2016 NFL Wildcard Preview: Green Bay at Washington

The Washington Redskins host the Green Bay Packers in the last of the four 2016 National Football League (NFL) Wild Card playoff games. This game is on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 4:40 p.m. ET on Fox.

What’s the Plot?

If you had asked a football fan who they thought would win between these two teams any time this season before about a month ago, or really anytime in the past twenty years before about a month ago, the answer would have been the same and it would have been confident: the Green Bay Packers. All of a sudden, it’s not so clear. The Packers have had profound trouble on offense in their last few games while the Washington Redskins have slowly but surely improved. It still feels wrong to say it, but this looks like the most evenly matched game of the weekend.

Who are the main characters on the Green Bay Packers?

Aaron Rodgers – Aaron Rodgers is generally thought of as the best quarterback alive. So why is he having so much trouble this year? One obvious answer is that he’s missing his best wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, who injured his knee before the season started and will not play until next year. That might explain it, and it certainly raises the general fan’s opinion of Jordy Nelson if it does, but it doesn’t seem like enough. How can the best quarterback of a generation be stymied by the loss of a single receiver? Watching Rodgers these days is like an optical illusion: because he’s been so good for so long, you expect to see him be remarkable but he persists in being pedestrian. It will be very interesting to see how he plays in this game.

Eddie Lacy – If Rodgers is an illusion, Lacy is a conundrum. It’s difficult to explain such a talented runner having such an up-and-down season. He’s played great one game, poorly the next, and sometimes not at all. He’s been called overweight and unmotivated. Who knows what’s up with him off the field that might explain his performance this year. What we do know is how impactful he can be when he’s on. The Packers will do everything they can to get him on for this game.

Mike McCarthy – Mike McCarthy has been the coach of the Green Bay Packers for the last ten years. That’s a long time in football terms and it’s also Aaron Rodgers’ entire career. Despite having won a Super Bowl in 2010 and returned to the playoffs every year since then, McCarthy is not thought of as a great coach. My guess is that this is due to a combination of Rodgers getting the bulk of the credit and McCarthy making too many obvious time-management blunders at the end of games. In any event, despite the historic patience of the Green Bay organization, McCarthy could be in trouble if his team plays poorly in this game.

Who are the main characters on the Washington Redskins?

Kirk Cousins – Four years ago, the Washington Redskins traded a slew of draft picks to the St. Louis Rams in order to draft a quarterback high in the 2012 NFL draft. That quarterback was Robert Griffin III. Later on in the same draft, down in the fourth round, the team took another quarterback, Kirk Cousins. While RGIII has sputtered, Cousins has thrived. In this, his first full season starting, he led the team to a division title and what’s more important, he’s steadily improved throughout the year. Cousins could always make big plays but now he seems more able to avoid the big mistakes that plagued him earlier in his career.

DeSean Jackson – Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson is the most dangerous player on the field… for both teams. He’s a brash, big play receiver who sometimes has lapses in big moments. He has a history of celebrating touchdowns too early and dropping the ball before he actually scored. Just a few weeks ago, he was returning a punt and ran backwards about fifteen yards before fumbling the ball. For every one mistake he makes, he makes three or four great plays, but even so, fans of both teams will hold their breath when he has the ball.

Alfred Morris – The Washington Redskins featured running back will once again be the dependable Alfred Morris. On the field, Morris is a solid if unspectacular player but it’s hard not to love him for his off-field personality. He drives to work in the 25-year-old car he had before he was a professional football player. That is, he drives it when he’s not biking to work. He gets together before every home game to chat with a group of stadium ushers he’s friends with. He seems like a truly awesome dude.

Who is going to win?

Oh, I guess the Washington Redskins should win this game. They are definitely the team that has played better over the past four to six weeks. That said, it’s impossible for me to truly believe that a team whose quarterback is Kirk Cousins should really win over a team whose quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. When in doubt, go with the better quarterback, and Rodgers is the best. Green Bay will find a way to win.

2016 NFL Wildcard Preview: Seattle at Minnesota

The Minnesota Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks in the third of the four 2016 National Football League (NFL) Wild Card playoff games. This game is on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.

What’s the Plot?

By winning their last game of the season, the Minnesota Vikings clinched their division title and guaranteed that they would host their first playoff game. Hosting a game is usually good news for a team’s chances (home teams win 59% of the time in the regular season and 65% of the time in this round of the playoffs) and it’s always good news for the home fans who get to see a playoff game in person. In this case, there’s an enormous dose of negativity mixed in with that optimisim. To start with, the weather is supposed to be freezing. Actually, it’s supposed to be between 31 and 41 degrees below freezing with a steady 10-15 mph wind. That’s enough to bother even hearty Minnesotans! Perhaps even more importantly, winning the division matched the Vikings up with the Seattle Seahawks, a team no one wanted to play. The Seahawks have a lower seed because of a slow start to the year but they’re still the team that went to the last two Super Bowls and a frightening matchup.

Who are the main characters on the Seattle Seahawks?

Russell Wilson – After three years in the NFL, quarterback Russell Wilson had led his team to the playoffs in all three years and to the Super Bowl twice, winning once. That’s a heck of a record for any quarterback, especially one who was thought to be too small to be successful in the NFL. Despite that amazing start, it wasn’t until this season, his fourth in the league, that you started hearing people talk about Wilson as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. With injuries hampering the team’s running offense, it started to rely more heavily on Wilson and he did not dissapoint. It’s largely through his amazing improvisation and accurate passing that the Seahawks are back in the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

Marshawn Lynch – Running back Marshawn Lynch, known as Beast Mode for his brutally physical running style, has missed the last month and a half after having surgery on a sports hernia. A sports hernia is a significant tear in the abdominal wall and muscles and the surgery to repair it is pretty major. Lynch plans on being back for this game, but it’s an open question of how close to his normal self he’ll be able to be.

K.J. Wright/Bobby Wagner/Bruce Irving – Over the past few years, the Seahawks have been known for the strength of their defense. More specifically, they’ve been known for their strong secondary (nicknamed the Legion of Boom) and their aggressive pass rushing defensive line. In this game however, because the strenghts of their opponent are a strong running attack and a mobile quarterback, the most important part of the Seahawks defense may be their linebackers. In K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Bruce Irving, the Seahawks have three strong veteran linebackers. The outcome of this game is most likely to hinge on their success or failure.

Who are the main characters on the Minnesota Vikings?

Adrian Peterson – Running Back Adrian Peterson has been thought of as the best running back in the NFL since his rookie season in 2007. Even at age 30, (an age many running backs slow down at,) Peterson is still one of, if not the best running back in the league. He seems to get stronger throughout the game, running his best late in the fourth quarter when the defense starts to get seriously tired and sick of tackling him. Peterson has been a problematic figure to root for since his arrest last year for beating his young son.

Teddy Bridgewater – If Peterson is the past and present of the Minnesota Vikings, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the future. This is only Bridgewater’s second year in the league and the Vikings have seemed to be approaching his development slow and steady. Their approach is to run the ball, play good defense, and ask Bridgewater just not to lose the game. It will be interesting to see what happens if the Vikings get down by ten points. I believe that Bridgewater is capable of doing more than he’s been asked to do, but the proof is in the pudding. Let’s see it.

Who is going to win?

Of all four games this weekends, Seattle is the biggest favorite. I suppose that should make me think they’re going to win, but I don’t. I have a funny feeling that between the freezing cold, the early start time (noon in Minnesota will feel like 10 a.m. for the Seahawks), and the vagaries of the NFL, the Vikings will find a way to win. Also, I’ve been rooting against the Seahawks for no reason for the last several years and I’m not going to start now!

2016 NFL Wildcard Preview: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second of the four 2016 National Football League (NFL) Wild Card playoff games. This game is on Saturday, January 9, 2016 at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS.

What’s the Plot?

This game will be the third of the season between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. This is possible because the two teams are in the same division, the AFC North, and so they always play twice during the regular season. The Bengals won the division and the Steelers qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card. Luck has paired them together for a third time but the question is, who will it be lucky for? The last time the two teams played, both teams seemed at least as interested in being the more physical team as being the team that scored more points. I’d expect that element of physicality to continue in this game.

Who are the main characters on the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Ben Roethlisberger – At the start of this season, I described quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as “”Giant, raw, and talented in his first few years as a professional, Roethlisberger has evolved into a solid quarterback whose success seems inevitable and effortless.”” That’s pretty good! I’ll stick with it. This year has only confirmed that Roethlisberger’s success. Surrounded by talented wide receivers and leaned on even more heavily by his team in the absence of injured running back Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger has thrived.

Antonio Brown/Martavis Bryant/Marcus Wheaton – As I mentioned in the last paragraph, the Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most talented trios of wide receivers in the league. Antonio Brown is the leader of the bunch. He’s an all-purpose brilliant wide receiver. He’s good at everything. You can throw him a short pass and expect him to run with the ball or send him deep and hurl the ball to him. He’s deceptively powerful, quick, and reliable. He’s even a dynamic punt returner. Alongside Brown are two young receivers whose ceilings seem limitless. Both Martavis Bryant and Marcus Wheaton are deep ball specialists. They can either run past their defenders or jump over them, but either way, when Roethlisberger drops back and winds up, the expectation is that one of these guys is going to do something spectacular. Bryant is the more exciting of the two — his nickname, “the alien,” nicely expresses how unusual his skills are.”

Who are the main characters on the Cincinnati Bengals?

Andy Dalton – Andy Dalton, the starting quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, has managed to be both surprisingly successful and surprisingly unsuccessful in his time in the NFL. This is his fifth year and in each of his four previous years, he’s helped his team make the playoffs. That’s a surprisingly successful record for any young quarterback, much less one who was drafted late in the second round. Unfortunately for Dalton, the Bengals have lost all four of the playoff games he’s been involved in, and in many of them, he’s played poorly. The question remains, which is the “real Dalton?” The guy who wins a lot in the regular season or the guy who always loses in the playoffs? This game may be a referrendum on that topic, but Dalton will have to play to make it so. He broke his thumb five weeks ago and as of now is not practicing. Whether he plays or whether it’s his backup, AJ McCarron, Dalton will be a big part of the story.

Giovani Bernard/Jeremy Hill – The Cincinnati Bengals have two very different players at running back. Giovani Bernard is quick, sudden, and small. Jeremy Hill is a battering ram. Which back the Bengals decide to use more often early in the game will give a good indication of how they think they can beat the Steelers. If Bernard is in, it’s a good bet the Bengals think they can outscore the Steelers by passing the ball. If Hill is in, the Bengals either think they can win by being more physical or they are scared of the Steelers and want to shorten the game (running takes more time off the clock than passing.)

Marvin Lewis – Marvin Lewis is the long-time head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Like his counterpart on the Steelers sideline, Mike Tomlin, Lewis has been the beneficiary of a very patient owner. He’s coached through good times and bad times. If the Bengals lose this game, particularly if Dalton plays and they lose, Lewis may finally find his job in serious jeopardy. It’s much harder to change quarterbacks than coaches and five consecutive playoff losses may be too much to take sitting down, even for a patient owner.

Who is going to win?

It’s hard for me to imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers losing this game. Their passing game is so good and so explosive that it should dominate this game. The Bengals will go into the game worried about how they are going to neutralize the Steelers passing on defense and keep up with them on offense. Add the fact that the Bengals will be going with either their backup quarterback or a newly healed Andy Dalton who hasn’t played in a month, and things don’t seem good for Cincinnati. Steelers win.

2016 NFL Wildcard Preview: Kansas City at Houston

The Houston Texans host the Kansas City Chiefs in the first of the four 2016 National Football League (NFL) Wild Card playoff games. This game is on Saturday, January 9, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN or ABC if you’re in the Houston or Kansas City areas.

What’s the Plot?

The Kansas City Chiefs are an easy team to root for. Full of characters with obvious flaws but even more obvious redeeming characteristics, they came charging back from a bad start to the season, winning their last 10 games of the season to make the playoffs. The Houston Texans are by no means villains, but winning their sorry AFC South division with a 9-7 record doesn’t exactly inspire confidence or a strong desire to see them win in the playoffs. Both teams have close to extraordinary defenses that drag their more pedestrian offenses to success.
“Andy Reid – Head Coach Andy Reid looks like a giant walrus and coaches like one too. What does that mean? Is ‘walrus’ really a meaningful football term? No, it is not. Reid was the long-time coach of the Philadelphia Eagles where he presided over a consistently very good team that came just short of winning a Super Bowl. In Kansas City, he’s had his ups and downs but has mostly been very successful. His specialty is generating offense from teams without any super-stars. His tragic flaw is time management. Late in games, you can almost count on Reid to misuse his team’s timeouts. This is a very visible flaw which sometimes seems to cost his teams victories but realistically, it’s only a small part of coaching.

Who are the main characters on the Kansas City Chiefs?

Alex Smith — Quarterback Alex Smith was drafted number one overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005. His story has always been one of moderate success despite two great deficiencies: hand size and arm strength. The importance of arm strength is obvious — if your arm isn’t strong enough to throw the ball far down the field, it’s hard to be successful. When you watch Smith, compare his throws in your mind to others that you’ve seen. You might notice his throws looking not as snappy as other quarterbacks. More likely you can notice what you don’t see — the so-called “”out pattern throws.”” An out is when a wide receiver runs down the field and then perpendicularly to the sideline. The quarterback is expected to throw the ball before the wide receiver turns so it’s there for him to catch. It’s a difficult throw to make because, even more than the longer down-field throws, it has to be made with strength so defenders don’t have time to intercept it. Smith pretty much doesn’t even attempt these throws. What Smith does do, he does extremely well. He’s very athletic, able to avoid defenders trying to sack him and even to make longish dowfield scrambling runs at time. He rarely makes bad decisions that lead to interceptions or fumbles. He’s a solid but unspectacular dude.

Eric Berry — Safety Eric Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma a little over a year ago. He got treatment and was back to playing shape by the time this season started. His play this season has been nothing short of inspiring. He’s back to what he was before the cancer, one of the best safeties in the league. Also, from his Wikipedia page, comes the odd but charming fact: “Berry suffers from equinophobia, a fear of horses, frequently brought on by the Kansas City Chiefs’ mascot, Warpaint. The fear was brought on after a traumatizing childhood event at a petting zoo where a horse bit him while his back was turned.”

Who are the main characters on the Houston Texans?

J.J. Watt — Defensive end J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL. In his four years in the league before this one, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award twice. His team plays a 3-4 defense, which means that there are three players in the defensive line (at the start of each plays, the defensive line crouches directly opposite the offensive line) and four linebackers upright behind them. Most teams that play this formation expect the three linemen to battle their opposites to a standstill while the real pressure on the quarterback comes from linebackers. Watt is so dominant that he’s able to create pressure as one of the three linemen. Doing this is almost like giving his team an extra player to play with. Off the field, he’s in a trillion commercials, including that one for… a cell phone, I think, where he’s chopping wood in a forest.

Deandre Hopkins — Wide Receiver Deandre Hopkins is one of the best wide receivers in the league. This is an amazing feat because he’s not remarkably tall or unusually fast. He must be extraordinary at the less obvious skills for a wide receiver: running precise and deceptive routes, not foreshadowing the moment when he’s going to reach up and catch the ball, having precise control over his body, timing his jump perfectly so the ball reaches him at the apex of his leaping ability. Hopkins is a joy to watch… as long as you’re not rooting against him. ”

Who is going to win?

The Houston Texans were able to make the playoffs despite being forced to start four different quarterbacks during the season. Overcoming injuries to that many quarterbacks and still succeeding is a rare feat but overcoming an injury to the team’s starting left tackle is even more difficult. That’s what the Texans are facing after starting left tackle Duane Brown tore his quadriceps muscle in last week’s game. If you think it’s strange that an injury to a left tackle should be so much more damaging than one to a quarterback, you should read Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side. I’m a believer in the power of the left tackle, so I’ve got to believe that the Kansas City Chiefs will win this game.


A Thanksgiving 2015 NFL football preview

For many people, football is a part of Thanksgiving as much as the turkey, the stuffing, or the pie. For others, it’s a foreign addition to the meal, like corned beef and cabbage or Chinese food (both of which my family has cooked for past Thanksgivings, but that’s another story…) Sometimes, those people sit down at the same table. When that happens, it’s important for the football fans to realize that not everyone shares their passion. Sports fans need to make an effort to talk about other things sometimes. Then again, if those other things are going to be politics, religion, or money… maybe it’s a good idea for the non-sports fans to brush up on their football. For the sake of peace and good will at the Thanksgiving table, here’s what you need to know about the three NFL football games on Thanksgiving Day, 2015.

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET on Fox

The Lions are one of two teams that traditionally host Thanksgiving games. Most years, their fans have very little to be thankful for. This year was shaping up to be much the same after the team lost seven of its first eight games. Then the Lions went on the road to Green Bay, where they had not won since 1991. They won! Riding that wave of generational positivity, (yes, even for a 2-7 team,) the Lions won their next game against the Oakland Raiders. That was just last weekend. With the playoffs only the most pipey of pipe dreams, this Thanksgiving game will be the biggest game for the Lions for the rest of the year, simply because of the national spotlight playing on Thanksgiving gives the franchise. Their opponents in this game, the Philadelphia Eagles, are in even greater disarray. Unlike the Lions, the Eagles were supposed to be good this year and to challenge seriously for their division title. They’ve only won four games of their first ten and are hanging on to playoff hopes solely because their division is so bad. The best record in the division is only 5-5. The Eagles have lost three of their last four games and they and their egomaniacal, unorthodox, coach and general manager, Chip Kelly seem to be headed toward a sloppy divorce.

So, yes, these teams are not very good. On the other hand, because of that, the game could go in almost any direction. If you care about either of these two teams — for rooting, gambling, or fantasy reasons — then there’s a lot of suspense to be found here. The Lions could win by twenty. The Eagles could win by twenty. The game could be high scoring or low scoring. It could go into overtime or be over by the time your doorbell rings announcing your first guest. No one really knows. And that makes it kind of fun to watch.

Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Alas, the most intriguing game of the day happens in the time least likely to be convenient for watching. 4:30 is pretty much dinner time on Thanksgiving, at least on the East Coast. Both teams, the visiting Carolina Panthers and the host Dallas Cowboys will be trying to do something for the first time ever. The Carolina Panthers have already set a record for the best start to a season their franchise has ever had. At 10-0, they are one of only two remaining undefeated teams in the league. Only 11 teams have ever started a season with 11 straight wins, and the Panthers will be trying to join that group on Thanksgiving. The team is led by three incredible players. Cam Newton is their leader on offense. A 6’5″ 250 lb behemoth, he’s the rare NFL quarterback who has the ability to run the ball almost as well as he can throw it and the build to hold up to the hits he takes when running. On defense, the Panthers are led by two players who are both near the top of their positions: Luke Keuchly at middle linebacker and Josh Norman at corner back. As for the Cowboys, they’re trying to do something which no NFL team has ever done before — make the playoffs after a 2-7 start. There are two things that give them hope in this audacious goal. The first is that all of their losses this season came while quarterback Tony Romo was injured and most while their best wide receiver, Dez Bryant, was injured as well. The second hopeful factor is that they are in the same division as the Eagles — the NFC East — and at 3-7, they are only two wins behind the division leading New York Giants.

One curious feature of this game is that the Cowboys are favored by a point. This means that people betting on the Cowboys need them to win by more than one point in order to make money while people betting on the Carolina Panthers would win even if the teams tied. It’s fairly extraordinary for a 10-0 team to be an underdog against a 3-7 team. This is partially because home teams tend to do a little better than visiting teams and because the Cowboys are notoriously a public team. Whatever the reason for it, you can be sure that the Panthers will use being an underdog as motivation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat the Cowboys soundly.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

The nightcap of the football schedule is a perfect game for sitting on the couch, enjoying a nightcap of your own or even some leftover pie or turkey sandwiches. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have played against each other more times than any two teams in NFL history. They are two classic franchises, and watching them play, especially late in the season, is like taking a trip back in time. By the time the game starts in Green Bay, the wind will be blowing around 15 mph, it will be right around freezing, and there’s a 90% chance of precipitation. There’s nothing better than watching football in bad weather… from the comfort of your couch.

As for the football game, the jury is out on whether Green Bay is an elite, championship contender this year. In Aaron Rodgers, they have the world’s best quarterback (with the possible exception of Tom Brady) but the question is how much quality he can wring out of the team’s group of less talented wide receivers. At times this season, the Packers offense has looked as good as ever, but in other games it has had periods of profound helplessness. Profound helplessness is pretty much the norm for Chicago Bears fans. Their team seems locked in an endless cycle of almost getting good and then falling apart again. This season has been a microcosm of that experience. The Bears started the season with three wins. Then they clawed their way back to reasonableness with two wins. Then they lost two more games to place them firmly in a bad place. Then, after their fans had given up a second time, they won two more games to go to 4-5 on the year, one game away from .500. A close loss last week to the Denver Broncos makes this game close to a must-win if the Bears have any hope of reaching the playoffs this year.

I fear that this game may get out of hand early if Green Bay gets out to an early lead. That would really be a shame, because this has the potential to be the coziest, most enjoyable football game of the day.

What should I watch during Week 8 of the 2015 NFL season?

Every week, we rank the NFL games based on a number of factors to come up with a proprietary, totally un-trademarked Watchability Rating and publish them on our NFL forecast page. This post takes the quantitative and marries it to my qualitative thoughts about each game. To help you figure out what games you get in your area, check out 506 Sports NFL. If you need help figuring out how to make sense out of what you see there, use my explanation of how to use 506 Sports NFL here.

Big Screen

5.09 – Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET on CBS

For decades, the Steelers have ruled their division with an iron steel fist. That’s meant that no matter how good the Bengals have gotten, they’ve always had to deal with the Steelers being a little bit better — a little bit more successful. This year, the Bengals are undefeated and the Steelers, thanks in part to an injury to starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, are only 4-3. Roethlisberger is back for this game, so the Steelers will be at full strength for their attempt to knock the Bengals off their pedestal.

5.03 – Green Bay Packers vs. Denver Broncos, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Sometimes fortune smiles on the people who scheduled all the NFL games months ago. They couldn’t have known, when they put these two teams in a prime-time, nationally televised game, that they’d both be undefeated entering the game. It’s a rare treat to have a matchup of two undefeated teams as late as the eighth week of the season. Both teams have overcome challenges to get this far without losing. The Denver Broncos have been winning despite once legendary quarterback Peyton Manning’s predictable but still shocking poor play. At 39, it looks like age and injury have finally caught up with him. Luckily, the team’s defense has been good enough to cover for him, so far. On the Green Bay side, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still in the prime of his career, but he’s been playing all year without his favorite target, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

4.29 – San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams, 1 p.m. ET on Fox

There’s a big jump between the interest of the top two games, both over 5 on our watchability scale, and the next group which starts with this game. The first two games basically don’t have any flaws. This one has a big flaw in the form of the 49ers. The 49ers aren’t completely collapsing this year, but they are stumbling around like a drunk person who seems about to fall at any moment. What lifts this game is the opportunity for the Rams to continue their push toward the playoffs. It’s almost too early to start talking about playoffs, but the Rams look like a team with a shot of making it as a wild card. If they don’t want that image to become a mirage, like it has in so many recent years for the Rams, they need to win the games they should win, like this one.

4.29 – Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET on CBS

There’s a severe power outage in this game. The Titans are 1-5 on the year. The Texans 2-5. But believe it or not, if the Texans win this game and the Indianapolis Colts lose theirs, they would be in a tie for the division lead. The AFC South division is so bad this year, that the Titans are probably not out of it either. Setting that aside, there are very few rational reasons to watch this game. It’s probably a signal that I should raise the impact of “combined power” on the watchability rating and lower the impact of the “in division” and “rivalry” factors.

4.29 New York Giants vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET on Fox

Both of these teams started the year out horribly, the Giants with two losses and the Saints with three. Both have righted the ship to some extent. The Giants are 4-3 and in first place in their division. The Saints are coming off two straight wins against the Falcons and Colts. Fans of both teams are starting to believe again. One set of fans will be sorely disappointed after this game. As a tiny extra added piece of local interest, Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s father was the starting quarterback of the Saints while Eli was a child.

4.05 – Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET on Fox


This game is like a miniature version of the Bengals vs. Steelers game from above. The Bears and Vikings are long-time divisional opponents and rivals. The Bears usually have the upper hand but the Vikings have the better record this year. The Vikings should win this game, but it’s possible that the Bears have enough muscle memory left from having dominated the Vikings for so long, that they’ll be able to keep this game close and maybe even win it.

Medium Screen

3.99 – Indianapolis Colts vs. Carolina Panthers, Monday, November 2, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

It’s hard to believe this game didn’t make it to a Big Screen rating. Blame the poor play of the Colts so far this year for missing that hundredth of a rating point. Football fans, fantasy players especially, keep waiting for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to turn things around and start playing up to his potential this year. At a certain point though, it may be time to admit that the players around him are simply not good enough to let him shine. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has no such problem. His mostly unheralded teammates have all been playing above their expected level this year — a big part of why the team is undefeated.

3.85 – New York Jets vs. Oakland Raiders, 4 p.m. ET on CBS

I’m actually surprised this game did not get a higher ranking. I suspect that it will outperform it’s ranking. Certainly in the late-afternoon time slot, when there are so many fewer options, it’s worthy of consideration. The Jets were 4-12 last year, the Raiders, 3-13 but after only six games so far this year, both teams have already equalled their wins totals from last year. The Jets are 4-2 and the Raiders are 3-3. I’m interested to see how the Raiders young, talented offense plays against the Jets veteran and loaded defense.

3.47 – Seattle Seahawks vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. ET on Fox

Alas, virtually the whole football-watching country will be watching this game in the late afternoon. It’s not without its attractions, but most of them have to do with the suspense generated by a team wildly disappointing its fans.

3.38 – Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 9:30 a.m. ET on Fox

This is the last London game of the season and, like most of the others, it features two under .500 teams. It’s hard to say which team has been more disappointing this year, the Chiefs, who were 11-5 two years ago or the Lions who were 11-5 last year. I guess the Lions. Either way, this is not a game worth waking up early for.

3.30 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET on Fox

It’s actually somewhat hysterical that a divisional game involving one team (the Falcons) with only a single loss on the year could be so low in our rankings. It’s a measure of how little people believe in the Falcons as an actually good team, as opposed to a decent team with a good record, and how little the general public cares about the Buccaneers.

3.12 – San Diego Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET on CBS

Looking at the landscape of the NFL over the past decade, it’s almost incomprehensible that a game between these two teams could be the second worst game of the day. The Chargers and Ravens have both been perennial championship contenders but they now find themselves scrambling around just to win a game. It’s a sad fall from grace for both franchises. At least the Ravens will still be in Baltimore next year. The Chargers may very well be in Los Angeles.

3.05 – Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET on Fox

It’s not impossible to make a case for watching this game — this week’s slate of games is remarkably strong, without a single game in the small or no screen categories — but it just doesn’t match up to the competition. The Cardinals are very good, the Browns are not.

Pitch That Game: NFL Week 7, 2015

Hello everyone and welcome to America’s favorite game show that… has never actually happened before and no one has heard of it… it’s Pitch That Game!

Here’s how it works. As your host, I have one sentence to pitch a sporting event. If, after my pitch, you’re interested in watching, I get a point! That’s it! Usually I do this in podcast format, but I’ve got a cold this week and no one wants to listen to me cough and sniffle over a microphone, least of all me. So, the pitches will be in written form only this week.

In this episode, I pitch you, the reader, all of the NFL games this weekend, on Sunday October 25 and Monday October 26. If you want to know which games will be available on your TV this weekend, check out 506 Sports NFL. If you need help figuring out how to make sense out of what you see there, use my explanation of how to use 506 Sports NFL here.

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, October 25, 2015 9:30 a.m. ET

Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars

All of the NFL games in London are part of an experiment to see how global American Football’s reach is. This game takes that experiment one step further in a particularly interesting way: it will be broadcast only online. It’s the first NFL game in memory that won’t be available on television, it’s only streaming on Yahoo!. This means that it will be completely free to viewers and totally global. Depending on the response, we might be seeing the first step toward a television-free or at least blended future of entertainment.

Sunday, October 25, 2015 1 p.m. ET

Cleveland Browns at St. Louis Rams

This is my choice of the week for being the game between two kind of crummy teams that turns into the most exciting, high scoring, close game of the week. The Browns have had surprising success on offense this year, thanks to much-traveled quarterback Josh McCown and a slew of underrated receiving weapons. The Rams took a big gamble during the offseason by trading quarterbacks with the Philadelphia Eagles and the jury is still out on new quarterback Nick Foles. He’s looked good at times and bad at times but so far, he’s always been on the field, competing, which they could not say for their last quarterback.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

The Lions finally won their first game of the season last week and they did it by embracing who they really are this season: a somewhat crummy team with one absurdly prolific wide receiver. Quarterback Matthew Stafford stopped trying to play in a controlled way and just started chucking the ball to Calvin Johnson and it worked. We’ll see if they stick with this new-found devil-may-care attitude this week. The Vikings, on the other hand, play exactly the way the Lions thought they should play. They run the ball and make safe, careful throws. Unlike the Lions though, it’s working for the Vikings. They’re 3-2 and looking to pick up another unremarkable but effective win.

Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins came into the season with high expectations, based largely on the perceived strength of their defense, started the season poorly, got to their bye week with a losing record, and then fired their coach. In their first game under new head coach Dan Campbell, they looked better by several degrees of magnitude and won. The Texans came into the season with high expectations, based largely on the perceived strength of their defense, and started the season poorly. Their bye week is the week after this one, and given what just happened in Miami, you’ve got to wonder if Houston’s coach feels like he’s playing for his job in this game.

New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts

The Saints and Colts have both been like high performance cars with bad spark plugs this season. Both teams have great quarterbacks who are used to being able to score, almost at will, but who have struggled this year. Both Drew Brees for the Saints and Andrew Luck for the Colts have also been dealing with shoulder injuries. Both teams play their home games in domes on artificial turf. What is going on here?!? The parallels are uncanny. Here’s one big difference – both teams are coming off games last week against their team’s arch-rivals but the Saints won their rivalry game against the Atlanta Falcons while the Colts lost theirs against the New England Patriots.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

The Steelers will be playing with their third string quarterback because of injuries to their first and second. The Chiefs will be playing with their first string quarterback, but fans are close to the end of the rope with him. Quarterback Alex Smith has long been thought of as someone who succeeds despite lacking the arm-strength that most NFL quarterbacks have. That deficiency seems to have gotten to his head. These days, he’s not even attempting any long throws. This fact has been seized on by opposing defenses who now focus on taking away the only thing they know Smith will do. It’s a bad situation and one that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get better any time soon.

New York Jets at New England Patriots

Last week’s Patriots game was the ultimate game in terms of emotional and off-the-field plot-lines. This week’s game may be even more interesting, but all the intrigue is on the field. The Jets have one of the league’s best defenses, thanks in part to cornerback Darelle Revis who is usually able to take the opposing team’s wide receiver completely out of the game by himself. The Patriots best wide receiver is Julian Edelman, but their best pass-catcher is tight end Rob Gronkowski. If we assume Revis will nullify Edelman, than it will be up to Gronkowski to carry the Patriots to a victory and up to the Jets to figure out how to stop him. It’s an intriguing game of cat and mouse and cheese and elephant.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Redskins

It’s the rapist vs. the racists. Let’s move on to the next game.

Atlanta Falcons at Tennessee Titans

The Falcons got off to a hot start this year with five wins in their first five games. A loss last week to the New Orleans Saints, a divisional rival, took just a single petal off the rose. A loss to the titans this week and the entire bloom will be off. A suspicious or pessimistic Falcons fan will have spent the past week noticing that all their team’s wins came against NFC East teams, who seem generally bad this year, and the Houston Texans, who are definitely bad this year. The Titans are no great shakes, so Falcons fans shouldn’t have too much to worry about, but the bulk of them will be worrying nonetheless.

Sunday, October 25, 2015 4:05 or 4:25 p.m. ET

Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers

The Raiders and Chargers are two of the three teams rumored to be moving to Los Angeles next season. If that’s true, this intrastate rivalry will deepen to new subterraneous levels of interest. As it is, they provide an interesting contrast. The Raiders are an up-and-coming team trying to take the next step and the Chargers are an established but slightly over-the-hill team trying desperately to hold on for another season of success. They’re like two ships passing in the night except they have to stop and play football against each other.

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

If you took away any concern about the quality of the teams, this matchup would be consistently the number one draw in the league. The Cowboys are the most loved and most hated franchise and the Giants are their biggest rival and not far behind in terms of notoriety. The mammoth character of this game in principle helps boost it up even during years like this one, when the two teams aren’t actually all that good at playing football.

Sunday, October 25, 2015 8:30 p.m. ET

Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers

The Panthers defend their undefeated record this year against one of the most confusing teams in the league. When the Eagles offense is clicking, they look unstoppable. Why they can only get it to click once every other game for about a quarter is the primary question their fans are struggling with. You get the feeling that if it could click steadily for a whole game, it might jumpstart the team and launch them into Super Bowl contention. The Panthers defense has been rock solid this year, propelling their team to five straight victories despite the team’s offense being as under-the-radar as any team’s in this era of easy name recognition. Seriously – ask a football fan to name four players on the Panthers defense and see if they can do it.

Monday, October 26, 2015 8:30 p.m. ET

Baltimore Ravens at Arizona Cardinals

Uh oh. The Cardinals have one of the league’s best passing offenses and the Ravens have one of the league’s worst passing defenses. This could be a catastrophe of colossal proportions. It could be bird on bird violence unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s truly difficult to imagine a tactical path that would allow Baltimore to slow Arizona’s offense down enough to win.


Pitch that game: NFL Week 5, 2015

Hello everyone and welcome to America’s favorite game show that… has never actually happened before and no one has heard of it… it’s Pitch That Game!

Here’s how it works. As your host, I have one minute to pitch a sporting event to someone who is not a sports fan. If, after my pitch, they’re interested in watching, I get a point! That’s it! Why would we play such a game? Well, it’s a good way to quickly learn about a set of games to see if you’re interested in following any of them. It’s also a great way for me to learn from you about what may or may not make a sport interesting to a layperson.

In this episode, I pitch you, the listener, all 14 of the NFL games this weekend, on Sunday October 4 and Monday October 5. If you want to know which games will be available on your TV this weekend, check out 506 Sports NFL. If you need help figuring out how to make sense out of what you see there, use my explanation of how to use 506 Sports NFL here.

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, October 11, 2015 1 p.m. ET

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans

Back in the good old days on the NFL, quarterbacks were expected to spend several years on the bench, learning from coaches and more established quarterbacks before getting their chance to start. In the past fifteen years, that practice has broken down in favor of high-profile college quarterbacks who come straight out of college and start from their first professional game. This game offers a chance to compare models. The Titans quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is one of those highly regarded rookies starting right away. The Bills quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, is a rare modern example of a quarterback who spent his first four years in the league as a backup and is only now getting a chance to start. Both players have played very well this year and I expect that to continue today.

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens

If you’ve followed the NFL even casually over the last fifteen years, you probably think of the Cleveland Browns franchise as the epitome of ineptitude and the Ravens as a model franchise. What you might not know is that the Ravens came into existence in 1996 when the then owner of the Cleveland Browns decided to move his team to Baltimore. As part of a settlement with the league, the city of Cleveland got to keep the Browns name and was promised a new expansion team to take the old Browns place within a few years. The Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 but have seemed star-crossed ever since. It’s no wonder that fans of the new Browns love to hate the Ravens.

Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs

This game features a pair of tragic figures at the quarterback position. The Chiefs quarterback, Alex Smith, has football figured out. He knows where and when to throw the ball and who to, but he often doesn’t have the arm strength to deliver the ball the way it needs to be delivered. The Bears quarterback, Jay Cutler, is the exact opposite. He once claimed to have the strongest arm in NFL history. He might, but it’s paired with a lack of awareness, both about football and his own ability, that leads him to make costly mistakes all too often.

Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals

It’s sometimes said that the NFL stands for “not for long.” This clever backronym describes how difficult it is to maintain consistent excellence. The Seahawks have been to the last two Super Bowls and made the playoffs in all but three of the last dozen seasons. That’s an almost unprecedented stretch of success. It looks like it may finally have caught up to them this year. They’re fighting the drop-off though. After starting 0-2, they won two close games to even their record at two wins and two losses. They’ll face a tough battle in this game against the undefeated Bengals who look as unbeatable as their record would suggest.

St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers

The Rams traveled to Arizona last weekend and gave the then undefeated Arizona Cardinals their first loss of the year. They’ll be trying to do the same thing to the Packers in this game. The Packers are 4-0 and seemingly invincible, thanks to the quarterbacking mastery of Aaron Rodgers. The best way to neutralize a great quarterback like Rodgers is to get in his face from the very start of the game, something the Rams may be able to do thanks to their excellent defensive linemen, and to keep him off the field. The way to keep him off the field is to run the ball effectively on offense, another thing the Rams may be able to do. Todd Gurley, a rookie running back on the Rams, made his season debut last weekend and looked, no joke, like the best running back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson in 2007.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Jaguars had a giant opportunity last weekend to announce themselves to the world as a respectable team by beating the Indianapolis Colts but they couldn’t do it. Now they’re 1-3 for the year and stuck in a swampy South Florida game against the Buccaneers, also 1-3 and going nowhere. That said, this could be a high scoring game – both teams are much stronger at wide receiver then they are at defensive back – the people assigned to keep the wide receivers from catching the ball. I expect both teams to be able to move the ball down the field in big, thrilling chunks.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles

These have been two of the most exciting offensive teams for years. They both base their play around frequent safe but crafty short passes which get athletic skilled wide receivers and running backs the ball with space to run around and make defenders look silly. It’s a good strategy but it hasn’t been working so far this year. Both teams have only won one game out of the four they’ve each played. A 2-3 record in the first five games isn’t the end of the world but 1-4 is. Therefore, the fate of the world, for both of these teams, rests on this game and this game alone.

Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are 4-0 so far this year, so you think everyone on the team would be thrilled. Not so. Veteran wide receiver Roddy White went public with his profanity-laced frustration about having a reduced role this year. It sounds unsporting to be upset when your team is winning, but I can understand how he feels. Imagine you spent 10 years at a job and finally, just when the company start really succeeding -maybe it’s going to go public or something – your boss decides you’re not good enough anymore and starts phasing you out. Yikes. Often, after a player goes to the media with his frustration, his team will make sure he gets the ball a bunch in the next game. If that doesn’t happen, White should think about editing his resume and brushing up on his LinkedIN game.

Sunday, October 11, 2015 4:05 or 4:25 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions

It’s hard to sell a matchup between a 3-1 team, the Arizona Cardinals, and a 0-4 team, the Detroit Lions, as likely to be an even or close game. What I can sell you on is that there’s a good reason to root for both of these teams. The Cardinals are a lovable group — with their coach, who wears a kangol hat and speaks more honestly about his team to the press than virtually any other coach in the league and their quarterback whose excellent career has been sidetracked by injury every time it seems like it’s about to peak. The Lions, on the other hand, are coming off one of the more brutal losses this season. Their best player had the ball and was lunging into the end-zone when an opposing defender knocked it out of his hands. That’s bad luck and a good play by the defender, but the controversy started when another defender seemed to intentionally bat the ball out of play. That’s not allowed and the Lions should have had another chance to score, but the referees seemed to momentarily forget the rules and the Lions lost the game.

New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys

If you’re a Patriots fan, you’re either from New England, or you enjoy watching one team thoroughly out-smart another. The Patriots are coming off their bye week which means they’ve had an extra week to think of devious ways to win and, as a bonus, make the Cowboys look stupid. I can’t wait to see what they’ve cooked up.

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

This was once the most hotly contested rivalry in the NFL. Then the Raiders sank into a twenty year-long slump and it lost a little of its luster. This year, for the first time in memory, the Raiders look like they may have improved enough to bring interest back to the game. On the field, the Raiders will have a tough time surviving the Broncos aggressive defense who sacked their opposition’s quarterback seven times last week.

Sunday, October 4, 2015 8:30 p.m. ET

San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants

No one expects the San Francisco 49ers to win this game on national television. They’re widely considered one of the worst teams in the league, their once promising quarterback is struggling, and their defense is missing most of its best players. They haven’t won a game since the very first weekend of the season when they were… hey, wait a minute… they were on national television, they were considered one of the worst teams in the league, their quarterback was struggling, and their defense was missing most of its best players. Hmm. Maybe this game will be closer than we think.

Monday, October 12, 2015 8:30 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers

Football is an extremely complex game. Every player on the field is responsible for knowing and reacting to a slightly different set of data. Only the best players truly master their own positions. That’s why it’s so extraordinary for a player to have a command of their position and their teammates and act on it. That’s what Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was doing last week. So many of his offensive linemen were injured and missing, that he was doing the seeing and reacting for the replacements. Before every play, Rivers would put himself in the lineman’s position, see what an experienced player in that position would see, and shout out the reaction they would have. Then he had to do the calculations for his own position and start the play. It was a virtuoso performance and one that had a lot to do with his team winning their game. Watch for him to do the same in this game.

What do I need to know about the 2015 Washington Redskins?

National Football League (NFL) previews abound at this time of year. We’re close to the start of the 2015 NFL season and basically everyone in the sports world is in a tizzy, anticipating another great season of the country’s favorite sport. Whether you’re a beginning NFL fan, the family member, friend or partner of an NFL fan, or simply someone who doesn’t follow the league during the offseason, our team previews should get you ready for the season to begin.

If you’re curious about the history and culture surrounding the team, and not just the plot and characters of this edition of the team, read What’s special about the Washington Redskins?

How are Washington Redskins fans feeling heading into the 2015 NFL season?

Pissed off

When are the Washington Redskins on national television?

Use this to know when you should host a party with locally (or favorite team-ily) themed food!

Week 3 – vs. the New York Giants on Thu, Sep 24 at 08:25 PM.
Week 13 – vs. the Dallas Cowboys on Mon, Dec 7 at 08:30 PM.
Week 16 – vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Sat, Dec 26 at 08:25 PM.

When is the Washington Redskins bye week?

Use this to know when to plan that camping trip you’ve been wanting to go on.

Week 8

What was the Washington Redskins record last season, in 2014?

Expressed as: wins – losses – ties (if any).

4 – 12

Who are the Washington Redskins most important departed characters?

Although he’s officially still on the roster, Robert Griffin III, the once and future hope of the Washington Redskins at quarterback for the past handful of years is seemingly gone. After oddly annoucning that he would be the starter this spring, coach Jay Gruden recently announced that he would be going with Kirk Cousins for the entire season instead. Once thought the complete package as a quarterback, RGIII is now a discarded delivery on the side of the road.

Who are the Washington Redskins most important new characters?

Offense, as terrible as it was, wasn’t even the biggest problem for the Redskins last year; that would be defense. The team’s defense was unrealistically bad, something which Redskins fans hope they addressed by bringing in cornerback Chris Culliver from the San Francisco 49ers. Culliver is better than anyone they had before, and entering the second year after an ACL tear, a prime prospect to improve even more.

Who are the Washington Redskins most important characters?

Owner Daniel Snyder is the cloud that looms over all of the dysfunction that Washington generates. Oh, sure, he can’t be blamed for Congress but his finger seems to be in every pot of ugly as it relates to football. The whole RGIII saga may have been over two years ago if it weren’t for Snyder who was either bamboozled into thinking RGIII could recover the excellence of his first year or furiously trying not to admit the trade Snyder pushed to acquire RGIII was a mistake.

What is the most pivotal pivot point for the 2015 Washington Redskins?

A quiet 3-13 season would actually be a success for this team. Anything, even 0-16 would be fine if they could, once and for all, figure out how to operate like a business instead of a reality show.

How will the 2015 Washington Redskins fare?

Too talented to go 0-16. Too messed up to win more than four games.

What do I need to know about the 2015 Tennessee Titans?

National Football League (NFL) previews abound at this time of year. We’re close to the start of the 2015 NFL season and basically everyone in the sports world is in a tizzy, anticipating another great season of the country’s favorite sport. Whether you’re a beginning NFL fan, the family member, friend or partner of an NFL fan, or simply someone who doesn’t follow the league during the offseason, our team previews should get you ready for the season to begin.

If you’re curious about the history and culture surrounding the team, and not just the plot and characters of this edition of the team, read What’s special about the Tennessee Titans?

How are Tennessee Titans fans feeling heading into the 2015 NFL season?


When are the Tennessee Titans on national television?

Use this to know when you should host a party with locally (or favorite team-ily) themed food!

Week 11 – vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thu, Nov 19 at 08:25 PM.

When is the Tennessee Titans bye week?

Use this to know when to plan that camping trip you’ve been wanting to go on.

Week 4

What was the Tennessee Titans record last season, in 2014?

Expressed as: wins – losses – ties (if any).

2 – 14

Who are the Tennessee Titans most important departed characters?

Jake Locker, the hyper mobile, athletic quarterback from a West Coast college who the Titans selected high in the draft and pinned much of their hope on is gone, having failed at his task to lead the Titans to the playoffs.

Who are the Tennessee Titans most important new characters?

Marcus Mariota, the hyper mobile, athletic quarterback from a west coast college who the Titans selected high in the draft and pinned much of their hope on is here! Drafted second overall from Oregon, Mariota is the new guy in town and the season’s (and perhaps the coach and general manager’s jobs) outcome are riding on his shoulders.

Who are the Tennessee Titans most important characters?

Marcus Mariota was compared endlessly to Jameis Winston throughout the last year of college football and in the months preceding the NFL draft. The consensus is that he’s a much better person and a slightly worse football player.

What is the most pivotal pivot point for the 2015 Tennessee Titans?

Surprise, surprise, Marcus Mariota is the pivotal pivot of this season for the Titans. Just like with Tampa Bay, when you break the bank for a rookie quarterback, how he plays is the most vitally important piece of information for your team’s season.

How will the 2015 Tennessee Titans fare?

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I imagine Mariota doing well in the NFL. Oregon quarterbacks have been criticized in the past for having developed in an environment that’s too dissimilar to the NFL but the NFL has been copying so much from Oregon and other college teams like them that that criticism may no longer be valid.