Posts Tagged ‘dolphins’

Someone famous and cool once said the NFL doesn’t truly start until Thanksgiving. Well Turkey Day has come and gone and what we’re left with is a deep field of teams that look poised to play “real” football. Four teams in particular—Chiefs, Dolphins, Giants, and Lions—are a few of the hottest teams in football. It’s a typical NFL trope: who these teams are and how they win makes us skeptical of their potential. But just because it’s typical doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing. Nobody likes to be made a fool. Is what we’re seeing with these four teams a mirage? A closer look may reveal what we should expect in a post-Thanksgiving world.

First, let’s play a game. It’s that really awful game where any football broadcast takes some impressive stats, but puts a question mark over the owner of those stats. When the question mark is taken away, we’re all shocked!

“The guy ranked 2nd in first downs and 4th in rushing touchdowns is…Melvin Gordon??? How can that be?!”

Anyways, there’s a team in the NFL that is scorching hot. They are 18-3 in their last 21 regular season games. Some might call that the beginning of a dynasty. (Most people wouldn’t, but some might!)

Here we go, the big reveal…..it’s got to be the Patriots, right? They’ve been great for seemingly forever, with or without Tom Brady. But nope, not them.

Then maybe the defending champion Broncos? Think again.

Cowboys or Panthers?? They both lost just one game either this year or last year, so it’s not totally unreasonable. Except it’s not them by a long shot.

The answer, if not already given away by the title of the post, is…the Kansas City Chiefs! Shocked?? Ah, see, the game works!

Yes, the Chiefs are on a hot streak that has seemed to slip somewhat under the radar. Many Chiefs fans demand respect! Question is, do they deserve it? The idea of combining Alex Smith and Super Bowl triggers some cognitive dissonance. The way they win isn’t easy to trust. I believe Smith ranks just above WR Willie Snead in passes over 20 yards this season. TE Travis Kelce has consistently been Kansas City’s leading pass-catcher, snagging countless 10-yard seam routes. The defense has been consistently solid, ranking in the top 10 in points allowed for four straight years and never allowing more than 20 points per game in that span.

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The regular season is Alex Smith’s favorite time of year.

So why does it feel like KC is going to cruise into the playoffs, only to be knocked out by a “real contender?” They’ve beaten both the Raiders and Broncos already this year. At what point do we accept that they could make a run? Perhaps the latter part of their schedule could be a more in-depth litmus test for a playoff performance. They play @Atlanta, Oakland, Tennessee, Denver, and @San Diego (combined record 33-22). That’s a tough road to navigate, but if KC manages to squeak out just three, they’ll be sitting at 11-5 and almost surely in the playoffs. Even then, they’ll need to nab a couple playoff wins for people to take this team seriously.

In the deep AFC, the Chiefs are hardly the most interesting story at this point in the season. Many would likely hand over that title to the Oakland Raiders, but one scorching-hot team may be giving them some competition. That team is the Miami Dolphins, winners of six straight and now 7-4 on the season. There was a time when Miami was 1-4 and life made sense. This, once again, wasn’t a team we could trust and we could finally write them off early and move on with our lives. Jay Ajayi had different plans. Behind an offensive line that finally meeting expectations, Ajayi and the Dolphins have found a winning formula. They pound the rock with hard-hitting Ajayi and then toss the ball up to a budding superstar in DeVante Parker. Their defense is doing a better job of getting to the passer recently, but they still struggle to stuff the run game. One problem I have with this team that gives me pause is that they don’t seem to do anything spectacular. They are pretty good at a lot of things, but we often picture solid playoff teams with two or even one thing they’ve mastered. However, unlike the Chiefs, Miami may not have to be spectacular to find themselves playing in January. They face @Baltimore, Arizona, @Jets, @Buffalo, and New England (combined 28-26). Aside from the finale with the Pats, those are all games they could win with how they’re playing now.

Now let’s travel over to the NFC, where the Cowboys own the conference but their toughest competition might be found in their own division. New York (8-3) owns the 2nd best record in the NFC and are just two games out from the division lead. They won the crucial season-opener over Dallas and have another matchup (at home) approaching soon. However, even with the six-game win streak and the proximity to Dallas, something feels off. The expectations for this team before the season rested heavily on the defense. Many (including myself) figured that if those highly-paid free agents could just elevate that defense to average, a high-powered offense could carry them to interesting places.

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Not exactly the formula for a playoff contender.

Well, in true Giants fashion, the defense has done their job (16th in total defense), but it’s the offense that is struggling mightily. An offense with a two-time Super Bowl MVP QB, Odell Beckham, Victory Cruz, and Sterling Shepherd only ranks 22nd in total offense. To be fair, the passing game itself ranks 13th. But you can see the difficulties on the field. Punt after punt after punt against the Bears and Browns doesn’t exactly scream Super Bowl contender. With the offense still figuring it out 12 weeks in, we’re left with a similar question to Miami’s: what is this team actually good at? If you want to tab “clutch defense at the end of games” as reliable trait, then maybe that. Game after game the defense holds the opponent from that back-breaking touchdown that cost them so many games last year. That’s the real difference this year, isn’t it? New York isn’t that much different of a team from last year, they’re just winning the close games with a slightly-more-reliable defense. For New York, December looms as a potential wake-up call. They’re @Pittsburgh, Dallas, Detroit, @Philly, and @Redskins. Something tells me those teams won’t forgive stalled drives as much as the Bears and Browns.

Finally we come to the black magic that’s disguised as the Detroit Lions. In a division we expected Aaron Rodgers to control, but then thought Minnesota would run away with, the Detroit Lions hold the lead at 7-4. How are they doing it? Oh, you know, that old fashioned football strategy where you win seven games after trailing in the 4th quarter. Think about that. In all 11 games this season, Detroit has trailed in the fourth quarter. They’ve won seven of those games. It takes a brighter mind than I to figure out how they are getting away with that. Keep in mind this is all without star receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. We’ll see if they can manage to keep a lead against their upcoming schedule of @New Orleans, Chicago, @Giants, @Dallas, and Green Bay. It wouldn’t surprise me if Detroit begins to drop some of these late game. Their matchup with New York should be especially interesting given both those teams’ ability to close games out this season.

The NFC and AFC are incredibly deep this year, filled with many more interesting teams than just these four. However, there’s a great chance more than one of these teams gets into the playoffs on the back of their hot start. It may be hard to imagine now, but teams like these just need a few wins in January to luck into a Super Bowl birth.

Pretty soon, the Chargers will begin to "light up" Los Angeles.

Pretty soon, the Chargers will begin to “light up” Los Angeles.

The San Diego Chargers filed for relocation earlier this week, a huge step in the effort to place an NFL franchise in Los Angeles. While this is sad news for San Diego diehards, I have to say that the “Charger” name would fit well for a place that uses so much electricity. We don’t see such a good match that often (have you ever seen a Jaguar roaming around the streets of Jacksonville?). In the dire scenario that any other franchise is forced to relocate, it’s probably a good idea to be prepared with some fitting locations. Here’s a few ideas:

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Alaska Bears: I’m not sure why the Bears would be forced to relocate (too windy?), but if they ever are, they need to move to a place that actually has bears. Alaska would be the easy choice here as black bears are more populous in the Last Frontier than in any other state. There’s no better way to strike fear into an opponent than providing the possibility of a bear actually walking onto the field. Don’t think that’s realistic? There’s about one black bear for every three citizens in Alaska, so you’d have to think at least a couple would sneak in among a crowd of thousands. Besides, isn’t it time we put an NFL franchise in some state other than the lower 48? Alaska is the perfect place to battle the elements on the gridiron, including sub-15 degree temperatures and the potential for blizzards. After just three years, the Alaska Bears will be the toughest team in the NFL.

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Illinois Cardinals: Let’s face it: an innocent cardinal in hot, dry, desert-ridden Arizona? The very thought is absurd. Cardinals live in open woodlands and feed on insects, grain, and fruit. Where can they find that? A whole bunch of places not named Arizona. The midwest is the natural home for cardinals (you nailed it St. Louis) and is appropriately the state bird of seven states, including Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. However, the Cardinals can only belong to one home and that new home should be Illinois, the first state to hop on the redbird bandwagon and name the Northern Cardinal the official state bird in 1929. Hopefully the Bears will have relocated to Alaska just in time for Illinois to replace them with this proud and sensible franchise.

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Utah Lions: If the Lions are ever looking for a new home, they are in luck. Mountain lions live in a whole bunch of places out in the west so they could have their pick of any state from New Mexico to Washington. I think the best place for the Lions to start their new era is in Utah, home of Bryce Canyon National Park. Mountain lions are very prevalent in Bryce Canyon and using one of the most beautiful parts of your state to represent your team is a no-brainer. Utah is also home to quite the football crowd. Between the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars, over 100,000 fans flock to see college players on Saturday. Just think how many people would rush to see a professional football team! Good thing we can offer the next best thing: the Detroit Lions.

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Mississippi Dolphins: It’s only a matter of time before the Dolphins and their opponents are required to wear scuba gear to play in Miami. The sea level is rapidly rising and they need a great new place to play that’s above water, nearby, doesn’t sacrifice tradition, and still appropriately fits the “Dolphin” brand. Believe it or not, Mississippi hits all four of those points right on the bottlenose. Most of Mississippi is still centuries away from worrying about slipping into the Gulf of Mexico, so fans could rest easy knowing their team has found a permanent home. Current Miami residents and fans could even move to Mississippi with relative ease, seeing as they are only two states and a quick 11-hour drive away. And no need to worry about making any major changes to the logo or uniform; in fact, Miami traditionalists could get what they’ve always wanted and see the return of the helmet-wearing Dolphin logo. That logo has represented the team’s greatness from 1966-2012 and will start a new 46-year run in Mississippi. The “M” on the helmet doesn’t even need to be changed. It’s a match made in heaven. What turns this already good plan into a great plan is the fact that the bottlenose dolphin is the official state marine mammal of Mississippi! Dolphins fans could take pride in knowing that their new location already knows what it means to be a Dolphin. As if this is not already a perfect idea, check out this new chant they could start, “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Dolphins!” This is such a good fit, Miami should just make the move already before Jacksonville tries to move to Jackson, Mississippi.

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Baton Rouge Giants: Between the good matches that already exist (Houston Texans, New England Patriots) and the new ones above, it’s getting pretty tough to find good homes for new teams. Fortunately we’re not afraid to think outside the box and the Baton Rouge Giants are the epitome of that. I could think of no better place where the Giants could go on another Super Bowl run than in the city that’s home to the country’s most obese population. Baton Rouge’s obesity rate sits at 35.9% and a great football team could turn this stat of shame into a point of pride. Round up to 36% and use it as a benchmark for NFL success. It could be the opposing QB’s completion rate, the opposing offenses’ 3rd down conversion rate, or opposing kickers’ field goal percentage. The fans supporting this defensive success would be aptly-named the “13th man.” When you’re in a city where every fan is the size of two regular people, “12th man” just doesn’t seem to work. In just a matter of years, the Giants will own the entire state of Louisiana by scaring, or more realistically grossing out, the interstate rival New Orleans Saints.Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.56.48 PM

Alabama Bills: One of the toughest teams to relocate might be the Buffalo Bills. Their mascot has more to do with their city name than the team name. It could be really easy to just ignore them altogether and make it someone else’s problem. But that’s not right. These franchises need me and I’m up for the challenge. As for the Bills, such a tough task requires a complete organizational overhaul. Throw out the city, the logo, the colors, and everything else besides “Bills,” which we can work with. After extensive research and evaluation of many candidates, Alabama emerged as the best place for the Bills to move. Alabama residents named their babies William (Bill) more than any other name in 2014 and will therefore be raising a generation of fans that will feel directly connected to their team. More importantly, however, this state is dying for an NFL team to root for. High school and college football is so huge there, how can they not have a professional team? They’re the second most populous state without a football team besides Virginia and I don’t even count Virginia because of how close the Redskins are. Alabamians would no longer have to decide between the Titans, Saints, and Panthers to root for. They could start rooting for the Bills, a team that is named after the residents themselves instead of the other way around. Multiple fans could even identify with the team mascot, Bill. He’s a down-to-earth, southern, hard-working, football fan that counts down the days until Saturday. With the Alabama Bills in town, he can now begin counting down to Sunday.

Should we buy what Miami is selling?

Should we buy what Miami is selling?

Last week I broke down the AFC playoff picture and didn’t give Miami much of a chance to make the playoffs. They didn’t have quality wins (save for New England in week 1) and faced a tough second-half schedule (and still do). But last week they ripped the San Diego Chargers 37-0 for their third straight win, catching the attention of many. Miami = playoff bound? Those are the murmurs I’m hearing this week.

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Where were those headlines before the Chargers game? There’s a reason we didn’t see them and one big win won’t convince me so easily.

Before I say anything else, I have to give the Dolphins credit. In a game I picked as my lock, Miami made me look like a fool for going with the Chargers. I did not see such domination coming. Perhaps they’ll prove me wrong again. But for now, let’s look at things realistically for Miami.

I have to believe at least two teams from the AFC North will make the playoffs, leaving one wildcard spot for seven teams. Even after a big win over one of those teams, they aren’t leading the race. They share the same record as Kansas City, Cleveland, and Buffalo, but are trailing each team due to tiebreaker rules. And you better believe tiebreakers will come into play in such a tight AFC. They’ve already fallen to KC and Buffalo earlier this season.

What is encouraging from the Dolphins is their conference record (4-2) and the fact that they haven’t had any bad losses. A loss is loss of course, but when Miami has had to take care of business–against Jacksonville and Oakland–they have. This makes me pretty confident they can pick up three wins against the Jets (twice) and Vikings.

Miami's remaining schedule.

Miami’s remaining schedule.

The rest of their schedule is full of good teams and brutal road games. They have to go to Detroit this Sunday, Denver in week 12, and New England in week 15. I seriously cannot see them beating the Pats or Broncos on their home turf. Detroit gets Calvin Johnson back, who should only add to the surprising success the Lions are having thus far. If Miami can keep it going and win in Detroit, they could be poised for a run. I don’t see it happening. Luckily for Miami, they don’t necessarily need this game.

They host Buffalo on Thursday night in week 11, an absolute must-win game. They already lost to Buffalo badly in week 2 and cannot afford to drop a home win against a potential wildcard team, not to mention a division rival. Another toss-up comes at home in week 14 against Baltimore, yet another wildcard team they are competing with. If they can pick up these two wins, along with those three “take care of business” games, they’ll find themselves at 10-6, certainly a record good enough to make the playoffs. However, which 10-6 record will be rewarded? The Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens, Browns, Steelers, or Bengals could all realistically go 10-6 (or Bengals 10-5-1). They all have tough schedules too, but I have to believe we’ll see at least a couple of those teams reach the double-digit mark. If it happens to be the wrong teams, Miami could find itself on the wrong end of the playoff bubble.

Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football in the past month. Can he keep it up against a fantastic Detroit defense this Sunday?

Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football in the past month. Can he keep it up against a fantastic Detroit defense this Sunday?

It’s certainly doable. Miami showed us they are fully capable of competing with any team in the NFL with their rout of San Diego. But where was that when they got shellacked by Kansas City (29-10) and Buffalo (34-15)? Are they just now starting to find their groove? We’ll get a good indication against Detroit this weekend.

And what about Ryan Tannehill? After week 3, we were hearing rumors about him getting benched. Now after a few good games against bad defenses, he’s suddenly our new favorite rising star? In Miami’s last four wins, Tannehill has faced the pass defenses of Oakland, Chicago, Jacksonville, and San Diego. All four rank in the bottom third of the NFL in opponent passer rating. Detroit ranks third in that category. Let’s see how he does then.

All I’m saying is, let’s slow down with the Dolphins. Don’t get tricked by one big win. They will not win the AFC East and still face a tough road to a wildcard spot. They still have had troubles playing to their potential, including last season. I’m not buying into Miami just yet, but they have plenty of opportunities ahead to prove me wrong.