Wild Card Round Preview (The NFL on REO)

Tennessee at Kansas City

The Tennessee Titans are big underdogs in the Wild Card match up with the Kansas City Chiefs. This is not surprising. The Titans are without their starting running back, they have played poorly on offense for most of the season, and they are short on playoff experience. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have an explosive offense, a very successful head coach, and are playing at home. Even as a Titans fan I admit that it makes sense that the Chiefs are a 9 point favorite.

Maybe it is the homer in me, but I expect this game to be close. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1993. This will be their sixth try and my sources are telling me their fans are nervous. On the Titans side QB Marcus Mariota is looking healthier than he has most of this season. In their playoff clinching victory last week he ran the ball several times with a good amount of success. Something he has not done most of this season due to injury. The Titans defense has also played well, especially against the run, in the majority of games this season.

The Chiefs are a streaky team. They started off 5-0 and looked to be the best team in the NFL. They went into a 1-6 tailspin and appeared to be choking away their playoff spot. Then they rebounded and finished 4-0 to win their division and get a home game in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Titans they Chiefs are on a hot streak right now and should win a tightly contested game. Final score prediction – KC over TN 24-20.

– Mike Lytle


Atlanta at Los Angeles (Rams)

Last year at this time we would have all been surprised to find that the LA Rams were even in the playoffs. The fact is, they are not only in the playoffs, but are expected to beat the reigning-NFC-champion Falcons by a touchdown. The new-in-town Rams have taken the NFL by storm and are trying to recreate the greatest show on turf. The Rams offense has been able to put up over 30 points in 8 games this year and over 25 points in 12 games. They average a league-high 29.9 points per game. They are a well-balanced offense that has only failed to execute a handful of time. Jared Golf has proven to be a quality quarterback and as long as Todd Gurley gets plenty of touches, the Rams should be able to put up points on Atlanta. Their defense, for the most part, has gotten the job done. With defensive genius Wade Phillips calling the shots, there is reason to have confidence that they can keep the Rams in the game.

Despite being the underdogs, I am picking the Falcons to with this game. The Falcons struggled early in the year, but they seemed to turn it around starting with week 10 against the cowboys. They have only lost two games since that time and both to strong teams. When push comes to shove, I have more confidence in Matt Ryan than Jared Golf. Ryan’s experience in the playoffs will be invaluable in picking apart the Wade Phillips’ defense. Perhaps more importantly, I trust Julio Jones to make big catches for his team. Sure, he has struggled to find the end zone this season, but big players live for big games. Julio was made for this moment.

Regardless of who wins, I expect this one to be a shootout. Falcons over Rams 35-30.

– David Lytle


Buffalo at Jacksonville

The Buffalo Bills enter the playoffs as the darlings of the NFL. For this storied franchise, it has been a long time (1999 season) since they have played postseason football, and it took a number of seemingly miraculous things to happen for them to finally break through this season. It is a great story and while I am happy for the team and their fans, great stories do not equal great teams, and the Bills are not a great team. They were a bottom half of the league team in both offensive and defensive statistics. They don’t do any one thing really well, and do most things just good enough to get by. And LeSean McCoy being less than 100% is a back breaker.

On the other side, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been objectively good this season. They are one of the top two defenses in the league by any measurements that matter. And not to be outdone, they are the number five scoring team in the league. Their weaknesses are inexperience and Blake Bortles. While Bortles has been mostly solid this season, is there anyone out there that has any real confidence that Bad Bortles won’t rear its ugly head at a critical moment?

Bortles will Bortle, the Bills are average, but the unit with the most talent on the field, the Jags defense, will dominate. Jags 30 Bills 10.

– Phill Lytle


Carolina at New Orleans

In my humble opinion this is the most crucial game of the weekend. Simply because a strong case can be made for the winner being the NFC favorite even if they will not have home field. Many people would look at Philly, Minnesota and the L.A. Rams and point to either struggles or playoff inexperience at QB as cause for concern. As is well documented on REO by now, not me. I have less faith in the Top 3 NFC seeds mainly because none of them have won a playoff game literally since George W. Bush lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

That is not the case for the Panthers and Saints. On the road side you have a team that just went to the Super Bowl two years ago and were steamrolled by one of the more impressive defensive efforts by Denver we have ever seen in a game that significant. Carolina isn’t as good an offense as their Super Bowl year but they do have Christian McCaffrey now, and Cam Newton still plays with a swagger that belies his less-than-elite stats and it makes a difference.

On the home side, you have a team with a very unique weapon in former-SEC two-headed monster  RB Mark Alvin Ingram Kamara (combined 1850 yards rushing, 139 receptions and 25 total TDs). And also for only the third time in Drew Brees’ 12 years with the franchise, the defense finished in the Top 10 in fewest points given up. It’s uncanny how Brees has played with a Top 13 defense by this criteria five times in New Orleans and has made the playoffs every time and has played with a 25th or worse defense by this criteria six times and missed the playoffs every time. The one exception to this trend was the year NO won the Super Bowl with the 20th ranked defense.

In addition to being at home, I give New Orleans the advantage because of Brees. He has exceptional playoff stats in his career (320 YPG, a 4:1 TD:Int ratio) and has lost numerous times because his D could not get a stop, most notoriously against San Fransisco in 2011 when he led them to 18 fourth quarter points and still lost (Let it be noted that Drew Brees has far and away the most 4th TD passes in NFL history to give his team the lead in a game his teams would lose, nearly twice as many as the #2 guy). Their D is nowhere close to Denver in 2015 or even Minnesota this year, but they will be good enough to help New Orleans win this game and probably at least two more. I’ll say New Orleans 31, Carolina 20.

– Gowdy Cannon

 




The Inevitable Letdown of Being a Fan (The NFL on REO)

Perhaps the defining attribute of being a sports’ fan is the ever-present feeling of being let down. As fans, it is our burden to bear. We cheer on our teams, year after year, and most of the time, walk away disappointed. Of course, there are the occasional high points: The big win against a rival. The post-season run. Even, a championship if we are really fortunate. The truth is though, we are rarely fortunate in our fandom.

Two times in the past five years, Aaron Rodgers has been injured and unable to complete the season. This year, his Green Bay Packers were 4-1 when he got hurt early in the game against the Minnesota Vikings. You could argue that with a healthy Rodgers, the Packers had as much of a chance to make it to the Super Bowl as any other team in the NFC. Now, the team is done – looking at another season down the drain due to an injury to their star quarterback. Before you feel too sorry for the Packers’ fans, it is good to remember that they have had great success for the past few decades and have won multiple championships in that time. Even so, that fan base feels the letdown. They feel as if they are cursed. It is the natural state for the majority of fans across the globe.

Or, you could take a look at the Cowboys. They spent a decade with a legitimately great quarterback and were never able to advance at all come playoff time. Then, a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back led them to a 13-3 record and the future looked bright. Turn the page to 2017 and their star running back gets suspended for off the field problems and the team is fighting for a playoff spot. Where would they be in that playoff picture if Ezekiel Elliott had not missed any games this season? Even if the Cowboys win out, they still need all sorts of things to happen to make the playoffs. Their chances are slim. I’m sure Cowboys fans feel let down after an amazing ride last season that only looked like the beginning of a great run.

And what about the fan base of the Philadelphia Eagles who are without a doubt, some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the league. This season was like something out of a dream. The second-year quarterback, Carson Wentz, had the offensive humming along. The defense was improved. The team was clearly the team to beat in the NFC. Then Wentz got hurt a few weeks ago and now the team will have to try to carry on with Nick Foles at QB. Foles is good, probably the best backup QB in the league, but he is not Wentz. The loss of Wentz has jeopardized a potential Super Bowl run. Eagles’ fans know this feeling all too well. They have been so close so many times, I’m sure there were many of them that just knew something bad was hiding in the shadows. That is the curse of being a fan.

Being a fan of the NFL in general, and the Titans, in particular, has provided its fair share of disappointments. My boys are big fans of the Titans. Sadly, they have no detailed memories of the Titans making the playoffs. The two oldest are both teenagers if that gives you any indication how long it has been. A few weeks ago, the Titans were 8-4 and looked like a lock for the postseason. Now, after two bad losses to below average teams, they are on the outside looking in. Yes, they are technically still in the playoffs if they were to start today, but they need help to make it to the NFL’s second season. I’ve mentioned before that my oldest son will not celebrate a good play by the Titans until a few minutes have passed because he is sure there will be a flag thrown that will wipe the whole thing off the board. That is how this entire season has felt to me. I’ve been waiting to fully celebrate. I’ve enjoyed the wins for sure, but there has always been the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that something bad was waiting around the corner. We are feeling the letdown. Hopefully, the Titans can give their fans a better Christmas than last year and make a surprise push to the playoffs. Miracles do happen.

So, what letdown have you experienced as a sports’ fan? Let us commiserate with one another. Share your stories and your pain. We want to read it all and experience the crushing weight of disappointment with you.




A Look Around the League (The NFL on REO)

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”

Colts vs. Bills

How amazing was the Colts vs. Bills game on Sunday? The records didn’t matter. The actual game-play didn’t matter. All that mattered was the snow. It was an ugly game for on-field execution, but is was a beautiful game for aesthetics. Seeing giant, super-human type athletes slog through the snow was about as fun as it gets. Seeing clouds of snow explode after every tackle or diving catch was mesmerizing. And even though Adam Vinatieri missed two field goals, watching him nail the game-tying extra point from over 40 yards away was one of the greatest kicks I have ever seen.

I hope we get a few more of these types of games this season. They make some of these less interesting matchups much more enjoyable.


The year of the injury

Carson Wentz going down sucks. It just does. And I’m not even an Eagles fan. I just hate to see young, superstars-in-the-making getting hurt this late in the season and possibly ruining their team’s chances of winning it all. It’s just one more monumental injury for the 2017 NFL season. Deshaun Watson. J.J. Watt. Andrew Luck. Ryan Shazier. Odell Beckham Jr. David Johnson. Aaron Rogers. It seems like every week, another star player goes down with a potentially season-ending injury. Let’s hope we don’t see any other big names drop before this season ends or we could be stuck with some less-than-stellar playoff matchups.

One bit of good news: Aaron Rogers has been cleared to return to football and the Green Bay Packers are still alive in the NFC playoff hunt. Aaron Rogers and postseason football are meant to be together so let’s hope he can come back strong and push his team across the finish line.


Any given Monday

I hate the New England Patriots, so when they lose in a primetime game, it makes my heart very happy. Seeing them lose to the Jay Cutler led Miami Dolphins made it even better. But getting away from my petty hatred of all things Patriots, the bigger takeaway is that any team can beat any other team on any given day. We see it every season. That is what the NFL wants. As my brother correctly pointed out two weeks ago, the NFL does not want every team to be 8-8. It never has wanted that. But it does want competition. It does want every team to feel like it has a chance when it steps on the field. So football fans should be happy to see a team like the Empire…I mean, the Patriots lose to a team like the Dolphins. It gives every fan base hope that each week is a chance at victory. Unless you are the Browns. If so, forget everything I just wrote.


The Un-breaking of Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota is broken. The reasons for this are many.

It could be mental – his mechanics have been bad all season. His confidence looks shaken at times. He doesn’t seem to trust what he is seeing on the field.

It could be physical – he broke his leg in the second to last game of the season last year. He didn’t have an offseason to do normal football stuff, instead he spent it in rehab. He injured his hamstring early in the season and has clearly been less mobile since. He has hurt his knee, his shoulder, and now, according to Paul Kuharsky, his ankle appears to need offseason surgery to correct something that was missed in the last offseason surgery. All of those elements create problems for a quarterback who is used to relying on his legs. He can’t run like he used to – as he has done his entire football career. This forces him to stay in the pocket feeling vulnerable. This has led to poor mechanics in his throwing motion – he is not planting his feet correctly and has become an arm-thrower too often this season.

It could be coaching. The playcalling has been confusing this season. To some Titans fans, it has been so bad they are demanding that both Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie and Head Coach Mike Mularkey be fired – either now or at the end of the season. Regardless where you stand on the coaches, one thing is for certain: the offense has not been good and has slowly digressed throughout the season, culminating in a completely inept performance against the Arizona Cardinals this past Sunday. The Titans led for the majority of the game yet they only ran the ball with their running backs 19 times. For a team that talks a lot about running the ball, smash-mouth football, and all the rest, running the ball 19 times in a low-scoring game is borderline negligent. Taken with the knowledge that Mariota is far below 100%, it’s completely indefensible. I’m not suggesting that they need to fire some of these coaches, but I do think quietly letting Robiskie retire in the offseason might be the best move this team could make.

So those are a few of the reasons for Mariota’s struggles. He has been bad this year. It hurts to write those words because I am about as big of a Mariota fan as you will find. (Just read through my Titans Tuesday articles for proof.) My hope is that the team will make a conscious effort to make things simpler for him for the rest of this season. That starts with running the ball a bunch on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers – the 25th ranked rushing defense in the league. Don’t ask your already injured and shaken QB to throw the ball 30+ times on Sunday. Ask him to manage the game and stay as healthy as possible. Give him easy throws – screens, quick slants, dump offs to the running backs. Put this game on the shoulders of Murray, Henry, and the offensive line. That is the first step to start fixing Mariota. I realize this sounds like I am asking the team to hide its franchise QB, and in a way, I am. He needs it right now. He is not himself. He needs a chance to get right and this is the kind of game where he can do that, if the coaches do the smart thing and rely on their running game. Will they do it? I have no idea, and that’s a problem.




Two Tales of One City (The NFL on REO)

Power Rankings

I got some help this week for the NFL Power Rankings from fellow REO contributors Gowdy Cannon and Mike Lytle. I asked them to rank their top 15 teams. I then assigned a point value to each team based on where they were ranked and then added those points together to get the final product – The NFL on REO Top Ten. (Example for the ranking: A 1st place vote receives 15 points, a 2nd place vote receives 14 points, and a 15th place vote receives 1 point.) I’ve listed the total point value for each team so you can see how this all came together. For the tie-breakers, I listed the rationale for why one team was placed above the other.

1. New England – 45
Back when the Patriots were 2-2 with what was by far the last place team in defensive points given up, it looked like the rest of the league may have had a prayer of not having to deal with this constant playoff juggernaut this year. It was a testimony to how incredible the offense is that they were 2-2 since most teams would have been 0-4 giving up 38 points every week.

But as anyone could see coming, the Patriots turned it around on D. They have been the best team in the league on defense as far as giving up points for the last eight weeks and have a chance to do something very few teams have done the last 30 years – go nine straight games giving up 17 or less. They are now solidly a Top Ten defense in the league by this simple yet extremely important criteria. The O still deserves credit though – the Patriots give up a bunch of yards but recently had 94 straight drives by their opponents start in the opponent’s territory. A record for the last 25 years. That is a credit to NE not turning it over and moving the ball when they have it.

This team is still the champ and the favorite until something major changes. – Gowdy Cannon

2. Pittsburgh – 40 (The Steelers had two number 2 votes while the Eagles only had one.)

3. Philadelphia – 40

4. Minnesota – 36
Just by stats and the eye test this team seems elite and poised to make a run in January. They have a Top 2 defense by the most basic measures and a solid running game and, to this point, excellent quarterback play by Case Keenum and at least for a game or so, Sam Bradford. I know the NFL stereotype is that you have to have an elite QB to win it all and this would cause concern for the Vikings, no matter how well Keenum or Bradford are playing. But seeing as how half the of the last twelve Super Bowls were won by Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, two of Ben Roethlisberger’s most mediocre seasons and a wooden dummy that looked like Peyton Manning, I think the standard belief is often wrong. And while Keenum isn’t anywhere close to Russell Wilson, he could at least be as effective as Wilson was in 2013.

The bigger problem to me is Minnesota’s history. I don’t think it’s by chance that Atlanta and Carolina didn’t get it done the last two years. The NFL is very much the haves and the have-nots historically and it takes either a special QB like John Elway or Drew Brees or a historically great defense like Seattle to cut through years and years of losing and choking. – Gowdy Cannon

5. New Orleans – 33
Giving Drew Brees that running game has been the just what this team needed. Ingram and Kamara have both been impressive this season and they will give the Saints something they have not had in some time – a strong running attack for bad weather games in the playoffs. – Phill Lytle

6. Seattle – 31
The Seattle Seahawks have been one of the top NFL teams for the last several years with two Super Bowl appearances and one win plus several other trips to the playoffs. Most of their recent success has been due to their league best defense and a strong running game. This season that script has been flipped. Their defense is still in the top 10, although much closer to 10 than 1. Their rushing offense ranks 21st in the league and many of those yards are from quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is currently accounting for over 80% of his team’s offense. If he keeps up this pace he will set an all time record. Seattle may not be complete enough to challenge for a title this year, but with Wilson under center we would never count them out. – Mike Lytle

7. LA Rams – 27
I’m not sold. Sorry, I’m just not. I realize their offense has been historically good, but history shows us that great offenses don’t always go far in the playoffs when faced with good defenses and bad playing conditions. Plus, while Goff has been good this season, and much better than his rookie season, this is a guy that has never really played in a big game in his life. His University of California teams were never that great and some of them were terrible. I’m just not convinced he will play up to his regular season standard when faced with a tough opponent in the playoffs. – Phill Lytle

8. Carolina – 21 (There was no difference in voting between these two teams – each had the same votes: 10,9, and 8. I listed them alphabetically.)

9. Jacksonville – 21

10. Tennessee – 20


It’s a good, yet frustrating, time to be a sport’s fan in Nashville

Today, December 6th, 2017, Nashville has a first-place team in two different sports. In the NHL, the Nashville Predators are leading the Western Conference, as well as the Central Division. In the NFL, the Tennessee Titans are in first place in the AFC South. Both fan-bases have a lot to be excited about with the results they are seeing. Both teams are winning at a high percentage. Both teams look poised to make it to the playoffs, though the Predators have a long way to go before that becomes a reality due to the length of the NHL season. But beyond that, the reactions to these two first-place teams could not be any more different. The Nashville Predators are the darlings of the city while the Tennessee Titans seem like the often maligned, step-child. How did we get here?

The 2017-2018 Nashville Predators are one of the best teams in the NHL. They are the defending Western Conference Champions and appear to have improved since their impressive playoff run last season. They play an exciting, action-packed style that leaves the fans happy and satisfied. They win and they win with style. Simply put, they are a joy to watch.

The 2017-2018 Titans have the third-best record in the AFC and are in place as the 3rd seed for the playoffs. They barely missed the playoffs last year, going 9-7 in coach Mike Mularkey’s first full season. They continue to win games even though the product on the field leaves a lot to be desired. They are inconsistent and seem to play down to their competition. Simply put, they are a constant frustration to watch.

I find myself in a weird spot when discussing the Titans with other fans. I acknowledge that the team has been erratic. I realize that this team should not consistently be in close games against many of their opponents. They should be able to handily beat a good number of the teams they have faced this season, but instead, they have struggled to put it all together until very late in many of these games. Their young, star QB, Marcus Mariota has been just as erratic and frustrating with his performance this season. Taken as a whole, the Titans have not made it easy for their fans to feel optimistic about this season.

Except for one thing: They just keep winning.

You can deduct style points all you want, but the truth of the matter is, the Tennessee Titans are 8-4. They are 4-1 in their division. They are one of only a handful of teams this season with a winning record against teams with records over .500. (They beat: 8-4 Seattle, 8-4 Jacksonville, and 7-5 Baltimore. They lost to 10-2 Pittsburgh.) The Titans find ways to win, week after week and at some point, the fans just need to accept them for what they are: A frustrating, erratic, hard-working, and successful team.

For all the fans of both teams out there, enjoy both kinds of winning. Enjoy watching the Nashville Predators dominate the ice. Titans’ fans haven’t seen that kind of dominance in a very long time. It reminds me a lot of the 2000 team that steamrolled through the regular season. Frankly, I have no idea what this year’s Titans’ team reminds me of. (Insert your own joke here.) What I do know is that they are winning and that they have a few more winnable games left this season and a great shot at hosting a playoff game. How awesome is that? So, get on board people. Enjoy the ride, even if it is unpredictable and occasionally bumpy. It’s better than it has been in a very long time




The NFL and the Myth of Parity (The NFL on REO)

The NFL and the Myth of Parity

by Mike Lytle

 

It is pretty much universally accepted that the NFL wants parity around the league. In 1992 the league introduced unrestricted free agency which gave every team access to the same pool of players. In 1994 a league wide salary cap was adopted which meant that every team had the exact same limit on what they could spend on players. No matter how deep the owner’s pockets were or how much money the team generated from their fans the playing field was, at least theoretically, level. I don’t dispute these facts and I completely agree that the NFL wants every team to have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl. This is not like college football where teams like Alabama and Ohio State are simply more talented than just about every team they play and should compete for a title just about every year. While teams like Indiana and Vanderbilt will be lucky to post a winning record once every five years.

Anyone who follows the league knows that on average there are six new playoff teams each year (out of twelve) and that each fall just about every fan base feels like their team has a chance to do something special if things break right for them. It is one of the reasons that despite negative publicity and a recent drop in the ratings the NFL is still the highest rated sport in our country by a pretty wide margin.

If we left it at that I think we would all agree that there is parity in the NFL and most would agree that that is a good thing. Unfortunately many fans and even respected sports media members want to take it further. Just about every year, especially if a dominant team does not establish themselves early in the season, you will hear a chorus of complaints. They say things like “the NFL wants every team to finish 8-8” or “there are no good teams this year, everyone is somewhere between bad or mediocre”.

I want to be clear that this is a ridiculous position that is not supported by any of the evidence we have at our disposal. Each and every year there are great teams. Each and every year there are terrible teams. The league will never have anything close to a bunch of middle of the pack teams. It just won’t happen. Unlike the NBA or college football we might not know who the great or terrible teams will be before the season starts, but rest assured they will emerge every season.

Let’s look at the numbers. I decided to go back to the year 2000 partially because it is a nice round number and partially because the cries of “too much parity” started in the late 90s when the salary cap had crippled previous dynasties like the 49ers and the Cowboys. If the NFL is really a race to the middle like some say we would expect to see very few, if any, really great teams and very few, if any, really bad teams from year to year.

I (arbitrarily!) decided that the mark of a very good/great team should be 13 wins. A 13-3 record is an 81.25 winning percentage. If you are going up against highly paid professionals each week and can win over 80% of the time then you are doing something right. Since the year 2000 there has been at least one 13 win (or better) team each season except for two. In 2002 there were three 12 win teams, but nobody reached 13 or more. In 2014 there were four 12 win teams.

On the flip side, if you are winning three or fewer games in a season then you just aren’t very good. Since 2000 there has been only one season when at least one team did not finish with 3-13 or worse. That season 4-12 was the worst record in the league.

What do these numbers tell us? The main lesson is that virtually every year there are great teams in the NFL that win over 80% of their games. Most of the time there are a few teams like this per season. There are also really terrible teams in the league virtually every season that win less than 20% of their games.

The second lesson is to ignore sports radio and TV personalities who need to fill several hours each week. They fall to the temptation of overstating things. Fans do this as well, but at least they are not getting paid for their terrible opinions. This season when the Patriots and Steelers started more slowly than expected and no dominant team was emerging early in the season I heard the cries. I knew they would be proven wrong and sure enough the Patriots and Steelers are both 9-2 and on pace to win 13 games each. The Eagles are even better as they are on pace to go 14-2. On the other end of the spectrum the Browns are 0-11 and the 49ers are 1-10. So much for parity.




Random Musings (The NFL on REO)

Goodbye Fitz!

Earlier this year, a few of us from the REO staff worked on a Power Rankings for Nashville Sports Talk Radio. We assigned points to every show in four categories, we took the averages of each of those ratings, and then we used that data to come up with our final rankings. Before we had a chance to finalize the article to present our rankings, one of the major radio stations in Nashville made some major changes to their lineup, which obviously rendered our previous rankings pointless. We decided to go back to the drawing board, allow the new iterations of shows some time to come into their own, and then re-rank everyone. Sadly, that delay is costing us again as one of the local shows – Braden and Fitz on 102.5 The Game is coming to an end. Jason Fitz is moving to a nationally syndicated show with ESPN Radio and Braden Gall will probably be part of whatever show 102.5 The Game puts together once Fitz departs.

I hate this. Not to get too deep into the inner workings of REO, when we conducted our original rankings, Braden and Fitz came out as the number 2 show in Nashville. Braden and Fitz were a new show – they have barely been on the air for a year – and they already were doing a show that was smarter, funnier, and more enjoyable than some of the long-standing local shows. Fitz is very good at keeping the conversation moving and he worked really well with Braden Gall.

So, I am happy for Fitz because this is obviously a huge career opportunity for him but I am sad for our Nashville market because we are losing a good show. I hope that whoever they get to replace Fitz will be able to keep the show as interesting. (On a personal note, I would love for them to move Willy Daunic to mornings but I realize that is probably impossible with his Nashville Predators responsibilities.)


Skycam?

On Thursday Night Football, the NFL Network and NBC decided to use Skycam as the primary camera angle. It was a big deal, as no other game had been purposely covered that way before. From what I can tell, it received a mixed response from fans. There was no mixed response in my house: We all hated it. My sons watch football with me, particularly my two oldest who are fourteen and thirteen. The thirteen-year-old loves to play Madden. He is probably the perfect audience for the Skycam view and he was not particularly thrilled. My fourteen year old has never been a big gamer so his negative response was much more predictable to me.

Though I am no longer a gamer, when I was younger I did play video games a lot. In fact, I spent hours playing video games. I concentrated mostly on sports’ games, with lots of Baseball Stars and Joe Montana Football. (You see, we had the Sega Genesis and never owned any Nintendo after the original, so we were unable to play Madden unless we were at a friend’s house.) Mostly though, we played Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl. And for my money, football video games hit their peak with those two and have been going downhill ever since. So my preferred camera angle is whatever camera angle looks the closest to how Tecmo displayed the action. And that is certainly not Skycam!

What did you, my dear readers, think about Skycam? Would you be okay with more broadcasts using it as the primary camera angle or would it work better if used as part of the rotation?


Three Takes on Marcus Mariota

Mariota has had a very uneven season. Perhaps you are having a hard time figuring out why he seems to have regressed this season. I am here to help. Here are the hater, the homer, and the halfway take. We will start with the hater.

Hater

Marcus Mariota is not a good NFL QB. He cannot play from the pocket, as his stats in 2017 bare out. He has only thrown 8 touchdowns this season and 10 interceptions. The Titans added weapons to the offense and somehow he has gotten worse. He is uncomfortable under pressure, cannot throw to the outside, and has a less-than-average deep throw. In addition, he is not a good leader. He does not talk. He does not rally his team by getting in their faces and pushing them to be better. He is too timid, too quiet, and too mild-mannered to ever be an elite QB in the NFL.

Homer

Marcus Mariota deserves the benefit of the doubt for this season. His critics like to forget that he missed the entire offseason, rehabbing a broken leg. He was unable to do football activities until right before training camp started. Missing all of the offseason work and preparation put him behind from the opening game. Then, to make matters worse, he injured his hamstring the fourth game of the season and has not been anywhere near 100% since that game. In addition, do not forget that many of his interceptions this season have been on his receivers running the wrong route. Yes, the team added weapons this offseason, but becoming familiar with each other takes time and with Mariota missing time due to injury, they have not been able to gel the way the need to. We just need to give it time to work. Mariota is still capable of being an elite QB in the NFL.

Halfway

Marcus Mariota has been inconsistent this season. While he has not been anywhere near as bad as his detractors will claim he has not been blameless in the Titans offensive struggles. He has been less comfortable in the pocket, for a variety of reasons. He has been less decisive and accurate in third down and red zone opportunities. He has made a few throws that were just plain awful. However, he has also had his share of bad luck with multiple touchdowns either dropped or taken off the board due to bad calls. Those things affect his final stat line in ways that critics and national media people simply do not acknowledge or recognize. This will be a frustrating season for Titans fans though because as it stands, it does not appear that Mariota will have enough time to truly heal and feel comfortable with his new offensive weapons. That does not mean this will be a lost season. Even with a less than 100% effective Mariota, the Titans should still be a playoff team which is a huge step forward for a team that has missed the playoffs for nearly a decade. Right now, Mariota is a middle-of-the-pack QB with the ability to take strides to make it close to the top 10 by the time the season ends. Will he do it? I am leaning ever so slightly to yes.


In a couple of weeks, we will be posting the ¾ season Power Rankings. This time around, I hope to be joined by Gowdy Cannon and Mike Lytle in coming up a more definitive Top Ten. The next two weeks are going to be huge for so many teams as far as playoff implications are concerned. People might complain and criticize the quality of teams in the NFL this season, particularly in the AFC, but right now, there are 13 teams in the AFC with legitimate hopes for the playoffs. And the NFC has 13 as well. That is 26 teams out of 32 that are still holding on to hope for a postseason berth. That is insane. I realize the product is a bit watered down this season but at least this is not like some other sports where the outcome seems set in stone two weeks into the regular season. Hope springs eternal in the NFL.

 

See you next week.

 




All Roads Lead to Nashville (The NFL on REO)

I’m too hyped about tomorrow’s game between the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers to get any real work done this week. It is easily one of the best matchups of the season with two division leaders squaring off in prime-time. If you have read this column before you know that I am a die-hard Titans fan. Have been since 1999. More on that in a bit. For today’s edition of The NFL on REO, my brain naturally turned to all things Titans – even in ways that probably won’t make much sense to anyone else. But, as I have said before, it’s my article and I will do whatever I want.


The worst game of the week, even though it went to overtime and on the surface seemed exciting, was between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. I am still struggling to understand how the Jaguars won that game. Down by three points, they turned the ball over twice in the final two minutes of the 4th quarter…and they still won. The Chargers had one simple job to do: run out the clock, and they could not do it. (Blake Bortles continues to prove that he is terrible and will be the downfall of an otherwise talented team.) How does this relate to the Titans you ask? Easy, the Jags are fighting for the AFC South crown and are Tennessee’s only real competition at this point. A loss against the Chargers would have been huge for the Titans. Also, Ken Wisenhunt is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers and I blame him completely for being unable to run out the clock at the end of the game. If you have already removed all memories of Wisenhunt from your mind I don’t blame you. Even so, he was the head coach for the Titans for one and a half horrible, awful, terrible season. Somehow, his ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory for the Titans has stayed with him even though he is now coaching on the West coast. Thanks a lot, Ken!


Peter King is Sports Illustrated’s lead NFL writer. He writes a column every week called Monday Morning Quarterback. These are massive, thousands of words articles. Unless I missed it, his most recent column had ZERO mentions of the Titans beating the Bengals. (He did mention Bengals player Vontaze Burfict getting ejected, though that had everything to do with Bufict being a moron and nothing to do with the Titans.) I realize the Titans are not a glamorous team. I realize they are not a great team at this point. But, they have won four games in a row and are leading their division over half-way through the season. Not to mention, Marcus Mariota has led the team on last-minute, game-winning drives in three of the last four games. But yeah, don’t write one word about them in your NFL column. That seems logical.


This is the story of how the Tennessee Titans won my heart

I am confident that my story is not that unique. The 1999-2000 season was a magical one for those of us living in Nashville. The Houston/Tennessee Oilers finally had a home and a name. The Tennessee Titans captured the imagination of an entire city that first season. They moved into their new home, Adelphia Coliseum, and proceeded to shock the NFL and the world with their improbable run to the Super Bowl.

I do have a confession to make though: I was not a fully formed fanatic until the end of that season. I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan. (I know…) I lost that team to an awful, greedy move by an awful, greedy owner. When Cleveland was awarded a new franchise and created the Browns once again, it was too late for me. I no longer cared. I had moved on. So, the 1999-2000 season found me as more of a football fan and less of a fan of any particular team.

The first call to my heart occurred on January 8, 2000 – the fittingly named “Music City Miracle” game. At that time, I was working as a security guard to help pay for college. I had the sleep-depriving graveyard shift – 11 PM to 7 AM. I worked that Saturday, got home, and opted to try to sleep for a few hours before the game started. I overslept. I remember waking up, turning on the television and watching the Buffalo Bills’ kicker, Steve Christie drive a 41-yard field goal through the uprights to give his team a 16-15 lead. There were only seconds left in the game, enough time for either a crazy kickoff return attempt or some sort of Hail Mary after the kickoff. Neither of those options seemed especially hopeful. I’ll admit, I was depressed and frustrated. I hated to see the 13-3 season end like this. I hated that I had missed the entire game, only to watch them lose. I hated that they were losing to an inferior Buffalo team.

Then it happened. The short kick. Lorenzo Neal catching it and handing it to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck throwing a perfect lateral to Kevin Dyson. Dyson running down the sideline with an escort of blockers. I sat there in my bed with my arms above my head in celebration. To this day, I am so thankful that I woke up in time to see it.

But even that didn’t completely win me over. I know, how could that play not win me over? I can’t explain it, but I guess my only excuse is that I was being overly selective and careful with my next choice. I wanted to be sure that the team I picked to be MY team was worthy of my fandom.

The Titans became worthy, and then some, at Super Bowl XXXIV. The first half was an ugly one for the Titans and did little to bring me around to their cause. But once the second half started, and Steve McNair and Eddie George willed their team to tie the game, I found myself buying in. The final drive by the Titans, with impossible play after impossible play by McNair broke down all my other defenses. I was hooked. I was sold. I was a Tennessee Titans’ fan. I realize they lost that game, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to root for a team that had to work hard for success. I wanted to root for a team that played tough, physical football. I wanted to root for a team that left it all out on the field.

The Titans were that team.


So that’s it for today. What stood out to you in Week 10? What is the story for how you came to love your favorite team? Comment below. We love to hear from our readers.




Midseason NFL Superlatives (The NFL on REO)

It has been a long week and I don’t have the time or the desire to churn out another 1,500 words on the NFL. Instead, I have opted for the lazy man’s way out of this problem and have decided to do a list of superlatives at the half-way point of the 2017 season. I realize that we just watched Week 9 and it sounds weird to say this is the half-way point, but if you actually look at the records and how many games teams have played, this is a much more natural mid-way point than the end of Week 8. Plus, it’s my article and I can do whatever I want.


Most improved team

The Los Angeles Rams. There is no other answer here. If you said anything else, go to the end of the line and take a long, hard look at your life. Bonus points to the Rams for being coached by a former Boy Band Member!

 

 

Most disappointing team

The New York Giants. They were 11-5 last season. They might actually be the worst team in the league this season. They are bad from top to bottom. I think they are in for a clean-sweep this offseason.

 

Most annoying storyline that just won’t go away

Colin Kaepernick. Every time I read another Kaepernick story, positive or negative, this is my response:

 

Player that needs to stop doing interviews or press conferences

Cam Newton. First, he makes derogatory remarks towards female reporters and then most recently, he makes some strange Titanic allusion that leaves everyone pretty sure that he doesn’t really know that the Titanic sank.

 

Worst Pre-Game Speech

There will be no topping the infamous Jameis Winston “W” speech that happened this past Sunday. I’ll let it speak for itself.

Worst Roger

Roger Goodell. Fire him.

 

Worst Uniforms

Still the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Best Career Move

Tony Romo retiring to work in the booth for CBS. I’ve said it before, but Romo has been a complete revelation. He even makes Jim Nance better and I thought that was impossible.

 

Worst Career Move

A.J. Green repeatedly punching Jalen Ramsey’s helmet. He didn’t get hurt but it’s about the dumbest thing anyone can do on the football field. Helmet is harder than hand. Every time.

 

Most likely to have the worst record

I think this will be a toss up between Cleveland and San Francisco with Cleveland “winning” out in the end. The Browns are the textbook example of incompetence and dysfunction – you only need to look at how they botched the trade deadline.

 

Most likely to win it all

I am not a gambler. If I were, I would probably put my money on the Patriots. No, they have not looked like the best team in the NFL this season, but they have still been a top 5 team for most of it and we all know what their tract record is in the post-season. How can you bet against them at this point? Doesn’t mean I have to like it though. If I can’t experience the Patriots failing, then at least I have this:

 


What about you? What superlatives would you hand out for this season? Use the comment section below to chime in.




Who Watches the Watchmen? (The NFL on REO)

In Watchmen, the genre-defining masterpiece by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, there is a slogan that can be seen throughout the graphic novel, spray-painted on walls, “Who watches the Watchmen?” It’s a message about keeping those in power accountable and if that is even possible. While the things I examine this week are much less important in the grand scheme, I believe they belong in the conversation. It’s too often that we find incompetence or worse coming from those that are in a place of power in the sports’ world – whether it be the leagues, the teams, or the media that covers it all. So here is my attempt to watch the watchmen.


Media Incompetence

Reading and listening to sports media is a frustrating and sometimes exasperating use of my time. I don’t think I am alone in that reaction. I get it. There will be honest, and even logical, differences of opinion. I have no problem with those. I may not like it when my favorite teams get unfairly criticized or ignored, but on some level, I understand the reasoning behind those decisions. But sometimes, or a lot of the time, sports’ writers and talkers go too far. They make absurd declarations that no intelligent person can defend. (See: EVERY WORD FROM THE LIPS OF SKIP BAYLESS.) Or sometimes, they seem to lack the simple skill of real analysis or evaluation. I’ll give you an example.

Sports Illustrated does a weekly NFL Power Rankings Poll. There are typically 17 to 18 voters and most of them have voted throughout the season. Each submits their own Power Rankings and then the totals are compiled and the Official Power Poll is created.

In this week’s Power Rankings (and last week’s for that matter) my Tennessee Titans received a 30th place vote from one of the voters.

30th.

There are 32 teams in the NFL. And this person that purports to know the NFL voted the Titans as the 3rd worst team in the NFL. Look, I have no problem with the voters keeping the Titans out of the top half of the Power Rankings. They have not been a good team this year. They have been uneven and inconsistent. But even with all that, they are still 4-3, first in their division, and have wins over the Seahawks and the Jaguars – two teams that are numbers 5 and 13 respectively. The Titans’ worst loss – the debacle in Houston – was to the number 11 ranked team according to the Power Ranking. They don’t “show their work” on the Power Rankings so I don’t know who to call out publicly but if I could I would. It’s dumb and completely unsupportable.


It depends on what your definition of the word “catch” is…

Another week in the NFL, another controversial catch/no catch situation. This week’s biggest offender – the Zach Miller no-catch call in the Chicago vs. New Orleans game. At this point, no one officiating an NFL game knows for sure what a catch is. For an exhaustive breakdown of some of the most controversial calls in the past few years, go visit this link. It has videos and gifs and everything.

I reached out to some of my fellow REO writers Mike, Gowdy, and Mark to get their opinions on this topic. Have it fellas!

Gowdy:
For the last seven years, the NFL has massacred logic and the English language over what the meaning of a “catch” is in football. It started with Calvin Johnson vs. my Bears in 2010, reached its controversial peak in a Dallas vs. Green Bay playoff game with Dez Bryant in January of 2015 and has continued until last Sunday when Zach Miller made (what is logically and semantically) a catch vs. New Orleans in the end zone for a TD.  But no, the referees ruled that it’s not a catch with the NFL’s Pharisee-like definition of a very simple concept.

Look, I get it to some degree. When a player bobbles the ball as he’s falling to the ground, it can mean he didn’t catch it in that he didn’t procure it to a reasonable level, meaning he “dropped” it. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and leave it all to subjectivity. But give the referees some latitude to use some common sense. Any time you over-define words and concepts, you run a huge risk of leaving out a human’s ability to reason and interpret. That is exactly what has been happening in the NFL for years now.Their catch rule reads like a chapter in Leviticus. It needs to change. Because otherwise, it hurts people’s brains, creates injustice (in a sports sense) and takes some fun out of the game.

Mike:
I am usually not a “things were so much better in the good old days” type person, but when it comes to catching a football in the NFL this was so much better in the good old days. I remember a time when players, coaches, refs, and fans all had the same basic understanding of what constituted a catch. Now we have to go through a checklist of questions like “Did he clearly possess the ball?” “Did he make a football move?” “Did he maintain possession all the way to the ground?” “At any point in the process of catching the football did the ball make any unnatural motion that could potentially leave an ounce of doubt in the minds of all those looking on as to the veracity of the aforementioned completion?”

I may have made one of those questions up, but you get my point. It should not be this difficult. I am not a Dallas Cowboys fan, but if what Dez Bryant did against the Packers in the 2015 playoffs can’t be ruled a catch then we need to rethink the whole thing. It hasn’t really improved since then despite the tinkering. The solution, as always, fire Roger Goddell.

Mark:
What exactly is a catch according to the NFL?  Ah, one the great mysteries of the cosmos.  Philosophers, scientists, and theologians have debated this topic for a millennium.  Verily, this is an inescapable question that every man and woman struggles with at some point in their existence.  Unfortunately, those who wrestle with this question are often NFL referees.  In recent years the definition of catch according to the rule book has become so convoluted that refs might need a legal degree to fully comprehend the nature of a catch.  As a result we’ve seen legal “loopholes” exploited (occasionally at the most inopportune of times in the post season!) to deny a team/player of what should have been a catch.

 

I think they all make very valid points, especially the part about firing Goodell. Mike is wise. Listen to Mike. Gowdy is no slouch either using words like massacre and semantically. This is an NFL column for crying out loud! That kinda talk is too fancy for us common folk! And Mark, well Mark decided to take a more philosophical approach. Nothing wrong with that.


Titans Talk

Is there such a thing as a bad win? Or a good loss? According to Logan Ryan, Titans’ cornerback, there are not good losses or bad wins. Ryan has a radio show on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville where he sits in with the guys from The Midday 180. Yesterday, Paul Kuharsky vehemently pushed back against Ryan’s assertion. In Kuharsky’s view, the Tennessee Titans’ overtime win against the Cleveland Browns was a bad win. Ryan made a lot of good points in his response about how hard it is to win in the NFL, how some games just don’t go the way you want them to and you have to do everything you can to pull out the win. That’s what the Titans did against the Browns. It was an ugly win. It was a disappointing game for Titans’ fans because we had hoped to see the Titans dominate from the opening whistle. But, a win is a win. I tend to side more with Logan Ryan, an actual NFL player who has won a Super Bowl, than with a sports personality/writer.

Let me frame it this way (echoing what Ryan said on the show): Would the Houston Texans’ 41-38 loss to the Seattle Seahawks be considered a good loss for the Texans? Or would it be considered a bad win for the Seahawks? My guess is, most people (and Paul Kuharsky) would say that yes, it was a good loss because the Texans offense was so good in that game and it was very close. I also think that most people (including Paul) would say that it was a good win for the Seahawks. It was an exciting game, that’s for sure, but does that make it a good loss and a good win? Both teams struggled to do anything on defense. Both teams allowed their opponents to move the ball almost effortlessly down the field. (Both QB’s threw 4 TDs and over 400 yards. That’s a sign of very poor defense.) So why would that be a good win for the Seahawks? One side of the ball played horribly – just like the Titans offense did against the Browns. One side played really well – just like the Titans defense did against the Browns.[1. Before you lose your mind yelling at me about the quality of the opponent, know that I understand that perspective. The Browns are an awful team. The Titans should have won that game by 10+ points. I was frustrated that they didn’t. But at the end of the day, they won. To me, that is all that matters. I guarantee you that while Ryan and his teammates are happy with the win, they are well aware that they have to play much better in the future. Both of those things can be true. It’s not an either-or scenario like some in the media or in the fan-base want it to be.] A win is a win in the NFL. You take them any way you can get them. Assigning style points is for fans and writers and has no bearing what happens on the field and in the locker room.

 

 




Five Predictions For the 2017-18 NBA Season

The NBA regular season tipped off last week. The NBA has become a sport where the offseason gets more attention than the regular season. With all the blockbuster trades and huge free-agent signings, it is not hard to see why this is the case. Now we get to see how all those offseason moves will pan out. Last season I made five predictions about the NBA and somehow all five ended up happening. I was on cloud nine. My head grew to twice its normal size, I was invincible. I even considered flying to Vegas to put my skills to the test.

Thankfully the Vegas trip never happened. I contented myself instead, by making five NFL predictions for this current season. A couple of those NFL predictions aren’t looking so good this point and I have come crashing back down to earth. Apparently, I do not have the gift of prophecy.

Despite my recent failures I have decided to dust myself off and try again. What follows are five predictions for the 2017-2018 NBA season. Maybe I can recapture the magic from last year.


LeBron James will win the league MVP award. I think this will happen for a couple reasons. First, there seems to be a growing sentiment among sports media members that LeBron should win again. He has won the award four times, but his last MVP trophy was in 2013. He is still considered the best player in the world so many find it odd that he has not won this award in four years.[1. I would counter that the guys who have won the last four MVPs each deserved them.] The second reason I think LeBron will win is more practical. No matter how good Golden State is Steph Curry and Kevin Durant will take votes from each other. Russell Westbrook won last year, but his Thunder team added two all-star players so while the team should be better his numbers will almost certainly go down. The same can be said for last year’s runner-up James Harden after the Rockets added a future hall of famer in Chris Paul. Other contenders may emerge, but, if he stays healthy, LeBron’s team should win plenty of games and his numbers should be MVP worthy.


The Milwaukee Bucks will win a playoff series. Their last series win was in 2001 so it’s been a while. That is all about to change though. With Giannis Antetokounmpo[2. AKA The Greek Freak] they have a top ten player in the league. He may be a top-five player after this season. He should be a household name already, but his name is so hard to say and spell it has held him back.[3. If his name was John Smith and he played for the Knicks or Lakers you would be sick of hearing about him at this point.] He led the team in every major statistical category last season as a 22-year-old. The sky is the limit with this guy and they have built a decent team around him especially if Jabari Parker can come back from injury and regains his previous form. I expect 45-50 wins and a victory in the first round of the playoffs.


The Golden State Warriors will win 70 games this season. Only two teams in history have ever won 70 or more games in a season so to expect that out of the gate is a tall order. With the talent they have and the chemistry built by years of playing together 70 wins a real possibility. I don’t think they will chase it like they did two seasons ago when they set the win record at 73, but it is hard to see them losing a lot this season.


Fewer players will sit out games due to rest this season. Despite criticism from some[4. Charles Barkley has apparently reached the stage in life where he complains about everything. Even decisions that make perfect sense. As a long time fan of his, all I can say is “You are better than that Charles!”] the league made a wise decision to spread the regular season out a bit. They are scheduling fewer games on consecutive nights and trying to avoid the dreaded four games in five nights stretches. This should mean coaches won’t rest guys as often and it will be more likely that paying fans will get to see teams at full strength. If this works it is a win-win for everyone.


People will still complain when players do rest. I get the complaints, I really do. If someone pays the full price of a ticket only to find out that many of the players they came to see are not playing that can be a real bummer. At the same time, I totally understand why coaches rest players.[5. I find it interesting that in baseball it is a completely accepted part of the sport that players will sit out games to rest during the season, but when NBA teams started doing the same thing it signaled the rapid decline of Western civilization.] Up until about two years ago, the only team that routinely rested healthy players was the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs also happen to be the most successful NBA franchise of the past two decades winning five championships and being a legitimate contender every year since 1997-1998. It is not a surprise that other teams started copying their techniques and strategies. Even with the schedule changes, this issue won’t go away. Coaches will rest guys during the regular season in preparation for the playoffs and sports talk show hosts and fans will complain.


There you have it. I would love to get your feedback on these predictions and hear what others think may happen this season.