Sunday night brings a rematch of one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory. The Seahawks and Patriots gave us a classic battle for the ages in February 2014. Now, they’ve carved out their own niches as respective dominant teams in their conferences and in a potential long standing inter-conference rivalry for years to come. Will Richard Sherman ask about Tom Brady’s anger again? Will Brady sell us some Uggs?
Either way this is a matchup that should more than live up to the hype, something we so rarely get to experience in today’s NFL.
That and more in this week’s roundtable:
1. After their win over the Broncos on Sunday night, the Raiders are well in position for their first playoff berth in 14 years. Is this team the number one contender to the Patriots? Can they make a deep run?
Robert Zeglinski: I’m not sure if they’re the second best team in the AFC as I can’t trust a bottom ranked defense just yet. But in a league where the two best teams in the NFC are purely offensively driven like Atlanta and Dallas, Derek Carr and his attack makes the Raiders dangerous. They have the best quarterback in the AFC West (sorry, Phillip Rivers) and with Ben Roethlisberger’s recent struggles and injuries, maybe the second best in the AFC. That should be enough to push us for a rematch of the “Tuck Rule” game which would put fans in a tizzy. Plus, Khalil Mack and that defense have started to pick it up. It’s often the strength of the signal caller, after all.
Brian Hall: The Raiders are good enough to be considered a serious playoff contender, but I don’t think they can contend with the Patriots, or even make a very deep playoff run at all. The main issue I have is with their defense which is at the bottom of the league. We’ve already seen a paradigm shift in the NFL, in which teams with mediocre offenses can overwhelm a team with excellent defense. While one of those teams *did* just lose to the Raiders last weekend, the chances of going deep into the playoffs in shoot-out after shoot-out isn’t very high. Until Oakland can show that they’re capable of shutting down good offenses, I can’t buy them.
Chris Hatch: The real question here is: are the Raiders poised to become the NFL’s Robert Downey Jr.? They have the makings. Stay with me here: the Raiders had a period of sustained excellence a long time ago, a stunning, booze-fueled, ego-maniacal, drug-addled crash and burn that has been highly publicized and justifiably criticized. Even through all of that, they were still inherently entertaining even if they couldn’t seem to stop stumble-choking on every opportunity they got. Then: they cleaned up. With the Raiders, Al Davis was no longer in charge. With RDJ, he finally found a way to stay clean. He started off with a few small roles, really nailing them. Just crushing them. This was Derek Carr. This was Khalil Mack. Then RDJ got his chance: they needed someone to play Tony Stark. He was the perfect fit, for the perfect role, at the perfect time (Author’s note: right at the start of the Super Hero movie boom). The Raiders are the perfect fit (emerging stars on both sides of the ball), it’s the perfect time (power vacuum in the league as it enters into seeming transition period with the retirement/fading of many of the old guard), and they’ve got the perfect role (the team no one really trusts should serve as locker room fuel.) Go watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Now, go watch the Raiders. It’s time, baby.
Cody Broder: I would say no, simply because the Patriots could hang 50 on the Raiders non-existent defense, but in a one game scenario it would be interesting to see what Derek Carr could do. While the Raiders are good and have a legit shot to make it deep into the playoffs, I think the Seahawks still have the best chance of dethroning the Pats. Seattle still has the stellar defense, but Jimmy Graham is playing like Saints-era Graham, giving a little extra punch to that offense.
2. Let’s talk about the Richard Sherman and Dan Carpenter kick fiasco on Monday night. Whose right and wrong? Is NFL officiating really worse?
Robert Zeglinski: Everyone’s fantastically wrong. Seahawks corner, Richard Sherman, and Bills kicker, Dan Carpenter, both continued through their motions after the play was called offsides. Sherman did go for the ball but in the process still barged through Carpenter’s plant kicking leg, and did not appear apologetic whatsoever. But most of the blame falls on the officials. If the play is blown dead, call if off completely. If Sherman runs into the kicker, appropriately penalize him. If your umpire is standing over the ball and forces the Bills to take a delay of game penalty, recognize it. The biggest issue the NFL has is steadfastly defending their officiating under head of officiating Dean Blandino no matter what instead of counting on objective public accountability. That doesn’t mean the status of officiating is worse, we just notice more mistakes. But it’s a reasonable thought they should take heed in.
Brian Hall: In terms of whose wrong, it’s entirely on the officials. Sherman exploiting bad rules and mistakes on their part is just a way to play the game. You may not like it, but it isn’t wrong either. If you’re somebody who doesn’t like a player exploiting bad officiating, then instead of getting mad at the player, why not try and fix it at the source? The league hasn’t managed this well at all with the lack of discipline while also acknowledging that the officials were in the wrong, but this isn’t shocking. The NFL protects its referees as much as any sports organization, and in a year when officiating is being increasingly scrutinized, it’s unsurprising that they’d call out some of the worst that we’ve seen.
Chris Hatch: I am inherently biased on this topic. And, no, it’s not because Dan Carpenter once carried me singlehandedly to a fantasy title. It’s because I can’t stand Richard Sherman. And Sherman probably loves that I don’t love him. Any man whose digestive system is comprised of Stephen A. Smith crushing beef jerky in a rain coat automatically is the subject of my loathing. Also, I think that was a cheap shot. And his Sherman shoulder shrug made it worse. And his Bart Scott vocal chords that always seem to be turned up to “bark” didn’t either. The NFL whiffed on it. They just need to move on. I think the refs are struggling with football’s transitional period like the rest of us. Things are a lot more safety-oriented (unless you’re Cam Newton) and so they’re struggling to keep up and keep the game and its players alive. Also, Twitter was made to roast refs.
Cody Broder: The 360-degree, super-zoom replays definitely allow us the see everything better than we every have before, and that’s a large part of it. I don’t believe by any means officiating has gotten worse. As we’ve adapted to replay and access in all sports, we have just become increasingly obsessed with getting calls right. As for Sherman, you know he knew he was offside. You be the judge on the events that followed.
3. The Vikings are falling off a cliff following their third straight loss to the Lions on Sunday. Now, the entire NFC North is within a game of each other save for the Bears. Who do you expect to come out on top?
Robert Zeglinski: Everyone wants to jump on the Packers train, but *exhales* for the first time, I don’t trust Aaron Rodgers. This isn’t the same fire breathing dragon that could make every throw no matter the coverage. He doesn’t have the same receiving core to make up for mistakes either. And, a defense that’s highly ranked for now, was just gashed by the Colts of all teams at home. Andrew Luck isn’t that great. The North as a whole is mediocre and that opens the door for the Lions. Matthew Stafford is the division’s best quarterback right now and is a deserved MVP candidate. Detroit has it’s own defensive issues, but on the strength of Stafford’s consistency, as well as a soft schedule, the Lions will power through.
Brian Hall: Part of me wants to say the Vikings will be fine, but another part of me leans toward the Packers. It’s been a down year for Green Bay, sure, but at their worst they can scrape together enough wins to sneak into the playoffs. Besides, their main issue has been offensively, and given the level of play they should be able to bring to the field from that unit, that could change at the flip of a switch. Meanwhile, the Vikings issues are much worse, so much so that they’ve already lost an offensive coordinator this season. When it comes down the stretch, I’d take the Packers over the Vikings here.
Chris Hatch: I guess I’m going to have to buy into Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? There’s a reason there’s a question mark after that, now, when there used to never be. Sam Bradford is a stiff Northern breeze away from a full body cast and Norv Turner just packed it in to head to a retirement community that’s located anywhere but the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I would say you could probably stick a fork in them. Just don’t stick it in Sam Bradford or he’ll somehow blow out the remaining splinters of ACL tendon he has left.
Cody Broder: It’s honestly a toss up. I think the Vikings offensive line is damaged beyond repair, and Sam Bradford is looking terrified. While I think Matt Stafford may be the best performing QB in the NFC North right now, the Packers always seem to turn it on when the second half of the season comes rolling around. I’d look for them to be at the top, although I wouldn’t be shocked if the Lions or Vikings were there in the end.
4. Which current non-playoff team do you think will come back from the dead to grab a spot in the postseason?
Robert Zeglinski: It’ll be Pittsburgh. Their offense is too dynamic with everyone in the fold and if not for Ben Roethlisberger’s MCL injury earlier this season, they’re probably leading the AFC North and in much better position to challenge the Patriots. Most had them as the conference’s second best team going into 2016 for good reason. Now, they’ll more than likely have to play at least one road playoff game, but that’s not an insurmountable task for this group. The defense led by Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons offers a new dimension for the Steelers in that respect.
Brian Hall: The Chargers are last in a division that’s pretty loaded in terms of talent. However, the Chiefs and Broncos can only keep winning in the same manner that they always have before teams adapt and change their schemes to beat them (it’s already happening to Denver). Meanwhile, the Chargers are looking better every week, and they’ve got a lot of young talent on the come up. Melvin Gordon has looked awesome after a bad rookie season, and Joey Bosa is already making a big impact on a defense that desperately needed it. It won’t be very easy, but if they can figure out how to win away from home, look for the Bolts to make a push down the stretch.
Chris Hatch: Are the Steelers technically dead? I think that the Redskins will come stumbling back to make a late charge. Why? Because I have no idea who else to pick in the NFL. Half the league is dead. If I had to pick, I would say that, emboldened by current race relations in the United State this racist-ass-named team will pull themselves out of the grave of ineptitude, zombie-lungs shouting out “You like that!” as they claw their way towards a wild card slot.
Cody Broder: Pittsburgh is poised to make some noise. After losing three straight games, the veterans on this squad have something to prove. The dynamic players on this offense are simply too explosive not to will this team to at least five more wins on the season.