Thursday, December 24, 2015

Professional Football - An Open Letter to the NFL

Dear NFL Teams,

Congratulations, we are only two weeks away from completing yet another successful regular season of professional football! Well, I suppose successful is a relative term ... It is true that we have made it through the fall with some exciting games, intriguing storylines, and a fairly open look at who might be the eventual winner of the big game on the first Sunday in February. Then again, it feels like half the NFL roster has been hurt at one point or another, concussions are more controversial than ever, and Tom Brady's balls are not lacking for air (or playing time). Whichever side of the coin you're on, one thing has remained true ... we both love your game and hate your game all at the same time (curse you fantasy football!).

Since this is the holiday season and a time to once again reflect on the months that have passed us by, I have decided to give you all a very special gift this year. For your Christmas treat, I am writing this open letter to give each and every one of you a piece of my mind! Some of you will receives presents of praise and others will receive condescension of coal. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a little truth-telling as we discuss my feelings on each and every one of the 32 franchises comprising our beloved fraternity ...

Arizona Cardinals - Oh how I wish I had written this letter just one week ago. Had I done so, I would have told you how impressed I was by the season you were having, how you've avoided the injury bug plaguing the NFL, and how you had a first class ticket to this year's Super Bowl. But then, Sunday happened. Specifically, "beware of the Honeybadger" turned into "the tear of the Honeybadger." While I still believe you have enough weapons to make it all the way to the top, the road just got a lot more treacherous. Hopefully you have a secret replacement just waiting in the wings who can pick up where #32 left off ...

Atlanta Falcons - What the hell?! No really ... I have no clue what the hell is going on here. A couple of weeks ago I was in the car with my brother listening to Dan Lebatard on ESPN Radio. During the broadcast, the ever sarcastic one offered up this piece of brilliance: "I have a question for our audience that is going to blow your mind. I want you to really think about this for a minute. Are you sure ... Matt Ryan is ACTUALLY good?" I might have slightly paraphrased that a bit, but you get the idea. Ever since he came out of Boston College, I've believed that Matty Ice is one of the elite QB's in the league. But now, I'm not so sure. You have Julio Jones (one of the best receivers in football), Devonta Freeman (one of the best young running backs in football), and a new head coach who used to run the tenacious defense in Seattle. I hate to say it, but all signs of this year's lackluster play point to one guy, and I'm not really sure if he's good or not!

Baltimore Ravens - I think I just broke a finger typing this introduction. Can you refer me to a good surgeon? Oh, you can?! Well that's probably because 2/3 of your roster are in the doctor's office right now for evaluation and treatment! Here's my Christmas tip for you ... invest in a better strength and conditioning coach! You've lost every significant player on your team this year to a major injury. If you can't find a way to stay healthy in 2016 perhaps I can enroll you in an outstanding insurance plan ...

Buffalo Bills - Hey, remember back when people thought you were good?! No really, those were the days. I remember it like it was just September ... Week 1 of the NFL season. After a training camp where nobody knew who would be starting under center for your franchise, you all came out and whipped the Indianapolis Colts on national television and made Tyrod Taylor look like Joe Montana. Heck, I even put you in the playoffs in my one-week-too-late season predictions! Oops. I guess it was fun while it lasted. Maybe next year, right Rex?

Carolina Panthers - Cam Newton, I'm looking at you. I DON'T LIKE YOU. And I don't mean in the same way I hate the Patriots because they're stupid good looking and stupid successful and stupid winners and stupid stupid stupid. No, I don't like you because I think you're a fraud. Ever since you're little "Suggestion Box" press conference a couple of years ago I've thought you were an immature *insert adult word here* who was lucky as heck to be athletically gifted. Now I see all the charitable work they talk about you doing on TV and I don't buy a second of it because of your unnecessary celebrations everytime you get a first down. A FIRST DOWN!!! Yeah, I'm glad you give a football to a little kid each time your team reaches the endzone, real sweet. However, it doesn't make up for your smug smile, egotistical celebrations, and early 4th quarter team photographs when you're beating up a crappy Falcons team. I hate to tell you this Cam, but your Panthers are just not that good. I'll give you props for winning your first 14 games because that's just plain difficult. But really, let's take a deeper look at those games ...

Teams You Beat With a Winning Record: Seattle, Green Bay

Teams You Beat With a Tied or Losing Record: Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Washington, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, NY Giants

Congratulations, you've beat a whopping two teams with a winning record! And by the way, both of those two wins came while your opponent was in the midst of their longest losing streaks of the season! Way to catch them while they're down. Why am I pointing this out? Because I'm sick and tired of hearing everyone praise how great your team is. 14-0 is an accomplishment that nobody can take away from you and there's even an outside chance you survive your last two games and make it a perfect regular season. Luckily for you though Cam, 9 of your teammates can be shoulders to cry on when you're all hanging out in the Pro Bowl on January 31st wondering what went wrong and why you won't be playing in Levi's Stadium the following Sunday. Enjoy your trip to Hawaii and don't forget to dust off the big screen TV at home for your Super Bowl party. You won't be there in person.

Chicago Bears - Sorry Mr. Cutler, my hands are tired after my Cam Newton rant. You get off lucky this year. Don't worry, you'll disappoint us just as much next season too.

Cincinnati Bengals - If the NFL was a Hollywood movie, the Cincinnati Bengals would be the "To Be Continued" at the end of the heart-racing action sequence. As good as this team was to begin the season, this was finally the year where we as fans were going to find out if Andy Dalton could win the big one. Everything was setup perfectly ... the team was rolling through their competition, the squad was healthy, and Cincinnati was even going to host a game or two in the post-season! And then ... Andy Dalton breaks his hand making a tackle. Seriously?!?! Steven Spielberg couldn't have done it better himself! If somehow Dalton recovers in time to make a "miraculous" comeback and lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl, he's the hero everyone was hoping for. If he can't come back or he attempts to and just plain sucks ... aww, it's his poor hand and he'll show everyone next year that he can do it. In other words, To Be Continued.

Cleveland Browns - Hahahahahaha. Oh wait, that's mean. Especially because I'm not laughing with you, I'm laughing at you. Can we all please agree that even though Johnny Football puts tails in seats he also puts himself in slammers? I usually don't like characters like this but I really wanted to see him success. At this point though, it doesn't matter what he does on the field because he's a ticking time bomb off it. Enjoy another first or second pick in next year's NFL Draft.

Dallas Cowboys - Part of me really wants to feel bad for you this season. No truly, my Giants-loving heart for once has a tiny bit of sympathy for you. Your star quarterback goes down not once but twice with serious shoulder injuries. Your star receiver misses a big chunk of games due to a flukey Week 1 injury. Your potential breakout running back turns out to be a dud before getting himself in trouble off the field. It kinda stinks what happened to you. But then I look at Greg Hardy. And suddenly, you deserve it. Jerry Jones, let me give you some free advice for the future. You want to win the Super Bowl again? Fire yourself.

Denver Broncos - Wow. I shouldn't really be saying wow because it's unrealistic to have expected Peyton to continue playing at the level he was while also staying healthy, but still. Coming in to this season I expected a small drop off in quarterback performance en route to a solid record and decent showing in the playoffs. Instead what I got was an offense that looked like a bunch of chickens with their head cut off, the Peyton of old quickly transforming into an old Peyton, and a defense that started the year unstoppable and finished unstable. If there's any positive that came out of this campaign it's that Brock Osweiler proved he could potentially be the QB of the future in Denver. Unfortunately, John Elway may have screwed this up because Brock is an unrestricted free agent in a few weeks and will definitely be drawing interest from teams around the country. While the Broncos are technically still in Super Bowl contention, I'll be stunned if they put together a run to San Francisco. Mathematically, there's actually a chance they miss the playoffs completely. Someone give Peyton a hug please ... just not too hard.

Detroit Lions - And the award for "Disappointment of the Year" goes to ... drum roll please ... the Lions! Again! For the 10th time in 7 years! Seriously guys, what the heck happened to you this season? If you'll recall, not only did I pick you to win the division but I had you as my 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs! Boy was I wrong. Somehow one of the most talented rosters in the NFL found ways to squander games and look totally incompetent in epic proportions. You're finally starting to put the pieces together but now it's too little, too late. Do yourselves a favor and get some rest this off-season, maybe bang your head against a car frame to forget 2015 ever happened, and prepare to be the force you can be in 2016. The talent is there, now you just have to want it.

Green Bay Packers - Who would have thought your team would fall apart just from losing a white guy? Ok, that's not fair, the team didn't really fall apart as many franchises would love to be in your position. As it turns out you have a pretty decent record and could make some noise in the playoffs. But still, doesn't it just feel like one big letdown ever since Jordy Nelson got hurt? Over the last few seasons Aaron Rodgers has looked like Superman but there's a much more human element to his play this season. Maybe it's the lack of snow in Green Bay? Yeah, let's blame it on global warming. I will say this though ("ok say") ... watch out for the Packers in the playoffs. Nobody is really considering them a contender and #12 has a tendency to play really well with a chip on his shoulder. I won't be surprised if the Packers make it to the Super Bowl after all.

Houston Texans - I'd like to start off here by telling you how much I love your team. For a guy that has no particular reason to like or dislike your franchise, I really enjoy the Texans. I'm pretty sure it's the logo and uniforms. That and the fact that you realize how good TJ Yates can be, even as a backup. Unfortunately, the Hard Knocks curse has followed you a bit this season and once again Arian Foster couldn't stay healthy. Fortunately for you, you're in the worst division in football right now and that could mean a surprising home playoff game for a team that doesn't really deserve one. Good for you for playing hard and never giving up. Like John Cena.

Indianapolis Colts - If there's one thing you needed more of this season, it was Luck. In every sense of the word. When the star quarterback went down early in the year though and never completed recovered, you were forced to turn to the Shady Pines retirement home to fill out your roster. I mean seriously, you were relying on Matt Hasselback, Andre Johnson, and Frank Gore to bring you to the promised land this season. I'm pretty sure their average age is roughly George Clooney. There's only so much you can do with over-the-hill talent and a weak defense. Yet somehow you could sneak into the playoffs if the Texans fold the last two weeks of the season. Either way, your whole squad could use a nice big ice bath about now followed by a comfy bathrobe and slippers.

Jacksonville Jaguars - You are by far the most impressive crappy team in the league this season. Looking at your record (5-9) you'd think this was just another typical Jacksonville team. But for those of us who watched your games, you can start to see something special happening in northern Florida. You're the highest scoring offense in the division and the combination of Blake Bortles plus the Allen brothers could be really good for a long time. You have a very young team and I will not be at all surprised if in the next few years you grow into an AFC powerhouse. Draft some talented defensive players to take the pressure off the offense and there may be something good brewing here. Yeah, that's right, my review of the Jaguars is actually positive!

Kansas City Chiefs - Funny thing about this team ... they have very quietly become one of only 11 squads in the NFL this season with a winning record. Not too shabby for a team that started off the year 1-5 while losing its best player to a season-ending injury. If you had told me in Week 6 that the Chiefs were going to cruise into the playoffs I would have laughed at you. But that appears to be what's going to happen provided they avoid an epic collapse. Points to Andy Reid for keeping this team on track and making Alex Smith realize that Jeremy Maclin is one of the best receivers in football. It's still weird to me that they do the tomahawk chop though.

Miami Dolphins - Lamar Miller. Lamar Miller. Lamar Miller. Has it sunk in yet? Your best player and one of the most dynamic young players in the league should be getting the ball WAY more than he already does. And he's told you that but nobody's listening. The 'Phins already lost their head coach to the pink slip earlier this season (about time) and I don't see the interim guy working out very well either. The Dolphins need to hire Pat Riley to come into the front office and make some moves to put this club back on the map. They're in one of the most popular cities in the country, you never have to worry about snow during a game, and The Rock has a hit show on HBO focused on South Florida football. I mean seriously, what else do you need to recruit talent to this club? You have a few building blocks already on the roster, now just keep them happy (aka give Miller like 50 carries a game the next two weeks so he doesn't go into free agency) and start creating a winner.

Minnesota Vikings - Ever since he was at Louisville, I've been saying Teddy Bridgewater is not a winner. He may have decent athletic ability, but his size is a detriment to the team and I don't see the football IQ of Russell Wilson to help make up for it. Adrian Peterson came back this year after a year in the doghouse and immediately looked like himself as he's at the top of the league in rush yards and has stayed relatively healthy all season (until last week when he tweaked his ankle). The problem is, AP can't do it all and Bridgewater isn't good enough to pick up the slack. Stefon Diggs is showing flashes of being a brilliant young receiver but I don't see anyone on the roster who's going to show him the ropes right now and bring him to the next level. That includes Mike Wallace. Get some talent around Peterson before he's forced to retire without a Super Bowl ring. Or make Teddy play in high heels so he can see over the offensive line.

New England Patriots - For the last ten years, I have absolutely detested this franchise and the quarterback who leads them. Coming in to this season, deflategate gave me every reason to hate them even more than before as their antics showed the cheating cowards they actually are. Yet, somehow, for some reason, I find myself respecting this team and Tom Brady more than I ever have before. Let's face it, given the injuries this team has suffered over the year they had every reason to crumble and die. Heck, at one point they only had 6 offensive linemen dressing for the game because all of the others were on the shelf. Yet, somehow the duo of Brady and Belichek has found a way to persevere yet again while leading the team to a 12-2 start. I mean seriously, they're 12-2?! You can say all you want about team sports and how one person doesn't make up a whole team, but I think this year the Patriots have proven that theory wrong. I still don't like them, and I still want to watch little Tom crying on the sidelines like a baby who just dropped its lollipop, but for the first time ever they have my respect. No matter how big their balls are.

New Orleans Saints - Who dat? EVERYBODY! That's right, every single person in the NFL thinks they can beat them Saints in 2015. I'm pretty sure I even threw for 12 touchdowns against them this season and I've never played organized football in my life! The Saints defense has given up a staggering 432 points through the first 14 games of their season ... that's over 30 points everytime they touch the field! I don't care how solid they play on the opposite side of the ball, it's just not fair to expect that kind of production out of Drew Brees week in and week out. But it's ok, I have a solution that is sure to help the Saints. In order to motivate your players on defense to really amp up their enthusiasm, why don't you put together a payment plan to offer them a little something extra on the side for big hits ...

NY Giants - FIRE TOM COUGHLIN. The end. Ok, not really the end because this is my team and I feel it's only right to say something else. But for dramatic effect, pretend "The end" was actually the end to show how much I want Tom Coughlin fired. Once again, the Giants have done exactly what I expected of them and led me to another disappointing campaign. It's the same thing every season ... win a few games, convince people that we might actually be good, go on a long losing streak, find ways to choke that were previously never thought possible, and win just enough to get a crappy draft pick who won't do anything to elevate the level of the franchise. It's remarkable how similar every single season has been since Coughlin took over as head coach. Sure, some of the parts have been interchanged, but at the end of the day we're going to be right on the fringe of making the playoffs and more often than not will fall just short of doing so. The sad part is, if the Giants sneak in to the post-season I fully expect that they'll win the Super Bowl! So, for yet another year, the Giants come into Week 16 still mathematically in contention and will find a way to blow it in the most heart-breaking way possible. I can't wait to see how they pull it off this year! FIRE TOM COUGHLIN. The end.

NY Jets - Aww, look at the Jets. Aren't they cute with their little uniforms, and their little helmets, and their little green logo? I just want to pinch their cheeks and tell them how adorable they are. They even went out and won a few games this season! Who's a big boy huh, who's a big boy? That's right, you are, you're a big boy!

Oakland Raiders - If the Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars had a baby, and then they painted that baby silver and black and handed it to a bunch or motorcycle gangs to care for, you'd have the Oakland Raiders. Like the Jaguars, this team has been quietly stockpiling talent for the last couple of years and I really thought they were poised to strike from out of nowhere this season. However, similar to the Lions, they failed to live up to the expectations I had set in my mind. Maybe I'm still a year or two too early for this franchise, but the Raiders are not to be handled lightly in the near future. Derek Carr has shown he knows how to lead an offense and Amari Cooper is poised to be the next Jerry Rice if put in a position to succeed. This team is like a nice piece of meat ... let them marinate for a little while to get the juices flowing in harmony and get ready to be hit by a wave of excitement when it's time to cook.

Philadelphia Eagles - Where do I even start? What should have been a relaxing ride along the Jungle Cruise has somehow turned into the turbulent roller coaster that is Space Mountain. Several months before the season began, Chip Kelly got rid of every good player on the roster and I thought he was crazy. Then he somehow brings in both Sam Bradford and Demarco Murray so I think the guy is unquestionably brilliant. The Eagles proceed to lose 3 of their first 4 games and Chip Kelly looks crazy again. Then they win 3 of the next 4 and he's brilliant. Three straight losses and he's crazy. Wins two of the last three and he's brilliant. When will the madness stop?!?!?! I don't know what to even think anymore but somehow my man-crush on Chip Kelly has withstood the test of time and he's one big win this weekend against Washington away from putting himself in playoff contention. He's so crazy ... he just might be brilliant ...

Pittsburgh Steelers - For the love of all things holy, find a way to keep Big Ben healthy! I'm going to keep this very short and simple for you ... if the team stays healthy for the next month and a half, you'll be raising the Lombardi Trophy on February 7th. You're the best team in the NFL this season when you have your players on the field. Now you just need to keep them there.

San Diego Chargers - Remember when you used to play in San Diego? Yeah, that was fun. For the sake of your city and your fans, I hope the franchise finds a way to avoid moving to LA so that you can continue footballing it up in one of the most beautiful cities in the country. I know this was a crappy season, but unfortunately injuries took their toll and the running game never got started with Melvin Gordon like you hope it would. There's a lot of uncertainty in your future but I genuinely wish you the best of luck. But of course, I am biased because your alternate uniforms are Carolina Blue.

San Francisco 49ers - I hate to say it, but this team was doomed before the first game even kicked off this year. When the Niners lost half of their award-winning defense during the pre-season, the rest of the roster didn't really have much of a chance in succeeding. Oh yeah, you lost your head coach too who ran off to the Big House in Michigan to coach his alma mater. What that left you with was an athletic quarterback without confidence, and old receiving corps without consistency, an inexperienced backfield without a line to block for it, and a bunch of guys on defense without names that anyone could recognize. I'm surprised they even managed to win 4 games this season and I'll be even more surprised if they are good anytime in the near future.

Seattle Seahawks - For years now I've had all the respect in the world for Russell Wilson but still couldn't stand this team. I didn't complete understand why until this season ... Marshawn Lynch! This team is SO much more likeable without Beast Mode on the field. He's one of the few players where I really don't care about their talent because the attitude they have is so unbelievably poor. That was never more evident than earlier this year when his Mommy went on a social media rant because baby boy wasn't getting the ball enough. At least now we know where he gets it. Since Lynch got hurt, Wilson has looked like the league MVP and has set a record for the most touchdown passes over a 4 game span without an interception. Even though the season looked lost after the dysfunction in the first couple of weeks, Pete Carroll has quickly corrected the direction of this ship and Seattle will be going into the post-season as one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for them, the Cardinals have had such a stellar season that the Seahawks will have to prove they can win on the road if they want a shot at another NFL Championship. Sorry guys, I don't think you have quite the defense this year to make it happen, but for the first time in years I won't mind watching you try. That is of course, until Lynch returns to the field.

St. Louis Rams - Is it baseball season yet? St. Louis is one of the greatest baseball towns in the country and I hope that gives them the love they'll need in their heart when they lose the Rams. It's a shame too, because they've had a great time watching Todd Gurley quickly become one of the best running backs in the NFL. I hope they enjoyed the short time they had together because it will take more than a Christmas miracle to keep this franchise where they are. But hey, how 'bout them Cardinals?! No, not the ones who actually made the playoffs from the NFC West, I'm talking about the ones who begin spring training in just a couple short months. On the bright side, losing the Rams automatically brings up the winning percentage of the city's professional sports teams, so that's something.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Tampa Bay ranks up there with one of the most confusing franchises I've seen in the NFL this season. There were games when the team looked absolutely brilliant and Famous Jameis earned the number one pick that he was in last year's NFL draft. Then, there were weeks where the Bucs looked like they had never played football before and could barely score on the Saints (yep, THOSE Saints). I'm not really sure what to make of this team because I think the likelihood of them being a playoff contender next year is about the same as them having another 5 win season. One thing's for sure ... I don't plan on putting money on them anytime soon!

Tennessee Titans - Oh yeah, you're still in the league too! I almost forgot about you considering how irrelevant you seem to have been this season. Which is a shame too considering you went out and drafted one of the most prolific winners in the history of college football. Marcus Mariota does no good for you though when he's injured on the sidelines and your terrible offensive line made that happen multiple times this season. It also doesn't help that I'm a daily fantasy player (yay Draft Kings) yet I still struggle to name even a single running back or wide receiver on your entire roster. Do yourselves a favor ... tank the last two games of the season, secure the number one overall pick in next year's draft, and find a couple of players that can help Marcus look like the stud that he is.

Washington Redskins - Excuse my language, but how the hell is this team leading the NFC East? I mean seriously, come on! The Deadskins were the joke of the NFL before the season began with all of the RG3 shenanigans and questions about who would be playing quarterback. Yet somehow Washington has clawed its way to a 7-7 record which is good enough for the division lead and in the driver's seat to represent the division in the post-season. When you watch these guys play, you almost want to poke your eyes out because it's just such an ugly brand of football. They make mistakes, they can't decided on a running back to save their lives, and let's not even get into how hideous their uniforms are. I don't care if I'm a Giants fan or not, but I'm hoping the Eagles destroy the Skins this weekend to keep this team out of the playoffs. Then again, as a Giants fan, that would be great for us because we'd have a chance to sneak in! Go Eagles! Continue the epic collapse that will be the Giants' season as they once again dangle the carrot of hope in front of my eyes just so they can snatch it away at the last possible second ... For goodness sakes FIRE TOM COUGHLIN!!!!!!!

Well NFL, there you have it. It took me over two hours to let you know how I feel so I hope you take my thoughts into consideration as we move into the final two weeks of our regular season. I'm sure you'll find another 125 ways to turn everything I thought about the league upside down, but for now, can we at least agree to laugh our butts off when the Carolina Panthers' season implodes into a glorious pile of inexplicable waste? Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a goodnight.