Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NFL Power Rankings

By Travis Stahl

We have a short turnaround this week in the NFL.  With Thanksgiving this week we've got three games tomorrow to start the week.  We better get some power rankings in before that.  First though, I believe at least one team, the Cowboys, will be wearing a new color scheme tomorrow.  I'm pretty excited.  Think about this when considering how this season has turned out.  Tampa Bay is in the playoff hunt.  Baltimore is not.  Jacksonville is still a postseason possibility.  Miami is not.  To quote the great Jerry Reed, we've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.

1. New England Patriots
2. Carolina Panthers
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Denver Broncos
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Indianapolis Colts
11. Atlanta Falcons
12. Houston Texans
13. New York Giants
14. Kansas City Chiefs
15. New York Jets
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
17. Philadelphia Eagles
18. Buffalo Bills
19. Oakland Raiders
20. Dallas Cowboys
21. St. Louis Rams
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
23. Detroit Lions
24. Miami Dolphins
25. Chicago Bears
26. New Orleans Saints
27. San Diego Chargers
28. Washington Redskins
29. San Francisco 49ers
30. Baltimore Ravens
31. Tennessee Titans
32. Cleveland Browns

After the partying incident with Johnny Manziel came out it's not pretty clear he has played his last game in Cleveland.  That means the Browns will be drafting a quarterback in the spring and I have to start worrying about Manziel ending up with the Cowboys.  We all saw this coming.  Manziel was an oil baby who was coddled from his high school days on and allowed to behave however he wanted.  Perhaps his biggest downfall was not realizing people are going to take pictures of him everywhere he goes.  Dummy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Clash of the Titans

By Travis Stahl

We like to tell ourselves that defense wins championships.  I believe that is true to an extent, you still have to score points efficiently to win games.  But usually the team that wins a title is the team that plays the best defense at the right times.  In the NFL, you darn well better believe you need a great defense to win a Super Bowl.  We will get a look at two of the best Sunday when the New England Patriots play the Denver Broncos.  This could very well be a Kevin Frankle game with a 6-3 score.

We've been hearing all year about how great the Broncos' defense is and rightfully so.  Denver leads the league in total defense and has only allowed 18.3 points per game.  The Broncos have waves of pass rushers to send at opposing quarterbacks, two lock-down corners, safeties to play over the top or support the run and the fastest group of linebackers in the league.  Know what team in the NFL is third in total defense?  Yep, New England and the Patriots are allowing giving up 18.8 points per game this year.  This is the same defense that lost both of its starting corners but Chandler Jones leads the league in sacks and Jarod Mayo has stayed healthy all year at middle linebacker.

This game is likely a preview of the AFC title game so the loser doesn't need to hang their head too low.  But you have to wonder how either team is going to generate points.  Peyton Manning will miss his second-straight game so Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback for Denver.  It's one thing for Osweiler to play well as he did against the Bears defense last week.  It is quite another to face a Bill Belichick defense.  It doesn't help that the Broncos already struggle to run the ball which means it will all be on Osweiler to produce points.  The Patriots didn't exactly look like an offensive juggernaut last night against Buffalo.  New England is still trying to manufacture points after losing running back Dion Lewis and wide receiver Julian Edelman.

The game is in Denver so that gives the Broncos a slight edge.  But as we've said before New England is out for blood this season and has that extra bit of motivation.  Games that are this close usually come down to special teams and turnovers.  The Patriots have Stephen Gostkowski and a quarterback that doesn't throw interceptions.  The Broncos have Brock Osweiler.  I'm not saying that means the Patriots will win this game but if the defenses are relatively equal then I believe New England at this point has the slightly better offense.  And you still need to have more points on the scoreboard than the other team at the end of the day.

We don't get to see great regular season match-ups like this late in the NFL schedule very often.  This is usually one of those games the league likes to put on early in the year on a Sunday or Monday night.  I think we are going to get to see two of the best defenses in recent memory facing off on the same field with lots and lots of punts.  If the Patriots win that will be the final hurdle towards 16-0.  But a win by Denver builds a lot of confidence (and maybe creates a quarterback controversy) for a team that will likely be playing the Patriots in New England in January.

Monday, November 23, 2015


By Travis Stahl

Every season in college football there is that moment we all wait for.  Sometimes it comes early like Appalachian State beating Michigan.  Other times we have to wait until the last week of the season like when Kansas State beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game in 2003.  This season, the game that will define the season was this past Saturday.  Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14.

That game game not only ended the Buckeyes 23-game winning streak it changed the landscape in the Big 10 and across college football.  Now, not only are the Spartans in the drivers seat to play in the Big 10 title game but they have opened the door for Michigan to have a chance also.  And, oddly enough, Ohio State is still in the picture if Michigan State loses this weekend and then goes out and beats Michigan.  The Big 10 is now the most intriguing picture in the nation.

We can't even see the reach of that Spartans upset yet in the rest of the college football world.  We expect Clemson to run the table and finish the year undefeated.  Alabama has one loss but the Tide seem pretty entrenched in the playoff picture if they win out.  But now we have a whole table full of one-loss teams who all want to have their resumes examined by the committee.  All the Big 10 teams have one loss as does Oklahoma and Notre Dame.  What about Baylor and Oklahoma State?  The only sure thing we can say is that the Pac 12 is out.

If I had to guess what the ratings will look like when they come out tomorrow night obviously Clemson and 'Bama will still be 1, 2 at the top.  After that ... who knows.  I'm guessing the Sooners will be in the top four for the first time at No. 2 and the Irish will still be at 4.  As I said, just a guess.  But let's look down the road a little further.  Can we expect Oklahoma and Notre Dame to be there in the playoff at the end of the season?  The committee has made it pretty clear they don't like teams that don't play in a conference title game.

I believe Clemson will win out and the Tide will beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl and then Florida in the SEC title game so those two are set.  Then, you can be sure that whichever team wins the Big 10 will get a spot in the playoff so either Iowa or Michigan State/Michigan/Ohio State will be there.  That leaves one spot to go to either Oklahoma or Notre Dame.  If both teams win out I think the Sooners will get it but that is just a guess, and maybe a biased one at that.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dressed for Success

By Travis Stahl

Tis the season, am I right?  I put our holiday decorations outside for the annual Stahl Festival of Lights last weekend while it was warm.  I even turned them on.  Surely people were furious that I had lights on too early.  But Christmas draws near and with it everything red and green.  Just like last week's Thursday night football game that featured the all-red uniformed Buffalo Bills and the all-green clad New York Jets.  It was a color-blind person's nightmare.  Last night we saw the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans also were colorful uniforms and I love it.

This trend of wearing the dark-on-dark uniforms instead of the white jerseys is fabulous.  The NFL started doing this about five or six years ago but it quickly faded away to the point where few teams would do it.  Last night the Jags had on these oddly colored goldish-yellow jerseys and pants and the Titans wore their powder-blue jerseys and pants.  Some people really can't stand it but I think it is a great way for the league to make the teams stand out.  It can be gaudy at times like it was last night for Jax but the stiff, rigid NFL needs to throw things out on the field like this from time to time to mix things up and give the fans some excitement.

Just think of the other uniform combinations we could see if other teams did this more often.  I would love to see Dallas with the dark blue jersey and dark blue pants.  Or Green Bay in all green.  Can you imagine if the Buccaneers ran out on the field with the old orangesicle jerseys and matching pants?  My gosh that would be a site.  I remember when the league had teams wear these uniforms before the Dolphins wore their blue jerseys with matching pants and it was just beautiful.  These uniforms give the NFL teams a college feel where teams are constantly taking the field as if they were on the runway for a fashion show in Milan.

Some teams could even take this new fashion opportunity to make some permanent upgrades to their uniforms.  The Giants uniforms are just awful and their grey pants are the worst.  Baltimore's uniforms aren't much better with those stupid all black pants with the little Raven logo on the hip.  I'm sure Baltimore adopted those to portray an attitude but they just look bad.  New uniforms could also mean new streams of revenue for these teams as fans would line up in droves to buy new jerseys and hats of their favorite players.

Nobody ever thinks of the NFL as being progressive.  But this is a bold step for the league to make the teams appear more exciting.  I love it.  I can't wait to see some of the other uniforms the league trots out.  Plus, these new uniform combinations are coming just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

NFL Power Rankings

By Travis Stahl

Determining the NFL power rankings becomes more and more difficult with each passing week.  Take the New York Giants for example.  One week the Giants look like a legitimate playoff team that could win their division.  The next week they lose to New England in a game the Giants gave away several times.  Are the Giants a good team or one that gives away games?  The same can be said about a lot of teams in the NFL right now as the level of play fluctuates greatly from week to week.  There are two teams though in the rankings we don't have to question.  The first two.

1. New England Patriots
2. Carolina Panthers
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Minnesota Vikings
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Denver Broncos
8. Atlanta Falcons
9. Green Bay Packers
10. New York Giants
11. Buffalo Bills
12. Seattle Seahawks
13. Chicago Bears
14. New York Jets
15. Kansas City Chiefs
16. Oakland Raiders
17. Miami Dolphins
18. Philadelphia Eagles
19. Indianapolis Colts
20. St. Louis Rams
21. Washington Redskins
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
23. New Orleans Saints
24. Houston Texans
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
26. Tennessee Titans
27. San Diego Chargers
28. Dallas Cowboys
29. San Francisco 49ers
30. Baltimore Ravens
31. Detroit Lions
32. Cleveland Browns

See, all the Lions needed last week was for me to trash them a little bit and then they go into Lambeau and beat the Packers.  If you look at the teams at the bottom of the standings who could be competing for the top pick in next year's draft none of them could end up needing a quarterback.  The closest team to the bottom that could draft a quarterback is the Texans or Saints.  That's odd.  It also could mean we could see a lot of teams moving up in the draft to try to grab a quarterback.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Focus Needs Returned to the School Team

By Travis Stahl

So, we're getting a new high school here in Columbia City.  Regardless of how that high school is coming into existence nearly everyone could agree it was long overdue.  With a new high school means new athletic fields, practice fields and gyms.  I'm hoping it also comes with a renewed sense of loyalty to the school athletic teams.  And, once again, we can lay the blame at the feet of AAU and travel sports.

You might be asking yourself, what is this crazy guy talking about?  Here iswhat I mean.  If an athlete is playing for the high school/middle school basketball, baseball, soccer, etc. team that should be their only sport they are playing at that time.  We are asking and expecting too much out of the young kids of this community and the toll it is taking on their bodies can't be good.  Don't mistake what I just said and interpret it as "we need to baby" kids.  On the contrary, we need to hold our local athletes more accountable.

Instead of playing on the high school baseball team, and playing in an indoor youth basketball league and a traveling baseball team all at the same time our kids need to focus solely on the school team.  I'm not trying to pigeon-hole athletes and turn them into specialists, I want kids to play as many sports as they want.  I'm just saying they should play one sport at a time and the order of importance should favor the school team.

Here is a quick example using the scenario I gave above.  Let's say we have a junior on the baseball team who is the starting catcher.  He also plays in an indoor basketball league in Fort Wayne on the weekends.  During one of those basketball games he blows out a knee.  Now, that athlete, who is playing an extra sport outside of his school team, has just seriously debilitated the high school baseball team.  That isn't fair to the other players on that baseball team, the coaches or the school itself.

High school athletics are an important part of the lives of our young people.  And maybe there aren't as many kids playing an extra sport while they are in high school as it appears.  But it sure feels like this is happening a lot and at some point the body is going to break down.  I understand the culture of athletics has changed to favor these AAU and travel teams.  But loyalty and participation should be with the school team first.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Recapping the Weekend

By Travis Stahl

Statistics can only take you so far.  At some point you have to just trust what your eyes are showing you.  We saw a lot yesterday in the NFL.  Some good and some bad.  The playoff picture is slowly starting to come in to focus in a few divisions.  Here are some thoughts from yesterday's games.

Bad Peyton - I thought last year that my eyes were telling me that Peyton Manning was done in the NFL being an effective, winning quarterback.  Then after the season was over we learned that Manning had an injury so I gave him a pass.  You can throw all the injury claims you want at me, but Manning is done.  The only chance the Denver Broncos have at this point is to sit Manning down and rest him until the playoffs and hope the time allows him to conjure enough energy to throw the ball more than 10 yards accurately down the field.  I don't think that can happen.

Cheesed Out - The Green Bay Packers are in trouble.  Flat out trouble.  The offensive line is bad, they can't run the ball and teams can throw deep whenever they want for big plays against the defense.  We often times sit back with the Packers and just figure Aaron Rodgers will figure it out.  And sometimes he is, it's just coming in the fourth quarter.  That's not going to cut it.

MVP - We hear a lot about Tom Brady for MVP and rightfully so.  But don't forget about Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.  Palmer led Arizona to a signature win over Seattle last night and solidified the Cardinals spot atop the NFC West and so much of it is Palmer.  Arizona is arguably the best team in the NFC right now and a real contender to play in the Super Bowl.  When Palmer is in the game this team wins, if he is out with injuries they lose.  It's that simple.

I also really love the way Cam Newton is playing right now for Carolina.  Newton's numbers aren't spectacular but he wins games and plays big in big moments.  I would love to see a Carolina-Arizona NFC title game and I think right now those two teams are clearly the best in the division.