Why are you watching football this weekend? I was asking myself that very question this week, and that’s when I made this list. It’s championship weekend in the NFL. It’s time to get prepared.
Let’s do some human power rankings to get in the right mind-set.
32. Mike McCarthy
Anytime someone mentions Mike McCarthy coaching the Packers, it’s like there’s an implied wink afterward. Sometimes I just want to grab him by the shoulders and ask:
It’s not fair, because successfully managing an NFL team involves 100 different responsibilities the rest of us could never imagine. But still. No matter what happens in the conference championships, no one from these games will leave the weekend with less power than Mike McCarthy.
31. Replay Experts
From the Bobs to the Mikes!
Who’s your favorite Mike? On the one hand, Mike Carey is not very good at his job reviewing replays. On the other hand, at least Carey has actually refereed within the past 25 years. Per Wikipedia, he’s also an inventor, founder of a ski and snowboarding glove business, and owner of several ski-wear patents. Meanwhile, Mike Pereira was an NFL side judge only in 1996 and 1997, somehow parlaying that into years of oversight and management, and now … whatever this new job is.
Have you ever heard replay experts actually criticize the refs? When they explain the ruling, do you ever feel satisfied? What’s the purpose here? We can all see the plays. There’s never a time when a football fan watches a replay and says, “You know what? I don’t have an opinion on this one. Let’s hear what the expert says!” Love these guys. Can’t wait to see them Sunday.
30. Jonas Gray
Poor Jonas Gray. There will be a thousand different flashbacks to that first November Patriots-Colts game during the AFC Championship Game, and everyone will remember his 200 yards and four touchdowns. Then someone will say, “Hey, what happened to that guy the rest of the year?” Then someone else will mention that he overslept, got benched because The Patriots Don’t Play Favorites, and LeGarrette Blount took over for the rest of the year. That was the end of Jonas Gray.
Side note: The morning he missed that meeting, Gray claimed his iPhone alarm didn’t go off because his phone ran out of power. Either that’s a very smart lie, or it’s the truth because — unlike BlackBerrys — iPhone alarms really don’t work if the phone runs out of battery. I’ve used this lie successfully in the past, but I’ve also had the truth happen. Either way, poor Jonas Gray.
29. Jordy Nelson
We get it. He’s fast, he’s athletic. He’s not your stereotypical white receiver. But he’s not that different, either.
28. Dan “Boom” Herron
With that name, he was born to play running back. I don’t care if that last sentence is something announcers say during every game he plays. I just wish John Madden were still announcing so he could say it every time Boom Herron touches the ball.
27. LeGarrette Blount
An even better name than Boom Herron.
26. Darrelle Revis
25. Richard Sherman
For the two best corners in football, it’s been a pretty quiet year. Revis blanked out Steve Smith down the stretch on Saturday, but even as the Patriots turned into the best team in the AFC this year, we weren’t hearing much about Revis Island.
Sherman has been even more invisible. Starting with Week 1, when he shut down half the field against Aaron Rodgers, and continuing all year, he’s been pretty disciplined about not stirring up a bunch of shit during the week. He’ll still talk nonstop on the field, but aside from defending Marshawn Lynch and taking shots at Colin Kaepernick, he’s mostly avoided the media spotlight (now that he’s used it to get himself paid).
That brings us to this weekend. Can Revis take away T.Y. Hilton? Can Sherman take away half the field again against Rodgers? Will this be the weekend everyone remembers the best corners in football?
24. Cardale Jones
This is one of two talking points that will come up wherever you watch football this weekend. I was firmly in the “go pro immediately” camp all week, but once I heard people arguing about his draft stock all day Thursday and he eventually announced he’d stay, it made a lot of sense.
It’s hard to imagine anything cooler than Jones’s life at Ohio State right now. So what sounds better: Spending the next four months having every inch of your life deconstructed by sociopathic NFL scouts? Or spending the next 12 months living like a god at Ohio State, then doing all of this next year?
23. The Dallas Cowboys
This is the other talking point for this weekend. I can tell that I’m not completely over the Dez Bryant catch, because I had to delete several overly personal attacks from the Mike Pereira section above. Really, that game is why I had to make this list. To remember all the players who make this sport worth watching.
Still, of the various ways the Cowboys have lost the past several years, getting screwed out of a chance to play this weekend is much better than falling apart in Week 17. The Cowboys will be on everyone’s mind during the NFC Championship Game this weekend, and for once, they won’t be a total punch line. That’s the NFL this year.
That’s the order for channels that have the best big-game vibe. Everything feels more distinguished on NBC, CBS is second, with Fox and the robot a distant third. While we’re here … One of the best parts of watching football last weekend was finding out that NBC is apparently making The Americans: The Remix and everyone is expected to just play along. It’s like CBS rolling out a show about a crazy chemistry teacher and his meth operation. It’s so arrogant and ridiculous I might have to watch it.
19. Chuck Pagano
Chuckstrong! Of the four coaches this weekend, he is probably a level above McCarthy, but several below Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. What does that mean for this weekend? I don’t know,
HOIST IT DECIDE:
Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano has settled on a simple motto for 2014: “Decide.” It’s the one-word message Pagano has printed on T-shirts and preached this offseason. It is up to everyone to decide if this is the year to finish the objective printed on last year’s shirts: “Hoist it.”
Sometimes being an NFL coach looks really, really easy.
18. Pep Hamilton
At this summer’s Grantland football meeting, I asked Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays about Pep Hamilton. Why does he insist on making the Colts a run-first team? Is this all an inside joke? How is he still employed? He knows he’s got Andrew Luck, right?
It took almost two full seasons, but the Colts are airing it out more than ever, and Hamilton is finally calling plays like Luck is his quarterback. That should be terrifying for Patriots fans. The restrictor plate (Pep Hamilton) is gone, and now Hamilton is pushing this to the limit.
17. Crappy Patriots Receivers
The NFL’s greatest renewable resource. Every August it looks like the Patriots have taken it too far signing the XFL All-Stars, and by winter, Belichick and Tom Brady have found a way to make it work. Brandon LaFell actually seems good now. So does Julian Edelman. Even Danny Amendola was playing well last week. The Patriots are amazing.
16. Phil Simms
Announcers in any sport are an easy target. Talking extemporaneously and intelligently for three hours is a near impossible task, and it’s also pretty much thankless. Nobody ever goes on Twitter to say, “You know what? This announcer is fantastic.” You can be great at your job — the consummate professional who never makes a mistake — and you’ll still probably get treated like Joe Buck.
But listen: Phil Simms is above and beyond. He is the Reggie Miller of the NFL. He takes all your jokes about reaching for the mute button and makes them real.
15. Roger Goodell
Imagine if Phil Simms were in charge of the entire sport.
14. Eddie Lacy
He is not Fat Eddie Lacy anymore — maybe he never was — but he’ll always be Fat Eddie Lacy to me.
He destroyed the Cowboys last week, and if not for Lynch, he’d probably be the most entertaining running back in football. Since mid-November, he’s averaged more than 5 yards per carry in all but two games, and he’s been close to 100 yards just about every week. He’s finally living up to the hype we saw all preseason.
His year started in Seattle, and that game changed when he went out with a concussion in the first quarter. If he can get going Sunday and force the Seahawks defense to add one or two guys to the box, Rodgers vs. the Seahawks on the road suddenly becomes something like a toss-up.
13. Earl Thomas
“I’m married to this game,” Thomas said by way of explanation. “You want to treat your wife right, and I treat her right to the fullest.”
Thomas long ago set his sights on being the best free safety ever, and he understands the cost of that pursuit.
“This is a lonely road,” he said. “I already made peace with it. I already took that challenge. Ain’t no turning back now.” …
Thomas smacked [tight end Rashaun] Allen’s shoulder with a loud thud. Allen turned around and looked surprised because walk-throughs usually are contact-free.
“That’s the little detail, though,” Thomas said later that day. “This is not a walk-through. That’s how I really feel in the game. He walked back and was like, ‘Man, you punch hard.’ But I’m a competitor. Really and truly I know somewhere down in my family there is warrior blood. There’s gotta be. Because I’m a warrior, bro.”
Earl Thomas is fucking crazy.
12. Jamie Collins
The best way to sound smart in any football conversation is to praise Jamie Collins, second-year linebacker for the Patriots. Does anyone really know who he is or where he came from or what makes him so good? Not really. But just throw out Collins’s name this weekend and you will get a lot of knowing nods from the entire room. Sports are the best.
10. (Tie) Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick
Over the last several years, Belichick has turned into the Coach K of football. Belichick and Krzyzewski are the last vestiges of the idea that supreme authority and a fearsome temper are the best ways to run a team. The rest of the word has moved on, but these two have been grandfathered in to the future, and they are both too successful to question. Likewise, they both feast on easier regular-season schedules, they both refuse to recruit certain positions — receivers with the Patriots, big men with Duke, until this year — and both get praised as geniuses for cobbling together a juggernaut from a bunch of misfits. If they lose, they get excused, because they just didn’t have quite enough pieces this year. They’ve also been more successful than anyone we’ve seen in the past 25 years. It’s not like either one has anything left to prove.
Meanwhile … Pete Carroll is the John Calipari of football. He’s stockpiling outrageous amounts of talent, his players adore him, and he’s pathologically upbeat in a way that almost makes him suspicious. Which is funny, because he’s also constantly accused of cheating, the only real recourse for critics who can’t explain his winning. While guys like Coach K and Belichick can lose without hurting their legacy even a little bit, no matter how much Carroll and Calipari win, they will always have something left to prove to people convinced they can’t really coach.
Anyway, this isn’t really a rivalry, but it should be. Maybe that can start with the Super Bowl.
9. Andrew Luck
Given how successful he is at everything he does, it shouldn’t be this impossible to root against Luck. But look:
Luck has become famous for congratulating — sincerely and enthusiastically — any player to hit him hard. Any sack is met with a hearty congratulations, such as “great job” or “what a hit!” He yells it after hard hits that don’t result in sacks, too. It is, players say, just about the weirdest thing any quarterback does in the NFL …
Defensive back Nolan Carroll, who has hit Luck three times and with two teams, remembers the first time it happened while he was with the Miami Dolphins last year. Carroll, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, was blitzing off the edge and got to Luck, knocking him down just after he released the ball. Carroll was walking back to the huddle when he heard “Great job, Nolan!”
You just can’t hate Luck.
He’s still not really polished, which only makes him more fun. Everything is an adventure with Luck. One play he’ll one-hop an out route or throw a horrible pick and you’ll wonder why people keep insisting he’s so great and ignoring all of his mistakes, and then a few plays later he’ll do something like that touchdown against the Bengals. Rolling out, getting dragged down, and he delivers a perfect deep ball for the touchdown. Then you’re like, “Ohhhhhh, right. I get it now.” That’s the Andrew Luck experience every week.
8. T.Y. Hilton
He’s so little!
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images
7. The Packers Offensive Line
Remember when Bruce Irvin said he was praying for Green Bay’s rookie center before the Seahawks-Packers game in Week 1? Last week we got to hear the other side of that story:
On the field the next day, Linsley remembers, he looked out at the open-ended north side of CenturyLink Field, a sight he’d seen only while playing Madden. “Ariana Grande was singing, and there were fireworks and all this crazy shit,” Linsley says. “The crowd was going nuts. And it’s like, Damn, man, there’s no going back. I’m either about to embarrass everybody I know, or I’m about to have a pretty good game.”
Before the Packers left the locker room, Aaron Rodgers gave a short speech. At some point, he told them, every player has his “I belong” moment in the NFL. He singled out Linsley, Davante Adams, and Richard Rodgers — the rookies on the Green Bay offense. “He told us,” Linsley says, “that tonight, we would have ours.” Linsley’s came on the third play of the game.
As Linsley tells the story, Bakhtiari cuts him off.
“Wait,” Bakhtiari says, “it took you a couple plays into an actual football game?”
“Bro, I had no idea what was going to happen!” Linsley says. “Bruce Irvin’s praying for me. Kam Chancellor’s got that visor, looks pretty cool. I’m like, ‘These guys are going to torch me.’”
That’s from the Robert Mays piece on the Green Bay offensive line. The whole piece is another reminder that offensive linemen are the coolest people in sports. They are the toughest, but also probably the smartest, and definitely the funniest. With the possible exception of hockey players, offensive linemen might be the only people in pro sports capable of being self-deprecating. We should all try to be more like offensive linemen.
6. Russell Wilson
He is the new Derek Jeter, right down to the intensely polarizing debate about whether he secretly kind of sucks.
None of this is really his fault. Announcers go so far overboard praising his intangibles that it becomes a lot tougher to enjoy what he does well, and all of that happens without Russell Wilson ever saying a word. Personally, I like him for the same reasons I started to like Derek Jeter by the end: because the backlash has gotten even more ridiculous than the initial praise.
Jeter was amazing in big games for his entire career, and the ongoing inquiry into whether Wilson secretly sucks has overshadowed just how much better he’s gotten over the last few years. Are they both a little boring in the kind of way that makes your dad ramble about how impressive they are? Definitely. But that’s OK too. Wilson is such a hopeless square that it makes him lovable. And hey, at least he doesn’t play for the Yankees.
Every time he pops up during a Patriots game, all of America smiles at once. He’s the kind of Internet sensation that would theoretically get played out after a while, but then … Nope, his friend/confidant/contractor/dishwasher/airport chauffeur/security guard/roommate really is named JOHNNY GOON.
The man at the top of the driveway is actually Robert Goon (really), who along with being a friend and confidant serves as Gronk’s contractor, dishwasher, airport chauffeur, security guard and roommate.
Goon’s duties include driving and caring for the white party bus that’s parked in the driveway. Gronk bought it from a church on Long Island last summer, thoroughly renovated it and nicknamed it the Sinners Bus. It seats eight comfortably and includes hardwood floors, blinking lights and the kind of sound system one would expect from a nightclub on wheels. Goon flew to Long Island to pick it up and drive it back to Foxboro. It now doubles as an airport shuttle and a tailgate vessel for members of the Gronkowski family flying in for game weekends. “Just a normal party bus, nothing too crazy,” Dan Gronkowski, Rob’s older brother, says nonchalantly.
And yup, they really did buy a bus from a Long Island church and turn it into a “nightclub on wheels” called the Sinner’s Bus. The best thing you can say about Gronk is that nobody ever agrees on anything in 2015, but we can all agree on Gronk.
3. Aaron Rodgers
Possibly the best quarterback I have ever seen. On the other hand …
2. Tom Brady
Is Aaron Rodgers just an off-brand version of Tom Brady?
Think about it.
- They were both overlooked and doubted initially and given that underdog label, but where Rodgers fell all of 20 picks, Brady fell six effing rounds.
- They bounced back to take over the starting job from entrenched incumbents, but when Brady did it, he went and won three out of four Super Bowls.
- They put up big numbers, but when Brady was really let loose in the Patriots offense, he put up numbers Rodgers has never touched.
- Oh, Aaron Rodgers dates Olivia Munn? Well, Tom Brady married Gisele.
- They are both cocky in a dickish kind of way, but Brady pulls it off better. He’s the more convincing villain, and he’s also the villain who would be most fun to be friends with.
- They are both funny, but … Brady wins again.
Just saying: There’s been a lot of talk this year about Rodgers eventually turning into the greatest quarterback of all time, but think back to what we’ve seen the past 10 years and what we’re still seeing now. If we’re watching potentially the best quarterback of all time this weekend, it’s probably not Rodgers. For reference, go back and watch that throw to LaFell last week.
1. Kam Chancellor
How many times do you think the NFL drug-tested him after that Panthers game? Was it an hourly thing, or did they do it just daily?
I don’t mean to imply he’s on PEDs. I really don’t think he is. But no player in the NFL looks like he’s on PEDs more than Kam Chancellor. Unleashing him on skill players is like fighting with brass knuckles. It’s technically legal, but definitely not fair.
Of course he’s no. 1. This man flattens offensive linemen. He pancakes the pancakers. There are a lot of great players playing this weekend, but nobody’s more fun than Kam Chancellor.
Can’t wait for Sunday.