Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Week 1: Nothing but crap on TV

In years past, I've recapped every single game in every week of the regular season. I did a lot of that writing during my down time at work. Now, however, I'm self-employed and work at home, which means I can't afford "down time." So I don't know if I'll have the time or energy to do the game-by-game thing this year. But I can still hit the highlights from a weekend's worth of sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV, in which I came out of my trance only long enough to keep my son away from the fireplace, fix a sandwich or use the facilities.

The results from Week 1 of our picks league have been posted, and guess who had the best week of all? The only wrong picks I made were Atlanta over Minnesota, St. Louis over Carolina, and Philadelphia over Green Bay. I don't think 13-3 is too shabby.

The biggest game of the weekend, obviously, was Thursday's opener, Indianapolis vs. New Orleans. We've already covered Saints quarterback Jason David's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day in this post. And when I say the topic was "covered," I mean we stood there staring into the backfield as the topic ran past us to the end zone.

The next-biggest game was clearly Chicago at San Diego. Now, If I'm the owner of the San Diego Chargers, I have a couple of things to be pissed about, despite the fact that my team won. One of them is that every time I looked down to my sideline, I saw Norv Turner there. The other is that even after I spent all that money and effort to build a team that last year finished with the best record in the NFL, half my season-ticket holders still sold their seats to Bears fans. The season opener! Nothing's going to make you stink up your luxury box quite like discovering that the crowd in your own stadium is cheering after you fumbled the ball away on the goal line.

Speaking of that fumble, the replay clearly showed that the Chargers messed up the center-QB exchange because Tommie Harris had launched himself across the line before the ball was even snapped. Philip Rivers practically shit his pants trying to get the officials to look at the replay on the JumboTron, but the only screen they're allowed to look at is the one in the little replay room on the sidelines. And unfortunately, offsides penalties -- or the lack of them -- are not reviewable. And that's ridiculous. Look, I get why most penalties aren't subject to replay review (illegal touching and illegal participation are among those that are). It's because the definitions of most penalties are fluid. Sometimes when you put your hand on a receiver's back, it's interference; other times it's not. It all depends on what the official sees and how it fits into his conception of what constitutes a flaggable infraction. But offsides is not one of those penalties. There is a simple, objective definition: Did the defender cross the line of scrimmage before the snap? If he did, then he's offside. There's no gray area. It should have been reviewable. In the end, God made up for it by bouncing a punt off one of the Bears and giving the Chargers great field position. No wonder why players are always thanking God.

Ultimately, though, I'm just thrilled that the Bears-Chargers game was available locally. I get the Sunday Ticket but retain an academic interest in what games the network affiliates choose to show. When I lived in Washington for nine years, we of course got the Redskins every week, and we usually got the Ravens, too, because Baltimore was just up the road. I think it was the Ravens that finally drove me to get DirecTV. Now I live in Iowa, which doesn't have an NFL team, and that means the affiliates are free to choose whatever game they want. The local Fox channel aired the Bears-Chargers game -- but not because it was a good matchup. Rather, it was because they always show the Bears, because Des Moines is "close" to Chicago. It's also "close" to Minneapolis (close being a relative term in the Midwest), so for the early game we got Falcons at Vikings.

Something possessed me to pick the Falcons to win this one. As I explained earlier, I was thinking that all the controversy around Michael Vick and his non-traditional hobbies would leave the team with a big chip on its shoulder, and that they'd take out their frustration on the Vikings. Also, I was just hoping that something nice would happen to Joey Harrington, a good guy if not a great football player. As it turned out, two of Harrington's passes went the other way for touchdowns, and the Falcons defense appeared to be totally mailing it in (parcel post, not first class). The Falcons' incompetence and indifference made it possible for Minnesotans to feel the slightest bit optimistic about the Tarvaris Jackson era. They shouldn't. Here's Jackson's line from Sunday's game: 13-of-23 for 163 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 75.1. Eh. Not great, but not bad, right? Now let's take out one play -- the swing pass that Jackson threw behind Adrian Peterson, but which Peterson tipped to himself before ripping off a highlight-reel 60-yard touchdown. Without that one play, which had nothing to do with the QB, Jackson's rating sinks to 48.3. That stinks no matter how much postage you put on it.

I'll be surprised if the Tarvaris Jackson Project lasts the year. Here's the problem: There's nothing wrong with drafting a Division I-AA quarterback, even if no one else appears to want him. But you should never trade up to the second round to draft a Division I-AA quarterback whom no one else appears to want. And even if you do that, for God's sake, don't make him your starter without making him earn the job. Jackson didn't beat out Brad Johnson last year; he just happened to be standing there with a clipboard when Johnson finally ran out of spare parts. He didn't come into the league with the tools to be an NFL starter; by making him one before he acquired those tools, the Vikings have actually hampered his development.

Don't look now, but toward the end of preseason, the Vikings picked up Kelly Holcomb, the Human Quarterback Controversy. Holcomb may be a swell guy, but his very presence on the bench destabilized Tim Couch in Cleveland and nearly did the same to J.P. Losman in Buffalo. The only guy he has backed up whom he didn't cause trouble for was Peyton Manning -- and the Colts were smart enough to unload Holcomb at the end of Manning's rookie year. Brad Childress, good luck with this mess you've made for yourself.

The fact that Falcons-Vikings was on TV here was bad enough. But the worst affiliate pick of the week, hands-down, was the local CBS channel's decision to pass on Patriots-Jets, Titans-Jaguars, even Steelers-Browns, and instead give us Kansas City at Houston. You don't need to have watched all six episodes of this year's Hard Knocks to understand that the Chiefs are going to be a very bad team, but, boy, does it help. They tried to give the starting quarterback job to Brodie Croyle, but he wouldn't take it, so it went back to Damon Huard, who last year did really well in his first action as a starter in nine years in the NFL. Of course, now that teams finally have a season's worth of film on Huard, he'll be relatively easy to stop, which Houston did quite well. The Texans, of course, know from basket cases. They've been one for most of their brief existence. They're 1-0 now, though. and they're hoping that if you squint really hard, you won't notice just why that is.

Seeing K.C.-Houston on the TV schedule here made me realize that if Fox's late game had been, say, Dallas at San Diego, the Des Moines affiliate would have given us Detroit at Oakland. Or worse, Tampa Bay at Seattle. Because Detroit is sort of in the Midwest! And the Buccaneers ... used to be in the NFC Central ... and used to play the Bears and Vikings and Packers every year! I actually watched a bit of both of these games. There's nothing good to say. Detroit finally reaches the top of the NFC North -- and has to share the view. And, is Tampa Bay still in the league anymore? It's like they fell off the face of the Earth.

Thanks to the dish, though, I caught all of New England at N.Y. Jets. Everyone's seen all the highlights -- Randy Moss running, Chad Pennington hopping -- but what really got me was the way Moss was moving. The guy looks like he's had a thousand-pound weight taken off his shoulders. He just seems absolutely thrilled that he doesn't have to be The Man anymore. (Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln and Green Lantern could all sign with the Patriots, and none of them would come close to being The Man.) All Moss has to do is run and jump and trust that the ball is going to be there when he looks for it. For two years in Oakland, it never was. He's playing for a first-class organization, not one that's falling apart (Minnesota) or in permanent disarray (Oakland). And he's playing for a coach who brooks no bullshit rather than one who coddles him fearfully (Dennis Green, Mike Tice) or just stares off into space (Norv Turner, Art Shell).

A while back (I'm too lazy to find the link), I argued that the most boring games in the NFL are those that end with scores of 13-10 and 16-13. Even when those games go right down to the wire, with a field goal at the gun, they're ultimately boring, because a team that wins a game 13-10 or 16-13 is not usually a team that's going anywhere. Maybe it's the aftereffects of all those years in D.C. watching Redskins fans get ecstatic over a 14-12 victory, only to plummet back to Earth the next week on the heels of a 35-13 ass-wiping. Anyway, three games finished with such boring scores this weekend: Miami at Washington (Redskins, 16-13 in OT); Philadelphia at Green Bay (Packers, 16-13); and Tennessee at Jacksonville, (Titans, 13-10). A fourth game, Denver at Buffalo came close score-wise, but you could hardly call that game boring. After the horrific injury to Kevin Everett (hopefully not as bad as initially thought), you realize that "boring" is not necessarily always a bad thing. Plus, there were those last-second heroics oddly attributed to Jason Elam. You tell me how you can be an unconditional hero after missing a game winning field goal, then getting a second chance only because your teammates are able to set up for a kick in an almost impossibly short span of time.

Sunday night is football night. You laughed at me for taking the over at 78 points for the N.Y. Giants at Dallas. Who's the dickhead now, eh? New Cowboys coach Wade Phillips looks so much like my dad that it's going to be painful watching Terrell Owens and the Usual Gang of Idiots crush his spirit -- like when Tony Romo capped an otherwise brilliant game Sunday by briefly "making things interesting" in the fourth quarter.

Rounding out the weekend was an AFC North family reunion. Baltimore at Cincinnati featured various Ravens and Bengals stepping on their own dicks, while Pittsburgh at Cleveland featured all the Steelers kicking all the Browns in the balls. I watched Arizona at San Francisco at the gym, and for all the talk about Ken Whisenhunt bringing all that Pittsburgh-style discipline to the Cardinals, half the time they couldn't do anything right.

This space left blank to write your own synopsis of Carolina at St. Louis.

Now it's time for what we've ALL been waiting for! The return of Down and Distance's almost completely arbitrary, mostly inscrutable and increasingly unreliable KA-POWER RANKINGS. Once upon a time KA-POW was among the most reliable ranking systems out there. The past couple years, with all the crazy shit that's gone down in the playoffs, have taken a toll on our system, but it's done the same to everyone else, too. So screw it. Let's get rankin'.

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK1 = This week's ranking. F06 = final 2006 ranking. POW = KAPOW-ER centigrade score)
122Vikings 100.001717Bills 52.22
228Texans 97.521826Cardinals47.78
311Steelers 92.331919Dolphins44.79
4 4Chargers 91.60 8Eagles 43.35
5 9Colts 89.082116Giants 41.96.
615Seahawks 84.6222 5Jaguars 41.61
7 3Patriots 79.6723 1Ravens 40.43
821Panthers 72.502432Raiders 33.08
927Lions 66.922518Rams 27.50
1010Bengals 59.572612Jets 20.33
1125Titans 58.392731Bucs 15.38
12 7Cowboys 58.0428 6Saints 10.92
1324Redskins 56.6529 2Bears 8.40
23Packers 56.653030Browns 7.67
152949ers 55.213113Chiefs 2.48
1614Broncos 52.223220Falcons 0.00

SEASON: 13-3 (81.3%)
(2006 through Week 1: 9-7, 56.3%)
(2005 through Week 1: 9-7, 56.3%)

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