Staley Should Be Gone, Danny Drops Dimes: Recapping a Wild Wildcard Weekend

| January 17th, 2023

This was one of the more memorable wildcard weekends I can remember. And picks wise, I went 7-5, with Brett Maher keeping me from a more respectable 8-4.

49ers 41, Seahawks 23

From the prediction: “This feels like a game that is 13-13 early in the second quarter, and gamblers start getting nervous, only to see it completely unravel for the Seahawks after a costly turnover or two.”

That’s the game it was. There will be plenty of time to discuss the 49ers – a team that couldn’t handle the 2022 Chicago Bears – but what a tremendous season for Pete Carroll and Geno Smith. Seattle’s over/under win total this season was 5.5. They won nine games, and Smith’s play creates off-season flexibility for them. If they identify a franchise quarterback in this draft, they’re well-positioned to select him. But it’s not a necessity for them in 2023.

Jaguars 31, Chargers 30

From the prediction: “Doug Pederson is a big game guy and Brandon Staley has absolutely no in-game feel. The latter will make a head-scratching decision (he always does) to decide this contest.” 

Analytics should be a complementary tool in football. They should not be the primary tool. Football is a game of emotion, coached with feel. The numbers may say “go for two here” but as a coach, you have to know if your team has struggled in short yardage, or if your quarterback is struggling with confidence issues, etc. Brandon Staley received heaps of praise from young football writers because they saw him as an analytical savior, going for every fourth down even when it cost his team games. Staley has zero in-game feel and that was evident Saturday night. After going up 27-0, the Chargers called eight run plays. Eight. Staley is a coach that will win games, and constantly be in the postseason, because he’s got one of the best quarterbacks in the sport. But in the postseason, where every decision is magnified, he’ll always be outmatched.

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Three Bullets Per Game: Wildcard Weekend Gambling Guide

| January 13th, 2023

This is less a gambling guide, and more an overview of the weekend’s action with predictions. But my gambling choices are evident in my final score prognostications. (All lines from DraftKings Sportsbook.)

Seahawks at 49ers (-9.5), Over/Under: 42.5

  • Just as we all predicted in August, the 2022 season could be decided by Brock Purdy’s performance in the postseason. Purdy was a player I liked in the draft, precisely because I watched him play football and not run around in his underwear in Indianapolis. He was a gamer at Iowa State, and those types of guys tend to find a role in the NFL.
  • Seattle is playing with house money and teams in that position are always dangerous. This feels like a game that is 13-13 early in the second quarter, and gamblers start getting nervous, only to see it completely unravel for the Seahawks after a costly turnover or two.
  • 49ers 34, Seahawks 16

Chargers (-2) at Jaguars, Over/Under: 47.5

  • This was the predictable Saturday night contest, but if the league had some leadership, they would have put it in the premier Sunday night slot and marketed the hell out of these two young superstar QBs. Instead, the game of the weekend will be played in the least-watched time slot.
  • This game feels incredibly even, and when that’s the case I look at three essential elements: quarterback, coach and building. Quarterback is a push right now, and the home field in Jacksonville isn’t much of one. But this is the most significant coaching mismatch of the week. Doug Pederson is a big game guy and Brandon Staley has absolutely no in-game feel. The latter will make a head-scratching decision (he always does) to decide this contest.
  • Jaguars 27, Chargers 23

Dolphins at Bills (-13.5), Over/Under: 47

  • Was it the Dolphins? Was it the league? Was it his family? It’s not important. Tua Tagovailoa is not playing in this ballgame and that is important for the long-term health of the young man’s brain. Tua will now have the next seven months to establish whether he wants to assume the risk of continuing his football career. One hopes that he’ll visit with serious neurologists during that time, doctors unaffiliated with the league.
  • Without Tua, this is a serious mismatch.
  • Bills 40, Dolphins 17

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The 2023 (Essential) Off-Season Positional Checklist

| January 11th, 2023

The Chicago Bears can improve at just about every position on the field, as Data acutely discussed yesterday. They likely need a new center, additional corner, off-ball linebacker help, etc. But to be a consistent playoff team, you need the essentials, and the Bears are seriously lacking in those departments.

[  ] Backup Quarterback

This is the least of the essentials, but still essential. Justin Fields is going to play football the way he plays football, and that style comes with risk. There is risk for every quarterback but even more so for those who can wreck games with their legs. Trevor Siemian is a solid option off the bench but his entrance into a game forces the Bears to alter their style of play and that seems counterproductive. This is not a position where the Bears should spend huge financial resources; you’re more than likely to struggle no matter who your backup quarterback is. But I’d like to see them take a late-round shot in the draft on a running quarterback with arm upside. (Stetson Bennett in the 7th round.) If nothing else, they should never be in a position where someone like Nathan Peterman is starting football games for them.

[  ] Pass Rush

Does this really require explanation on a football (and sometimes cinema) blog? If you can’t rush the passer, you can’t win in the modern NFL. Hell, if you couldn’t rush the passer, you couldn’t win in the old-timey NFL either. A scout friend of mine said this of Alabama’s Will Anderson, “I wouldn’t trade back if there’s a chance I can get this kid. He changes a franchise.” Is that nonsense? Probably. The college-to-NFL projection is conjecture. (I think I am about to coin a term: projecture.) But if Anderson does remind NFL folks of Khalil Mack and Von Miller, that’s a projecture worth the risk.

[   ] Interior Defensive Line

The run defense in Chicago this season was a bit on the pathetic side, and this is a historically a position that can be addressed in free agency, as teams redirect their resources to flashier roster spots. The name you’ll likely hear? D.C. DT Daron Payne. At only 25 years old, and with a load of talent, he fills the prescription. If the Bears wanted to flood the position, they could also look at the underrated Dalvin Tomlinson in New Jersey or Taven Bryan in Cleveland.

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Black Monday Open Thread Haiku

| January 9th, 2023

We’ve spent the last six weeks processing the 2022 Chicago Bears. Now we move on. Today this site will simply be an open discussion in the comments of the firings around the sport. Tomorrow, Data takes a wide-angle look at Chicago’s resources this off-season.

El lunes negro,

negro como la noche.

O nubes, ¡salir!





The Final Sunday: Vikings at Bears, Texans at Colts Predictions

| January 6th, 2023

Why do I Like the Chicago Bears this Week?







Vikings at Bears Prediction

With Justin Fields, who accounts for about 90% of the offense, not playing, and Nathan Peterman, one of the worst starting quarterbacks in modern NFL history, playing, the Vikings will have their starters on the bench by early third quarter.

Vikings 33, Bears 9

Texans at Colts Prediction

Houston is simply playing better football, week in and week out. And while folks will argue they have no impetus to win this game and fall out of the first pick, the Deshaun Watson trade gave them more than enough ammunition to ensure they come out of the 2023 draft with whomever they deem their top prospect.

Texans 19, Colts 13

And with this prediction, the Chicago Bears will secure the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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On Damar Hamlin, Trauma and Humanity in the NFL

| January 5th, 2023

As I sit to write this on Wednesday morning, a report has just come across MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Damar Hamlin has been moved onto his stomach in a Cincinnati hospital bed to promote blood flow out of his lungs. Hamlin is in this position, fighting for his life, ventilator snaked down his throat, because of cardiac arrest sustained while playing of a football game. The injury might have been a tragic fluke – “one in a million” a doctor friend told me – but it doesn’t happen if Hamlin is watching the game from a barstool at Applebee’s. It happened because of football, and the unpredictable violence associated with the game.

Years ago, the New York Times had a piece about the Israeli response to attacks within its borders. Less than a few hours after a bus explosion on a major thoroughfare in Tel Aviv, the explosion site was entirely cleared, and the bus route resumed. Their approach could be defined as anti-disruption; they would acknowledge the tragic nature of the event but not let it alter the life of its citizenry.

As Hamlin was being ambulanced from the field, the NFL wanted to restart the game. Joe Burrow began warming up. Stefon Diggs delivered a fiery pep talk to his teammates. Everyone involved in the game seemed ready to put the trauma behind them and resume football as usual.

And then Zac Taylor walked across the field to Sean McDermott. He said something, we don’t know what. Shortly thereafter, the teams were heading into the locker room, and soon the majority of the Bills, those not heading to the hospital, were flying home to Buffalo. Years from now, Taylor’s gesture will remembered in documentaries because in that moment, he saved football from itself; saved Roger Goodell and 32 billionaires from a masochistic public spectacle. As players cried and prayed and stared emptily into space, Taylor recognized that playing a football game in the wake of the Hamlin tragedy was not just bad optics for the league, it was absurd behavior for a collection of human beings.

And “human beings” is the key phrase. For too long, media and fans (forget the owners and league) have been nonchalant about the physical well-being of the men, human men, responsible with providing the greatest entertainment in professional sports. I was struck to see how many NFL-based podcasts simply decided to sit out the discussion Tuesday, afraid, I assume, of saying the wrong thing. Tuesday morning was the opportune time to get on the microphone and speak to the fans. Remind them that the men on their fantasy teams are, in reality, men. Remind them of the physical risk these men endure each and every Sunday.

Tua Tagovailoa has had three diagnosed concussions this season. Three. With hundreds of men and women covering this is sport, has any written a column imploring him to retire from the game? Has anyone associated with the Miami Dolphins come out and said, “Tua is done for this season, and we’ll reevaluate his status next summer after what we hope is the appropriate healing.” No. Of course not. Because the NFL is imprisoned by a “warrior mentality” that praises short-term health risk while eschewing long-term ramifications. Jim McMahon forgets where he lives when he drives to the store for bread. But he’s not on anyone’s fantasy team so it does not register anymore.

The other sports don’t have this issue. Justin Morneau missed an entire season with the Twins after sustaining a concussion. Penguins’ legend Sidney Crosby was concussed in January 2011. He didn’t return to light skating until mid-March of that year. Why do the other sports take major injuries to their athletes much more seriously? What is wrong with the culture of the NFL that the mindset not only shifts quickly to “next man up” in the locker room but also seems to incorporate “last man, fuck him?” What has shifted in the wiring of Burrow, Diggs and McDermott that they actually believed a football game should be resumed Monday night? What is fundamentally wrong with Goodell and the owners that they would make that decision?

Dave Birkett, a good friend of this site, writes about the Lions for the Detroit Free-Press. Dave decided a few years ago to refer to concussions as “brain injuries.” Why? Because concussions are brain injuries. If you injure your knee in the NFL, you are listed on the injury report with (Knee). You are not listed as being in the Ligament Protocol. Dave decided, as a journalist, to tell a vernacular truth; to use the weaponry of the writer, language, as a tool for change. Fans on Twitter gave him hell for it. Why? Because fans don’t want too much humanity in their football.

Our downplaying of concussions, and every other injury sustained in this brutal game, is what leads to a reaction like the one we saw Monday night. Over the last few weeks, I have received countless emails from Bears fans that read, essentially, “Chase Claypool HAS to get on the field.” Does he? Does any fan know what physical pain/trauma he is currently enduring? Does any fan know the potential long-term effects Claypool could deal with by returning to action too quickly? Of course not. But to a large faction of fans, these are not men. These are gladiators, sacrificing their lives in the arena for the amusement of an adoring public.

No one is to blame for the tragedy that has befallen Damar Hamlin. And the league should be praised for having the proper medical personnel at the ready in that moment. But one hopes that Hamlin’s humanity, widely reported since he left Paycor Stadium and reflected in the fan support for his charitable endeavors, reminds us that he is not alone in this league. Perhaps we should all be less concerned with our clicks, and our fantasy points, and our fandom, and more concerned with the well-being of those providing us this remarkable joy six months of every year.

Many will read this and respond, “Boo hoo hoo, they make millions to play a game.” How much money is Damar Hamlin going to make in 2023? How much money is enough for Tua to sacrifice a working brain in his forties and fifties? We all love this sport. And we need to reevaluate what form that love takes.