By: timbersfan, 6:30 AM GMT on November 23, 2013
This generation's young, up-and-coming American soccer players have it a lot harder than their predecessors.
As the world becomes smaller thanks to the internet and the ever-expanding television coverage of soccer in the United States, fans are able to literally track week-to-week how their favorite United States player is faring in whatever league they are currently in.
It's a far cry from the '90s that saw revered U.S. stars like Brian McBride and Eric Wynalda bounce from club to club until they found the right fit. Back then, there was no pressure and for Americans trying to acclimate to new playing styles and different cultures and a guy like McBride could become a legend at Fulham because there was no weight of expectation.
This of course leads to Brek Shea, one of the most hyped American starlets to come out of Major League Soccer over the past few years. Both on and off the field, Shea has had a lot of difficulty adapting to England's Premier League -- the world's most popular sports league. The 23-year-old has the physical tools -- height, speed and strength -- to be a legit star in Europe but he clearly hasn't made an impression on either of Stoke's managers, Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis, during his first year at the club as evidenced by having only two EPL appearances.
If this was 2011, a case could be made that Shea needs to be brought along slowly and there wouldn't be many expectations. But in 2013, with just over seven months until the World Cup, the former FC Dallas star's inactivity for Stoke couldn't come at a worse time as his lack of form has been visible in his U.S. outings this year. Furthermore, there's a growing concern that Shea may not have his head in the right place.
During his last year at FC Dallas, he visibly berated then-manager Schellas Hyndman on the pitch. Then of course, come Shea's mindless Instagram posts about having guns and exposing a prank on Kenwyne Jones.
While Shea probably had his reasons for lashing out at Hyndman (as evidenced by the volume of fallouts that the ex-manager had with players) and his social media activity is normal for someone who is still very young, he needs to understand how much public perception plays a part in succeeding as a soccer player. Lionel Messi and David Beckham, the world's most lucrative soccer players, have racked in the cash despite being absolute snooze-fests when it comes to interviews and public appearances.
That being said: does Shea still have the opportunity to tap into the massive potential that earned him a trial at Arsenal before ultimately signing with Stoke? Or is he a bust? ESPN FC reached out to a Champions League scout based in one of Europe's top three leagues (England, Germany, Spain) to get an honest assessment of Shea. The scout was willing to give an honest assessment of Shea as long as his identity was kept a secret due to potential club tampering reasons.
Here is the scout's evaluation:
"Shea is another American with great physical aspects. He's tall, strong, powerful over distance, and quick with his first couple of steps. His endurance levels are also impressive, as he can run for days and is always full of energy. This translates into him working on both sides of the ball."
"Technically, he has improved drastically since bursting onto the scene in MLS as a teenager. He's quite comfortable getting the ball to his feet and running at players. Though his final ball still isn't as consistent as it could be, Shea is starting to develop more of a killer instinct with his final pass in the attacking third."
"His size, speed, and power combined with his technical ability make him a very interesting, non-traditional and difficult to defend winger."
Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Among the things Shea will need to improve: his off-the-ball movement and his on-field awareness.
"Despite his good size, he's not as good in the air as he could be. This is an attribute that is easier to improve than some others, and being in England at a club like Stoke that utilizes the height of attacking players will help."
"Technically, improving his weaker right foot will make him even more dynamic in the attack and give him more options when he comes inside. Tactically he is still learning. In MLS he could use his physical attributes to get past defenders quite easily, but in the Premier League and at the international level, he'll need to continue improving his off-the-ball movement in order to create opportunities for himself and others."
"Playing at the top level regularly will help improve his awareness levels, as well as his intelligence, on the pitch."
Why He'll Make It:
"He's got such excellent physical traits that it's hard to ignore his progression on the pitch. During his time at FC Dallas, he proved that he is capable of scoring goals and creating them as well with some excellent assists."
"Though his progression may not be as quick as he and his fans would have liked, he's shown loads of improvement over his past several seasons as a pro and continues to get better when he plays consistently."
"For a player like him, making the jump from the U.S. to the Premier League wasn't as straightforward as he would have liked, but he'll need to remain persistent in order to make it."
Why He Won't Make It:
"At 23 he isn't old by any means, but having already made the jump to Europe, he'll have to either break into Stoke's team soon or look elsewhere to play regularly. Jozy Altidore is a perfect example of this, having finally found consistent football (and goals) at AZ Alkmaar before making his move back to the Premier League and Sunderland."
"In this period where he's not playing, he also has to be smart off the pitch -- several posts of his on social media have got him in some hot water while at Stoke. When a player doesn't find himself in the starting eleven consistently, he has to do everything he can to show the manager he is completely focused on breaking into the team, and that has been questioned several times already with Shea."
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale was once considered a bust, proving that Shea can still turn his career around and dominate.
Similar Playing Style: Gareth Bale
"Though Shea and Bale are on different levels when it comes to their ability on the pitch, they both share similar qualities."
"Fast and powerful left-sided wingers over six feet tall are hard to come by in world football. Bale has proven over the past several seasons that he is more than capable of taking over a game with big runs that start in wide areas and either end in crosses from the end-line or in shots from central areas."
"When confident and comfortable, Shea has shown he is happy running at players and able to score goals and create goals as well. Bale and Shea also went through an identity-crisis of sorts, having both played at left-back earlier in their careers, before settling in at more attack-minded positions on the wings."
"Let's not forget that Bale was considered a bust just four years ago."
Rate this out of 5 for each:
First Touch: 3
Passing and Vision: 3
Aerial Ability: 3
Injury: 4 (where 1 means he gets injured a lot and 5 means he's always fit)
Defense (Marking, Tackling): 4
Score: 33 out of 50
Potential Score: 39
0-10: Not even NASL level
10-15: Average NASL player
15-20: MLS role player
20-25: MLS starter
25-30: MLS All-Star
30-35: Starter on mid-, low-table EPL side or role player on top team
35-40: A solid starter on a top EPL club
40-45: A legit star player
45-50: Messi, Ronaldo
Current transfer fee: $3,500,000
Future transfer fee: $10-15m
By: timbersfan, 9:42 AM GMT on November 10, 2013
Rnd. Pick # NFL team Player Pos. College Conf. Notes
1 1 Carolina Panthers Cam Newton† QB Auburn SEC 2010 Heisman Trophy winner[N 2]
1 2 Denver Broncos Von Miller† LB Texas A&M Big 12
1 3 Buffalo Bills Marcell Dareus DE Alabama SEC
1 4 Cincinnati Bengals A. J. Green† WR Georgia SEC
1 5 Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson† CB LSU SEC
1 6 Atlanta Falcons Julio Jones† WR Alabama SEC from Cleveland [R1 - 1]
1 7 San Francisco 49ers Aldon Smith† LB Missouri Big 12
1 8 Tennessee Titans Jake Locker QB Washington Pac-10
1 9 Dallas Cowboys Tyron Smith OT USC Pac-10
1 10 Jacksonville Jaguars Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri Big 12 from Washington [R1 - 2]
1 11 Houston Texans J. J. Watt† DE Wisconsin Big Ten
1 12 Minnesota Vikings Christian Ponder QB Florida State ACC
1 13 Detroit Lions Nick Fairley DT Auburn SEC
1 14 St. Louis Rams Robert Quinn DE North Carolina ACC
1 15 Miami Dolphins Mike Pouncey C Florida SEC
1 16 Washington Redskins Ryan Kerrigan† DE Purdue Big Ten from Jacksonville [R1 - 3]
1 17 New England Patriots Nate Solder OT Colorado Big 12 from Oakland [R1 - 4]
1 18 San Diego Chargers Corey Liuget DT Illinois Big Ten
1 19 New York Giants Prince Amukamara CB Nebraska Big 12
1 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa Big Ten
1 21 Cleveland Browns Phil Taylor DT Baylor Big 12 from Kansas City [R1 - 5]
1 22 Indianapolis Colts Anthony Castonzo OT Boston College ACC
1 23 Philadelphia Eagles Danny Watkins G Baylor Big 12
1 24 New Orleans Saints Cameron Jordan DE California Pac-10
1 25 Seattle Seahawks James Carpenter OT Alabama SEC
1 26 Kansas City Chiefs Jonathan Baldwin WR Pittsburgh Big East from Atlanta via Cleveland [R1 - 6]
1 27 Baltimore Ravens Jimmy Smith CB Colorado Big 12 in lieu of pick 26 (time expired) [N 3]
1 28 New Orleans Saints Mark Ingram RB Alabama SEC from New England [R1 - 7], 2009 Heisman Trophy winner[N 4]
1 29 Chicago Bears Gabe Carimi OT Wisconsin Big Ten
1 30 New York Jets Muhammad Wilkerson DE Temple MAC
1 31 Pittsburgh Steelers Cameron Heyward DE Ohio State Big Ten
1 32 Green Bay Packers Derek Sherrod OT Mississippi State SEC
2 33 New England Patriots Ras-I Dowling CB Virginia ACC from Carolina [R2 - 1]
2 34 Buffalo Bills Aaron Williams CB Texas Big 12
2 35 Cincinnati Bengals Andy Dalton† QB TCU MWC
2 36 San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick QB Nevada WAC from Denver [R2 - 2]
2 37 Cleveland Browns Jabaal Sheard DE Pittsburgh Big East
2 38 Arizona Cardinals Ryan Williams RB Virginia Tech ACC
2 39 Tennessee Titans Akeem Ayers LB UCLA Pac-10
2 40 Dallas Cowboys Bruce Carter LB North Carolina ACC
2 41 Washington Redskins Jarvis Jenkins DT Clemson ACC
2 42 Houston Texans Brooks Reed DE Arizona Pac-10
2 43 Minnesota Vikings Kyle Rudolph† TE Notre Dame Ind.
2 44 Detroit Lions Titus Young WR Boise State WAC
2 45 Denver Broncos Rahim Moore S UCLA Pac-10 from San Francisco [R2 - 3]
2 46 Denver Broncos Orlando Franklin OT Miami (FL) ACC from Miami [R2 - 4]
2 47 St. Louis Rams Lance Kendricks TE Wisconsin Big Ten
2 48 Oakland Raiders Stefen Wisniewski C Penn State Big Ten
2 49 Indianapolis Colts Ben Ijalana OT Villanova CAA from Jacksonville via Washington [R2 - 5]
2 50 San Diego Chargers Marcus Gilchrist CB Clemson ACC
2 51 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Da'Quan Bowers DE Clemson ACC
2 52 New York Giants Marvin Austin DT North Carolina ACC
2 53 Chicago Bears Stephen Paea DT Oregon State Pac-10 from Indianapolis via Washington [R2 - 6]
2 54 Philadelphia Eagles Jaiquawn Jarrett S Temple MAC
2 55 Kansas City Chiefs Rodney Hudson G Florida State ACC
2 56 New England Patriots Shane Vereen RB California Pac-10 from New Orleans [R2 - 7]
2 57 Detroit Lions Mikel Leshoure RB Illinois Big Ten from Seattle [R2 - 8]
2 58 Baltimore Ravens Torrey Smith WR Maryland ACC
2 59 Cleveland Browns Greg Little WR North Carolina ACC from Atlanta [R2 - 9]
2 60 Houston Texans Brandon Harris CB Miami (FL) ACC from New England [R2 - 10]
2 61 San Diego Chargers Jonas Mouton LB Michigan Big Ten from New York Jets [R2 - 11]
2 62 Miami Dolphins Daniel Thomas RB Kansas State Big 12 from Chicago via Washington [R2 - 12]
2 63 Pittsburgh Steelers Marcus Gilbert OT Florida SEC
2 64 Green Bay Packers Randall Cobb WR Kentucky SEC
3 65 Carolina Panthers Terrell McClain DT South Florida Big East
3 66 Cincinnati Bengals Dontay Moch LB Nevada WAC
3 67 Denver Broncos Nate Irving LB North Carolina State ACC
3 68 Buffalo Bills Kelvin Sheppard LB LSU SEC
3 69 Arizona Cardinals Rob Housler TE Florida Atlantic Sun Belt
3 70 Kansas City Chiefs Justin Houston† DE Georgia SEC from Cleveland [R3 - 1]
3 71 Dallas Cowboys DeMarco Murray RB Oklahoma Big 12
3 72 New Orleans Saints Martez Wilson LB Illinois Big Ten from Washington [R3 - 2]
3 73 New England Patriots Stevan Ridley RB LSU SEC from Houston [R3 - 3]
3 74 New England Patriots Ryan Mallett QB Arkansas SEC from Minnesota [R3 - 4]
3 75 Seattle Seahawks John Moffitt G Wisconsin Big Ten from Detroit [R3 - 5]
3 76 Jacksonville Jaguars Will Rackley G Lehigh Patriot from San Francisco [R3 - 6]
3 77 Tennessee Titans Jurrell Casey DT USC Pac-10
3 78 St. Louis Rams Austin Pettis WR Boise State WAC
3 79 Washington Redskins Leonard Hankerson WR Miami (FL) ACC from Miami [R3 - 7]
3 80 San Francisco 49ers Chris Culliver CB South Carolina SEC from Jacksonville [R3 - 8]
3 81 Oakland Raiders DeMarcus Van Dyke CB Miami (FL) ACC
3 82 San Diego Chargers Vincent Brown WR San Diego State MWC
3 83 New York Giants Jerrel Jernigan WR Troy Sun Belt
3 84 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mason Foster LB Washington Pac-10
3 85 Baltimore Ravens Jah Reid OT Central Florida C-USA from Philadelphia [R3 - 9]
3 86 Kansas City Chiefs Allen Bailey DE Miami (FL) ACC
3 87 Indianapolis Colts Drake Nevis DT LSU SEC
3 88 New Orleans Saints Johnny Patrick CB Louisville Big East
3 89 San Diego Chargers Shareece Wright CB USC Pac-10 from Seattle [R3 - 10]
3 90 Philadelphia Eagles Curtis Marsh CB Utah State WAC from Baltimore [R3 - 11]
3 91 Atlanta Falcons Akeem Dent LB Georgia SEC
3 92 Oakland Raiders Joseph Barksdale OT LSU SEC from New England [R3 - 12]
3 93 Chicago Bears Chris Conte S California Pac-10
3 94 New York Jets Kenrick Ellis DT Hampton MEAC
3 95 Pittsburgh Steelers Curtis Brown CB Texas Big 12
3 96 Green Bay Packers Alex Green RB Hawaii WAC
3* 97 Carolina Panthers Sione Fua DT Stanford Pac-10
4 98 Carolina Panthers Brandon Hogan CB West Virginia Big East
4 99 Seattle Seahawks K. J. Wright LB Mississippi State SEC from Denver via New England [R4 - 1]
4 100 Buffalo Bills Da'Norris Searcy CB North Carolina ACC
4 101 Cincinnati Bengals Clint Boling G Georgia SEC
4 102 Cleveland Browns Jordan Cameron TE USC Pac-10
4 103 Arizona Cardinals Sam Acho DE Texas Big 12
4 104 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Luke Stocker TE Tennessee SEC from Washington via Philadelphia [R4 - 2]
4 105 Washington Redskins Roy Helu RB Nebraska Big 12 from Houston [R4 - 3]
4 106 Minnesota Vikings Christian Ballard DE Iowa Big Ten
4 107 Seattle Seahawks Kris Durham WR Georgia SEC from Detroit [R4 - 4]
4 108 Denver Broncos Quinton Carter S Oklahoma Big 12 from San Francisco [R4 - 5]
4 109 Tennessee Titans Colin McCarthy LB Miami (FL) ACC
4 110 Dallas Cowboys David Arkin G Missouri State MVFC
4 111 Miami Dolphins Edmond Gates WR Abilene Christian LSC
4 112 St. Louis Rams Greg Salas WR Hawai'i WAC
4 113 Oakland Raiders Chimdi Chekwa CB Ohio State Big Ten
4 114 Jacksonville Jaguars Cecil Shorts WR Mount Union OAC
4 115 San Francisco 49ers Kendall Hunter RB Oklahoma State Big 12 from San Diego [R4 - 6]
4 116 Philadelphia Eagles Casey Matthews LB Oregon Pac-10 from Tampa Bay [R4 - 7]
4 117 New York Giants James Brewer OT Indiana Big Ten
4 118 Kansas City Chiefs Jalil Brown CB Colorado Big 12
4 119 Indianapolis Colts Delone Carter RB Syracuse Big East
4 120 Philadelphia Eagles Alex Henery K Nebraska Big 12
4 121 Jacksonville Jaguars Chris Prosinski S Wyoming MWC from New Orleans [R4 - 8]
4 122 Buffalo Bills Chris Hairston OT Clemson ACC from Seattle [R4 - 9]
4 123 Baltimore Ravens Tandon Doss WR Indiana Big Ten
4 124 Cleveland Browns Owen Marecic FB Stanford Pac-10 from Atlanta [R4 - 10]
4 125 Oakland Raiders Taiwan Jones RB Eastern Washington Big Sky from New England [R4 - 11]
4 126 New York Jets Bilal Powell RB Louisville Big East
4 127 Houston Texans Rashad Carmichael CB Virginia Tech ACC from Chicago via Washington [R4 - 12]
4 128 Pittsburgh Steelers Cortez Allen CB The Citadel SoCon
4 129 Denver Broncos Julius Thomas TE Portland State Big Sky from Green Bay [R4 - 13]
4* 130 Tennessee Titans Jamie Harper RB Clemson ACC
4* 131 Green Bay Packers Davon House CB New Mexico State WAC
5 132 Carolina Panthers Kealoha Pilares WR Hawaii WAC
5 133 Buffalo Bills Johnny White RB North Carolina ACC
5 134 Cincinnati Bengals Robert Sands S West Virginia Big East
5 135 Kansas City Chiefs Ricky Stanzi QB Iowa Big Ten from Denver via Tampa Bay [R5 - 1]
5 136 Arizona Cardinals Anthony Sherman FB Connecticut Big East
5 137 Cleveland Browns Buster Skrine CB Chattanooga SoCon
5 138 New England Patriots Marcus Cannon OT TCU MWC from Houston [R5 - 2]
5 139 Minnesota Vikings Brandon Burton CB Utah MWC
5 140 Kansas City Chiefs Gabe Miller LB Oregon State Pac-10 from Detroit [R5 - 3]
5 141 Green Bay Packers D. J. Williams TE Arkansas SEC from San Francisco via Denver [R5 - 4]
5 142 Tennessee Titans Karl Klug DE Iowa Big Ten
5 143 Dallas Cowboys Josh Thomas CB Buffalo MAC
5 144 Houston Texans Shiloh Keo S Idaho WAC from Washington [R5 - 5]
5 145 Atlanta Falcons Jacquizz Rodgers RB Oregon State Pac-10 from St. Louis [R5 - 6]
5 146 Washington Redskins Dejon Gomes S Nebraska Big 12 from Miami [R5 - 7]
5 147 Jacksonville Jaguars Rod Issac CB Middle Tennessee Sun Belt
5 148 Oakland Raiders Denarius Moore WR Tennessee SEC
5 149 Philadelphia Eagles Dion Lewis RB Pittsburgh Big East from San Diego [R5 - 8]
5 150 Cleveland Browns Jason Pinkston OT Pittsburgh Big East from New York Giants via Minnesota [R5 - 9]
5 151 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ahmad Black S Florida SEC
5 152 Houston Texans T. J. Yates QB North Carolina ACC from Indianapolis via Washington [R5 - 10]
5 153 New York Jets Jeremy Kerley WR TCU MWC from Philadelphia [R5 - 11]
5 154 Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman CB Stanford Pac-10 from Kansas City via Detroit [R5 - 12]
5 155 Washington Redskins Niles Paul WR Nebraska Big 12 from New Orleans[R5 - 13]
5 156 Seattle Seahawks Mark LeGree S Appalachian State SoCon
5 157 Detroit Lions Doug Hogue LB Syracuse Big East from Baltimore via Seattle [R5 - 14]
5 158 St. Louis Rams Jermale Hines S Ohio State Big Ten from Atlanta [R5 - 15]
5 159 New England Patriots Lee Smith TE Marshall C-USA
5 160 Chicago Bears Nathan Enderle QB Idaho WAC
5 161 Philadelphia Eagles Julian Vandervelde G Iowa Big Ten from New York Jets [R5 - 16]
5 162 Pittsburgh Steelers Chris Carter LB Fresno State WAC
5 163 San Francisco 49ers Daniel Kilgore G Appalachian State SoCon from Green Bay [R5 - 17]
5* 164 Baltimore Ravens Chykie Brown CB Texas Big 12
5* 165 Baltimore Ravens Pernell McPhee DE Mississippi State SEC
6 166 Carolina Panthers Lawrence Wilson LB Connecticut Big East
6 167 Cincinnati Bengals Ryan Whalen WR Stanford Pac-10
6 168 Minnesota Vikings DeMarcus Love OT Arkansas SEC from Denver via Cleveland [R6 - 1]
6 169 Buffalo Bills Chris White LB Mississippi State SEC
6 170 Minnesota Vikings Mistral Raymond S South Florida Big East from Cleveland [R6 - 2]
6 171 Arizona Cardinals Quan Sturdivant LB North Carolina ACC
6 172 Minnesota Vikings Brandon Fusco C Slippery Rock PSAC
6 173 Seattle Seahawks Byron Maxwell CB Clemson ACC from Detroit [R6 - 3]
6 174 Miami Dolphins Charles Clay FB Tulsa C-USA from San Francisco via Green Bay [R6 - 4]
6 175 Tennessee Titans Byron Stingily OT Louisville Big East
6 176 Dallas Cowboys Dwayne Harris WR East Carolina C-USA
6 177 Washington Redskins Evan Royster RB Penn State Big Ten
6 178 Washington Redskins Aldrick Robinson WR SMU C-USA from Houston [R6 - 5]
6 179 Green Bay Packers Caleb Schlauderaff G Utah MWC from Miami [R6 - 6]
6 180 Baltimore Ravens Tyrod Taylor QB Virginia Tech ACC from St. Louis [R6 - 7]
6 181 Oakland Raiders Richard Gordon TE Miami (FL) ACC
6 182 San Francisco 49ers Ronald Johnson WR USC Pac-10 from Jacksonville [R6 - 8]
6 183 San Diego Chargers Jordan Todman RB Connecticut Big East
6 184 Arizona Cardinals David Carter DT UCLA Pac-10 from Tampa Bay via Philadelphia [R6 - 9]
6 185 New York Giants Greg Jones LB Michigan State Big Ten
6 186 Green Bay Packers D. J. Smith OLB Appalachian State SoCon from Philadelphia via Detroit and Denver [R6 - 10]
6 187 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Allen Bradford RB USC Pac-10 from Kansas City[R6 - 11]
6 188 Indianapolis Colts Chris L. Rucker CB Michigan State Big Ten
6 189 Denver Broncos Mike Mohamed LB California Pac-10 from New Orleans via New England [R6 - 12]
6 190 San Francisco 49ers Colin Jones S TCU MWC from Seattle [R6 - 13]
6 191 Philadelphia Eagles Jason Kelce C Cincinnati Big East from Baltimore [R6 - 14]
6 192 Atlanta Falcons Matt Bosher P Miami (FL) ACC
6 193 Philadelphia Eagles Brian Rolle LB Ohio State Big Ten from New England[R6 - 15]
6 194 New England Patriots Markell Carter DE Central Arkansas Southland from New York Jets via Philadelphia [R6 - 16]
6 195 Chicago Bears J. T. Thomas LB West Virginia Big East
6 196 Pittsburgh Steelers Keith Williams G Nebraska Big 12
6 197 Green Bay Packers Ricky Elmore DE Arizona Pac-10
6* 198 New York Giants Tyler Sash S Iowa Big Ten
6* 199 Kansas City Chiefs Jerrell Powe DT Ole Miss SEC
6* 200 Minnesota Vikings Ross Homan LB Ohio State Big Ten
6* 201 San Diego Chargers Stephen Schilling G Michigan Big Ten
6* 202 New York Giants Jacquian Williams LB South Florida Big East
6* 203 Carolina Panthers Zack Williams C Washington State Pac-10
7 204 Denver Broncos Virgil Green TE Nevada WAC from Carolina via Green Bay [R7 - 1]
7 205 Seattle Seahawks Lazarius Levingston DE LSU SEC from Denver via Detroit [R7 - 2]
7 206 Buffalo Bills Justin Rogers CB Richmond CAA
7 207 Cincinnati Bengals Korey Lindsey CB Southern Illinois MVFC
7 208 New York Jets Greg McElroy QB Alabama SEC from Arizona [R7 - 3]
7 209 Detroit Lions Johnny Culbreath OT South Carolina State MEAC from Cleveland via Seattle [R7 - 4]
7 210 Atlanta Falcons Andrew Jackson G Fresno State WAC from Detroit [R7 - 5]
7 211 San Francisco 49ers Bruce Miller FB Central Florida C-USA
7 212 Tennessee Titans Zach Clayton DT Auburn SEC
7 – Dallas Cowboys selection forfeited because of use of 7th round selection in 2010 Supplemental Draft [Forfeited picks 1]
7 213 Washington Redskins Brandyn Thompson CB Boise State WAC
7 214 Houston Texans Derek Newton OT Arkansas State University Sun Belt
7 215 Minnesota Vikings D'Aundre Reed DE Arizona Pac-10
7 216 St. Louis Rams Mikail Baker CB Baylor Big 12
7 217 Washington Redskins Maurice Hurt OT Florida SEC from Miami [R7 - 6]
7 218 Green Bay Packers Ryan Taylor TE North Carolina ACC from Jacksonville via Miami [R7 - 7]
7 219 New England Patriots Malcolm Williams CB TCU MWC from Oakland [R7 - 8]
7 220 Dallas Cowboys Shaun Chapas FB Georgia SEC from San Diego [R7 - 9]
7 221 New York Giants Da'Rel Scott RB Maryland ACC
7 222 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Anthony Gaitor CB Florida International Sun Belt
7 223 Kansas City Chiefs Shane Bannon FB Yale Ivy
7 224 Washington Redskins Markus White DE Florida State ACC from Indianapolis [R7 - 10]
7 225 Baltimore Ravens Anthony Allen RB Georgia Tech ACC from Philadelphia [R7 - 11]
7 226 New Orleans Saints Greg Romeus DE Pittsburgh Big East
7 227 New York Jets Scotty McKnight WR Colorado Big 12 from Seattle via Philadelphia [R7 - 12]
7 228 St. Louis Rams Jabara Williams LB Stephen F. Austin Southland from Baltimore[R7 - 13]
7 229 St. Louis Rams Jonathan Nelson CB Oklahoma Big 12 from Atlanta [R7 - 14]
7 230 Atlanta Falcons Cliff Matthews DE South Carolina SEC from New England [R7 - 15]
7 – Chicago Bears selection forfeited because of use of 7th round selection in 2010 Supplemental Draft [Forfeited picks 2]
7 231 Miami Dolphins Frank Kearse DT Alabama A&M SWAC from New York Jets via Detroit, San Francisco and Green Bay [R7 - 16]
7 232 Pittsburgh Steelers Baron Batch RB Texas Tech Big 12
7 233 Green Bay Packers Lawrence Guy DT Arizona State Pac-10
7* 234 San Diego Chargers Andrew Gachkar LB Missouri Big 12
7* 235 Miami Dolphins Jimmy Wilson CB Montana Big Sky
7* 236 Minnesota Vikings Stephen Burton WR West Texas A&M LSC
7* 237 Philadelphia Eagles Greg Lloyd, Jr. LB Connecticut Big East
7* 238 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Daniel Hardy TE Idaho WAC
7* 239 San Francisco 49ers Mike Person OL Montana State University Big Sky
7* 240 Philadelphia Eagles Stanley Havili FB USC Pac-10
7* 241 Oakland Raiders David Ausberry WR USC Pac-10
7* 242 Seattle Seahawks Malcolm Smith LB USC Pac-10
7* 243 New Orleans Saints Nate Bussey LB Illinois Big Ten
7^ 244 Carolina Panthers Lee Ziemba OT Auburn SEC
7^ 245 Buffalo Bills Michael Jasper G Bethel (TN) Mid-South
7^ 246 Cincinnati Bengals Jay Finley RB Baylor Big 12
7^ 247 Denver Broncos Jeremy Beal LB Oklahoma Big 12
7^ 248 Cleveland Browns Eric Hagg CB Nebraska Big 12
7^ 249 Arizona Cardinals DeMarco Sampson WR San Diego State MWC
7^ 250 San Francisco 49ers Curtis Holcomb CB Florida A&M MEAC
7^ 251 Tennessee Titans Tommie Campbell CB California (PA) PSAC
7^ 252 Dallas Cowboys Bill Nagy C Wisconsin Big Ten
7^ 253 Washington Redskins Chris Neild DT West Virginia Big East
7^ 254 Houston Texans Cheta Ozougwu DE Rice C-USA
Trades and notes
In the explanations below, (D) denotes trades that took place during the draft, while (PD) indicates trades completed pre-draft.
#6: Cleveland → Atlanta. (D) Cleveland traded this pick to Atlanta for Atlanta's first (27th overall, which later became #26), second (59th) and fourth-rounder (124th) and also Atlanta's first- and fourth-round selections in 2012.[source 1]
#10: Washington → Jacksonville. (D) Jacksonville acquired this pick from Washington for Jacksonville's first- (16th overall) and second-round (49th) selections.[source 2]
#16: Jacksonville → Washington. (D) see #10: Washington → Jacksonville.[source 2]
#17: Oakland → New England (PD). Oakland traded this selection to New England for defensive lineman Richard Seymour.[source 3]
#21: Kansas City → Cleveland. (D) Cleveland acquired this pick from Kansas City for a first-round pick Cleveland got in an earlier trade with Atlanta (27th overall, which later became #26) and Cleveland's third-rounder (70th overall).[source 1]
#26: multiple trades:
#26: Atlanta → Cleveland. (D) see #6: Cleveland → Atlanta.[source 1]
#26: Cleveland → Kansas City. (D) see #21: Kansas City → Cleveland.[source 1]
#26: Baltimore Ravens (time expired). This selection initially belonged to Baltimore, but their ten-minute time allotment expired while they were working out a trade, which allowed Kansas City to jump ahead of Baltimore and make this selection.[source 4]
#28: New England → New Orleans (D). New England traded this selection to New Orleans for New Orleans' second-round selection in 2011 (56th overall) and first-round selection in 2012.[source 5]
#33: Carolina → New England (PD). Carolina traded this selection to New England for a 2010 third-round selection (89th overall; Carolina selected Armanti Edwards).[source 6]
#36: Denver → San Francisco (D). San Francisco acquired this selection from Denver in exchange for San Francisco's second- (#45), fourth- (#108) and fifth-round (#141) picks.[source 7]
#45: San Francisco → Denver (D). see #36: Denver → San Francisco.[source 7]
#46: Miami → Denver (PD). Miami traded this selection and a 2010 second-round selection (43rd overall; traded to Baltimore, who selected Sergio Kindle) to Denver for wide receiver Brandon Marshall.[source 8]
#49: multiple trades:
#49: Jacksonville → Washington. (D) see #10: Washington → Jacksonville.[source 2]
#49: Washington → Indianapolis. (D) Washington traded this selection to Indianapolis in exchange for Indianapolis' second- (#53) and fifth-round (#152) selections.[source 9]
#53: multiple trades:
#53: Indianapolis → Washington. (D) see #49: Washington → Indianapolis.[source 9]
#53: Washington → Chicago. (D) Washington traded this selection to Chicago for Chicago's second- (#62) and fourth-round (#127) selections.[source 10]
#56: New Orleans → New England (D). see #28: New England → New Orleans .[source 5]
#57: Seattle → Detroit (D). Detroit acquired this pick from Seattle in exchange for Detroit's third- (#75) and fourth-round (#107) selections. In addition the clubs swapped fifth- and seventh-round picks, with Detroit getting pick 157 and pick 209 and Seattle receiving pick 154 and pick 205.[source 11]
#59: Atlanta → Cleveland. (D) see #6: Cleveland → Atlanta.[source 1]
#60: New England → Houston. (D) New England traded this selection to Houston for Houston's third- (#73) and fifth-round (#138) selections.[source 12]
#61: New York Jets → San Diego (PD). The Jets traded this conditional selection to San Diego for cornerback Antonio Cromartie.[source 13]
#62: multiple trades:
#62: Chicago → Washington. (D) see '#53: Washington → Chicago.[source 10]
#62: Washington → Miami. (D) Miami acquired this pick from Washington for Miami's third- (#79) fifth- (#146) and seventh-round picks (#217).[source 14]
#70: Cleveland → Kansas City. (D) see #21: Kansas City → Cleveland.[source 1]
#72: Washington → New Orleans (PD). Washington traded this selection and a conditional 2012 sixth-round selection to New Orleans for offensive tackle Jammal Brown and a fifth-round selection.[source 15]
#73: Houston → New England. (D) see #60: New England → Houston.[source 12]
#74: Minnesota → New England (PD). Minnesota traded this selection to New England for wide receiver Randy Moss and a 2012 seventh-round selection.[source 16]
#75: Detroit → Seattle (D). see #57: Seattle → Detroit.[source 11]
#76: San Francisco → Jacksonville (D). Jacksonville obtained this pick from San Francisco for Jacksonville's third- (#80) and sixth-round (#182) selections.[source 17]
#79: Miami → Washington. (D) see #62: Washington → Miami.[source 14]
#80: Jacksonville → San Francisco (D). see #76: San Francisco → Jacksonville.[source 17]
#85: Philadelphia → Baltimore (D). Philadelphia traded this pick to Baltimore for Baltimore's third- (#90) and sixth-round (#191) selections.[source 18]
#89: Seattle → San Diego (PD). Seattle traded this selection and a 2010 second-round selection (40th overall; traded to Miami, who selected Koa Misi) to San Diego for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and a 2010 second-round selection (60th overall; Seattle selected Golden Tate).[source 19]
#85: Baltimore → Philadelphia (D). see #85: Philadelphia → Baltimore.[source 18]
#92: New England → Oakland (D). New England traded this pick along with a fourth-rounder (#125) to Oakland for Oakland's second-rounder in 2012 and a seventh-round selection (#219) in this draft.[source 20]
#99: multiple trades:
#99: Denver → New England (PD). Denver traded this selection to New England for a sixth-round selection and running back Laurence Maroney.[source 21]
#99: New England → Seattle (PD). New England traded this selection it acquired from Denver to Seattle for wide receiver Deion Branch.[source 22]
#104: multiple trades:
#104: Washington → Philadelphia (PD). Washington traded this selection and a 2010 second-round selection (37th overall; Philadelphia selected Nate Allen) to Philadelphia for quarterback Donovan McNabb.[source 23]
#104: Philadelphia → Tampa Bay (D). Tampa Bay acquired this selection from Philadelphia for Tampa Bay's fourth-round selection in this draft (#116) and Tampa Bay's fourth-round pick in 2012.[source 24]
#105: Houston → Washington (D). Washington acquired this selection along with a sixth-rounder (#178) from Houston for a fourth-round (#127) and two fifth-round picks(#144 and #152).[source 25]
#107: Detroit → Seattle (D). see #57: Seattle → Detroit.[source 11]
#108: San Francisco → Denver (D). see #36: Denver → San Francisco.[source 7]
#115: San Diego → San Francisco (PD). San Diego traded this selection, a 2010 third-round selection (91st overall; San Francisco selected Navorro Bowman), and a 2010 sixth-round selection it acquired from Miami (173rd overall; San Francisco selected Anthony Dixon) to San Francisco for a 2010 third-round selection (79th overall; San Diego selected Donald Butler).[source 26]
#116: Tampa Bay → Philadelphia (D). see #104: Philadelphia → Tampa Bay.[source 24]
#121: New Orleans → Jacksonville (PD). New Orleans traded this selection to Jacksonville for a 2010 fifth-round selection it acquired from Oakland (158th overall; New Orleans selected Matt Tennant).[source 27]
#122: Seattle → Buffalo (PD). Seattle traded this selection and a conditional 2012 selection to Buffalo for running back Marshawn Lynch.[source 28]
#124: Atlanta → Cleveland. (D) see #6: Cleveland → Atlanta.[source 1]
#125: New England → Oakland (D). see #92: New England → Oakland.[source 20]
#127: multiple trades:
#127: Chicago → Washington. (D) see '#53: Washington → Chicago.[source 10]
#127: Washington → Houston. (D) see #105: Houston → Washington.[source 25]
#129: Green Bay → Denver (D). Denver acquired this selection along with a seventh-rounder (#204) from Green Bay for Denver's fifth- (#141) and sixth-round (#186) picks.[source 29]
#135: multiple trades:
#135: Denver → Tampa Bay (PD). Denver traded this selection to Tampa Bay for a 2010 seventh-round selection it acquired from Pittsburgh (225th overall; Denver selected Syd'Quan Thompson) and a 2010 seventh-round selection it acquired from Baltimore (232nd overall; Denver selected Jammie Kirlew).[source 30]
#135: Tampa Bay → Kansas City (PD). Tampa Bay traded this selection to Kansas City for Kansas City's 6th round selection (#187) and defensive tackle Alex Magee.[source 31]
#73: Houston → New England. (D) see #60: New England → Houston.[source 12]
#140: Detroit/Kansas City swap. As a penalty for tampering with Kansas City players, Detroit was forced to swap its fifth-round selection with Kansas City's, and to forfeit its 2012 seventh-round selection, or sixth round if they make the playoffs.[source 32]
#141: multiple trades:
#141: San Francisco → Denver (D). see #36: Denver → San Francisco.[source 7]
#141: Denver → Green Bay (D). see #129: Green Bay → Denver.[source 29]
#144: Washington → Houston (D). see #105: Houston → Washington.[source 25]
#145: St. Louis → Atlanta (D). Atlanta acquired this pick from St. Louis in exchange for fifth- (#158) and seventh-round (#229) selections.[source 33]
#146: Miami → Washington. (D) see #62: Washington → Miami.[source 14]
#149: San Diego → Philadelphia (PD). San Diego traded this selection and a 2010 fifth-round selection (159th overall; Philadelphia selected Riley Cooper) to Philadelphia for a 2010 fifth-round selection it acquired from Cleveland (146th overall; San Diego selected Cam Thomas).[source 34]
#150: multiple trades:
#150: New York Giants → Minnesota (PD). The New York Giants traded this selection and a conditional 2012 selection to Minnesota for running back Darius Reynaud and quarterback Sage Rosenfels.[source 35]
#150: Minnesota → Cleveland. (D) Minnesota traded this selection to Cleveland for two sixth-round picks (#168 and #170)[source 36]
#152: multiple trades:
#152: Indianapolis → Washington. (D) see #49: Washington → Indianapolis.[source 9]
#152: Washington → Houston. (D) see #105: Houston → Washington.[source 25]
#153: Philadelphia → New York Jets (D). The New York Jets acquired this selection along with a seventh-round pick (#227) from Philadelphia in exchange for a fifth- (#161) and a sixth-round (#194) selection.[source 37]
#154: multiple trades:
#154: Kansas City/Detroit swap. see #140: Detroit/Kansas City swap.
#154: Detroit → Seattle (D). see #57: Seattle → Detroit.[source 11]
#155: New Orleans → Washington (PD). See #72: Washington → New Orleans above.
#157: multiple trades:
#157: Baltimore → Seattle (PD). Baltimore traded this conditional selection to Seattle for cornerback Josh Wilson.[source 38]
#157: Seattle → Detroit (D). see #57: Seattle → Detroit.[source 11]
#158: Atlanta → St. Louis (D). see #145: St. Louis → Atlanta.[source 33]
#161: New York Jets → Philadelphia (D). see #153: Philadelphia → New York Jets.[source 37]
#163: Green Bay → San Francisco (D). San Francisco acquired this pick from Green Bay for a sixth- (#174) and a seventh-round (#231) selection.[source 39]
#168: multiple trades:
#168: Denver → Cleveland (PD). Denver traded this selection, a conditional 2012 selection, and running back Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for quarterback Brady Quinn.[source 40]
#168: Cleveland → Minnesota. (D) see #150: Minnesota → Cleveland.[source 36]
#170: Cleveland → Minnesota. (D) see #150: Minnesota → Cleveland.[source 36]
#173: Detroit → Seattle (PD). Detroit traded this selection to Seattle for defensive end Lawrence Jackson.[source 41]
#174: multiple trades:
#174: San Francisco → Green Bay (D). see #163: Green Bay → San Francisco.[source 39]
#174: Green Bay → Miami (D). Miami acquired this pick from Green Bay in a swap of the teams' sixth- and seventh-round selections. Green Bay received pick 179 and pick 218, while Miami got this pick and pick 231.[source 42]
#178: Houston → Washington (D). see #105: Houston → Washington.[source 25]
#179: Miami → Green Bay (D). see #174: Green Bay → Miami.[source 42]
#180: St. Louis → Baltimore (PD). St. Louis traded this selection to Baltimore for Baltimore's seventh-round selection (#228) and wide receiver Mark Clayton.[source 43]
#182: Jacksonville → San Francisco (D). see #76: San Francisco → Jacksonville.[source 17]
#184: multiple trades:
#184: Tampa Bay → Philadelphia (PD). Tampa Bay traded this selection to Philadelphia for wide receiver Reggie Brown. [source 44]
#184: Philadelphia → Arizona (PD). Philadelphia traded this selection to Arizona for guard Reggie Wells. [source 45]
#186: multiple trades:
#186: Philadelphia → Detroit (PD). Philadelphia traded this selection to Detroit for a 2010 seventh-round selection it had acquired from Denver (220th overall; Philadelphia selected Jamar Chaney).[source 46]
#186: Detroit → Denver (PD). Denver received this selection and tight end Dan Gronkowski from Detroit in exchange for cornerback Alphonso Smith and the Broncos' 2011 seventh round selection (#205).[source 47]
#186: Denver → Green Bay (D). see #129: Green Bay → Denver[source 29]
#187: Kansas City → Tampa Bay (PD). See #135: Tampa Bay → Kansas City (PD). above.
#189: multiple trades:
#189: New Orleans → New England (PD). New Orleans traded this selection to New England for tight end David Thomas. [source 48]
#189: New England → Denver (PD). see #99: Denver → New England.
#190: Seattle → San Francisco (PD). Seattle traded this selection to San Francisco for defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer.[source 49]
#191: Baltimore → Philadelphia (D). see #85: Philadelphia → Baltimore.[source 18]
#193: New England → Philadelphia (D). New England traded this selection to Philadelphia for pick 194. The trade, which has little signifigance as it involves swapping consecutive picks, was reportedly made "just for fun".[source 50]
#194: multiple trades:
#194: New York Jets → Philadelphia (D). see #153: Philadelphia → New York Jets.[source 37]
#194: Philadelphia → New England (D). see #193: New England → Philadelphia.[source 50]
#204: multiple trades:
#204: Carolina → Green Bay (PD). Carolina traded this conditional selection to Green Bay for long snapper J. J. Jansen.[source 51]
#204: Green Bay → Denver (D). see #129: Green Bay → Denver.[source 29]
#205: multiple trades:
#205: Denver → Detroit (PD). see #186: Detroit → Denver (PD).. [source 52]
#205: Detroit → Seattle (D). see #57: Seattle → Detroit.[source 11]
#208: Arizona → New York Jets (PD). Arizona traded this selection and a 2010 fourth-round selection (124th overall; traded to Carolina, who selected Eric Norwood) to the New York Jets for safety Kerry Rhodes.[source 53]
#209: multiple trades:
#209: Cleveland → Seattle (PD). Cleveland traded this conditional selection to Seattle for quarterback Seneca Wallace.[source 54]
#209: Seattle → Detroit (D). see #57: Seattle → Detroit.[source 11]
#210: Detroit → Atlanta (PD). Detroit traded this conditional selection and a 2010 sixth-round selection (171st overall; Atlanta selected Shann Schillinger) to Atlanta for cornerback Chris Houston.[source 55]
#217: Miami → Washington. (D) see #62: Washington → Miami.[source 14]
#218: multiple trades:
#218: Jacksonville → Miami. Jacksonville traded this conditional selection to Miami for guard Justin Smiley.[source 56]
#218: Miami → Green Bay (D). see #174: Green Bay → Miami.[source 42]
#219: Oakland → New England (D).see #92: New England → Oakland.[source 20]
#220: San Diego → Dallas (PD). San Diego traded this conditional selection to Dallas for wide receiver Patrick Crayton.[source 57]
#224: Indianapolis → Washington (PD). Indianapolis traded this selection to Washington for cornerback Justin Tryon.[source 58]
#225: Philadelphia → Baltimore (PD). Philadelphia traded this selection to Baltimore for defensive end Antwan Barnes.[source 59]
#227: multiple trades:
#227: Seattle → Philadelphia (PD). Seattle traded this selection to Philadelphia for offensive lineman Stacy Andrews.[source 60]
#227: Philadelphia → New York Jets (D). see #153: Philadelphia → New York Jets.[source 37]
#228: Baltimore → St. Louis (PD). See #180: St. Louis → Baltimore (PD). above.
#229: Atlanta → St. Louis (D). see #145: St. Louis → Atlanta.[source 33]
#230: New England → Atlanta (PD). New England traded this selection to Atlanta for offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka.[source 61]
#231: multiple trades:
#231: New York Jets → Detroit (PD). The New York Jets traded this selection to Detroit for quarterback Kevin O'Connell.[source 62]
#231: Detroit → San Francisco (PD). Detroit traded this selection to San Francisco for quarterback Shaun Hill.[source 63]
#231: San Francisco → Green Bay (D). see #163: Green Bay → San Francisco.[source 39]
#231: Green Bay → Miami (D). see #174: Green Bay → Miami.[source 42]
Two picks in the 2011 draft were forfeited:
Dallas forfeited its seventh-round selection pick to take DT Josh Brent in the 2010 Supplemental Draft.
Chicago forfeited its seventh-round selection to take RB Harvey Unga in the 2010 Supplemental Draft.
Players are identified as a Pro Bowler if they were selected for the Pro Bowl at any time in their career.
Cam Newton was the 2010 winner of the Heisman Trophy which is awarded annually to the player deemed the most outstanding player in collegiate football.
#27: Baltimore Ravens (time expired). Baltimore originally held the 26th pick, but they did not submit their pick in the allotted ten minutes which allowed Kansas City to jump in front of them. Baltimore had an agreement to trade the 26th pick to Chicago in exchange for pick #29 and Chicago's fourth-round selection. However, Chicago failed to call in the trade to the league office and thus the trade was not completed. Baltimore recovered to make this selection after Kansas City submitted its pick.[source 4]
Mark Ingram was the 2009 winner of the Heisman Trophy which is awarded annually to the player deemed the most outstanding player in collegiate football.
By: timbersfan, 9:40 AM GMT on November 10, 2013
Rnd. Pick # NFL team Player Pos. College Conf. Notes
1 1 Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck† QB Stanford Pac-12
1 2 Washington Redskins Robert Griffin III† QB Baylor Big 12 from St. Louis[R1 - 1]; 2011 Heisman Trophy winner[N 2]
1 3 Cleveland Browns Trent Richardson RB Alabama SEC from Minnesota[R1 - 2]
1 4 Minnesota Vikings Matt Kalil† OT USC Pac-12 from Cleveland[R1 - 3]
1 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma State Big 12 from Tampa Bay[R1 - 4]
1 6 Dallas Cowboys Morris Claiborne CB LSU SEC from Washington via St. Louis[R1 - 5]
1 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mark Barron S Alabama SEC from Jacksonville[R1 - 6]
1 8 Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill QB Texas A&M Big 12
1 9 Carolina Panthers Luke Kuechly LB Boston College ACC
1 10 Buffalo Bills Stephon Gilmore CB South Carolina SEC
1 11 Kansas City Chiefs Dontari Poe DT Memphis C-USA
1 12 Philadelphia Eagles Fletcher Cox DT Mississippi State SEC from Seattle[R1 - 7]
1 13 Arizona Cardinals Michael Floyd WR Notre Dame Ind.
1 14 St. Louis Rams Michael Brockers DT LSU SEC from Dallas[R1 - 8]
1 15 Seattle Seahawks Bruce Irvin DE West Virginia Big East from Philadelphia[R1 - 9]
1 16 New York Jets Quinton Coples DE North Carolina ACC
1 17 Cincinnati Bengals Dre Kirkpatrick CB Alabama SEC from Oakland[R1 - 10]
1 18 San Diego Chargers Melvin Ingram LB South Carolina SEC
1 19 Chicago Bears Shea McClellin DE Boise State MWC
1 20 Tennessee Titans Kendall Wright WR Baylor Big 12
1 21 New England Patriots Chandler Jones DE Syracuse Big East from Cincinnati [R1 - 11]
1 22 Cleveland Browns Brandon Weeden QB Oklahoma State Big 12 from Atlanta[R1 - 12]
1 23 Detroit Lions Riley Reiff OT Iowa Big Ten
1 24 Pittsburgh Steelers David DeCastro G Stanford Pac-12
1 25 New England Patriots Dont'a Hightower LB Alabama SEC from Denver [R1 - 13]
1 26 Houston Texans Whitney Mercilus DE Illinois Big Ten
1 27 Cincinnati Bengals Kevin Zeitler G Wisconsin Big Ten from New Orleans via New England [R1 - 14]
1 28 Green Bay Packers Nick Perry LB USC Pac-12
1 29 Minnesota Vikings Harrison Smith S Notre Dame Ind. from Baltimore [R1 - 15]
1 30 San Francisco 49ers A. J. Jenkins WR Illinois Big Ten
1 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Doug Martin† RB Boise State MWC from New England via Denver [R1 - 16]
1 32 New York Giants David Wilson RB Virginia Tech ACC
2 33 St. Louis Rams Brian Quick WR Appalachian State SoCon
2 34 Indianapolis Colts Coby Fleener TE Stanford Pac-12
2 35 Baltimore Ravens Courtney Upshaw LB Alabama SEC from Minnesota[R2 - 1]
2 36 Denver Broncos Derek Wolfe DT Cincinnati Big East from Tampa Bay [R2 - 2]
2 37 Cleveland Browns Mitchell Schwartz OT California Pac-12
2 38 Jacksonville Jaguars Andre Branch DE Clemson ACC
2 39 St. Louis Rams Janoris Jenkins CB North Alabama GSC from Washington[R2 - 3]
2 40 Carolina Panthers Amini Silatolu G Midwestern State LSC
2 41 Buffalo Bills Cordy Glenn OT Georgia SEC
2 42 Miami Dolphins Jonathan Martin OT Stanford Pac-12
2 43 New York Jets Stephen Hill WR Georgia Tech ACC from Seattle [R2 - 4]
2 44 Kansas City Chiefs Jeff Allen G Illinois Big Ten
2 45 Chicago Bears Alshon Jeffery WR South Carolina SEC from Dallas via St. Louis[R2 - 5]
2 46 Philadelphia Eagles Mychal Kendricks LB California Pac-12
2 47 Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner LB Utah State WAC from New York Jets [R2 - 6]
2 48 New England Patriots Tavon Wilson S Illinois Big Ten from Oakland[R2 - 7]
2 49 San Diego Chargers Kendall Reyes DT Connecticut Big East
2 50 St. Louis Rams Isaiah Pead RB Cincinnati Big East from Chicago [R2 - 8]
2 51 Green Bay Packers Jerel Worthy DT Michigan State Big Ten from Arizona via Philadelphia[R2 - 9]
2 52 Tennessee Titans Zach Brown LB North Carolina ACC
2 53 Cincinnati Bengals Devon Still DT Penn State Big Ten
2 54 Detroit Lions Ryan Broyles WR Oklahoma Big 12
2 55 Atlanta Falcons Peter Konz C Wisconsin Big Ten
2 56 Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Adams OT Ohio State Big Ten
2 57 Denver Broncos Brock Osweiler QB Arizona State Pac-12
2 58 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Lavonte David LB Nebraska Big Ten from Houston [R2 - 10]
2 – New Orleans Saints selection forfeited as part of the punishment for the team's bounty scandal [Forfeited picks 1]
2 59 Philadelphia Eagles Vinny Curry DE Marshall C-USA from Green Bay [R2 - 11]
2 60 Baltimore Ravens Kelechi Osemele G Iowa State Big 12
2 61 San Francisco 49ers LaMichael James RB Oregon Pac-12
2 62 Green Bay Packers Casey Hayward CB Vanderbilt SEC from New England [R2 - 12]
2 63 New York Giants Rueben Randle WR LSU SEC
3 64 Indianapolis Colts Dwayne Allen TE Clemson ACC
3 65 St. Louis Rams Trumaine Johnson CB Montana Big Sky
3 66 Minnesota Vikings Josh Robinson CB Central Florida C-USA
3 67 Denver Broncos Ronnie Hillman RB San Diego State MWC from Cleveland [R3 - 1]
3 68 Houston Texans DeVier Posey WR Ohio State Big Ten from Tampa Bay [R3 - 2]
3 69 Buffalo Bills T. J. Graham WR NC State ACC from Washington [R3 - 3]
3 70 Jacksonville Jaguars Bryan Anger P California Pac-12
3 71 Washington Redskins Josh LeRibeus G SMU C-USA from Buffalo [R3 - 4]
3 72 Miami Dolphins Olivier Vernon DE Miami (FL) ACC
3 73 San Diego Chargers Brandon Taylor S LSU SEC from Carolina via Chicago and Miami[R3 - 5]
3 74 Kansas City Chiefs Donald Stephenson OT Oklahoma Big 12
3 75 Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson† QB Wisconsin Big Ten
3 76 Houston Texans Brandon Brooks G Miami (OH) MAC from Philadelphia[R3 - 6]
3 77 New York Jets Demario Davis LB Arkansas State Sun Belt
3 – Oakland Raiders selection forfeited after selecting QB Terrelle Pryor in the 2011 Supplemental Draft. [Forfeited picks 2]
3 78 Miami Dolphins Michael Egnew TE Missouri Big 12 from San Diego [R3 - 7]
3 79 Chicago Bears Brandon Hardin S Oregon State Pac-12
3 80 Arizona Cardinals Jamell Fleming CB Oklahoma Big 12
3 81 Dallas Cowboys Tyrone Crawford DE Boise State MWC
3 82 Tennessee Titans Mike Martin DT Michigan Big Ten
3 83 Cincinnati Bengals Mohamed Sanu WR Rutgers Big East
3 84 Baltimore Ravens Bernard Pierce RB Temple MAC from Atlanta [R3 - 8]
3 85 Detroit Lions Dwight Bentley CB Louisiana-Lafayette Sun Belt
3 86 Pittsburgh Steelers Sean Spence LB Miami (FL) ACC
3 87 Cleveland Browns John Hughes DT Cincinnati Big East from Denver [R3 - 9]
3 88 Philadelphia Eagles Nick Foles QB Arizona Pac-12 from Houston[R3 - 10]
3 89 New Orleans Saints Akiem Hicks DT Regina CWUAA
3 90 New England Patriots Jake Bequette DE Arkansas SEC from Green Bay [R3 - 11]
3 91 Atlanta Falcons Lamar Holmes OT Southern Miss C-USA from Baltimore [R3 - 12]
3 92 Indianapolis Colts T. Y. Hilton WR Florida International Sun Belt from San Francisco [R3 - 13]
3 93 Cincinnati Bengals Brandon Thompson DT Clemson ACC from New England [R3 - 14]
3 94 New York Giants Jayron Hosley CB Virginia Tech ACC
3* 95 Oakland Raiders Tony Bergstrom G Utah Pac-12
4 96 St. Louis Rams Chris Givens WR Wake Forest ACC
4 97 Miami Dolphins Lamar Miller RB Miami (FL) ACC from Indianapolis via San Francisco [R4 - 1]
4 98 Baltimore Ravens Gino Gradkowski G Delaware CAA from Minnesota [R4 - 2]
4 99 Houston Texans Ben Jones C Georgia SEC from Tampa Bay via Philadelphia[R4 - 3]
4 100 Cleveland Browns Travis Benjamin WR Miami (FL) ACC
4 101 Denver Broncos Omar Bolden CB Arizona State Pac-12 from Jacksonville via Tampa Bay [R4 - 4]
4 102 Washington Redskins Kirk Cousins QB Michigan State Big Ten
4 103 Carolina Panthers Frank Alexander DE Oklahoma Big 12 from Miami via San Francisco [R4 - 5]
4 104 Carolina Panthers Joe Adams WR Arkansas SEC
4 105 Buffalo Bills Nigel Bradham LB Florida State ACC
4 106 Seattle Seahawks Robert Turbin RB Utah State WAC
4 107 Kansas City Chiefs Devon Wylie WR Fresno State WAC
4 108 Denver Broncos Philip Blake C Baylor Big 12 from New York Jets[R4 - 6]
4 109 Pittsburgh Steelers Alameda Ta'amu DT Washington Pac-12 from Oakland via Washington[R4 - 7]
4 110 San Diego Chargers Ladarius Green TE Louisiana-Lafayette Sun Belt
4 111 Chicago Bears Evan Rodriguez TE Temple MAC
4 112 Arizona Cardinals Bobby Massie OT Ole Miss SEC
4 113 Dallas Cowboys Kyle Wilber LB Wake Forest ACC
4 114 Seattle Seahawks Jaye Howard DT Florida SEC from Philadelphia[R4 - 8]
4 115 Tennessee Titans Coty Sensabaugh CB Clemson ACC
4 116 Cincinnati Bengals Orson Charles TE Georgia SEC
4 117 San Francisco 49ers Joe Looney G Wake Forest ACC from Detroit[R4 - 9]
4 118 Minnesota Vikings Jarius Wright WR Arkansas SEC from Atlanta via Cleveland [R4 - 10]
4 119 Washington Redskins Keenan Robinson LB Texas Big 12 from Pittsburgh [R4 - 11]
4 120 Cleveland Browns James-Michael Johnson LB Nevada N/A from Denver [R4 - 12]
4 121 Houston Texans Keshawn Martin WR Michigan State Big Ten
4 122 New Orleans Saints Nick Toon WR Wisconsin Big Ten
4 123 Philadelphia Eagles Brandon Boykin CB Georgia SEC from Green Bay [R4 - 13]
4 124 Buffalo Bills Ron Brooks CB LSU SEC from Baltimore[R4 - 14]
4 125 Detroit Lions Ronnell Lewis LB Oklahoma Big 12 from San Francisco [R4 - 15]
4 126 Houston Texans Jared Crick DE Nebraska Big Ten from New England via Denver and Tampa Bay[R4 - 16]
4 127 New York Giants Adrien Robinson TE Cincinnati Big East
4* 128 Minnesota Vikings Rhett Ellison FB USC Pac-12
4* 129 Oakland Raiders Miles Burris LB San Diego State MWC
4* 130 Baltimore Ravens Christian Thompson S South Carolina State MEAC
4* 131 New York Giants Brandon Mosley OT Auburn SEC
4* 132 Green Bay Packers Mike Daniels DT Iowa Big Ten
4* 133 Green Bay Packers Jerron McMillian S Maine CAA
4* 134 Minnesota Vikings Greg Childs WR Arkansas SEC
4* 135 Dallas Cowboys Matt Johnson S Eastern Washington Big Sky
5 136 Indianapolis Colts Josh Chapman DT Alabama SEC
5 137 Denver Broncos Malik Jackson DE Tennessee SEC from St. Louis[R5 - 1]
5 138 Detroit Lions Tahir Whitehead LB Temple MAC from Minnesota [R5 - 2]
5 139 Minnesota Vikings Robert Blanton S Notre Dame Ind. from Cleveland [R5 - 3]
5 140 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Najee Goode LB West Virginia Big East
5 141 Washington Redskins Adam Gettis G Iowa Big Ten
5 142 Jacksonville Jaguars Brandon Marshall LB Nevada WAC
5 143 Carolina Panthers Josh Norman CB Coastal Carolina Big South
5 144 Buffalo Bills Zebrie Sanders OT Florida State ACC
5 145 Tennessee Titans Taylor Thompson DE SMU C-USA from Miami [R5 - 4]
5 146 Kansas City Chiefs DeQuan Menzie CB Alabama SEC
5 147 Buffalo Bills Tank Carder LB TCU MWC from Seattle[R5 - 5]
5 148 Detroit Lions Chris Greenwood CB Albion MIAA from Oakland[R5 - 6]
5 149 San Diego Chargers Johnnie Troutman G Penn State Big Ten
5 150 St. Louis Rams Rokevious Watkins G South Carolina SEC from Chicago [R5 - 7]
5 151 Arizona Cardinals Senio Kelemete G Washington Pac-12
5 152 Dallas Cowboys Danny Coale WR Virginia Tech ACC
5 153 Philadelphia Eagles Dennis Kelly OT Purdue Big Ten
5 154 Seattle Seahawks Korey Toomer LB Idaho WAC from New York Jets[R5 - 8]
5 155 Miami Dolphins Josh Kaddu LB Oregon Pac-12 from Tennessee [R5 - 9]
5 156 Cincinnati Bengals Shaun Prater CB Iowa Big Ten
5 157 Atlanta Falcons Bradie Ewing FB Wisconsin Big Ten
5 158 Oakland Raiders Jack Crawford DE Penn State Big Ten from Detroit[R5 - 10]
5 159 Pittsburgh Steelers Chris Rainey RB Florida SEC
5 160 Cleveland Browns Ryan Miller G Colorado Pac-12 from Denver[R5 - 11]
5 161 Houston Texans Randy Bullock K Texas A&M Big 12
5 162 New Orleans Saints Corey White S Samford SoCon
5 163 Green Bay Packers Terrell Manning LB NC State ACC from Green Bay via New England [R5 - 12]
5 164 Atlanta Falcons Jonathan Massaquoi DE Troy Sun Belt from Baltimore [R5 - 13]
5 165 San Francisco 49ers Darius Fleming LB Notre Dame Ind.
5 166 Cincinnati Bengals Marvin Jones WR California Pac-12 from New England[R5 - 14]
5 167 Cincinnati Bengals George Iloka S Boise State MWC from New York Giants[R5 - 15]
5* 168 Oakland Raiders Juron Criner WR Arizona Pac-12
5* 169 Baltimore Ravens Asa Jackson CB Cal Poly Great West
5* 170 Indianapolis Colts Vick Ballard RB Mississippi State SEC
6 171 St. Louis Rams Greg Zuerlein K Missouri Western MIAA
6 172 Seattle Seahawks Jeremy Lane CB Northwestern State Southland from Indianapolis via Philadelphia [R6 - 1]
6 173 Washington Redskins Alfred Morris RB Florida Atlantic Sun Belt from Minnesota[R6 - 2]
6 174 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Keith Tandy CB West Virginia Big East
6 175 Minnesota Vikings Blair Walsh† K Georgia SEC from Cleveland[R6 - 3]
6 176 Jacksonville Jaguars Mike Harris CB Florida State ACC
6 177 Arizona Cardinals Justin Bethel S Presbyterian Big South from Washington[R6 - 4]
6 178 Buffalo Bills Mark Asper G Oregon Pac-12
6 179 New Orleans Saints Andrew Tiller G Syracuse Big East from Miami[R6 - 5]
6 180 San Francisco 49ers Trenton Robinson S Michigan State Big Ten from Carolina [R6 - 6]
6 181 Seattle Seahawks Winston Guy S Kentucky SEC
6 182 Kansas City Chiefs Cyrus Gray RB Texas A&M Big 12
6 183 Miami Dolphins B.J. Cunningham WR Michigan State Big Ten from San Diego [R6 - 7]
6 184 Chicago Bears Isaiah Frey CB Nevada WAC
6 185 Arizona Cardinals Ryan Lindley QB San Diego State MWC
6 186 Dallas Cowboys James Hanna TE Oklahoma Big 12
6 187 New York Jets Josh Bush S Wake Forest ACC from Philadelphia via Indianapolis[R6 - 8]
6 188 Denver Broncos Danny Trevathan LB Kentucky SEC from New York Jets[R6 - 9]
6 189 Oakland Raiders Christo Bilukidi DT Georgia State Ind.
6 190 Tennessee Titans Markelle Martin S Oklahoma State Big 12
6 191 Cincinnati Bengals Dan Herron RB Ohio State Big Ten
6 – Detroit Lions selection forfeited due to findings of tampering with the Kansas City Chiefs. [Forfeited picks 3]
6 192 Atlanta Falcons Charles Mitchell S Mississippi State SEC
6 193 Washington Redskins Tom Compton OT South Dakota Great West from Pittsburgh [R6 - 10]
6 194 Philadelphia Eagles Marvin McNutt WR Iowa Big Ten from Denver[R6 - 11]
6 195 Houston Texans Nick Mondek OT Purdue Big Ten
6 196 Detroit Lions Jonte Green CB New Mexico State WAC from New Orleans via Miami and San Francisco[R6 - 12]
6 197 New England Patriots Nate Ebner CB Ohio State Big Ten from Green Bay [R6 - 13]
6 198 Baltimore Ravens Tommy Streeter WR Miami (FL) ACC
6 199 San Francisco 49ers Jason Slowey OT Western Oregon GNAC
6 200 Philadelphia Eagles Brandon Washington G Miami (FL) ACC from New England[R6 - 14]
6 201 New York Giants Matt McCants OT UAB C-USA
6* 202 New York Jets Terrance Ganaway RB Baylor Big 12
6* 203 New York Jets Robert Griffin G Baylor Big 12
6* 204 Cleveland Browns Emmanuel Acho LB Texas Big 12
6* 205 Cleveland Browns Billy Winn DT Boise State MWC
6* 206 Indianapolis Colts LaVon Brazill WR Ohio MAC
6* 207 Carolina Panthers Brad Nortman P Wisconsin Big Ten
7 208 Indianapolis Colts Justin Anderson G Georgia SEC
7 209 St. Louis Rams Aaron Brown LB Hawaii WAC
7 210 Minnesota Vikings Audie Cole LB NC State ACC
7 211 Tennessee Titans Scott Solomon DE Rice C-USA from Cleveland via Minnesota[R7 - 1]
7 212 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Michael Smith RB Utah State WAC
7 213 Washington Redskins Richard Crawford CB SMU C-USA
7 214 Indianapolis Colts Tim Fugger LB Vanderbilt SEC from Jacksonville via New York Jets[R7 - 2]
7 215 Miami Dolphins Kheeston Randall DT Texas Big 12
7 216 Carolina Panthers D. J. Campbell S California Pac-12
7 217 Washington Redskins Jordan Bernstine CB Iowa Big Ten from Buffalo [R7 - 3]
7 218 Kansas City Chiefs Jerome Long DT San Diego State MWC
7 219 Minnesota Vikings Trevor Guyton DE California Pac-12 from Seattle via Detroit[R7 - 4]
7 220 Chicago Bears Greg McCoy CB TCU MWC
7 221 Arizona Cardinals Nate Potter OT Boise State MWC
7 222 Dallas Cowboys Caleb McSurdy ILB Montana Big Sky
7 223 Detroit Lions Travis Lewis OLB Oklahoma Big 12 from Philadelphia via New England[R7 - 5]
7 224 New England Patriots Alfonzo Dennard CB Nebraska Big Ten from New York Jets via Green Bay [R7 - 6]
7 225 Seattle Seahawks J. R. Sweezy DE NC State ACC from Oakland[R7 - 7]
7 226 San Diego Chargers David Molk C Michigan Big Ten
7 227 Miami Dolphins Rishard Matthews WR Nevada WAC from Tennessee [R7 - 8]
7 228 Jacksonville Jaguars Jeris Pendleton DT Ashland GLIAC from Cincinnati[R7 - 9]
7 229 Philadelphia Eagles Bryce Brown RB Kansas State Big 12 from Atlanta[R7 - 10]
7 230 Oakland Raiders Nathan Stupar OLB Penn State Big Ten from Detroit[R7 - 11]
7 231 Pittsburgh Steelers Toney Clemons WR Colorado Pac-12
7 232 Seattle Seahawks Greg Scruggs DE Louisville Big East from Denver via New York Jets[R7 - 12]
7 233 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Drake Dunsmore TE Northwestern Big Ten from Houston [R7 - 13]
7 234 New Orleans Saints Marcel Jones OT Nebraska Big Ten
7 235 New England Patriots Jeremy Ebert WR Northwestern Big Ten from Green Bay [R7 - 14]
7 236 Baltimore Ravens DeAngelo Tyson DT Georgia SEC
7 237 San Francisco 49ers Cam Johnson DE Virginia ACC
7 238 Kansas City Chiefs Junior Hemingway WR Michigan Big Ten from New England[R7 - 15]
7 239 New York Giants Markus Kuhn DT NC State ACC
7* 240 Pittsburgh Steelers David Paulson TE Oregon Pac-12
7* 241 Green Bay Packers Andrew Datko OT Florida State ACC
7* 242 New York Jets Antonio Allen S South Carolina SEC
7* 243 Green Bay Packers B. J. Coleman QB Chattanooga SoCon
7* 244 New York Jets Jordan White WR Western Michigan MAC
7* 245 Cleveland Browns Trevin Wade CB Arizona Pac-12
7* 246 Pittsburgh Steelers Terrence Frederick CB Texas A&M Big 12
7* 247 Cleveland Browns Brad Smelley TE Alabama SEC
7* 248 Pittsburgh Steelers Kelvin Beachum G SMU C-USA
7* 249 Atlanta Falcons Travian Robertson DT South Carolina SEC
7* 250 San Diego Chargers Edwin Baker RB Michigan State Big Ten
7* 251 Buffalo Bills John Potter K Western Michigan MAC
7^ 252 St. Louis Rams Daryl Richardson RB Abilene Christian LSC
7^ 253 Indianapolis Colts Chandler Harnish QB Northern Illinois MAC
By: timbersfan, 9:34 AM GMT on November 10, 2013
In his tactical lookahead, our man Andrew Wiebe promised us that this one would not be pretty. Wiebs was right.
The first half was particularly egregious. These teams both completed over 75 percent of their passes during the regular season; in the opening 45 minutes today, neither even reached 60 percent. That's brutal.
Here was the general sentiment at the final whistle:
So in short, this 0-0 draw was pretty much everything we've come to expect from Houston vs. Sporting KC in the playoffs.
Let's start right there:
1. We will tackle you here there and everywhere
Neither Brad Davis nor Benny Feilhaber is known for their defensive chops. But in the playoffs, with these two teams, everybody tracks and everybody tackles:
That's maybe the sequence that best evoked the attitude of both teams on the day (and credit to 'em -- you never want to lose a playoff game for lack of commitment. No danger of that one today).
2. The long throw-in becomes the primary attacking weapon
This was a popular topic on Twitter. Let's watch the maestros at work.
First, Matt Besler for Sporting:
That's a freaking rocket.
Now Mike Chabala for Houston:
Notice how he catapults himself off the signboard? That's veteran know-how, kids. Somewhere a single tear trickles down Rory Delap's cheek.
I don't blame these teams at all for utilizing the long throw, since Houston's field is slightly larger than a postage stamp and both teams had such trouble building from the run of play. These visiualizations from Opta's Devin Pleuler shows just how reliable the long throw was:
That's six box entries each. If I had to guess, I'd say that this is the leading contender for "How will the series ultimately be decided?" Tally Hall, in particular, struggled with Besler's throws, which won't have gone unnoticed.
3. Houston can play without Rico Clark
Clark's been one of his team's two best players down the stretch, and has largely carried that over into the playoffs. When he went down midway through the first half, there was good reason for Houston fans to worry.
But give Dominic Kinnear some credit: He shifted his team to a 4-3-3, made one halftime change, and ended up fixing his team's attacking shape while, in the process, reducing SKC's substantial overlapping threat.
First, about that overlapping threat. Here's an early play where Graham Zusi tucks inside, and Chance Myers pushes waaay up high:
Myers only got that high again once, as his passing chart from the last 60 minutes shows:
That's significant because Chabala could concentrate solely on Zusi instead of having his attentions split. Simplifying the game was key in that regard for Houston's defense.
Andrew Driver's presence on the left side of Houston's 4-3-3 is why Myers was pinned. You can't bomb forward in such a choppy game if there's someone whose primary job is to get into the space you leave behind you. It would have been irresponsible in any context, but especially on the road in a home-and-home.
The other reason the 4-3-3 worked was the insertion of Cam Weaver for Will Bruin. Weaver can't finish, but he battled physically (he was brutal out there) and is a much, much better reader of the game and passer of the ball than he's given credit for.
Playing directly to him eliminated some of the choppiness, and allowed Houston's attackers to push a bit higher into the attack:
Houston's Attackers -- First Half
Houston's Attackers -- Second Half
I wouldn't be at all shocked to see both Weaver and the 4-3-3 from the start next time, regardless of the health/fitness of Clark and Will Bruin. It's not like the drop-off in finishing ability from Bruin to Weaver has been precipitous this year, and I think it'll be key for Houston to figure out how to get players forward and slow down the inevitable Sporting onslaught.
More of the same, maybe? Both teams badly need the two weeks off, and both teams are capable of playing something more technical than the schoolyard soccer we saw on Saturday.
But pragmatism wins in November. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder -- and on the scoreboard.
By: timbersfan, 6:01 AM GMT on November 10, 2013
"It's time for us. If we're going to do something, we need to start making some sort of move." —Dennis Allen
Oakland's coach said those words just 48 hours before the Raiders gave up a record-tying seven passing touchdowns to someone named Nick Foles. I'm telling you this because I want you to remember something — no matter what you're about to read over the next 5,000 words, nothing will make me look dumber than that quote makes Dennis Allen look. It's a little liberating, actually.
We're going to do some NFL housecleaning this week. I want to figure out our 12 playoff teams. If it's OK with you, I'm throwing Kansas City (9-0), Seattle (8-1), Denver (7-1), New England (7-2), San Francisco (6-2), New Orleans (6-2) and Indianapolis (6-2) into the postseason. Barring a massive fluke along the lines of "Uh-oh, we're five minutes into this Monday-night game and Aaron Rodgers suddenly looks like Seneca Wallace," those seven teams will be playing in January.
If it's OK with you, I'm also eliminating the following seven teams: Jacksonville (0-8), Tampa Bay (0-8), Minnesota (2-7), Atlanta (2-6), Pittsburgh (2-6), St. Louis (3-6) and Oakland (3-5). Thank you and please drive through.
That leaves five open spots for 18 teams. Wait, EIGHTEEN TEAMS? If you think that's a crazy number, I'm contractually obligated to remind you that, in 2012, 3-6 Washington and 3-5 Cincinnati finished with 10 victories apiece and crept into Round 1. In 2011, the Broncos dropped to 2-5 before a little thing called "TEEEEEEEEEEEEEBOWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!" happened. In 2009, the 4-6 Jets and 5-5 Ravens both went on to play Round 2 games. In 2008, the 4-8 Chargers improbably rallied to win the AFC West. As the famous philosopher Joaquin Andujar once said, youneverknow. So let's count down "The 18 in Limbo" in order from "least likely to make the playoffs" to "most likely."
HOUSTON TEXANS (2-6)
Sked: @Zona, OAK, JAX, NE, @Jax, @Indy, DEN, @TEN
Playoff Odds: 40-to-11
How It Could Happen: First, Case Keenum has to officially transform into Tony Romo 2.0. Second, Ben Tate has to turn into That Backup Running Back Who's Suddenly Running for 160 Yards a Game and Swinging Your Fantasy League. And third, they'd have to win three of four against New England/Denver (at home) and Tennessee/Indy (on the road) and sweep their other four games, then pull off a massive multi-team tiebreaker for the second wild card. It's totally unrealistic, but not absurdly unrealistic.
Why It Won't Happen: You know what IS absurd? Anything good happening to an NFL team after these 10 words crawl across the ESPN News ticker: "Wade Phillips will assume his duties on an interim basis." I don't care if we're talking about an NFL head coaching job, an oil rigger, a Starbucks barista … I'm out as soon as I hear those 10 words. Even if it's for one week.
The Verdict: The Texans will lose in Arizona this weekend and that will be that. I say no.
BUFFALO BILLS (3-6)
Sked: @Pitt, NYJ, Bye, ATL, @TB, @Jax, MIA, @NE
How It Could Happen: There's a lot to like here, including the lively running game; the semi-fearsome front seven; the fact that the Defensive Player of the Year might be a white guy named "Kiko Alonso"; Doug Marrone (my favorite new coach of 2013); tough/respectable losses to New England, Kansas City and Cincy; EJ Manuel's return (this week!); and the creampuffiest of schedules down the stretch (especially if New England clinches a 2-seed early).
Why It Won't Happen: They'd have to run the slate like Washington did last season, turn the "EJ and C.J. Show" into a thing and maybe even win another one of those improbably ludicrous Friday Night Lights–type games (like when they beat Carolina in Week 2). Remember, this is the franchise that (a) lost four Super Bowls in a row, (b) lost the Music City Miracle, (c) hasn't won a playoff game in 18 years, and (d) takes it personally every time I write about how much God hates Cleveland.
The Verdict: A Bills fan in Orlando named Tim sent me the most likely scenario: "After the Bills inevitably rip off their 6-game winning streak, only to miss the playoffs because of a heartbreaking loss to the Ryan Mallett-led Pats in Week 17, Jeff Tuel's hideous 101-yard Pick 6 will haunt me for the entire offseason. Life of a Bills fan!" I say no.
SIMMONS'S NFL PICKS, WEEK 10
(Home teams in caps)
VIKINGS (-1) DC Daceys
RAVENS (+1.5) over Bengals
FALCONS (+6) over Seahawks
Feels like Kitchen Sink Games for Atlanta/Baltimore.
Lions (PK) over BEARS
The greatest month in Detroit Lions history continues.
PACKERS (-1) over Eagles
But seriously … nobody believes in you, Green Bay.
TITANS (-13) over Jaguars
Could it be our 6th Clock Game for the Jags?
Raiders (+7.5) over GIANTS
I feel like the Giants lose this specific game twice a year.
Rams (+9.5) over COLTS
Who's up for another Andrew Luck comeback win?
Bills (+3) over STEELERS
(Shhhhhhh … here come the Bills … shhhhhhhhh …)
49ERS (-6.5) over Panthers
Treating Carolina like the Good Bad Team until they prove me wrong.
CARDS (-2.5) over Texans
It's a tribute to everyone's collective fear of Carson Palmer that this line is so low.
CHARGERS (+7) over Broncos
Cowboys (+7) over SAINTS
Too many points … right?
BUCS (+3) over Dolphins
The Distraction Bowl! I'm already excited for Mike Tirico's superduper-serious voice.
This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 6-6-1
WASHINGTON D.C.'S (3-6)
SKED: @Phi, SF, NYG, KC, @Atl, DALL, @NYG
How It Could Happen: The whole "You can't count out any NFC East team until they get to nine losses" thing … and even then, you can't totally count them out.
Why It Won't Happen: You know how Washington got its three wins? The team taking advantage of Matt Flynn getting one final NFL start before his Arena Football career kicks off (Week 4); an injured Jay Cutler getting replaced by a McCown brother (Week 7); and the Chargers scoring a game-winning TD that got overturned, then choking on three straight plays from the 1-yard line (Week 9). Did you see them last night in Minnesota? The Washington Professional Football Team stinks.
The Verdict: There's only one hope: Alfred Morris gets so frustrated about getting frozen out on touchdown carries, he throws the team on his back and pulls a 2012 Peterson down the stretch. Not since Bud Kilmer kept giving Wendell's touchdowns to his white teammates at West Canaan have we seen a football coach so blatantly screw over his starting running back. You suck, Mike Shanahan. (Yes, I paid $35 for Morris in my fantasy auction.) I say no.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-5)
Sked: CIN, @Chi, NYJ, PITT, MINN, @Det, NE, @CIN
How It Could Happen: They'll need the Bengals to keep losing elite players for the year (we're already up to four), and they'll need another injury to a starting Browns QB, followed by a play-by-play announcer saying the four most chilling words in football: "Here comes Brandon Weeden …" Speaking of chilling, one of my readers jumped on the email from my Week 8 column about the symmetry of "Sweet Caroline" and Scatman Crothers getting murdered in The Shining and dubbed them into the same video. It's kind of amazing.
Why It Won't Happen: I thought about using that startling "Baltimore hasn't led a game since October 6" stat that made the rounds this week, but let's just go with this email from Dave in Missouri: "I think I'm going to drop Ray Rice for Rashad Jennings this week. Am I crazy?"
The Verdict: Here's how you know it's been a disappointing Ravens season — I've watched multiple Ravens games and never once suspected their players were using PEDs. I say no.
NEW YORK GIANTS (2-6)
Sked: OAK, GB, DALL, @Wash, @SD, SEA, @Det
How It Could Happen: Because they're the Giants — the team that makes you scream things like "Why aren't they dead yet?" and "COULD SOMEBODY FINISH THEM OFF, PLEASE????" Look at their suddenly not-so-bad schedule: three straight home games against Oakland (Team That Just Gave Up Seven Passing TDs Alert!), Green Bay (Seneca Wallace Alert!) and Dallas (Tragic Romo Ending Alert!) — that could propel them to 5-6 in just 16 days. Could 7-9 be enough to win a pathetic NFC East tiebreaker over the Cowboys and cement their "Nobody Believes in Us!" legacy? Lord, I hope not.
Why It Won't Happen: Just remember, Football Outsiders has them ranked 30th in DVOA for a reason.
The Verdict: It's like one of those '80s horror movies where the embattled female lead keeps dropping the knife and assuming Myers or Voorhees is dead just because he got stabbed in the leg. Just cut his head off already. I say no.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-4)
Sked: @TB, SD, CAR, @NYJ, @Pitt, NE, @Buff, NYJ
How It Could Happen: Galvanized by the "unfair" fallout against Richie Incognito and nearly 375,000 different Colonel Jessup/Code Red jokes on the Internet, a decent Dolphins team finds itself fueled by a hybrid of "nobody believes in us" and "everybody hates us" emotions, ripping off five of six wins before seemingly choking away a playoff spot in Buffalo. In Week 17, they fend off the Jets thanks to eight Geno Smith turnovers as Ryan Mallett carves up the Bills, clinching the second AFC wild-card spot for Miami. That's followed by Incognito jumping out of the stands and getting carried off on the shoulders of his former teammates, then getting immortalized in a feel-good Disney movie called The Offensive Lineman.
Why It Won't Happen: There are distractions, there are major distractions, and then there's everything that happened these past six days with Miami.
The Verdict: Feels like 8-8. I say no.
Unrelated: I have a good feel for anything that might mushroom into a massive sports story at this point, but the collective newspaper/Internet/sports-radio/talking-head reaction to Incognito vs. Martin blew me away. How did this become the most polarizing NFL story since Michael Vick came back from jail? And how does the story keep gaining steam? People are so fired up that there was angry shouting on "Mike & Mike" this week. Repeat: There was angry shouting on "Mike & Mike" this week!!!! On Monday, I thought the big takeaway would be "Oh yeah, I totally forgot — football players are dumb meatheads" and we'd be making jokes about Jonathan Martin wasting a perfectly good plate of spaghetti. Instead, it has launched the following story lines …
"How can we stop bullying in the workplace?"
"Did Miami's coaching staff order the Code Red?"
"Should people outside a locker room be allowed to tell people inside a locker room how to act?"
"What's the difference between being a leader and being an asshole?"
"Why did the Dolphins so steadfastly stick up for Incognito when he seems like such a humongous jerk? Is this like Stockholm syndrome?"
"What are the boundaries of racially charged teasing between teammates?"
"Should the locker room be like a family — in other words, what happens in the house stays in the house?"
"Wait, NFL players make rookies pay for everything? This really happens?"
"When one of the Mikes becomes upset on 'Mike & Mike,' should this be considered a national emergency?"
"What's going to happen to the Dolphins now? Can they recover from this?"
"Isn't there a certain irony in the bully culture of blogs/Twitter/message boards now rushing to the defense of Jonathan Martin and taking a strong stand against bullying?"
"Hey, all the ex-players on TV who keep saying that Martin needed to stand up for himself and punch Incognito when Martin clearly had mental issues know that they sound like insensitive Neanderthals, right?"
"How do we honor tradition and team building without crossing the line into hazing?"
"What does this story say about us?"
That's a whopping 14 story lines! On Grantland, we've already run two terrific takes — one by Brian Phillips, one by Andrew Sharp — and we probably could have run five or six more. Two lingering points stuck out for me. First, Sharp made a fantastic point about how we spent the past three decades deifying Michael Jordan … a homicidally competitive superstar who brutalized any teammate who didn't meet his lofty standards. What Jordan did to Kwame Brown, Brad Sellers and others wasn't any different from what Incognito did to Martin. I'm not saying this should alter MJ's legacy or anything. But we've seen bullying in sports since basically forever, and other than your occasional Real Sports/Outside the Lines/E:60 piece, nobody really cared until Martin vs. Incognito. Now? People care. Just feels like more and more people are going to be coming out with their stories. This ain't ending anytime soon.
And second, I'm endlessly fascinated by people who keep bringing up "the code" in football locker rooms like it's the military or something. I never played football past ninth grade, so I don't feel comfortable saying it's right or wrong. But more than a few ex-players genuinely believe that there's something to the whole "Everything that happens in the locker room NEEDS TO STAY IN THE LOCKER ROOM" thing, and that nobody can fully understand it unless they've played football. That this story ballooned during the same week as Tony Dorsett's heartbreaking CTE story meant something, I think. It's just becoming clearer and clearer that professional football is a profoundly messed-up sport. And yet we're still watching. Anyway …
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-5)
Sked: Bye, @Cin, PITT, JAX, @NE, CHI, @NYJ, @Pitt
I'm breaking the rules and coming back to them later.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-4)
Sked: DEN, @Mia, @KC, CIN, NYG, @Den, OAK, KC
ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-4)
Sked: HOU, @Jax, INDY, @Phi, STL, @Ten, @Sea, SF
How It Could Happen: San Diego is three plays away from being 7-1.3 Arizona has the NFL's best defense (according to Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings) and may have stumbled into something special with Andre Ellington. Would you be shocked if the Cards or Chargers turned into our Red-Hot Second-Half Team and grabbed a wild card? Speaking of shocking, I'd like to welcome Toronto mayor Rob Ford to the Tyson Zone. Congratulations, Rob. You did everything you had to do. And then some.
Why It Won't Happen: The Chargers blew it — they're hitting the toughest part of their schedule and had to be better than 4-4. And the Cardinals blew it last spring when they said the words, "You know who can turn this around for us? Carson Effing Palmer, that's who."
The Verdict: Look, nothing would make me happier than being able to wager against Palmer in a playoff game. And I'd much rather watch the Chargers in a playoff game than, say, the Jets or Titans. But this feels like two coulda-woulda-shoulda seasons here. Arizona needed to steal one of those three Saints/Niners/Seahawks games and they didn't. San Diego went 0-3 in Good Luck/Bad Luck games. Feels like 9-7 for both. I say no.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-5)
Sked: @GB, WASH, Bye, ZONA, DET, @Minn, CHI, @Dall
How It Could Happen: Somehow Nick Foles has thrown for 13 TDs and 0 picks and has a QB rating of 127.4! I know, I'm as shocked as you guys. In Philly's four victories, the Eagles scored 33, 36, 31 and 49 points — that's something, right? They also caught a huge schedule break this weekend (Seneca Wallace in Green Bay — a line that dropped NINE POINTS), they'll be favored in the Washington/Minnesota games, and they might control their own destiny in Week 17 in Dallas. You don't even need recreational drugs to envision the 2013 Eagles making the playoffs — just a few drinks.
Why It Won't Happen: Their four wins came against teams with a combined record of 8-25. Football Outsiders ranks their defense 30th out of 32. They scored 10 points total in EIGHT CONSECUTIVE QUARTERS against the Cowboys and Giants (in Week 7 and Week 8, no less). Everything hinges on Nick Foles. I could keep going.
The Verdict: The Eagles are just one of many reasons why I've turned into Billy Ice this season — there's absolutely no rhyme or reason to what happens with them every week. I'm not even guessing about their playoff future. You can't make me. Meanwhile, here's an inspiring suggestion from Derek in Los Angeles. "Forget calling yourself 'Billy Ice.' Personally, I think going rock bottom will save your season and nothing says that more than 'Billy Zima.' Going the wine cooler route always helps a career. Just ask Bruce Willis."
Billy Zima it is! You can't climb back from rock bottom until you've hit your head against the rock. Sitting at a frigid 13 games under .500 with just seven weeks to go, I think I'm here. The good news: I think I finally mustered the courage to declare a verdict on Philly's playoff hopes. I say no.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-3)
Sked: PHI, @NYG, MINN, @Det, ATL, @Dall, PITT, @Chi
How It Could Happen: Am I the only one who thinks Seneca Wallace can beat Philly this Sunday? It's the old "Guy looked horrible when he got thrown into a game without warning, now everyone assumes he's going to keep sucking when he's just gotten a week of practice and he's lucky enough to play a shaky defense at home" thing. Billy Zima has been tricked by this one before. And after that, they have the Giants and Vikings … and then Rodgers might be ready … I mean …
Why It Won't Happen: Read that last paragraph again. It's ridiculous. How can you come back in three or four weeks from a fractured collarbone?
The Verdict: They need to get to 10 wins AND get lucky with the whole Bears/Lions/Panthers/Cardinals tiebreak quagmire? I don't see it. We did learn one cool thing, though: Rodgers is worth a whopping NINE POINTS to every Green Bay gambling line. I blame my friend Chad Millman for this — last year, he created a fake stat called PSVAR (Point Spread Value Above Replacement) that led me to send him 15 scathing "GET THE EFF OFF MY FAKE STAT CORNER, MILLMAN!" emails. Just kidding. Last month, Chad wrote that Rodgers had the NFL's highest PSVAR at +10, with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and the Manning brothers trailing him at +9. In other words, if Rodgers ever got injured, Chad believed it would swing the ensuing Packers line by 10 points. What happened this week? Rodgers went down and the Eagles-Packers line swung from "Green Bay by 10" to "Green Bay by 1." So Chad was off by a point. Not bad.
Here's why I brought this up: In my 2013 preview column, I picked the Packers to miss the playoffs, worried about their schedule and apologized to Green Bay fans for building both of my fantasy teams around Aaron Rodgers — something I hadn't done since 2008 with Tom Brady, when, well, you know. So when Rodgers fractured his collarbone, Packers fans started sending me "YOU JINXED RODGERS, YOU DICK!" emails. Somehow, Chad Millman remained unscathed — the guy who created the fake PSVAR stat, ranked Rodgers first and in a roundabout way begged the NFL gods to injure Rodgers so he'd find out if his fake stat was good or not. Sorry, Chad wins any Aaron Rodgers Jinx-Off here. Send your hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. As for Green Bay's 2013 playoff hopes … sometimes it's just not your year. It happens. I say no.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-3)
Sked: @SF, NE, @Mia, TB, @NO, NYJ, NO, @Atl
How It Could Happen: Are you kidding? It's happening! Riverboat Ron is 5-for-6 on fourth-and-shorts and joking that he'd rather be called "Calculated-Risk-Taker Ron." Bill Barnwell is trotting out stats in his Monday column like "Every team that's won four straight games by two touchdowns or more has ended up making the playoffs." Even Vegas has noticed — they have the Panthers getting less than a touchdown in San Francisco against an equally hot Niners team. There's a lot to love.
Why It Won't Happen: What if they're just the Good Bad Team and they're meant to whup on the other bad teams and that's it? What then? What happens in those four games against the Niners, Pats and Saints (twice)? I can't shake that Week 5 loss in Arizona — Carolina's offense had more sacks than points and turned over the ball four times. Don't we need to see them play well in San Francisco before we even consider sticking them in the playoffs?
The Verdict: I'm going rogue — I think Calculated Risk-Taker Riverboat Ron's Panthers get all the way to 11 wins and maybe even battle New Orleans for that NFC South title. I say yes.
TENNESSEE TITANS (4-4)
Sked: JAX, INDY, @Oak, @Indy, @Denv, ZONA, @Jax, HOU
NEW YORK JETS (5-4)
Sked: Bye, @Buff, @Balt, MIA, OAK, @Car, CLE, @Mia
How It Could Happen: The Titans never should have blown that OT game in Houston in Week 2; they somehow survived a brutal three-week stretch against the Chiefs/Seahawks/Niners with Ryan Fitzpatrick prominently involved; and they have a pretty easy second-half schedule if you throw out the Denver game. Meanwhile, the Jets kicked New Orleans's butts last Sunday while brazenly hijacking Andy Reid's "We'll let our defense and special teams carry us and avoid letting our QB do ANYTHING" strategy. J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Why It Won't Happen: The Jets lost to Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Cincy by a combined score of 106-28; they're a late hit and a light shove away from being 3-6; and they're the Jets. The whole "Let's try to win without Geno hurting us" strategy can work for one week, and maybe even two or three, but not for two months. I just don't see it even with a fairly easy schedule. As for Tennessee, they look a little too obvious, right? Two Jacksonville games, Houston and Oakland … that's 8-4 right there. So they'd have to go 2-2 against Arizona, Denver and Indy twice to make the playoffs? It's so easy! Just pencil them in! Everybody believes in you, Tennessee!
The Verdict: There's a good chance we're looking at the Round 1 opponent for my beloved Patriots right here. In one corner, we have Geno Smith … someone who inspires at least one "Can you believe we might have a chance to bet against Geno Smith in the playoffs" email in my reader inbox every day. In the other corner, we have Bernard Karmell Pollard and the Titans. You might remember me joking since early September about the "inevitability" of a Pollard-Pats playoff showdown. That joke is no longer funny. He's coming for the Patriots, and this time, he's coming for Belichick ... and maybe even the entire Kraft family. I say no for the Jets and yes for the Titans.
And since the thought of seeing Pollard in a playoff game frightens the living hell out of every Patriots fan, I'd like to offer a video clip to put you in a better mood. We made it because my Grantland Channel guys are bored now that they're not working for 80-plus hours a week on the Bill & Jalen NBA Preview. It's called "2 Balls, 1 Dog" and stars my dog, Rufus, along with two tennis balls and the Pacific Ocean. We were going to wait to premiere it at Sundance, but instead, we're premiering it here. You can't break us, Bernard Karmell Pollard.
CHICAGO BEARS (5-3)
Sked: DET, BALT, @STL, @Min, DALL, @Cle, @Phi, GB
DETROIT LIONS (5-3)
Sked: @Chi, @Pitt, TB, GB, @Phi, BALT, NYG, @Minn
How It Could Happen: If the Lions win in Chicago this weekend, they'll sweep the season series, hop into the NFC North driver's seat and maybe even have a chance at a 2-seed. Vegas made the game a pick'em, which means they'd favor Detroit by three on a neutral field. Even Chicago fans don't think this Bears team is good. Then again, couldn't you see them winning one of those super Bearsy home games on Sunday — a kick-return TD, tons of momentum, then a Cutler pick-six, then Forte ripping off a 60-yard TD, then Megatron catching a pseudo–Hail Mary in triple coverage, then the Bears somehow pulling it out in the last three minutes because of a dumb penalty or something — and just kind of hanging around? I'm prepared for anything.
Why It Won't Happen: Because Bears fans are asking each other, "How the hell are we 5-3?" And because Lions fans are asking each other, "Seriously, how the hell are we gonna screw this up?"
The Verdict: I don't believe in the Bears. You know who I believe in? The Lions of Detroit. I believe that their comeback victory against Dallas was the most important thing that's ever happened to Matt Stafford. I believe Calvin Johnson is the biggest non-QB game-changer in football. I believe we're headed for a December of "Ndamukong Suh is a DOMINANT defensive player" stories. I believe in any schedule that — if they get by the Bears — yields seven non-playoff teams. Most of all, I believe in omens … and if you don't think Megatron Nowitzki winning the 2013 World Series of Poker 24 hours after Aaron Rodgers went down wasn't a good omen for the 2013 Detroit Lions, you're kidding yourself. I say no for the Bears and yes for the Lions.
LONG LIVE MEGATRON NOWITZKI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DALLAS COWBOYS (5-4)
Sked: @NO, Bye, @NYG, Oak, @Chi, GB, @Wash, Phi
How It Could Happen: You've seen the rest of their division, right?
Why It Won't Happen: If they lose in New Orleans on Sunday night and Philly beats the Seneca Packers, we're suddenly tied atop the NFC Least. That would be followed by a bye week and Cowboys fans FREAKING THE F--- OUT. And we haven't mentioned the tortured history of the Romo-Jerry Era yet. Now that Courtney Stodden and Doug Hutchison finally broke up, Romo and Jerry might be America's most destructive couple.
The Verdict: Dirty little secret about the Cowboys … they're actually pretty good. If they'd closed the Denver/San Diego/Detroit games, they'd be 8-1 right now. (Yeah, I know that's one of those "if my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle" comments, but it's true.) They can't get to nine wins with that schedule? Come on. Seriously? Seriously? I say yes.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-5)
Sked: Bye, @Cin, PITT, JAX, @NE, CHI, @NYJ, @Pitt
CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-3)
Sked: @Balt, CLE, Bye, @SD, INDY, @Pitt, MINN, BALT
How It Could Happen: With a two-game lead in the AFC North, the Bengals are 1-to-10 favorites to win that division. But the Browns just got two straight competent weeks from Jason Campbell! LOOK OUT! THE BROWNS ARE ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!
Why It Won't Happen for Cincy: I thought the Patriots got screwed when they lost Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo; losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall is actually worse. Is this turning into the Season From Hell for the Bengals? If they lose in Baltimore this Sunday, Cleveland hosts a banged-up Cincy team in Week 11 with a chance to pull even in the loss column AND win the season series. Could the Browns recover from the wreckage of Hurricane Weeden and eke out an AFC North title? Could 9-7 and a season sweep over Cincy be enough?
Why It Won't Happen for Cleveland: Because God hates Cleveland. Don't forget this for a second. Example No. 534: Anthony Bennett over Victor Oladipo.
Example No. 535: This Andrew Bynum story.
Example No. 536: This email from Eric Rosenthal in Thousand Oaks …
I'm 22 years old and have watched every Packers game since I was born. Favre, Rodgers, and a few well-played Matt Flynn games are all I've ever seen. Watching Seneca Wallace play football for 4 quarters literally made me sick. I feel like I was tortured. Then I remembered that other fans have dealt with years and years of incompetent quarterbacks. How the hell do they not hate football by now? It's seriously the most miserable experience there is, and I finally understand what all these people complain about. I looked it up and Wallace played 14 games for the Browns over two years. I always thought you were joking, but now I truly believe that God must hate Cleveland.
The Verdict: Allow me a quick tangent before I give you my answer here …
Have you noticed how many subpar-to-lousy QBs have looked competent in situations that, historically, seemed like they were no-chance-in-hell situations? I think it's the biggest reason why I've turned into Billy Zima this season. In the old days, you couldn't make the line high enough for Mike Glennon going into Seattle, or Jeff Tuel going against Kansas City's ferocious defense. And there was little chance of an injured Thad Lewis blowing your two-team teaser by winning on the road against a decent Dolphins team. Now this stuff is happening every week, and I think it's because they've made the league so much safer — receivers scamper all over the field without worrying about getting creamed, and QBs don't seem like they're fearing for their lives anymore. Well, except for you guys, Brandon Weeden and Blaine Gabbert. Billy Zima misses the old days, when you can bank on Mike Glennon doing everything short of crapping his pants against the 12th Man.
Anyway, once upon a time, the thought of Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell "saving" a Browns season seemed impossible. In 2013? Totally reasonable. I'll believe anything in 2013. And if it were anyone other than Cleveland, I'd pick the beyond-banged-up Bengals to blow the AFC North thanks to the Browns swooping in. Sadly, we're always four words away from the words "Here comes Brandon Weeden." I just can't shake them. So, begrudgingly … I say yes for the Bengals and no for the Browns.
By: timbersfan, 5:59 AM GMT on November 10, 2013
I am here to start a fight, because I'm a man and that's how I solve problems. I'm not here to help you. I am here to fucking hurt you. That's what I've learned in my years as an NFL fan. You have an issue with somebody? You see somebody being stupid? You don't look the other way. You don't back down. You strap on your man boots and you shove it through their teeth.
Let me tell you how I know this. I know it because the NFL told me. Take the Dolphins. They suck, but they're still in the NFL. I'm telling it like it is; that's what men do.
The Dolphins have, or maybe had, a 24-year-old left tackle named Jonathan Martin. And they have, or maybe had, a 30-year-old left guard named Richie Incognito. Last week, Martin left the team to seek help for emotional issues. Then allegations emerged that Incognito had been bullying him. Hazing him, if that word makes you feel better. Threatening him. Threatening his family. Leaving him racist voice mails. Sending him homophobic texts. Here's a quick example, and I'm not bleeping out the bad words, because being a man means looking reality in the face.
Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] shit in your fucking mouth. [I'm going to] slap your fucking mouth. [I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you.
Incognito was suspended from the team Sunday. Over the next few days, NFL columnists rounded up NFL sources to opine about the only thing that matters in the NFL: warrior fucking toughness. The Shadow League's J.R. Gamble called Martin "soft." Giants safety Antrel Rolle said: "You're a grown-ass man. You need to stand up for yourself." Ex-Dolphins lineman Lydon Murtha wrote that Martin was a "standoffish and shy" player who "broke the code" and that "playing football is a man's job" of "high testosterone." Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter spoke to a mean fleet of NFL types who all agreed that Martin was "a coward." One said: "I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person. If Incognito did offend him racially, that's something you have to handle as a man!" Another one said: "You handle it in house — fight, handle it on the field, joke about it, etc. — and keep it moving." Another one said: "I might get my ass kicked, but I'm going to go down swinging if that happens to me, I can tell you that."
Warriors make war on warriors. There's no room for crying in this game. You have a problem, you handle it on the field. Handle it as a man. Go down swinging. I hear you, NFL, and that's why I'm not here to move you or persuade you. If you have a penis and feelings, you'd better cut one of them off. I'm here to start a fight.
Because this — this idea that Jonathan Martin is a weakling for seeking emotional help — this is some room-temperature faux-macho alpha-pansy nonsense, and I am here to beat it bloody and leave it on the ground. Every writer who's spreading this around, directly or by implication; every player who's reaction-bragging about his own phenomenal hardness; every pundit in a square suit who's braying about the unwritten code of the locker room — every one of these guys should be ashamed of himself, and that's it, and it's not a complicated story.
Let's put some things in context, shall we? We're lucky in this regard, because it's actually fairly easy to put mental-health issues in context in a league whose retirees have a disproportionate tendency to shoot themselves to death. Former Chargers DB Paul Oliver is the most recent. He killed himself in late September at the ripe old age of 29. In 2012, four players or ex-players committed suicide in eight months, including 25-year-old Titans receiver O.J. Murdock, beloved Chargers icon Junior Seau, and Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who — maybe you vaguely remember this — shot himself in the parking lot of the Chiefs' practice facility after murdering his girlfriend in front of his 3-month-old daughter.
The plague of NFL suicides might by itself hint at the severity of the desperation many players seem to find below the surface of America's favorite TV show. And that might, in turn, argue in favor of extending some basic benefit-of-the-doubt compassion toward a young player who says he's struggling. But let's say you don't see it that way. You need more convincing, maybe because you're a man and you know that compassion is a lie invented to keep you from owning a Hummer. Fine. Let's squeeze into our thinking caps and keep going.
The brain is a part of the body. It's an organ. It's a physical thing. Sometimes it breaks. Sometimes it breaks because you beat it against the inside of your skull so hard playing football,1 and sometimes — because it's unimaginably intricate, the brain, way more intricate than even a modified read-option — it breaks for reasons that are harder to see. Your ability to chortle "boys will be boys" doesn't mean that psychological abuse of the sort that Martin apparently endured can't widen that kind of fracture. But then, does the cause even matter?
Look at it this way: No one thought Joe Theismann was soft for leaving the game when his leg was hanging sideways. Sometimes the brain goes sideways, and when that happens, "brave" or "cowardly" shouldn't even come into it. Seeking help is just the practical thing to do.
Or look at it this way: Say Jonathan Martin had three children, two boys and a girl. Say the youngest was 2 months old and the oldest was 3 years old and they all died in a fire. Would you call him weak for missing some games over this? No, because you would understand that he was in unbearable pain, that he was literally crazy with hurt, and you would want to support him because, to your mind, the pain would have a valid cause. But what makes a badly suffering person incapable of functioning isn't the validity of the cause, it's the extremity of the pain. And sometimes — because brains break! — it's possible to feel as if your children had burned to death for no obvious reason at all. The ceiling is screaming, every pore in your skin hurts, the view in the window hurts, the idea of getting off the couch to close the curtains hurts, thinking five minutes into the future makes you feel like you're coming apart at the atomic level. You need help when this happens. Yeah, even if it means that the hardest men on the planet — Twitter users — lose respect for you.
I love football — it's so much fun, it's beautiful, it's thrilling, it's an excuse to drunk-tweet in the mid-afternoon — but it has also become the major theater of American masculine crackup. It's as if we're a nation of gentle accountants and customer-service reps who've retained this one venue where we can air-guitar the berserk discourse of a warrior race. We're Klingons, but only on Sundays. The Marines have a strict anti-hazing policy, but we need our fantasy warrior-avatars to be unrestrained and indestructible. We demand that they comply with an increasingly shrill and dehumanizing value set that we communicate by yelling PLAY THROUGH PAIN and THAT GUY IS A SOLDIER and THE TRENCHES and GO TO WAR WITH THESE GUYS and NEVER BACK DOWN. We love coaches who never sleep, stars who live to win, transition graphics that take out the electrical grid in Kandahar. We love pregame flyovers that culminate in actual airstrikes.
And of course this affects the players. Locker-room guy-culture is one thing; the idea that any form of perceived vulnerability is a Marxist shadow plot is something else. It's a human inevitability that when you assemble a group of hypercompetitive young men some of them will go too far, or will get off on torturing the others — which is why it's maybe a good idea, cf. the real-life military, to have a system in place to keep this in check. What we have instead is a cynical set of institutional fetishes that rewards unhealthy behavior. The same 110-percent-never-give-an-inch rhetoric that makes concussed players feign health on game day encourages hazing creep after practice. Don't believe that? I've got a helmet-to-helmet hit here for you, and that'll be $15,000, petunia.
I guess the nuanced line on the scandal in Miami is that a locker room is a complicated organism, and the aggression/affection dynamic between teammates is impossible for outsiders to understand.2 Maybe that's true. But there are boundaries in locker rooms, same as anywhere else, and those boundaries are culturally conditioned, same as anywhere else, and they change with time, and they can be influenced. And it would be really good, it would be a really good thing, if the NFL moved its boundaries in such a way as to show some minimal respect for mental health. Not just for PR purposes, but because for as hell-bent as we seem on turning football players into gods without dignity, humanity doesn't stop the moment you strap on a Dolphins helmet. I don't know when football forgot that fact, but the evidence is overwhelming that it needs to remember.
There will always be locker-room assholes. They should be curtailed. And when a player says he needs time off for mental reasons — again: in a sport with a suicide problem — it shouldn't spark a national conversation on whether he's soft.
I am here to hurt you, so I'll also say this: You're a warrior, cool. What the hell are you a warrior for? I'm sorry if this makes it sound like I have emotions other than anger — I assure you that I don't — but tell me this: What's the point of being strong if all you stand for is abusing a suffering teammate? Those guys who taught me that when you see a problem, you step up and solve it, all those anonymous sources foaming on about how to be a man — is that what they think "being a man" is? I mean, nothing about protecting someone who's struggling in your big gender equation, then? Nothing about, like, knowing right from wrong?
Here's what I can't stop thinking: There were so many tough men in that Dolphins locker room. The unwritten code of football is that you handle your business in-house. Any one of these men could have said something to stop Incognito and help Martin. Any one of them could have handled it. They're warriors, right? They're paragons of strength. And yeah, there are complex reasons why they didn't. But they didn't.
By: timbersfan, 5:58 AM GMT on November 10, 2013
Five weeks ago, I put together an NFL quarter-season awards column that broke down the races for each of the league's most notable trophies through four games. Now, with each NFL team having suited up for at least eight contests, it's time to step forward and figure out where the NFL award races stand at the halfway point of the NFL season.
To be honest, I'm surprised how much things have changed. The complexion of certain competitions has changed entirely, thanks to injuries and newly emerging talents. In other cases, players with narrow leads have surged ahead of the competition. And, of course, there's no guarantee that the players who are in the running for these trophies right now will be the favorites once the season's up; Adrian Peterson was a likely Comeback Player of the Year winner this time last season, but his run to the MVP only really came about during the second half of the campaign. It'll be interesting to see if there's another AD who emerges in 2013.
Keep in mind that these choices are not necessarily my personal picks for who should win these awards, but instead who I think the voting electorate would choose if they had to vote based on the half-season they've seen. I'll try to throw in some insight if I think that a given player's chances are more likely to improve during the second half.
PATRICK SMITH/GETTY IMAGES
Comeback Player of the Year
Quarter-Season Winner: Terrell Suggs
Is there any reason to think that Terrell Suggs shouldn't be the prohibitive favorite to win this award? Suggs is coming off of a serious injury that dramatically affected his 2012 season, and this year he's been a force coming off the edge for the Ravens, ranking fifth in the league with nine sacks. Given all the turmoil in Baltimore amid their personnel overhaul, Suggs has been a steadying force and a leader on defense.
There's only one reason I can think of that might prevent Suggs from winning this award: voters noting Baltimore's drop-off from Super Bowl winner in 2012 to a below-average team in 2013 and tying it to Suggs's performance. That couldn't be more unfair; Suggs was basically a passenger on the 2012 team, missing most of the season and offering limited returns as a situational player when he was around. He has been a much more impressive and important player this year.
If the electorate decides against Suggs, there would be only a few other candidates who would make sense. With a new head coach, Philip Rivers has reversed years of decline and put together arguably his best professional (half-) season alongside a bunch of rookies and castoffs in San Diego. Jason Peters has performed admirably as Philadelphia's left tackle after tearing his Achilles twice last year and missing the entire season. The league could even consider Cowboys defensive end George Selvie, who was expected to be a star during his time at South Florida before producing a disappointing final season at school and falling all the way to the seventh round of the 2010 draft. He bounced around the league's bottom-feeding teams and rode the bench for Jacksonville last year before making his way to Dallas this season, where he has emerged as a pretty talented pass-rusher, with six sacks in nine games. His comeback isn't as simple a story as that of Suggs or Peters, but his work in becoming a viable NFL starter is admirable, too.
Coach of the Year
Quarter-Season Winner: Andy Reid
While he was in the running with Sean Payton for Coach of the Year four weeks ago, it's now a foregone conclusion that Andy Reid will end up claiming the Coach of the Year trophy for his work in turning the 2-14 Chiefs into an as-yet-undefeated playoff contender. No voter can resist that win jump. At the same time, Reid is benefiting from the core of talent left for him by the previous administration in Kansas City; it wasn't an accident that the Chiefs had multiple Pro Bowlers a year ago. Merely by upgrading to an average quarterback, Reid has helped drive a gigantic shift in winning percentage.
Were I voting for Coach of the Year, I would put Reid in that discussion. But there are a number of coaches who I think have done a better job of molding their schemes to the talent on hand or getting more out of less on their roster. Marc Trestman has totally revitalized the Chicago offense, protected Jay Cutler, and quietly gotten a mammoth season out of Matt Forte. Mike McCoy has done the same thing in San Diego, with Rivers having the aforementioned career season in an offense built around the talents of Danny Woodhead. Rex Ryan has taken a team that was left for dead and gotten brilliance out of an inexperienced defense, saving his own job in the process. And you can definitely make a case for Ron Rivera, who has built one of the league's best defenses without a viable secondary, in addition to becoming a shockingly good in-game decision-maker. Any of those guys would be better choices than Reid. In the real world, alas, Reid is a lock to win this one.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Quarter-Season Winner: Kiko Alonso
After Week 4, Kiko Alonso had four interceptions. By my math, that's one interception per game, which is awful good. After Week 9 … Kiko Alonso still has four interceptions. There's nothing wrong with that, of course — Alonso remains tied for the league lead in picks — but he's not quite the slam-dunk choice he was a month ago.
Alonso's competition is one of the best stories in football. Tyrann Mathieu has been a wildly fascinating player this season for Arizona; even though he was a midround pick coming off of a year spent out of competitive football, he has stepped right into the lineup from Week 1 and been a playmaker on what quietly might be the league's best defense. Mathieu has a sack, two interceptions, and a forced fumble on a would-be touchdown by Jared Cook in Week 1. He has also come up with a number of big passes defensed, notably on Detroit's fourth-down play in Week 2 to seal a victory. At the same time, he gets targeted a lot by opposing teams, which should tell you that they're not scared to throw at him. The Cardinals have been awful against tight ends this year, and some of that is on Mathieu. (He also has just one kickoff return and no punt returns this year, which isn't his fault, but is surprising.) I'd also consider the Saints' Kenny Vaccaro as a candidate, but right now, I expect that Mathieu would narrowly edge out Alonso.
MIKE MCGINNIS/GETTY IMAGES
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Quarter-Season Winner: Geno Smith
The candidates from the three-quarters pole have washed out. EJ Manuel got hurt. DeAndre Hopkins slowed down with the quarterback mess in Houston. Geno Smith has taken a lot of responsibility for a rookie quarterback with little to work with at receiver, but other offensive players have surpassed his level of competence.
Right now, we've got a three-man race. Behind Door 1 is Zac Stacy, the squat 216-pound halfback who seems to get better and better with each week. On a Rams team that has used first- and second-round picks on a variety of running backs and receivers over the past several seasons, their rookie fifth-rounder might be the best rusher and receiver they have.
Behind Door 2 is the guy who will have to carry the load in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers out: Eddie Lacy. (He was only squat for a half-hour on Twitter over the summer.) For a guy whose toe was basically supposed to fall off once somebody stepped on it at the professional level, Lacy sure looks like a different class of running back versus the James Starkses of the world. He's been a boom-or-bust back so far, but he has now had 20-plus carries every week since returning from an injury, so his workload is going to produce some gaudy counting stats by the end of the year. It's not unreasonable to think that he could end up with 1,500 rushing yards, at which point it would be hard to rule out his candidacy.
The secret superstar hiding behind Door 3, though, is Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, who has been an absolute monster catching passes from Rivers. Over his past five games, Allen has produced 31 catches for 497 yards and three scores. Prorated over a full 16-game season, that amounts to a 99-catch, 1,590-yard, 10-touchdown campaign. Since Week 4, the only receivers who have averaged more receiving yards per game than Allen are Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Justin Blackmon (sigh), Alshon Jeffery, and A.J. Green. He's playing at a higher level than Stacy or Lacy right now.
Put to a vote, I think Lacy would win because more people see the Packers every week. But I think Allen's the most productive rookie in the league right now.
Defensive Player of the Year
Quarter-Season Winner: J.J. Watt
Watt slowed down some over the past five weeks; he had an incredible performance against the Colts on Sunday night, but Watt's numbers are notably down from where they were a year ago. The two stats that stood out for him a year ago were his 20.5 sacks and 16 passes defensed; he's on pace for 11 sacks and eight knockdowns this season. There's no shame in that — Watt's still a phenomenal player, and one of the best defensive talents in football — but having set the expectations so high, it will be tough for Watt to win this award two years in a row.
There are two candidates who seem like the most likely winners. Start with Richard Sherman, who's had to take on an even bigger role this season with Brandon Browner alternately injured and ineffective across the field for most of the first half. Sherman locking down Anquan Boldin in prime time in Week 2 after Boldin's 208-yard game in the season opener is the most memorable performance by a cornerback this season. And his pick-six of Matt Schaub famously led to an unlikely Seahawks comeback, one that really stands out as a season-shifting experience for the Texans. You could also argue that Schaub wasn't exactly skimping on pick-sixes, and you could point out that Boldin has averaged 49 yards per game since his Week 1 breakout.
Here's why I think Robert Mathis wins instead. How many players can you name on the Indianapolis defense who you know to be consistently effective? How many players pass that test for Seattle? Sherman is surrounded by great players, including both the safeties backing him up in the secondary. Who else on the Indianapolis defense is going to even sniff a Pro Bowl berth, besides possibly Jerrell Freeman? Vontae Davis looked great against the Broncos and promptly got torched by Andre Johnson. Their front seven is otherwise below-average. Mathis is a one-man show; remember, he has more sacks (11.5) than the rest of his team combined (10.5). If Mathis finishes the season with 15-plus sacks and he's the only player the voters can pick out of a lineup, he's going to win this award. I'm not saying that's fair, but I do think that's the logic that will come into play.
Offensive Player of the Year
Quarter-Season Winner: Drew Brees
Also known as the runner-up for MVP award or the "Wow, your stats look good" trophy. It's probably better to talk about this one with the MVP award in one discussion, so …
Most Valuable Player
Quarter-Season Winner: Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning's stats, as split by the first and second quarters of the 16-game season:
Split Cmp Att Cmp% Yds Yds/Att TD INT
Games 1-4 117 156 75.0% 1,470 9.4 16 0
Games 5-8 120 177 67.8% 1,449 8.2 13 6
That's a very different player. The guy from the first four games is having the greatest stretch of play, quite possibly, by any quarterback in NFL history. The guy from the next four games is Drew Brees with a couple extra interceptions thrown in. There's no shame in that, of course — Brees is a viable MVP candidate himself — but it's not a runaway the way it was a month ago. There's also the very real effect of MVP fatigue built in with Manning; voters just like picking new players, and if he's in a dead heat with somebody who hasn't won an MVP trophy before, I expect that Manning would lose.
Who are his challengers? Start with the guy who vanquished Manning in Indianapolis a couple weeks ago. If you're going purely on gaudiest stats (and the voters often do), you can't really make a case for Andrew Luck. Among qualifying quarterbacks, he's 21st in yards per attempt (7.0) and 25th in completion percentage (58.3). At the same time, we've all watched those games, and it's pretty clear that Luck's better than the numbers, and is continuing to play that way. He's now beaten the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos, and that matters. Luck's schedule also gets easier over the second half, which should help his numbers improve. He's also underrated in terms of avoiding turnovers; Luck has just three interceptions and three fumbles all season, which is remarkably low for a passer through eight games. My only concern is that he might struggle a bit without Reggie Wayne, but given what he did to the Texans during the second half last week, Luck seems to be doing just fine. At the very least, Luck deserves to be in this discussion.
The non-quarterback candidate is Calvin Johnson, who missed one game in the first half and played another upon his return at far less than 100 percent. In the other six games, he's averaging 132.7 receiving yards per game. He almost single-handedly kept the Lions in the game against the Cowboys in Week 8. He has a number of circus catches that are going to be shown over and over again on highlight reels throughout the remainder of the season in a way that an endless string of eight-yard option routes from Peyton won't. Johnson is universally acclaimed as the best player at his position and arguably as the best non-quarterback in football, but he's never sniffed an MVP award.
Most notably, though, Megatron is going to have an opportunity to produce a second-half run for the ages. As I wrote on Monday, Detroit faces the fourth-easiest schedule in football over the remainder of the season. That means it will likely be winning a bunch, which in itself raises Johnson's stock. Voters want winners. Specifically, though, Megatron will be playing against an incredibly friendly slate of opposing pass defenses. Here's each team Johnson will suit up against this season, and their respective ranks in pass defense DVOA.
Team Pass DVOA Rank
That's zero top-10 pass defenses and four bottom-10 units. If Calvin Johnson stays relatively healthy, he is very possibly going to have one of the greatest second halves an NFL wide receiver has ever had. Throw that in with a team going from worst to first in the NFC North and you might have something.
At the moment, I doubt that Megatron has done enough to wrest the award away from Peyton. I do think Johnson would win the Offensive Player of the Year award through a half-season, with Peyton beating out Johnson, Luck, and Brees for MVP. By the end of the 2013 season, though, don't be surprised if those roles are reversed.
By: timbersfan, 8:46 AM GMT on November 01, 2013
What a week for fourth downs! Teams went for it on fourth down with five yards to go or less 18 times in Week 8, and they picked up the conversion on 15 of those plays. Before Sunday, the league had been converting 52.3 percent of those plays, which was narrowly down from the 53.8 percent conversion rate on fourth-and-5 or less from 2010 to 2012. The only meaningful failure on fourth down all week came on Week 8’s final play, with the Seahawks blitzing Kellen Clemens into an overthrow on fourth-and-goal to claim a tight victory. Those final two minutes? They weren't, um … they won't go in the coaching textbook, that's for sure. Overall, this was a week when coaches went aggressive and were rewarded for their choices. It's a more pleasant TYFNC when things work that way.
And let's keep it pleasant by thanking the league's 32 taskmasters to start …
The Three Best Calls of Week 8
3. Bill Belichick manipulates the wind in Foxborough. That Belichick guy still knows what he's doing. On Sunday, in the middle of a comeback victory over the Dolphins, Belichick showed he was paying attention with a well-planned pair of moves that used the weather to his team's advantage. With the wind approaching 20 mph in Foxborough on Sunday, Belichick's offense had the gusts at their backs in the third quarter. When a Stevan Ridley run picked up 10 yards to set up third-and-10 from the Miami 30-yard line, Belichick thought on his feet. He realized a 48-yard field goal into the wind would be too dangerous to attempt, meaning he had to kick the field goal in the third quarter. With that in mind, he immediately took a timeout to stop the clock, making it extremely likely the Patriots would either convert on third down and continue their drive or kick a field goal to the favorable end of the field. (It helps when you have a quarterback you trust to avoid taking a sack or throwing the ball well short of the sticks.) Tom Brady threw an incomplete pass on third down, but Stephen Gostkowski had no trouble pushing a 48-yard field goal through with 13 seconds left in the quarter, giving the Patriots a 20-17 lead.
On New England's next drive, Belichick flipped that logic onto its head. Now traveling into the wind with a three-point lead, the Patriots faced a third-and-5 from the Miami 35-yard line. That's normally a passing spot for Brady & Co.; since Brady returned from his torn ACL in 2009, the Patriots had faced third-and-5 69 times and thrown the ball 64 times. (The league throws 87 percent of the time in that down-and-distance.) This time, the Patriots called for a run play. Why? Because they knew in advance they would be going for it on fourth down with a failure! When you know you have two plays to pick up the five yards you need, it opens up your playbook and creates new possibilities. Given that the Dolphins were almost surely expecting a pass play given New England's tendencies, it made all the sense in the world to run the ball against a soft front on third down. This was one that didn't work at first — Brandon Bolden gained only one yard — but the Patriots then went for it on fourth down and converted on a Brady scramble. That was pretty nifty.
2. Denver goes for it twice after falling behind 21-7 and creates a pair of touchdowns. Most of the numbers that come up in this piece every week are averages; they're considerations for what an average team does or should do in a given situation against an average defense. That makes them imperfect (as opposed to useless). It's just as important to take the numbers and apply them to the teams and situation at hand. That's often used as an argument when people want to default to the conservative side of decision-making. Rarely is it used as a justification to be more aggressive.
If any team should be more aggressive on offense, shouldn't it be the Denver Broncos when they're playing the dismal defense of Washington? John Fox's conservativeness might have cost the Broncos a victory in Indianapolis a week ago, so it was disheartening to see them punt on fourth-and-3 from the Washington 43-yard line in the second quarter. Once they went down 21-7 after a pair of unseemly turnovers, though, the Broncos sprung into action in fourth-down situations. It was the right move both times.
First, Denver handed the ball to Knowshon Moreno on a fourth-and-2 from the Washington 20-yard line. That ended up as a five-yard pickup, and the Broncos scored three plays later. The next drive was more harrowing. Denver had first-and-goal from the 2 and picked up one yard over its first three plays before the quarter ran out, giving them a fourth-and-goal from the Washington 1-yard line. Denver lined up to go for it in the shotgun before Washington called timeout, which raises one concern that affects the numbers: Washington was likely less worried about a quarterback sneak than they would otherwise have been because they were facing a gimpy Peyton Manning. That hurts, because the quarterback sneak is the most effective play a team can run from a yard out. When they returned, the Broncos lined up Manning under center and had him throw the ball to an open Joel Dreessen for a one-yard score. Denver never looked back.
1. The Browns go for it down 20-10 in the third quarter. For a guy who worked underneath a pre-enlightenment Ron Rivera in Carolina the past couple of years, I really like Rob Chudzinski's aggressiveness in short yardage, especially given how his team can struggle to move the football at times. Sunday was no exception. His Browns were up against the league's best defense, the Kansas City Chiefs, with Jason Campbell under center. Campbell had a decent day, but there's no way you can count on your offense to consistently move the ball and create scoring opportunities.
So it makes sense that Chudzinski decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Kansas City 19-yard line on the opening possession of the second half in a 10-point game. As color commentator Dan Fouts shouted about how the Browns needed to keep the momentum and take the points by kicking, the Browns converted with a handoff to Willis McGahee for two yards. On the next play, Campbell hit running back Fozzy Whittaker on a swing pass for a 17-yard touchdown, bringing the Browns within three points. Neither team scored again until the Chiefs kicked a field goal with 22 seconds remaining. (That itself was a decision about which I didn't have a strong opinion one way or another.) The Browns only made it to the Kansas City side of the field on one more possession the rest of the way. This ended up being Chudzinski's only chance at a touchdown, and he was right to take it. Good for him.
There are so many fourth-down successes to talk about! I can't even get to them all! Quickly …
The 49ers picked up fourth-and-1 on their opening drive from Jacksonville's 21-yard line with Frank Gore because, well, going for it on fourth down doesn't just have to be a David strategy … Joe Philbin's Dolphins were stuck in no-man's-land on the New England 38-yard line with fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, but against a Patriots team that is without Vince Wilfork or Tommy Kelly in the middle, going for it was the right call; that Daniel Thomas ripped off a 15-yard gain is just a bonus … the Jaguars went for it no fewer than five times, picking up three of them in a futile effort to challenge San Francisco … the slant from Matthew Stafford to Megatron on fourth-and-goal from the 2 in the first quarter ended up giving the Lions a late chance to win … the Packers converted fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-3 in no-man's-land against the Vikings because they're one of the best offenses in the league and should basically never be punting on fourth-and-short … and add the Saints to that group, with Pierre Thomas running for 12 yards on an early fourth-and-2 carry from the Buffalo 37-yard line … oh, and Rivera continued his reign of terror when Mike Tolbert picked up yet another fourth-and-1 for the Panthers. Can't stop. Won't stop.
Besides the aforementioned end to the Monday Night Football game, the other big stop of the week came with the Jets denying the Bengals a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line down 14-0 in the first half. The Bengals were so thrown by the momentum swing that they proceeded to win by 40 points.
Are teams going for it more in short yardage near the goal line? On fourth down inside the 2-yard line in situations when the two combatants are separated by 14 points or fewer, teams have gone for it on 19 of their 34 opportunities this year, 55.8 percent of the time. From 2010 to 2012, teams went for it in those same situations just 39.1 percent of the time. So while it's obviously a small sample, it's certainly true that teams have been more aggressive near the goal line this year.
Oh, and one more thing. I don't want to name names, but let's just look at the numbers and see how teams have done at converting for scores in that scenario. Remember that, even without considering the field position you "gain" when you fail to convert on fourth down, the breakeven rate for going for it inside the 2-yard line is 43 percent. In 2013, teams have converted for a new set of downs or a touchdown on only 38.9 percent of those attempts, which is a pretty disappointing figure. It's also in an awfully small sample. From 1999 to 2012, the full expanses of the Pro-Football-Reference.com play index, those aggressive teams have produced a touchdown on 53.3 percent of their attempts, adding in a conversion for a first down on another 1.8 percent of tries. It's the right move in theory, but it has also been the right move in practice.
It's always the teams with the injured backs, man. Why are the Bills, who have already lost C.J. Spiller to injuries and have a hampered Fred Jackson manning the load, insistent on running a meaningless handoff to Tashard Choice from their own 20-yard line with 30 seconds left in the first half?
It was ironic that Doug Marrone called Choice's number, because the running back is the patron saint of this category. It wasn't quite a halftime draw, but in Week 1 of the 2010 season, Choice's Cowboys were down 3-0 to Washington when the Cowboys lined up for a first-and-20 play on their own 35-yard line with four seconds left. It was a classic situation for a kneeldown, but the Cowboys decided to call a pass play. Tony Romo checked down to Choice, who promptly fumbled, with Washington returning the fumble for what was the decisive touchdown in a 13-7 final. Listen to the radio announcers after that play. "Dallas should have just killed the clock!" Easy to say after the play.
I always mention the possibility of an offensive player getting hurt on a meaningless draw, but it's also true that a defensive player can suffer an injury there, too. I don't want to be so cynical as to suggest that offenses should run draw plays at the end of the first half knowing they could create an advantage by injuring a member of the opposition, but that's what happened with the Jets, who ran another draw with Bilal Powell from their own 34-yard line with nine seconds left. Bengals safety Taylor Mays suffered a shoulder injury on the play that forced him out for the entire second half and already has him out for Thursday's game against the Dolphins. That's really disappointing.
The Tiniest of Challenges
Did a memo go out from the NFL Coaches Association promising the head honchos a bonus if they threw their challenge flag this weekend? There were more questionable challenges this weekend than I can ever recall; I ended up with no fewer than six coaches who threw their flag on plays with little reward. A couple were your basic "We can't possibly get an inch!" challenges, with Marrone failing on a plane break challenge on second down and Andy Reid succeeding on a third-down challenge that would have preceded a fourth-and-an-inch attempt in no-man's-land against the Browns. In each case, the challenge ended up inconsequential; the Bills scored on the next play, and the Chiefs just ended up missing a long field goal anyway.
There were two more obvious low-reward challenges, both of which proved to be winners. Bruce Arians got into the act in Arizona by challenging that a 27-yard punt return to midfield in the first quarter was actually out of bounds after 13 yards. He was right, and it actually ended up helping; the Falcons eventually drove to the Arizona 36-yard line before punting. Jim Schwartz, meanwhile, challenged for all of five yards on a second-and-6 pass from Romo on the Dallas 42-yard line. The play was reversed and the Cowboys threw the ball away on third down before punting. In either of these cases, of course, the team could have easily done as well without picking up the relatively tiny amount of field position they gained from the challenge flag.
Fox, distressingly, doesn't appear to really give any consideration to how he uses his challenge flag. After winning worst call of Week 6 for a useless challenge and failing to challenge a would-be Eric Decker touchdown catch that was ruled incomplete in Week 7, Fox challenged that a 10-yard completion to Santana Moss deep inside Washington territory in the first quarter that gave RG3 & Co. a first down was incomplete. It would be one thing if the call were obviously wrong, since an overturn would have forced Washington to punt, but the decision was upheld upon review, costing Fox a timeout and a challenge with 50 minutes to go.
In the repeat offenders book, nobody tops Mike Tomlin for wasting challenges. It was Tomlin who challenged for 14 yards on the opening kickoff of a playoff game against the Ravens in 2010; after a freak fumble he desperately tried to challenge away, he was then out of challenges by the end of the first quarter. Amazingly, even though the league now automatically reviews turnovers and scoring plays, Tomlin managed to pull the same move again on Sunday against the Raiders.
The meaningless challenge came in the first quarter, when Ben Roethlisberger found Heath Miller on first down on his own 38-yard line for 10 yards and a new set of downs, only for the pass to be ruled incomplete. He still had two more chances to convert and was picking up only 10 yards, but Tomlin challenged. He won, but with the win came the opportunity cost of having used his first challenge. Then, seven minutes into the second quarter, a bouncing Steelers punt appeared to touch a Raiders player, only for the referees to rule on the field that a Steelers player touched the punt first, downing it. Since the play didn't result in a turnover, Tomlin had to challenge to try to reverse the call, but the decision was upheld. Again, Tomlin found himself out of challenges with 34 minutes of challengeable time left in the game. You just can't let that happen to yourself, especially with so much time left to go. Low-reward challenges in the first half seem tempting, but the risk-reward opportunity just isn't there. Even more distressing, I don't think guys like Tomlin or Fox are even considering the value of the reward.
The Three Worst Calls of Week 3
3. The Vikings give up … and then don't give up. I could forgive the Vikings for taking the sure points and wanting the game to be over the past couple of weeks. I just can't reconcile the way they treat different situations in concert with one another. Minnesota was getting blown out by the Packers on Sunday night when Toby Gerhart ran through the Packers defense and over teammate Greg Jennings for a 13-yard touchdown run, making the score 41-23, pending the extra point with 4:48 to go.
Minnesota chose to kick the extra point to make it a 17-point game, which makes no sense at all; there's virtually no likelihood you'll have the opportunity to produce three scoring possessions in five minutes. Your only way back into the game, given the time you have left, is to try to reduce the number of possessions needed to tie or win the game. And the only way to do that is to go for two and succeed, which would make the contest a two-possession game with the Vikings then down 16 points. That's the only path by which the Vikings could possibly sniff a comeback: two-pointer to make it 41-25, deep kickoff, defensive stop, touchdown, two-point conversion (making it 41-33 and a one-score game), onside kick, touchdown, two-point conversion. If you fail at any point, the game's over, but the game is over if you need three drives, anyway.
Obviously, the Vikings didn't have a big chance of winning. But if the team didn't really care all that much about the two-point call, why did Minnesota then attempt an onside kick on the next play? It's one thing if you want to give up and basically let the game be over as a meaningful contest, but the Vikings kept insisting they were still in serious business negotiations. They were not.
2. Pittsburgh runs the slant. This might be on Roethlisberger as opposed to offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but I don't understand this one at all. The Steelers were down 21-3 and facing a third-and-1 on the Oakland 17-yard line with 17 seconds remaining in the first half. They had just used their final timeout. They split everybody out and Roethlisberger … throws a three-yard quick slant to Felix Jones over the middle of the field. The ball goes through Jones's hands and is nearly intercepted.
What on earth is the point of that play or that throw? Pittsburgh already has a makeable field goal from 34 yards; the five yards or so they'll pick up from a checkdown don't materially improve Shaun Suisham's chances of hitting the field goal. (He admittedly did miss from 34 anyway.) Furthermore, if Jones catches the pass and picks up those yards, the clock is going to continue running after he is tackled (which, best-case scenario, would have happened with 14 seconds left); the Steelers would have had to sprint back to the line and spike the ball without any chance of running an additional play to the end zone. The throw to Jones was quick, without seemingly any real attempt by Roethlisberger to look downfield. Does giving up the possibility of a play to the end zone justify throwing a checkdown that will keep the clock running? This play was absolutely impenetrable.
1. Mike Tomlin loses the right to challenge plays way too early again. Tomlin's Steelers finally got onto the winning side of the ledger in recent weeks, picking up two victories after Tomlin had banned his players from playing pool or other board games as a result of their awful start. Now that their winning streak has been broken, what does Tomlin ban now? If he really wanted to help the team, Tomlin would ban himself from throwing the challenge flag.
By: timbersfan, 8:37 AM GMT on November 01, 2013
Danny Granger thought about it. Of course he did. Deep into Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference finals, with Miami's triumph now inevitable and Indiana's season over, Granger allowed himself to wonder. If only he'd been in a jersey and not a suit. If only he hadn't undergone surgery, if he'd played through the pain. If only that one piece of cartilage — "tiny, so tiny," he says — hadn't lingered in his patellar tendon, adding a twinge to his every movement and rendering him earthbound and barely mobile, a weak imitation of his former self. If only his 2012-13 season hadn't ended after five games.
"But you can't let yourself think about it too long," Granger says now. "You can't dwell on it."
Perhaps not, so let's do it for him. Let's say Granger plays in the conference finals. Let's take an Indiana team that pushed Miami to seven games, and let's give it a career 18-point-per-game scorer, a versatile long-range shooter who could divert Miami's attention from Paul George. Game 7 was a Miami blowout; Granger wouldn't have changed that. Same goes for Game 3, and Game 5, though closer, was also a double-digit Pacers loss.
But what about Game 1? The game neither team led by more than five points in the second half; the game Indiana had in hand until LeBron beat the buzzer with a layup in overtime.1 The game when Granger's replacement, Lance Stephenson, shot 2-for-10 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3. The game, like every other game in that series, when Frank Vogel couldn't trust any member of his bench to play more than 18 minutes. What if you put Granger on the court then? Does he hit one of those five 3s Stephenson missed? Does he space the court enough for George Hill to shoot better than 2-for-9? Is there one play, somewhere in that game, in which Granger is the difference between a Pacers basket and a Heat stop, between a win and a loss, between a second-straight Miami title and Indiana playing San Antonio in the Finals?
We can't know, of course, just like we can't know how Granger's insertion might have hurt the Pacers on defense. Lineup changes don't happen in a vacuum. But the biggest reason we can't know how Granger would have affected the game is the same reason we don't know how to assess Indiana's contender status in 2013-14.
More From the X-Files
We know what kind of player Danny Granger used to be. But as this season gets under way, we no longer know what kind of player he is.
Granger says it before the question is even finished. He grins, then nods. He's sitting in the visitor's locker room in Atlanta's Phillips Arena, where the Pacers have just beaten the Hawks 107-89 in the preseason. Granger did not play in this meaningless game, just like he didn't play in last May's most meaningful games, and all of this not playing has league observers thinking of Granger less as a flesh-and-bones basketball player than as a name on a piece of paper to which an exorbitant amount of money is assigned, money that will come off of some team's books at the end of this season.
Even here at Grantland, he has already been renamed: no longer Danny Granger, now Danny Granger's expiring contract. It makes sense. Lance Stephenson stepped into Granger's starting role last season, and that lineup played more minutes together than almost any other group in the league,2 outscoring opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions. Stephenson paired with Paul George to form one of the NBA's best defensive wing tandems, and once he was forced to become the team's top scorer, George emerged as an All-Star. Indiana advanced further in the playoffs than it had since 2004. The Pacers were good — almost championship-level good — and they had absolutely no need for the man who had led them in scoring each of the past five years. So it is natural, now, to look at Granger's name on the Pacers roster and wonder not what they can get out of him but instead what they can get in exchange for his expiring $14 million contract.
Granger knows this. "You can't fight it," he says. "Everybody in this room has either been in those conversations or is going to be in those conversations. The NBA is a revolving door." Yet he won't relinquish his claim to the role of one of the Pacers' leaders. On a night when he watched in street clothes as Stephenson started and played well, further cementing himself as Indiana's 2-guard, Granger was asked about Indiana's potential starting lineup once he's fully recovered.
"We really don't know yet," he said. "But the plan, I think, is for me to start. Lance is actually very creative when he's out there with the second unit. But really, at this point, who knows?"
Growing up near New Orleans, Granger certainly never knew he'd be in a position like this. "The NBA," he says, "was never even really a goal." Six-foot-seven and skinny, with few perimeter skills, Granger received two scholarship offers: one from Bradley, of the Missouri Valley Conference, and one from Yale.
"I always had a head for numbers," he says, "so I broke down those odds — this many high school kids get a D-1 scholarship, this many D-1 players make the league, this many NBA players have careers longer than two or three years — and I thought, I didn't get recruited. With those odds, the NBA probably isn't going to happen." If the NBA truly never crossed Granger's mind back then, he probably would have chosen the Ivy League, but he didn't. He enrolled at Bradley, the program that offered better competition and a better chance of making the NCAA tournament. After two years in Peoria, Granger transferred to New Mexico. He grew an inch, added a 3-point shot, and became a better ball handler on the perimeter. Now, instead of a 6-foot-7 power forward, he was a 6-foot-8 shooting guard.
Before Granger's senior year, UNM coach Ritchie McKay sat him down for a conversation about his pro prospects. "I don't care if I'm sitting at the very end of the bench," Granger said. "I just want to make it." Then the Lobos won 11 of their first 12 games, with Granger as their leading scorer. "You know, I think I can contribute right away," he told his coach. "I just need to go somewhere I can get some minutes." By the end of the regular season, Granger was an honorable mention All-American, suddenly considered a potential lottery pick. Says McKay: "By that point, he was saying, 'You know, this team doesn't have a solid 2 or a solid 3 — if I go there maybe I can start right away."
When the Pacers invited Granger for a workout before the 2005 draft, then-coach Rick Carlisle told president of basketball operations Larry Bird that he liked what he saw from the New Mexico guard. According to the Indianapolis Star, Bird responded by saying there was no chance Granger would be available when the Pacers picked at 17. Bird even went so far as to apologize to Granger for bringing him to Indianapolis. Surely, Bird thought, any workout for a non-lottery team was a waste of Granger's time.
It certainly looked that way. In his final mock draft, ESPN's Chad Ford pegged Granger to go to the Raptors with the seventh pick. NBADraft.net slotted him in the same spot. But on draft day, word circulated among general managers that Granger's left knee, which he'd injured midway through his senior year, might not completely heal. Knee troubles might hound Granger throughout his career. So on a night when he expected to be among the first 10 picks, Granger listened as others' names were called and found himself clinging to one desperate hope: "I just don't want to be the last one in the green room," he told McKay.
At no. 17, Bird and the Pacers ensured that he wasn't. Granger was the team's first draft pick after the Malice at the Palace brawl, a pick that the organization pushed as a symbol of its commitment to high-character players. As a rookie, Granger contributed. In his second year, he started 57 games. By his third year, Granger had emerged as the Pacers' go-to guy. Through all of this, the knee held up. But Indiana's high-paced, free-shooting, Granger-led teams hit a ceiling under coach Jim O'Brien. After O'Brien was fired in January 2011, new coach Frank Vogel changed the team's philosophy. He slowed the pace, emphasized defense, and ran much of the offense through the post. And Granger says his response to this shift should show people all they need to know about how he might adapt to his place within this year's team.
People talk about my role changing," he says now. "My role already changed. It became completely different when Frank took over. It's not about my role changing now. That's when my role changed." No longer did the Pacers ask Granger to go one-on-one throughout each game. The percentage of his plays coming from isolations and post-ups was cut in half, according to Synergy Sports. Meanwhile, he was spotting up and coming off screens more, scoring off skip passes and kick-outs from Hibbert or David West. His scoring average dropped from 24 a game in his last full year with O'Brien to 20 a game in his first full year with Vogel. And yet his efficiency numbers stayed almost exactly the same. Granger was just as good as he'd always been — but now he operated within a more natural offensive flow.
"This team now," he says, "we have three guys who can average 20 a night.3 This team is crazy. We pass; we move the ball; we get everybody going." So, Granger's thinking goes, now he can step easily into becoming just another very good player on a team full of very good players. And let's not forget: When Granger last played a full season in 2011-12, he was arguably the best among Indiana's crop of borderline All-Stars. He led the team with 19 points per game and was better than the league's average in virtually every manner of scoring — from spot-ups to post-ups to coming off screens to isos. Now, Granger feels like his role has been boiled down to its essential element: "I'm a shooter," he says. "That's where it starts." And in 2011-12, he did that better than almost anyone in the league, scoring off catch-and-shoot situations more efficiently than any high-volume shooter not named Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson.
Granger is right that the Pacers changed after Vogel took over and before his knee gave out, but in Granger's absence, those changes have become more pronounced. "He has to work his way back in," says West. "We're a different team now. Now it's truly, no question, defense first. That's our whole identity." Two years ago, with Granger in the lineup, the Pacers ranked seventh in defensive efficiency. Last year, with Stephenson in his place, they were the best in the league. That's not all attributable to the Granger-Stephenson swap, of course — George cemented himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and Hibbert did the same in the post. But as much scoring punch as Granger can provide (and the Pacers need it; they were in the NBA's bottom third offensively last season), he'll have to adjust to a team that has continued to evolve away from his greatest strength.
He'll also have to acknowledge that if this team belongs to any one player, right now it's Paul George. Yet Granger insists that Indiana's offense, which doesn't ask any perimeter player to dominate possessions, will allow for George and him to complement each other. Says an Eastern Conference scout: "We know he and George can play together. That's not an issue at all." Adds George: "When Danny's out there, it frees everybody up. The whole court is just bigger. I have more room, George [Hill] has more room — everybody."
All this talk of readjusting assumes one thing: Someday — possibly soon — Granger will be healthy. He insists that his knee feels good, that he's back to his old self. Yet his health issues stem from tendinosis — a degenerative condition that can be managed but that tends to linger. When asked what to expect from Granger, the scout is noncommittal. "You're asking me to give an opinion on a guy who no one has really seen in, what, almost two years?" he says, though at this point, it has only been about 17 months. "He could be an All-Star again," the scout says. "He could be done. I end up sticking my foot in my mouth, whatever I say." But if Granger is healthy, the scout sees him readjusting with no problem. "When they got David West they took on this physical identity," he says, "and Granger can fit with that. He doesn't change their identity at all."
The scout continues: "If he comes all the way back — if he's anything close to All-Star level again, then I put them back in the conference finals with Miami. Even with Brooklyn adding everybody they added, even with Chicago getting Rose back — Indiana's better. And once they get to the conference finals, maybe it's different this time."
Again, Granger knows that his spot on the team is tenuous. Bird has scoffed at the suggestion that the Pacers would trade him, and Vogel has said that he'd like Granger to work his way back into the starting lineup, but Granger knows that his value comes from both his play and his contract. "If I get traded," says Granger, "then I'll go, I'll thank Indiana for everything, I'll keep rooting for all my guys here, keep cheering them on, and I'll go play for another team." But, he says, "If we can see this thing out — I mean, this is the last year of my contract, so you know, if we can see it through — we can really do something. Honestly, we're probably the most talented group in the NBA. I mean, we've got eight starters. Not a lot of teams have that type of talent."
Opening night in Indianapolis. An hour before tipoff, Granger is everywhere. His name is stitched into the jerseys that hang highest in the team's store. Same goes for many of the jerseys that stream into the arena on fans' backs. He is on the JumboTron, plugging an upcoming Demi Lovato concert. And then he's back on the JumboTron, mean-mugging for a video to hype the crowd. And again he's on the JumboTron, dancing to "Gangnam Style" on one side of the screen, singing Jay Z and Justin Timberlake's "Holy Grail" on the other. While injured, it seems, Granger became the domain of both Indiana's training staff and its marketing department.
But in the Pacers' locker room, a Louis Vuitton garment bag hangs from Granger's locker. Right now the room belongs to Lance Stephenson, who's rapping along to Jay Z's "Can I Live." The room belongs to Orlando Johnson, who sits on a foam roller half-watching Magic-Pelicans film, and it belongs to first-round pick Solomon Hill, whom the others address only as "Rook." And it definitely belongs to George, who gives an NBA TV cameraman a tour of the place — "We call this 'the hood,'" he says, pointing to the corner of the room he shares with Hibbert.
On the other side of the wall that divides the locker room from the training room, there's Granger in his warm-ups, deep-lunging his way up and down the hallway. He's not playing tonight — and according to the Pacers, he won't be playing for the next three weeks — while he nurses a strained calf. Granger insists that this has nothing to do with his knee, but the Pacers have grown accustomed to seeing suit bags in the locker of their onetime leading scorer. In Atlanta, when Hibbert was asked how Granger would readjust to the team, he shrugged and said: "Unfortunately, we haven't seen him — I mean, not in a serious game — in basically more than a year. He's not playing right now, so I don't know what to say about him. But last year we went about our business with the group that we had. So I'm just not too worried about that whole situation right now."
Minutes later the players take the court and the lights go dim and the fireworks and the screaming begins. Since it's the opener, the PA announcer begins by introducing every member of the team, including the reserves. The crowd claps for Rasual Butler and lets out a few cheers for Chris Copeland, and both of the new acquisitions high-five teammates and nod to the fans. Just before getting to the night's starters, the noise rises toward a crescendo as the PA announcer yells, "A forward … out of New Mexico … Danny Granger!"
The fans scream. The players clap. Eyes go toward the JumboTron, which shows an image not of Granger, but of Hibbert looking around and then, finally, shrugging his shoulders. In a moment, his team's title chase will begin, but for now, Granger is nowhere to be found.
By: timbersfan, 8:35 AM GMT on November 01, 2013
Tomorrow afternoon in Boston, Massachusetts, the great Bill Russell finally gets his own statue. Details were scarce until recently. We know the statue will be unveiled in City Hall Plaza, that it stands about eight feet tall, that a talented local artist named Ann Hirsch created it. We know President Obama passed through Boston on Wednesday and caught an early glimpse. We know Russell and his family will attend the ceremony — no small feat, because Russell is wired like a Sicilian mafia boss. He remembers every slight, every offense, every ill word, everything. Boston let him down for good a long time ago. He gave up on Boston. Gave up on the city. Gave up on the people. Bill Russell has spent the past four decades living in Seattle, on Mercer Island, about as far from Boston as you can get without falling into the Pacific Ocean.
When I spent the day with Russell last November, he maintained that he didn't care about Boston anymore. Little clues throughout our conversation said otherwise. He remembered everyone mistakenly assuming that a budding Celtics dynasty would come to a halt in 1963, when Bob Cousy retired, as if the Cooz was the reason for those first six titles. He remembered playing more than one Game 7 in a Boston Garden that was only 70 percent full, and he definitely remembered Bobby Orr's Bruins selling out games in December and January. He remembered the reaction after Red Auerbach named Russell as his coaching successor, as if nobody could believe that a black guy — a black guy — could tell a bunch of white people what to do. He remembered the idiots who wrecked his new house, destroyed his trophies and defecated on his walls, because how would anyone ever forget something like that? He definitely remembered how Boston fans deified Larry Bird, how they put him on a pedestal for winning eight fewer titles than Russell did.
These moments kept coming up, and they kept coming up, and by the end of it, I just assumed that Bill Russell would never return to Boston. That he would live the rest of his life and die in Seattle, and that would be it. We spent the first chunk of our interview in Russell's basement, with the six-time MVP standing in front of his trophy case and telling stories about everything inside it. A few months earlier, he had undergone a heart procedure and was still recovering from it. Someone close to him warned us, "Make sure he doesn't stand for too long — he's still a little weak."
Like a dummy, I became so enthralled with our conversation that I kept him standing for 90 solid minutes. I can remember exactly where we were — the left corner of his basement, at the tail end of a wall covered with framed photos, magazine covers and newspaper clippings. Russell had framed a Boston Herald article from June 1986, right after Bird won his third title — the summer when Larry Legend could have announced that he was walking across the Charles River and 50,000 locals would have scurried down there to witness it — when many believed that Bird was the greatest basketball player ever. You know who disagreed with that argument? Larry Joe Bird. He maintained that Bill Russell was the best, that the 11 rings spoke for themselves. The headline of the piece said something like "Bird: Russell Still the Best." If you think it doesn't mean anything that Russell framed this article and put it in his basement, then you don't know anything about Bill Russell.
And as we were talking about it, suddenly, his eyes went blank.
I was standing there looking up at Russell — remember, he towers over me by eight inches — waiting for his next sentence to come. We had a camera crew watching us from a few feet away, along with a few other selected guests. I thought Russell had dramatically paused before his next point, eventually realizing that he couldn't get his next breath. I can still see his face — dark and weathered, white beard, whiskers popping from the sides like snowflakes. I can still see his blank eyes. I remember panicking about 1.8 seconds before anyone else started to panic. Oh my god. We killed Bill Russell. Someone frantically pulled over a tall stool. We urged him to sit down. Russell asked for a minute. We stood there in silence, watching one of the greatest athletes who ever lived now struggling to breathe. Someone gave him a bottle of water and that helped.
We decided to change locations, moving upstairs into Russell's living room, where we had arranged one of those traditional interview setups with two chairs facing each other. Russell made his way up the stairs — slowly, painstakingly, to the point where you could feel every step — before finding his chair and sitting down. The camera crew hustled to turn on the lights and set everything else up, and now Russell and I were just looking at each other. I was concerned. Really, really concerned. Russell was staring at me with glassy eyes. He was in another place. Just concentrating on his breaths. The room was dead silent, like a church, with everyone else fretting and talking in hushed-beyond-hushed tones. His friend Charlie kept telling us, "He's fine, just give him a minute, he's fine."
And then … BOOM! Bill Russell was fine. He sprang back to life. "I'm OK," he said, unleashing his trademark laugh, and I can still feel my own heart racing happily after he said it. We spent the next 90 minutes talking about his life. The interview ended and everyone shook hands. Our crew started packing up. I sat down at Russell's kitchen table with my friend Hirschy, the biggest basketball fan I know, as well as someone who had helped arrange the entire day. This wasn't just one of the highlights of our careers; this was one of the highlights of our lives. We were trying to act like adults. We were trying to remain professional. We were fighting off the urge to repeatedly high-five each other while screaming "YES!!!!" and "WE DID IT!" A three-hour hang in Bill Russell's house? With Russell talking about anything and everything?
I stood up.
"Come here. I want to show you something," Bill Russell said.
We walked into his library, which was practically sinking under all the books and pictures. To describe Russell as "well read" would be an understatement. During a bathroom break earlier, I had sneaked in there to peruse his books — if only because you can learn a lot from someone just by their books — and noticed my own basketball tome, which Russell had allegedly read and enjoyed. The condition of the book made it seem like someone had read it, so maybe he did. Without him knowing, I signed one of the pages inside and carefully placed it back in the same spot. Now I was pretending that I had never seen his library before.
"Here, look at this," Bill Russell said.
He handed me a framed photo of himself and Obama — taken two years earlier in 2010, when Obama had invited Russell to the White House, given him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and urged the city of Boston to build a statue for him. "Isn't that something?" he asked me, beaming proudly, looking like me after my daughter crushes one of her soccer games. Only Obama gets Bill Russell to geek out. He loved everything about that day. Once upon a time, Russell had given speeches telling his fellow African Americans to keep their eyes on the prize, to never let anyone define them, or keep them down, or tell them they couldn't do something. He wanted them to believe that they didn't have a ceiling, that 40 or 50 years later, one of them could even be president. He made that point in more than one speech. Now it was 2012 … and Bill Russell was holding a photo of him and President Barack Obama. Isn't that something? Yes. That's something.
We spent the next hour sitting at his kitchen table, with Russell telling us story after story. He kept bringing up his late wife, his third one, who had passed away a few years earlier. It became more and more obvious that he hadn't recovered yet. I found myself worrying about him. He's not alone all the time, right? People come to visit him, right? Russell talked about his various road trips, how sometimes he just packs a bag, climbs into his car and goes. He drives to Los Angeles, Chicago, wherever. He loves driving. Sometimes he'll bring a friend to keep him company.
Eventually, we started talking about Boston again. I had a good handle on Russell at this point. You get one chance with him and that's that. It's a theme that kept coming up all day. Boston had already used up that one chance, as well as about seven other ones. How much bitterness did Russell have toward Boston? When the Celtics retired his number in 1972, he skipped the ceremony. No-showed it. Who does that? He made the same point over and over again: His loyalties lay with his Celtics teammates, and Red Auerbach, and Walter Brown. Not the fans, and definitely not the city. He didn't care if he ever went back. Or so he claimed.
I didn't totally believe him. Deep down, he cares. I think he does, anyway. But that statue was going up whether Bill Russell showed up or not. The city needed it as much as he did. The mayor kept pressuring him, cajoling him, practically begging him to return. Same for Steve Pagliuca, one of the current owners of the Celtics (and one of the people responsible for making the statue happen). Same for Russell's daughter, Karen, and everyone else who Russell trusts in his life. Eventually, the great Bill Russell caved. He agreed to come back to Boston.
The ceremony will happen two days after the Red Sox won another World Series. Russell returns to a different city in every respect. The Big Dig finished nearly a decade ago, opening up downtown and even extinguishing some of the suffocating traffic. It's a much happier city now, with a recent run of championships killing off the "woe is us" mentality that had become an identity of sorts (both locally and nationally). Boston fans don't expect the worst anymore. During the late innings of Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit, when it looked like the Red Sox offense had a giant salad fork sticking out of it, I found it fascinating that everyone at Fenway kept waiting for the boys to improbably rally even before that improbable rally happened.
It was that kind of season. A different dude with a different beard seemed to come through every time we needed it. Coming off an unhappy 2011 ending (that's an understatement) and a catastrophic 2012 season, the owners and GM Ben Cherington smartly shifted gears and emphasized chemistry over everything else. They gravitated toward likable guys who could handle playing in Boston, even severely overpaying one of the league's best teammates (Shane Victorino) because he made more sense for this plan than just about anyone else. Victorino's at-bat music ended up being the rallying cry for 2013: Every time he came up at Fenway, you could hear the first notes of a Bob Marley song, followed by Marley singing, "Don't worry … about a thing," and then 35,000 fans screaming, "CUZ EVERY LITTLE THING … IS GONNA BE ALL RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!"
That's all you needed to know about the 2013 Red Sox. For the first four months, nobody expected them to win the World Series — we were just happy to have a likable Red Sox team again. I am old enough to remember every Red Sox season since 1975. Baseball is long. Baseball takes forever. It's day in, day out, for six solid months — seven if you're lucky. Winning is always fun. But this team? This team was REALLY fun. They weren't the most talented 25 guys we've ever had, but they had a way of lifting each other up and making each other better in ways that — for an individual sport disguised as a team sport, one in which you're on your own just about all the time — make absolutely no sense whatsoever. For the first three months, I thought we'd remember them as a likable group that helped the city heal after the marathon bombings. We didn't have that one lights-out starter, or that second big bopper in the lineup. You can only go so far with the "everyone lifting everyone else up" thing, right? A team with A-list starters — maybe Detroit, maybe Tampa — would rip through us in October and that would be that.
I never thought they had a higher ceiling until August, right around the time Koji Uehara turned into Dennis Eckersley circa 1989. You need weird shit to happen during the season to win a World Series; this season certainly qualified. In mid-August, they outplayed a scorching-hot Dodgers team in Dodger Stadium; that's the first time I remember thinking they had a chance. They protected home-field advantage in September, rolled through Tampa in the ALDS, then everything crashed in the ALCS. Their bats died for 16 solid innings. Sanchez and Scherzer weren't just shutting them down; they were eviscerating them.
And then the eighth inning happened … and this happened.
He came through. Again.
The playoffs were never the same. The Beards ripped off eight wins in 11 games, more than enough for Boston's third World Series title in my lifetime. My friend Sully summed it up best via text: "Aidan's (his 12-year-old son's) reaction was like, 'Cool, another championship.' They have no idea that this doesn't happen." They really don't. I never thought I'd see one … and I've seen three in 10 years. Huh????
We'll remember 2004 for all the obvious reasons. We'll remember 2007 as proof that 2004 wasn't lightning in a bottle that could never be replicated. We'll remember 2013 for Boston Strong and the beards, and over everything else, for David Ortiz. And that's the case for three reasons.
1. We thought he was done. This has to be mentioned. I wrote Papi's baseball eulogy in June of 2009, when his body was (seemingly) breaking down and he couldn't get around on 89 mph fastballs anymore. Boston fans loved him so much that they never booed him — every Ortiz failure was greeted with an awkward silence, the ultimate respect for everything he meant. I can't remember another sound quite like it. You almost wanted to hear a few boos, if only to temper the collective discomfort. But no Boston fan could boo that guy, just like we could have never jeered at Bird or Orr. My final takeaway in that column: "Barring a miraculous return of bat speed, he'll be benched or released soon. It'll hurt, and I'm going to feel bad. I already do."
But wait! His bat speed eventually returned. That same season, Ortiz's name got "released" in connection with a positive result from a 2003 MLB drug test that was supposed to be anonymous, a stigma that trails him to this day. The details of that report were so murky, nobody can fully explain what happened — more than 100 players apparently tested positive for something, only they weren't breaking any baseball rules because there were no rules in place, and they could have triggered a positive test for amphetamines or some now-illegal supplement that wasn't illegal in 2003. Ortiz professed his innocence, although Boston fans would have preferred that he did it a little more belligerently. The moment passed and he hasn't failed a test since. He's never been involved in a Biogenesis-type scandal, outed by a clubhouse attendant, tied to some shady Victor Conte character, anything. He looks exactly like he looked in 2003; if anything, he's a few pounds skinnier.
But he's also 37 years old (he will be 38 on November 18), and he's cranking 98 mph fastballs, and he looked finished four years ago. So I get it. After everything that happened these past two decades, we're always going to be a little suspicious. Of everybody. But if you examine his 11-year Boston run as a whole, it makes a little more sense: His first Boston season in 2003 (31 homers, 101 RBIs, .288/.369/.592) doesn't look much different than his 11th Boston season in 2013 (30 homers, 103 RBIs, .309/.395/.564).
Even if his 2013 World Series numbers look supernatural — 25 plate appearances, 11 hits, eight walks, two homers — really, he just caught fire for five games after slumping the previous series (2-for-25), then they smartly pitched around him in Game 6. Did you know his regular-season OPS in Boston is the exact same number as his playoff career OPS (including his trip with the 2002 Twins)? It's true — .962 for both. Big Papi has looked the same for 11 years, barring a couple of peaks (2004 through 2006) and valleys (the homestretch in 2008, the first three months of 2009 and 2010). I don't know what else to tell you. In a vacuum, this goes down as the second-greatest career comeback in Boston sports history behind everything Ted Williams did after Korea. Ortiz was finished, then suddenly he wasn't.
2. Five days after the Tsarnaev brothers blew up Boston's most sacred event, and just 24 hours after one brother was killed and the other was caught, everyone decided that it was OK to play baseball at Fenway again. The game happened on a Saturday afternoon, preceded by an emotional ceremony and many prayers. You always hear that tragedies put sports in perspective, that they prove we shouldn't care this much about the successes and failures of a bunch of wealthy strangers. I'm going the other way — sometimes, sports put everything else in perspective. Our favorite teams bring people together, keep family members close, bond people from different generations. Some of the happiest moments of my life involve something that happened with one of my teams. Some of the best relationships I ever had were with Boston athletes that I never even met. That's a bad thing?
Of course, we always worry that these guys don't care about us. That they're just passing through, throwing on some laundry, cashing some checks and pretending they care. We've all been burned by favorite players. You start throwing your guard up after awhile, and eventually you stop caring quite as much … even if you don't want to admit it. I am 44 years old now, a million years away from being the kid who lugged his autographed, framed Clemens/20 K's photo to six different apartments before breaking it into pieces in the seventh. It's really hard to rope me in at this point. But when Ortiz grabbed the mic on that Saturday and screamed, "THIS IS OUR FUCKIN' CITY!!!!!," I don't think I've ever been prouder of an athlete. It was perfect. Nobody knew what to say that day. How do you sum up 237 years? How do you sum up that week? How do you sum up two evil scumbags ruining the city's most special day? How do you show the right respect and empathy for the victims while also tapping into the spirit of the city itself? David Ortiz figured it out with five words. And he's not even from Boston. It was amazing. Maybe "Boston Strong" was born earlier that week, but no. 34 gave it an exclamation point.
3. He's been the life of the World Series party three times now — 2004, 2007 and 2013 — and over everything else, that's when the David Ortiz era becomes historically fascinating. By the time I graduated college, Bird, Russell, Orr and Williams were the big four. All discussions started and ended with them. In the 2000s, Tom Brady made his run … and if the 2007 Pats had finished 19-0, he would have joined them. Right now, he's still standing outside the front door waiting for the bouncer to let him in. To be continued. But Ortiz? We thought the bouncer shooed him away a while ago. Now he's back. He just cemented his reputation as one of the greatest clutch Boston athletes ever, and one of the greatest clutch baseball players, too. He came through time and time and time and time and time again. So many times that I can't even keep track, actually.
Throw in his personality, throw in the iconic "our city" moment, and throw in the stakes — nothing from 1919 through 2003, with people living entire lives and dying without seeing a Red Sox title — and I think the bouncer just let him in. And you know what else? It's a great place. It's the best place. You get to live forever in there. People tell stories about you to their kids, and their grandkids, and they can always say they saw you play. You might even get your own statue downtown someday. Tomorrow, it happens for the great Bill Russell. Someday, it will happen for David Ortiz. It will.