NFL Midseason: Let's Celebrate Mediocrity!
Welcome back to the Pregame Flyover, the only column where mediocrity is cherished above excellence.
Before we get to this week’s schedule of games – and tell you which games are Probably worth watching, which games are of Questionable worth, Doubtful worth, and no worth – let’s hand out some mediocre hardware for the midway point of the NFL season.
Best? Worst? No, we pay homage to the Most Mediocre
Society, in its ceaseless march to reward excellence and punish failure, overlooks the vast majority of us who are simply mediocre. The NFL is no different, as columnists and talking heads spend an inordinate amount of time discussing folks at the respective ends of the spectrum – breakout teams, MVP candidates; worst teams, coaches on the hot seat – while overlooking the sprawling ocean of people who are simply getting by in the 2012 NFL season.
Not us! We champion the obscure and laud the mundane.
It’s week nine of the NFL season, the official midway point of the 17-week campaign, so let’s give the middle of the pack their just due.
Most mediocre team: (tie) Cardinals and Seahawks. At 4-4, they’re the only two NFL teams that are exactly .500. At this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to be either of their years to lose to the Steelers in the Super Bowl.
Most mediocre division: NFC West. What are the odds that the only two NFL teams with .500 records – the only two teams that can’t decide if they are winners or losers – would hail from the same division?!?
Most mediocre debate: Is Matt Ryan the midseason favorite for NFL MVP?
Most mediocre defensive debate: Is J.J. Watt the midseason favorite for Defensive Player of the Year?
Most mediocre rookie starting quarterback: Russell Wilson. He is the starting quarterback of the most mediocre team (tie) in the NFL. He wins this award by default.
Most mediocre New York team: Bills. You may think we don’t notice you tucked up there in the western corner of the Empire State, but you gave Mario Williams the largest contract ever awarded to a defensive player, and that basically amounts to media bribery. We have been forced to notice that you remain disappointing, and that you will likely extend the longest postseason drought in the NFL (1999). But watching you play is still more entertaining than watching the Jets.
Most mediocre Florida team: The Bucs. The Dolphins have been surprisingly competitive behind Ryan Tannehill, while the Jaguars (1-6) are vying for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. The Bucs, meanwhile, are just chugging right along at an uninspiring 3-4, after cresting early in the national discussion by bum-rushing the Giants’ victory formation in week two. With that move the Bucs started the most mediocre discussion of the first half of the season: Is it commendable to crash a kneel down and ostensibly do everything you can to win? Or is it the punk move of a bitter loser? The only people who came out winners in that discussion were sports columnists, who haven’t been able to mail in that many mediocre columns since writing (every year) about the snubs in the voting for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Most mediocre California team: Raiders. The Niners are the best team in the NFC West and a Super Bowl contender. The Chargers are employing Norv Turner until early January. Meanwhile the Raiders, long known as the grease fire of California NFL teams, have beaten the Steelers, nearly beat the undefeated Falcons, and have quietly won two straight for a 3-4 record. For a team that lost 11 or more games in an NFL-record seven straight seasons, a taste of mediocrity is quite quenching.
Most mediocre Manning: Peyton. Eli has two Super Bowl wins to Peyton’s one, while their seldom-mentioned brother (Danieal) is now playing for the Texans and still looking for his first.
The Weekly Best
Sit down and enjoy some canapés, you’re about to ingest the Weekly Best.
Best week to read the Weekly Best: When mediocrity is being touted.
Best 2-6 team in the NFL: Dem Browns got spunk.
Best mad bomber: Josh Freeman leads the league with nine passes of 40-plus yards.
Best race among major NFL awards: Peyton Manning vs. Adrian Peterson for the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Best guess says: Peterson wins it.
Best boost to Mark Sanchez’s confidence: “Bro, you got a better passer rating than Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel AND John Skelton.”
Best bald quarterback in the NFL: And Matt Hasselbeck is having a halfway decent year for the Titans.
Best division in the NFL: Remember when people thought it was the NFC West?
Best remind me when that was: Back when the 4-4 Cardinals were 4-0.
Best team in the NBA: Obviously not the Lakers.
Best reason to mention that in an NFL column: I hate the Lakers.
Best NFL rookie quarterback: But Dick LeBeau and the Steelers made RGIII look like a college freshman.
Best get that boy some protection: Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a league-leading 28 times.
Best quarterback stat line: Tony Romo had a league-leading 437 yards passing against the Giants last week, along with four interceptions, four sacks, one touchdown, and a passer rating (58.3) that was only slightly worse than Eli Manning’s (58.4).
Best keep things in perspective: Millions of people are still without food, water and electricity thanks to Hurricane Sandy.
Probable, Questionable, Doubtful and Out
Just as the NFL puts out an injury report on the likelihood that certain players will suit up each week (Probable, Questionable, Doubtful or Out), we rate the NFL schedule on the likelihood that games will be worth watching. Because let's face it, you can't watch them all.
Probable Game of the Week: Pittsburgh at New York Giants.
It’s amazing how a team’s fortunes can change in just two games. After their humiliating loss to the Titans three weeks ago, the Steelers were 2-3 with a seemingly decimated offensive line, a third-string running back (Jonathan Dwyer) elevated to starter due to injuries, and a No. 1 wideout who was dropping passes with a consistency only Braylon Edwards could appreciate. But after victories over the Bengals and Redskins, the Steelers are 4-3 and amazingly just one game behind the vulnerable Ravens in the AFC North.
Is this matchup against the Giants a possible Super Bowl preview? You could certainly do worse. Like, say, a Green Bay-Houston rematch?
Matchup to watch: The Giants’ defensive line versus the escapability of Ben Roethlisberger.
Another matchup to watch: Emmanuel Sanders versus his tendency to get cramps when the Steelers’ play clock is winding down.
Likelihood Sanders develops cramps in this game: Not good. His cramp incident against the Bengals only happened two weeks ago, so he’s got a few more weeks until it’s that time of the month again.
Greg Schiano’s take on Sanders’s tactics: “That’s bush league, I love it!”
(Other games receiving votes: Denver at Cincinnati; Minnesota at Seattle; Pittsburgh at New York Giants; Dallas at Atlanta.)
Questionable Game of the Week: Miami at Indianapolis.
If the playoffs started today, the Colts and the Dolphins would both be playing in the postseason, which is astonishing when you consider that both teams are starting rookie quarterbacks, one of whom actually thought that the Kansas City Chiefs play in the NFC East.
It’s not your fault, Ryan Tannehill. It’s the fault of the NFL that the Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East, the Indianapolis Colts play in the AFC South, the Miami Dolphins play in the AFC East, and the Chiefs and Rams play in West divisions. No rookie quarterback should be expected to remember five things. You’re just children, babes, geography neophytes. Jerry Jones still hasn’t figured out that he’s wasting millions of dollars to ship his team cross-country for three NFC East games per year. If he knew, don’t you think he’d be bitching about it?
(Other games receiving votes: Arizona at Green Bay; Baltimore at Cleveland; Tampa Bay at Oakland; Miami at Indianapolis; Philadelphia at New Orleans.)
Doubtful Game of the Week: Carolina at Washington.
Are they bringing in Doug Williams to do a ceremonial coin flip before this game? God knows they should, since Cam Newton and RGIII have so much in common.
Speaking from a fan’s perspective, I have to say I hope Cam Newton and the Panthers lose the rest of their games and finish the season 1-15. I have nothing personal against Newton (though I wouldn’t stand beside him at a bus stop.) I just look forward to watching him navigate press conferences following a loss.
Knowing the press, these are questions Newton might reasonably encounter after losing to the Redskins:
“How long have you been a losing black quarterback?”
“RGIII, he’s right-handed and black, just like Doug Williams, and they’re both winners. What sets you apart?”
DeAngelo Hall: During last week’s loss to the Steelers, Hall took off his helmet and screamed in the face of an official because Hall was angry that the Steelers’ Emmanuel Sanders wasn’t called for a penalty on an alleged cheap shot. Hall was ejected from the game, though he hasn’t been suspended for this game against the Panthers. That’s only fair to Carolina: Suspending Hall would be doing the Redskins a huge favor.
(Other games receiving votes: Buffalo at Houston; Chicago at Tennessee; Carolina at Washington.)
Out Game of the Week: Detroit at Jacksonville.
Why this game is intriguing: The Lions just acquired wide receiver Mike Thomas from the Jaguars, so people watching this game will inevitably learn more about Mike Thomas than they knew before. They’ll learn that Mike Thomas lost his starting position as a wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and that the Lions recently lost wide receiver Nate Burleson to injury. These two developments made the Jaguars and Lions perfect trade partners. Mike Thomas will add depth at wide receiver for the Lions and he will possibly take over as the team’s punt returner. Adjust your fantasy team accordingly.