NFL Week 14

NFL Week 14: Good, bad and ugly

NFL Week 14: Good, bad and ugly
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Week 14 brought us more exciting action, blown calls, and big performances. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Behind a rookie third string quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges, the Pittsburgh Steelers are now 8-5 after their 23-17 win over the Cardinals and are the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture. But most of the credit to how the Steelers have maintained their level of success goes to head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin has been the Steelers head coach for 13 years now and has not had a losing record. This season is perhaps his best coaching job and he should be coach of the year.

-Props to Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan for becoming the 10th passer in NFL history and second fastest to amass 50,000 passing yards. At 4-9, the Falcons are in full-blown draft preparation mode with their playoff chances long down the drain. However, when history is made, we should all appreciate it. Ryan has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league for years now and may have cemented his Hall of Fame bid.

-The Titans have been on a roll lately. They've won four in a row and are on the verge of making the playoffs. While the switch to Ryan Tannehill from Marcus Mariota at quarterback will be credited with the bulk of the success of their turnaround, running back Derrick Henry should get some as well. In that win streak, Henry has 599 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns. His 103 yards in their 42-21 win over the Raiders was his lowest output of the streak.

The Bad

-Bucs quarterback Jameis WInston could be the first quarterback in NFL history to lead the league passing yards, touchdowns...and interceptions. He's currently second, tied for second, and first respectively in those three categories. He's having an awesomely terrible season.

-I mentioned earlier how the Steelers beat the Cardinals earlier, I didn't mention a key play that led them to that win. Early in the 4th quarter down by 10, Cardinals' rookie quarter back Kyler Murray had a 4th&2 on the Steelers' six yard line. He more than likely could've run for a 1st down, but instead opted for a pass that was picked off by Steelers' outside linebacker T.J. Watt. here's to hoping Murray will learn from his rookie mistakes.

-The refs have made tons of poor calls this season. Another contender for the most egregious was a personal foul on Ravens' safety Earl Thomas. He was flagged after a teammate pushed him causing him to fall over Bills' quarterback Josh Allen. Sometimes, there's judgement needed when making certain calls. The refs should've known and seen the circumstances here and swallowed the whistle. Good thing it didn't cost the Ravens the game.

The Ugly

-The 49ers beat the Saints in one of the year's best games so far. However, they lost three key starters: center Weston Richburg is done for the year with a torn patellar tendon, while outside linebacker Dee Ford and corner Richard Sherman are out multiple weeks with hamstring injuries. For a team currently in control of the top spot in the NFC, these injuries couldn't have come at a worse time.

-The Patriots have long been seen as cheaters who've mostly skated away from significant punishment. They even had Spygate 2.0 come up this week, but it lasted maybe an hour or so and was simply a mixup. However, they had three calls go against them in their 23-16 loss to the Chiefs: a fumble return for a touchdown that was blown dead, a potential touchdown taken off the board after being wrongly ruled out of bounds, and a blatant pass interference not called. The funniest part: seeing all the Northeastern media cry for them after they routinely tell others to shut up for the same thing.

-In a scene reminiscent of the band being on the field during an early 80s Cal-Stanford game, the Rams' cheerleaders and mascot had to be told to exit the field of play just before halftime of their game versus the Seahawks. Not sure who's at fault here, but this should never happen in an NFL game. There's a guy on the sideline with a spotter and their job is to enter the field of play when there's a commercial timeout and leave when it's over. They have gloves and a vest to signal everyone that needs to know when play should be stopped and started. Perhaps the Rams' cheerleaders should pay better attention.

If we were to judge the Super Bowl contenders like books in a spades game, I'd say the NFC has three (49ers, Saints, Seahawks) and a strong possible (Packers); while the AFC has one (Ravens) and three possibles (Chiefs, Patriots, Bills). While some may laugh at the Bills being a possible, I'd argue to look at their defense. Some may also think the Seahawks and/or Packers aren't true contenders, but they have players at the ultimate position that'll always keep them in the conversation. While the Saints may have lost a shootout at home to the 49ers, that game was so close, it's hard to say one should be considered a strong favorite over the other. The Ravens have arguably the league MVP, a playoff ready run game, and a salty defense that'll keep them as the favorite until proven otherwise. These last three weeks of the regular season will serve as a playoff audition. It may also serve as a peacock ceremony for those that are in but want to flex their muscle and jockey for positioning. Either way, we have meaningful football left in the regular season.

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The Astros need to turn things around in a hurry. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros have already been swept in four series this season. They were swept in four series all of last season. As Mexico City says bienvenidos to the Astros this weekend, there are certainly more than a few folks fretting that the Astros are already close to saying adios to playoff hopes. The Astros are not at the point of no return, though one can see it out there on the horizon. It wouldn’t take another month of their garbage level 7-19 performance for the season to be essentially down the drain.

If the Astros were in the American League East, they’d already be ten games out of second place. But they’re not! If in the AL Central they’d be eleven and a half games back of Cleveland. But they’re not! Dozens of teams have rebounded to win divisions from larger deficits much later in the season than the Astros face presently. The Seattle Mariners lead the thus far weak AL West at 13-12. The Astros being six and a half games in arrears of the M’s and six back of the Texas Rangers in late April is far from optimal but nowhere near devastating.

Multiple media outlets have noted how few teams historically have started a season in as stumblebum a fashion as the 2024 Astros and wound up making the playoffs. What every outlet I have seen noting that failed to include: this is just the third season since Major League Baseball added a third Wild Card to each league’s postseason field. So, while 7-19 out of the gate is indisputably awful, it is not the death knell to the extent it has been over generations of MLB.

The issue isn’t where the Astros sit in the standings, it’s that they have played atrocious baseball and aren’t providing reason for optimism that a stark turnaround is imminent. The starting rotation is the best hope. Justin Verlander has made two starts. Framber Valdez rejoins the rotation Sunday. Cristian Javier should be a week or so away. Obviously, Ronel Blanco isn’t going to continue pitching as well as he has through his first four starts. But if he is a good number four starter, that’s fine if the top three coming into the season pitch to reasonably hoped for form.

Hunter Brown simply is not a good big league pitcher. Maybe he someday fulfills his potential, but the data at this point are clear. What can Brown do for you? Not much. Spencer Arrighetti needs better command to be a good big league starter. J.P. France was a revelation over his first 17 starts last season, but since has looked like the guy who posted underwhelming numbers when in the minor leagues. If the Astros wind up with 50-plus starts from Brown/Arrighetti/France their goose will probably be cooked.

The only MLB teams with worse staff earned run averages than the Astros’ horrific 5.07 are the Chicago White Sox (Wait! They have Martin Maldonado!) and Colorado Rockies. At 3-22 the White Sox are on an early pace to post the worst record in the history of Major League Baseball. The Rockies never have a chance to post good pitching stats because of the mile high offensive freak show environment in Denver.

Way to go, Joe

Props to Joe Espada for his conviction in making what he believed to be the right call in pulling Verlander after four and a third innings Thursday at Wrigley Field. Verlander allowed no runs but had reached 95 pitches in just the second outing of the injury-delayed start to his season. Not easy for a rookie manager skippering what has been a Titanic journey thus far to pull a surefire Hall of Famer who was two outs away from qualifying for a win. Many were no doubt poised to destroy Espada had Rafael Montero given up the lead in the fifth. Verlander was angry at being pulled from any chance at his 259th career win. Understood, but the manager’s job is to make the decisions he thinks are in the ballclub’s overall best interest. That Montero and Bryan Abreu combined to blow the lead in the sixth is immaterial.

Then there's the offense…

Six runs total the last four games. Scored more than four runs in just one of the last nine games. Timely hitting largely non-existent.

At last check Alex Bregman still hawks that “Breggy Bomb” salsa. At the plate, he’s been mostly stuck in “Breggy Bum” mode, including zero bombs (home runs). 23 games played without a homer is Bregman’s longest drought since 2017 when he had separate 35 and 27 game stretches between dingers. Bregman has a history of slow first months of the season, but never anything as inept as he’s posted thus far. A litany of lazy fly balls, infield pops, and routine grounders add up to a .216 batting average and feeble .566 OPS. Reference point: Martin Maldonado’s worst OPS season with the Astros was .573. If Bregman was a young guy handed a starting job coming out of spring training, if a viable alternative were available, there’s a chance he’d be a Sugar Land Space Cowboy right now. Bregman’s track record makes it a decent bet that he winds up with decent numbers, but nothing special. Certainly nothing remotely worth the 10 years 300 million dollars or whatever Bregman and agent Scott Boras intend(ed) to seek on the free agent market this coming offseason. Two hits Thursday did get Bregman to the 1000 hit plateau for his career.

Despite arriving south of the border with his batting average at .346, even Jose Altuve has his warts. With runners in scoring position, Altuve has one hit this season. One. In 16 at bats. Small sample size, but it counts. That’s .063. Yordan Alvarez has been no great shakes either, five for 24 (.208) with RISP.

One wonders what would happen if the Astros got a hold of and “lost” Jose Abreu’s passport/visa this weekend in Mexico City and Abreu couldn’t get back into the U.S. after the two-game set with the Rockies.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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