Saturday, February 6, 2016

Super Bowl 50 Prediction

Conference Championship Picks: 1-1 (Correct: Panthers Incorrect: Patriots)
Overall Playoff Record: 6-4

Carolina Panthers over Denver Broncos: For the second time in three years, the top-ranked scoring offense (Panthers) will be facing off against the top-ranked scoring defense (Broncos) in the Super Bowl. Fans and media members across the country seem to think the Broncos- who were involved in the last Super Bowl clash between the top-ranked offense and defense- are going to get manhandled like they did against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. While I think that the Panthers will come out on top, I think the people that are predicting them to win by 30+ points are out of their goddamn minds. This might be hard for some people to grasp, but this isn't the same Broncos team that lost 43-8 to the Seahawks two years ago. The 2013 Broncos defense was vastly inferior to the current incarnation and star outside linebacker Von Miller missed Super Bowl XLVIII with a torn ACL. If the Broncos defense surrenders 40+ points and/or loses by four or more touchdowns with a healthy Miller, Chris Harris Jr, DeMarcus Ware and Brandon Marshall in the lineup, everything I thought I knew about the game of football was wrong.

What Super Bowl 50 is going to come down to is how well the Broncos defense can contain Cam Newton and if Peyton Manning has enough juice left in the tank to string together one last excellent performance before he retires. The Broncos proved two weeks ago against the Patriots that their defense can give elite offenses fits, but this field-stretching, unpredictable Panthers squad presents an entirely different set of challenges. The Panthers formidable rushing and efficient passing attack gives them one of the most balanced offenses in the league and Newton's ability to escape the pocket and makes plays with his legs makes him a tough matchup for any defense. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did a spectacular job coming up with creative, varied schemes to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots from getting into a comfortable rhythm and there's no doubt he'll need to have a lot of tricks up his sleeve to contain the Panthers lethal, multi-faceted offense.

As for Manning, he's surprised a lot of people (myself included) with his respectable playoff performances in the Broncos first two playoff games. Manning has accepted his physical limitations and embraced his new role as a game-manager, making mostly low-risk, short-to-medium throws and not hurting the team with costly turnovers. The problem is that while Manning has been decent over the past two games, decent isn't going to be enough to produce multiple scoring drives against the Panthers tough defense. The Panthers manhandled a far-superior Cardinals offense in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago, allowing just 15 points and manufacturing six takeaways and given the Broncos middling offensive production with Manning at the helm this season, it's hard to envision a situation where the Broncos put up more than 17-21 points. While a strong performance from Manning would certainly increase the chances of the Broncos coming in and pulling off the upset, the success or failure of the Broncos offense could very well lie on the shoulders of their erratic running back tandem of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. The Panthers rush defense has been a bit vulnerable of late and if Anderson and/or Hillman can get going, this offense could end up overachieving. The Broncos have a championship-caliber that is capable of taking over games and are going to be hellbent on helping Manning end his career on the highest possible note, but I believe the Panthers collective offensive and defensive prowess will ultimately be enough to earn them their first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

2015 NFL Year-End Awards+Hall of Fame Predictions+Other Fun NFL Year-End Garbage

The NFL will be handing out their year-end awards and announcing the 2016 Hall of Fame Class Saturday night at the NFL Honors ceremony in San Francisco, California. In the spirit of the season, here are my personal picks for all of the major awards as well as my All-Pro teams, predictions for who will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame and other miscellaneous year-end football lists.

MVP: Cam Newton, quarterback (Panthers)
Old farts and football purists who want the NFL to go back to the days where quarterbacks were exclusively pocket passers will argue that Tom Brady or Carson Palmer deserves this award, but as far I'm concerned, Cam Newton was the best player in the NFL this season by a wide margin. Newton spent 2015 silencing any of the critics who believed that he couldn't be an elite quarterback in this league. While his unique dual-threat skill set (he rushed and passed for a combined total of 4,472 yards and 45 TD) got more attention than ever this season, it was Newton's ability to consistently make plays in key situations (ex: the two 90+ yard fourth quarter TD drives he produced in a comeback victory over the Seahawks in October) and transform an offense full of mostly average skill-position players into one of the most potent units in the NFL that made his 2015 season one for the annals. 
Honorable Mentions: Carson Palmer (Cardinals), Tom Brady (Patriots), Antonio Brown (Steelers)

Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, wide receiver (Steelers)
This was easily the hardest award for me to determine a winner for. There was a number of guys (Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Adrian Peterson, Odell Beckham Jr.) who managed to put up eye-popping numbers under difficult circumstances and would be more than deserving recipients for this award. However in this crowded field of contenders, I have to give the edge to Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Brown was able to overcome playing with three different quarterbacks and facing near-constant double coverage to set career highs in receptions (136) and yards (1,834) for a third straight year. There's no shortage of game-breaking receivers in the NFL right now, but Brown's flawless route running and tendency to make even the best corners look like bumbling morons (the beatdown he put on Broncos slot corner Chris Harris Jr. in Week 16 was unreal) puts him firmly at the top of the pack.
Honorable Mentions: Julio Jones (Falcons), Adrian Peterson (Vikings), DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)

Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle (Rams)
In 2014, Aaron Donald put together a very impressive season and ended up winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. In 2015, he proved that he's one of the most dominant defensive players in the league. Donald was a virtual unblockable menace in the middle of the defensive line picking up 11 sacks (tied for eight most in the league), 79 QB pressures and 51 run stops on the year. Take note football fans because I firmly believe that we just witnessed the birth of the NFL's next transcendent defensive superstar.
Honorable Mentions: Luke Kuchely (Panthers), Khalil Mack (Raiders), J.J. Watt (Texans)  

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley, running back (Rams)
It's been a long time since I've seen a rookie running back come in and dominate from the jump the way that  Todd Gurley did in 2015. In just 13 games, Gurley managed to finish in the top five in the league in rushing yards (1,106), touchdowns (10), runs of 20 yards or more (11) and yards per attempt among backs that had 150 carries or more (4.8). Gurley's magnificent 2015 campaign wholeheartedly proves that no matter how much teams in the modern NFL romanticize the passing game, there will be always be a place for bellcow running backs in this league. 
Honorable Mentions: Jameis Winston (Buccaneers), Amari Cooper (Raiders), David Johnson (Cardinals)

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ronald Darby, cornerback (Bills)
It's insane how much being on a mediocre team effects your ability to get into the spotlight. If any cornerback on a title-contending team held A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. to under 40 yards receiving in the same season, you would hear all about it, but since Ronald Darby played for a .500 team with a grossly underperforming defense, his outstanding rookie campaign went largely unnoticed. Darby's instincts, physicality and ability to instantaneously adjust to the speed of the game at the professional level  allowed him to bypass the traditionally steep learning curve for rookie corners and be one of the most consistently dominant players at his position in 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Leonard Williams (Jets), Marcus Peters (Chiefs), Adrian Amos (Bears)

Comeback Player of the Year: Eric Berry, safety (Chiefs)
This pick was a no-brainer. Less than a year after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, Berry returned to the field and put together the most impressive season (61 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 2 INT's) of his storied six-year career. Berry's warrior mentality and determination to return to the field stronger than ever after beating cancer embodies everything the comeback player of the year award is supposed to represent.    
Honorable Mentions: Carson Palmer (Cardinals), Derrick Johnson (Chiefs), Doug Martin (Buccaneers)

Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer (Vikings)
There's at least a half dozen coaches in the league that helped their team advance to the next level in 2015, but no one brought more positive change to their team than the Vikings' Mike Zimmer. Despite the frustrating inconsistency of their offense and dealing with a slew of key injuries on both sides of the ball, Zimmer was able to lead the Vikings to their first division title since 2009. Zimmer has turned a Vikings squad whose success was solely dictated by the play of Adrian Peterson under previous coach Leslie Frazier into a well-rounded, deep team with the toughness and tenacity to compete with just about any team in the league. If 2015 is any indicator, Zimmer will perennially have the Vikings at the top of the NFL hierarchy for years to come.
Honorable Mentions: Todd Bowles (Jets), Andy Reid (Chiefs), Jay Gruden (Redskins) 

Predictions for the 2016 NFL Hall of Class (*indicates a lock)
Terrell Davis, running back
Alan Fancea, guard
Brett Favre, quarterback*
Kevin Greene, outside linebacker/defensive end
Marvin Harrison, wide receiver
John Lynch, safety
Orlando Pace, tackle*
Ken Stabler, quarterback*

2015 All-Pro Teams:
Quarterback
1st team: Cam Newton (Panthers)
2nd team: Carson Palmer (Cardinals)

Running Back
1st team: Adrian Peterson (Vikings), Doug Martin (Buccaneers)
2nd team: Devonta Freeman (Falcons), Todd Gurley (Rams)

Fullback
1st team: Patrick DiMarco (Falcons)
2nd team: Mike Tolbert (Panthers)

Wide Receiver 
1st team: Julio Jones (Falcons), Antonio Brown (Steelers)
2nd team: DeAndre Hopkins (Texans), Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants)

Tight End
1st team: Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)
2nd team: Delanie Walker (Titans)

Tackle
1st team: Joe Thomas (Browns), Tyron Smith (Cowboys)
2nd team: Trent Williams (Redskins), Terron Armstead (Saints)

Guard
1st team: Marshal Yanda (Ravens), Richie Incognito (Bills)
2nd team: Zach Martin (Cowboys), David DeCastro (Steelers)

Center
1st team: Ryan Kalil (Panthers)
2nd team: Weston Richburg (Giants)

Defensive End
1st team: J.J. Watt (Texans), Cameron Jordan (Saints)
2nd team: Michael Bennett (Seahawks), Fletcher Cox (Eagles)

Defensive Tackle
1st team: Aaron Donald (Rams), Kawann Short (Panthers)
2nd team: Linval Joseph (Vikings), Geno Atkins (Bengals)

Inside Linebacker
1st team: Luke Kuechly (Panthers), Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
2nd team: Brandon Marshall (Broncos), NaVorro Bowman (49ers)

Outside Linebacker
1st team: Khalil Mack (Raiders), Von Miller (Broncos)
2nd team: Justin Houston (Chiefs), K.J. Wright (Seahawks)

Cornerback
1st team: Josh Norman (Panthers), Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
2nd team: Darius Slay (Lions), Chris Harris Jr. (Broncos)

Safety
1st team: Eric Berry (Chiefs), Tyrann Mathieu (Cardinals) 
2nd team: Harrison Smith (Vikings), Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles)

Kicker
1st team: Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)
2nd team: Dan Bailey (Cowboys)

Punter
1st team: Pat McAfee (Colts)
2nd team: Sam Koch (Ravens)

Return Specialists:
1st team: Cordarelle Patterson (Vikings)
2nd team: Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)

Top 10 Best Players by Position:
Quarterback
10.Derek Carr (Raiders)
9.Eli Manning (Giants)
8.Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
7.Drew Brees (Saints)
6.Andy Dalton (Bengals)
5.Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
4.Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
3.Tom Brady (Patriots)
2.Carson Palmer (Cardinals)
1.Cam Newton (Panthers)

Running Back
10.David Johnson (Cardinals)
9.Mark Ingram (Saints)
8.Le'Veon Bell (Steelers)
7.LeSean McCoy (Bills)
6.DeAngelo Williams (Steelers)

5.Jonathan Stewart (Panthers)
4.Devonta Freeman (Falcons)
3.Todd Gurley (Rams)
2.Doug Martin (Buccaneers)
1.Adrian Peterson (Vikings) 

Wide Receiver
10.Steve Smith Sr. (Ravens)
9.Doug Baldwin (Seahawks)
8.Alshon Jeffrey (Bears)
7.Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)
6.Brandon Marshall (Jets)
5.Allen Robinson (Jaguars)
4.Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants)
3.DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)
2.Antonio Brown (Steelers)
1.Julio Jones (Falcons) 
    
Tight End
10.Antonio Gates (Chargers)
9.Zach Ertz (Eagles)
8.Jimmy Graham (Seahawks)
7.Travis Kelce (Chiefs)
6.Gary Barnidge (Browns)
5.Greg Olsen (Panthers)
4.Tyler Eifert (Bengals)
3.Jordan Reed (Redskins)
2.Delanie Walker (Titans)
1.Rob Gronkowski (Patriots)


Tackle
10.Donald Penn (Raiders)
9.Jared Veldheer (Cardinals)
8.Joe Staley (49ers)
7.Jason Peters (Eagles)
6.Cordy Glenn (Bills)
5.Andrew Whitworth (Bengals)
4.Terron Armstead (Saints)
3.Trent Williams (Redskins)
2.Tyron Smith (Cowboys)
1.Joe Thomas (Browns)

Guard
10.Jack Mewhort (Colts)
9.Gabe Jackson (Raiders)
8.Josh Sitton (Packers)

7.Mike Iupati (Cardinals)
6.Trai Turner (Panthers)
5.Kevin Zeitler (Bengals)
4.David DeCastro (Steelers)
3.Zach Martin (Cowboys)
2.Richie Incognito (Bills)
1.Marshal Yanda (Ravens)


Center
10.Alex Mack (Browns)
9.Rodney Hudson (Raiders)
8.Stefen Wisnewski (Jaguars)
7.Mike Pouncey (Dolphins)
6.Max Unger (Saints)
5.Eric Wood (Bills)
4.Joe Berger (Vikings)

3.Travis Fredrick (Cowboys)
2.Weston Richburg (Giants)
1.Ryan Kalil (Panthers) 

Defensive End
10.Chandler Jones (Patriots)
9.Derek Wolfe (Broncos)
8.Cliff Avril (Seahawks)
7.Ezekiel Ansah (Lions)
6.Oliver Vernon (Dolphins)
5.Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets)
4.Fletcher Cox (Eagles)
3.Michael Bennett (Seahawks)
2.Cameron Jordan (Saints)
1.J.J. Watt (Texans) 

Defensive Tackle
10.Dan Williams (Raiders)
9.Jurell Casey (Titans)
8.Brandon Williams (Ravens)
7.Damon Harrison (Jets)
6.Mike Daniels (Packers)
5.Ndamukong Suh (Dolphins)
4.Linval Joseph (Vikings)
3.Geno Atkins (Bengals)
2.Kawann Short (Panthers)
1.Aaron Donald (Rams)

Outside Linebacker
10.Thomas Davis (Panthers)
9.Dont'a Hightower (Patriots)
8.DeMarcus Ware (Broncos)

7.Anthony Barr (Vikings)
6.Pernell McPhee (Bears)

5.Tamba Hali (Chiefs)
4.K.J. Wright (Seahawks)
3.Justin Houston (Chiefs)
2.Von Miller (Broncos)
1.Khalil Mack (Raiders)

Inside Linebacker
10.Jordan Hicks (Eagles)
9.Daryl Smith (Ravens)
8.Bobby Wagner (Seahawks)
7.Danny Trevathan (Broncos)
6.Sean Lee (Cowboys)
5.Jerrell Freeman (Colts)
4.NaVorro Bowman (49ers)
3.Brandon Marshall (Broncos)
2.Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
1.Luke Kuechly (Panthers)


Cornerback
10.Stephon Gilmore (Bills)
9.Jason Verrett (Chargers)

8.Richard Sherman (Seahawks)
7.Adam Jones (Bengals)
6.Jonathan Joseph (Texans)
5.Ronald Darby (Bills)
4.Chris Harris Jr. (Broncos)
3.Darius Slay (Lions)
2.Patrick Peterson (Cardinals)
1.Josh Norman (Panthers)

Safety
10.Kurt Coleman (Panthers)
9.Darian Stewart (Broncos)
8.Devin McCourty (Patriots)
7.Morgan Burnett (Packers)
6.Reshad Jones (Dolphins)
5.Earl Thomas (Seahawks)
4.Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles)
3.Harrison Smith (Vikings)
2.Tyrann Matheiu (Cardinals)
1.Eric Berry (Chiefs)


Kicker
10.Blair Walsh (Vikings)
9.Steven Hasuchka (Seahawks)
8.Josh Brown (Giants)
7.Graham Gano (Panthers)
6.Chris Boswell (Steelers)
5.Brandon McManus (Broncos)
4.Cairo Santos (Chiefs)
3.Justin Tucker (Ravens)
2.Dan Bailey (Cowboys)
1.Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) 

Punter
10.Marquette King (Raiders)
9.Sam Martin (Lions)
8.Donnie Jones (Eagles)
7.Brett Kern (Titans)
6.Chris Jones (Cowboys)
5.Matt Bosher (Falcons)
4.Dustin Colquitt (Chiefs)
3.Johnny Hekker (Rams)
2.Sam Koch (Ravens)
1.Pat McAfee (Colts)


Miscellaneous Awards
Top 10 Rookies
10.Jordan Hicks, inside linebacker (Eagles) 
9.Marcus Peters, cornerback (Chiefs)
8.Adrian Amos, safety (Bears)
7.Tyler Lockett, wide receiver (Seahawks)
6.David Johnson, running back (Cardinals)

5.Amari Cooper, wide receiver (Raiders)
4.Leonard Williams, defensive end (Jets)
3.Jameis Winston, quarterback (Buccaneers)
2.Ronald Darby, cornerback (Bills)
1.Todd Gurley, running back (Rams)

Top 10 Rookie Disappointments
10.Jalen Collins, cornerback (Falcons)
9.John Miller, guard (Bills) 
8.Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver (Titans)
7.Landon Collins, safety (Giants)
6.Cameron Erving, guard (Browns)
5.Ereck Flowers, tackle (Giants) 
4.Devin Funchess, wide receiver (Panthers)
3.Ameer Abdullah, running back (Lions)
2.Nelson Agholor, wide receiver (Eagles)
1.Melvin Gordon, running back (Chargers)

Top 10 Breakout Players
10.Delvin Breaux, cornerback (Saints)
9.Tyrod Taylor, quarterback (Bills)
8.Weston Richburg, center (Giants)
7.Jason Verrett, cornerback (Chargers)
6.Gary Barnidge, tight end (Browns)
5.Anthony Barr, outside linebacker (Vikings)
4.Tyler Eifert, tight end (Bengals)
3.Devonta Freeman, running back (Falcons)
2.Derek Carr, quarterback (Raiders)
1.Allen Robinson, wide receiver (Jaguars)

Top 10 Underperforming Players

10.Randall Cobb, wide receiver (Packers)
9.Ryan Tannehill, quarterback (Dolphins)
8.Andre Johnson, wide receiver (Colts)
7.Antonio Cromartie, cornerback (Jets)
6.Jimmy Smith, cornerback (Ravens)
5.Nick Foles, quarterback (Rams)
4.Byron Maxwell, cornerback (Eagles)
3.DeMarco Murray, running back (Eagles)
2.Jeremy Hill, running back (Bengals)
1.Eddie Lacy, running back (Packers)

5 Biggest Surprise Teams:
1.Redskins
2.Chiefs
3.Jets
4.Raiders 
5.Texans

5 Biggest Underachieving Teams:
1.Colts
2.Dolphins
3.Bills
4.Eagles
5.Rams

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Best and Worst of George Clooney

The "Best and Worst" series profiles the best and worst work of an actor starring in one of the week's new theatrical releases. This week I take a look at the filmography of "Hail, Caesar!" star George Clooney.

Films starring George Clooney that I've seen:
Batman & Robin
The Thin Red Line
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut 
Three Kings
The Perfect Storm
O, Brother Where Art Thou?
Ocean's Eleven
Ocean's Twelve
Michael Clayton
Ocean's Thirteen
Burn After Reading
Up in the Air 
The Ides of March
The Descendants 
Gravity
The Monuments Men
Tommorowland

Best Performance: The Descendants (2011)
Despite being one of the most powerful figures in all of Hollywood, I feel Clooney doesn't get nearly enough props for his acting chops. The strongest evidence of his immense talent came in his highly complex role in Alexander Payne's excellent dramedy The Descendants. Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaii-based attorney whose life is turned upside down when he simultaneously finds out that a boating accident has left his wife in coma and that she was having an affair with the real estate agent (Matthew Lillard) that was tasked with selling the valuable piece of land his family owns. Clooney captures the variety of emotions that overcome his character in a very genuine, believable way and his vulnerable performance is the primary reason the film's balance between offbeat comedy and heavy melodrama manages to work so well.  

Worst Performance: Batman & Robin (1997)
Let's get real here, Clooney is hardly the worst thing about Joel Schumacher's idiotic and overly silly take on the Batman universe, but there's no other movie in his filmography where his trademark charisma doesn't flash through for even a millisecond. Clooney chose to play it straight while all of his co-stars were redefining over-the-top acting and it leads to a performance that is just straight-up lifeless.  

Best Film: Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Steven Soderbergh has made multiple films with more depth and lasting impact than Ocean's Eleven, but he's never made anything else that anywhere near as fun. The ensemble cast made up almost exclusively of Hollywood A-listers all kill their respective roles and the climatic heist sequence is cinematic magic at its finest. I can say without hesitation that Ocean's Eleven is one of the most purely entertaining and endlessly rewatchable movies I've ever seen.
 
Worst Film: Tommorowland (2015)
The impressive six-film hot streak Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredible, Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol) started his directional career on came to a screeching halt with the misguided sci-fi "epic" Tommorowland. The film's message of being optimistic about the future is admirable, but when that message comes in a film that contains a wildly incoherent story and about as much intrigue and excitement as a marathon of Antiques Roadshow, it loses all of its effectiveness.  

Thank you for reading this week's installment of "The Best and Worst of". Next week, I'll take a look at the best and worst work of Zoolander 2" star Ben Stiller.     

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

2015 NFL Recap: AFC North

My Preseason Projections:
1.Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
2.Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)
3.Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
   4.Cleveland Browns (5-11) 

Actual Standings:
1.Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
2.Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
3.Baltimore Ravens (5-11)
4.Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Baltimore Ravens:
Team MVP's: G Marshal Yanda, S Will Hill, WR Steve Smith Sr., DT Brandon Williams, WR Kamar Aiken
-No team in recent NFL history has been hit harder with injuries than the 2015 Baltimore Ravens. By the time their bye week rolled around in Week 9, they had already lost leading wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., defensive leader Terrell Suggs and 2015 first-round pick Bershad Perriman to season-ending injuries. The injury situation somehow managed to get even worse after the bye as starting quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, left tackle Eugene Monroe and center Jeremy Zuttah all went down for the year between Week 10 and Week 12. The Ravens may be one of the well-coached and collectively talented teams in the league, but there's just no way you can lose that many key contributors and still go onto have a successful season.

-Despite the abundance of injuries that derailed their hopes of returning to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens remained pretty competitive throughout the season. With the exception of two lopsided December losses to the Seahawks and Chiefs that occurred while quarterback virtuoso Jimmy Clausen was running the show, all of their losses were decided by eight points or less. Staying this competitive with an injury-depleted roster speaks volumes for the tenacity and mental toughness of this team and it will be a huge shock if this team doesn't return to their perennial title-contending form with a healthy squad in 2016.

-Even with the return of top corner Jimmy Smith from injury, the Ravens secondary struggled yet again this season. Smith did not look like even half the player he was before he broke his foot last season, Lardarius Webb looked better at safety then he did at corner the past few years, but his played remained wildly inconsistent and all three veteran newcomers (Kyle Arrington, Kendrick Lewis and Shareece Wright) failed to make much of an impact. With the exception of strong safety Will Hill- who quietly put together another excellent season in 2015- and Smith, the Ravens need to nuke this unit in the offseason and bring in new starters if they want to avoid having a terrible secondary for a third straight year.

-The one area where this Ravens squad did not suffer any loss of production was in their run defense. Brandon Williams is quite possibly the most underrated nose tackle in the NFL and Daryl Smith continues to be one of most instinctive and sure-tackling inside linebackers in the league at age 33. If inside linebacker C.J. Mosley can return to his Pro Bowl/All-Pro form of 2014 and young defensive ends Carl Davis and Timmy Jernigan can continue to improve their game, this Ravens front should continue to excel at stopping the run for a very long time.

-Third-year wideout Kamar Aiken was the unsung hero of the 2015 Ravens. Aiken took advantage of his opportunity to be the number one wide receiver by putting up consistently solid numbers (he had at least 50 yards in 11 of 16 games this year) with a whopping four different quarterbacks at the helm and is almost solely responsible for keeping this offense afloat amidst all the injuries they suffered. It's doubtful that Aiken will continue to start with Smith and Perriman-their presumed top receiver of the future-tentatively set to return to the fold in 2016, but he should continue to be a valuable contributor to this offense for the next several years.      

Cincinnati Bengals:
Team MVP's: QB Andy Dalton, DT Geno Atkins, T Andrew Whitworth, WR A.J. Green, G Kevin Zeitler 
-With the exception of their traditional playoff meltdown, this was a completely different Bengals team than we've seen in the past few years. They played with a ton of grit on both sides of the ball, fought well through adversity and demonstrated their ability to compete with any team in the league when they're firing on all cylinders. They're definitely a team to keep an eye on going into 2016.

-Even if you're the biggest Andy Dalton hater in southwest Ohio, you have to be encouraged by what you saw from him this season. He showed substantial improvement while throwing under pressure and in his decisionmaking and for the first time in his career, demonstrated an ability to put the team on his back in critical situations (i.e the remarkable 17-point fourth-quarter comeback he led against the Seahawks in Week 5). Dalton looked like a legitimate franchise quarterback in 2015 and if he continues to improve his game, the Bengals are bound to snap their playoff woes in the very near future.

-On the other side of the coin, it's alarming how much Jeremy Hill regressed in his second NFL season. The powerful, patient rusher that took the league by storm in 2014 was replaced by a jumpy, weak back who couldn't sniff out a hole if his life depended on it. The organization better hope this is merely a sophomore slump and not a permanent drop in production for Hill because their number two back Giovani Bernard, while talented and ridiculously explosive, doesn't have the durability or skill set to be the bellcow in this run-heavy offense.

-After beginning his career with two injury-shortened seasons, tight end Tyler Eifert finally proved his worth in 2015. The former first-round pick emerged as a deadly redzone target (13 TD's in 13 games) and was largely responsible for the Bengals finishing the year with the sixth-best redzone efficiency in the league. His injury history is definitely a concern (he once again proved his brittleness by hurting his foot in the Pro Bowl last Sunday), but there's no denying that Eifert's size and knack for making bigtime catches gives him the potential to be one of the league's most productive tight end's moving forward.

-Having a fully healthy Geno Atkins in the lineup for 16 games did wonders for this defense. Atkins complete and total domination on the interior of the defensive line allowed this defense to regain the edge they lacked in 2014 while he was recovering from a torn ACL. The differences in stats between 2014 with a banged-up Atkins in the lineup and 2015 with Atkins at 100% are absolutely mind-boggling. In 2014, the Bengals defense finished 32nd in sacks, 20th against the run and 12th in points per game allowed. In 2015, they finished 10th in sacks,7th against the run and 2nd in points per game allowed. Atkins is the rare game-changing defensive player whose presence brings the best out of everyone around him.

-I'm completely and utterly baffled by how the Bengals secondary was able to perform at such a high level this season. Three of their four starters (cornerbacks Adam Jones and Leon Hall and strong safety Reggie Nelson) are well into their 30's yet still managed to serve as key contributors for this resurgent defense. Ironically, it was the young corners (Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard) that ended up making the Bengals secondary somewhat vulnerable overall. Kirkpatick- who was a first round pick in 2012-continues to get torched almost every time opposing offenses target his side of the field and has no business starting on this defense while Dennard's early-career trajectory of poor play and constant injuries is looking eerily similar to that of certified bust Kirkpatrick. While the deficiencies of their young players prevented this secondary from being one of the league's best units, Jones, Hall and Nelson deserve a lot of credit for proving a lot of skeptical analysts that wrote them off because of their age (myself included) wrong with their high level of play this year.
  
Cleveland Browns:
Team MVP's: T Joe Thomas, TE Gary Barnidge, T Mitchell Schwartz, C Alex Mack, ILB Karlos Dansby
-The Johnny Manziel experiment in Cleveland needs to end immediately. While he showed some flashes of real potential on the field this season, this kid is every bit the knucklehead many teams expected him to when he came out of Texas A&M in 2014. Any upside he has on-the-field is grossly outweighed by the distractions be brings off of it, especially for a team like the Browns the lacks veteran leadership and a stable infrastructure. If new head coach Hue Jackson and still-unnamed general manager have any sense, they'll cut ties with Manziel and acquire a new quarterback in the draft or free agency this offseason.

-Despite spending two of their early draft picks on rush-stuffing interior defenders (first-rounder Danny Shelton and third-rounder Xavier Cooper) to try and improve their bottom-ranked rush defense from a year ago, this Browns run defense was just as bad in 2015. The Browns allowed any running back that displayed an ounce of ability to gouge them, as they allowed an absurd average of 128.4 rushing yards per game (third-worst in the league). Their linebackers, save for Karlos Dansby, were collectively awful at diagnosing the run and tackling and Cooper graded out as the league's worst interior defensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus. Shelton showed enough flashes of potential in his rookie campaign to give the Browns hope for the future, but there's still no immediate solution in place to stop their run-stopping woes. 

-Mike Pettine certainly wasn't a great coach, but he's hardly to blame for the Browns trainwreck 2015 campaign. It's incredibly difficult to manufacture wins against quality competition (half of their games in 2015 were against teams that made the playoffs) with a team that has a leaky defense, an unstable quarterback situation and pretty much no playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Pettine is the merely the latest coach to be slaughtered by this severely unstable and arguably toxic organization and unless some drastic change in fortune occurs in the next few years, he certainly won't be the last.

-On an anemic offense that often had trouble getting the ball onto their opponents side of the field, tight end Gary Barnidge was a revelation. The 30-year old journeyman came out of nowhere to provide a playmaking spark for an offense that desperately needed it. It remains to be seen if Barnidge's high level of play this season was merely a fluke or if he's truly turned a corner in his eighth NFL season, but there's no denying that any success the Browns offense enjoyed in 2015 can almost solely be attributed to him.

-The Browns failures on both sides of the ball this season were hardly surprising given their general lack of talent. However, the awful play of cornerback Joe Haden was a complete and total shock. While the star corner missed all but five games this season with injury, he got flat-out destroyed in coverage every time he took the field. According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers' Antwon Blake and the Saints' Brandon Browner were the only corners that graded out worse than Haden in 2015. Haden's track record of consistency prior to this season and relatively young age (he'll be 27 in April) are enough to give him favorable odds of returning to lockdown form in 2016, but his awful play in 2015 has to leave the Browns organization and their fans at least somewhat concerned about his future. 

Pittsburgh Steelers:
Team MVP's: WR Antonio Brown, QB Ben Roethlisberger, DE Cameron Heyward, G David DeCastro, RB DeAngelo Williams 
-The debate is finally over. Antonio Brown has overtaken Calvin Johnson for the title of best receiver in the NFL. For the third consecutive year, Brown posted new career highs in receptions (136) and yards (1,834). Making these numbers even more impressive is the fact that Brown is posting them while facing near-constant double, triple and bracket coverage. I firmly believe that Brown would've shattered Johnson's single-season receiving yards record (1,964) if Ben Roethlisberger wasn't forced to miss four games with injury.

-The comeback of running back DeAngelo Williams is one of the best stories of the 2015 NFL season. The 32-year old-who had been deemed a has-been after three straight lackluster seasons with the Panthers-was thrust into the spotlight in relief of superstar back Le'Veon Bell on two separate occasions this season and delivered big time. Williams looked very good in the first two games of the year when Bell was serving a suspension, but he became unstoppable once Bell was lost for the year after suffering a torn MCL in Week 8 against the Bengals. Williams showed a burst and ability to shake defenders that he hasn't displayed since at least his Pro Bowl season in 2009, if not earlier. An ankle injury suffered early in the Steelers week 17 contest with the Browns put a damper on his fairy tale season and ended his quest to pick up his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2009, but it doesn't take away from how impressive and inspiring his improbable bounceback campaign was.

-Don't be fooled by his high INT total (16), Ben Roethlisberger was absolutely brilliant in 2015. Despite dealing with numerous injuries and a disappointing season from number two receiver Martavis Bryant,  Roethlisberger posted a career-high in completion percentage and his highest yards per attempt (8.4) since 2010. With the way Roethlisberger has played over the past few years and the young, core nucleus of this Steelers squad, I'd be very surprised if he didn't get this third Super Bowl ring within the next three or four seasons. 

-The Steelers surprisingly solid defense in 2015 can largely be attributed to the play of second-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Shazier was able to build upon the promise he showed in his injured-riddled rookie campaign by using his freakish athleticism and quickness to make plays from sideline-to-sideline while Tuitt remains a superb run-stuffer with the versatility and motor to get after the quarterback when called upon. If 2015 is any indication, Shazier and Tuitt will become cornerstones of this defense alongside established stars defensive end Cameron Heyward and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons in no time at all. 

-Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor must be sitting at home cringing at how weak the Steelers once-feared secondary has become. With the exception of excellent slot corner Ross Cockrell, the play of the Steelers secondary in 2015 was well below average. While free safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback William Gay did a decent job at their respective positions, strong safety Will Allen and, especially cornerback Antwon Blake were two of the most consistently gassed defensive backs in the NFL this season. The Steelers have assembled one of the most quietly gifted front sevens in football over the past few years, but their talent-depleted secondary is preventing them from being one of the best defenses in the NFL.        

Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Ode to Calvin Johnson Jr.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier today that wide receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. has informed the Detroit Lions that he is going to retire. While this report hasn't been confirmed by Johnson or the Lions yet, it would not be a shocking move as Johnson has been pondering retirement since the regular season ended on January 3rd. I think I speak for a majority of millennial football fans out there when I say that Johnson was the greatest receiver I've ever seen play. His combination of physicality and freakish speed/athleticism for his size (6'5, 239 lbs) made him a nightmare for opposing defenses to cover and a threat to take it to the house every time he touched the ball. Although there are no shortage of excellent receivers with Hall-of-Fame potential currently in the league, I doubt we'll ever see a wide receiver as well-rounded and consistently dominant as Johnson ever again. Thanks for the memories Megatron and I wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavors.

Friday, January 29, 2016

2015 NFL Recap: AFC East

With the matchup for Super Bowl 50 set and the end of football season (sadly) on the horizon, it's now time to look back at all the madness the 2015 NFL season offered up. Over the next several weeks, I'll be providing detailed recaps on how all 32 NFL teams fared in 2015 starting today with the AFC East. The format of this series will be a little bit different than in the past as I'll be proving my analysis in bullet point format to make it easier to read. I'm excited to look back on another insane NFL season and I hope all of you football fans out there have as much fun reading this as I did writing it.

 My Preseason Predictions:
1.New England Patriots (11-5)
2.Buffalo Bills (10-6)
3.Miami Dolphins (10-6)
4.New York Jets (7-9) 
Actual Standings
1.New England Patriots (12-4)
2.New York Jets (10-6)
3.Buffalo Bills (8-8)
4.Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Buffalo Bills:
Team MVP's: WR Sammy Watkins, QB Tyrod Taylor, CB Ronald Darby, CB Stephon Gilmore, RB LeSean McCoy
-Who would've thought the downfall of a Rex Ryan-coached team would be the defense? The sudden collapse of the Bills defense (19th ranked pass defense, 16th ranked rush defense, 19th overall defense) makes no sense given the fact that they lost no major components from the 2014 unit that finished 4th in the league and the same core group of players thrived with Ryan protege Mike Pettine running a similar 3-4, blitz-heavy system in 2013. The sudden ineffectiveness of their highly vaunted pass-rush that led the league in sacks for two straight years (they ranked 31st this year with a paltry 21 sacks) and their tendency to pick up stupid penalties at key moments of the game forced this unit to fall from the ranks of the elite. They deserve some slack as the players have had to learn a new defensive scheme for a third straight year, but it's hard to not be disappointed with their middling production given how much proven talent they have on both the field and the coaching staff.

-The one factor that's being largely glossed over in the criticism of the Bills defense this year was how bad their linebackers played. Inside linebacker Preston Brown substantially regressed in coverage and against the run after his impressive rookie campaign while the normally excellent Nigel Bradham had the sloppiest season of his four-year career so far. Ryan's blitz-happy defenses require strong linebacker play to be effective and he's going to need to do some serious talent evaluation to see if he can move forward with this current group patrolling the middle of the field.

-Mario Williams epitomizes a diva veteran player. His whining and unwillingness to adapt to his new role as an outside linebacker in Ryan's 3-4 scheme was hugely detrimental to this defense. With his high cap hit ($14 million) and several of his teammates taking issue with his lack of effort and selfish attitude this season, it'll be a shock to see Williams back in Buffalo in 2016.
 
-In what was largely a disappointing year for their defense, the Bills can take solace in the fact that their starting cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, were the most lethal corner tandem in the NFL this season. Gilmore further solidified himself as one of the best young corners in the league before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 13 while Darby's excellent coverage skills, physicality and ball skills allowed him to make arguably the smoothest transition from college to the NFL of any rookie corner in recent history.

-Ryan ended up making the right choice when he named Tyrod Taylor the starting quarterback. Taylor demonstrated consistently good decision-making and legitimate playmaking ability as both a passer and rusher in his first year as a starter. The strongest testament to Taylor's impact on this offense was how much they struggled with E.J. Manuel at the helm when he missed two games with a sprained knee in October. He needs to work on his accuracy and getting rid of the ball in a more timely fashion, but Taylor showed enough this season to prove he can be a productive long-term starter for this team.

-Sammy Watkins is starting to look like the game-changing wideout he was billed to be when the Bills traded up and drafted him in the first round in 2014. With number two wide receiver Percy Harvin suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 5 and tight end Charles Clay and Harvin's de facto replacement Robert Woods grossly underperforming, Watkins carried the Bills passing game on his back for the second half of the season, picking up five 100+ yard performances and 7 TD's in the final nine games of the year. Watkins has proven he can handle the on-and off-the field pressure that comes with being a number one wideout in the NFL and I firmly believe that he'll be one of the 10-15 best receivers in the league within the next three seasons.

-The LeSean McCoy trade-which was met with much ire from the national media after it was completed last March-worked out brilliantly for general manager Doug Whaley. Despite missing four games with hamstring and knee injuries, McCoy was every bit the explosive, three-down back he was during his time with the Eagles and he is largely responsible for the Bills finishing the year as the league's top-ranked rushing offense. With a pair of promising change-of-backs in rookie power back Karlos Williams and speedster Mike Gillislee behind him on the depth chart, The Bills could very well end up having one of the deadliest rushing attacks in the league for a very long time.

-No offensive line in the NFL is more confusing than the Bills. The left side (tackle Cordy Glenn, guard Richie Incognito) and anchor of their line (center Eric Wood) all had Pro Bowl caliber seasons while the right side (guard John Miller, tackle Sentrel Henderson) were massive liabilities in run-blocking and pass-protection. The vulnerability of an entire side of their offensive line is severely stunting the growth of this young Bills offense and if Henderson and Miller can't make noticeable progress soon, a change is going to need to be made.

Miami Dolphins:
Team MVP's: WR Jarvis Landry, S Reshad Jones, DT Ndamukong Suh, DE Olivier Vernon, C Mike Pouncey
 
-It speaks volumes for how awful of a coach Joe Philbin is when an inexperienced meathead like Dan Campbell suddenly gets thrust into the head coaching spot in the middle of the year and displays stronger leadership and game-managing skills. Retaining Philbin and his staff of similarly ungifted buffoons played a pivotal role in the Dolphins failure this season.

 -For the first time since entering the league in 2012, Ryan Tannehill did not improve upon his previous season's numbers in 2015. His deep ball accuracy was just horrendous, he regularly forced balls into double and triple coverage, and for the first time in his tenure with the Doplhins, the poor play of his offensive lineman left him looking regularly rattled in the pocket. Personally, I view 2015 as nothing but a bump in the road for a promising career for Tannehill. If he doesn't return to being one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in 2016, I'd be legitimately shocked.  

-The criticism thrown at the play of Ndamukong Suh is completely unwarranted. Sure his sack total was down from a year ago (8.5 in 2014, 6 this year), but anyone that actually watched him play a solid amount of reps would've saw that he was every bit as disruptive and dominant at the line of scrimmage as he was during his five seasons with the Lions. There's plenty of scapegoats for The Dolphins underwhelming defensive performance this season (poor secondary play, inconsistent production out of key players, terrible run defense), but Suh sure as hell isn't one of them.
 
-With the exception of Suh, none of the Dolphins high-profile offseason pickups consistently contributed.  Tight end Jordan Cameron continues to demonstrate that his excellent 2013 campaign with the Browns was a fluke, outside linebacker Spencer Paysinger was woefully ineffective every time he saw the field and Tannehill's horrific deep ball accuracy made deep threat virtuoso Kenny Stills a non-factor in the passing game. 

-The play of defensive end Oliver Vernon once Cameron Wake went down with a torn Achilles in Week 8 was simply unreal. Vernon was a menace to opposing quarterbacks picking up 8 sacks, 24 hits and 25 pressures in the nine games played after Wake went down. The Dolphins need to make re-signing this kid their top priority this offseason

-With his 110 reception, 1,157-yard season, Jarvis Landry deserves a medal for carrying this sorry-ass offense. He was the only member of the Dolphins offense that could consistently stretch the field and be counted to make a play in big situations. With his excellent route-running and yards after the catch ability (he ranked third in the league among wideouts with 547 yards), Landry has emerged as one of the best slot receivers in the league after just two seasons.

-It boggles my mind as to why the Dolphins chose to use running back Lamar Miller so sparingly this season. Miller was largely productive when he got the ball (he average 4.5 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per reception) yet only got 15 or more touches in a game eight times this season. Despite the lack of respect they showed him this season, I'd be surprised if the new Dolphins regime headed by head coach Adam Gase- one of the strongest proponents of the running game in the entire league-let him walk this offseason.

New England Patriots:
Team MVP's: QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, OLB Don'ta Hightower, WR Julian Edelman, S Devin McCourty

-Despite horrid offensive line play and a slew of injuries to his top receivers, Tom Brady had another stellar season in 2015. The four-game stretch-which may or may not have been fueled by his anger with the Deflatgate situation- he put together to start off this season was the most brilliant string of games I've seen him play since the infamous 16-0 2007 campaign. He dismantled the defenses of the Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys with such ease and precision that it made me seriously question whether he's a human or a robot sent from a distant planet to make the rest of the NFL look bad. His play tailed off a bit after the Cowboys game, but his play was still largely impressive on the whole, especially when you consider the fact that he's at the age (38) when most quarterbacks start to or have already shit the bed physically. His volume of bad throws might be increasing each year, but unless he suffers another major injury, there's no reason to believe that he doesn't have another two or three productive years in him.

-The absence of wide receiver Julian Edelman for the last seven games of the season exposed just how bad this offensive line is. Without a reliable short-yardage passing option, Brady had to hold onto the ball longer and the Patriots passing game proceeded to falter tremendously. While the abundance of injuries and subsequently lack of continuity certainly didn't help, there was not a single offensive lineman on this roster who performed at even a passable level on a week-to-to basis. A majority of the guys they have right now simply aren't good enough to be starters in the NFL (I'm looking at you Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming) and if Belichick can't rediscover his knack for finding quality offensive lineman that he displayed during the first decade of his tenure with the team, Brady is going to have a hellish end to his storied career.

- It's a well-documented fact that the Patriots do not value running the football. In the 16 years that Belichick has been coaching the team, they've had a mere four 1,000-yard rushers (Antonie Smith in 2001,Corey Dillon in 2004, Benjarvus Green-Ellis in 2010 and Stevan Ridley in 2012) and almost always chose to roll with a stable of below-average backs rather than one reliable, legitimate three-down starter. The overall lack of talent at the running back position caused this offense to sink when the injury bug struck in the second half of the season. The running game was weak enough before LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis went down for the season, but their performances after Blount got hurt in Week 14 against the Texans (75.3 yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry in the last 3 games) were just plain pathetic.The team's offensive woes without Edelman in the lineup and distinction of being the third-worst rushing offense in the NFL might be enough to get the traditionally run-phobic Belichick to actually invest in a legitimately capable running back for the future.

-Defensive end Jabbal Sheard proved to be one of the biggest free-agent steals of 2015. Sheard's efficiency as a situational pass-rusher and run-stopper allowed the Patriots to establish the solid defensive line rotation they've been sorely lacking for the past few years. The emergence of Sheard also allowed Chandler Jones- who typically crapped out in late November/December due to his high snap count-to stay fresh throughout the season and pick up a new career-high total in sacks (12.5). Guys like Don'ta Hightower, Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins may get all the attention and accolades, but Sheard played just as vital of a part in this defense's success in 2015.

-The secondary that was loaded with question marks coming into 2015 proved to be one of the team's biggest strengths. The starting corner duo of Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan surpassed even the most optimistic Patriots fans expectations and ended up being one of the most productive corner duos in the league this season. Butler and Ryan got thrown into the fire a lot during their first years as full-time starters and while they got torched by the likes of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Brandon Marshall, they put together a number of strong performances against top-flight receivers such as DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Demaryius Thomas. Even more surprising than the emergence of Butler and re-emergence of Ryan was the sudden dramatic improvement of safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. No safety in the league did a better job diagnosing and stuffing the run in 2015 than Chung while Harmon was spectacular in pass coverage every time he saw the field. While it remains to be seen if these young players can deliver on a yearly basis, there was certainly a lot of encouraging signs for the future of this secondary on display throughout 2015.

New York Jets:
Team MVP's: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Eric Decker, DT Damon Harrison, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

-It's amazing how much of an impact head coach Todd Bowles made in his first season with the Jets.  Bowles managed to lead the same core group of players that only won four games in 2014 to a 10-win season simply by getting them to play with the edge they lacked during the final year of Rex Ryan's tumultuous tenure with the team. If they didn't narrowly miss the playoffs with their tragic Week 17 loss to the Bills, Bowles would have gotten my coach of the year vote.

-IK Enemkpali punching Geno Smith in the face and breaking his jaw during training camp was the best possible thing that could've happened to the Jets. Smith's absence gave veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick a chance to start and Fitzpatrick relished the opportunity by improbably having the best year of his 11-year career so far. Fitzpatrick looked like a whole new man under center this year, regularly making big-time clutch throws and keeping the back-breaking turnovers that have crippled him throughout his career to a minimum. Fitzpatrick won't be joining the Brady's and Manning's of the world anytime soon, but this year served as proof that he can be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL when he's given the right system and supporting cast.

-The Jets defense,which was already great under Ryan, got even better under Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. The defensive line anchored by Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and standout rookie Leonard Williams was borderline impenetrable, their largely underrated veteran linebacking corps (David Harris, Demario Davis, Calvin Pace) continued to deliver and their overhauled secondary, despite having some struggles with consistency in the middle of the year, rarely allowed huge plays. With a really young group of core talent in place, the Jets should have one of the most intimidating defenses in the leagues for years to come.

-Saying that the Jets got a steal when they acquired Brandon Marshall from the Bears in exchange for a 5th-round pick would be a severe understatement. The 31-year old wideout silenced all of the naysayers that said he was past his prime with an absurd 1,502 yards and career-high 14 TD's in 2015. Marshall's emergence gave the Jets their first legitimate top wideout since Al Toon and the pairing of him and high-end number two wideout Eric Decker made the Jets passing offense a complete nightmare for opposing defenses to stop. Hopefully this triumphant comeback season will be enough to get people to finally respect Marshall as one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game.

-Chris Ivory is a candidate for least impressive 1,000-yard+ rushing season in the history of the NFL. A handful of great games in the early part of the year (most notable his Week 4 and 6 performance against the Dolphins and Redskins in which he ran for 166 and 146 yards respectively) heavily padded his stats and made up for his inability to hit his rushing lanes with any form of urgency for the last two months of the season.      

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Quick Movie Reviews (Academy Awards Edition): The Big Short and The Revenant

The Big Short: Hollywood is continuing its post-Great Recession assault on Wall Street with the 2008 mortgage crisis drama The Big Short. Writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) uses his trademark balls-to-the wall energy to tell the story of how a group of outsiders in the financial industry (Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock) discovered that the supposedly rock-solid housing market was being propped up by high-risk loans and subsequently bet against it. How much you enjoy The Big Short entirely hedges on how interested you are in the subject matter. This is not a Wolf of Wall Street-like tale full of sex-and-drug fueled debauchery and excess, it simply tells the story of how the big banks rigged the housing market to make it look far more stable than it actually was and the small group of outsiders in the financial industry that discovered their shady practices and decided to call them out on their bluff. Personally, I admired the film for its overarching message and how it was able to make highly complex financial concepts and rhetoric easily understand for mass audiences, but my lack of interest in the inner workings of the financial industry and the mostly forgettable performances from its massive ensemble cast prevented me from truly loving it.
3.5/5 Stars

The Revenant: Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy have all described the making of The Revenant as a "hellish experience". The hell that went into making The Revenant has nothing on the hell of watching it. Don't let the presence of A-list actors and heavy doses of CGI fool you, The Revenant is a pretentious, hollow arthouse film that is completely derivative of the Terrence Malick-worshipping indie films that flood cinemas every single year during awards season. Inarritu-who also co-wrote the script with Vacancy scribe Mark L. Smith-tries to compensate for how idiotic and simple the film's story (if you've seen the trailer, you know literately every detail of the plot) is by loading up the film's 155-minute runtime with extensive, repetitive nature shots, dream sequences that seem to be lifted straight from The Tree of Life and one-dimensional characters that only speak in grunts and whispers. The natural scenery is beautifully-shot by cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity), but after 45 minutes or so of looking at nothing but snow-covered trees and the permanently gray skies of the frontier, the striking beauty of the setting loses its charm and you begin to become frustrated with how uneventful this film is. The presence of two of the finest working actors on the planet right now can't even salvage The Revenant from. DiCaprio performance as the seemingly indestructible, revenge-thirsty fur trapper Hugh Glass is completely average. DiCaprio's dedication to showcasing the pain and suffering Glass went through without much dialogue is undeniably admirable, but it's not even close to a memorable performance, especially when you stack it up alongside his previous work. It's an absolute travesty that a performance this subpar is going to be the one that finally wins DiCaprio his long-overdue Academy Award. Hardy isn't much better as John Fitzgerald, the sleazeball Texan who kills Glass' teenage son directly in front of him. Hardy has the intensity and shadiness required to play this type of character, but his often over-the-top acting turns Fitzgerald into more of a comic book-esque villain than a human being.
2015's crop of awards bait was pretty underwhelming on the whole, but no other Best Picture nominee is anywhere close to being as poorly-written, meandering and idiotic as The Revenant is
1.5/5 Stars