The Wrath of Von: Super Bowl 50 Recap

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A wild and crazy NFL season has come to a close with the Broncos winning Super Bowl 50, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Sheriff riding off into the sunset, how much dab’ll do ya, the Hall of Fame, the end for Marshawn Lynch, and our inability to win prop bets.

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Will: The game itself was not the most aesthetically pleasing contest of the season. Cam Newton and Peyton Manning completed 31 of 66 passes for 406 yards combined. There were 153 penalty yards and 509 offensive yards. There were 12 sacks and 6 turnovers. Did you enjoy your Super Bowl viewing experience, or would you have preferred more points?

Derek: I’d say I enjoyed it more than most. It was ugly, but at least there were a bunch of turnovers and potential turnovers. It would have been worse if there were nothing but three-and-outs, though there were a bunch of those too. There were 15 punts, which is especially notable considering Peyton Manning completed 13 passes and Cam Newton completed 18. Thankfully, the game’s seven total fumbles made up for the lack of offensive productivity. Everybody perks up when the ball is on the ground in a close game, and it was at least close until the very end. There’s a decent chance I’ll completely forget it in a few years, though.

The worst part was watching as a fan of an eliminated playoff team and thinking “these are the best two teams in the league?” Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders has been calling 2015 “the worst NFL season since at least 2002.” After that game, I believe him. Thank goodness the pass rushers came to play. Otherwise, Brandon McManus would have been MVP.

peyton cam

As you know, I’m from North Carolina, and once considered the Panthers my second favorite team and will again when Cam is way different or playing somewhere else. As you can imagine, my Facebook feed is filled with Panther supporters. Among several themes I’ve noticed, one is that the referees affected the outcome of the game, which was something I hadn’t given any thought to until I saw a bunch of them mention it. Do you think that claim has any merit?

Will: I don’t recall thinking about the refs at all. The Panthers had twice as many infractions as the Broncos for twice as many yards, but none of the calls seemed particularly egregious. There was talk about how much Aqib Talib (who somehow did not get ejected) and the Denver secondary were bumping and holding Carolina’s receivers, and I suppose there’s merit to that. But more than that: hey guys, shut up about the refs, you sound like a bunch of sissies.

Without naming any potential examples or leading you in any way, did you find anything about the Super Bowl — from the pregame to the game to halftime to postgame — objectionable? I made the mistake of staying on Twitter in the hour or two after the game ended, subjecting myself to all sorts of outrage and counter-outrage and mock-outrage and counter-mock-mock-counter-outrage. Nothing about the production offended me in any way except for the inclusion of Mike Carey and Phil Simms. How say you?

Derek: No, there wasn’t anything I noticed. I’ve seen lots of people reference whatever Beyonce did during the halftime show, but I didn’t watch at the time and don’t have any particular interest in tracking it down. There are many reasons I watch sports and write about sports, but commenting on the statements famous pop stars make during halftime performances is not one of them. Besides, I’m sure the people who do enjoy discussing that aspect of sports have already made their feelings known, and they didn’t need an engraved invitation. Other than that, nothing struck me other than Simms and Carey (hopefully not dead, but possibly now unemployed) and the level of play. As bad as they were, I’d stop well short of calling them objectionable.

Not too many people object to seeing Peyton Manning finish his career with the Lombardi Trophy. Do you agree that this is it for The Sheriff? Will you miss having him around? Do you buy the rumors that he might play for the Rams next year?

Will: First, I don’t know when we started calling Peyton Manning the Sheriff, but I am not a fan. The last thing he needs is something to make him sound even dorkier than he is. It reminds me of George Bluth, Sr.’s cowboy phase from Arrested Development. But yeah, this has gotta be it for Peyton. He’ll be 40 in a couple months. He just won a Super Bowl and beat Tom Brady in the process. He still can’t feel his fingers. There is no upside to him playing for the Rams or anyone else. Go home, Peyton. And take Papa John with you.

Speaking of the Papa and forced product placement, did any commercials catch your fancy? The Pokemon ad got me super psyched until I realized it was a Pokemon ad; I still liked it, though I don’t understand what Pokemon product is on the way. The Doritos ultrasound ad is getting pilloried, not unjustly, but I enjoyed it for adding some weird to the occasion. Other than that, I don’t have much. Independence Day 2 didn’t do it for me, nor did Helen Mirren telling me not to drink and drive. I thought it was a bit of a down year overall.

Derek: My personal favorite was Anthony Hopkins’ Turbo Tax commercial. I also liked the Pokemon one, and pretty much anything having to do with Batman and Superman. I’m such a DC mark. I even thought that crappy Green Lantern movie was okay.

Most of them came off as preachy, generic, or a bad attempt at humor. I do take issue with your “not impressed with Independence Day 2” comment. That’s not the Will Gibson I know. Snap out of it, man! You may not have liked it, but Captain Steven Hiller taught us to not give up until the fat lady sings.

We’re fighting for our right to live. To exist. Don’t ever forget that. You don’t want to be the one person who didn’t see it coming when Independence Day 2 wins every single Oscar next year.

Speaking of awards, the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 was announced. The newest members are: Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace, Tony Dungy, Ken Stabler, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., and Dick Stanfel. Are you opposed to any of them? Should the likes of Terrell Owens or the immortal Morten Anderson have gone in over any of them? Care to share in my outrage that Don Coryell is somehow still not in the Hall?

Will: I’m not opposed to any of them, though Harrison gives me pause because of the whole he-might’ve-killed-someone thing. But bless the Hall of Fame committee for keeping Terrell Owens, one of the five best receivers ever, out because he was kind of a dick. Favre and Pace were shoo-ins. Greene had ten seasons of 10-plus sacks. I’d have to take someone’s word for it re: Stanfel and DeBartolo, but sure, let ’em in. I suppose Tony Dungy is the only one I take some issue with, but any time you can honor a coach with a 9-10 playoff record, you gotta do it. And yeah, why isn’t Coryell in? If you have an offense named after you, you get to be in the Hall. That’s the rule.

We must interject with the most important tweet the NFC West has seen in quite some time. It seemed that Marshawn was on his way out of Seattle after this season no matter what. Now we know he’ll be retiring instead of playing with another team. How did it all strike you?

Derek: It was a bittersweet announcement. I’m happy that the Seahawks didn’t have to cut him (they would have if he didn’t retire) and I’m happy I won’t have to watch him play for another team. With all due respect to Shaun Alexander, Lynch is the greatest Seahawks running back of all time and one of the players I’ve most enjoyed watching. There are already a handful of Marshawn tribute videos and best-of lists floating around the internet, and it took all I had to not turn this article into a love letter. Marshawn was a unique player and is a unique person, and I look forward to telling strangers in bars why he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Now that we’re near the end, let’s have a look at the future. Whats your way-too-early prediction for the SuperBowl 51/LI matchup?

Will: Oh hell if I know. How about Browns-Rams? 

Alright, we’ve waited this long. Go ahead and have fun at Cam Newton’s expense for 10 or 12 paragraphs.

Derek: Man, I don’t even want to anymore. It feels completely unnecessary. All of my criticisms of Cam were so fully on display that pretty much everything has already been said. Besides, Wade Phillips already set the standard for having fun at Cam’s expense, and I know that whatever I come up with won’t be as good.

When I’ve talked about Cam Newton in the past, I gave my opinions and observations. Today, I’m just going to offer up facts. He spent all week saying “if you want to stop me from celebrating, stop me.” He wore golden MVP cleats with his accolades written on them. Then after the Broncos did stop him from celebrating, he shut down and acted like a child because things weren’t going his way.

If that’s the kind of guy you want to root for, that’s fine. Far be it from me to tell you who to cheer for. Just don’t sweep all of that under the rug whenever you call Cam Newton a great role model because he smiles when things are going his way. Don’t say his showboating is fine and then act like everyone else is a jerk when they return the favor after a loss. People who criticize Cam aren’t all racists. People have been rooting against showboats since long before he was born. If you want to laugh and dance and rub it in when you’re on top, don’t expect support and sympathy when you fall off the pedestal.

On that note, let’s give you all the chance to mock us for our prop bet performances. We did not actually put money down on any of these (as far as you know) since gambling is ungentlemanly, but we can still delight in (or weep over) our picks. Results are shown in red. Correct picks feature an asterisk:

Lady Gaga’s rendition of the National Anthem (From when the first note starts until she completes saying “brave”) will be over or under 136.5 seconds?

Derek: You win this round, Trebek. At least I think so. My understanding is with the stipulation of “from first note to brave,” the rendition was 2:09. Without that stipulation, it was 2:22. Seeing as we mentioned that stipulation in the original prop, I’d say it’s fair to award you the fake money.

Will*: Thank you, thank you. I will invest it wisely.

Will either team score in the first five minutes of the game? Yes (+145) or no (-175)?

Derek: Curses! Brandon McManus’ field goal came 4:17 into the game. Couldn’t you have waited a minute, Brandon?

Will: During the game I 100% thought that this prop was about scoring a touchdown, not just scoring, and I was all excited because I thought I got it right. Damnit.

Will there be a missed extra point? Yes (+325) or no (-450)?

Derek: I’m jumping on the anti-kicker bandwagon now. Ban kickers!

Will: Buncha nerds with their elastic hamstrings. Screw ’em all.

If Cam Newton scores a rushing touchdown, his first celebration will be: open shirt Superman motion (+120), dances solo (+180), goes to crowd and gives ball away (+225), dances with teammates (+1000), spikes ball (+2000), hands ball to official (+4000), or dunks on goal post (+5000)?

Derek: We technically weren’t wrong since Cam didn’t score, so we’ll never know. I’ll stand by my original prediction and assume it would have been correct.

Will: Me too.

Which number will be higher: the number of points LeBron James scores vs the Pelicans (+1.5) or the distance of the game’s shortest made field goal (-1.5)?

Derek: This was a close one, as the shortest field goal was 30 yards and LeBron dropped 27 on the Pelicans. Yet once again, we hang our heads in shame. How was the game? Did LeBron leave any points on the floor? Should I add him to my Hate List next to kickers?

Will: Great prop, oddsmakers. The Cavs won the game comfortably, and LeBron played very well: 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting. Just one more three would have done it. He should absolutely be on the Hate List.

Carolina (-5.5) vs. Denver

Derek*: I got one! Yeah! No shutout for me! I’m going to submit this and hop on my yacht.

later nerds

Will: I will not miss this NFL season even a little bit. Until next year.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Super Bowl 50

Welcome to Sports Monocle’s second annual Gentleman’s Guide to the Super Bowl. We’ll combine some of our Monocling tropes from our Recap and Picks columns, as well as place some fake wagers on our favorite Super Bowl prop bets. Enjoy!


Derek: How much Super Bowl preview talk have you descended into? Did you have a favorite/least favorite storyline?

Will: Virtually none. I’ve stayed away. I saw a reporter ask Cam Newton something about socks and sandals, and that was my signal to bury my head in the sand as deep as possible. The week before the Super Bowl is the worst.

Derek: On a scale of bitter Seahawks fan to Jim Nantz, how excited are you to watch this game?

Will: So Jim Nantz is the excited one here? Whatever the scale, I’d put myself at a hungover Troy Aikman level of excitement. My time would probably be better spent resting and making sure I get enough liquids, but hell, if the game’s on, I’m gonna watch.

Derek: How are you hoping this plays out? Are you rooting for either team? Do you just want to see a good game? Would you prefer a defensive slugfest? A shootout? What’s the ideal game script?

Will: Just want something fun to watch. I don’t care who wins, nor do I care how they win. I’d be happy to see either Peyton Manning or Cam Newton win. As long as it’s reasonable close I’ll be fine with it. I’m just here for the lolz.

Derek: Who will cause more eye-rolls worldwide: Phil Simms or Mike Carey?

Will: Based on sheer volume, Simms in a runaway.

Prop Bets

[Odds per]

Lady Gaga’s rendition of the National Anthem (From when the first note starts until she completes saying “brave”) will be over or under 136.5 seconds?

Derek: If I’m betting on something so arbitrary and fixable, I’m betting on the outcome that’s more fun to root for. So the question becomes “would I rather watch Lady Gaga sing an efficient national anthem or take part in a bunch of excessive nonsense that ends with her singing ‘brave’ for 30 seconds?” It’s no contest–over for me.

Will: The average duration of the last 10 Super Bowl national anthems is reportedly 1:57 — 117 seconds. This line being almost 20 seconds higher suggests that some Gaga antics have been planned. As much as I would love to wager on a big Apollo Creed-style thing happening, I’ll still take the under. The song ain’t that long. (All bets are off if there’s a fiery equipment malfunction.)

Will either team score in the first five minutes of the game? Yes (+145) or no (-175)?

Derek: I’ll say no. I don’t trust the Bronco offense to do much scoring, and Cam is probably going to be so amped up he’ll need some halftime bear sedatives before settling into a groove.

Will: I’ve come around on the idea that this could be something of a defensive struggle, so I shall take no here. The average NFL drive this year lasted 2:40, and these are two of the best defenses in the game. I look forward to Ted Ginn taking the opening kick to the house.

Semi-related: College Ted Ginn was one of the most fun players I’ve ever watched. Seeing him turn the corner and go into Olympic sprinter mode was the most exciting thing. People talk about players running like gazelles, but he really did. His movement wasn’t jagged; he ran in big beautiful brushstrokes.

You know what, I’m switching to yes. Teddy’s taking it to the house the first chance he gets.

Will there be a missed extra point? Yes (+325) or no (-450)?

Derek: We’ve been building to this all year, right? Blair Walsh missed a game-winner a few weeks ago, Stephen Gostkowski missed a big one last week, and now it’s someone else’s turn. Throw in the dangers of smug in the air and there’s going to be a sad picture of a kicker on the front of newspapers Monday morning.

Will: Are you kidding? It’s the Super Bowl. Of course there will be a missed extra point. You think Brandon McManus and Graham Gano have the stones to live up to that pressure? No way. We’re bound to see at least one miss.

If Cam Newton scores a rushing touchdown, his first celebration will be: open shirt Superman motion (+120), dances solo (+180), goes to crowd and gives ball away (+225), dances with teammates (+1000), spikes ball (+2000), hands ball to official (+4000), or dunks on goal post (+5000)?

Derek: Every spoiled front-running child in America has convinced his/her rich parent to buy them a ticket on either end zone. With all those winking CEOs and tiny outstretched arms, I’ll say the ball goes in the stands first.

Will: This is the first one where I’m not sure if it’s a real prop or not. I think it is, and I think hands ball to official is the play here. There’s gotta be like a 1% chance that he makes a big show of giving the ball to the ref with a giant grin on his face. Then on the next one he gives the ball away. Something like that.

Which number will be higher: the number of points LeBron James scores vs the Pelicans (+1.5) or the distance of the game’s shortest made field goal (-1.5)?

Derek: I’ll say LeBron. The Broncos have a great defense and a poor offense, so I could see a gimme field goal no matter who has the ball. Unless of course Riverboat Ron doesn’t plan on kicking at any point.

Will: I bet there will be one super short field goal — like 25 yards at the most. Kevin Love is out for the Cavs, and they’ve kinda been playing like crap lately, so I think it’s LeBron in a runaway — especially when he’s getting a point and a half to boot.

Derek: Heh. Boot. That’s another word for kick.

The Pick

[Line per consensus.]

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Carolina (-5.5) vs. Denver

Derek: I count myself among the many who thought the winner of the NFC Championship would win the Super Bowl. I haven’t changed my opinion there, but I will grab the points in this situation. While all the attention has gone on Cam and Peyton, I think the man who decides this game is Wade Phillips. The Panthers are the more balanced team, but Denver’s defense is the best unit in the game. He found a way to hit Brady (Brady never gets hit) in the AFC Championship, so I’m sure he’s cooked up something special for Cam in the past two weeks. Maybe not enough to overcome Denver’s deficiencies on offense, but enough to keep it within six points.

Will: I think Carolina kills ’em. I mean, I also think it could be a close game — it’s the Super Bowl; of course it could be a close game — but I think Carolina runs all over them. I think they put Peyton Manning on his ass. I think the secondary keeps Demaryius Thomas under wraps. I think Carolina’s offensive line is a bunch of mean SOBs, and I think they run at Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware a lot to tire them out. I think the Panthers win big. I think Cam’s gonna dab on ’em and the whole deal.

MEH: Championship Sunday Recap

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wild and crazy Championship Sunday has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Panthers stomping the Cardinals, Cam Newton having fun, the Brady-Manning rivalry, the amount of fun Cam Newton has, the impending Pro Bowl, the extent to which Cam Newton has fun, the Gentlemen of the Week, a notation on how Cam Newton has so much fun out there, the Most Hungover Fan Bases, and an analysis on the relationship between Cam Newton and fun.


Associated Press/Academy of Fun Arts and Sciences

Associated Press/Academy of Fun Arts and Sciences

Will: Does the Panthers’ beatdown of the Cardinals make you feel any better about the Seahawks falling to them like they did? Could Carolina just be that good? What stood out to you about their play?

Derek: No, not really. I didn’t take anything away from that game other than Carson Palmer is either injured or way more terrible than we thought. Quarterbacks have more of an effect on their team’s success than any other position in professional sports other than pitchers. If your starting pitcher gives up 10 runs in the first inning, you’re not going to win. And if your quarterback turns the ball over six times, you’re probably not going to win that one either.

The bad news for Palmer is, in my opinion, he played even worse than the stat line indicated. It’s fair to say that this game didn’t have my absolute undivided attention, but when I checked the box score afterward I was surprised he only threw four interceptions. He was throwing it right to Panther defenders, and as a result the team looked completely demoralized.

So no, I don’t feel any better. The Seahawks would have kicked Arizona’s asses just as badly if Palmer played that kind of game. Most playoff teams would have. Put 21 other Pro Bowlers on the team and they won’t win when the quarterback is consistently giving the ball away. I didn’t turn off that game thinking the Panthers were a runaway freight train, which appears to be the consensus among football pundits.

Am I off-base here? Am I just completely blinded by my dislike of Cam Newton?

Will: Nah, you’re not off-base. Dripping with bitterness, sure, but not too far off-base. I didn’t watch this one too closely either — the Royal Rumble was on, for cryin’ out loud. When the scoreline read 17-0 after the first quarter, whatever degree of interest I had in the game vanished.

Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson were already out of the playoffs. With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both aging and struggling in the AFC Championship game (together they completed exactly half of their passes), how much “Cam Newton is the best quarterback in the NFL” talk are we in for over the next couple weeks?

Derek: That’s depressing. Why would you say something like that? Maybe I should just stay off the internet the next two weeks. The impending Newton lovefest could very well drive me to violence. Look at how much fun he’s having! Doesn’t he look like he has fun? He has so much fun! AGREE WITH US THAT HE HAS FUN!

See? It’s happening already.

The only thing that could “save” us is the original media darling: Peyton Manning. The narratives of “Peyton Manning’s last game” and “Peyton Manning could ride off into the sunset” and “old school vs. new school” could deter us from hearing about how much fun Cam Newton is having. Did you know he has fun? Football is fun for him. He has fun. Fun is fun.

Which Super Bowl storyline do you think will be beaten into the ground before the Super Bowl? Will Manning and/or Newton take the crown, or could an underdog like Michael Oher, Thomas Davis, or Poorly Timed Criminal Offender/Drug Test Failer X steal it?

Will: Here’s hoping for the latter, because sweet Christ I want nothing to do with any of it. I’m going to hide in a bunker until April. Super Bowl talk is the worst. The Super Bowl is quietly the worst. Aside from the game itself, I’m out. Good for Thomas Davis for playing with a broken arm. Good for Cam Newton for giving balls to kids. Good for Michael Oher for being in a movie. Good for Peyton Manning for being old.

I don’t know it’s just that they play under helmets or what, but football players are not compelling to me. This is probably unfair and born of my distaste for the NFL, but so be it. I dislike everything about football except for the football.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Did Brady vs. Manning, you know, do anything for you? Do you find their rivalry particularly compelling? They’ve been two of the NFL’s best for some 15 years, going head to head several times during that stretch. So why am I sitting here so underwhelmed? Can we blame it all on Phil Simms?

Derek: Such a negative recap today. The answer is, again, no. I’ve enjoyed their rivalry over the years, but Manning is a shell of his former self. I’m shocked the Broncos made the Super Bowl the way Denver’s quarterbacks have played this year. And that brings us to Mr. Simms, who continually refuses to acknowledge that Manning is at a different stage in his career. He praises Manning like he gets a bonus every time he does it. I can’t enjoy a rivalry between two players when I roll my eyes every time the color commentator mentions one of them. Add in the fact that neither quarterback was particularly impressive, and all of the fun (© Cam Newton) was sucked out of the rivalry. Sadly, it’s not over yet, since Simms will call the Super Bowl. Splendid.

Will: Were there any hidden subplots within the championship games? Aside from whatever Cam’s latest thing is, what are people going to be all mad about? What are the talking points? I was hoping for both Denver and New England to lose and had no rooting interest in Carolina-Arizona, so I wasn’t too absorbed by the proceedings.

Derek: Did you see that Panthers fan fall down?

panther fan fall

That’s about all I’ve got. I wasn’t kidding about my apathy for these football games. I can’t believe I’m reading mock drafts before February. This is stupid.

Let’s talk about something equally pointless: the Pro Bowl! What would it take to make you watch? Would you gamble on it or take part in a Pro Bowl drinking game? Would you require financial compensation? Will it even exist in five years?

Will: If you put a $20 bill in front of me and said that I had to watch the whole game, start to finish, with only limited phone and computer interruption, I don’t think I would do it. I certainly wouldn’t gamble on it, because the only thing worse than losing money is losing money on something so astronomically meaningless.

Drinking game? …Maybe.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Wade Phillips, come on down! The Broncos’ improbable upset was thanks in large part to your defense. Also, there’s this:

Will: That immediately makes Wade wittier than like half the league. I’ll go with that Panthers fan who fell over the barrier. He looked like he had a good time.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’ll say Carson Palmer’s fan base. I’d give it to Cardinals fans, but it looks like they already jumped off the bandwagon.

Will: I’ll go with that Panthers fan who fell over the barrier. He looked like he had a good time.

Hating Everyone: Divisional Recap

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wild and crazy Divisional Weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks’ loss, Hue’s hiring, one man’s hatred of Cam Newton, the ridiculous Packers-Cardinals game, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


AP Photo/Mike McCarn

AP Photo/Mike McCarn

Will: How did your emotions fluctuate throughout the Seahawks-Panthers game? What was it like to see everything going Carolina’s way early on? What percentage chance did you give a comeback down 31-0 at the half? Were you resigned to your fate early on, or did you allow yourself some belief in the second half?

Derek: Well, 7-0 didn’t feel good. I wasn’t very fond of 14-0 either. Sadly, 21-0 prompted a trip to the liquor cabinet. It had been a long time since the Seahawks had gotten their asses kicked from start to finish, and I figured this was going to be the one to break the streak. They weren’t showing any energy after three straight road games and two straight 10 a.m. PT starts, and the Panthers certainly looked to have taken advantage of the fact that they got to relax at home while the Seahawks were playing in arctic conditions in Minnesota. It was tough to watch.

I slowly talked myself into the Seahawks making a game out of it during halftime, solely based on team history. Russell Wilson’s Seahawks have been a part of some big comebacks, and the 2015 Panthers blew some big leads. I figured if anyone could do it, it would be them. The feeling was magnified when Russell threw a touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse just 90 seconds into the second half. That really got me back in the game, as I could do fan things like yell at the offense to hurry to the line instead of blankly staring at the screen like a hydrogen bomb went off in my brain.

Of course, it wasn’t to be, and it was even rougher considering the opponent. But I’ll get to that later.

What do Hue think of the new head coach in Cleveland? Could he be the one?

Tony Dejak / AP Photo

Tony Dejak / AP Photo

Will: Of course he could! We Browns fans may not have much recent experience when it comes to the playoffs, but we’re grizzled vets when it comes to talking ourselves into new coaches. From Butch Davis to Romeo Crennel to Eric Mangini, every new head coach who has walked through the door in Berea has been the new savior. (Well, maybe not Mike Pettine or Pat Shurmur.) If nothing else, the wordplay has been delightful.

Seriously though, I like Hue. Loathe as I am to admit it, the Bengals have been among the better teams in football for the last several years, and over the past two he kicked their offense into another gear. He has a year of head coaching experience under his belt, and the Raiders have yet to match his 8-8 record since firing him. There are concerns, specifically with penalties and discipline. His Raiders were the most penalized team ever — ever! — and the Bengals ain’t exactly Boy Scouts.

In short, this is how I feel:

I will say — and take this with a Morton factory’s worth of salt — that I have a good feeling about Hue. He has good signs on him. He’s put decades of work into football. He has served under all different types of coaches rather than being trained in the same system his entire career. He’s down with the Browns’ analytics approach. He’s spent nine years in the AFC North. He got his big head coaching break once before, only to have it taken away. He showed hubris and was appropriately humbled. He’s made mistakes. And now, at age 50, he takes the reins of the Cleveland Browns.

So is he the guy? No idea. But I at least feel good about him, and that’s something I haven’t felt about the Browns in quite some time.

At risk of twisting the knife further, you’ve experienced losses on either end of the spectrum in a relatively short period of time. Is there any comparing the Super Bowl loss to this one? How do they compare? Are they close — in terms of loss type rather than stakes; the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl — in terms of unhappy feelings?

Derek: No, I’m not sure that another loss will ever feel quite like last year’s Super Bowl. At least, I hope not. After that game, just the mere thought of football brought me down. It didn’t really wear off until midway through this season. The Panthers loss was “better” in that I got over it fairly quickly. The Seahawks screwed themselves from the beginning, and have no one but themselves to blame for their playoff position after they constantly blew leads this season. It just seemed like this season was doomed from the start with the black cloud of Super Bowl XLIX hanging over everyone. Honestly, making the playoffs and winning a game is probably more than I could have asked for.

I’m already excited for next season, and I think the Seahawks are too. It’s a relief seeing the quotes from players after this game compared to last year. Losing sucks, but at least my love of football didn’t get kicked in the shins. I might even read mock drafts this year.

Let’s talk about the weekend’s wackiest game. Where does Packers-Cardinals rank on the list of weirdest games you’ve ever seen? Did you ever think you’d see two Hail Marys on the same drive, a coin toss controversy, and a fourth quarter ricocheting go-ahead touchdown pass in the same game?

 Rob Schumacher/AZ Central Sports

Rob Schumacher/AZ Central Sports

Will: It was awesome; I still can’t quite figure out what happened. I’ve seen other games end in weird ways — from Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss to the invention of the eponymous Dawson Bar — but never so many wild plays in such a short period of time. The Hail Marys were nuts, though I think the coin not flipping takes the cake in terms of sheer improbability.

My favorite part, far and away, was the Cardinals making damn sure that if they scored the winning touchdown, Larry Fitzgerald was going to be the man to do it. Their first play from the 5-yard line was a fade to him, which Carson Palmer chucked out of play lest he throw a stupid-ass interception. The next play was the game winner, a lovely little shovel pass that allowed Larry the moment in the sun. Loved it.

Do you have any ill feelings toward Cam Newton for the heinous act of throwing down a 12th Man flag? I feel as though the greater Seahawks community is having a bad light shone on it.

Derek: I think it’s fair to say Cam Newton is my least favorite player in the league, and it really doesn’t have that much to do with his healthy self-confidence or his penchant for property theft and destruction. The reason I dislike Cam Newton was on display in this game, though. He strikes me as that sneaky kid in high school who manipulates teachers and other adults with a consistent “yes sir, no sir” attitude but then bullies other kids when no one else is around.

Much has been made of his smiling, prancing, Favre-esque “He’s like a kid out there!” mentality. But he only ever does this stuff when things are going his way. He’s happy to prance and signal and take stuff from opposing fans when his team is winning. When his team isn’t winning, he’s pouting or screaming at other players and coaches. I submit to you, dear Reader, that it doesn’t take an amazing person to be happy and friendly when things are going your way. But everyone acts like he’s some kind of awesome guy because he can smile really big when he has a reason to smile really big, as if that’s some sort of accomplishment. He’s the ultimate front-runner. I’m telling you, if the Panthers had lost that game, he would have thrown the entire organization under the bus. And I’d still probably be subjected to pundits fawning over him like we’re watching two different players.

Rational or not, I can’t stand the guy. I’ve always maintained that the Panthers were my second favorite team after the Seahawks, but I just can’t root for them as long as Newton is on the team. Now I’m almost hoping the Panthers suffer an NFC Championship defeat similar to the one the 49ers suffered two years ago and Newton’s career will swirl down the toilet like Colin Kaepernick’s has. It would mean the dreaded Cardinals would make the Super Bowl, but I would enjoy the NFL more if Cam Newton wasn’t part of it.

Are you looking forward to Panthers-Cardinals more than I am? And are you excited for another Brady-Manning matchup?

Will: In short: No, I don’t think I’m looking forward to Panthers-Cardinals more than you. The potential Newtonian schadenfreude alone puts you on another level. I think it will be a fun game, and I’ll certainly watch, but I have no specific interest in it. I’ll enjoy Larry Fitzgerald’s smile as much as anything.

As for Brady-Manning: Kinda meh, honestly. I don’t particularly like either of them, and I feel like such matchups bring out the worst in the football commentariat. I think I get uneasy watching Peyton because I fear he could get irreparably damaged on any given play. Like, the guy cannot feel his fingers because of a significant neck surgery. I can’t get past that. I just hope no one gets hurt. (God, I’m a pansy.)

Do you care about the rest of the playoffs at this point? Is there any team you really want to see win or lose?

Derek: I’m at a loss. I would hate to see three of the four remaining teams (Arizona, Carolina, New England) win the Super Bowl, and the fourth (Denver) I’m neutral on at best. I’m sure I’ll talk myself into hate-watching the games, but I guess the only thing I’d somewhat enjoy is Denver winning. Unless of course Cam Newton gets a DUI the morning of the Super Bowl and Derek Anderson leads the Panthers to victory. Am I a bad person if I root for that? Let’s just move on.

Lots of coaching vacancies were filled this week. We saw Chip Kelly to the Niners, Adam Gase to the Dolphins, The Immortal Mike Mularkey to the Titans, and of course Hue to the Browns, among other hirings. Which teams do you think made the best and worst hires?

Will: HUE! And I think I actually mean that. Far as I can tell, he and Gase were candidates 1 and 1a. It should be said that I don’t know much of anything about Gase except he’s an offensive coordinator with a generally good reputation, but I suppose that’s all you need to land a top gig. I’m intrigued by Chip in San Francisco, especially with Kaepernick in the fold, but I can’t imagine that ending well. Mike Mularkey is 18-39 and taking over a team that just went 3-13. That should go well.

Are you looking ahead to next year’s Seahawks at all? Is Marshawn definitely a goner, and if so, are you at peace with that? What does the future hold?

Derek: Oh yes, very much. I think it’ll feel like a reset button. It doesn’t look like any of the coaching staff is going to leave this year, and this loss will be so much easier to bounce back from than the last. There are several unrestricted free agents, such as Russell Okung, Bruce Irvin, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Mebane, and Jeremy Lane. Hopefully at least a few of them will be back. And hopefully Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett won’t start complaining about their contracts until the end of next season.

Unfortunately, it looks like Marshawn is as good as gone. Thomas Rawls proved he could handle lead back duties, and even Christine Michael looked good when he rejoined the team. Marshawn is expensive and by all accounts has caused some locker room headaches. I won’t be surprised if there are Percy Harvin-like leaks after Marshawn is gone. It would take a whole lot to get me to turn on him, though. He was so fun to watch, and he was a key part of Seattle’s success since he joined the team in 2010. I’m going to miss him, and I hope he’s happy in Dallas or Oakland or retirement.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Screw it, I’m giving it to every single one of the Seahawks. They were down 31-0 and made a game out of it. Well done, Gentlemen.

Will: I’m going with Larry Fitzgerald. I just like his smile so damn much.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’m giving it to Packers fans, who suffered legendarily terrible playoff losses in back-to-back years. Along with their award, I’ll give them some free advice: in your drunkenness, make sure you stay out of Manitowoc County.

Will: I’m going with the Seahawks. Stay strong, friend.

Wild Card Weekend Recap

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wild and crazy Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the miracle in Minnesota, the looming Seahawks-Panthers game, the Steelers-Bengals slugfest, the rejuvenated Packers, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Will: Alright, we’ve got plenty to talk about, so let’s start with the important stuff: HOW ABOUT THAT CHIEFS-TEXANS GAME?? I jest. The Wild Card round brought us one bonafide stinker (Chiefs 30, Texans 0), one fun game that wound up not that close (Packers 35, Redskins 18), and two nailbiters (Seahawks 10, Vikings 9; Steelers 18, Bengals 16) that ended in pretty dumb ways.

Let’s start with your Seahawks reaping the benefits of Blair Walsh sending a 27-yard field goal farther left than Hubert Humphrey. The obvious question: Does God’s clear preference for the Seahawks mean that He hates the Vikings? If so, why do you think that is?

Derek: God may hate the Vikings, but I do resent the notion of His everlasting love for the Seahawks. I’ve read lots of people say stuff like that this week, and I’d like to remind those people that we suffered arguably the most heartbreaking championship game loss in the history of professional sports less than a year ago. I’m going to need at least nine more miracle Wild Card wins to get even for that. Or a Super Bowl this year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t know why God hates the Vikings, and He clearly does. What with the four Super Bowl losses, and their three crushing playoff losses in my lifetime–The Gary Anderson Game, The Brett Favre Game, and now The Blair Walsh Game–that’s more heartbreak than anyone deserves. To any Vikings fans reading this, I offer one consolation: it can always be worse.

A question I’ve been asked several times in the last year is “Was the Seahawks’ miracle NFC Championship win worth their crushing Super Bowl loss?” with the implication being that I might have rather just gotten the losing over with against Green Bay instead of getting hit in the nuts with a crowbar against New England. I don’t really have an answer. But it made me think about the miracle Seahawk wins that almost happened, like their 2012 Divisional game in Atlanta. That one sticks with me to this day, but after Super Bowl XLIX I started wondering what might have happened to Seattle when they traveled to San Francisco for the NFC Championship the following week. Maybe the Falcons spared me something truly crushing. After all, losing to the 49ers the way we lost to the Falcons would have been so much less bearable.

So there you go, Vikings fans. The Seahawks might have saved you from losing 70-0 to the Cardinals, or Walsh missing a 19-yard game-winner against Carolina in the NFC Championship. It can always get worse.

Did you enjoy watching the Hawks-Vikings game as a neutral observer? Did the elements make it entertaining, or was it an unwatchable mess?

AP Photo/Jim Mone

AP Photo/Jim Mone

Will: Like so many others who have grown up in the cold, I have deluded myself into believing that the colder the weather, the better theater for the football. So I had a blast. I was worried that the game would be interrupted by news of former Viking coach Bud Grant’s death after he walked out for the coin toss in a short-sleeve polo, but apparently he’s a tough old bastard. That’s Minnesota in a nutshell.

I’m glad it was cold, because I doubt Minnesota could have kept it close otherwise. After any great play that the Seahawks made — Doug Baldwin’s Odell Beckham catch, Russell turning a botched snap into the biggest throw of the game — I waited for Seattle to break it open. But they didn’t. The Vikings’ defense stood as tall as the Seahawks’ did, and all in all it made for a compelling watch.

Moving on to the next round…SEAHAWKS! PANTHERS! This baby oughta be a thriller. Thoughts? Predictions? Hopes? Fears? Dabs?

Derek: I have a guarantee: if the Seahawks win and Cam Newton doesn’t die on the field, I’m going to make so much fun of his first down point. I’m giddy. I’m almost more excited to do that than go back to the NFC Championship.

I’ll save my predictions for when we make our picks, but I’m sure it will be properly homerish. I hope the Seahawks are underdogs all week and the Panthers do all of the talking. I fear that the Seahawks will be be spent from a tough game in Minnesota, and even more I fear that “it can always get worse” rant up there. My guard is 100 percent up. I’m absolutely terrified that people are going to start asking me “Hey, was Blair Walsh missing that field goal worth that horrendous loss to the Panthers?”

I think it’ll be a great game, though. I almost envy people who aren’t fans of either team. Is Seahawks-Panthers the Divisional game you’re most looking forward to, or is there another?

Will: Lemme do a quick ranking of the four games coming up…

4. Chiefs-Patriots — Pass. Even if Kansas City makes a game out of this…it’s just meh. Doesn’t do it for me. I don’t have to explain myself to you people.
3. Packers-Cardinals — I think this could be a great game, but there’s a non-zero chance that Arizona beats the hell out of Green Bay again.
2. Panthers-Seahawks — There’s just so much to like here. It’s been the year of Cam Newton — but could become the year of Russell Wilson. You have the Seahawks secondary going up against the crap factory that Carolina calls its receiving corps (and Greg Olsen, the one guy who could actually bother them). Earl Thomas on one side, Luke Kuechly on the other. The Panthers’ mean-ass offensive line against the Seahawks’ mean ass defensive line. It should be great. But it’s still behind…
1. Steelers-Broncos — This might actually be the game that I’m least looking forward to, because fuck both of these teams. Like any Steelers-Ravens game, and like last week’s Steelers-Bengals game, this is one where I’m just hoping for a meteor to hit the stadium. It’s petty to feel this way, especially since the Broncos haven’t really affected the Browns in 25 years, but to hell with them both anyway. I hope it’s a terrible game and no one enjoys themselves.

Hey, can you make an argument that Russell Wilson is not a huge dork? He’s a huge dork, right? Who wins in a dork-off between him and J.J. Watt?

Derek: Oh yeah, huge dork. But he’s our dork. I’m hesitant to say he’d beat J.J. Watt in any sort of competition, with the exception of a race to see who would disappear first during the Rapture. Go Hawks!

As a Browns fan, what was your reaction to Saturday night’s AFC North showdown?

Will: I’m still not sure. It made sense. Joey Porter stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong, the Bengals did something stupid, and Pittsburgh prevailed. Pick your goat from Steelers-Bengals. Jeremy Hill, who fumbled on a potentially game-ending drive? Vontaze Burfict, who decided the ensuing drive was the perfect time to try decapitating Antonio Brown? Pacman Jones — he doesn’t get to be called “Adam” after a game like that — for laying hands on Joey Porter and putting the Steelers in field goal range? (Kudos to Porter and the Steelers, those scummy cheating fucks.)

Derek: Burfict for sure. The hit on Brown was particularly scumbaggish, and he’s been doing this stuff for quite some time. Who could forget that time he casually knocked a camera over and injured a cameraman?


I mean, there was no point to hitting Brown the way he did. It wasn’t even a catchable ball. It looked like he just wanted to hurt someone, like Maxx Williams in Week 17. Hill’s fumble was bad, but not as much in the grand scheme of things. A few fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of holding on to the football because of Hill. Millions of fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of not being a remorseless prick. Maybe we should be thanking ol’ Vontaze.

What did you think of the Packers showing some signs of life? Are they a threat to beat the Cardinals, or do they get no goodwill for beating up on the 11th or 12th best team in the playoffs?

Will: They were intriguingly frisky, but it’s tough to let one good week obscure a couple months’ worth of mediocrity. That applies both ways, as the Cardinals got destroyed by your Seahawks the last time we saw them in action. There’s certainly a chance that Rodgers gets it going and keeps them in the game, but Arizona seems superior in every other facet of the game. I think that has to, you  know, matter.

Your life depends on one of the following: 1) Brian Hoyer completing a full NFL quarter without a turnover, 2) Blair Walsh going through a 24-hour day without receiving a death threat, 3) Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones handling poor service at a restaurant in gentlemanly fashion. Which do you choose?

Derek: Tough choices. I’ll go with option two, since by all accounts Walsh is a really good guy. He’s supposedly one of the most well-liked guys in Minnesota’s locker room, and several media members were quick to rush to his defense after his miss. I’m sure it’s more difficult to mail death threats to a nice guy. Plus, Walsh was raised in the south and now lives in the heart of an iceberg. How could the average fan threaten him any more than he’s already threatened on a daily basis? Stepping outside to scrape ice off of his windshield is already dangerous enough.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: That would be my man-crush, Tyler Lockett. Patiently waiting for Russell Wilson to avoid pressure so he could make the play of the game was the mark of a Gentleman. I may or may not be sending him a handmade valentine next month.

Will: Brian Hoyer, you beautiful bastard, you. With all the crap going on with Johnny Manziel, you knew that there were still some folks in Cleveland saying that the Browns never should have gotten rid of you. Playing ahead of Brandon Weeden, of all people, you went out and had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen a quarterback play — and I’ve watched you and Brandon Weeden! Chin up, old sport.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: Tough choices this week, but it’s got to be Minnesota. That loss combined with the weather has to have them hating everything right now. Maybe they’ll win God’s favor someday. Until then, the bottle will have to suffice.

Will: I’m gonna go with the Bengals. I feel like Minnesota has been here before, including the bitter, unyielding cold. I see Minnesotans building a nice fire and dealing with it like grown-ups. Cincinnati, on the other hand — I mean, did you see the police report? Those Bengal fans need to stop emulating their team.

What pro wrestler is each playoff team like? NFL Week 17 Recap

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wild and crazy Week 17 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including Arizona’s big loss, Cleveland’s big changes, the Jets’ big choke job, the big news from Black Monday, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Will: The Seahawks walloped Arizona 36-6, putting the game out of reach early with a 30-6 halftime lead. Russell Wilson completed a tidy 19-of-28 for 197 yards and three touchdowns, Christine Michael ran for 102 yards, and Tyler Lockett had 139 yards on four punt returns. But — does the fact that the Cardinals already had a first-round bye clinched take the shine off of things? Or are you fully torqued and ready for the postseason?

Derek: I’m psyched! People are saying the Cardinals weren’t trying after the fact, but no one was talking about it before the game. The word was that the Cardinals still had a shot at the top seed and they were going to try and win. Bruce Arians wanted to beat the Seahawks at home for the first time and didn’t give any indication that they were resting starters. I’ll go ahead and remind everyone that the Cardinals were favored by a touchdown. It sure is convenient that they suddenly “weren’t trying” after they got their asses kicked as touchdown favorites at home. Not too many people gave the Seahawks that benefit of the doubt when they lost that Rams game by six under similar playoff seeding circumstances.

Will: (In general I don’t fully understand how NFC West fandom works, but I’m loving the vengefulness right now. Feed me more.)

Derek: I suppose whether the Cardinals were trying or not doesn’t matter too much. The Seahawks have, surprisingly, been better on the road than at home during the second half of the season. Granted, there were only three of them, but the scores were 38-7 (at Minnesota), 35-6 (at Baltimore), and 36-6 (at Arizona). I really think they’re starting to embrace their underdog role as the Super Bowl hangover continues to wear off. They lost three home games this season. They lost two from 2012 to 2014 combined. It’s like the only thing that can get them up is proving people wrong. They had double-digit leads against the undefeated (at the time) Bengals and Panthers, then pissed them away. After that, they were dominant with huge leads. I can see them saying “You think we can’t win on the road? We’ll show you! You think we can hold on to leads? We’ll show you! You think we can’t win the Super Bowl as the sixth seed? We’ll show you!” I’m strangely comforted by how this playing out.

At least I was until I saw the weather report. Now I’m scared.

Will: As someone who remembers packing up snow high enough to sled down pine trees, I am so excited about that.

Derek: It’s been a whirlwind week so far in Cleveland, as Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer got the axe, and Johnny Manziel may get run out of town too after his latest shenanigans. Afterward, they made a splash by bringing in Paul DePodesta as “chief strategy officer.” Do the last 72 hours meet with your approval?

AP Photo/David Richard

AP Photo/David Richard

Will: You know what? They sorta do. Things have been bad for Johnny lately — LeBron’s agency dumped him — and it seems like he’ll be out of town before long. Though it’s super-easy to crack on the Browns for hiring a baseball guy to help run a football team, I’m in on Paul DePodesta. As I wrote at Waiting For Next Year, the Browns have sucked in all sorts of football ways. Things are as bad as I can remember. They might as well take a big swing and see what happens.

The reflex is to laugh and to mock. I get that as much as anyone. And yeah, maybe this novel approach will fail and the Browns will be a laughingstock. But they’re a laughingstock already. From the on-field product to fan morale, things are as bleak as I can remember. I shudder to say this, as the Browns have long shown the ability to prove me wrong, but things can’t get much worse. Why not give the baseball guy a shot?

How much credit do you give Mike Pettine in helping Russell Wilson maximize his potential? Were those nasty jabs about him being a second-tier quarterback just what he needed to get over the top?

Derek: I was wondering if we would ever address this! Sadly, the truth is probably less interesting than I would hope. I’d love it if Russell Wilson heard about these comments and put a photo of Pettine on his mirror and kicked off every day by glaring at it for five minutes. But Russell is known for being a bit of a robot, and he probably forgot about it already. I think it was more that, with Marshawn Lynch injured, they finally let him play quarterback. He’s typically only been given that opportunity when the Seahawks were behind, but now they’re letting him do it as part of the game plan. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve got to give Darrell Bevell some credit. It’s been a banner week for him.

The question is, will he revert back to his “Bubble Screen” Bevell ways now that Marshawn is expected to play this weekend? It would be a terrible shame if I spent another offseason holding my Darell Bevell voodoo doll over a candle after he worked so hard to get back into my good graces.

It won’t matter to Bevell, as he still hasn’t worked his way into NFL owners’ good graces, but Black Monday has come and gone. Which firing was the most warranted? The least? Is there someone you think should have been sent packing but wasn’t? And who’s your early top choice for the Cleveland job?

Will: My top choice, I think, is Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. He’s done wonders with Andy Dalton, and he led the Raiders to a .500 season as head coach in 2011. He got unceremoniously canned after a year when Reggie McKenzie took over as GM, and the Raiders haven’t been that good since.

Did Lovie Smith do something wrong in Tampa Bay? Why did he get fired? The Bucs were 6-10 this year, but they had a rookie quarterback and were 2-14 the year before. Were expectations that high? Derrick Brooks retired like seven years ago. I say Lovie got a raw deal.

I’m not sure if Mike Pettine’s firing was warranted or unwarranted. The Browns were 3-18 over his last 21 games and certainly sucked this season, but the whole situation was so fucked that I don’t know who to blame. I was more for retaining Pettine than GM Ray Farmer, but I do feel a bit cleaner now that they’re both gone. Ever seen a franchise quite as sad as the Browns? It’s impressive, no?

Derek: I was going to say the 76ers, but they did sweep the Lakers in the 1983 Finals. I guess that settles it right there. No, I haven’t seen a franchise as sad. Which really is a shame. There’s the frequent losing, but then there are the other, truly cruel twists of fate that are truly unprecedented for a single team. Bill Belichick got run out of town in 1995 (much like the Browns themselves) and became one of the greatest coaches of all time. During this same stretch, the former Browns won two Super Bowls. Now it appears the owner is an idiot, which is the worst kind of hell for fans. This is why I was never mad when my imported created players from NCAA Football got drafted by the Browns on Madden. Playing for the Browns is fun when you don’t have to worry about ownership or continuity but, well … let’s talk about something else.

I’m a huge homer and therefore incapable of objectively answering this question, so I’ll ask you. If you were forced to bet your life on one team winning the Super Bowl, who would it be?

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Will: I’ve been on board with the Cardinals for the past month or so. Getting beaten down by the Seahawks dampens my enthusiasm a fair bit, but they still have good odds to win the whole thing. I could see the Pats or Seahawks or Steelers or Packers or even Broncos or Chiefs winning it all, but I’d bet my life on the Panthers. They had the league’s highest-scoring offense, the highest point differential, a plus-20 turnover differential, and a mean ass offensive line. Plus, it kinda feels like this could turn into the Year of Cam.

Just for the sake of piquing my interests, can you compare each playoff team to a pro wrestler?

Derek: You got it!

Redskins: Wahoo McDaniel

Sorry. Sorry, everyone.

Packers: The Miz

Both have tasted their sport’s ultimate prize, but recent actions and decisions have everyone shaking their heads.

Texans: The Undertaker

They’re from Texas and they won’t die.

Chiefs: Chief Jay Strongbow

Oh God, sorry. I’m so sorry.

Steelers: Eddie Guerrero

They cheat.

Bengals: Daniel Bryan

Longtime underdog losers who hope to finally turn it around and reach the top.

Vikings: The Berzerker


Seahawks: Brock Lesnar


Except for the ending to last year’s Super Bowl. Don’t repeat that. In fact, let’s just pretend last year didn’t happen. We’re going back-to-back!

Patriots: John Cena

People from Boston and front-running children love them and everyone else hates them.

Broncos: Ric Flair

Peyton Manning is one of the all-time greats, but every time I see him I get sad. Bonus points for John Elway and Ric Flair possibly being the same person.

Panthers: Roman Reigns

They win all the time, but nobody believes in them.

Cardinals: The Iron Sheik

They live in the desert and I enjoy rooting against them.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: I’m going to give some respeck to my main man Christine Michael. The Seahawks traded him to the Cowboys in the offseason, who then cut him. The Redskins signed him to their practice squad, then cut him. Seattle brought him back due to the running back injuries, and he got his first 100 yard game on Sunday. My sources (Twitter) say he’s finally focused. Maybe he’ll be the guy we expected all along.

Will: For those wrasslin’ comparisons, I’m giving you Gentleman of the Week, my friend. Spot-fucking-on.

Most Hungover Fan Base

Derek: The Jets just had to beat the Bills. That’s it. Just one, measly game against the Bills. Instead, they lost and became the latest 10-6 team to miss the playoffs. I feel for them, and hope they bring themselves to look at mock drafts sooner rather than later.

Will: I think that’s the only choice this week. By the end of the season fans of losing teams are willing to take an L to better the draft pick. The Jets had a shot to go to the playoffs for the first time in five years, and they had it wrestled away from them by Rex Ryan. Worst of all, their loss meant the Steelers made it in after beating down the Browns. We were rooting for you in Cleveland, Jets. Thanks for nothing.

Panthers lose, Seahawks lose, and JOHNNY RUNS: NFL Week 16 Recap

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wild and crazy Week 16 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks ending a streak, Johnny Manziel’s polarizing day, the Panthers finally losing, the Steelers getting upset, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Will: You were eerily prescient with your Seahawks-Rams prediction, except it went worse for the ‘Hawks than you hoped. That said, your boys have a playoff spot locked up with a week to go. Does clinching a postseason berth take the sting out of losing to a division rival?

Derek: I guess it makes me feel a little better, since the Seahawks are still in a similar situation and now the Rams get a worse draft pick, but that was a terrible showing. I’ve been happy to not talk about Seattle’s offensive line for the last month or so, but they made sure to remind us they’re not very good in this one. Christine Michael was getting destroyed four yards in the backfield. Aaron Donald and William Hayes had our guards beat before Russell could even complete the exchange. I’ve seen pundits taking the loss as a sign that the Seahawks really need Marshawn back, but even he wouldn’t have had success the way the O-line was getting manhandled.

This is what the Rams do, though. I always joke that the Rams only look good at the end of the year because they want to con us into making them a popular sleeper pick like we do every year. They’ve now won three in a row, and you better believe they’re going to blow the 49ers out next week. I can already hear Skip Bayless picking them to win the NFC West in 2016 because they finished 2015 on a four-game win streak.

Tony Overman/The Olympian

Tony Overman/The Olympian

Just two final thoughts. First, I’d like to pour one out for an impressive streak that ended Sunday. The loss to the Rams was the first game of Russell Wilson’s career that the Seahawks did not hold a lead at any point in the game. I’m not sure if that’s an impressive streak compared to others because I haven’t seen anyone mention it, but I personally am pretty impressed by it. And I’m going to miss it.

Second, I’d like to add attention to Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who likes to hit people from behind and then crumple to the ground when those people look to retaliate later in the game.

Apparently he does this kind of stuff all the time. I’m not usually a fan of laying out punters, but Hekker is making me reconsider.

I watched the Browns game closely due to my Chiefs responsibilities, and I was pretty impressed that the Browns managed to cover. Not the highest praise, I know, but I thought they were going to get blown out. What was your reaction to the game? Were you happy to improve draft position, or did you want to the Browns to play spoiler? And is Tramon Williams always as bad as he has been the last two weeks?

Will: I didn’t watch most of this game as I was on the road, returning from some holiday travel. I was thus reliant on the radio voice of the Browns, Jim Donovan, to tell me how excited I should or shouldn’t get. And I’ll tell you what — I was pretty excited! Johnny Manziel only completed 13 of 32 passes, but he ran for 108 yards and didn’t get sacked once by a fearsome Chiefs defense. That comes with an asterisk since Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (14 sacks combined) missed the game due to injury, but still! I was also glad to see the Brownies play hard and not give up 30 points for the second time in nine weeks.

Re: draft position, I don’t think I want the Browns to have the No. 1 overall pick. Far as I can tell there isn’t any one player who is the clear-cut top guy, so why put that extra pressure on a consistently crap front office? No. 2 is very nearly No. 1, and they should — should! — be able to find a player at that spot.

Let’s move to relevant teams. The NFC playoff field (Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, Redskins, Vikings, Seahawks) looks way better than the AFC (Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, Texans, Chiefs, Jets), right? Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks have a real shot at winning the Super Bowl — due to either 2015 performance or previously-earned benefit of the doubt. Does any AFC team beyond the Pats feel like a genuine contender?

Derek: The Chiefs have shown us anything can happen, but I wouldn’t put any of those AFC teams on the same level as New England. I mean, look at those quarterbacks: AJ McCarron, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, Alex Smith, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Would you really trust any of them in a playoff game? It certainly looks like whoever comes out of the NFC will be a clear Super Bowl favorite unless they’re facing the Patriots, or said NFC team is too beat up from playing the other NFC teams.

Watching Johnny these past two weeks, it became clear that he’s not a great quarterback right now, but he’s exciting and way better than he was last year. Did watching him evade pressure time and again make up for the fact that he completed 13 passes on 32 attempts for 136 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception?

Will: This is backhanded praise to be sure, but this is the Johnny that I’ve been waiting for. Exciting, slippery, yet not completely competent. He had plenty of missed throws, but based on the comments I’ve seen many of them were due to shoddy fundamentals. I’m not sure whether to view this as a good or bad thing. Part of me thinks it’s correctable stuff he can iron out, while the other part is saying you idiot, what was he working on all last year?

I still have no idea if he can be a legit quarterback in the National Football League. What’s your gut feeling: Should the Browns give Johnny a shot next year or bring in QB TBD?

Derek: Can’t it be both? Johnny has shown promise, but he’s also shown that he may never learn. I’m fine with giving Johnny a shot as long as there’s some kind of backup plan. If the number two quarterback isn’t an established veteran or an early draft pick, that’s a problem. On a related note, I feel I should point out that as of this writing Jared Goff has over 400 yards and six touchdowns in his bowl game and it’s not even the fourth quarter yet. Either he or Paxton Lynch will be the first quarterback off the board in the draft, and the Browns will probably have a shot at both of them. I wouldn’t hold it against Cleveland if they picked one of those guys to be the Kirk Cousins to Johnny’s RGIII. If I were running the show, one of those two (or possibly Joey Bosa) would be a Brown next year.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

We both thought the Steelers would run circles around the Ravens, but they lost the game and possibly their playoff spot. How much did you enjoy seeing that? Was it the best part of Week 16?

Will: I also didn’t see this game, but I did listen to a good chunk of it on the radio; I was driving from my brother’s place in Pittsburgh back home to Cleveland, so it was a treat to hear the radio voices of the Steelers wonder what the heck was going on out there. But yeah, with the exception of Johnny running for 100 yards, Pittsburgh losing was definitely a high point.

That said, I’ve been a real grump this whole season. The Browns have sucked, and that’s dovetailed nicely with my waning enthusiasm for the NFL in general. That said, what storyline should I be interested as we enter the playoffs? TEACH ME TO FEEL AGAIN.

Derek: I sort of alluded to it earlier, but I think almost every NFC playoff game is going to be must-see TV. Maybe the Vikings and Redskins aren’t on the same level as the other four teams, but any combination of the Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, or Seahawks would be pretty compelling. You can also watch Brandon Weeden start a playoff game. That should be fun.

The Panthers have finally fallen! Are you happy, disappointed, or somewhere in-between?

Will: Somewhere in between. Even though I would have picked them to win out, I’m not shocked that they lost, even to the Falcons. It would have been fun to have an undefeated team in the postseason, though I don’t know if I could handle the associated TV talk about Cam Newton’s relative eliteness.

Say, you didn’t menace anyone with a bat this week, did you?

Derek: Maybe.

sting hogan

But that’s my business, and mine alone.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Julio Jones can do this:

julio catch

That looks difficult. I’m going to give it to him.


Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’m returning this coveted award to the Steelers. They lost to Ryan Mallett(!) in a game they needed to make the playoffs. They only scored 17 points(!) against one of the worst defenses in the league. They might be the second best team in the AFC, but they’ll need help to back into the playoffs. And if your Browns upset them next week, expect to see the Steelers here again.

Will: Oh god that paragraph gave me a chub. Thank you. I look forward to next week’s game undoing that and Cleveland taking Pittsburgh’s place as Most Hungover.

The big, bad Seahawks beat the Browns: NFL Week 15 Recap

NFL Recap Header

wild and crazy Week 15 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks-Browns showdown, Odell Beckham losing his mind, Brandon Weeden coming back from the dead, the Chiefs earning an apology, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.

AP Photo/Scott Eklund

AP Photo/Scott Eklund

Will: In one of the least surprising results of Sunday, the Seahawks trounced the Browns and covered the spread in the process. What’s it like supporting the winner of an NFL squash match? Were you remotely concerned at any point? Were you in awe of the Browns gifting Seattle a field goal to end the first half by virtue of a penalty on a Hail Mary? DO YOU FEEL LIKE A BIG MAN NOW, HUH?

Derek: First, I just want to apologize to our dear readership for our inability to put together a Week 14 Recap and last week’s Wrasslin’ Wednesday. My traveling plans kept me from watching sports last week, much less forming some sort of reasoned analysis. Toss in 48 hours in planes and airports in a seven day stretch and I just couldn’t get my brain to do anything productive in a timely manner. I hope you’ll forgive us. To football!

I DO FEEL LIKE A BIG MAN. Though I admittedly was worried when Johnny hit Barnidge to cap a 15-play opening drive. I was reminded of that time the Seahawks were trailing 21-0 at home to the 0-7 Buccaneers in 2013. Sure, the Seahawks went on to win that game in overtime before winning the Super Bowl, but it was still an unpleasant memory.

I’ve been fortunate enough to make a recent habit of supporting the winner of an NFL squash match, and it seems like some sort of trap. Nine of Seattle’s first 11 games were nail-biters. Now they’ve won their last three games by a combined score of 103-26. My guard is permanently up after Super Bowl XLIX. How is this seemingly good thing going to horribly crush me in the worst possible way? Whose ACL is going down? What terrible fourth quarter collapse am I going to have to suffer through? Rip the band aid! GET IT OVER WITH!

I suppose the Browns version of that oncoming car crash was the field goal gift. I was in awe as it happened, and even more so after the fact. You noted that Seattle covered the 15 point spread, but they wouldn’t have if it weren’t for that field goal. I hope the folks who gambled on the Seahawks plan to send The Cleveland Facemasker a batch of Christmas cookies.

How are Cleveland fans dealing with The Cleveland Facemasker? How did you feel after the Browns’ opening drive? Did you see anything that makes you feel good about the future?

Will: The Facemasker, if I’m not mistaken, was former Green Bay Packer Tramon Williams. Six months ago, one might think of him as a reliable, savvy, veteran player from a winning franchise. Now he’s playing like a Brown. Poor guy never stood a chance. I think this season is too far gone for anyone — anyone reasonable, at least; a bunch of people still seem to enjoy tossing out words like inexcusable and disgraceful and embarrassing — to get too upset about it.

Funny thing is, I feel like the Browns didn’t play all that badly. Considering they were on the road against a really good team, I think it was a respectable 17-point loss. Johnny did some stuff, and Duke Johnson did some stuff, and Travis Benjamin did some stuff. Rookie offensive lineman Cameron Erving got tossed around and the secondary got shredded, but hey, whatreyagonnado?

Can you explain Doug Baldwin catching 10 touchdowns in his last four games? I can chalk up those allowed by the Browns to garden variety poor play, and I suppose the same goes for the Ravens, but this is still crazy production. Has he separated himself from the rest of the Seahawks receivers? What does he do well?

Derek: I can’t. I like Doug Baldwin a lot, in large part because he has Michael Jordan’s ability to find a slight in almost anything. One of the perks of going home was finally getting to enjoy the mountain of Seahawks stuff I bought after they won the Super Bowl. One of those Seahawks things was the Blu-Ray that I got for subscribing to Sports Illustrated for a year. And my favorite part was when the camera zoomed in on Baldwin’s sour visage during a regular season game and he angrily proclaimed “there aren’t enough 89 jerseys in the stands.” I love it. I’m going to start trolling him on Twitter and if I see him in public I’m going to pretend I think he’s Percy Harvin. You’re the best, Doug. Unless you’re reading this, in which case you suck.

But still, I can’t explain this kind of explosion. He’s doing things no one has ever done. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the eighth best receiver in the league this year. He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he’s sneaky and tough and has a two-ton chip on his shoulder. I can’t wait to see the look he gives Seattle’s beat reporters when he doesn’t make the All-Pro team.

Is there a Cleveland player you’re still enjoying even though things are falling apart? And what are your views on tanking? Should the Browns bench everyone for a shot at hometown hero Joey Bosa or a(nother) quarterback?

Will: I don’t know if I’d say I’m enjoying Johnny, but I am fascinated by him and the offense. The offensive line has slowly fallen apart due to injury, so there are a whole bunch of plays where he’s just running for his life. You can see that he has a better grasp of the offense than he once did, and I think he’s trying to do all the regular boring things that quarterbacks do, but the most fun thing in the world is when he bails out and looks for someone to chuck it to downfield. If it goes to Duke or Benjamin, all the better.

As far as tanking…I mean, they really don’t have to. If they give up 50 points total in their last two games, they will have allowed more points than the 1999 expansion team. It’s remarkable how bad they are. I also don’t really know who they could bench that would make a difference besides Joe Thomas. Maybe Gary Barnidge? They just suck. I haven’t dived into mock drafts and such yet, but I’m excited about another top-three pick, even if history suggests I have no reason to feel that way.

Brandon Weeden was a Browns’ first-rounder, and now he is an NFL starter again, this time for the Houston Texans. Will you take solace in his starting for three different franchises when you have a personal failure? Does Brandon Weeden have the most inspirational career in football?

 Michael Conroy

Michael Conroy

Derek: I think Steve Harvey is going to get me through all of my personal failures for years to come. But I’m always looking forward to more Weeden. He’s certainly inspirational, in that he inspires me to take out a huge loan so I can bet against him in the playoffs and set myself up for life. I really can’t express how excited I am to watch him in the playoffs. They’re going to lose 3-2 and J.J. Watt will glare at him so fiercely that he’s banished to 300 cycles in the Phantom Zone. Still a great night!

What did you think of that Panthers-Giants game? Was it the Game of the Year?

Will: It was pretty freakin’ awesome. I didn’t watch most of it once the Panthers went up 35-14, because what was gonna happen, Eli leading the Giants comeback against an undefeated team? But that’s exactly what he did. New York scored four touchdowns in a 15-minute span across the third and fourth quarters. Alas, they left Cam and company almost two minutes to get three points, which turned out to be plenty.

The greater story, sadly, is that the shine appears to be coming off of Odell Beckham. delivered a nasty headshot to Josh Norman and earned himself a one-game suspension in the process. In your most outraged voice, how much contempt should we have for him?

Derek: <outrage>He’s a thug and he should be suspended for a year!</outrage>

I wasn’t too bothered by it. He absolutely should have been ejected or benched, but it was one of the most compelling things I’ve seen all year. The only legitimate contempt I can muster is for Beckham and the Giants’ PR teams, who are out in full force trying to make the situation look different than what it was. It was bats! It was gay slurs! Or maybe he was a little too amped up and got carried away. This is why I don’t like PR people.

Is there any subplot or playoff scenario you’re looking forward to seeing play out over the last two weeks?

Will: The AFC playoffs could be really, really bad. The quarterbacks could, anyway. Right now we’re looking at Brady and Roethlisberger, then its A.J. McCarron (in for Andy Dalton), Bork Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, and Alex Smith, with Ryan Fitzpatrick hoping to butt in. In the NFC, meanwhile, we have Cam, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson (and Kirk Cousins and Teddy Bridgewater). Too early to take the NFC money line in the Super Bowl?

Is there any random non-playoff team that you have found yourself getting somewhat attached to this season, for better or worse? Who compels you?

AP Photo/Nick Wass

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Derek: They may not end up being a non-playoff team, but I’ve been really interested in the Chiefs. Way back in Week 5, you asked me if I thought any teams were already done for the year. I said the Lions (because they sucked) and the Chiefs, because they were 1-4 and they just lost Jamaal Charles for the year. “It was going to be difficult to crawl back to respectability with Charles,” I said. “Without him, they’re done.” Now they’re 9-5 with home games against Cleveland and Oakland to close out the year. They have the same record as the Steelers and the Seahawks. I don’t know how this is happening. If they do get that sweet, sweet playoff game against Brandon Weeden, they’ll deserve it.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Who else but Ron Rivera? No more bats on the field! That’s a load off.

Will: I’ll second that. Look at this stupid shit:

A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Beckham felt threatened when [Marcus] Ball carried the baseball bat onto the field in pregame warm-ups and motioned with it toward the receiver while making comments.

You’re threatened by a guy gesturing with a bat when 300-pound dudes trying to break every one of your ribs is an every-play thing? C’MON MAN!

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: Cowboys fans. They’ve had to watch some truly, truly horrific quarterback play this year. Matt Cassel got flagged for intentional grounding and threw an interception on the same play, which I didn’t think was possible. Now they’re going to finish in last place in one of the worst divisions in recent memory and somehow the quarterback they cut earlier this year could start a playoff game for the Texans. It’s difficult to pity Cowboys fans, but I do. That’s a rough run of luck.

Will: I’ll go with San Diego. The Chargers may have played their last ever game in San Diego, and that just plain sucks. Also, how weird is it that we don’t yet know the fate of the Chargers, Raiders, or Rams? Doesn’t it take longer than six months to build a stadium and move a franchise? The NFL is so dumb.

Reminding a Browns fan what winning feels like: Week 13 Recap

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wild and crazy Week 13 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks shutting down Minnesota, the Browns reaching a low point, Carolina staying undefeated, more NFC East comedy, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Will: Please relate to me what it’s like to see your favorite team win a 31-point blowout. Honestly, what is that like? The Browns won two different games by 21 points last season, but by now those feel like distant memories. Cleveland is in dark, dark football times. Regale me, if you would, with tales of glee from the winners’ circle.

Derek: It’s fun! Really glorious. It removes the shameful stress that comes with getting upset watching a bunch of people I’ll probably never meet playing a game. The Vikings just didn’t stand a chance. The only thing that made it stressful was Seattle’s penchant for blowing games in the fourth quarter. Sure, there was no reason to think that would happen based on what was going on on the field, but the Seahawks would be the team to break new ground in fourth quarter failure. But other than that, it’s all smiles and fist pumps.

On a grander scale, this is the first time since Week 1 that I’ve felt like the Seahawks could be Super Bowl contenders. They lost a home primetime game to the Cardinals, gave up approximately 1,200 yards to Ben Roethlisberger last week, and there’s nothing impressive about beating the 49ers twice. But badly beating the previously 8-3 Vikings, in Minnesota, in a dreaded 10 a.m. PT start time, makes me feel good for the first time in a while. The NFC West may be out of reach at this point, but the fifth or sixth seed looks more and more likely.

Joshua Gunter/

Joshua Gunter/

You’ve pointed how rough things are in Cleveland right now. They’re probably worse than usual, and that’s saying something. How are you approaching the rest of the season? Are you trying to buy back in on the re-installed Johnny Manziel? Looking at mock drafts? Making voodoo dolls of various members of Browns management? Skipping the games altogether and dreaming about the Cavs? What’s your method? And are we going to have to fight when Cleveland and Seattle play in Week 15?

Will: I’ll be watching the Browns like a stoned dude staring at a bonfire. I don’t have the patience, energy, or creativity to bother fantasy booking a new front office. I haven’t looked at any mock drafts yet, but I have become increasingly familiar with the top five or so prospects. I’m not going to bother getting mad; it’d be like getting mad at an infant for shitting his pants. You and I aren’t going to fight at all in Week 15. I might be relying on you to tell me what happens after I fall asleep at halftime.

I really can’t overstate how little I’m into this NFL season. It’s a perfect storm of awfulness. The Browns are extra miserable. A bunch of other teams are bad and/or boring. There are FanDuel ads everywhere — not as many lately, or have I just been watching less? Players’ heads are exploding and Will Smith is trying to fix it with an African accent. It’s all too much to bear.

And yet we press on! Is Seattle’s big win a commentary on the Vikings’ overall talent and ability, or is the Seahawks’ defense just a bad matchup for a run-dependent offense like Minnesota’s?

Derek: I think you nailed it with the latter point. The Seahawks were able to focus on Adrian Peterson and the passing attack didn’t really stand a chance at that point. Seattle’s pass defense has been much better since the demotion (and now release) of Cary Williams. And yes, I am aware that the Steelers torched the Seahawks last week. At least there weren’t receivers running completely uncovered through the secondary. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t exactly Ben Roethlisberger, either, and Stefon Diggs and Mike Wallace aren’t Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant.

It will be interesting to see how the Vikings respond when they play the Cardinals on Thursday night. The Seahawks and Cardinals are similar in many ways, and if the Vikings get blown out again, we can safely cross them off the list of contenders.

Speaking of which, are there any contenders you’ve crossed off after this week? Were the performances of teams like the Patriots and Packers at all troubling?

Will: The injuries that led to those performances are more concerning than the performances themselves. Even Rodgers and Brady don’t look the same throwing to the likes of Davante Adams and Brandon LaFell. I’m still not counting either side out, as having the better quarterback is still like 95 percent of football. As for teams I’m willing to cross off in terms of Super Bowl contention: Minnesota (too one-dimensional), Denver (sry Brock), the whole NFC East and AFC South (obvs), and Cincinnati (Dalton? Still pfft.). 

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers, though…I’m coming around on the Panthers. How many quarterbacks would you rather have than Cam Newton right now? How about for the next five years?

Derek: Let’s see … right now, off the top of my head and in no particular order, I’d take Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, and probably still Andrew Luck if he were healthy. For the next three years, I’d probably take all of those guys except Palmer and maybe Brady, and I’d consider adding Winston and/or Mariota. Though as I’ve said before, Newton irritates me so I’m a little biased against him. You have to give him credit for what the Panthers have accomplished, though. I thought the Panthers would suck because their receivers aren’t good and Jonathan Stewart is fragile. They would not have been anywhere near the top of my list of teams that could start 12-0. And now that the Falcons are imploding, they’ve got a much easier road to 16-0. They’ll be must-see in the playoffs.

Do you see the Panthers losing any of their remaining games?

Will: Probably, just so Chris Berman can ejaculate when they play the champagne cork sound effect — sources tell me that’s his only get-off of the year. As things stand, however, I probably wouldn’t pick them to lose any single game. They have the free-falling Falcons in Weeks 14 and 16. That leaves at the Giants in Week 15 and home for Tampa to close the season. In order of losing likelihood, I’d say it goes Giants, Bucs, then a canyon, then the Falcons. To hell with the Falcons — they’re my arbitrary least favorite team.

Who is your favorite relatively-out-of-nowhere star this season? Is it your boy Tom Rawls? Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson (or Hurns)? Mighty Gary Barnidge?

Derek: I’ve definitely got to give it to Thomas Rawls. He’s been going Rawls to the wall. Rawls deep. Nobody can put our Rawls in a vice. I follow this team pretty closely, and I thought it would take more than a Lynch injury to get him in the game. I thought the roles would be reversed in the case of a Lynch injury, with Fred Jackson handling the lead back duties and Rawls in a complimentary role. I know some people might bust my Rawls for this pick, but he’s so much better than I thought he would be. How did he not get drafted?


Alex Brandon/Associated Press

The NFC East apocalypse nearly happened! The Eagles won, but the Cowboys took down the Redskins and helped muck up the amusing NFC East race. Do you think it’s better to bottom out, or win a crappy division with almost no shot at winning the Super Bowl (unless it’s the Giants)?

Will: In the NFL, I’d say win a crappy division. Getting in the playoffs is hard enough that it’s still an accomplishment (said the Browns fan), and you never know. Any team can go on a random run. Look at last year’s Browns! My view is a bit warped, as the only bottoming out I know is perpetual. Bottoming out for a year like the Colts did would be nice. Losing that much for just one season would hold novelty value. It isn’t as cute when you’re 15-plus years into it. 

I’m sayin’, man, dark times.

Say, what member of your family would have to be taken hostage in order for you to watch Browns-Niners live next week? The Browns stadium was maybe 60 percent full for the Bengals game, with a substantial chunk comprised of Cincinnati fans. Any estimates for next week’s attendance?

Derek: Funny you should ask! I’m writing all of this over the Pacific Ocean, as I’m going to spend the next week at home in North Carolina. As it happens, someone scheduled a family gathering on Sunday. So, actually, several members of my family are holding me hostage to keep me from watching that game (or any other) live. Naturally, I’ll get to watch more football in Korea when the early games start at 3 a.m. than I will in America.

I’ll say the stadium attendance will fall down to 40%-50% full. I don’t think there are too many Niner fans in Ohio, and if there are, I don’t know that they’d be willing to shell out their hard-earned money to watch this one. If Travis Benjamin is out, there may not even be any fantasy implications other than Gary Barnidge. And I have to think there aren’t many people out there who would actually be willing to gamble on this game. So yeah, the slim chance that I would pay any attention to it have pretty much evaporated. How about you? Are you going to put yourself through that?

Will: I don’t have a ticket, but I’m at least going to be tailgating beforehand. In its own special way, this is the most fun part of the season. There’s also a decent chance a ticket will find me before Sunday. We’re deep into Free Ticket Season — I went each of the last two weeks without giving the franchise a dollar. That’s the kind of support I can believe in right now.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Am I allowed to give out the Gentlemen of the Week to a woman? Feel free to overrule, but I’m giving our first Lady of the Week award to that woman standing behind the goalpost Antonio Brown assaulted. As I understand it, she’s not pressing charges for the inadvertent hair pull. She’d have every right to after Brown’s completely uncalled-for … well, whatever that was. thought the best word was “gymnastics.” There has to be a better one. Anyway, she was a good sport about being immortalized via GIF on national television. That’s Ladylike in my book.

Will: I’ll allow it. It is about time we award GotW to a woman, isn’t it? Shame on us for not doing so sooner.

I’m going with Johnny Manziel, only because he got the starting job back and I want him to win an award before he does something stupid to lose it again.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’ll say Rams fans, if there are any left. The team might leave the city and they look like they’ve completely quit. Not only that, but they might have the least enviable quarterback situation in the league, and that’s tough to do. It’ll be a while before the Cardinals start playing again, and until then, those masochist still watching the Rams will have plenty of reasons to drink.

Will: Philly. They beat the Pats on the road in the most surprising result of the day. Based on my time there, that isn’t the sort of achievement that’s going to be forgotten without a little celebration.

Brock vs. Peyton, and the latest Browns misery: NFL Week 12 Recap

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wild and crazy Week 12 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Beast Incarnate Brock Osweiler, Seattle beating Pittsburgh, the Browns Brownsing, the NFC East replacing the AFC South in the NFL’s basement, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Will: BROCK OSWEILER! BROCK OSWEILER! BROCK OSWEILER! I don’t have a question, but discuss.

Derek: My client, BA-ROCK, OSWEILER, conquered the Patriots’ undefeated streak! I’m enjoying this. The Seahawks have played the Broncos in the preseason every year since 2011, so I watched Osweiler play a few times before last week. He looked like crap in most of them, but in this season’s game he looked way better. I guess three seasons as a second-round pick backing up Peyton Manning will do that for you.

We can’t get too excited, because Osweiler didn’t win the game for the Broncos the way Manning used to. He was 23-42 for 270 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Enough to win of course, but C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman probably deserve more credit. The thing is, Osweiler can totally buy in to Gary Kubiak’s system in a way Manning never could. It’s time we start imagining a world in which Manning is standing on the sideline watching Osweiler.

The Broncos are better with Osweiler at quarterback … right?

Will: Absolutely. It seems heretical to say, and it would have seemed even more so a year ago, but it’s true. He’s in a walking boot as he deals with a tear in his left plantar fascia — the ligament that runs from your heel to your toes — and that may be the least of his problems. It was just a few months ago that “Peyton Manning can’t feel his fingertips” was a headline. A doctor told him then, “Don’t count on the feeling coming back.” He’s still as smart as any quarterback who’s ever played, but I think being able-bodied is an important prerequisite in a contact sport. Call me crazy.

Without peeking and with a gun to your head, how many of the seven New England Patriots who caught passes Sunday could you name? It turns out that Gronk’s thought-to-be ACL injury is just a bruise, but won’t injuries catch up to the Pats at some point?

Derek: Hmm. Without looking, I’d say Gronk, Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler, Brandon Bolden, and James White. I missed Keshawn Martin (I’ve read about him!) and Asante Cleveland. I don’t know who that is. Since I’m in an embarrassing amount of fantasy football leagues, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I wasn’t somewhat familiar with the various high-risk low-reward receiving options in the Patriots’ offense. It’s fair to say I’d have no idea who Bolden and White were under different circumstances.

Oh yes, the injuries definitely have to catch up at some point. They arguably already have. That’s three straight games without a dominant Pats victory — practically an eternity! Gronk looks to have avoided a major injury, but he could miss a game or two. He’s one of the few players who has the same injury effect as a quarterback. Without him, their offense takes a big hit. Luckily for them, they’ve got one of the coldest teams in the league coming to town next week. Things might not be looking great, but the Eagles can fix that up in a hurry.

While the Eagles look to be in the tank, how about the Packers? They lost at home to the Bears on Thanksgiving, and now travel to Detroit on Thursday night to play the suddenly resurgent Lions. Are the Packers in trouble?

Will: It sure looks that way, don’t it? Their receivers, who I’ve just learned include guys named Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery (my deep-dive fantasy knowledge isn’t on your level), can’t seem to get open. Aaron Rodgers, in very Manning-esque fashion, reportedly lost feeling in the fingers on his left hand during their Thanksgiving loss to the Bears. The defense has been better of late, allowing 17, 13, and 18 points in their last three games, but we’re still talking about a team that’s lost four of five.

I’m still hesitant to write them off. Perhaps the memory of LeBron dragging a MASH unit of a Cavs team to the Finals is still too fresh in my mind. That said, Rodgers hasn’t been at his best for the past couple months. He threw 11 touchdowns and completed over 70 percent of his passes in the first four games. Since then, he’s gone over 60 percent just twice. A beatdown of the Lions would restore some faith, but the Panthers and Cardinals have both leapfrogged them among NFC favorites.

Sticking with that conference, Doug Baldwin caught three touchdowns and Jermaine Kearse caught two for the Seahawks. Is it just because I don’t pay the NFC much mind, or are all of their receivers (except Jimmy Graham) fairly anonymous and/or interchangeable? It feels like they have a different leading receiver every week.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Derek: Yeah, since the Seahawks are content with not passing if at all possible, picking the Seahawks receiver that does well is a crapshoot. It could be Graham one week (may his patella tendon rest in peace), then Baldwin, then Kearse, then Tyler Lockett, and so on. Long-haired Canadian Luke Willson will take over for Graham, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the leading receiver at least one game before the season is over. Even he has had his moments in the past.

I’m just excited that the Seahawks offense is finally starting to show some signs of life. They’re doing their end-of-season turnaround that’s become a staple since Russell joined the team. They’d be the sixth seed traveling to Minnesota if the season ended today. And wouldn’t you know it, the Seahawks travel to Minnesota this Sunday. As a Seahawk fan, I’m sort of required to hate the Vikings. But I’ll cover that when we make our picks on Friday.

Will: How do Ben Roethlisberger’s 456 passing yards make you feel about the Seattle secondary?

Derek: Not great. That’s the most passing yards the Seahawks have ever given up, which is pretty alarming considering some of the bad defenses the Seahawks have had over the years. It wouldn’t have shocked me if you told me before the game that the Steelers would set that record, but I would have been shocked knowing they set the record with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant largely held in check. I thought Richard Sherman would struggle with Brown and Bryant would absolutely feast on Cary Williams. Turns out Seattle was tired of seeing people feast on Cary Williams, as he was a healthy scratch. Sherman and DeShawn Shead did as good of a job on Brown and Bryant as one could have hoped.

It was a little weird seeing Markus Wheaton get 201 yards and DeAngelo Williams get 88. There’s a trivia question I’ll be shocked by in 10 years.

I’ve waited long enough out of respect, but it’s time. The Browns had a very … Brownsish loss last night. Your thoughts? Did you have any feelings at all? And now that Josh McCown is out for the year, is it time to press the Johnny button again?

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

AP Photo/Ron Schwane

Will: There weren’t many feelings, which is the frightening part. I was at the game, seated behind the end zone into which the Ravens took back the game-winning touchdown on a blocked kick return. I didn’t — couldn’t — react for what may have been 5 or 55 seconds. I just stood there with my mouth open like a dumbass. I later cobbled some thoughts together, which focused on a poor little bastard who went to his very first Browns game. An excerpt:

As for that young man taking in his first Browns home game, I wish I could tell you that there’s nowhere to go but up. I wish I could tell you that this is as bad as it gets. I wish I could tell you that there is a sunrise for every set. I wish I could tell you that. But Browns fandom is no fairy tale world. There isn’t much to do but hope for better. But if you do that, be warned: There is little reason to believe that better is coming any time soon.

When you’re comparing being a Browns fan to Andy Dufresne getting raped in Shawshank…yeah, that’s not great. And now Austin Davis is starting at quarterback! Whatever. I can’t bother getting mad anymore. It’s impossible to tell who will be around next year — on the field or in the front office — so I’m not going to get too attached to anyone. The Browns are a never-ending “Hard Times” promo.

In lighter news, should we redirect our scorn for the AFC South toward the NFC East? Are we tacitly allowing the East Coast Media Elite to brainwash us re: the crapitude of that division?

Derek: Absolutely. The AFC South scorn was well-deserved, but the NFC East has usurped them with some good ol’ fashioned incompetence. The Redskins are in first place! The Redskins! Man, I hope the Seahawks can get the fifth seed and play whoever wins this division in the playoffs. Unless it’s the Giants. I want no part of the Giants in any playoff game until the end of time.

Staying in the AFC South, things seem to really be looking up for two of their teams. My man Matt Hasselbeck is undefeated as a starter this year, while the Texans have been good enough that their Week 14 game with the Patriots flexed the Seahawks-Ravens game out of Sunday Night Football. If the season ended today, both would be in the playoffs. How much of an apology do we owe them? Could either win the Super Bowl?

Will: Pffft, no. I have a hard time breaking out of my preconceived notions. They still suck in my shining eyes.

Buying the Panthers as Super Bowl contenders yet? Or the Vikings? Or the Bengals?

Derek: Yeah, I guess. It’s too late in the season to dismiss them. I wouldn’t wager on any of those teams, but they can’t be ignored anymore. That is, of course, assuming none of those teams suffer a crippling injury before the playoffs. It seems to happen every week, so here’s hoping they avoid the Angel of Injury from here on.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: It’s time Matt Hasselbeck got his due. It was a sad day for me when the Seahawks cut Hasselbeck in favor of Tarvaris Jackson before the 2011 season. I’ve grown to respect Jackson, but Hasselbeck was in Seattle for 10 years and started most of them. He was my guy for a long time. I’ve really enjoyed his Gentlemanly resurgence this season. I’m nearing the point where if the Seahawks can’t win the Super Bowl, I hope it’s the Colts. I don’t particularly like them, but I’d love to see him get a ring before he retires. If only he could have gotten one in Seattle.

Will: Sure, let’s go with him. His success has me thinking that the Browns didn’t go old enough with their quarterback choice this season. If Josh McCown was good at 36, and Hasselbeck is good at 40, why not kick it up another couple years? What’s Brett Favre doing? Is Elway definitely retired? Joe Namath? HARD TIMES.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: Oh, definitely Browns fans. That loss was horrible. Can you confirm?

Will: /dies