Friday, November 20, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and Disastrous Teams

Author's note: I had the opportunity to speak with NFL All-Pro linebacker Karl Mecklenburg recently about his new book and his playing career which was highlighted by three trips to the Super Bowl with the Broncos and six appearances in the Pro Bowl. Along with some fascinating stories about what it's like at an NFL training camp and an honest discussion of the pressures of being a professional athlete, the Broncos great articulates how a commitment to athletics can positively shape a person in the book, Heart of a Student Athlete. Check out the book here and Mecklenburg's website here. My interview with Karl and full review of the book will be posted here next Friday.

15 and 57. That's the combined record of the last place teams across every division in the NFL through week ten. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady sure are great, but train wrecks and systemic dysfunction is far more interesting.

The jarring 15-57 mark which amounts to a .208 winning percentage is represented collectively by, brace yourself: the Redskins, Lions, Rams, Buccaneers, Bills, Browns, Titans and Raiders. Re-read that and try not to cringe. The Titans, at 3-6, seem to be the red herring of that bunch coming off an NFL best 13-3 record last year. Maybe they're just a victim of a brutal opening schedule, but to quote Bill Parcells: you are what your record says you are. That goes for the Jets and head coach Rex Ryan too, who
said after the Jets week eight loss to the Dolphins: "I think our record should be better than what it is right now." Well, I think that I should be the ruler of a chocolate kingdom where there are no bills to pay, videos of kittens playing pianos repeat on loop on giant billboards across the land, and Tyra Banks is not allowed to speak. Model, but not speak.

Ryan's remarks from the same conference included this one too: "Statistically, this game isn't going to look close."
He's right (you may recall that Tedd Ginn scored two special teams touchdowns that game). The Jets wrecked the Fins on the stat sheet but unfortunately Ryan is the one coaching the team and the rest of us are yelling at the TV and playing fantasy football. Statistics don't tell the whole story, or even part of the story. After all, the Chiefs aren't even among the eight division doormats that my own silly metric scooped up.

Now brace yourself again: the un-elite eight have been outscored by their opponents by a combined 712 points so far. That's over 100 touchdowns, 200+ field goals or 356 two-point conversations. In other words, $!@$!!!

By comparison, the bottom eight last year, anchored by the 0-16 Lions and the 2-14 Chiefs and Rams, combined for a .281 win percentage. The dregs of the league this year are actually outpacing them. There's also a 37 percent chance that I'll get to the point in the following paragraph.

The bad teams this year, as a whole, just feel worse. They seem utterly hopeless and usually devoid of any spirit. It's so bad in Cleveland that the team's owner, Randy Lerner, actually met with two fans (the leaders of the Browns' Dawg Pound) to discuss their concerns about the state of the team because the fans threatened to stage a protest at the beginning of their Monday Night Football "contest" earlier this week.
Lerner's meeting was a nice gesture, I guess, but it's just bizarre. As for the game, it got so bad that the ESPN analysts, who sometimes inject false suspense into their MNF broadcasts--I suppose because they have to--were unabashedly critical of the mostly unwatchable Browns. It was like a terrible movie that becomes watchable only when you stop trying to like it and make fun of it instead. The Browns were shut out 16-0 by the Ravens and collected only 160 yards of total offense.

Nearby, Bills fans don't know whether to travel to the team's "home" game in Toronto against the Jets in December for fear that it might support the notion that Toronto is a better home for the Bills. Owner Ralph Wilson Jr. just fired head coach Dick Jauron who led the Bills to three consecutive 7-9 finishes and a 3-6 mark so far this year. And earlier this year, Bills management all but conceded that they brought in Terrell Owens to get some publicity and sell tickets. Isn't the point to win games?

So here's the one statistic that the geeks don't tabulate and couldn't accurately measure if they tried: just how much it must stink to be a fan of one of these awful teams right now. Many of them have been perennial losers for a while now (the Lions). Some are not accustomed to this type of thing. Whatever the case, these fans don't need algorithms or charts telling them that their teams stink. For the most part, they already know.

With that in mind,
I'm throwing statistics out the window from for the remainder of this article. And that takes us back to some quotes--eight in total, one for each team, taken from a sports film--to capture a bit of humor in each of the respective disaster seasons. The fans have got to laugh because if they don't laugh, they're going to cry, or punch holes in the wall, and the value of homes in Detroit has fallen enough already.

Your NFC representatives

Remember Danny - two wrongs don't make a right but three rights make a left. (Caddyshack)

Billionaire owner Daniel Snyder has thrown money at every apparent problem. I applaud his willingness to spend the money to bring in talent. But it hasn't worked, because it just doesn't work that way. Snyder may as well light his money on fire at this point. At least he has plenty of it. The reclusive Snyder actually came out and expressed remorse about the state of the dysfunction this year during the bye week, while a famous Redskin, John Riggins, has put out Youtube videos blasting Snyder and lame duck head coach Jim Zorn. Weird, right? Although to the Redskins credit, they did beat the Broncos last week.

Detroit: The most important thing to remember is: to protect your quarterback - ME! (The Longest Yard)

Rest assured, the Lions offensive linemen already know this. If they can keep him upright, Matthew Stafford will continue to get valuable experience. Hopefully better things are ahead. If not, at least Stafford got a contract with a lot of guaranteed money.

Tampa Bay
: Have you ever gotten the feeling that you aren’t completely embarrassed yet, but you glimpse tomorrow’s embarrassment? (Jerry Maguire)

Try to find two more wins on the Bucs remaining schedule: New Orleans; at Atlanta; at Carolina; New York (Jets); at Seattle; at New Orleans; Atlanta. But let's face it, who doesn't like creamscicle colored uniforms?

St. Louis
: We're in hell right now gentlemen. Believe me. And we can stay here, get the (bleep) kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell... one inch at a time. (Any Given Sunday)

That line really isn't that "funny", but how could I not include it? These Rams at least have some fight in them and gave the undefeated Saints a scare last week. Down five with 2:21 remaining, the Rams drove from their own 20 to the Saints 31 and had a shot at the end zone for a stunning 29-28 upset with time expiring.

And the representatives of the AFC

Buffalo: You don't think as a team, you don't play as a team, you don't even LOSE as a team! (Angels in the Outfield)

Needless to say, Coach Jauron had lost the ear of the team. Maybe it's time to bring back J.P. Losman, currently the starting QB for the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives.

: Good crowd out there tonight, boys, let's really try to win this one. (Slap Shot)

ESPN and the NFL need some sort of flex-scheduling for Monday Night Football to prevent another game featuring a 1-8 squad. But I'm not going to beat this one to death (if I haven't already). Tempting, but I won't. It's just a perfect storm of disaster. Somewhere in Cleveland there's a college senior writing a thesis about this Browns season. This was probably the only team in the league that didn't want to play on national television.

In case you haven't noticed — and, judging by the attendance, you haven't — the Indians have managed to win a few here and there and are threatening to climb out of the cellar. (Major League)

However even if the Titans win out and finish 10-6, it might not be good enough to secure a playoff spot. Probably won't happen though. In any event, as long as 86 year-old owner Bud Adams continues to wave double-barreled middle fingers from a box towards opposing teams' fans, the price of admission is worth every penny.

This quitting thing, it's a hard habit to break once you start. (Bad News Bears)

That about sums up the 2009 Raiders. Although, the JaMarcus Russell experiment appears to be over. Somewhere, John Madden, Mike Shanahan and John Gruden are shaking their heads. Stay tuned!

Check back in here every Friday around lunchtime where Brett Smiley will fill you in on everything in the world of sports and fantasy sports from the bizarre to the practical to the relatively unimportant.

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