Cowboys’ season not a failure

I hate the Cowboys.

As much as any self-respecting fan of a non-Dallas NFL team, I have an extreme dislike of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s the only team to ever make me inflict damage to my own possessions – an innocent basement wall that had nothing to do with the Giants allowing a game-winning TD to slow-but-somehow-always-open Jason Witten in 2015.

 

And so life goes on. That was the season-opener of a year in which Tony Romo was injured and the Cowboys finished 4-12. Satisfying enough. But then, Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the 1st pick of the 2016 draft, and with Romo expected to return, suddenly looked like a team primed to reclaim its 1st-place form of 2014.

The rest of the story is well known: Romo is re-injured in the preseason, Dak Prescott emerges as Dallas’ QB of the future with one of the more improbable rookie seasons, the offensive line remains a juggernaut, and Elliott was everything he was advertised to be.

The Cowboys weren’t supposed to make it this far. Expectations of a turnaround hinged on the return of Romo. An almost all rookie-led run to the playoffs was unforeseen. And yet, here we are, the day after Prescott went head-to-head in the Divisional Playoffs as the No. 1 seed with arguably the game’s best QB, Aaron Rodgers, and almost won. Not to mention, the reason Dallas lost was less his fault than the defense and offensive play-calling.

When Romo went down, conventional wisdom said the team would repeat 2015. Instead, they went 13-3 (Giants sweep – hehehe) and received a 1st-round bye. At the end of such a successful season, it’s reasonable to expect a more fitting ending. But in proper perspective, this season was already a success when the team clinched the division and more in the regular season. This playoff game was merely a necessary get-knocked-down moment for a new regime led by Prescott and Elliott, and they’ll be hungrier than ever to get back next year.

 

So rejoice now non-Cowboys fans alike, because this team will give us plenty of nervous moments in the future. All we can hope for is that our teams (*cough* Giants) come back just as motivated.

Oh, and after a few down years, the NFC East is back.

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It’s OK to root for Tyreek Hill

I completely understand if people have been conflicted this season watching Chiefs standout rookie Tyreek Hill set the NFL ablaze, contributing to his team’s success far earlier than most 5th-round picks.

During his time at Oklahoma State in 2014, Hill punched and choked his then-girlfriend following an argument. He pleaded guilty to abuse by strangulation in 2015 and was sentenced to three years probation on a plea agreement. The entire ordeal was horrid and unforgettable, even before  mention that the woman was eight-weeks pregnant at the time.

It’s important that we don’t forget what happened, because Hill may one day become an example of what not to do, who not to be, or how a person can and should change. But more than two years later, it’s OK to look past his transgressions and enjoy him play.

We like to think of violence against women as a football issue, something exclusive to athletes. We act as if domestic violence is something that only league’s need to deal with and that we all can judge from a distance. Maybe this way of thinking somehow makes people feel disconnected from a real-world issue. But the reality is “regular people” deal with domestic abuse too, and it’s an issue we all have a hand in fixing. It’s a culture that our country needs to address. Whether it’s OK to hit a woman isn’t something we should look to our favorite teams to set moralities and make us feel good about – essentially exiling anyone with a tattered past so we can act like the issue doesn’t exist daily outside of sports.

We should want people who have abuse problems to get help, so the cycle of abuse doesn’t continue. We should want personal reform more than punishment. And although punishment is often necessary for that reform, it should come from a fair judicial process, not a potential employer. People should be given second chances after paying their legal dues, and if a second chance proves to be insufficient, the justice system should have a next-step program for multiple offenses. And when someone is successfully reformed, we should applaud the outcome. We should be happy that another woman doesn’t have to be subjected to abuse. Simply banning an athlete from playing a sport doesn’t ensure that. It may actually have adverse affects.

The people an offender deal with day-to-day have more reason to take extreme action than someone that comes along after said offender has dealt with the issue. Hill’s girlfriend rightfully pressed charges against him. Oklahoma State rightfully released him from the football and track programs following his arrest. Afterwards, Hill enrolled at West Alabama for a season, and in 2016, the Chiefs drafted him with the 165th overall pick in the NFL draft.

Any team that passed on Hill because of his past did so to avoid having to address the questions and potential distractions, not because they were trying to stand on a moral high-ground. And as businesses, they shouldn’t be criticized for those decisions. In the same vein, we shouldn’t condemn West Alabama for taking a chance on a kid who had hopefully learned a valuable lesson. And we certainly shouldn’t condemn the Chiefs for giving Hill an opportunity to make a living. All we can hope for is that the organizations did their due diligence in the interview and background-check process.

Hill confessed to his transgressions and apologized. And as far as we know, he hasn’t had another issue since. It would be nice to see him advocate on behalf of domestic violence groups, but he’s not obligated to. He remains on probation and will likely go to jail if he doesn’t abide by it. That should be enough to keep Hill in check. Unless he has another incident, it’s not on us to hold it over his or his employers’ heads anymore.

Breaking down the 2016 New York Giants schedule Pt. 2

The Giants go 5-3 through the first half of the season and are riding a three-game win streak as they approach the second half. This is a team full of confidence and momentum, and while things won’t get easier, New York has two games remaining of a three-game home stand. The Giants have a chance to pad their schedule.

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 14 at 8:30 p.m.

W vs Cincinnati Bengals (2015: 12-4)

The Bengals are still a very good, playoff contending team. And they’re coming off of a bye week. The Giants have plenty of momentum and confidence, however, and they’re tired of losing prime time games. This is when the NFL is put on notice of how dangerous New York can be. Andy Dalton never finds a rhythm, while the Giants use a balanced attack to control time of possession and win a tough game at home.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m.

W vs Chicago Bears (2015: 6-10)

The Giants play bad enough to lose this game, in one of those letdown performances New York fans have become accustomed to. Fortunately, Chicago is low on confidence from playing a tough schedule, and plays worst. The Giants escape this game with a lucky win and improve to 7-3.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 1 p.m.

W @ Cleveland Browns (2015: 3-13)

Robert Griffin III has always given the Giants a hard time, and if he plays in this game, he’ll do it again. Either way, the Giants prove to be more talented than Cleveland and win their first road game on U.S. soil. The win streak is up to six games.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:25 p.m.

L @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2015: 10-6)

This game has the potential to be New York’s most lopsided loss of the season. Pittsburgh is well-rested after playing a Thursday night game the previous week, and New York is perhaps a little overconfident. The offense never gets into a rhythm and Antonio Brown is a constant threat as New York falters for the first time since Week 5.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m.

L vs Dallas Cowboys

The Giants face another opponent playing on extended rest after a Thursday night game. Dallas has re-established a running attack by now and beats the Giants differently than it did in Week 1. Most people wondered which team was better, but after losing another prime time game, the Giants fail to fight off questions of Dallas’ superiority.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m.

W vs Detroit Lions

Detroit’s defense is stingy and its offense is not as inept as people assumed it might be without Calvin Johnson, but by now the Lions playoff chances are slim to none. The Giants are still positioning themselves and come out strong to snap a two-game losing skid.

Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 22 at 8:25 p.m.

L @ Philadelphia Eagles

It’s a short week for New York, which finally takes it turn in a Thursday night game. The week is just as short for Philly, but with the season all but over, the Eagles would love nothing more than to disrupt New York’s playoff chances. The Giants know they have another game to seal things up next week and underestimate the Eagles fire in a close loss.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017 at 1 p.m.

W @ Washington

Happy New Year! The Giants open 2017 on a high note after defeating Washington for the second time this season and clinching a playoff spot, likely by locking up the division. The extra days of preparation, and especially rest, from last week’s Thursday game benefitted New York. Because of prime time losses, however, the Giants playoff chances are underestimated. But with one of the more experienced playoff quarterbacks, the Giants are a team no one wants to play.

Giants second half record: 5-3

2016-17 record: 10-6, 3-3 NFC East

Breaking down the 2016 New York Giants schedule Pt. 1

The NFL released the 2016-17 schedules on Thursday, which gives me an awesome opportunity to kick off this blog by breaking down each game. Based off of last season’s records, the Giants are tied with Green Bay for the second easiest strength of schedule, but now that we have the order of those games, it’s easier to determine where fortunes may be better or worst depending on short or long weeks, and early or late games. Check out my breakdown of the Giants through half of the season below. My second half will be released tomorrow.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 11 at 4:25 p.m.

L @ Dallas Cowboys (2015: 4-12)

For the fourth time in five years, the Giants will open the season against Dallas, and like the last two games, it’s at AT&T Stadium. These games are always close, but the Giants have found a way to lose each of the previous three openers to Dallas. This year will be no different as New York’s new defensive additions get used to Steve Spagnuolo’s system. Eli Manning and company will do enough to keep the game competitive, but a re-energized Cowboys offense with Tony Romo back under center will do enough to exploit the defense. Cowboys win another nail-biter.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m.

W vs New Orleans Saints (2015: 7-9)

The Giants return to New Jersey for their home opener against New Orleans in a rematch of last year’s shootout. Most people believe the Saints are in decline, and I tend to agree, but this game won’t be a waltz. I don’t think Manning and Drew Brees will produce a combined 13 passing touchdowns like last year, but they’ll exchange scores until Manning’s offense comes up with the final dagger.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m.

W vs Washington (2015: 9-7)

The Giants stay at home in Week 3 for their first shot at last year’s NFC East champions. The game will be Washington’s first on the road, and unfortunately for Washington, New York’s first as a cohesive defensive unit. The Giants rattle Kirk Cousins in a game easily won.

Week 4: Monday, Oct. 3 at 8:30 p.m.

L @ Minnesota Vikings (2015: 11-5)

Minnesota is a team on the rise although its MVP, Adrian Peterson, may be in decline. Either way, he’s still really good and will prove to be too much for a Giants defense that hadn’t yet been tested against the run. It’ll be a close game, but New York loses on the road in its first prime time game of the season.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 at 8:30 p.m.

L @ Green Bay Packers (2015: 10-6)

New York faces its third straight opponent which made the postseason in 2015 on a shortened week, on the road. To make the task of playing Green Bay  in prime time more daunting is the fact that the Packers had plenty of time to prepare, coming off of a bye. The Giants put up a fight but Aaron Rodgers is too much in a two-score loss that drops New York to 2-3.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m.

W vs Baltimore Ravens (2015: 5-11)

Baltimore hits the road for the first time since Week 3, but runs into a Giants team determined not to fall too far behind the eight ball. Joe Flacco is a sitting duck and Baltimore’s defense is uncharacteristically weak. New York wins by two scores to gain momentum before taking a long flight.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23 at 9:30 a.m. (Wembley Stadium in London)

W at Los Angeles Rams (2015: 7-9)

Both teams are looking for a win before heading into the bye, but the more talented quarterback prevails. The Giants wreak havoc on whoever is under center for the Rams, Janoris Jenkins plays with fire against his former team, and Eli Manning make Los Angeles wish it kept Jenkins. The Giants play a game unusually clean for a team playing in London and improve to 4-3 heading into the break.

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6 at 1 p.m.

W vs Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia is better than most people thought it would be, but still lacks the collective experience to close out games. This one will be no exception. The Eagles play New York close as can be expected from a division rival, but the Giants prove to be too talented for Philadelphia to keep up with over four quarters.

Giants midway record: 5-3

Washington’s bright future not guaranteed

I get it. Football fans are generally optimistic about the futures of their favorite teams, specifically fans of teams that made the playoffs in the previous season. So when it comes to fans of the professional football team in Washington, D.C., this theory is enhanced by ten.
Washington fans were already irrationally optimistic, and after losing to the Packers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, their optimism is at an all-time high. Their heads are so in the clouds that they were barely upset after losing to the Packers, because “nobody expected us to be here” and “we’ll be back next year.” Only New England fans are as sure.
Now, while even I have to admit Washington showed some promise for the future, there’s cause for pause that the fans aren’t heeding to.
The first, and most glaringly obvious issue, is the one at quarterback. Kirk Cousins played amazing down the stretch this season but as has been noted time and time again, he has yet to win a game against a team with a winning record in his career.

Is he the quarterback of the future? With Cousins’ impending free agency, Washington will have to pay him to find out. If Washington doesn’t, somebody else will, so naturally they’ll pay him and either prosper for the next four to five years or set the franchise back as much.
I’m of the belief that he’ll be a decent enough quarterback, though. Not as good as he was in the second half of 2015, but not terrible either. He’ll be good enough to win with, which leads me to my next issue. The way he earned the starting quarterback position in the first place.
Robert Griffin III will be gone next season. He’ll finally be a non-issue in Washington, the distraction that was but no longer is. The other person who contributed to the RGIII circus, however, is still around – Jay Gruden.
Gruden deserves SOME credit for carrying a four-win team in 2014 to a 9-7 playoff team the following season, but it was only a playoff team for winning the NFC East. No one’s giving Bill O’Brien any praise for winning the AFC South and the NFC East was just as bad. Let’s hold on to our Gruden praise for when he actually deserves it. And I’m not as sure whether he’ll ever earn that type of praise.
Are we sure Gruden is a good head coach with the way he originally mismanaged the most important position on the team? It wasn’t a matter of knowledge with him, it was matter of dealing with people, the same thing that got Chip Kelly fired. Gruden clearly made the right decision in who to start, but the way he arrived to that point was a mess. A lot of talk was made that if his decision to start Cousins didn’t pan out, he would be out of job. Well, Cousins beat up on bad teams and saved Gruden, but are we sure he won’t mismanage more of his players in the future? Let’s not forget that he’s only still around because of a quarterback that still hasn’t beaten a winning team. There are still a lot of question marks.
The final reason Washington fans should temper expectations for 2016 is the most obvious. The ‘skins aren’t the best team in a division that seems to turnover every year. There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner of the NFC East since Philly did it from 2001 to 2004. Not even the team fans were so excited about in 2012, behind the now exiled RGIII, could repeat – and I think that team was better than this one.
As much as it pains me to say as a lifelong Giants fan, I think Dallas is still the team to beat.
Obviously, the Cowboys have their own coaching issues, but with that offensive line still in tact and a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant returning, Dallas automatically leap frogs everyone in the division.
In addition, Cousins is still just the third best quarterback in the division, at best, behind Romo and Eli Manning. And New York’s offense will keep it in the division picture, especially if the Giants hire the right head coach.
As bad as New York was defensively, only two teams scored less than Washington did in either of its two games against the Giants. Cousins threw just two touchdowns against the Giants in 2015, and he threw for as many interceptions when New York won the first game 32-21. Washington won the second game 20-14.
So, congratulations Washington fans, you made the playoffs and I know its as much success you can fathom, but your best best was to go on a magical run this season, because getting back next year isn’t a sure thing.

Coughlin era in New York a success, not great

As I look back on the Tom Coughlin era in New York, which came to a crashing end on Monday, I desperately want to call it great – but that would be a lie.

I’m a Giants fan, so I witnessed a lot of Giants football over the last 12 years since Coughlin took over, in 2004. The underlying theme of this team over that time has been inconsistency. The Giants have always been what I called ‘sleeping Giants.’

At any given time, the Giants could rip off six straight wins but at the same time they were liable to lose six straight, and in the most excruciating fashion possible. That all came to a head this season, Tom Coughlin’s last, as the Giants lost eight games by just one score, often leading late into the fourth quarter only to give the game away. It was as if the thing Giants fans feared the most kept happening, week after week.

A season like the one New York had this year is always possible when a team lives on the edge as often as Coughlin’s teams have. That’s why his career record in New York is barely over .500 at 110-92.

While far from great, there’s no doubt that Coughlin’s tenure with the Giants was still a success. Winning two super bowl’s is nothing to shoo at, and the thing that was likely the ultimate factor in why Coughlin was basically forced to resign – losing close games – is actually what helped him secure those great super bowl runs. He won a lot of close games.

The Giants always showed flashes of being a high-powered offense under Coughlin, but for one reason or another never seemed to peak. They couldn’t string together week-after-week blowout performances like the great Saints, Patriots, or Colts offenses over the same time period. When the Giants won, it was often ugly, close games requiring a late drive by Eli Manning and a defensive stop led by a great pass rush. Even the two super bowl runs came after sub-par regular seasons. In 2007, the Giants were second in the NFC East with a 10-6 record and reached the Super Bowl as a wild card team. In 2011, the Giants won the division at just 9-7. I actually think the best team under Coughlin was the 2008 team, following his first Super Bowl. That team finished 12-4 but lost three of its final four regular season games after Plaxico Burress shot himself. They lost to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs. Had Burress not caused such a distraction – and subtraction of the team’s best offensive weapon – I believe Coughlin would have three rings right now.

Still, for some reason, no matter how bad the Giants looked at times, there was always the potential for the switch to cut on. For that reason, Coughlin has two rings, making his time in New York successful, if not great, and that’s OK with Giants fans. He will go down as a legend in our book and definitely should be in the Hall of Fame when it’s time for his name to be called.

 

From an outside perspective: The Raiders belong in Oakland

Something dawned on me as I watched a Thursday Night Football game last week between the Chargers and Raiders, possibly the last NFL game in Oakland. I don’t want the Raiders to move to Los Angeles.

It’s a weird sentiment to have being that I’m an east-coast guy with no particular ties to Oakland or any actual care about the Raiders.

There was that one team, in 2002, when they made the Super Bowl with Rich Gannon, Charlie Garner, Tim Brown, and Jerry Rice, that I liked, and I’ve bought the Madden football game every year for as long as I can remember, but besides that the Raiders are basically obsolete to me, until they aren’t.

Even to someone like myself, who’s never been to Oakland, there’s a mystique about the area that seems to fit the persona of the Raiders, especially when they’re good. The big, bad, black and silver, the black hole, the lunatic fans, and the tradition that outdates myself but lingers enough for me to know its there. If the Raiders move to LA, it won’t feel the same.

Yes, I know it happened before. Back in 1982, the team moved from Oakland to LA and stayed until 1995, even winning the franchise’s last Super Bowl there, in 1983. But I like to think I speak for most people when I say we recognize the Raiders more as an Oakland team than a Los Angeles one.

That doesn’t sound like novel concept until you consider the fact that I don’t feel the same way about the Chargers and Rams, who are also possibilities to move to LA.

I want to preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging the core fan bases of these three teams, none of which want their teams to move, understandably. I wouldn’t want the Giants to leave the New York area. That being said, I really don’t care if the Chargers or the Rams move to Los Angeles.

The Chargers have been in San Diego for all of most of our lives, but it’s nothing about the city of San Diego that particularly connects the team to it for someone like myself, and I assume for others. Maybe it’s because the team is generally underwhelming from year-to-year. Even when they’ve been good, I never really thought they were THAT good, and they always fell short of expectations. For some reason, the team’s on-field success or lack thereof affected the perception of its connection with the city, although I’m sure it’s there for people actually living in the area. But outside of San Diego, and maybe the AFC West, who really cares if the Chargers leave?

The Rams have actually had the most recent success of the three teams, winning the Super Bowl in 1999. But even as transcendent as “The Greatest Show on Turf” was, my mind never fully made a connection between the Rams and St. Louis. Actually, even though I was just seven years old the last time the Rams played in LA, I’ve always kinda felt like it was an LA team. Maybe it’s from seeing Eric Dickerson highlights, or because older people still mistakenly slip and call them Los Angeles. I feel like they should be the first team of the three to consider a move to LA. The Raiders should be last.

As we all know, however, these moves will have less to do with franchise tradition and history and more to do with politics and money. Unfortunately, it looks as though Oakland is the likeliest to lose its team. My Giants don’t often play the Raiders, so my fan interest won’t change much, if any at all, but I think many share my sentiment that the Raiders don’t belong anywhere else.