This week’s offering is abbreviated, but we’ll have another $.05 after Black Monday on all the coaching moves. And I threw a bonus cent in here for all those who share my musical tastes…
$.01--Indianapolis versus Tennessee in the Sunday night capper was the only win-or-go-home matchup on the entire Week 17 slate. The Colts captured the AFC’s No. 6 seed with a 33-17 road victory, their 9th in 10 games.
It was not pretty. Neither team looked capable of competing with any other team in the playoffs, especially in a mistake-filled first half. Tennessee only hung around because of some dreadful quarterbacking by Andrew Luck and poor execution and decisions by his supporting cast. Luck threw one pick-6 and the Titans dropped two other INTs. Of course he still outplayed counterpart Blaine Gabbert, starting for injured Marcus Mariota. Tennessee managed just 11 first downs and Gabbert tossed two INTs in a toothless effort by the injury-riddled Titans offense.
The Colts earned their way in after a 1-5 start and a league-wide perception of being the weakest team in the NFL. Coach Frank Reich mocked the No. 32 power ranking in his postgame address inside the victorious locker room.
A fantastic rookie class helped quickly right the ship. Those rookies--Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith--give the Colts low-priced impact talent. Managing 13 TDs from Lions castoff TE Eric Ebron and strong pass rush effort from Bengals discard DE Margus Hunt shows how well Reich got the team to rally around itself. They’re probably ahead of schedule in making the playoffs, but I suspect Colts fans don’t mind a taste of the postseason one bit. Revel in the rising, Indianapolis.
$.02--It wasn’t a win-or-else game for both teams, but there was still a playoff intensity and atmosphere in Baltimore for the Ravens and the Browns. Baltimore needed to win to get in, and they did just that...barely.
Baker Mayfield led a furious Browns comeback in the second half, cutting a 20-7 halftime deficit to just two points. His third TD pass of the game cut the margin to 26-24 and set the NFL record for most TD passes by a rookie (27) in the process. Driving his team for a potential win, Mayfield got picked off on fourth down by C.J. Mosley.
That sealed the win, and the AFC North title, for the Ravens and their own impressive rookie QB. Lamar Jackson took over late, but better late than never for John Harbaugh’s playoff team. His uncanny ability to make defenders miss with his run-pass options and instant acceleration out of pressure. Jackson spearheaded a rushing attack that netted 296 yards against the Browns.
The dynamic Jackson brings is dangerous to NFL defenses. Most coordinators haven’t seen an offense like that since they were at the high school level if they’re of a certain age, a group which includes Browns interim coach Gregg Williams. Jackson is savvy enough to attack with the right option and emerging as enough of a consistent passing threat to make it work. It makes the Ravens--winners in six of their final seven behind Jackson--a very dangerous foe in the postseason. What they do travels well, too.
$.03--The Minnesota Vikings were a trendy pick over the summer to win the NFC. Not just the NFC North, but the entire conference. They nearly did in 2017, after all, advancing to the NFC Championship after a 13-3 season. And that was before they paid Kirk Cousins $84 million to upgrade the all-important quarterback position.
I was one of the teeming throngs who expected multiple playoff games for Minnesota. The throng was wrong. The Vikings season ended with a disastrous thud, falling 24-10 at home to a Chicago Bears team playing with no real incentive to win.
Cousins was ineffective at best. The QB completed 20 of his 33 pass attempts for just 132 yards. That’s dinking and never dunking. He got no help from a porous O-line or a plodding running attack, but the Vikings expected Cousins to be able to use gifted wideouts Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen more efficiently than emulating Cody Kessler in a fourth preseason game. A heated argument between Cousins and Thielen on the sideline doesn’t help the perception that Cousins is more of the problem than the solution he was meant to be.
Give Chicago and rookie coach Matt Nagy (my likely vote for Coach of the Year) a great deal of credit for capping off the worst-to-first ascension in what turned out to be an unexpectedly poor NFC North, but the Vikings collapse from Super Bowl favorite to 8-7-1 playoff outsider is such a stunner. They’re painted into a corner, too; Minnesota ranks near the bottom in available salary cap room, without enough capital to make anything more than cosmetic changes. The core of the team is locked in for coach Mike Zimmer. If Cousins doesn’t do more next year, his lofty contract should cost a lot of Vikings their job security.
Minnesota’s loss means the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles snuck into the playoffs. Once again buoyed by backup QB Nick Foles in place of a once again injured Carson Wentz, the Eagles smoked what’s left of the formerly competitive Washington team, 24-0. Any team that wins five of six to make the postseason is dangerous, but the fact the Eagles won it all last year with the same core makes them an even less desirable opponent for the Bears, who haven't tasted the postseason since 2010.
$.04--Saturday was supposed to be the glory day for college football. The Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl were the centerpiece anchors of the CFB schedule, playoff games pitting the four best teams in the land in eagerly anticipated semifinals.
Instead of compelling action and drama, we got two blowouts. Clemson annihilated a completely overmatched Notre Dame team 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl, while the Alabama Crimson Tide rolled to an easy 45-34 whipping of Oklahoma. That game was 28-0 early in the 2nd quarter and 31-10 at the half. As expected, the two best teams in the country all year will meet in the final.
There is an odd reaction to the noncompetitive “playoff” games. Many fans are using the blowouts as an indication that more teams need to be in the playoff. I see it the exact opposite. If Notre Dame and Oklahoma were not even close to beating Clemson and Alabama, how could anyone rightly expect an Ohio State team that got blown out by a Purdue team that got blown out 63-14 by Auburn in the Music City Bowl to fare better? Or a Michigan team that Ohio State easily shredded and Florida dominated in the Peach Bowl? Or a Georgia team that already lost in its shot at Alabama? Normally, I think the transitive property is a lame argument, but the selection committee validates it every year.
If anything, this year lays waste to the argument that the playoff needs to be expanded. Those Saturday games were a waste of hype and time, an annoying postponement of what anyone who watched college football all year already knew should be the matchup of Clemson and Alabama, handily the two best teams in the nation all year.
--Hours after Rob Gronkowski set a new benchmark for tight ends, George Kittle ran right past him. The 49ers TE smashed the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end on a 43-yard TD catch-and-run. That lifted him above Gronk and record-holder Travis Kelce. Kittle finished with 1,377 yards in his second NFL season. Not bad for a 5th-round pick from Iowa playing half the year with undrafted rookie Nick Mullens as his QB.
--Congrats to Kyle Williams on one hell of a career with the Buffalo Bills. I love that the team threw the 13-year veteran defensive tackle a going-away present in his final game. Williams caught a swing pass in Buffalo’s 42-14 devastation of the visiting Miami Dolphins. He’s one of the most popular Bills and really one of the most respected players in the league.
This is how you send the big man out in style. pic.twitter.com/GAMyaBXzxq— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 30, 2018
--Arizona will hold the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Expect whoever is running the Cardinals to take Ohio State DE Nick Bosa. Despite some health questions and Arizona’s dire needs on the offense around Josh Rosen, It will be a surprise if Bosa is not the pick. If there is one player who can dethrone him, it’s Alabama DT Quinnen Williams.
--Impressive finish by my Lions in shutting out the Packers 31-0 in Green Bay. It was Detroit’s first shutout of the 21st century and marked the fourth win in a row over the Packers, something not accomplished since before the USFL existed. Matt Patricia’s rookie season did not go well with the 6-10 finish, but the defense showed real progress once Damon “Snacks” Harrison filled the massive hole in the middle.
--Not sure how to feel about Dallas beating the Giants 36-35 thanks to an incredible catch by Cole Beasley and subsequent 2-pt. conversion. A win heading into the playoffs is always nice, but the Cowboys largely played their starters (save Ezekiel Elliott) all the way and barely beat a last-place team. Not exactly an inspiring way to welcome the high-flying Seahawks next weekend. Then again, Seattle barely beat the Cardinals so...
--Congrats to the Houston Texans on winning the AFC South and the No. 3 seed in the AFC. In the process, Deshaun Watson became just the 3rd QB to pass for 4000 yards and rush for 500 in a season. Houston overcame a 0-3 start to finish 11-5. They host the Colts in the Wild Card round.
Bonus cent: My top 10 songs of 2018
Longtime readers know I do this every year, and I thank you all for indulging me and my particular musical tastes.
Thanks to Spotify tracking my listening, here are the 10 songs I listened to the most in 2018. I eliminated multiple songs by the same artist and older tunes; all of these songs are from releases in 2017 or 2018.
10. Untethered Angel - Dream Theater. The most important band in my life rediscovered the “metal” side of their progressive metal genre. Finally. This track, released in December and added here because of how much I’ll listen to it, harkens back to “Train of Thought” and “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” era DT. Thank God. It’s been too long.
9. Year of the Tiger - Myles Kennedy. The soulful solo album for one of rock’s busiest singers hit a ton of the right notes, none more than this title track. This most certainly isn’t metal, but that’s just fine. Sometimes you just want a pleasant song to fill the air, and Kennedy’s voice is fantastic.
8. Kai Tangata - Alien Weaponry. The first time I heard this song I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was hearing. It’s a thrashy sledgehammer that made me think of Anthrax crossed with Twelve Foot Ninja, but the lyrics are in Maori. Yeah, it’s weird. It’s also awesome. Really enjoyed discovering these precocious New Zealand teens and their aggressive take on their nation’s history.
7. Voice of Trespass - Between the Buried and Me. Prog metal at its finest. It starts off as a jazzy, swing-time show tune sung by a maniacal carnival barker, like the Squirrel Nut Zippers from the 90s with bigger guitars. Tommy Giles Rogers then hits the guttural screamo that makes this underexposed quintet so versatile and tough to peg.
6. Song #3 - Stone Sour. I’m not crazy about the entire “Hydrograd” album, but this track is a definite keeper. Corey Taylor’s clean howl is perfect for the tight guitars and sing-along chorus.
5. Rats - Ghost. Every now and then I’ll use “rats” as an exclamation and I’ll say it in the way Tobias Forge, err, Cardinal Copia, sings it in this insanely catchy tune. I did it in an Aldi recently and had not one but two fellow patrons respond “ah-ooh-aah” to my call. This is my 10-year-old daughter’s favorite song and a staple of our car trips together too. Best pop song ever about the Black Plague.
4. Ready for War (Praying for Peace) - Adelita’s Way. A timely anthem that was an odd earworm for me while tuning out the world at the pool over the summer. This song has also become background music while evaluating some offensive tackle prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft.
3. Wishing Wells - Parkway Drive. “Nothing’s gonna stop me til I’m done...until I’m DOONE!” Parkway Drive’s powerful “Reverence” album features several gym-friendly aggression tracks, none better than this banger. Older fans of the Aussie metalcore band don’t like the more commercial turn of the band, but this is one that will grab a multitude of new fans by the balls and yank them hard.
2. Legend of the King - Avatar. When paired with the concept album intro predecessor “Glory To Our King”, this is one of the best opening tracks of any rock album in years. The entire Avatar package is at its sonic best. Carefully plotted guitar overlays and interplay, driving beat, incredible vocal range by frontman Johannes Eckerstrom, catchy chorus, it’s all there. I caught the Swedish metal quintet on tour and came away thinking it was one of the most impressive concerts I’ve seen, and I’ve been to more than 300.
1. Old Flames - Coheed and Cambria. Their latest album, Unheavenly Creatures, dominated my year-end playlist rankings. Five songs were in my 12 most-listened on the year, including the title track. But this upbeat, radio-friendly diddy won out. Not every One Among the Fence appreciated the mainstream-ish turn, but if it attracts a broader audience to the best band in the world, I’m for it. The video is oddly dark for such a bouncy song, but that’s part of why I love Claudio Sanchez & Co.