weeks and has to be considered the overwhelming favorite going into the playoffs. And if you think I’m saying all this to jinx Hal into losing a playoff game to some schlub whose lineup is a fantasy team in name-only, well, you get me. You really get me.
FANTASY PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Antonio Brown
The Steelers receiver crapped all over Indianapolis’ Thanksgiving by scoring 3 TDs, racking up 91 yards and unleashing at least 72 penalty-inducing celebrations. While there’s plenty of discussion about how the NFL has clamped down on such celebrations, the rules are, for the moment, still the rules and Brown isn’t doing a particularly effective job of playing by them. So much so that Ben Roethlisberger said in a radio interview that Brown needs to knock it off. Yeah, when BEN F**KING ROETHLISBERGER is telling you to keep it classy, you may have to get your act together.
THE ONION “MAN LOSES COWARDLY BATTLE WITH CANCER” AWARD: T.J.
At some point in every fantasy season, a participant faces the bitter reality that they’re not going to make the playoffs. The challenge, of course, is to keep such a person engaged so that they don’t become the walkover that inadvertently affects the playoff race. While we’ve done a decent job of weeding out that type of player, there’s still a slip up from time to time. T.J.’s status in the league is certainly not in jeopardy, but one senses he’s making less and less effort to bust his hump regarding his lineup. This week, T.J. left in Jacquizz Rogers, who’s been inactive since the original 90210 was on the air. It might not have made a difference (there’s still the nagging problem of the rest of T.J.’s lineup) but it felt an awful lot like waving the white flag. Here’s hoping this little box on the ears brings him around. (Y’know what? I just looked at the schedule and saw he’s playing Hal, so the game will have no effect on the playoffs. Hey, T.J.? Just go ahead and pack it in. We’ll see you at the draft.)
ASSCLOWN OF THE WEEK: Jim Harbaugh
Going slightly off the beaten path and into college football, but Harbaugh is a former NFL coach and (allegedly) player so I’ll allow it. Harbaugh, who appears to be trying to morph into his old coach Bo Schembechler, and his Michigan team lost an instant classic to bitter rival Ohio State on Saturday. In fact, “bitter” would be the exact word to describe Harbaugh, as he used it himself after the game.
“Two penalties called all day [on Ohio State],” Harbaugh said. “Multiple holding penalties let go, multiple false starts. The official on my side, who is supposed to be watching that, is concerned about whether our coaches are in the [coaches’ box] or not. Their coaches were on the field, practically in the huddle at times.
Harbaugh went on to complain about the spot of the ball that allowed Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett to (barely) keep the game alive on a fourth-and-short in overtime. Meanwhile, Harbaugh conveniently ignored how his team consistently let Ohio State back into the game despite dominating it for three quarters. There was no mention that at the end of regulation and into overtime, the Michigan defense couldn’t do much more than wave in the general direction of most OSU ballcarriers. Or how Harbaugh himself got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after being repeatedly warned not to throw things on the field. As always, there’s the possibility that the officials were a little one-sided. Or maybe-juuuuuuuuust maybe-the team whose coach, Urban Meyer, is a model of self-restraint played with a little more discipline than the team whose coach never misses an opportunity to look like a raving lunatic.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK, Part 1- Andy Reid
After his Chiefs pulled out an INSANE victory on Sunday night (more on this later), Reid had this to say: “Luck of the Irish. Even though I’m Scottish, I’ll take it.”
The Lucky Charms leprechaun then came out and beat Reid half-to-death with a shillelagh.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK, Part 2- Robbie
In last week’s column, I mentioned how Robbie got a tad chesty when his Vikings won for the first time since mid-October. This week, after the Packers demolished Philadelphia and the Vikings found yet another way to lose (this time to the Lions), Robbie had this to say:
You da man, Robbie. You da man.
GREGORY HINES DOUBLE BIRD AWARD: Sean Payton
As you may recall, the Saints and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a rather messy falling out in 2012. This revolved around the Bountygate scandal in which the Saints, after the promise of fabulous cash-and-prizes from Williams, tried none-too-subtly to paralyze then-Vikings QB Brett Favre in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. Williams, facing a lifetime ban from the NFL, did the only honorable thing he could do: he ratted out everybody in the Saints organization like the squealing p**ck he is. This week, Williams, now consigned to coaching the Rams defense (not to be confused with an actual NFL defense), faced his former boss in Saints’ head coach Sean Payton. After the Saints had already delivered a Sonny Corleone-level beatdown to the Rams’ D, Payton, in the waning minutes of the game, called a trick play that resulted in yet another Saints TD. It pushed the score from 42-21 to 49-21 and was the equivalent of Payton doing this to Williams:
(In or out of context, that clip NEVER fails to make me laugh.)
And finally, in honor of Jon Stewart (Jon, we need you right now, brother) I give you…
YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN: Gary Kubiak and The Great Coaching Conundrum
The Sunday night tilt between the Chiefs and the Broncos was everything you could ask for: a back and forth battle between two division rivals, a late TD-and-two-point-conversion comeback by the Chiefs and the craziest field goal you’ll ever see as time expired in OT. And best of all, no Al Michaels.
The biggest talking point to emerge from the game was Broncos coach Gary Kubiak’s decision to try a 62 yard field goal with a little more than a minute to go in OT. Denver K Brandon McManus shanked the kick and left the Chiefs with a short field, more than a minute to go and a timeout in their pocket. That Chiefs’ K Cairo Santos bounced the winning field goal off the upright and THROUGH (an occurrence that’s as rare as the Elephant Man landing a date) got less press than Kubiak’s decision to try and win the game.
Certainly, it wasn’t an easy call. NOT going for the field goal would have been the equivalent of playing for a tie, since the Broncos didn’t have enough time or timeouts left to hope they could get the ball back. And there was no guarantee the Chiefs couldn’t move into field goal range, even with a longer field to negotiate. Chiefs coach Andy Reid, though the ultimate beneficiary of the decision, said there was really no right call. (Although one would have to consider the source there. Reid is a great coach in many respects, but when it comes to managing late game situations, it’s a bit like leaving Spongebob Squarepants in charge of your nuclear arsenal.) For his part, Kubiak told his team it was the sort of decision he would make every time; that it was simply how he played the game.
And that, ultimately, is all you can ask. Some situations really, truly are no-win deals. It’s the sort of thing that causes the talking heads to say, “Well, if it works, you look like a genius. If it fails, you look like an idiot.” (Of course, they’ll say this WHILE calling a coach a genius or an idiot based strictly on the outcome of the decision.) The only metric one can use to potentially determine the rightness or wrongness of a decision lies in the nature of the coach. Here’s a couple examples that illustrate what I mean:
1, Rose Bowl, 2006, USC vs Texas. USC has a 38-33 lead with just over two minutes to go. They’re facing a fourth-and-inches at the Texas 45 and Texas is out of timeouts. If USC can convert the fourth down, the game is essentially over. USC coach Pete Carroll decides to go for it. And the worst case scenario unfolds for USC. They’re stopped short, Texas takes the ball down and scores to win the national championship. Carroll’s decision to go for it is widely debated.
WHY IT WAS GOOD CALL: Pete Carroll is nothing if not a river boat gambler (and a coward and a cheat, but that’s a different story.) Put him in that situation a hundred times and he’ll decide to go for it every time. He’s an aggressive coach. With a chance to convert a short fourth down and end the game, going for it was COMPLETELY in his nature.
2, National Championship Game, 2007, Ohio State vs Florida. Ohio State took an early lead when Ted Ginn took the opening kickoff back for a TD. However, Florida took control of the game after that. Down by 10 in the second quarter and facing a fourth-and-1 on his own 29, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel decided to go for the first down. OSU came up short and Florida marched in for a TD en route to putting the game away.
WHY IT WAS A BAD CALL: Jim Tressel was every bit as conservative as the sweater vest he wore would indicate. Going for it somewhat deep in his own territory was definitely NOT in his nature. If he’d been chugging a bottle of Yukon Jack while phoning a prostitute, it would not have been more out of character. Even if the Buckeyes had converted the fourth down, Tressel still would have sent the message that he was panicking; that the biggest game of the year was slipping away from his team before they’d even reached halftime.
There’s also a third variety of coach, one who never establishes ANY consistency in this category. Former Vikings coach Brad Childress was the poster boy for this. You never knew WHAT Childress was going to do in a crucial situation. Everything up to and including sending his players into the stands with folding chairs was on the table. This coach is almost ALWAYS going to get it wrong.
So, without going into the long Scorpion-and-the-Frog story, the only thing you can judge a coach by is his nature. As long as you know what to expect, you really can’t be let down, regardless of the results.
Won’t stop you from bitching, though, will it?
-xBrian’s Song (Carol) 9-3
War Machine (Jack) 7-5
The Rat Pack (Me) 7-5
Teddy’s ACL (Robbie) 6-6
The Winter Soldiers (Mike) 3-9
-xThe Electric Mayhem (Hal) 9-3
The Dropkick Murphys (Stoner) 7-5
The Flaming Envelopes (Lars) 6-6
The Jock Sniffers (T.J.) 3-9
Chuck (Chuck) 3-9
-x = clinched division