The Great Debate

James or Jordan? LeBron or Michael? LBJ or MJ? This topic has been debated to death on talk radio, on podcasts, and in print. Michal Jordan is considered by many to be the best basketball player of all time. LeBron is the one current player who some think could challenge MJ for G.O.A.T. status. I believe the debate itself is a bit short-sighted since it completely dismisses other all-time greats like Kareem, Bird, Magic, Russell, and Chamberlain. Each of the guys mentioned in the last sentence, as well as MJ and LeBron, could lay claim to best-ever status. They all have countless great moments and statistical accomplishments that would bolster their case. They also have minor flaws that we could point out if we wanted to get nitpicky.

The Time Is Right

This article is about LeBron and Jordan though, and I think now is the right time to compare them. They both completed 15 seasons in the NBA so LeBron is at the same place in his career as Jordan was at his third and final retirement. They have each had 15 chances to win a championship, be the MVP, be an all-star, lead the league in scoring, or do whatever else great players do during the course of their career.

Let’s Keep It Real

I will do my best to lay out the case for each guy and point out any factors that I think are important in this discussion. I have been watching basketball since 1982 so I have been a witness to both of their careers in their entirety. I can’t stand hot takes so you won’t find any here. If you are looking for an article that takes an EXTREME position or ignores all facts that go against a predetermined narrative you are in the wrong place. There are plenty of “experts” on Facebook and Twitter (not to mention Fox Sports, ESPN, or sports talk radio) that can provide that for you. I will also attempt to avoid any recency bias and getting swept up with what is happening now while forgetting about the past. That is never a good thing and too many are guilty of it. At the same time, I am not a “get off my lawn” type person. We tend to idealize the past and overlook its flaws. The sport of basketball did not magically peak in 1986 and then go downhill from there. So if you are looking for someone who will say that everything and everybody was better in the 1980s you need to keep looking.

With that out of the way, let the comparison begin.


Rings Matter, But They Don’t Tell the Whole Story

The more simple-minded among us would say that Jordan won six titles and LeBron won three, therefore Jordan is better. Case closed. It should be obvious that this is a very incomplete way to judge greatness in a team sport. Bill Russell won 11 titles. He is clearly the greatest if all we are doing is counting championships. Some may argue that Russell played in a different era so it is not fair to include him in this discussion. Robert Horry (a contemporary of both James and Jordan) won seven titles. I guess that makes him the greatest player of the modern (post-merger) era. No, no it doesn’t. Titles are important and are definitely part of the equation, but they should NEVER be the single overriding factor when determining individual greatness in a team sport. This is not golf or tennis so let’s stop pretending that it is.

Others argue that the fact that MJ was 6-0 in his finals appearances while James was 3-6 should settle the argument. This group is even dumber than the “championship counters” discussed in the previous paragraph. On what planet is making the championship round of your sport and losing somehow a lesser accomplishment than not making it at all? Continuing this flawed line of thinking it is better to be swept in the first round of the playoffs (in order to preserve a perfect finals record) than to lose in game 7 of the finals! This makes absolutely no sense and I reject it out of hand.


You Play To Win the Game!

Winning does matter though, and great individual players in a sport like basketball should contribute to their team’s success. To that end and because so many people are confused by this issue I have developed a simple scoring system to help inform our thinking on these types of debates. I call it the REO Winning Scale™. Jordan and LeBron are the ideal candidates to compare because they were both undeniably great and because both played 15 seasons (to this point). They also played their entire careers with a four-round playoff format which was introduced in the 1983-1984 season. Here is how the system works:

A player is awarded points for how far his team advances in the playoffs each season. Missing the playoffs altogether is worth zero points. In the NBA where 53.3% (this % was higher when Jordan played because there were fewer teams) of teams make the playoffs it is not a great accomplishment simply to make the postseason, so for a great player to miss out altogether is something of a failure. Losing in the first round is worth 1 point. Losing in the second round is worth 2 points. Losing in the conference finals is worth 3 points. Losing in the finals is worth 4 points. Finally, winning the title is worth 6 points. Titles do matter so a bonus point is awarded for that accomplishment.

Let’s see how each player did in his career. First up is Jordan:

 

Let’s look at James now:

By this measure, LeBron has a slight edge in terms of his impact on his team winning over the years. His REO Winning Scale point totals will only go up as his career continues since he appears to not be slowing down or conceding anything to age. We must also acknowledge that Jordan retired briefly during his absolute peak and retired again at the very end of his prime. Those lost seasons would have almost certainly produced more playoff success and possibly even more titles.


Comparing Eras

Another factor to consider is that each of these players played in at least two different eras of basketball. Jordan entered the league when scoring was high and the pace of play was fast. His rookie year the average NBA team scored 110.8 points per game. That season (1984-85) every single team in the league averaged over 100 points per game. By the time he retired the game had slowed down considerably and become more physical. Scoring was way down across the league. During his final season with the Bulls league-wide scoring was at 95.6 points per game and his final season with the Wizards saw scoring drop to 95.1 per game. LeBron came into a very slow paced and physical league, but the pace of play has increased dramatically in the last decade and scoring has as well. Watching a game from LeBron’s rookie year compared to a game now is almost like watching a different sport. LeBron’s rooking year saw team scoring at a near-record low of 93.4 points per game (the second lowest total in 60 years!). There were only two teams in the entire league that averaged over 100 points per game and four teams averaged less than 90. This season scoring reached a nearly 30 year high of 106.3 points per game.

We should also note that when Jordan played hard fouls were not discouraged the way they are now so players were physically more beat up. On the other hand, Jordan never had to deal with constant switching on defense or with zone defenses which were illegal at the time. LeBron has faced legal zones and much more sophisticated analytic based defenses for his entire career. I say all that to point out that one guy did not “have it easy” while the other had to “work for everything he got.” Those who say such things are either very biased or willfully ignorant.


Competition Is Fierce, Until It Isn’t

This analysis would be incomplete if we didn’t compare the level of competition. Jordan entered a very deep and stacked league. With a 16 team playoff field in a 23 team league it was easier to make the playoffs then, but harder to advance. For this reason, MJ went 1-9 in his first 10 playoff games and lost three series before he ever won one. As his career went on and his teammates got better he started winning more. The arrival of Jordan’s prime coincided with the decline of the Lakers, Celtics, and Pistons dynasties that dominated the early part of his career. As those teams and players got older the Bulls took advantage. The league also expanded very rapidly in the late 80s and early 90s going from 23 to 29 teams. The talent pool was spread out and the league was watered down. In addition, many young players were going off the rails as the absence of a salary cap for rookies killed the incentive to get better. The mid-90s through early 2000s when Jordan did much of his winning was not a good time for the NBA in terms of style or quality of play. Jordan’s Bulls were the primary beneficiaries of these events.

LeBron never was able to take advantage of excessive expansion as only one new team has been added in the last 20 plus years. He also played during the massive influx of excellent international players that was just getting started when MJ played. These international players increased the depth and level of competition around the league. Perhaps the biggest thing working against LeBron is that he had the misfortune of playing the latter part of his prime during the Warriors dynasty. He was able to beat them once in the finals, but one team with four of the top 20 players in the league is unheard of and considerably more difficult than anything Jordan ever faced in the finals. One benefit for LeBron is that he has been aided by playing in the weaker conference for his entire career so making repeated trips to the finals has been easier for him that it was for MJ.

Another way of to look at this is that Jordan faced tougher competition on his way to the finals, while LeBron has faced tougher competition in the finals. This would help explain why one guy has more finals appearances, but the other has more finals victories.


Numbers Never Lie, But Do They Settle Anything?

I haven’t spent a lot of time on individual stats because I don’t think we will find any answers there. Look at these regular season numbers and you will see what I mean:

MJ – 30.1 ppg 6.2 rpg 5.3 apg 2.3 spg 0.8 bpg .497 FG% .327 3PT% .835 FT%

 

LBJ – 27.2 ppg 7.4 rpg 7.2 apg 1.7 spg 0.7 bpg .504 FG% .344 3PT% .739 FT%

 

In most categories, both guys got better in the postseason, which is not always the case even for all-star players. Their improved playoff statistics are just another testament to their greatness. Here are those numbers:

MJ- 33.4 ppg 6.4 rpg 5.7 apg 2.1 spg 0.9 bpg .487 FG% .332 3PT% .828 FT%

 

LBJ – 28.9 ppg 8.9 rph 7.1 apg 1.8 spg 1.0 bpg .491 FG% .332 3PT% .743 FT%

 

Jordan was a better scorer. LeBron a better rebounder and passer. This is true both in the regular and postseason. As he ages, LeBron’s per game numbers will almost certainly go down (assuming he is human) while his name will climb higher on the all-time record book. After 15 seasons each though, the statistics for both the regular season and playoffs are incredibly close.


Haters Gonna Hate

As we wrap up this article I should be forthcoming and admit that I never really rooted for either guy. I was never a Jordan fan during his career. While I did root for him to finally win a title when they played the Lakers in 1991 (a lot of that was due to how much I hated the Lakers), I did not enjoy seeing him win throughout the 90s. I have never rooted for LeBron in any of his 9 trips to the finals. I don’t hate his teams nearly as much as I did Jordan’s Bulls, but I have always pulled for whoever his opponent was. I do recognize that both are all-time great players, so hopefully, my lack of fandom for either player will make me unbiased in this analysis.


Are We There Yet?

So where does this leave us? Each guy had a similar impact on their team winning as evidenced by their REO Winning Scalescores. Both guys dealt with and conquered whatever the league threw at them in terms of style of play, pace of play, defensive rules, and physicality. They were both beneficiaries of certain peculiarities that were happening in the NBA during their careers, but they also had some bad luck in running up against all-time great teams that prevented them from winning as much as they could have otherwise.

My take is that at his peak Jordan is still the slightly better player. His ability to seize the moment and his more consistent shooting touch gives him the edge. It also helps that he has no black marks on his resume like James has from the 2010 and 2011 playoffs. Even when Jordan lost in a playoff series he still played well.

LeBron doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit though. He is now 33 years old and has been playing a full NBA schedule since he jumped straight from high school 15 years ago. Somehow he seems to be getting better as he ages. If he can continue to put up comparable numbers to what he has done so far in his career and make a couple more title runs this debate will need to be revisited.

 




Five More Sports Movies We Love

The best movies tell unforgettable stories and introduce us to legendary characters and performances. So it is no surprise that in a culture obsessed with sports, some of the best films of all time are about them. Sports prove that truth is indeed better than fiction quite often–you will notice below and on any list of sports movies how many are based on or inspired by true stories. Movies, for their part, make us interested in sports we as Americans often are not obsessed with, like boxing, karate and hockey. The two together have given us exceptional entertainment.

Today our staff discusses five more sports films that we love. You can read our first article in this series here. This is not a Top Five list; just five selections that impacted us deeply…as sports fans (most of us), moviegoers and human beings that love to be inspired.


Remember the Titans by Phill Lytle

Maybe this one is too obvious. I’m not sure that matters that much to me. I love this movie. I love the story – even if the filmmakers took liberties in telling it. I love the performances, with Denzel doing what he does best, the young cast of football players/students bringing life and personality to the team, and to the unsung heroes of the film like Will Patton as the assistant coach. Everyone brings their A-game to the movie and it shows. The music by Trevor Rabin is earnest and epic which only serves to help everything mean a little bit more.

This is a movie that calls its shot from the very beginning and unless you have never seen a sports movie before, you will know where it is headed. You anticipate the beats, the dramatic flourishes, and the building climax. None of that matters. This was Disney firing on all cylinders, perfectly delivering on their tried and true method. That might sound cynical of me. Trust me, it’s not. I unapologetically love this film even if it does pretty much exactly what you expect it to from the opening frame.

It’s a movie built on moments, speeches, emotions, and inspiration. It sets out to tell a heartwarming and uplifting film and it pulls it off without a hitch. Remember the Titans is a Titan in the world of sports movies and deserves to be on everyone’s favorites list.


A League of Their Own by Gowdy Cannon

“There’s No Crying In Baseball!” put this film on the map so to speak, but after about 10 viewings I can say that it is so much more than Tom Hanks at his comedic finest. It’s a perfect storm of untold history, tense family drama, riveting sports action and timeless storytelling that joins a pantheon of exceptional American screenplays. To me it is not just one of the best sports movies of all time, but one of the best films of any genre of all time.

Hanks is his typical scene-stealing self. Gina Davis is great. Lori Petty is perfect as the insecure younger sibling (as the 4th of 5 children, I am fully qualified to make that call). Unheard of Megan Cavanagh, who doesn’t even have a picture on her wikipedia page, is unforgettable. Even modern punching bags Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are good in their support roles. And they all have tremendous chemistry.

Not to be lost is without of doubt my favorite Jon Lovitz performance ever, as the scout Ernie Capadino. Essentially 100% of what he says makes me and my mom laugh out loud, even after repeated viewings. To this day I can look at her and say “You see the way it works is that the train moves and not the station” and we will crack up.

If a litmus test for movie grade is how rewatchable it is, A League of Their Own gets an A.


Space Jam by D.A. Speer

Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now! A few years back, shortly after my wife Kate and I were married, we thought it would be great fun on a whim to hold a Space Jam party. We invited friends over, had some snacks, and watched the movie. You never really know just how well a movie will hold up over the years, because over time, a movie can seem so much better in your mind than it actually was. We took the gamble…and it held up well!

At lunch today, I asked my wife, “What is it that made Space Jam such a good movie?” She looked at me for a second and said, “What about it isn’t a good movie?” I had a hard time answering. On paper, I’d have expected the movie to be a failure. MJ teams up with the Looney Toons to challenge aliens for their fates over a theme park. What could possibly go wrong with an idea like that?

Well, somehow director Joe Pytka was able to pull off movie magic. The story is compelling enough to make it fun. The music inspired everything from couple’s skates at the local roller rink (I Believe I Can Fly), to endless current-day internet remixes of the theme song by Quad City DJ’s. The star power is perfect for the time. This is right in the height of Jordan mania, after his first return to the NBA. As a teenager, I had a poster of him on my wall, slamming in it with his tongue out. Would I want to see him play against cartoon monsters? Psh, I could have watched him shoot free throws in practice and would have been enthralled. Bill Murray is there. Charles Barkley is there. Larry Bird is there. Heck, even Newman shows up.

Yeah, it’s not the most epic movie by today’s standards, but it will forever be a classic in my mind, half court dunks and all.


Warrior by Phill Lytle

I hate MMA, or mixed martial arts. It’s one tiny step up from to-the-death, gladiatorial combat, and I honestly don’t understand or appreciate its appeal in the least. Which makes my reaction to Warrior, a movie about two brothers who are MMA fighters, so perplexing. I never thought I would love a movie about MMA fighting, let alone like a movie like that, but Warrior defied my expectations and had me from very early on. The story is nothing groundbreaking – if you have seen any boxing movie or many sports movies for that matter, you can sort of guess where everything is going – but the execution of the story is what makes this film work so well. Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, and Joel Edgerton give amazing performances as a father and his two estranged sons. I’ve never been a huge Nolte fan but he is incredible in this film playing a very damaged and broken father. Hardy is just pure intensity and he brings a real menace and danger to his character, but with just enough cracks in his facade to show that there is a lot more to him than just anger and passion. Edgerton plays the most “normal” role, but he gives his character so much depth that I hate to classify it as normal. The fight sequences are well shot – they are brutal and very effective. The film is shot low budget style which lends the film more realism and immediacy. The music is great as well, with a song by The National that closes the film perfectly.

Warrior is first and foremost a movie about a broken family trying to find healing. That is what drew me in and what knocked down my walls. I was prepared to hate this movie due to my hatred of the sport it showcases. I was not prepared to fall completely for it.


Over the Top by Gowdy Cannon

Millions know Sly Stallone from the Rocky and Rambo series. Far less remember him in this movie about an estranged father, his spoiled son and….arm wrestling? How many movies about arm wrestling are there? I don’t know, but when you’ve conquered the world as Rocky and Rambo, you get to take these risks. And while I may be in the minority, I think it yielded a reward. The superbly named Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) has the lovable humility of Balboa yet is still very much a unique character. And the journey he embarks on to earn back the love of his only son and to win an arm wrestling tournament (Really! It’s about arm wrestling!) is one I have enjoyed numerous times.

A few years ago I began a tradition of having a “Man Movie Night” with other men at my church and this was the first one I showed. Because most people have seen Stallone’s other work and this is a hidden treasure to me. Yet despite its manliness, I think the heart of father-son reconciliation can appeal to most people.

The movie has some faults for sure, like the arm wresting (arm wrestling!) tournament format of double elimination is not consistent, and the drama is at times pretty contrived, but Lincoln’s secret finger re-positioning weapon vs. Bull Harley in the final and all the memories he makes with with his son son along the way render all the flaws forgotten.  Complete with a fantastic antagonist role by Robert Loggia and some of the best terrible wonderful cheesy 80s sports montage music ever, I adore this movie.


There you have it. Five more sports movies we love. Our last list got some pretty strong feedback – both positive and negative. Hopefully this one will as well as we always enjoy a good back-and-forth with our readers. Use the comment section below to post your praise or ridicule of our selections today.




You Don’t Know Who Ty Cobb Was?

A baseball great.  Record holder. In the first class of Hall of Fame players inducted in 1936. Lifetime batting average of .366 – the highest of all time. Three times batted over .400 for a season. Possibly the greatest player of the early 1900s.

Violent temper with a reputation for viciousness and thought to be a racist.

Some recent studies seem to indicate that some of the things thought to be true about him may not have been factual. (This may have been due to an inept and extremely biased biographer.)

Earlier biographers depicted Cobb as extremely violent, sharpening his spikes and endeavoring to slide into other players and cut them. He is said to have attacked blacks and sought to inflict bodily harm on them. Even Ken Burns of the famous video series Baseball, presented that picture of Ty Cobb. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the ghost player Shoeless Joe Jackson talks about not inviting Cobb to come to the magical field because “we hated the ____.”

More recent studies seem to show that he was not hatefully racist, was respected by teammates and opponents alike and tried to graciously reach out to fans. He was, according to Charles Leershen, in “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” an extremely complex man, far from perfect, but not guilty of many of the things alleged in earlier biographies.

Ty Cobb was born in Georgia in 1886, just 21 years after the Civil War ended. He played for the Detroit Tigers, and because of his attitudes and actions, and being a Southerner, he may have created more problems for himself than he should have.

Interestingly enough, Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in 1947, was also born in Georgia, 33 years after Ty Cobb. And recent information would seem to show that Cobb was not against African Americans playing in the major leagues. “The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,” he said. “The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?” And he was proved correct in the years that followed as African Americans reshaped the all-time baseball statistics from that point forward.

Now while I am sure there are those who do, it is likely that most people in China, India, or the heart of Africa would not know who Ty Cobb really was; in fact, he or she would never have even heard of him. Fame is not only fleeting, it’s also limited by time and place. In this case, the real and total truth about Tyrus Raymond Cobb is known only to God.

Historical facts, anecdotes, trivia and the like, are interesting, at least to some people, at certain times, and in at least a few places. They do serve as good attention grabbers, make for memorable illustrations, and help transition us to consider more important things. But only one bit of information and only one Individual makes any real difference.

It’s not Ty Cobb who must be known – it’s Jesus! Jesus, Name above all names. Jesus, who said of Himself “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the father but by me.” Jesus, supernatural birth, sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious, bodily resurrection, all to save people from their sins. Jesus, of whom it was said: “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

If Ty Cobb remains unknown except for a small group of baseball aficionados and historians, it will make virtually no difference. But if Jesus is not known – and received – there are eternal consequences. He tells us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. His name is to be proclaimed in all the earth.

Last, but certainly not least: we must clearly and accurately communicate the message. If indeed historians have missed the boat on what kind of person Ty Cobb was – intentionally or accidentally – that is sad, to be sure. However to miss the message of Jesus, or to transmit or receive a distorted message, is tragic.

There are still hundreds of millions of people who are not only unreached with the gospel – the only message that can save them, remember – but are still unengaged in the sense that no believer or group of believers is plotting a strategy to engage them with the gospel. There remain some 1,600 languages and dialects that do not have even a portion of the Bible. Thankfully, major efforts are underway to change that and get the Word to them in their tongue.

Ty Cobb was a great baseball player and a complicated person and while it is interesting to know who he really was and what he accomplished, that knowledge holds temporal importance. The same cannot be said about the most significant person to walk the face of the earth – Jesus Christ. We are to know Him and to make Him known to the uttermost ends of the earth. We should proclaim the Good News about Jesus with clarity, accuracy, and consistency. There is nothing more eternally significant than this.




Thank God for the Nashville Predators

First, the bad news.

The world seems all sorts of messed up right now. If you spend any time on social media, or online for that matter, you will encounter examples of people doing horrible things. Everyone seems angry, offended, or worse. Navigating the turbulent waters of modern society is a supremely depressing task. Sure, there are good stories from time to time. And yes, in the grand scheme of things, many of the loudest complainers, whiners, and antagonizers are in a pathetically small minority, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying.

That is why I am so thankful for the Nashville Predators.

Don’t roll your eyes. I realize that a hockey team and its success will not fix any real-world problems. And I’m not advocating an escapist mentality. What I do know, though, is that every night the Nashville Predators play is a little better – a little brighter. Win or lose (and let’s be honest – it’s mostly win) watching the Preds play is an inspiring thing.

Case in point: Last night’s game was a clunker for nearly 50 minutes. The Predators were awful in the 2nd period and for half of the 3rd. They were down 3-0, at home, to a good St. Louis Blues team that clearly wanted the win more than our Nashville guys. I watched the game with my two oldest boys, who are 100% die-hard fans at this point. (That is what a deep, magical run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will do for you.) Even down 3-0, my boys were not going to give up. Even watching the team sleepwalk through the 2nd period didn’t cause them to lose interest. This is the Preds we are talking about here and we all know that it doesn’t take much to swing the momentum in their favor. Calle Yarnkrok was the momentum swinger last night. His goal at the 9:06 mark was all it took. The home crowd got loud. The team decided it wanted to win the game. So they won the game.

It was awesome.

I realize that this sort of thing is rare in life and as a sports’ fan. I completely understand that my favorite teams are not always going to be this good or this exciting to watch – I am a Tennessee Titans’ fan after all. But for this moment in time, I am going to savor everything. Every goal. Every win. I am going to watch as many games as possible with my family and shout at every bad penalty, cheer for every crazy slap shot, and lose my mind at every moment of overtime magic. (Forsberg was the magician last night with his overtime, penalty shot goal.) I am going to watch the Nashville Predators and be grateful. This hockey team doesn’t fix all the problems in the world, but they bring a smile to my face and help me end most of my days on a high note. If that is not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.




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.