The Giants Offense is Broken

I was at the game this past Sunday. The Giants fell to the Saints 18-33, bringing them to just 1-3 on the season. It’s early, but at this point our playoff chances are likely out the window. This certainly will be the case if the Giants can’t find a way to fix their offense.

The Giants fired their head coach from last year. Fired their general manager. Brought in a new offensive system. Drafted a big time running back. Brought in Nate Solder and drafted Will Hernandez. Reshuffled the offensive line. Paid Odell. Got healthy at receiver. But the result is still the same as it was last year. This offense simply can’t block, can’t move the ball, can’t get the ball down the field, and can’t score. It’s frustrating.

This was a pretty competitive game that wasn’t really ever out of reach for the Giants. There were multiple factors that went into the loss–penalties, lots of bad officiating, questionable coaching, etc. But still, the Giants defense generally held firm especially in the red zone, holding this Saints O entirely to field goals in the first half. The Giants had a nice TD drive early, but the offense went to sleep after that. The Giants wouldn’t score another point in the half, and the Saints kicked four field goals, bringing the score to 12-7 at halftime. The Giants were unable to get the offense moving in a meaningful way until it was too late. The Saints eventually scored their first TD of the day, bringing it to 19-7, and the Giants drove down the field, but ultimately stalled and had to settle for a field goal, cutting the deficit to just 19-10. That was crucial, as it kept it a two score game with just two minutes left in the third quarter. Furthermore, a Saints TD would essentially put the game out of reach. Sure enough, that’s what happened, and the Saints scored another TD to bring it to 26-10. That left the Giants needing two touchdowns and two 2 point conversions with under 7 minutes left in the game, as the Saints chewed up plenty of clock on that scoring drive.

At this point, it was looking like it was more or less over. Even with a score, you’re unlikely to convert the two point conversion, which would likely mean an onside kick attempt. But the Giants did make it interesting for a bit, as they were able to score and then convert the two point conversion. Rosas then did a great job on the kickoff, sailing the ball high and jusssttt short of the endzone. It caught the Saints napping as they were unable to field the ball cleanly, and the Giants were able to pin them deep in their own endzone. All of a sudden, the Giants had a chance. Get a stop here, force a punt, and be sure to have good field position. Maybe even force a safety with pressure or a penalty in the endzone.

But the hope was short lived. Brees, poised as ever, dropped back to pass from under center, bought time, and was able to connect down the field. Shortly after it was 3rd and 5 and the Giants fans were on their feet once again, but an incomplete pass was negated by a pass interference call on the Giants. That was more or less the game, as the Giants were out of time and timeouts, and Kamara would eventually take it to the house to put the Saints up 33-18.

But the fact of the matter is, this game still comes down to the Giants offense. They had plenty of opportunities to move the ball and were just unable to do so. You can’t expect to stop Brees (and Kamara) in the four minute drill. It’s just too unrealistic. Ultimately the Giants were in this game for most of the day, and they simply couldn’t make the plays necessary to put any points on the board. It’s a story that’s becoming all too familiar for Giants fans.

The Giants offense has been broken for quite some time now. The last time we scored 30 points in a game was week 17 of the 2015 season (it’s now 2018). (Strangely enough, this was also the last game of Tom Coughlin’s career as head coach for the Giants, so make of that what you will.) It’s actually pretty amazing that we made the playoffs in 2016 without ever scoring 30 points in a game… or that we had a coach that lasted almost two seasons and wasn’t able to put up 30 points in a game, but alas, here we are.

In an era where pretty much everyone around the NFL is literally breaking records for offense across the league, the Giants still can’t seem to put up more than 10 points in meaningful play. This Saints defense, and specifically their secondary, came in giving up big plays left and right–losing 40-48 to Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1 and just edging the Falcons 34-47 in Week 3. In those games, Fitz was 21/28, 417 Yards, and 4 TD (14.9 yards per attempt) and Ryan was 26/35, 347 Yards, 5 TD (9.9 yards per attempt). Eli in the loss was 31/41 for 255 yards and 1 TD, for just 6.2 yards per attempt. Pat Shurmur was already beginning to get testy with reporters after the game, and Odell Beckham is already starting to show signs of frustration (which never bodes well for the Giants).

This is a winning franchise in a big time market that really hasn’t been doing a lot of winning recently, and fans are getting sick of it. When you have a problem that’s been going on this long and there are no indications of it being corrected, pressure is going to start mounting awfully quick.

Gettleman’s Choice

The Giants were in perfect position this past offseason to turn the page and start a new chapter on their franchise. They suffered through a 3-13 season, maybe the worst in Giants history, with a coach that proved himself to be about as incompetent as they come. A franchise that is largely aversive to change chose to clean shop of their general manager, coaches, and coordinators. And they also held the No 2 overall draft pick. That’s not something that’s easy to come by. With an aging Quarterback and a Quarterback heavy draft class, it would be the perfect opportunity to get their next franchise guy. After all, how often do you get the opportunity to go straight from one franchise guy to another? The Colts were in such a position when they had the No 1 overall pick in 2012 and chose to move on from Peyton Manning (one of the all time greats) to draft Andrew Luck. The Packers struck gold with the seamless transition to Aaron Rodgers, who may actually be better than his HOF predecessor, Brett Favre. And of course, we all know about Montana and Steve Young. But all in all, these are really hard situations to come by. The Giants haven’t had to worry about a Quarterback in over 10 years. To have the opportunity to be set for another decade? It seemed like a no brainer.

For Dave Gettleman, it was a no brainer. He refused to listen to any trade offers. He turned in his card as soon as he was allowed, saying that he would have turned it in in two seconds if they let him. This was a pivotal time for the Giants franchise. This move would shape their direction for years to come. The decision? …. Saquon Barkley, the running back out of Penn State.

When I heard Roger Goodell announce the pick live, I felt a wave of disappointment run over me that only seemed to get stronger as time went on. And I had rarely taken interest in the draft in the past. But with the stakes so high, this time was different. And I couldn’t help but feel that this was a tremendous missed opportunity for the Giants.

There were a few possible explanations for the choice, some offered by Gettleman after the pick, others by fans and analysts, that I simply don’t believe are correct. Those include, but are not limited to:

-Barkley was the best player in the draft.
-Barkley makes everyone on the roster better.
-There were no good Quarterbacks in this draft.
-Eli Manning has plenty of years left.
-The RB position is just as important now as it was decades ago.
-We shouldn’t draft a player who isn’t going to play right away.

I’m not going to get into all of these right now, but the point is that, ultimately, there’s really only one justifiable reason for drafting Barkley at No 2, and that’s that you believe the team is good enough to compete. You don’t take a weapon like that if you have no other pieces to build around him. You do it because you think you need that extra weapon that can push you over the top, and to bring a new dimension to an already talented roster. Because at the end of the day, Barkley’s not going to be around forever. The shelf life of running backs is pretty short. Barkley’s not a guy that needs to sit or learn the system. He’s a guy that was expected to come in and contribute right away.

My problem with this is that the Giants are clearly nowhere near ready to compete for a Super Bowl right now. Yea, they have some weapons on offense and an okay defense. But it’s still overall an average roster. The offensive line is still clearly weak, and that’s where it all starts. And while I don’t think Eli Manning is horrible or anything, he’s clearly nowhere near his anomalous 2011 level of play–a level that is probably needed to bring this roster to Super Bowl contention.

This is why you’re starting to see the frustration build up among Giants fandom and organization. I’ve seen a lot of comments from fans arguing that Eli is done and should be benched. Some people are saying that if the Giants don’t make the playoffs this year, then Gettleman will definitely draft a Quarterback next year.

You see the problem with that, right? If we’re replacing Eli Manning next year, what was the point of taking Barkley this year, and not using that rare no 2 overall pick on such a talented QB class? Pushing that decision to next year would just make this year a waste, and undermine Gettleman’s entire philosophy for his draft approach–and his franchise approach as well.

Barkley’s a good player, and I don’t think he’s necessarily hurting the offense. While it will continue to pain me for years that the Giants didn’t draft Josh Rosen, I’ve accepted, at least to some degree, that the offense consists of Barkley and Eli at this point. I don’t dislike either player, and I want both of them to succeed. I also don’t think either of them are necessarily hurting our offense in a drastic way.

The bigger issue is that we just don’t have time to be just okay, or to figure things out. With that pick, time is ticking, and it has to happen now. Because Eli does not have much time left.

This would have been entirely different if the Giants drafted a QB, because it would have been much more of a long game. The Jets took Sam Darnold, and I don’t know if he’s going to be the “QB of the future”–obviously its far to early to tell. But I think most people can agree that he’s a pretty promising prospect, and, barring something going spectacularly wrong, they’re committed to him for at least the near future. That’s why when the Jets hit offensive roadbumps, like they certainly have this season, there’s not a sense of urgency around it. I’m sure it’s frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but it’s to be expected for a rookie quarterback and a rebuilding roster.

The Colts were in a similar situation when they took Andrew Luck. Yes, there were a lot of questions about Peyton Manning’s health, and I think it was very reasonable to think at the time that he would in no way make it near the level that he eventually did with Denver. But even putting those aside, the roster just wasn’t good enough to really compete with an aging Peyton. The previous year he played, 2010, showed that. Peyton gave it all he could, but the roster was so weak that it resulted in just a 10-6 wild card loss. That same roster would go 2-14 the next year. Andrew Luck was the right decision to go for the future, with a roster rebuild that would take some time. It only would have kept sense to keep Peyton if he could have competed for the Super Bowl, which was not really feasible with that roster.

In Peyton’s defense, he did go on to assault the record book with an average Denver roster and get them within a few game(s) of the Super Bowl for multiple years. But no one could have guessed he would play at that level after his injury, and it’s really amazing that he did. And even with that, he’s now retired, and Luck is in his prime.

Also, back to Eli for a second. I’m not even saying the Giants should have replaced him this year. I would have been fine sitting a rookie for a year or even two if necessary (although that rarely happens nowadays) and playing Eli regardless of how the year went. Having the rookie there for the long run would have at least given us some insurance for the future.

But the bottom line is that the Giants, for some reason, looked at a team that went 3-13, and decided that that team was good enough to compete for a Super Bowl right now. So when it starts too like that isn’t the case, there’s going to be cause for alarm rather quickly. The Giants have to be good now, because they clearly have no plan for the future. They bet it all on the now.

What I’m Seeing from Eli Manning and The Giants Offense

I’m a little late getting this article up, and the Giants-Panthers game is currently in play as I write it, so hopefully they prove me wrong. But through the first four weeks, and especially from watching that Saints game in full, I do have some things to say about Eli Manning and what I’m seeing from him currently. I’m not going to go into whether we should bench him or whether he’s finished or any of that (as many Giants fans are doing already)–he is who he is and he’s our Quarterback at least for the current season, so he’s what we’ve got.

I think Manning winning two Super Bowls so close together to each other, along with just having the last name “Manning”, being on a generally pretty good team, and being around for so long, made people think he was better than he really is. Eli’s best season was 2011, and that year was a bit of an anomaly. When you look at his overall body of work, Eli was never the most consistent or accurate Quarterback. What he was, was an aggressive intermediate and downfield passer that didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and throw into tight coverage. When you had a play action deep comeback or post, or a five step intermediate dig on 3rd and long, Eli would always throw those routes. And it was generally what he did best.

I’m not seeing that now. What I’m seeing now from Eli is a (perhaps overly) cautious checkdown Quarterback. The line certainly has played a role, as it’s been pretty poor for years now. But you can’t put it all on the line. No quarterback is under pressure on every play. Rather, I think that right now, for whatever reason, Eli seems a little gun shy, and hesitant to connect with his guys down the field. It’s likely that his offensive line being so poor for so long may have made him this way, and it’s now developed into a trait of its own. We saw something similar from Matt Ryan in 2013-2015, before Shanahan reinvigorated his aggressiveness. To be fair though, Eli has also not been super accurate or showed the same kind of arm strength when he has thrown the ball deep, so maybe that’s a part of his game that just isn’t what it used to be.

Regardless of the reason, it’s an issue that’s been going on for years, so it’s clear why the frustration is at a boiling point for Giants fans. It seems that no matter what changes are made, the story is the same: We just can’t move the ball on offense. Pat Shurmur was supposed to fix this as well, and it becomes even more curious that when you look at the fact that in Minnesota last year, with an average Quarterback in Case Keenum, that offense ran like a well oiled machine, and Keenum just simply had to execute and distribute.

How can it be fixed? I think that Eli Manning is a passer who needs to get into a rhythm, and I’m not seeing that as of recent. I think it may behoove the Giants to go to more pace early in games. Not even no huddle, just start a little more up tempo, with some quick throws on early downs to get Eli in a groove. Right now, the Giants are playing slow and trying to establish the ground game early with Barkley, but our offensive line might just not be good enough to do that in its current state.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: The Giants Offense is broken. For everyone’s sake, lets hope they find a way to fix it soon.

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Congratulations Giants, You Managed to Screw This Up.

Whelp, there goes the first round of the NFL Draft. The Giants opted not to build for the future and draft a Quarterback–despite having every reason to–and instead drafted the flashy running back, Saquon Barkley, out of Penn State.

Is Saquon Barkley a talented player and an absolute athletic physical freak of nature? Yes, of course. Will he have some plays that are absolutely spectacular? Yes. Will he make the offense better? Probably. That’s not what this is about.

This is about building the franchise for the future. And the Giants simply did not look at the big picture here.

I don’t buy the whole, “best player in the draft” thing. Quarterback is the most important position in the league, and no matter what, Quarterbacks will always be more important than running backs. You can win without a good running back. You can’t win without at least a competent Quarterback. Running backs alone simply do not carry rosters. Look at Adrian Peterson and the Vikings for the last decade. In addition, Quarterbacks are tough to find. And you have a much better chance of finding a good running back in the late rounds than you do a Quarterback. And this is all without going into the fact that Saquon Barkley, no matter how impressive his highlight reel, is simply not a guarantee to be successful in the NFL due to his running style.

If this pick was five years ago, I’d be fine with it. But let’s look at where the Giants are right now. Eli Manning, who was never consistently great to begin with, is 37 and has already shown signs of decline. QBs that old not named Tom Brady do not really win Super Bowls. Best case scenario, you get 3 more years out of Manning. But he also could be done after this year. Considering that his level of play was never at the Brady/Brees level, I expect his age related decline to be like that of Matt Schaub/Jake Delhomme: sharp and ugly. What will happen when that happens? We’ll be stuck in QB purgatory, the worst place to be in the NFL. Unless you want to keep convincing yourself that Davis Webb, our third round Texas Tech QB from last year’s draft is the answer, in which case, be my guest.

No, what the Giants had a chance to do here was do what smart teams do, and be proactive. If there were really no good QBs, then I’d understand. But this was an unusually good QB crop. Josh Rosen is already an NFL QB, in my opinion. But even putting him aside and assuming the Giants didn’t like him because he’s a rich outspoken liberal, or whatever, we can’t ignore the fact that the Browns unconventionally took the explosive but undersized Baker Mayfield with their No 1 pick, leaving Sam Darnold available on the board!!! And what did the Giants do? They let our crosstown rivals have him.

I’ve seen, and am sure I will continue to see, people saying that our offense is loaded with weapons now. Okay, maybe. But people said the exact same thing last year, and how’d that turn out for us? Yeah, there were a lot of injuries, but at the end of the day, I really think Dave Gettleman chose flash over substance here. He talked a lot about being “in love” with Barkley. Again it’s easy to fall in love with a player who is an absolute physical freak. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for the franchise. I would expect fans to follow this line of reasoning, but not the General Manager.

Again, I really just see this as complete and utter shortsightedness and can’t underestimate what a mistake it has the potential of being. This move could define our franchise for years. Who cares if our offense gets a little better in the short term? It’s not what you do with the No 2 pick. This was an absolutely perfect time and perfect opportunity to turn the page to the next chapter in our franchise. Coming off a 3 win season. New coach and GM–something this organization does not do a lot. No 2 overall pick. Old QB. When are we going to be in this situation again? What more reason do you need to plan for the future? Why are you convincing yourself that getting better right now is so damn important? You could argue that a big reason the Giants have been so awful since their last Super Bowl win was an inability to plan ahead after our last Super Bowl run. The Giants ceiling, in my opinion, really isn’t that high. They have an average at best roster in total, and their Quarterback hasn’t been anything more than average as of recent. The only way this pays off is if Saquon Barkley propels this team to a Super Bowl. Call me a skeptic.

I think we’re underestimating just how hard it is to find a Quarterback in this league, how valuable they are, and how shitty it is to be stuck in QB purgatory. Maybe we’re spoiled because we’ve had Eli Manning for so long. Maybe this organization, because of how poorly the Eli Manning benching was last year, is overcompensating and is in denial. Maybe our new general manager isn’t that good. Whatever the reason is, I think this is a blatantly terrible move, and the more I think about it the worse it gets. A lot of people may disagree with me, but so be it. I can’t see how this makes sense for our franchise in the long term, and can’t help but feel we just wasted a huge opportunity. And I’m pretty bummed about it.

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Way Too Quick NFL Draft Thoughts – The Giants, Eli, Rosen, and Barkley

I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say about this draft and very little time to write in the past month or so, and all of a sudden it’s tonight. This post isn’t going to do it justice, but I’d like to just get a few main points out there, mainly as it concerns my New York Giants, who happen to be picking No 2 overall. Hopefully I’ll get to expand on these thoughts after the draft.

The Giants need to take a Quarterback, and it should be Josh Rosen. He’s the best of the bunch. He has fewest flaws, and his game translates the best to the NFL. QB is the most valuable position in the NFL, and this draft is a pretty talented QB class. The Giants are lucky to be picking this high. Furthermore, Eli Manning is 37 years old. He’s already shown some signs of decline, and he’s not going to be playing at a high level into his 40s like Brady and Brees are doing, because he was never that guy to begin with. I love what he’s done for the franchise, but this is the perfect time to move to the next era. We are blessed to have this incredibly high pick. There is a really great pro ready QB in Rosen, and that doesn’t always happen with the draft. And we’re coming off a 2 win season with a regime change–new head coach and general manager. What better time to turn the page to our next QB? He doesn’t have to start right away, but it’s time. We need to plan ahead, and it would be foolish to wait until Eli literally can’t play anymore at all. At that point it will be too late, and that point may be sooner than people think.

Drafting Saquon Barkley would be a mistake. First of all, running backs aren’t franchise changers. Not in today’s NFL. A running back cannot carry a franchise to wins simply by himself. Not without a Quarterback. Secondly, as freakish of an athlete that Barkley is, there are questions about his NFL fit. Greg Cosell of NFL Films has done a fantastic job breaking it down, but the gist is this: Barkley, despite his body type, is not a between the tackles NFL style runner, a grinder, a finisher, a la Frank Gore, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott. As Cosell has put it, he’s a “bouncer”, a “run to space” guy. He won’t always get the necessary yards that are there. He’ll look for the big play. In college, this worked. In the NFL, Barkley could be deadly with the right scheme fit. But I simply disagree with the idea that he’s a can’t miss guy who would carry any franchise to relevance. Running backs aren’t those guys generally, and with Barkley and his style of running, I think it would be a waste of the No 2 pick, and would be going flash over substance.

The same can be said for whatever else the Giants might do. Trading down seems like a waste. Going Bradley Chubb, also, seems like a mistake to me. I’d be okay with Quentin Nelson, considering the importance of having anchors at offensive line in this league (look at the Dallas Cowboys), and the weakness of ours. But right now, the pick is very clear to me.

I have a bad feeling about tonight. Maybe it’s because of the things I’ve been seeing on the internet and reading here and there, but there seems to be zero indication the Giants want to take Josh Rosen. If they don’t, I would be okay with QB Sam Darnold, although he needs to be coached up. But there are also indications the Giants might not even take a Quarterback. How can this be? With the No 2 pick, a great QB draft class, and an aging QB on his last legs, are we really going to miss an opportunity to secure the long term success and prosperity of this franchise? This is a perfect opportunity, and maybe I’m just being a pessimistic fan, but it’s mind boggling to me that the Giants would throw this away. I can’t even begin to think about how I might feel if, right after the Giants pick, our crosstown rivals, the Jets, would then take Josh Rosen…

Anyway, that’s all for now. Apologies for the brevity and sloppiness of this post to my fans–as I’ve said, writing takes a while for me, and I haven’t been able to do the type of draft preparation I’ve wanted to on this blog. I’ll do my best to get some more content out after the draft tonight, but for now, I just wanted to get these thoughts out, and the message is clear: The Giants need to take a Quarterback at 2. Passing on Josh Rosen would be a mistake. Going for Saquon Barkley would be a very large mistake. Right now, my ideal picks for the Giants, in order of preference, are 1) Josh Rosen 2) Sam Darnold 3) Quentin Nelson. Anything else will be a disappointment. We will be getting a great player regardless, but at this point in time at this position, it’s not about getting great players. It’s about getting the franchise set for the future. Giants, you know what you need to do.

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We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about Josh Rosen

What if I told you that there was a Quarterback in this year’s draft class that had just about every attribute that you look for in a QB, from size, to arm strength, to footwork, to intelligence and ability to read defenses? This Quarterback was asked to run an NFL style offense on a team with a poor defense and drop-prone receivers, and in doing so was one of the more prolific passers in College Football. What if I told you this Quarterback was arguably the best QB prospect since Carson Wentz, and maybe even since Andrew Luck?

You would think that this is someone who would be talked about and looked upon with incredibly high regard during the pre-draft process. Alas, for reasons I cannot understand, this has not been the case.

Josh Rosen and the Elusive “Personality Issues”

The consensus on this year’s draft QBs is all over the place right now–which is far from unusual considering the complexity of evaluating college QBs–but what people generally seem to be able to agree on is that there’s no sure thing, with each prospect having his own set of questions.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to argue with my assertion that Rosen is the best QB Prospect on film, I would be happy to listen. But this isn’t the argument that people are making. Instead, what happens is something like this: Pundits make a list of their QB Rankings, put a few players ahead of Rosen, and when they get to Rosen, acknowledge that he’s the most pro-ready on film with the fewest weaknesses, but then cite some vague concern about “attitude” or “personality” as the apparent sole evidence that he’s not the best QB prospect. For example…

Todd McShay of ESPN put Rosen 3rd on his Draft QB Rankings, citing that, “There isn’t much [negative] you can point to on the field, other than some poor decision-making and his lack of mobility outside the pocket. Teams are doing their research to find out just how driven Rosen is and how he would fit in with their team culture.”

Kay Adams of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football said that she would be more comfortable taking Sam Darnold over Josh Rosen, because, “When there’s smoke, there’s fire”, referring to the perception that Rosen simply isn’t invested enough in Football to be the leader of a franchise.

The usually spectacular Andy Benoit of the MMQB posited questions about Rosen’s personality in his first look at this draft’s QBs–unusual for an analyst that almost always sticks to film study.

These are just a few examples of the overall trend (and they’re of the more reasonable variety), and it’s what the narrative about Rosen has come to: Vague, cliched, and generally unsubstantiated questions about his “personality” and “love of the game” seem to entirely offset the fact that he is by far the least flawed Quarterback prospect in the draft.

And people generally seem to acknowledge this fact. If the only criticism about Rosen you can come up with has to do with personality, then that implies that there’s nothing about his actual game to criticize. And if that’s the case, he should already be at the top of everyone’s draft rankings. Personality critiques, in this case, as opposed to the red flag people paint them to be, are actually a tacit acknowledgement of how flawless the player is in every other sense that matters. And at the end of the day, you’re not drafting a player to win a personality contest; you’re drafting them to win football games.

There is Very Little Substance to the Critique of Rosen

Don’t get me wrong: Personality does matter. I’ve criticized Cam Newton for his attitude in the past. As a Giants fan, I often can’t stand the way Odell Beckham behaves. I do want my guy to be a leader both on the field and off it. So in the case of Rosen, the issue isn’t that there are concerns about his personality per se; it’s that there is very little of merit within those actual “concerns” that people cite. What they are is gossip, stereotypes, and the snowballing of a narrative that had nothing to stand on in the first place.

With Cam Newton there were identifiable occurrences you could point to in College that would be reason for concern about his personality. While at the University of Florida, Newton, according to wikipedia, “was arrested on felony charges of burglary, larceny, and obstruction of justice on an accusation that he stole a laptop computer from another University of Florida student” and was “subsequently suspended from the team”. He transferred before allegedly facing “potential expulsion […] for three instances of academic dishonesty”. He was also embroiled in a scandal where his father allegedly orchestrated a “pay for play” situation to get Cam enrolled at Auburn. Despite all this, Newton was selected No 1 overall in the 2011 draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Similar things could be said about Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Although not enough was made about his actual on field flaws during the draft process, he too had a litany of identifiable personality red flags, including but not limited to being arrested. He also left the Manning Passing academy after oversleeping, an example of something that could actually justifiably be used to say that someone might not have the dedication level you would want in a Quarterback.

And what about Baker Mayfield? Like Rosen, he is also a QB prospect in this upcoming draft. But unlike Rosen, he was actually once arrested and “charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing”. (He also caught fire for facing the opposing sideline and grabbing his crotch to taunt them during one of Oklahoma’s wins this year). And yet Rosen is the QB prospect with personality issues?

I’m not trying to pick on any of these players. I’m merely saying that when players actually have personality issues, there are usually things that happen to justify those concerns.

But what’s the problem with Rosen? He apparently doesn’t love the game, or he doesn’t have the personality of a leader.

I’ll tell you exactly what Rosen is that people don’t like: He’s a rich, smart, liberal California kid. And that doesn’t fit the image a lot of people have of the country kid southerners who tend to overwhelmingly play in the NFL. Many have said that because Rosen grew up wealthy, he might not love the game as much as someone who needs it to make a living. Frankly, this is total bullshit. You can both have money and still love football, and the fact that he’s great at football is proof of this. As for the personality thing, I’ve watched some interviews of Rosen, and he is a bit of a different type of personality. He’s definitely more aloof; he’s not an in your face, cliche, “put me in there coach, I’ll do it all for the team!” guy like Russell Wilson. But you know what, who cares? People have different leadership styles and personalities. If they get the job done without being a jerk, then who cares what they say or how they motivate their teammates. You know who else is a QB that’s kind of aloof? Eli Manning, and he currently has 2 Superbowl Rings. Aaron Rodgers is another guy that often rubbed people the wrong way and is often looked at as cocky. He’s also one of the greatest Quarterbacks to every throw a Football. At the end of the day, whether a guy fits an image of how someone wants a Quarterback to act shouldn’t affect their draft evaluation.

Compounding this whole, pointless conversation about Rosen’s personality is his former UCLA Coach Jim Mora, who had this to say publicly about Rosen earlier this week:

“He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why. Millennials, once they know why, they’re good. Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire. He has so much ability, and he’s a really good kid.”

First of all, let’s remember that Mora was justifiably fired midseason from UCLA, and no one really had an issue with it. That alone should question whether we should take his opinion seriously. But putting that aside, since when is a Quarterback wanting to be challenged intellectually a bad thing? Shouldn’t you want that out of your players? Quarterback is by far the most intellectual position in the sport. It’s all about compiling and processing information. Peyton Manning was the best in the game for a long time because his mind was literally a computer. He knew everything he was seeing, and no one could read a defense like him. He literally turned football into a chess game. If you showed him the same coverage twice, you were getting burnt. At the end of the day, if a guy’s not asking why, why this coverage looks like this, why the ball should go here, what this player is doing in this coverage, how to best attack this coverage, etc etc etc, then there’s a problem. And then there’s the fact that Josh McDaniels, the Patriots current Offensive Coordinator, basically said the same thing about Tom Brady that Mora said about Rosen:

“[Brady’s] a challenging guy to coach because his aptitude is so significant. He’s a tremendous player as far as coming every day ready to work and ready and willing to learn. That pulls the best out of you as a coach because you can’t go into the meeting room and not challenge this guy to try and get better.

Here’s a guy, he’ll go down as what he’ll go down as, which is one of the greatest players ever to play in this game, but he still comes into every meeting looking for something that’s going to make him a better player that day. And as a coach, you have to respond accordingly, whether it’s making sure you provide him with that information or you find something to help him improve some aspect of his game.”

Focus on What Matters, and You’ll See a Can’t Miss Prospect

I might be able to give some credence to the “he doesn’t love the game” concept if there was literally any evidence from his game on the field to back it up. But if a guy is as great as Rosen is with all the fundamentals and subtle nuances of playing Quarterback, then that alone should be proof against the claim. You don’t get to where Rosen is playing QB if you don’t truly love the game. Shame on people for not realizing that.

What this is really about is the media taking narratives and running with them, regardless of if they’re true or not. We saw it when nearly every draft expert said that Johnny Manziel was the best QB Prospect of the 2014 Draft–even after they would acknowledge that Teddy Bridgewater was the most pro-ready on film. But Manziel had the “it” factor or a different “compete level” or something like that. We saw it when, during the 2015 season, the media nearly unanimously decided that Cam Newton was the MVP, even though Carson Palmer was superior in every meaningful statistical category. For Rosen, the narrative has become that he has personality issues that will affect his play, even though there’s nothing to suggest that this is the case.

None of this is to say Rosen will be a guaranteed superstar or that there are zero concerns with him at all. But these aren’t things you can say about any prospect at any position. They’re called prospects for a reason. And insofar as QB prospects go in this year’s draft, Rosen is the best there is and stands alone from the rest. Hopefully, people will be able to start cutting through the noise to realize that. But if not, I’m sure Rosen will use all this as even more fuel to motivate him once he is in fact drafted.

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Revisiting the College Football Playoff’s Alabama/Ohio State Decision

Exactly three months ago today, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released their final team rankings for the 2017 College Football season, determining who would be included and who would be left out of the 2017-18 College Football Playoff. The Clemson Tigers, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama Crimson Tide were selected to participate in the 4 team playoff for the National Championship. Alabama ultimately went on to win it all in historic fashion. They took down the first ranked Clemson Tigers 24-6, before rallying back down 20-7 to defeat the SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs 27-23 in OT. They did so behind the play of their (then) backup Quarterback Tua Tag Tagovailoa, as Head Coach Nick Saban made the gutsy decision to pull his starting QB, Jaylen Hurtz, after being down 13-0 at Halftime. Tua rallied them back and threw the Game Winning Touchdown Pass in OT.

All in all, it was a spectacular finish to to the College Football Season. And for Alabama, it was their fifth National Championship Win in nine years, all under Nick Saban. Yet the aura surrounding the conclusion to that game seemed to almost entirely overshadow the fact that Alabama was very close to not even making the Playoff at all, and that their inclusion by the committee was rather controversial at the time, and something that many viewed as a big mistake. Now that the season is over and we have access to the results, I think it’s worth revisiting this decision by the committee, as doing so will better help us understand how they operate, why that decision was made, and whether we were wrong to create so much controversy over the inclusion of a team that would eventually become National Champions.

The Lead-Up: How We Got to Alabama vs Ohio State

For much of the season, it was a reasonable assumption that Alabama would make the playoff. They started the year on a tear, absolutely destroying everyone they played. They were ranked 1st in the AP Poll from weeks One Through Thirteen straight. They dropped down to five in Week 14. The College Football Playoff Rankings started during Week 10. In these rankings, which would ultimately determine entry into the four team Playoff, Alabama was ranked 2, 2, 1, 1, until they dropped to five in Week 14.

So what happened in Week 14? Up to that point, they seemed like a shoe-in. Well, Alabama lost to their SEC West rival, the Auburn Tigers, 26-14. This was Alabama’s final scheduled game of the season before the SEC Championship Game. Though Alabama would finish the regular season with fewer overall losses than Auburn, they were both  7-1 in conference play, which meant that their head to head matchup would be the tiebreaker for inclusion in the Conference Championship Game. Naturally, having won that matchup, that honor went to Auburn in the West. This put Alabama in the awkward position of, despite having just one loss on the season, not being able to further bolster their case to the committee. Without a Conference Championship game to participate in, they had no games left to play. While other teams could go distinguish themselves in their respective championship games, Alabama, now just looking in from the outside ranked at 5th, would seemingly have to rely on external circumstances to get in. (Nick Saban, recognizing this, wisely began making his case to the committee for Alabama’s inclusion right away.)

I bring this up because the committee needed every possible game available to make their decision. 4 Teams is an awfully small playoff field, and with only 12 to 13 games, depending on the team–I’m not sure why some teams play more games than others–plus conference championship in the College Football season, every game counts. This is especially the case when there are so many good teams. This year was one of the most competitive Top 10s we’ve seen in College Football in awhile. You could have made a case for just about any team in the Top 10 to be included in the playoff. Heck, you could even go further than that. The final CFP Top 16 were as follows: 1Clemson, 2OU, 3Georgia, 4Alabama, 5Ohio State, 6Wisconsin, 7Auburn, 8USC (Pac-12 Champion!!), 9Penn State, 10UMiami, 11Washington, 12UCF (Undefeated on the season!! (and would later go on to defeat Auburn in their bowl game)), 13Stanford, 14Notre Dame, 15TCU, 16Michigan State. You could easily make a case for an expanded playoff field with all those teams, and we very well could be looking at one not far off in the future.

Notre Dame (14Final) was ranked 3rd in the Week 10 and 11 CFP Rankings. UMiami (10Final) was ranked 3rd and 2nd in the Week 12 and 13 CFP Rankings. No team in the final Top 12 had more than 2 losses. It shows how hard it is to pick just 4 teams, and because of that, why even just one loss, especially late in the season, can be exempting. Look at Penn State, for example. They were ranked in the AP Top 5 for Weeks 2 Through 9 of the season. They had a phenomenal year and looked great in their bowl game. But their two losses were to Big Ten East rivals: A 38-39 loss at 6Ohio State (5Final), where OSU’s game winning touchdown came with less than two minutes left, and a 24-27 loss at 24Michigan State (16Final), who kicked a field goal as time expired. Both tight, to the nail losses to quality opponents, the latter of which could have been very different had their not been a 3+ hours long rain delay in the middle of the game. Nonetheless, those losses kept Penn State out of a conference championship, as well as out of the playoff.

So because of this small margin for error when it comes to the playoff, it was reasonable to think that Alabama’s loss to Auburn and lack of Conference Championship would keep them out of the Playoff.  How can you be the best team in the country if you’re not even the best in your conference?

After Bama lost to Auburn, the CFP Rankings looked like this:

  1. Clemson
  2. Auburn
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Alabama
  6. Georgia
  7. University of Miami
  8. Ohio State

It set up for a fascinating Conference Championship Weekend, which would go a long way in determining who would make the playoff. It truly was (just as ESPN advertised it to be) a fight to the finish. These were the matchups:

SEC Championship: 6Georgia (11-1) vs 2Auburn (10-2)

ACC Championship: 1Clemson (11-1) vs 7Miami (10-1)

Big 12 Championship: 11TCU (10-2) vs 3Oklahoma (11-1)

Big 10 Championship: 8Ohio State (10-2) vs 4Wisconsin (12-0)

Thinking back to this time, there were so many scenarios that could have occurred that it’s hard to keep track of and explain. Teams were most likely out if they lost, but if other teams also lost, they could maybe have snuck back in, depending on who it was that lost. But the simplest way to get in was to win. SEC Champion was guaranteed in. ACC Champion was guaranteed in. Oklahoma and Wisconsin, if they won, were guaranteed in. That would have been the simplest scenario. TCU was probably too low either way. And Ohio State, ranked at 8 was riiighhtttt on the cusp. Recall that Alabama was looking in on the outside, so they needed help. Which meant, based on what I just wrote, that if Oklahoma and Wisconsin won, then Alabama was out of luck.

The simplest scenario almost happened. Clemson blew Miami out of the water, and Georgia comfortably handled Auburn on the neutral field. There go two spots. Oklahoma comfortably handled TCU, there goes another spot. The last spot was there for the taking for Wisconsin. But they faltered and lost the Big Ten Championship 27-21 to Ohio State.

Notice that I’ve made very little, if any, case for Ohio State yet. When the final rankings came out, many people viewed them as slighted because of their Conference Championship. In those peoples’ minds, that Championship (along with other factors, which I’ll get into later), rightly earned them the spot as the Fourth Best Team in the Country. The three other conference championships were determining factors for the other three teams in, so why shouldn’t that be the case for Ohio State too?

This is how the narrative was framed, and it was justifiable once we were at that point. But I think it’s important to look at the big picture and remember how we got there, and I think once we do that, this narrative starts to look a little shortsighted. The narrative was that you had these elite teams at the top, and that Ohio State was one of them. But that wasn’t really the case. As I’ve established, the final few weeks gave us a generally very strong top 10 with a lot of possible scenarios and a lot of contenders vying for spots. When you look at the entirety of the season, there was a group of elite contenders at the top as generally indicated by both the AP Polls and the CFP Rankings. Those teams were Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama. Auburn rightfully put itself in that conversation with its dominant wins over both Georgia and Alabama. I think it’s useful to look at their Iron Bowl win as them essentially switching places with Bama. It both served to elevate their own standing (that they beat someone as good as Bama) while simultaneously lowering that of Bama (maybe Bama’s not as great as we thought). But their loss to Georgia in the Championship proved that they’re not the same team on the road, and that re-opened the door for Bama.

So Clemson, Georgia, and Bama–>Just Kidding Auburn–>Just Kidding Actually Bama were always the top dogs. Oklahoma too, put itself in that conversation because, well, despite a bad defense, Baker Mayfield was generally unstoppable. Then there was, in my opinion (and I think it’s backed up by the committee rankings) this second tier of contenders. Miami, Notre Dame, USC, etc. They all ended up having losses that showed they weren’t quite ready. And Ohio State was always more teetering on the top of that second tier then being part of the first tier. You could really put the top four Big Ten Teams there. They’re all very good, but are they at the level of Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama/Auburn? So the question then became, did Ohio State deserve to move to the bottom of the first tier (the playoff group) as opposed to the top of the second tier?

Because let’s remember, in the second to last CFP Rankings, Bama was ranked 5th (just looking into the playoff) and Ohio state was ranked 8th (more middling). Yes, I know they had the Conference Championship, but they were the lowest ranked team heading into Championship Weekend besides TCU, and had the most losses as well, tied with TCU and Auburn. But Auburn had the two dominant wins over top dogs Georgia and Bama, which, with a Conference Championship, would have been enough to overlook their two losses.

So when you look at it from this perspective, even with a Conference Championship, Ohio State should never have definitely been in. They were still teetering in the middle. So outside of that simple metric of Conference Championships, something that is very easy to point to and has a ring of prestige to it (as well as the recency bias of it, being the last game of the season played before the playoff), what led to people thinking that 8th ranked Ohio State deserved to be in the conversation with the top teams?

Well, I think the Conference Championship is the main reason, but also look what happened to everyone ranked above them. They beat Wisconsin in that game, so they had to be ranked higher than them. Georgia, with the comfortable win over Auburn, reaffirmed their season-long position as top dog, which also led to Auburn dropping way down. And Miami–who, despite starting the season 10-0 with two primetime blowouts of ranked opponents–the committee was always skeptical of, dropped way down with their meltdown in Clemson, which justified the committee’s hesitance.

So really, what screwed this whole thing up was Auburn. You had top dogs Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia, and then you had Auburn dominantly defeat and knock back both Georgia and Bama on separate occasions. The committee was very high on Georgia and Bama, so by defeating them, the committee was forced to respect Auburn as well. But after the SEC Championship game, Auburn’s loss–their third of the season–gave the committee the rationale to reverse back to their original position of Georgia and Bama being at the top. Enough teams moved around that Ohio State was able to slip into the No 5 position, but it still wasn’t enough for the committee to value them at the level of Georgia, Bama, Clemson, and Oklahoma.

It’s all very complicated, but we have to do our best to break it all down and look at as big a picture possible if we want to understand why what happened, happened.

Ohio State Had a Case

Now that we’ve established what led to Ohio State’s position of being just outside the top (in short: Bama lost to Auburn, Auburn lost to Georgia, Ohio State beat Wisconsin in the Championship, a bunch of other things did and didn’t happen…), let’s look at why so many people thought that Ohio State should have been included in the Playoff. And just to be clear, I’m not shilling for Bama here. Ohio State did have a strong case for inclusion, and there’s a good argument that, at least according to resume, they were a more deserving team than Bama.

1) Ohio State Was the Big Ten Champion.

As I mentioned earlier, the top 3 ranked playoff teams were Conference Champions. If Wisconsin had beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, they almost certainly would have gotten in as an undefeated Conference Champion. Alabama, on the other hand, didn’t even play in their Conference Championship. So after a week where Ohio State further distinguished itself with a win, and Bama didn’t do anything to change their prospects (they didn’t play), the committee still went with Bama. That is frustrating if you’re an Ohio State fan, and deservingly so.

2) Ohio State had a Stronger Strength of Schedule than Alabama

The committee talks a lot about the importance of strength of schedule. College Football teams, after all, choose which opponents they will play in advance. Ohio State had one more loss than Alabama, but one of those losses was to the Oklahoma Sooners. Buckeyes fans felt that the committee was punishing Ohio State for their strength of schedule. “The committee is making the point [that] wins and losses matter more than resume,” ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer said in response to the final rankings reveal. Ohio State would finish the season with wins over Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Two of those teams would finish the season in the CFP Top 10, and Ohio State would add a third top 10 win with their shutout of Pac-12 Champion USC in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama, on the other hand, played LSU (Final17) and Mississippi State (Final23). Their toughest opponent was Auburn, and they lost that game. So according to season ending rankings, Alabama’s best ranked win (Final17LSU) was worse than Ohio State’s worst (Final16 Michigan State).

3) Alabama didn’t look good against quality competition.

Alabama destroyed the nobodies on their schedule. But they seemed to sleepwalk down the stretch against some of their SEC opponents. They beat Texas A&M 27-19, LSU 24-10, Mississippi State 31-24 with a late rally, and of course, their only real quality SEC opponent, the Auburn Tigers, they lost to.

When you put these facts together, it’s clear why Ohio State fans felt slighted. They had a strong schedule and a conference championship to go with it, and instead they lost their playoff spot to Alabama. Many saw this as the committee both a) capitulating to the Alabama name, and b) being biased towards the SEC.

At face value, it seems like Ohio State should have gotten in. And had they, they would have easily been able to justify it. Even so, these facts still don’t tell the whole story.

Ohio State’s Case Wasn’t That Strong

At the end of the day, the question wasn’t whether Ohio State had a case. It was whether that case was strong enough to put them in the competition over Alabama, and it simply wasn’t. Each of the points I just made for Ohio State could be justifiably argued against, as I will do now.

1) Ohio State Was the Big Ten Champion.

Earlier I talked about how the fact that there are so few games in College Football makes the margin for error very small. This applies to Conference Championships too, and nothing shows this better than Alabama’s 2017 season. They were undefeated up until their last game of the season. They lost a tough fight to one of the best teams in the country (and their rival) at one of the hardest places to play (Auburn also beat Georgia in Auburn, 40-17. Bama lost 26-14). Just like that, they’re out of the Conference Championship.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone wants to be a Conference Champion. And I’m new to College Football so maybe I’m looking at this wrong. But ultimately, Bama wasn’t a Conference Champion because they lost one game (their only loss) at the end of the year. Those are the rules, and if they keep Bama from playing in the SEC Title Game, then fine… but I’m not sure it should undermine the fact that Bama was one of the best teams in the country for the entire year.

Even better though, let’s look at Ohio State. Yes, they won a conference championship. But it was only by the margin of 27-21. And if you watched that game, you got the sense that it could have been by a lot more. Wisconsin was more or less sleepwalking through that game. And they still took it to the very end. I think if Ohio State had gone out and destroyed Wisconsin, they would have had a much better case for going in. But they didn’t. When you’re that low in the rankings, you need to make as strong a case as possible, and I’m just not sure Ohio State did that.

2) Ohio State had a Stronger Strength of Schedule than Alabama

This is another point that is a bit overblown, in my opinion. Yes, it’s true, but I’m not sure the difference was significant enough to merit Ohio State’s inclusion.

Ohio State lost to Oklahoma, yes, but that wasn’t the loss that doomed them. It was their 55-24 loss to unranked Iowa in November. That’s a 31 point loss to an unranked team. Yes, there are weaker teams in college football, but it’s still unacceptable. That showed the committee that they simply couldn’t trust Ohio State to play with the big boys. You need to beat who you’re supposed to beat, and you need to be consistent on a week to week basis. Alabama has a record 73 straight wins against unranked teams. There is a zero percent chance they would have lost to Iowa. Zero.

Furthermore, Ohio State had their fair share of nobodies on the schedule. They played Army and UNLV early in the year, as well as all the little brothers of the Big Ten (Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, Illinois, etc).

Also, we have to mention that Alabama, in their opener, pummeled Florida State, during the only 3 1/2 quarters of the season when they had their starting QB healthy.

3) Alabama didn’t look good against quality competition.

But the same could be said for Ohio State. Yes, their wins against Penn State and Michigan State were impressive. As I said, they really weren’t that impressive at all in the championship vs Wisconsin. And what about their 31-20 win vs Michigan? I watched that game, and it was hardly dominant either–despite the fact that Michigan had zero offense last year. John O Korn had two straight drives to push for a go ahead TD and just threw the game away. On the first, he lost his composure under pressure and threw a jump pass (for no reason), missing a wide open man on 4th and 2 around midfield. On the next, he lobbed an INT straight to the safety on the first play of the drive with plenty of time in the pocket. A replay showed it was clearly the wrong read.

Sure, throw out the records when it’s Michigan/Ohio State, but the same can be said for LSU/Alabama. Mississippi State as well. The fact of the matter is that both of these teams had arguments counting against them, and Ohio State’s argument for simply wasn’t strong enough to push them in over Alabama. They had a case, and it would have been fine if they got in, but their case certainly wasn’t strong enough that people should have been getting as upset as they did.

The Committee’s Reasoning Made Sense

After Ohio State got left out, there was a lot of criticism surrounding the College Football Playoff committee and their process. That they’re too inconsistent, that they’re not holding themselves to the standards they set out, that they can’t justify their decisions, etc.

But at the end of the day, if you listen to what they said, they gave perfectly logical justifications for their inclusion of Alabama.

1) Alabama was consistently a top team over the course of the year.

This is something I addressed earlier in this post–it’s crucial to look at the rankings over the course of the season, and when you do that, it’s clear that the committee (who watches each of these teams each and every week) consistently viewed Alabama as a top football team. Here’s Kirby Hocutt of the CFP Committee the day of the rankings release:

“We spent a great amount of time last night into the morning, again beginning at 7:30 this morning, talking about the full body of work. Now that the complete season is in front of us, we have the full body of work. The selection committee just favored Alabama’s full body of work over that of Ohio State. And it was consistent over the course of the year. As we saw Alabama play week in and week out–our rankings show, when we start with a clean sheet of paper each and every week, that the selection committee believed that Alabama was the better Football team.”

2) The Iowa loss mattered.

When you see Ohio State fans say that Ohio State didn’t get in because they played a stronger schedule and that they should schedule weaker opponents in order to get in, it’s somewhat absurd because it totally ignores the Iowa loss. Iowa wasn’t a ranked team. So that loss didn’t have anything to do with strength of scheduling. Yes, Ohio State also lost to Oklahoma, but that wasn’t the deciding factor. Replace Oklahoma with an easy win on that schedule, keep everything else the same, including the Iowa loss, and the committee’s decision is very much likely to be the same. Or, take away the Iowa loss, and both Bama and Ohio State have one loss to ranked opponents, and in that case Ohio State probably gets in. So although strength of schedule did favor Ohio State, it’s also not what kept them out, and shouldn’t be mentioned as such. Heres Hocutt echoing the point:

“The selection committee looked at a one loss Alabama team, that one loss coming against the final ranking No 7 team Auburn in a very competitive game; we compared that to a 2 loss Ohio State team, obviously the one loss at home to the No 2 ranked Oklahoma, but more damaging was the 31 point loss to unranked Iowa.”

3) In this case, resume was a tiebreaker that wasn’t needed, not the deciding factor.

This is the one people struggle with the most. “How can you leave out a Conference Champion Ohio State team?”, they ask. The answer is that the committee’s agenda first and foremost is to pick the best teams on film. Things like conference championship, strength of schedule, are mere tiebreakers when the film isn’t clear. But in this case, the film was clear, so the tiebreakers weren’t needed. Therefore, it didn’t matter that Ohio State was a Conference Champion. Says Hocutt:

“Our charge is very simple. Our charge as the selection committee is to identify the four very best teams in the country for participation into the semifinals. And when there are close separation between teams, then we’re instructed to look at certain criteria. In this case, the margins weren’t close enough for us to look at those matters. […] Our charge is very clear: The four very best teams, and Alabama is included in those teams this College Football Season.”

4) So Conference Championships Don’t Matter?

This is another overreaction you heard a lot. No, they do. Three of the teams were Conference Champions. Usually, most of the time, the best teams will be Conference Champions. But sometimes they aren’t. Ohio State should know this better than anyone else. They were selected for inclusion two years ago over conference Champion Penn State. The committee chose Ohio State over Penn State, despite the latter’s championship and the former’s lack thereof, because they believed Ohio State was the better team. No Ohio State fan who supported that decision can rationally be upset by this one. Again, here’s Hocutt explaining the matter:

“We look at the four very best teams. Conference Championships are important. If you look at the history of the CFP Playoffs, 14 of the 16 teams have been Conference Champions. But however, we have the flexibility and the discretion to put non-champions in the top 4 if they are one of the four very best, and that’s what took place last night [and] was confirmed this morning.”

The job of these guys is to pick the best team on film. If you believe that, after watching film, Ohio State was the best team, then so be it. Go make your case. But for the most part, that’s not the argument you’re hearing. You’re hearing the argument I outlined above. But the fact that the Ohio State Bukeyes were Conference Champions and played a tougher schedule, doesn’t make them the best team on film. It might make them more deserving or more accomplished, and that’s something we can argue. But that’s not what this system is about. Here’s ESPN Analyst and former player Booger Macfarland after hearing the decision:

“The initiative of the College Football Playoff Committee is to get the four best teams. I think we in the media try to figure out different ways to make it easy for people at home to come to that conclusion. We come up with all these different formulas, all these different numbers. Let’s go back to the beginning what it’s about: It’s about the four best teams.”

It Will Never Be 100% Consistent

At the end of the day, you can’t quantify all this stuff. There are simply too many factors. So it’s not entirely accurate to say that film is the only thing that plays a role. If you’re an undefeated conference champion, you’re going to get in. There are things you can do to control your own destiny. If you play good teams, dominant your opponents, and win, you’re going to get in. Not necessarily all those things at the same time. But it’s why Wisconsin and Miami would have been in with Conference Championship Wins. They would have been 1 loss and 0 loss Conference Champions. It’s why Auburn would have been in with 2 losses–because they would have been Conference Champions with 2 wins over top teams.

But there are also things you can do to take destiny out of your own hands. When Ohio State lost by 31 to an unranked team, they took destiny out of their own hands. It’s not just that they lost. It’s that they lost by 31, and that it was to an unranked team. But let’s be clear: When Alabama took themselves out of Conference Championship contention, they took destiny out of their own hands too. It wasn’t just Ohio State.

At that point, you had two teams that didn’t make clear cases for themselves. So when that’s the case, it’s purely up to the committee and what they think by watching film. And they thought Alabama was better.

This isn’t bullshit. Let’s not treat it as such. No one liked the BCS. No one wanted a formula. Football is too subjective. This was an attempt to make the system and the competition as good as possible. And while there will obviously be blips along the way, it’s hard to argue with this year’s results. And ultimately, that is why we should be optimistic about the committee and trust their process going forward.

The Bottom Line: Was Alabama one of the Four Best Teams?

How many times have I used the phrase “four best teams” in writing this article? That’s what’s been drilled into my head the more I listen to the committee, to Kirk Herbstreit, to people who talk about the CFP and understand the system. That’s what it’s about. So at the end of the day, Alabama was the right choice if they were one of the four best teams. So were they?

I’m not a big fan of using results to justify the process. In fact, I think it’s one of the biggest problems in sports (and politics, and society in general…). But with this, it’s different. The only way to say if Alabama was one of the four best teams is if they beat the other top teams. And that’s exactly what they did.

Look, we won’t ever know how Ohio State would have done if they had gotten in. We can guess, but we can’t say for sure. But we do know how Alabama did. And the results speak for themselves.

It’s funny looking back at the youtube comments on the final CFP rankings reveal video. Everyone was saying Alabama would get destroyed by Clemson. I mean, I think we forget with how high a regard this Clemson team was held. They were considered by many, including the committee, to be the best team in the country. Alabama beat them 24-6 in the semifinal. And we know what happened next. Bama came back down 20-7 to beat Georgia in OT. In the same way that Oklahoma’s offense stalled late in the game when it played Georgia in the Rose Bowl, Georgia’s offense stalled late in the game in National Championship. At the end of the day, Alabama’s defense is the gold standard, and they can play with absolutely anybody.

Sure, there were a lot of things that could have gone differently in that game, like in any Football game. But it wasn’t a fluky win (like Super Bowl 51 was, but that’s another conversation…). Bama was dominant in every facet of the game, and they earned the win.

If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you’re positive that Ohio State, after barely beating Wisconsin, could have gotten through Clemson and Georgia in the way that Alabama did, then by all means, more power to you. But I have trouble that most people could really believe that.

At the end of the day, the CFP Committee got it right. Their job was to pick the best teams, and that’s exactly what they did.

Why bring this up now?

Because no one would shut up about it, that’s why!

The CFP is broken! The committee is corrupt! ESPN is a joke! Bla bla bla…

Look, I’m not saying it was a no brainer. Heck I just spent over 5000 words writing about it. There’s obviously a ton that went into this and a ton to talk about. It’s something I myself struggled with a lot.

But it’s worth looking back. For one, because it’s simply an interesting exercise to reflect on process, evaluate what we were right and wrong about, what went into it, and how we can learn from it. But two, because going forward, the committee showed that, despite how upset everyone got, it made the right decision, and because of that it deserves our trust.

I’m not saying don’t question the committee. I’m not saying don’t keep having conversations about this moving forward. Absolutely do. At the same time, this was a decision that perplexed a lot of people at the time it was made. Now, with the season past us, hopefully having this discussion has made some things more clear in retrospect, and will allow us to better understand the process the next time something like this happens.

And let’s also remember, the next time people get upset and say that the CFP committee doesn’t know what they’re doing, that at the end of the day they put a team in that many people thought they shouldn’t, and that team went on to win a National Championship. Maybe they know some things that we don’t.

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A Year Later, All is Well.

Probably the worst moment of the year for me last year was when Trump got elected. The second worst was when the Falcons choked away a 28-3 Super Bowl lead to give the Patriots a 34-28 Overtime win. If not for the unfathomable absurdity of a Demagogic, Un-American Sociopath becoming President, the Falcons loss probably would have easily been the worst. Why? For one, I was rooting for the Falcons, as I’ve always liked them. Secondly, I really didn’t want to see the Patriots win a fifth Super Bowl ring this decade. And lastly, it wasn’t just that the Patriots won, but how they won, with the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead. The Julio Jones catch late should have been the dagger in that game. The Falcons, after that insane catch and a loss of 1 on a run, lost big time yardage on back to back plays: First a sack, followed by a completed pass wiped out by a holding penalty. Just like that, out of field goal range. If just one of those things doesn’t happen, the Falcons kick a field goal and it’s game over. But in spectacular fashion, the Patriots capitalized on their opponents mistakes to get a fifth Super Bowl ring, and sure enough, the Patriots hype train was off. Due to the weak state of the NFL and the insane offseason the Pats had, it was almost a guarantee that the Pats would get to the Super Bowl this year, and I all but assumed they would win.

The close proximity of the Trump win followed by the Falcons utter collapse was tough. Neither of those things for me, politics or sports–things I involve myself in very much, probably too much–would get better over the next year. Trump began an all out assault on our institutions, minorities and working class, as well as normality, sanity and truth itself. My beloved New York Giants had what was arguably the worst season in the history of such a proud franchise. They capped off a 3-13 season with the eventual firing of their horrendous Head Coach, who decided to break our Franchise Quarterback’s incredible streak of games started for no reason other than a seemingly desperate attempt to save his own job. The Pats cruised to the Super Bowl, with the hype machine in full swing. I even took up College Football for the first time ever, which did provide some great moments, but for my chosen team, the Michigan Wolverines, it simply wasn’t their year.

But here we are a year later, and look what’s happened. The Philadelphia Eagles, a team I gave close to no chance in this game, not only won, but won in spectacular fashion. They put up 41 points on the Patriots. Their Backup Quarterback was stellar and won MVP honors. And on what could have been a game winning drive late in the 4th Quarter for the Patriots, Brandon Graham knocked the ball out of Brady’s hands. Brady didn’t see it coming, and I sure as hell didn’t either. There was nothing crazy about the play. It was 2nd down and 10, and a straight 4 man rush. He just beat his man and took the ball from Brady.

So after all that, it will not be the Patriots and Tom Brady taking home their Sixth Super Bowl ring. But Philly taking home their first in a 41-33 stunner. And that’s what’s great about sports. A team that seemingly had no chance made a statement, and proved to the world that they deserved to be there. And now, they are world champions.

I’ve been pretty clear in the past that I didn’t want the Patriots to win. I didn’t, and I’m glad they lost. I hope this humbles them and their fans. For some, it will. For others, it won’t. But let me also be clear: While I’m happy to not be hearing the noise of the Patriots fans tonight, I take no joy in their suffering. For any team or fan, a Super Bowl loss is hard. There should be no shame on the part of the Patriots. They deserved to be here and played hard. Sometimes, it’s just someone else’s turn to win. That was a hard fought game and someone had to come out on the winning side. Almost always, that has been the Patriots. Tonight it wasn’t.

No, tonight isn’t about the patriots. It’s all about Philly. A team that, yes, as a Giants fan, is my rival in the regular season, but I can put that aside to be proud of them tonight. They did something spectacular tonight. It’s a great story. They deserve the win. They deserve happiness and celebration. They deserve every Kudos they’re getting.

In thinking what to say about this game, about this win that I in no way foresaw coming, my mind threw at me many platitudes. Things like, “what goes around comes around”, or “it was bound to happen”, or even (only slightly jokingly) “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. But the truth is, I don’t really believe in any of those things. I don’t think there is any cosmic force that says what goes up must come down, that there will always be a yang to every yin, that it was inevitable that the Patriots would eventually lose. I think the universe is random and chaotic. That randomness makes it more likely and could be somewhat of an explanatory factor for the fact that the Patriots would come falling down to Earth in some way or another at some point. Regression happens. Upsets happen. It’s hard to maintain the status quo, and seems likely that things will change eventually. But that didn’t have to happen, and I’m not going to tell myself there’s a reason it did, other than the fact that the it’s simply what happened, and the Philly players earned it. And maybe that’s okay. There doesn’t need to be a cosmic explanation for what happened tonight. It just happened, and that’s enough of an explanation in and of itself.

So here we are a year later, and I can’t help but look back. After all that heartbreak and toughness I and so many other endured, tonight we finally got the result we wanted. The Patriots lost. It seems almost a form of poetic justice.

It’s true that sports aren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But that doesn’t mean they’re not emotional. They offer an outlet to occupy our time, to pour our feelings into. We put our heart and soul into these games. As fans, we feel with the team as if we are one of them. We bask in the glory of wins and feel the sting of losses just as the players do. It may seem silly to those on the outside, and it probably is. But that doesn’t make the feeling not real.

Today something spectacular happened, and the Eagles defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. I’m going to do my best to enjoy this win. Maybe it’s the start of other good things to come as well.

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Do I really have to write about this game?

It’s Saturday, February 3rd. The Super Bowl is tomorrow. Being a fan of the game, and having a football blog, it would seem that I should write a post about this game. Preview what interests me about the matchup, what we should be looking for, what I think will happen, etc.

But here’s the thing: I can’t really seem to get excited about this game, to the point where I have very little interest in doing any sort of look at the X’s and O’s of the matchup. Sure, I could pretend to be interested and dig deep to find things to talk about. But what’s the point? At the end of the day, we all know what’s going to happen. The Patriots are going to win, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are going to get their sixth Super Bowl ring, and the rest of us that don’t live in New England are going to be subject to nonstop talk about how great the Patriots are and how Brady is the greatest of all time–or GOAT, in football speak.

This Super Bowl matchup ended up being about as bad as it could be. It’s been an off year for the NFL, as the league is in somewhat of a transitional period. A lot of great players from my generation have retired, and the current crop of young players aren’t quite ready to carry the torch yet. There also seems to be a lack of quality head coaches currently. The result has been an absurdly weak AFC in particular. The Chiefs were one of the few teams that could have held water with New England, but they got upset at home in the Wild Card round by the 9-7 Titans, with the help of some fluky plays and some god awful calls by the refs. The Ravens have played the Patriots well in the past, but they’ve been stuck in mediocrity ever since Flacco signed his post Super Bowl megadeal, and they blew their playoff chances with a Week 17 loss to the 7-9 Bengals. The only other real AFC Powerhouse outside of the Chiefs is the Steelers, but they look like a varsity team whenever they go to Gillette, and their coaching staff is incredibly overrated. It was probably for the best that they lost to upstart Jacksonville before having to face New England, as Jacksonville, who had a tremendous turnaround under Tom Coughlin, played the Patriots pretty well in the Championship game. Bortles played about as well as he’s capable of, but winning in Gillette with a limited QB and an inexperienced Head Coach ended up being too tall a task. When the 4th Quarter rolled around, it was the same old story for the Patriots. Brady went into clutch mode, McDaniels dialed up some trick plays, the o-line protected Brady well, Amendola got going underneath, and a situational defense that is historically good at protecting 4th Quarter leads at home, did just that. Just like that, the Pats were off to the Super Bowl. Again. Yawn.

Well at least there was still hope for the NFC right? Well the Packers were out of the mix, as the injury bug hit Aaron Rodgers this year, and Hundley was unable to keep them alive until Rodgers came back. (Well, technically, they were still alive when Rodgers returned, but only barely, and a 3 INT performance in Carolina by him was the dagger, as they would shut Rodgers down for the year after that loss.) The Falcons, despite an improved defense, were only a shell of their Super Bowl offense from a year ago, and they could only muster a mere 10 points in their Wild Card loss to Philly. Carson Palmer got hurt again… and then retired. The Lions and Cowboys, as usual, were stuck in 9-7 purgatory. The young Rams had a nice first year under Sean McVay, but struggled in their playoff debut. But hey, at least the Saints were back right? It was nice to have a Drew Brees led team doing well again, but unfortunately for them, they’re just not a very good road team, and they were unable to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Brady/Brees Super Bowl would have been fantastic, but first they had to get through the Vikings (after an impressive win hosting Carolina in the Wild Card round). In what looked like a great matchup on paper, the Saints looked awful and fell to a 17-0 deficit at halftime. They rallied to make it 23-21 late, and looked like they had a win secured. But, seemingly wanting to compete with Atlanta for “biggest choke in NFL history” title, they gave up a touchdown with 10 seconds left. The Vikings threw a deep out, trying to get into FG range, and after it was caught, Marcus Williams, the Saints safety, made one of the worst tackle attempts you will ever see. He not only missed entirely, but he then collided with the corner, leaving no one to tackle Diggs, who then sprinted to the endzone. Whelp.

Ok, so things really weren’t looking good for a good Super Bowl matchup. But there was still some hope. The Championship Game was Minnesota at Philadelphia. Sure, Minnesota was playing with their backup QB, Case Keenum, who, despite having a phenomenal season, is still a pretty unexciting player to watch. But it was still a great story for them to make it this far. They were clicking on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. And, if they could make it past Philly, they would have been the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. That would have been awesome story, and that homefield advantage combined with their awesome defense would have definitely given them a shot vs New England.

You had to like their odds coming into the Championship game. However, just before Jake Elliott kicked off, the announcers offered a troublesome stat: Dome teams on the road in the Championship round have never won.

History, and stats, tend not to lie, and this one wasn’t either. The Vikings, after their awesome Cinderella run to make it this far, fell apart entirely. They lost 38-7. Nick Foles decided to have one of the best games of his career, and the Vikings were outcoached and outplayed on both sides of the ball.

About those Eagles: Earlier in the season, they were one of the few NFC powerhouses. They looked awesome behind second year star Carson Wentz at QB–along with great defense, coaching, and some nice free agent additions. A Pats Eagles SB with Wentz at QB would have been great, and despite being a Giants fan, I couldn’t help root for Philly. Wentz is a great QB and a really likeable young player.

However, it all changed when Wentz got hurt against the Rams and was lost for the season. That left the Eagles with Nick Foles for the remainder of the season. He struggled to close out the regular season before getting hot in the Playoffs, with the help of some nice playcalling and play design. Despite Foles’s struggles, the Eagles had been good enough under Wentz to secure the No 1 overall seed and home field advantage throughout the Playoffs.

So with that Viking loss in the Championship round, this is what we’re left with: A New England vs Philly Super Bowl. As I said earlier, I’m not too interested in doing a deep dive of the X’s and O’s, because I don’t think the Eagles have that much of a shot to win this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’re going to get blown out. They’re a good team, and it’s not like it’s a fluke that they’re here. However, at the end of the day, what you’re looking at with this matchup is the best coached and most experienced team in Football in the Patriots against a team with a limited backup Quarterback.

Nick Foles is not going to do against New England what he did vs Minnesota. He’s just not. Period, end of story. That was an anomalous performance by him. On a neutral site, against the New England defense, it’s not going to happen.

Philly can run the ball. They can run the “run pass option” plays that Foles is comfortable with and that they’ve been so successful with. But at the end of the day, there are going to be situations where your Quarterback is going to have to make plays to win. Not proactive plays, where everything is schemed up well, but reactive plays, where the Quarterback himself makes the play. If your Quarterback can’t do that vs New England, you’re not going to beat them. And call me a skeptic, but I don’t see it happening with Foles consistently enough for them to win.

Where is the path to victory for the Eagles in this game? The Pats are great on special teams. They’re great on offense. Gronk is healthy. Amendola’s a threat. Brady is Brady. McDaniels is McDaniels. They’re going to get matchups they like. They’re going to run the hurry up and go pass heavy if they feel the game demands it. If the last few years are any indication, they’re going to have success with it.

Defensively, they started the season a mess, but they’ve gone a total 180 and are just what we expect from the Patriots. No surprise there. Butler will take Torrey Smith. No problem there. Gilmore will take Jeffery. Shouldn’t be a problem there either. Ertz is a threat, but expect Belichick to double him.

Again, the Eagles will have some success. They will have plays that work. But will they have enough success consistently to the point where they out-execute and keep up with one of the best Quarterbacks and coaches to ever play the game? I mean.. you tell me if I’m missing something here.

No, what we’re most likely looking at here, barring some miracle or collapse, is a sixth ring for Brady and Belichick, who now seemingly have a second dynasty in 2014-2017 to go along with their first in 2001-2004. What goes around comes around, I suppose.

If I seem down, it’s because I am. If it seems like I want the Patriots to lose, it’s because I do. And no, it’s not because I think they’re “cheaters”. I think they probably broke some rules at some point, but I don’t think anything they did should really tarnish their accomplishments. It’s not because I think Brady is a two faced pretty boy (he is), or because the Patriots support Trump, or anything superficial like that. It’s not because I think the refs helped the Patriots a lot this year (they did).

No, I’m just sick of the Patriots winning. I’ve written about this before. What’s the fun in it? The NFL I know, the NFL that is interesting and fun, is one where anyone can win it any year. Sure, there will be perennially good teams and perennially bad teams, but ideally, everyone should have a shot.

Of course the Patriots earned this outcome, but it was also utterly predictable from the very start of the season. The NFL is weak. The Patriots are strong. When you combine the best coaching and execution of the game with a weak NFL and a couple breaks here and there, of course they’re going to win.

I’m just sick of them. I’m sick of hearing about them. I’m sick of hearing from their fans, who are some of the most boastful, pompous, and obnoxious people in sports. I’m sick of the media who won’t shut up about how great they are. I’m sick of hearing about the Patriot way, about how Tom is the GOAT. I’m sick of hearing the numbers about how often they’ve won and how what they are doing is unprecedented. I’m sick of being called a hater or jealous because everytime I turn on the radio or TV all I hear is someone else telling me how amazing the Patriots are. I’m sick of people calling nuanced analysis that doesn’t fawn over the Patriots “hating”. I’m sick of Patriots fans assuming I want to talk about their team when there are 31 other teams in the NFL.

It’s not fun. It’s not interesting. It’s bothersome, it’s boring, it’s repetitive, and it’s getting awfully old.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to say on this one. The Pats will most likely win, Patriots nation will freak out and won’t shut up about it, and the rest of us will collectively, sigh, shrug, and move onto whatever next thing we have to grab our attention. Maybe I need a new hobby.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Eagles 17

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