Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Top 5 Stadium Fan Accessories

One of the greatest agonies of being a sports fan is the feeling of helplessness that often goes along with watching a game, and the urge to do something, anything, to give your team an extra boost. Fans need to feel like they're Part of It, which is where all the extra accessories come in: team gear, orchestrated chants and songs, all kinds of noise-making devices, foam fingers, beer-dispensing plastic helmets, you name. Does any of this stuff actually make a difference? Who knows, but we'd all sure like to think so, which leads me to the criteria for my list of the best of the best in this field. I decided that the four main factors in determining the quality of these stadium accessories are as follows: audio effect, visual effect, the impact it can make on the actual gameplay, and the originality of the idea. I've rated all the accessories that I can think of on a 10 point scale, and was able to narrow it down to a final Top 5 list.

Let's start off with the best ones that couldn't quite make the cut:

Honorable Mention

Hat Trick Hats
Is it cool to celebrate an NHL player's rare individual accomplishment? Yes. Is it awesome to see hundreds of hats rain out onto the ice from behind the plexiglass? Yes. Is witnessing someone who happens to be doing their job better than they normally do it worth losing your favorite ballcap over? Not in my book.

K Cards 
Sure, K-cards can be awesome, when a pitcher gets 15 or more strikeouts in a game. However, seeing as this hardly ever happens, and most well-intentioned K displays end up looking more like racist bathroom stall graffiti than a monument to virtuoso pitching, it can't crack the Top 5. Also, even though Sports Illustrated for Kids explained it to me a long time ago, I still don't really understand why strikeouts are known as Ks.

Now this is just ridiculous. I won't be convinced that Felix Hernandez had upwards of 700 strikeouts in this game.

Apparently, the Michigan student section used to smuggle thousands of marshmallows into the Big House and go all Oregon Ducks on each other during football games. That tradition unfortunately went extinct before I ever arrived on campus, but i would have loved pelting Rich Rod with some Kraft Jet-Puffeds during one of his famous late-season collapses. I would have given this an easy 10 for originality, but my further research shows a bunch of other schools, including Notre Dame and Northwestern, used to do this too, so I guess that was just the thing to do in the late 80s.

Dishonorable Mention

Before diving into the Top 5, I think it also bears mentioning that for every awesome sports stadium fan accessory, there's about three pretty crappy ones as well.

Atlanta Braves Tomahawks
Without entering a discussion on just how offensive these may or may not be, I'll just say that the Braves foam tomahawks are completely unnecessary. Atlanta's version of "the chop" is inferior to Florida State's in every way, and the fans at Doak Campbell accomplish the exact same visual effect just by using their arms to make the chopping motion. As you can see below, these cheap-ass things are so flimsy that they wouldn't even make the proper motion when you try to chop with them anyway. They probably have the TBS logo on the opposite side too.

Artificial Hand Clappers

"Hey guys, I'm too much of a wimp to clap my real hands today. Don't worry though, I'll still be able to cheer on the team with these nifty Artificial Hand Clappers!"

The only justifiable reason for somebody to use these things is if they're a double-hand amputee. You know what, scratch that, a double-hand amputee wouldn't be able to grip the handle anyway. There is no justifiable reason for somebody to use these things.

Central Michigan Foam French Fry Things

There's nothing like a struggling mid-major football team trying to inject some manufactured stadium atmosphere into their program. At a CMU game once, as my family walked past the ticket gates, some ushers handed us what looked like big foam french fries with logos of local businesses printed on them. They didn't make any noise, you couldn't really wave them around and have it look cool, and the stadium was about a third of the way full anyway. I can't find any pictures of the foam sticks, but that's probably for the best.

Now, the time has come to unveil the Top 5 Stadium Fan Accessories in all of sports.

5. The Cadets Section
Audio Effect: 4
Visual Effect: 8
Impact on Gameplay: 2
Originality: 8
Total Score: 22

This exclusive club consists of only the three service academies, and also Texas A&M for some reason. While Penn State seems to think that they invented the idea of everyone wearing the same color t-shirt sometime around 2006, the cadets have pulled off the look for nearly a century now. Penn State's little "White Out" looks positively quaint in comparison to the Cadets all wearing the same jackets, hats, boots, haircuts, and even waking up at the same time as each other every morning. However, service academy football has sucked in the post WWII era, so the Cadets must not be doing that great of a job in the Impact on Game category. Either way, unless you're part of the militarys, you'd have a tough time duplicating this at your stadium.

4. Little, Yellow, Flayygs
Audio: 5
Visual: 10
Game Impact: 6
Originality: 2
Total: 23

Started by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975, LYFs remain the yellow standard when it comes to visual effect, creating a wonderful organized chaos look in the stadium. This transfers well to TV also, just as long as the color is bright enough to stand out. The towels themselves don't make any noise, but when they're out twirling in full force, it always seems to be accompanied by a heavy increase in volume from the participants. There's a reason why most stadiums will only bring these out for the really big games: those games are the only ones where some dopey corporation is willing to blow thousands of dollars to advertise on a bunch of linens. However, I'd like to think that somewhere deep down, one of the suits in Marketing understands that a home team's chances of winning marginally improve when said team's supporters have a bunch of dishrags to wave around while they cheer. As far as originality goes, Pittsburgh's "Terrible Towels" were the trailblazer in the Little Yellow Flayyg industry, but the sports world has since then seen countless copycats, including the DTLs from time to time. I still love the effect though, and hope they pull them out at Ford Field this weekend in their must-win game.

"It would have been a good day to invest in Little, Yellow, Flayygs."--Thom Blanck

3. The Free Throw Missing Apparatus
Audio: 4
Visual: 9
Gameplay: 8
Originality: 4
Total: 25

Clutch free throws are hard enough to make to begin with, and the Free Throw Missing Apparatus certainly can't help things. I'm sure most players will tell you that they just "block it out" or that they're so used to it that it doesn't matter, but how many other situations in sports are there when you can literally disrupt an athlete's field of vision right as they are trying to perform? I would love to see the concept of this adjusted for Olympic archery competitions. For the desired visual effect, the amount of variation here is pretty much endless. You can go for the hypnotic effect, the optical illusion, put Dwight Schrute's face up there, just bluntly tell the shooter your desired result for the shot, appeal to Larry Bird's taste in women, I won't go so far to say that the possibilities are endless, but there are quite a few. No matter what, it usually looks pretty cool. From the pro levels all the way down to high schools with large enough gyms, these things are everywhere. However, most places do a decent enough job of putting their own unique spin on the theme to keep it from going completely stale. For my money, Indiana's Assembly Hall wins best in class as far as the FTMA goes.

2. Vuvuzelas
Audio: 9
Visual: 5
Gameplay: 4
Originality: 10
Total: 28

Nobody in the western hemisphere had ever heard of them before June 2010, but now at least 95% of the 2 billion or so viewers of the last World Cup not only has a strong opinion of these polarizing fan accessories, but also mispronounces their name in a wide range of equally hilarious ways. Like fake Cubs manager Sal Martinella trying to say Henry Rowengartner's name, or Spongebob Squarepants talking about "the Hash-slinging Slasher".

When blown in unison, the vamooshimas sound like a relentless swarm of billions of angry hornets. It's beyond me why every sports team in the world with a bee-related team name doesn't hand them out at all home games. As far as the visual effect goes, I suppose i could go either way on this one. I guess it depends on how much you're feeling the whole "Whoville Christmas Celebration" vibe. While aurally shocking at first, most World Cup players seemed to get familiar with the vuvuzela as the tournament went on, not really even noticing them anymore by the end. They're not for everyone, but I think they would make for a great niche accessory for a team to build up a unique home field advantage. Georgia Tech would be perfect for this. "Oh crap, we have to go to Georgia Tech this year, that place is gonna be rocking, everyone with those stupid Kazoozulas going!"

This was an accessory a little bit ahead of its time back in 2010, and Americans weren't quite prepared to handle the vesuvius back then. I think they might be ready now.

1. Oklahoma State's Orange Paddles

Audio: 8
When the wooden paddles are all banding on the foam padding of the wall, it gives off that ominous feeling of 40,000 bloodthirsty Orcs marching in to get their asses kicked by a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and a few hobbits. It seems to work better for the Pokes than it does the Orcs.

Visual: 7
With the proper camera angle, this looks awesome. The problem is that it's only in the front row and only in the student section. This goes up to a 9 if they get the entire front row in on it, and it goes up to about a 16 if they got the entire student section doing it, with everyone just absolutely wailing on the person directly in front of them. This would be one of the few conceivable scenarios where being in the top row would be the best seat in the house.

Gameplay: 6
It goes back to my previous point--how much of a difference does any of this stuff actually make? With the large orange clubs beating against the wall, it definitely at least seems like it's doing something. As a defensive lineman, how could you not rush the QB just a little bit harder on a big third down while being urged on by that delightfully barbaric atmosphere?

Originality: 10
The first time I saw them in the background on TV, I almost didn't believe my eyes. It just seemed way too awesome that the stadium ushers would let people bring large orange clubs past the front gates and smash them against the walls for 3 hours. I mean, at my old high school, the athletic director kicked out just because he let off an air horn during a timeout--and it was the athletic director's own son! This is just a perfect match for Oklahoma State, so much so that I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, because their team name is the Cowboys", without even realizing that Cowboys with wooden paddles makes about as much logical sense as the boys at your local AEPi chapter. For these reasons, the Oklahoma State orange paddles conclude this list as the #1 Stadium Fan Accessories in sports.

Total: 31

"It's where the SENIORS find Freshmen, and NAIL them with paddles!"-- Joe Swanson

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Honolulu Blue and Silver Linings Playbook

Ravens 18

I've heard that the movie Silver Linings Playbook is supposed to be pretty good. I don't know exactly what it's about, but I think to some degree it's about a Philadelphia Eagles fan who has some type of  psychotic meltdown and goes into therapy, and over the course of the movie he makes some progress and sees the bright side of life and makes amends with his loved ones or something. Anyway, that sounds pretty fitting right now, so if that's not actually what the movie is about, don't bother telling me. Let's try to find some positives from last night.

Silver Lining #1: This isn't the most demoralizing DTLs game of my lifetime.

Does it rather easily crack the top 3? Yes. When the dust settles and I have some more time to ponder it, will it sneak up to a solid second place? I see no reason why it wouldn't. Actually, I think I'm seeing a new article topic for the near future developing as I think it through. For the time being, last night's ______________ (noun, preferably hyperbolic and in no way an accurate descriptor for the undesired result of an athletic contest) of a game still doesn't quite approach the emotional abyss that the 28-27 loss to Dallas in the 07' game sent me into. However, it passes the Barry Sanders "negative one" playoff game, the Philadelphia 58-37 playoff game,  the Calvin Johnson "process of the catch" game, the Dom Suh extra point game, Sinners vs Saints part one, Thanksgiving 2012, etc, etc, etc.

I've said it before, but I think it's worth repeating, any serious fan of a sports team constantly tightropes on a fine line between fun/entertainment/cheering on whichever team you feel some sort of connection with, and an unhealthy, illogical, and entirely one-sided emotional attachment to a bunch of strangers who play sports better than you.

I'll freely admit it, I've gotten in a little too deep this year. Generally, I care far more about my own sports games than any team that I'm a fan of. I'd say that remaining a lifelong athlete has always been my healthiest obsession and remaining a lifelong fan might be just the opposite at this point. I don't care if it's Rec-League Tiddly Winks, playing sports has always been a major physical and emotional outlet for me. When school/work became overwhelming, family issues, relationship issues, whatever, we all have our own separate sets of problems, my escape has always been watching, and much more importantly, playing sports. Unfortunately, I've had an unlucky streak that has left me injured for 9 of the past 12 months, so I haven't been able get that competitive release that I crave. Not even pickup hoops. At times like this, for better or worse, the Lions games mean significantly more to me. It got to the point where last Tuesday I could barely concentrate during the afternoon because I was so excited and nervous about this stupid Monday Night Game that was still a full 6 days away. That was what the second half of the 2007 season was like for me also, but for different reasons.

Last night was not a pleasant one for me, but then again, it wasn't quite the worst.

Silver Lining #2: When I go to the Giants game this Sunday, the Lions won't yet be officially eliminated from playoff contention.

It's been an entire year since I've set foot in Michigan, and now almost 2 1/2 years since I've lived there.  In the unformulated life plan that's sitting in the back recesses of my mind, I've always imagined that I'll end up back in Michigan someday, but that I still have a lot of things to take care of on the outside first. Nevertheless, the homesickness has been more intense over the past few months or so, so I wanted my too short return to the mitten over the holidays to be triumphant.

My brother got us some tickets for the Giants game a few weeks ago, and despite the staggering weight of history telling me otherwise, I had really convinced myself, "We're going to be in the building on the night that the DTLs win the division".  I was completely ready to forgive the fake field goal, and the drops, and the penalties, and all the turnovers in the mud, and in the dome, and in the snow, because all those preceding events were going to set the stage for this magical evening at Ford Field on December 22nd, when Matthew Stafford leads the boys back to the promised land.

As it now stands, if Chicago and Green Bay both win on Sunday, it's all over; but at least the Bears aren't playing until later that night, so the Bromos vs Giants game will at least still matter at the time, however fleetingly.

Silver Lining #3: That wasn't even the longest game winning field goal that's been kicked against the DTLs. 

One Sunday when I was about 9 or 10 years old and bored to the point of delirium while sitting through church, I suddenly started paying close attention because I heard the priest mention something about football. The topic of Father Frank's sermon for that day was an ex-football player named Tom Dempsey. Being a compulsive stat geek even at that age, I recognized the name and knew that Tom Dempsey had once kicked a 63 yard field goal, the all-time NFL record. Until then, I'd never heard the full story though.

Father Frank went on to talk about how Dempsey was born with only half of a right foot and with no fingers on his right hand. The 1970 New Orleans were off to a horrible start to their season, winning only one of their first seven games. In this particular game, the home team Saints had blown a late 4th quarter lead and let their opponents score to take the lead with with only 11 seconds left in the game. The Saints had one final chance to get in field goal range, but they couldn't even get the ball to midfield, and they were down to the final play. Instead of attempting a hail mary pass, the Saints sent their deformed field goal kicker out onto the field. No one in NFL history had ever made one from farther than 56 yards out, but this kicker with half a foot was going to try one from 63. To the absolute shock of everyone in the stadium, Dempsey blasted his kick just over the goalposts to miraculously win the game and set a new NFL record. The sermon was all about belief in God to do the impossible and all that type of stuff, and Father Frank ended things with a final punchline: "Oh, and guess which unfortunate team they happened to be playing?… the LIONS." Everyone in the church started laughing except for me.

Dempsey's record stood for over 43 years, until last week when Matt Prater made a 64-yarder. He now also has some company in the exclusive "Kickers who have made game-winning 60+ yard field goals in the final minute to beat the Lions" club. I think I'll leave it to John Starks to sum up that final Justin Tucker field goal:

Silver Lining #4: It doesn't look like I'll have to worry about rushing to the airport and possibly missing my flight back to Boston after the Lions playoff game.

I specifically planned out my vacation days and my flight time to come back to Boston with one thing in mind: if the DTLs had a home playoff game, I had to go to it. They obviously weren't going to get a first round bye, so as recently as two weeks ago, there was what seemed to be a very large possibility that it was going to happen. I booked my return flight for the night of January 5th, knowing that the playoff game would likely be on Sunday afternoon, or better yet, on Saturday the 4th. Nevertheless, I was also mentally preparing for the chance that it would be the 4:00 game and how disappointed I would be if I had to leave and miss this 0 times in a lifetime chance to watch the DTLs play at home in the playoffs. I was pondering whether I'd just purposely miss my flight and call in sick to work the next day.

Is there still a slim chance that these plans can come to fruition? Well, mathematically I guess there is, but I'd say the odds of it actually happening at this point are about as slim as Packers chance of coming all the way back from 23 down in the second half without their starting quarterback. Wow.

Silver Lining #5: My Bromolyte Interview with Worm next week should be interesting.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Nitch's Tale

The Bromolyte Interviews

Somewhere along the dozens of texts that fly back and forth during a typical DTLs game, I decided that it might be a good idea to offer a glimpse inside the minds of some of the most loyal H-Bromo supporters. The following conversation with Nitch is the first of what I hope becomes a series of many Bromolyte Interviews. It's mainly the truth, but then again, as Huck Finn famously noted, of course there are a few stretchers here and there. Here's what he has to say...

On Matthew Stafford:
Honolulu Bromothymol: To start things off, I'm interested to hear more about your change of heart with Stafford. Where we left off, you were the villain for inexplicably hating the guy, now you tell me you're back on the Staffwagon...
Nitch: I'm not sure my hatred was inexplicable...plenty out there had the exact same opinion. On the other side, I think a lot of people out there were ready to accept mediocrity. I heard, "Hey, he's better than Shaun Hill...and at least he's not Jon Kitna".
HB: Both true.
Nitch: Yeah great, you're right...he's also got higher expectations than those guys did. Through his first few years, I don't feel he met them.
HB: But there was a turning point for you.
Nitch: The man leads the DTLs to a playoff berth, becomes more dependable, and starts SLINGIN that skin all over the place.
HB: What was the specific moment you realized you'd changed your mind? I imagine the process was gradual, but there must have been a final tipping point.
Nitch: Not really sure I can pinpoint a specific moment...most likely happened over the offseason. The only real moment I can think of is the 80 or so times I've Googled his girlfriend. When it came time for Staff's contract negotiations, I knew for a fact that SHE needed to stay in Michigan.

Realizing that Nitch was in for a lonely night and a probable 81st Googling of Stafford's girlfriend, I changed the subject.

On Jim Schwartz:
HB: True or false- Jim Schwartz is a good coach.
Nitch: I'm going to go against the grain here and say TRUE.
HB: If I showed you a list of the 32 NFL head coaches, can you find 15 that Schwartz is better than?
Nitch: Coach success is so dependent on having an elite, dependable QB (see NFC North 2013). Now could I find 15 QBs better than Staff9? Not a chance.
HB: I'm undecided on whether I think Schwartz is a comparatively 'good' head coach, but my main knock on him is that he frequently let's his emotions get the best of him, sometimes even affecting the on-field play. 
Nitch: Remember, we watch 15 to 17 DTL games a year, we see Schwartz every week...couldn't tell you how Mike Mularkey or Jimmy Harbaugh are acting. I don't necessarily agree with all of Schwartz's calls or statements to the media, but I actually think the Lions' new style of aggressive, borderline dirty play is somewhat refreshing. The Bromos played patty-cake and rolled over for far too long. That style of play/attitude had to go if the losing culture was going to change.
HB: Which was a worse coaching decision, Schwartz's fake FG, or Trestman kicking a 47-yarder on 2nd down in OT?
Nitch: I listened to a fair amount of commentary on the Schwartz call and 99% of it was negative. I'm not totally against it though. Obviously wish it could have been executed, but if the D makes a stop, all is forgotten. Trestman, on the other hand, seems to have no clue how to handle himself or the clock down the stretch. I don't understand that call at all, no matter how good Robbie Gould was feeling during pregame boots.

Forecasting the Future:
HB: True or false- Jim Schwartz will have more success with the Bromos than Brady Hoke at Michigan.
Nitch: I've made it well-known that I fully echo Dave Brandon's sentiments on King Brady. I think he is the right man for the job and will have wild success in the coming decade. I think the Lions will have some sporadic success, but it will pale in comparison to what Brady and the boys put together.
HB: With an NFC Championship game appearance as equivalent to a Big 14 championship, who gets there first?
Nitch: Michigan. The DTLs haven't shown me anything to suggest that they are capable of  a) playing consistently enough in the season to get home field advantage or b) winning one or two playoff games on the road.

HB: What was your predicted win-loss for the DTLs at the start of the season?
Nitch: Pegged them at 10-6, median scenario.
HB: But if they win 9 with a division title, you're not disappointed, right?
Nitch: Not at all. Could win 6 and the North and it would be all good in my eyes.
HB: After that Tampa debacle, it didn't look like only winning 6 was out of the question. How confident were you leading up to the Green Bay game?
Nitch: Wasn't too intimidated or worried. Did I imagine the Lions were going to put on the show that they did? Notta. But was I worried that Flynn would repeat his 2011 performance. Not. One. Bit.
HB: Even so, you must have thrown up at least a little stuffing or cranberry sauce when it was 10-3 with yet another bad turnover.
Nitch: Only thing I'd consumed up to that point in the day was some sharp cheddar cheese and beer.
HB: It wasn't Wisconsin cheddar, I hope.
Nitch: Wouldn't think of it.
HB: It wasn't Wisconsin Beer, I hope.
Nitch: No.
HB: After dismantling the Pack, we've gotta be confident leading up to the Philly game, right?
Nitch: I mean, how long can Nick Fools keep up this charade?
HB: I wouldn't think for very much longer.
Nitch: He IS, who we THINK he is!

On Ford Field:
HB: You were at Ford Field for the Cincinnati game, what's the atmosphere in the stadium like these days? Is it positive for the Bromos and intimidating for opponents, or is there still the "here we go again" groans every time they make a mistake?
Nitch: I had pounded my fair share of Coors Lights before the game, so I thought the energy and atmosphere was positive--but it was never outright nuts in there. The whole thing just seemed like a spectacle to me. Like 'business'...hard to explain the feeling, but it was nothing like I feel at the Big House.
HB: You would if Dave Brandon had his way.
Nitch: I'm not prepared or willing to head down that road! We'll save that one for another H!
HB: Hopefully before the stadium is renamed the "Domino's Big House of Flavor".

HB: I never went to a game at the Silverdome, but watching old games in there, it sure didn't feel like 'business'. I get what you mean about Ford Field, the business feeling leaks through the TV too. The soft lighting, huge windows, comfortable acoustics, even the end zone art underachieves tremendously (can we please get this back?)
Nitch: Not really sure how to explain it. The Silverdome was old, it had character, the Lions had won there. Ford is new, ticket prices are sky high...but the place really is immaculate. Made extra sure that I aimed straight at the urinal and didn't even spit on the floor at my seats.
HB: I want to believe the place will be completely rabid when I go for the Giants game in a few weeks. How can it not be, especially if they can clinch the Division?
Nitch: Well, we have seen the place rocking before (Bears '11), I'm sure it will happen again.

HB: Favorite Lions memory of all time.
Nitch: Outside of an actual game, I'd say one of my favorite memories was finding out who the consensus 'Most Annoying Punter in the League' was.
HB: Can't argue with that one.

(editor's note: I'll explain. In college, two of Nitch's housemates, Bloom and Jimbo, happened to be Bears fans. This made for a few touchy situations whenever the two teams played each other. In the 2007 season, with the DTLs on the verge of a season sweep over the Bears, Jimbo was all out of snide comments to make about our team. With the Lions setting up for a late game punt and nursing a comfortable lead, all Jimbo could do was shake his head in disgust and say half-heartedly, "Nick Harris. That guy's gotta be the most annoying punter in the league.")

Nitch: Or the football Sunday where Bloom threatened the cable guy's life and punched a few holes in our walls. Was that before the Bears played the Bromos?
HB: I don't remember that ever happening.
Nitch: Dude spent six hours on the phone with the cable company, while cooking Pauly some fffuckin wings, trying to get our cable fixed before the game. Wasn't pretty.

It shouldn't be pretty be for Nick Foles tomorrow either.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hungry for More


Packers 10

With the regular season now down it's final quarter, the DTLs suddenly find themselves with a little bit of breathing room again. It's up for debate whether that's such a good thing or not, comparing the spectacular performances they've put together with their backs against the wall compared to the horse excrement they've come up with every time things are getting a little too comfortable, but for the next 6 days at least, it's an enviable position to be in. With 4 games remaining, winning three or all four definitely gets a banner put up in Ford Field. Winning two would most likely have them in a very good spot, and the way the NFC North is going at the moment it's even conceivable that they could back their way in with one more win. 

I'll be flying back to Michigan for Christmas and plan on going to the Giants game on the 22nd, and all I'm asking Santa is for this to be the one that clinches the Detroit Lions' first division title in 20 years. 

Thanksgiving Feast

-It doesn't get much Samer, Older, or Lionser than the first quarter and a half of that game. The offense moved the ball at will and the D held Green Bay to pretty much no yardage...and somehow the Packers were up 10-3 and had the ball at midfield with a golden (or cheese-colored, as they prefer) opportunity to add to the lead midway through the second. Starting with the fake field goal against Pittsburgh and ending with Matthew Stafford's forced interception immediately after getting sacked for a fumble-6, that was one of the worst stretches of Bromothymol self-destruction that I've seen in a while. In just over six quarters of football, they committed 10 turnovers (not counting a blocked punt). When Ty Detmer threw 7 picks in one game back in 2001, everybody just kind of laughed it off because the team was so bad anyway, but how can this happen in the second half of the season in a tight playoff race? 

- Can't give enough credit to how the defense has been able to hold up during the turnover meltdown. Against Tampa Bay, they still put the team in position to win the game, and Thursday afternoon, they unleashed what looked like a lot of pent-up frustration on Matt Flynn. Dom Suh and Levy look like easy Pro Bowl picks, and Ziggy is looking like a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, with his two sacks of Flynn giving him 7 for the season, despite missing two games with injury.

- Watching the offense finally get out of its own way and play to their potential for the final 2 1/2 quarters was pretty fun. Reggie Bush, despite his fumbles, is having a career year playing in this system, and similar to Denard Robinson, he's one of those people is his such a good guy that you can't really get mad at him when he fumbles or drops a pass. Stafford found nine different receivers, throwing TD passes to three of them, and the offensive line was so dominant that that Joicque Bell was only 6 yards away from giving them two separate backs with 100 yard rushing days (Reggie went off for 117). I can't be the only one who's noticed how well rookie O-lineman Larry Warford has played this year, right?

- I loved watching Jeremy Ross help fumble things away for Green Bay against the Bengals earlier in the season, but it's that much sweeter that they cut him the next week, and he got picked up by the DTLs and had the chance to get a little revenge against his former team on Thursday. With a touchdown reception, a 24 yard run on an end-around, and a 35 yard punt return, Ross was a major catalyst in the boys getting the turkey off their backs and finally getting a win on Thanksgiving.

- Packers offensive linemen Josh Sitton was really stirring the pot on Wednesday morning, going on the radio just to call the Lions' D-line 'scumbags' and 'dirtbags' and all other types of bags. Whether that served as extra motivation for Dom and the crew, who knows, but the only type of bags Green Bay should have been worried about by the end of that one was a bodybag for their quarterback. No Flynn Supremacy this time around.

Sometimes it's nice to see other teams screw up

I'm tying myself in knots trying to figure out whether the enemy of my enemy's enemy should be my friend or not, but I've been cheering pretty hard for the Vikings over the past two weeks when they've played Green Bay and Chicago. They've been a good friend indeed, fighting to an overtime draw against the Pack and today nearly having second tie in a row before coming away with a bizarre 23-20 win in overtime. However, it wasn't without some mind-numbingly idiotic decisions from both sides at crucial moments along the way. 

The Vikings literally had the game won, kicking a 39-yard field goal to end it in OT, only to have a blocker commit a face mask penalty wiping the points off the board and moving the ball back out of field goal range.While out of field goal range, they decided to try a 57-yarder anyway (seeing as it worked out so well for 'Bama yesterday), giving the Bears the ball near midfield when it missed. Then of course, there was Marc Trestman,  opting for a 47-yarder to win the game on 2nd down, rather than run two more offensive plays to get a first down or at least an easier field goal. Blame Robbie Gould all you want for missing it, but a 47-yard kick is anything but a gimme, especially when you have at least two more plays to try and get closer. Yes, stupid turnovers can and do happen, but this was on a scale of 1 to Al Borges, this was an incredibly conservative call. For an unnecessarily comprehensive statistical analysis and over-worded dissection of just how poor this field goal decision was,  feel free to check out Bill Barnwell's "Thank You for Not Coaching" column on Tuesday; Trestman's field goal call will likely make the cut.

Can Schwartz just defer when he wins a coin toss from now on?

Something that's been annoying me all season is how it seems like the Lions always end up with the ball to start the game, whether they win the coin toss or not. I went back and checked the play-by-plays of every game so far, and it confirmed my suspicions: the DTLs have gotten the ball first (and therefore have had kickoff to start the second half) in 11 out of their 12 games this year. I feel like Schwartz's rationale for this is to try and attack early, showcasing his high-powered offense right from the start and setting the tone with a quick scoring drive to start each game. This line of thinking is all well and good, except that it hasn't worked a single time the entire year yet. Out of the 11 times that Detroit has started off with the ball, they've come away with a grand total of zero points. The only game where they scored on their first possession was at Chicago, where they started on defense and forced a punt right away, then drove down for a touchdown. For the record, they also scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half of that Chicago game, the only time all year that they've received the second half kickoff. 

Schwartz knows this. They have like 30 assistant coaches to sift through data like this. It's a coin toss. Schwartz can put his ego away and mix things up a little.

Moving Forward

Tough road game against Philly next Sunday. The Eagles are on fire, and Nick Foles hasn't thrown an interception yet this year. Should be a fun test for the Bromothymols, and fortunately this is the type of test that they've actually woken up for so far this season. 

Still a lot of issues to clear up with this Lions team. I don't think they've even came close to playing their best game yet, but at the end of the day, I guess I can't say much against beating a bitter division rival by 30 on Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scoreboard Nightmares

@Steelers 37

Bucs 24

My scoreboard dreams usually don't end well.  In my freshman year of high school, a few days before the homecoming football game, I had a dream that a saw a scoreboard reading Boyne City 43, Harbor Springs 0, Halftime. That Saturday, I watched our varsity team fall behind 42-0 at halftime. During mid-August 2007, shortly before my sophomore year of college, I had another scoreboard dream, this one reading Appalachian State 30, Michigan 29, Final. When I woke up from that one and realized that the game was still more than two weeks ago, I thought that I'd dodged a bullet. With those examples in mind, you can imagine my apprehension when I woke up yesterday morning from a dream where I'd been watching the Lions-Bucs game on TV, and Tampa Bay 60, Detroit 6, Qtr. 4 popped up on the screen. The all-knowing subconscious may have badly overshot the score on this one, but knowing how the real thing turned out, frankly I would have preferred the one from the dream.

Over the past two weeks, our Bromothymols have wasted more opportunities to vanquish their rivals than Lord Voldemort. Without curious coaching decisions, untimely screw-ups, inexplicable offensive dry spells, and TURNOVERS, the NFC North race would be pretty much over. Green Bay and Chicago were (and still are) hovering somewhere between life and death, the DTLs are as healthy as they've been in years, and with two consecutive squibs sitting on the pre-Thanksgiving schedule, this thing could have been done. Golden opportunity to be 8-3 and squeeze the remaining life out of Green Bay on Thursday. Yet, we get this last week and this today, and suddenly it's a race to the bottom, as nobody seems to want to win this division. Certainly, nobody seems to want it less than the Lions at this point.

I wish today's game was just a case of the DTLs overlooking an inferior foe and getting stymied by a scrappy bunch of fighters who were just giving more effort out there. That would be pretty disheartening on its own, but I honestly wish that were the case. The even sadder truth here is that Tampa Bay tried just as hard to lose this one, if not harder! You have Rian Lindell blowing two fourth quarter field goals, Mike Glennon taking sacks at the wrong times, Mark Barron with at least three bad penalties, Darrelle Revis limping off with an injury, Greggy Boy Schiano twice throwing the challenge flag on unreviewable plays, even recovering a blocked punt at the 10 and getting no points out of it. No one was more surprised than Leonard Johnson when Wormtail Pettigrew ducked out of the way on a risky but certainly catchable Stafford pass, taking the gift interception for an easy TD to steal the lead at halftime. It's not like anyone asked Kris Durham to throw the ball back onto the field before going out of bounds. The Bucs seemed to do an admirable job of leaving Calvin Johnson wide open despite double teaming him on the deciding play of the game...but no. Would they have just been better off if Staffford had thrown it out of bounds and let Akers shank away the field goal on the next play? Probably.

Two weeks ago, I was salivating at the thought of playing the Packers on Thanksgiving with no Aaron Rodgers. Two horrible, let me rephrase that, horrible losses and one Matt Flynn resurrection from the dead later, I'm not so sure that's even a good thing anymore, because (a) at least a loss to Aaron Rodgers would be respectable, and (b) my memories are still fresh from the last time the DTLs faced Matt Flynn. On paper, Detroit would still seemingly appear to have the upper hand, but as the old saying goes, if you can't beat a short-handed Greggy Boy Schiano team at home, who can you beat?

Deja Vu (I thought)

Going into today's game, I was struck by the amount of similarities that it had with the Carolina game from the 2011 season:

- A crucial Thanksgiving clash against Green Bay is four days away
- Lions playing at home, trying to get their 7th win of the season
- Facing a 2 win team from the NFC South
- Opponent is starting a rookie quarterback who has played surprisingly well, but without it translating into victories for the team
- Lions coming off of a bad loss on the road, where they played in rough weather conditions and gave up 37 points

In that 2011 game, the Lions fell behind 24-7 in the first half, with Stafford throwing some bad interceptions. They came back with a furious second half rally, eventually winning 49-35, but I couldn't help feeling like they wasted a little too much energy and emotion that they would need in the Green Bay game. I wanted the opposite today. My wishful thinking to Nitch this morning was that they just build up an early 4 touchdown lead, let the reserves salt it away, and get ready to wrestle back pole position in the NFC North on Thursday. By halftime, I would have gladly settled for a 2011 repeat, even if it would prevent saving some energy and emotion up for Green Bay. By the 4th quarter, I was begging Rian Lindell to miss his field goals. He gladly obliged, and it still wasn't enough. I should be sitting here talking about how Dom Suh and Ziggy Ansah got the boys out of a tough spot with their dominating play up front. Or how DeAndre Levy is playing like he wants to fake an injury in a few months to get out of playing in the Pro Bowl. Or even how Matthew Stafford wasn't very sharp all day, but doggone it he got the job done when they really needed it. Alas, we've got a little situation on our hands now.

Debunking a Few Myths

1. The Myth of the Off-setting Penalties-- Today was the second time this year when a Lions player and a player on the opposition each got called for penalties, that supposedly off-set each other, but that in reality hurt the Lions much more. Against the Bengals, a pair of off-setting penalties wiped away a crucial 18 yard yard catch midway through the fourth quarter that would have put them in range for a go-ahead field goal. Today, a similar situation wiped away a 16 yard scramble by Stafford on the final drive of the first half. When I hear that penalties off-set each other, it evokes a certain "no harm, no foul" feeling. Since each team committed penalty, they should wipe each other away and the result of the play stands. As it is, since the entire play itself gets erased, whichever team did better on the play is actually the one that takes the brunt of the penalty. The second thing that is wrong with this rule is that penalties for different amounts of yardage will still offset each other. For example, if the defense commits a facemask (15 yards) and the offense is called for holding (10 yards), shouldn't the result be that the offense gets 5 yards out of the deal? In fact since pass interference is a spot foul, a five yard penalty from the offense could potentially wipe away a 40 or 50 yard pass interference penalty from the defense. That doesn't sound very off-setting to me, and it figures that the DTLs have came up on the short end of the rule twice on key possessions in close losses this year.

2. The Myth of the "Must Win Game"-- Saying that a team's next game is a "Must Win" is the NFL equivalent to a "two possession game" in the NCAA tournament. It's a chronically overused phrase that really doesn't mean a whole lot and is often applied incorrectly anyway. Now just to clarify, there is such thing as a "Must Win Game". That's a game where a team needs to win or else they are officially eliminated from contention for whatever championship they're trying to win. In the NFL, this phrase has been watered down to include just about any team that gets off to a disappointing 3-4 start. If you lose a "Must Win" game, but can still win your other games and be fine, than it must not have needed to win it all that bad to begin with. I imagine a lot of beat writers are going to categorize the Thanksgiving game as Must Win for the DTLs. Kornheiser and Wilbon will probably debate on PTI whether it is or isn't. I'll end the debate right now. It isn't. If the Lions lose to Green Bay, they can still finish 10-6 and win the division, as unlikely as it would seem. Instead of "Must Win" game, for the sake of correctness they need to rename this type of scenario the "game that would really, really, really suck to lose" game.

Which is fitting, because that's exactly the type of game I watched today.

What I wouldn't give for a Lions 34, Packers 3, Final scoreboard dream right about now.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Score 109 (or even 138!!!) Points in a Basketball Game

I've been happily rooting against Michigan State basketball for the past 20 years, but I think I may have unintentionally found my new least favorite basketball team: Grinnell College, straight out of Division 3.

Grinnell guard Jack Taylor scored 109 points in a game the other night, and 138 in a game last year, and the media is absolutely eating this crap up, crapping it back out, and then eating the re-processed crap right back up again. The whole spectacle is embarrassing in so many ways, and most of the columnists I've seen who are criticizing this complete sham are missing the whole point because they (a) only looked at the 'total points' section of the box score (b) didn't watch the video of either game (c) don't know anything about basketball, and (d) all of the above. When my brother texted me on Sunday, "Looks like Grinnell is at it again", I sardonically responded "Grinnell is the type of team that Rick Reilly would like". Sure enough, this shows up on the front page of espn.com today. While it's not Jack Taylor's fault that this illegitimate freak show which only vaguely represents sport took place, as a willing accomplice in letting himself become something of a Quasimodo-esque king of fools, he can share some of blame (or credit, depending on how you look at it) that I've mostly reserved for Grinnell's coaches, the David Arsenaults Jr. and Sr.

I want to make it clear that there was nothing spontaneous, impressive, historic, cool, fun, or even exciting about Taylor's 138 and 109 point performances. This was a carefully planned publicity stunt drummed up by the Arsenaults to get some attention (and sell a few books, as Gregg Doyle notes at cbssports.com, in one of the few Jack Taylor articles that comes close to hitting the nail on the head) and continue their lifelong mission of bastardizing the game of basketball as much as it is in their power to do. The casual observer looks at the absurd point tally and thinks that an incredible basketball player got into 'the Zone', things started getting a little out of hand, and suddenly this magical feat was brought to life. Incorrect. I'm not going to say that anyone could have done what Jack Taylor did, given the right conditions, but it's honestly not as hard as you might think. Here's how to do it, in six easy steps.

Step 1: Predetermine that one player is going to score almost all of the points and take all of the shots. He's allowed to chuck up a shot at any time he wants, and all of his teammates need to set picks, pass up wide open shots for themselves, and get the ball to him.
Here's what I mean when I say that this wasn't at all spontaneous. I watched some of the video and student broadcast of the 138 point game, and very early in the game (maybe even when it was still pregame, I don't remember), the nerdy student announcers brought up that the gameplan for Grinnell was to try to set this new scoring record. It was well known even around campus that Jack Taylor was going to do all the scoring, and that Faith Baptist College was just the team to do it against.

Step 2: Scour the entire country for the absolute worst team you can find, and schedule a home game against them.
This is probably the most important step. Grinnell is a tiny NCAA Division 3 team, but might as well be the Miami Heat as far as these pigeon opponents are concerned. Crossroads isn't even in the NCAA. In fact, they're not even in the NCAA's red-headed stepchild, the NAIA (which has two divisions). Crossroads plays in the National Christian College Athletic Association, the NCCAA. In fact, they don't even play in Division 1 of the National Christian College Athletic Association, they're D2. This essentially equates to Division 7 college basketball, and that's before you even figure in all of the junior college and community college teams out there. There's less of a gap between Kansas and Grinnell than there is between Grinnell and Crossroads. By the way, Crossroads is 0-10 on the season. In Division 7. Kuyper College put up 116 on Crossroads, RCTC (I have no guesses as to what that could even stand for) lit them up for 105, The College of Faith hung an even 100 on them. This game somehow counts in the official standings for Grinnell. Out of thousands of teams, Crossroads just might be the worst team in the United States who can consider themselves a "college basketball" team.

Step 3: Tell your scorer not to play defense. In fact, tell him not to even cross halfcourt.
I haven't seen the full game footage of Jack Taylor's 109 point outing (along with everybody else) , but Doyle's critique points out there was an 11-minute stretch where Taylor crossed the midcourt line exactly one time. There was a possession where Crossroads had a 2-on-1 break against Taylor up until halfcourt, where Taylor just stopped and gave up the 2-on-none for a wide open layup which they probably missed anyway. This isn't some punk getting lazy on defense. This is part of the Arsenaults master plan to save his energy and get him a few extra uncontested looks so they can set some hollow and meaningless records and expect to be applauded for it.

Step 4: Your designated shooter needs to get really hot from behind the arc.
Scratch that actually, no he doesn't. He doesn't even need to shoot it that well, he just needs to shoot it a lot. Jack Taylor missed 44 threes against Faith Baptist, going 27 for 71 from three-point range on the game. The basic law of averages is on the Arsenaults side here, I'll admit. If the opponent sucks enough that your entire game plan is one big joke, you can let the same guy shoot it almost every time, and he doesn't even need to make a very high percentage, and he'll still get the points. A lot of the criticisms by people who don't know better are trying to call Jack Taylor a ballhog. That's not the case here. The Arsenaults have him designated as the ballhog for the games where they want to whore themselves out for some attention.

Step 5: Give up dozens of freebie layups to the other team, just so no time runs off the clock and you can get more possessions.
A guy for Faith Baptist scored 70 against Grinnell. A guy for Crossroads put up 50 on Sunday. Is it because these guys are really awesome basketball players, almost as awesome as the great Jack Taylor? No, it's because they were given free layups anytime the Grinnell press didn't force a turnover in the first few seconds of the possession. For the Faith Baptist player, his 34 for 44 shooting night looks pretty good on paper, but by my estimations, that means he must have botched 10 wide open layups.

Step 6: Let the media outlets run with it, and hope that no one realizes how idiotic and unimpressive the whole thing is.
The Arsenaults insist that people like me are taking this thing too seriously, and that they're just out there to try and have a little fun (and sell their stupid "the System" book of course).

Who is this supposed to be fun for? I pulled this stunt when I was like ten and playing some garbage Sega game called NBA Action '95. I put the difficulty on Rookie mode and let Clyde Drexler run wild (Clyde Drexler of all people). It was mildly amusing for awhile, Clyde scored about 120 points in the game, and I got bored midway through the third quarter and never did it again. I mean, the Arsenaults are obviously pretty pleased with themselves, as is Jack Taylor. Is it fun for Crossroads? For Faith Baptist Bible College? For the other Grinnell players? The video of the 138 point game is actually so boring that I skipped around and only watched for about 15 minutes or so. Based on the fact that the Grinnell gymnasium  isn't anywhere close to being filled in either of the videos I saw, this brand of basketball must not be quite as compelling for the fans as it's made out to be.

Since the Arsenaults are so concerned with just having some fun, regardless of the hollowness of their accomplishments and the humiliation it created for their patsies, here's a proposition that I think could be "fun": Kansas schedules a game with Grinnell, runs their own version of "the System", Andrew Wiggins goes off for about 250 or so, and then him and Bill Self can strut around like we should all be proud of them or something. If you think I'm exaggerating with that number, consider that a guy for a Crossroads team that can barely run without tripping over their shoelaces already burned them for 50 this year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Official Unauthorized AFC Midseason Report

New England (7-2) Part of the reason I love living in Boston is because it's such a great sports city. However, it's pretty annoying to hear people grumbling because this year's 7-2 Pats aren't quite as good as all the other 9-0, 8-1, and 7-2 Pats teams that they've enjoyed for the past decade.
New York Jets (5-4) When the Jets won their second game back in Week 3, I stashed a joke away that congratulated them for already surpassing their expected win total for the season. Even more shocking than the team's relative competency is that Mark Sanchez has yet to throw an interception this year. The overachieving Jets are likely going to be right in the thick of the playoff race until the very end, and for the franchise that prematurely ended both Matthew Stafford and Jason Hanson's seasons in the same game in 2010 (remember Dom Suh kicking that extra point?), they already have five more wins than they deserve.
Miami (4-5) For the 2013 Dolphins, first they got Incognitoed, and then they went out and lost to Greggy Boy Schiano and the Buccaneers. The words 'downward spiral' and 'potentially winless second half of the season' come to mind. The silver lining here as that for the 1972 Dolphins, they have a major opportunity to "get all Miami Dolphins" this weekend when the Chiefs and Broncos square off (see Kansas City section if you're confused).
Buffalo (3-7) The Bills can do some good for the world by knocking off the Jets this weekend, but other than this one chance to play spoiler, they're looking at a second half of irrelevancy. Their remaining games are against teams who will be either long removed from the playoff picture by the time they play (Falcons, Bucs, Jags, Dolphins) or long removed from wrapping up another division title (Pats in Week 17). Of course, pulling off a string of wins against the dregs of the league could possibly sneak Buffalo into the playoffs at 8-8, but I'm not about to make that leap of faith.

If I had to make a prediction: I would bet the farm that the Patriots win the division and a few cows that the Dolphins finish 5-11. Unfortunately, I own neither.

Kansas City (9-0) And here we have it, the final team standing in the way of the '72 Dolphins getting all Miami Dolphins--in short, celebrating the misfortune of an otherwise perfect season from a player or team, in order to protect one's own legacy. Some members of the undefeated '72 Dolphins team famously get together every season to pop champagne and celebrate whenever the final undefeated team loses, leaving themselves as the only NFL team to ever accomplish the feat. The origin of the phrase dates back to when me and my brother had this challenge on the Sega Genesis, where we took turns trying to get through all of Sonic 2 without losing a single life. After months of trying, neither of us gotten anywhere close to pulling it off, until one day I got on a roll and was perfect all the way to the Wing Fortress Zone, 1 1/2 levels away from Sonic immortality. Hands shaking as I gripped the controller, I just barely overshot the hanging chin-up bar underneath the ship, and tumbled out of the sky to Sonic's first death of the game. My brother, being the sportsman that he is, then ran around the living room wildly celebrating my defeat. "Getting all Miami Dolphins?", I asked. It was a rhetorical question, I knew full well what the answer was.
Denver (8-1) The Miami Dolphining ought to commence this weekend, when the Chiefs travel to Mile High. I don't think there's anyone who really thinks KC is the better team here, despite their current spot atop the West. Denver has played a tougher schedule and has obliterated nearly everything in its path. I would also venture to guess that Tom Brady is rooting pretty hard against Peyton Manning's quest to break the single season passing touchdowns record.
San Diego (4-5) When me and my brother are really scraping the bottom of the barrel for funny-text material, Phillip Rivers can usually be made into a decent enough punchline for us. Not necessarily this year though; Rivers is right near the top of the league in almost every QB statistical category, and while his strong play isn't exactly correlating with Chargers victories, I don't think we can in good conscience place the blame on him this time. I'd say that San Diego still holds some outside hope for the final Wild Card spot, but they still have three games remaining against teams who are a combined 26-1.
Oakland (3-6) When your leading rusher is Terrelle Pryor and your leading passer is his best friend, Terrelle Pryor, 3-6 is about as good as you can logically hope for.

If I had to make a prediction: I'd say Bob Griese and Larry Csonka will be pretty pleased with themselves come Sunday evening, and Denver fans will pre-order another 10,000 "Super Bowl Champions" t-shirts.

Indianapolis (6-3) On the whole, things are getting pretty bizarre over in the AFC South, and it starts with the Colts. They have arguably all three of the most impressive wins out of any team in the league this year, giving both Seattle and Denver their only losses so far, and winning by three touchdowns at San Francisco. What in the world happened last Sunday then? How do you lose to the Rams, at home, by 30? Not that it matters, the rest of this division is an absolute mess.
Tennessee (4-5) Don't you hate it when you go into the office on Monday, and everyone asks how your weekend was? You know what, maybe that's just me, but the point remains: imagine how much worse it would be if the answer you had to give was, "well, my quarterback is out for the season, oh and I lost to one of the worst NFL teams ever, how was yours?"
Houston (2-7) If not for an epic second half collapse by the Phillip Riverses and an overtime squeaker over the Titans, this team would be 0-9 right now. That can't be good Arian Foster's shareholders.
Jacksonville (1-8) Boy, I turn away for one minute, and suddenly Jacksonville isn't winless anymore! Good for them. I'm assuming Denard Robinson must have thrown for 300 and a couple touchdowns and ran for 150 and two more, right?

If I had to make a prediction: Indy obviously wins the division, but in unspectacular fashion, which leaves them stuck with Kansas City in the first round. Jacksonville ends up with three wins, and it's all because of Denard.

Cincinnati (6-4) I think this year's Bengals can be looked at as a near perfect AFC counterpart to the Lions, which is fitting because the two teams both currently have a precarious lead atop the North division, and they played a very even game back in October, won by Cincy on the final play. Andy Dalton is the Stafford, AJ Green is the slightly worse version of Calvin, and Vontaze Burfict is the defensive superstar putting together a very strong season while trying to shed his image as a dirty player and borderline psychotic, a la Dom Suh. The Bengals should be cheering for the DTLs down the stretch as well, since Lions wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh would give them a little more margin for error in the division, and the DTLs can thank them for the epic Packers collapse in Week 2.

Cleveland (4-5) I'm rooting for Cleveland to continue treading water long enough to snatch that final Wild Card spot.  Whoever ends up getting it will be a most unworthy candidate either way, so I suppose it's better the Browns than the Jets, Ravens, or Titans (this could come back to bite me later on, but let's not pretend Miami is even still in the conversation).

Baltimore (4-5) At this moment, the Ravens team lawyers are probably meticulously poring through document after document, searching for some loophole that will get them out of their Joe Flacco contract. With that said, out of the 5-4/4-5 teams, they still look to me like the team in the best position to find their way into the playoffs (since division champ and wild card are both still viable routes for them), where Joe Flacco has won at least one game every year in his career.

Pittsburgh (3-6) And with the final team of this midyear report, we've come to the next opponent for the DTLs. The irony of the moment is that the defensive coordinator tasked with finding a way to slow down Calvin this Sunday happens to be Lions' all-time interceptions leader, Dick LeBeau. As I mentioned in my last post, this week is a textbook trap game for the DTLs. It's not hard to reach the consensus that the Steelers suck this year, but the unknown factor here is how the Lions will respond coming off two straight emotional wins that went down to the final minute. I'm worried that they come out completely flat against Pittsburgh, and have a big special teams mishap that will even out the clear talent disparity between the teams.

If I had to make a prediction: I'd say the Lions disappoint us at Pittsburgh, but make up for it in the Monday night game against Baltimore in December. Baltimore comes back and steals the division, and Cincinnati slides into the up-for-grabs Wild Card spot.

For H-Bromo's NFC report, CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Different Same Old Lions

@ Bears 19

Officers and Cadets, we've reached that rare point where I can say without the smallest trace of irony, "So what if Michigan football is a total piece of crap this year, at least we still have the Lions to look forward to". It's looking more and more like this year will be the first time since 1995 that the DTLs have won more games than the Wolverines, despite playing 3 to 5 more games every season.

Today's win at Chicago was huge for more reasons than one. First off, it puts the Lions alone in first place at 6-3. This is the first time since the NFC North division was created in 2002 that they have been in first place (alone or tied) at any point in the second half of the season. In a season where exorcising the demons of past ineptitude is becoming more and more of a theme, this is a significant milestone. With the Packers offense looking utterly incompetent without Aaron Rodgers, this incredibly could be a 2 or even 3 game lead atop the division by the time Green Bay comes to town for Thanksgiving (it's anyone's guess whether Rodgers will make it back in time for that game. Cutler probably came back a few weeks too early today). Pittsburgh played well at home today, so a hiccup after today's emotional road win certainly wouldn't shock anyone, but a home date against Greggy Boy Schiano's Buccaneers the next week should have the DTLs at worst at 7-4 and in first place for the Thanksgiving game. Additionally, the win today gives the DTLs the season sweep and therefore the tie-breaker over Chicago in case the Bears get hot when Cutler gets back to full strength and the two teams happen to finish the season tied for the lead. 

Finally, I think the way the Lions managed to hold on today speaks volumes about their determination to set themselves apart from past promising Lions teams who completely folded anytime the moment got a little too big for them. Let's be honest, the boys made one Same Old Lions mistake after another while clinging to that 4th quarter lead today, more than enough to blow this game, but every time they did something stupid, they immediately came back to make a big play and atone for these mistakes. Every time. Let's take a look at the biggest ones:
- Leading 14-10 early in the 4th quarter, the Bears offense is going nowhere, with Cutler uncomfortable against a swarming rush. It's looking more and more like their only chance to score again will be via a key turnover that gives them the ball deep in Lions territory. Sure enough, Stafford badly overthrows Calvin on third down, the Bears pick him off and return it inside the red zone. What happens next? The defense stands tall and forces a field goal. Stafford marches the offense down the field on the very next possession.
- Leading 14-13 midway through the 4th, Stafford leads a very strong drive to get the Bromos down to the Bears 17. Fauria commits the nearly unheard-of offensive face mask penalty to pretty much ruin any hopes of a touchdown. They still manage to stay in range for an easy enough 44 yard field goal which would force Chicago to score a touchdown. Akers hooks it, and Jay Cutler and company take over with good field position. What happens next? The defense stands tall again and forces a three and out.
- Still clinging to a one point lead, Stafford leads them down the field again. Reggie Bush caps off a 100 yard day with some timely inside runs for first downs. On third and ten, Stafford lobs a beautiful toss over Peanut Tillman's burnt business for Calvin's second touchdown catch of the day and an eight point lead.
- Leading 21-13 with just over two minutes left, backup QB Josh McCown comes in cold, needing to go eighty yards just to give the team a chance. Getting a first down right away is usually crucial to get any kind of confidence and rhythm in a late game drive, and Fairley makes it easy with a stupid 15 yard penalty to get the Bears in business. What happens next? The defense buckles down and makes a stop on third down near mid-field.
- 4th and 1, with a chance to salt the game away with a stop, the d-line gets no push because they jumped offsides (I think it was Fairley) and had to retreat to avoid getting flagged. With no pressure, McCown easily completes a pass to keep his team alive. He later finds Brandon Marshall in the end zone with 40 seconds left to make it 21-19.
- Leading 21-19, all the DTLs need to do is stop the 2-point conversion and they can sneak away with the win. And they stop it, rushing McCown and forcing a desperate heave out of the end zone...but Willie Young hits McCown late and gives the Bears one more chance, this time from the 1. What happens next? The defense stands tall yet again. Fairley powers through with the biggest play of his Lions career to date and mauls Matt Forte behind the line of scrimmage, and then Walks Like the Packers all the way up the field to celebrate. I have been a rather vocal critic of Fairley (though he clearly doesn't need my approval), but all the same, I give the guy credit. He made some big plays today.

Moving Forward

Next week should officially cement Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson as the greatest QB/WR combo in franchise history. Calvin's 2 touchdowns today give him 63 in his Lions career, passing Herman Moore as the club's all-time leader. Staff will have to wait one more week to reach his own milestone, but he now is only 72 yards away from taking the large step towards reversing the curse of Bobby Layne and becoming the team's all-time leader in passing yardage. That's at the age of 25, and despite two injury shortened seasons. Staff is the best quarterback in the history of the franchise, and as long as he can stay healthy, he's still another two or three years away from even entering his prime.

It's not saying much, but this year overall is probably the best that I've ever seen the Bromos offensive line play. They've only allowed ten sacks in the first nine games, and they've done a good job of opening up some running lanes for Reggie and Joique Bell at key times throughout the first half of the season. It's difficult for a fan to properly analyze the play of offensive lineman because you don't always know what you're looking for (for instance, I have no idea why Lewan from Michigan is ranked so high on people's draft boards, from where I'm sitting, he looks just as bad if not worse than the rest of that pathetic unit), but  mid-round draft pick Larry Warford especially has seemed to me to be very steady in there as a rookie starter--no penalties, protecting the QB, opening up the run game. Watching him and Reiff develop on the O-line should be...well, exciting clearly isn't the right word, but you get the idea.

Next week the DTLs go on the road again, this time to the land of the Little, Yellow, Flayyygs. For the first month of the season, Pittsburgh matched their Terrible Towels with an equally terrible football team, but following their trip to London, they've gone 3-2 and shut down Buffalo today. The Steelers defense has already allowed 40 and 34 points in losses to Chicago and Minnesota, so hopefully the trend will continue and culminate in a third straight loss to an NFC North foe. It would be understandable if Detroit came out flat at Pittsburgh, following today's emotional road win against their oldest rivals. Then again, this edition of the Same Old Lions does look a little bit different.

By the way, I still owe you guys an AFC Midseason Report.