Zootopia: A Positive Look Into Diversity and Minority Rights

I know, I know. I’m about as late to the Zootopia party as most political pundits were to Trump’s victory last week.

Bad simile? Still hurting from last Tuesday? I feel you.

It’s been a full week since the Republican Armageddon on all three branches of our government (the judicial branch will be red before we know it, it’s inevitable) and the vibes around major cities are solemn and strange. It feels like the youthful, beating heart of the country has been locked away in a box and put on a shelf to collect dust for at least the next four years.

In this political climate, which is affecting the country’s psyche in a larger way than any in the last two decades, many of us are looking for a way to feel positive; it’s not easy when the stories around the country popping up on Facebook displaying the hateful speech and violence now rearing its ugly head hound you every time you open your phone.

Which is why I made the choice to take a break from the interweb and decided to watch a movie. And not some highbrow shit that I usually go for like There Will Be Blood, Chinatown, or Moonlight (all incredible movies that you must watch, by the way; I’d forgive you if you stopped reading to binge on those three now). At this moment, with the way I’ve been feeling about the country and life as I know it, I didn’t want to sink lower down the hole of grim reality and pain whose edge I’d been clinging onto for dear life.

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Det. Judy Hopps

Today wasn’t going to be the swan song of my sanity. So, I found a little animated happy pill called Zootopia that came out earlier this year, a film about anthropomorphic mammals living in harmony, predators and prey, in and around the mega-metropolis Zootopia. If you’re like me, you’ve been living under the same rock as me and have not watched this $1 billion grosser.

What a fantastic choice of film for escape, at a time when I really needed it.

The film follows a rabbit named Judy Hopps, a young dreamer who aspires to become the first police-rabbit in Zootopia to keep people safe and defend the weak. The usual suspects. Along the way, she, joined by her reluctant fox companion, takes on a case of missing mammals in Zootopia’s 1st district, specifically an otter that the ZPD haven’t been able to track down for two weeks. What she uncovers is a horrifying retread of predators to their more savage natures; the missing mammals have regressed to hungry, hunting beasts caged in a mysterious laboratory.

What followed these discoveries was an ironic, and sobering, moment that closely mimics the emotions and problems of today’s America. Hopps, without proper training and nervously answering questions without malice of forethought, in front of a crowd of mammal press after the capture of their suspect (the city’s mayor, Leodore Lionheart), is asked a series of questions that set off a string of events, shocking the city into prejudiced action:

Reporter 1: Okay, so what is the connection [between the victims]?

Det. Hopps: W-well…all we know is that they are all members of the predator family.

Reporter 2: So, predators are the only ones going savage?

Det. Hopps: Y–…that is…yes, that is accurate. Yes.

Reporter 3: Why? Why is this happening?

Det. Hopps: We still don’t know. Uhh…it may have something to do with biology. A…biological component, you know? Something in their DNA.

Reporter 4: In their DNA? Can you elaborate on that?

Det. Hopps: Yes, what I mean is…thousands of years ago, um, predators survived through their aggressive hunting instincts. For whatever reason, they seem to be reverting back to their primitive, savage ways. It is possible, so we must be vigilant. And we at the ZPD are prepared and are here to protect you.

Watching this scene, I may have gasped once or twice in horror. Reminding myself that this was an animated film (that it was a film, period) wasn’t enough for me to settle my mind after what I had just heard.

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Hopps and Wilde learning the ropes

The way Hopps, not knowing fully what her words had meant to those reporters and the people in the area at the time, described a select group of mammals as malicious and violent due to their history as being malicious and violent. And, well, predatory. All she was trying to do was explain what she thought to be true. Sound familiar?

That’s essentially how President-Elect Donald Trump described Mexicans.

Now, in Detective Hopps’ defense, she wasn’t intending to put on her best animated, fake-tanned, xenophobic face on for the press for personal gain. She was suddenly an unprepared public figure in the face of hundreds of questions she wasn’t remotely capable of answering. Hopps is a cop, not a political machinist. She thought she was making a specific statement about a small group of mammals, but her words carried through to a broader scope of generalizing groups of mammals.

hoppsWhat we find out by the end of the movie is that the new mayor, Dawn Bellwether, of the city was running an operation of poisoning predators with a serum that reverted her victims to savage tendencies, all in an effort to put enough fear in the hearts of the majority prey in her city to gain all-powerful control over all citizens in the “utopia”.

The events that followed the press conference, though, were something out of an Orwellian dystopia novel (pun probably intended by the filmmakers). Predators began to experience prejudice and social outcasting for their backgrounds as predators, much like the stories of hate and violence we’ve seen in the last week towards minorities. Some lost their jobs, some lost their homes. Peaceful protests outside of one of the city’s landmarks was met with fierce opposition by groups of prey calling for their removal and imprisonment for protection. And finally, Hopps resigns as an officer with the ZPD when she’s told by mayor Bellwether that they wished to make her the new face of the department to unite the…wait for it…90% prey living in the city.

Watching all of this unfold on screen was almost too much reality to be channeled through the faces and limbs of foxes and water buffaloes to be a children’s movie. It was so of-the-moment, even more so than when the film came out earlier in the year before Drumpf was elected. This felt like watching what could be the reality of Trump’s America and the way minority, LGBTQ, and women’s right might be taken away to create a “greater” America, in Trumps words.

And Trump has the same idea of control as mayor Bellwether: control through fear. By playing on existing, and sometimes instilling new, fears into their citizens’ hearts of unreal threats to their lives, they control the emotions and minds of the assumed majorities in their zone of command.

But let’s end that negativity here. The whole point of this post is positivity.

By the end of the movie, Mayor Bellwether’s plans have been exposed in all of their ugliness. The people of Zootopia decide not to retaliate against each other for the embarrassing treatment of their fellow mammals, but instead forgive each other for their actions. Before you jump all over the, “but that’s how kids movies work”, argument: it wasn’t so simple.

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The pair take a breather

Det. Hopps’ companion, Nick Wilde, a red fox and predator, has a tortured past. As a young fox, he was bullied by his peers simply for being a fox, associated with being con artists, cunning, untrustworthy predators on the weak. He and Hopps’ seem to have developed a friendship despite their differences. But her press conference changed something back in him:

Nick: [saddened] Clearly there’s a biological component? That these predators may be reverting back to their primitive savage ways? Are you serious?

Det. Hopps: I just stated the facts of the case! I mean, its not like a bunny can go savage.

Nick: Right. But a fox could, huh?

Det. Hopps: Nick stop it! You’re not like them.

Nick: [getting angered] Oh, so there’s a them now?

After hearing Hopps’ statements at the press conference, Wilde decided that enough was enough and returned to his life of con artistry, choosing not to become Hopps’ partner

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Wilde watches as Hopps reaches for her fox repellant.

after the initial arrests. Hopps is heartbroken that her words affected him so, which plays
a part in her resignation from the force.

When a new break in the case comes her way, she goes to find Nick, who is now living under a bridge. She pleads with him to join her on her mission to find the real culprit behind the crimes. Finally, the words of apology spill out of her, not for his being a fox, but for the way she generalized Nick and so many others with her words:

Det. Hopps: Wait, uh, wait – listen! I – I know you’ll never forgive me! And I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t forgive me either. I was ignorant, and… irresponsible… and small-minded. But predators shouldn’t suffer because of my mistakes. I have to fix this.

[Her voice shakes]

Det. Hopps: But I can’t do it without you.

[Nick still refuses to turn around]

Det. Hopps: [Judy begins to cry] And… and after we’re done, you can hate me, and that’ll be fine, because I was a horrible friend, and I hurt you. And you… and you can walk away knowing you were right all along.

Of course Nick forgives her! How can he not? She knew very well how what she said affected him. She has enough compassion in her heart to realize that suppressing people because of who they are, human or mammal, is wrong. Especially when they’ve already been told all their lives that who they are is wrong and they’re not worth more than the stereotypes that define them in society.

They go on to save the day together and become the most kick-ass couple of detective partners ever seen on screen. I can’t wait for the sequel with these two.

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Zootopia

Ultimately, Zootopia is a kid’s movie, aimed to teach children that prejudice, hate, and intolerance are wrong; that love and acceptance of people who come from all forms of backgrounds, genders, races, and mindsets deserve the right to be happy in this world as much as they do. It gives me hope that the film industry, especially in animated film, is still fiercely leftist in their beliefs and choose to sprinkle the youth of this world with messages of kindness and love.

But it speaks to something larger than just educating the youth of America to ensure that mistakes like Trump aren’t repeated (though that is a MAJOR issue that must be approached with the utmost care and thought; the young children of the country, as well as millenials, are our future). We must stay vigilant and steadfast in our fight for civil liberties and not become complacent in our fight to protect the minorities of America. We cannot allow a Trump presidency to take away women’s rights to their own bodies by banning abortion. Muslim-Americans, no matter what generation, should be allowed the right to the American dream as much as anyone else, and not turned away simply because of what Gods they choose to believe in. We have to protect our closest family and friends from oppression.

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*sigh*

And of the utmost importance is that we not fight between each other simply because our priorities differ between Republicans and Democrats. If we’re to be united, a more perfect union, we have to stop simply yelling at each other calling one side or the other names and spewing rhetoric of “uneducated voters” and “liberal wusses”, or “homophobes and racists” and “terrorists and rapists”, and instead have calmer and more civil conversations about the America we can choose to live in. The voices unheard deserve to have their say as much as anyone else, no matter the percentage they make up in the population. And that goes for ALL citizens and residents in this country.

If you have a chance, check out Zootopia. It’s a beautiful film, and will take you on a journey that will give you hope for a better tomorrow. As Detective Hopps said at the end of the movie:

“I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life’s a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.”

Let’s all continue to try.

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Sick of This Game

election-2016

I’m so sick of politics.

I could sit on Twitter for hours trying to defend one side or the other, flinging responses at everyone as visceral and with the same vitriol that some do in the safe confines behind their computer monitors and keyboards.
But I’m so tired. Like, physically exhausted.
The Republican majority in Congress stalemating on a number of issues as simple as nominating a new Supreme Court Justice for no reason other than to oppose Democrats and a Democratic president, Donald Trump throwing out hate rhetoric like it’s candy on Halloween, and Hillary being investigated for months by the FBI for these emails…I’m done.

In 2014, the House of Representatives and the Senate seats were voted on. What did we do? We elected the most lazy, stonewalled, lame duck Congress in history, proven by polls. We had so many candidates to pick from in the primaries on both sides, and what did America do? We picked a racist, sexist, unintelligent potential sex-offender and a woman who, though experienced, is proving to have so many skeletons in her political closet that even her most fierce supporters are starting to question their allegiances.

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He even looks like cancer.
Before today, when the FBI announced that they are to continue investigating Hillary Clinton for whatever emails, I was sure of one thing: Donald Trump being sworn in as POTUS would be the first malignant cells to begin the metastasizing of a political cancer in American society and government. Trump as president gives me pause to fear the possibility that, with all of his xenophobic and racist rhetoric, even MY citizenship would come under question. I still believe Trump is not remotely right for the job. Intelligent Republicans have denounced him, and that should have been enough.
Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Attends Meetings With Legislators  On Capitol Hill
Explain away, Hillary.

Hillary was the better candidate in the general election from the moment she was nominated. Yes, her record isn’t spotless because she’s a clever and whip-smart political player (like Frank Underwood in House of Cards). Whatever you may say about her appearance, speaking ability, or potential ability as President, she is perhaps the most experienced and capable politicians to run (even more so than our excellent incumbent). Yet, even I don’t know whether I can trust a politician so experienced in the game. It’s like asking Gordon Gekko to be your stockbroker: one day, they’ll stop pretending that they’re doing this for you.

On top of all of this, the same Congress that was voted for in 2o14 isn’t vying for the American population’s betterment…they’re fighting for self gain and power.

<> on September 21, 2016 in Washington, DC.
A moment of silence for our incompetency.

Mitch McConnell (or Mc-Chode-l) and Paul Ryan don’t care if you have enough money to feed your family, that the US continues to economic growth, or whether the justice system works for all Americans. They just want a Republican frat party in all branches. If they did their jobs at all, President Obama wouldn’t have had such a difficult time creating a universal health care system, bringing unemployment down to it’s lowest figure in 30 years, and essentially ending the war in the Middle East.

In fact, if politicians truly worked for the people, then we would have health coverage for all citizens and student loans wouldn’t be at an all-time high, the poverty line would be lower; the handling of the national debt wouldn’t be a hot topic of debate, instead being reduced through a compromise of ideals and an effort to stabilize continue the growth of our economy to compensate.


All of this is idealism. But politics doesn’t care about that. Politics are all just a game to keep your mind occupied while the issues are debated and never truly dealt with. A lot of talk goes a long way to almost no action with the current political climate.
I believe the email investigation won’t uncover more than what the FBI already didn’t last time, but the idea that politics and politicans, government and government-agencies, and Congress are more interested in tearing down their contemporaries than actually running our country and caring about the American people has completely disillusioned this voter.
I want to vote for a candidate who can create radical change and move the country forward in a political scheme that aims for the betterment of American citizens’ conditions and to ably improve our relations with our allies; one that ensures that domestic policy is less sculpted to preserve our traditions and rather in favor of cultivating a country that continually leads the world in technological advancement, cultural trends, societal harmony, and equal rights for all.

But that candidate doesn’t exist in this two-horse race. Right now, all we have is this do-nothing Congress, a pussy-grabbing reality star, and a former Secretary of State who could potentially lose this election for emails sent from the wrong address…all representing America and Americans all over.

I can’t defend anyone one way or another. But I’m so tired of being exasperated by political scandals, stonewalling, and skirmishing without results. People say that the beauty of a democracy is that everyone has an opinion that can be heard from even the corner-iest of corners, that it creates a more perfect union by allowing the voices of all to influence the direction of the nation.

And somehow, here we are. Fuck this.

Is Apple’s Empire in danger?

Is Apple starting to lose it? You may have already heard about the company’s first reported dip in sales since 2003. This is not quite reflective of their newest release, the iPhone 5SE, but it could make it worse for the makers of the most popular gadgets on the globe.

Could this be the beginning of the end of their long reign as the biggest tech manufacturer in the world? Yeah, I get it, it’s a bit of a leap. Lay off, I’m making a point.

It’s very possible at this point that, with mounting competition and a ridiculous amount of component copycats, Apple may have reached its apex in sales. There are only so many people in the world, right?

Samsung’s latest releases of their 7th generation Galaxy line and the Note 7 have shown to be miraculously Apple-like. They’ve reduced their penchant for saturating their consumer market with 3 or more different models of the same phone in different screen and storage sizes, and instead are focusing more on perfection of one model with a maximum of one variation.

In this case, we’re talking specifically about the S7 and Note 7. Previously, they came out with the S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge+, the latter of which was slightly larger than it’s little brother. It was a start towards what they’ve begun doing which is following Apple’s business model. But not the model we currently know to be Apple-y with the 6, 6+, 6S, 6S+, and the 5SE.

Has anyone realized that Apple is selling 5 different models of their phone now, with another new generation coming in September? Somehow, if trends continue the way they have, I don’t imagine CEO Tim Cook will look to get rid of the 6 just yet, their biggest selling unit in the entire line.

Apple has become the phone manufacturer that their late former CEO, Steve Jobs, feared becoming: the producer of a million different options. That thinking was the antithesis to what Jobs saw Apple as. His held belief was, that by giving people less options and making their one option a universal piece of technology that anyone can operate with simplicity and modesty, their standing on the market would never diminish and always be growing. That’s how Apple became the numero uno name is mobile phones by the turn of the decade, if not before that plainly on reputation.

Three years have passed since their Great Creator himself passed, and the company is doing everything the way that, even after Jobs’ first firing, brought them to their knees and forced them to beg Jobs to come back. Before he died, the iPhone 4 came out and made a killing. There were no variations of that model, and from what we know, Jobs wouldn’t have done such a thing. He would have jumped right into development for the iPhone 5. On top of everything, anytime a new iPhone would come out, it wouldn’t be without major, noticeable upgrades from the previous model.

Two weeks after he died, the 4S came out, and Siri became the new hot thing. This may have been the last major upgrade Jobs wanted on an iPhone to move the ground on the tech industry again, and its had a profound effect on the way other smartphone giants develop their phones for their customers.

Of course, later the iPhone 5 came out and finally, the screen was bigger, going with the trend of bigger-is-better in the smartphone world. But, barely a year later, they came out with two variations of the same phone on top: the 5C and the 5S. The 5C came in different colors. Woop-de-friggin-do.

And, yes, granted the 5S was the world’s first fingerprint-locked smartphone, and the processor was a slight upgrade on its predecessor, for a lot of consumers it was the first time that some didn’t feel the need to upgrade. There wasn’t a massive movement of people on the scale of the 4 or 5 where people needed the newest iPhone ASAP. A small group of consumers would say, “Yeah, nah, I’m sweet.” Personal reference, the sheer amount of 5’s that come to The Core is still amazing, just realizing how many people stopped making the switch at some point. We rarely, if ever, see 4’s or 4S’s, but 5’s are still used by heaps of people.

Okay, let’s settle back down. Apple has, for a long time, been a company that makes their consumers’ phones easier to operate, and making touch and voice control a staple to people’s lives along with a myriad of other revelations. But more recently, their model has been less to think ahead, but rather think big. Sure, thinking big is a great way for your products to have better screen resolution, processor speeds, screen sizes, storage space, etc. But that was what companies like Samsung, LG, and Huawei had been doing for years. They ended up holding on to Apple’s coat tails to try and keep up with how Apple tirelessly developed new and unheard of advances to their phones that wove themselves into the daily lives of their customers.

Apple has lost that spark of innovation and it’s been replaced with a petty sense of “we’re Apple, they’ll always buy from us”. That’s breeding a bad business model where the company can literally say or put anything into their products that’s even marginally superior to the last version, and then rely on their name to promote the product and generate sales.

Meanwhile, other companies like the aforementioned Samsung are making a killing on the market floors by minimizing the variables (multiple versions of one flagship phone), standing pat on a system (OS and business model-wise), and giving users a system that’s universally operable.

Which, if you’ve been sticking with me on this, was Apple’s model. Companies are wising up and cutting in on Apple’s action by using their own abandoned objective against them. How do you stop a juggernaut? Do as they do. Give people reason to doubt the supreme ownership of an entire market by submitting your own product with the same model. Even better if the behemoth company you are chasing decides that they’re on cruise control, because you’ll catch up to them and find them sleeping at the wheel.

Cook is a smart man, one of the smartest in the world. That’s not what’s in doubt. You have to be hyper intelligent with that extra X-factor to rise up the ranks of a company richer than a handful of small countries. But if what I’m arguing as his vision for the business is correct, then Apple is an empire on the decline, and they’re not going to recover easily unless something big happens.

If the company intends to continue being the main name in smartphones, then the iPhone 7 has to be a major release with critically acclaimed specs and features. Rumors have been scurrying all around the internet at lightning (HA!) speed about the potential for getting rid of the headphone jack, losing the screws at the bottom of the phone to keep it closed, the Wi-Fi antenna bands being moved to the top and bottom edges of the back frame, etc., and they’re fuelling the fervor for the newest model.

What happens if this release ends up a flop, though? The company’s smartphone division is reliant on their yearly releases to keep sales stable. It’s a tower of alphabet blocks stacked one on top of the other. It takes one rogue block to kill the balance and knock the whole thing down. If the phone doesn’t end up being a significant upgrade on the 6S, we’re looking at another down year for the company.

These next few months are going to decide Apple’s future. And I don’t imagine they’re taking that for granted.

But what do I know? Maybe it’s not the 7 they’re releasing. Maybe it’s the 6S SE.

 

What do you guys think? Is Apple following a path back to the middle of the pack of competitors in the smartphone market? Has Samsung taken the steps necessary to get even with Apple? 

Pokemon Go Review: Right after I catch this Dratini

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Pokemon Go is the Game of Thrones of smartphone games: your friends are all loving and consuming it at all hours of the day and night, sometimes at 4am, and won’t stop saying, “HOW ARE YOU NOT INTO THIS STUPENDOUS THING???” while staring intently into their glowing LCD on the top of Mount Eden. No, wait, that last bit was only relevant to Pokemon.
Since you obviously haven’t heard about this new thing called Pokemon Go, aside from the fact that it has invaded your Facebook news feed and is following you like a lost puppy hoping for your affection everywhere you go, let us delve into what this whole thing is.

In sum, Pokemon Go is the newest installment in the legendary Pokemon franchise from Nintendo, in association with Niantic Inc., that makes you get up out of your chair at home and become a world traveling Pokemon trainer. The app, using Google and Apple maps, takes your location and helps you search for and catch all of the Pokemon from the original 151. It puts what are called Pokestops, veritable landmarks around you, that you can get items like Pokeballs and potions from, and virtual gyms where you can train your Pokemon and battle other trainers.

So that’s the skinny. But let me tell you, just explaining the game in a few short sentences doesn’t do the justice of actually capturing the essence and magic of the game itself. Talking about it is one thing, but playing is entirely another.Horsea Go

The app is still new and, for all intents and purposes, in its testing phase. As many know, the servers have consistently been crashing at Niantic headquarters due to the colossal user activity of the app in its first week here in New Zealand. The game constantly glitches and stalls, and you have to close and restart the app multiple times within 60 minutes. You want to catch that Blastoise? Sucks to be you, we’re freezing you out. WHO’S A TRAINER NOW???

Sorry, unresolved issue from a couple of days ago. I’m good now.

In addition, there have been a large number of reported injuries and other dangerous encounters because of the game and how sucked in a player gets, disregarding their surroundings. Every time you open the app, the loading screen shows a warning to players to always be aware of where they are and what’s going on around them. Which, to be fair, isn’t really doing much since people are more inclined to help themselves to that next Pokestop than making sure to look left and right before crossing a busy intersection.

One fix for this might be the rumoured GoWatch for the game, a wearable piece of tech that would vibrate whenever Pokemon are near. This would keep users’ eyes on the footpath or road, not down at the concrete or asphalt itself. Then, when your watch vibrates, you can decide where it’s best to stop and then pull out your phone. It’ll be great for safety, but by the looks of the actual prototype, not so good to have on your wrist when trying to get a girl’s number.

PokeGo Watch
Potential Pokemon Go watches that, when your phone screen is off, would vibrate when Pokemon are near.

Despite the flaws though, the layout, gameplay, battle style and graphics surpass all expectations for the newest installment in the single most successful game franchise Nintendo have ever had. Their numbers put competitors to absolute shame. Locations services make it easy for you to follow your character as you walk, bus, and NOT DRIVE while you’re playing (seriously everyone, your life matters more than a Pidgey, high CP be damned), and the game uses distance traveled to award you with medals, helps you crack eggs and hatch new Pokemon, and is a part of how you level up as a trainer. Perhaps most importantly, that aspect of the game gets players out of the house and moving around, walking from destination to destination and finding new Pokemon to catch instead of the older generation of games that allowed players to sit in one spot and battle their way to the Elite Four and catch every species of Pokemon, all while charging through a bag of Doritos and that now non-fizzy, half-filled L&P. This gets you moving and shaking like no other Pokemon game before. You’re walking, being active, seeing places you don’t always go to, and talking to others in the community of PokeNerds (no, not the ones from the old games that always tried to hit you with a Slowpoke, end up losing the battle, and then start making some weird guffawing noise spelled out with English letters. You know the one, “Fufufufu…” What even was that supposed to be?)

Pokémon Trainers crowd in a corner of Queens Wharf to catch a Tentacruel
Pokémon Trainers crowd in a corner of Queens Wharf to catch a Tentacruel

There’s a nostalgic attraction and investment in Pokemon Go for users over the age of 20. We grew up playing Pokemon Red, Gold, and Sapphire for hours on end, walking as fast as we could to the next gym, training our little PokePets to new, higher levels to become to strongest trainers around. I still remember my mum screaming at me every evening to shut the damn game off and wash up for dinner, to a point where it almost became a ritual. It was what you talked with the kids at primary school about, trading Pokemon, arguing about your best ones, what gyms you beat, helping each other through the maps and booby-trapped Rocket Power basement puzzle and honestly so much more. It was a cultural phenomenon on a scale never seen before in the gaming world. I admit: I never believed that a game would ever come out again that would so unify a generation of kids and adults and bless them with the magical experience of this imaginary world where power and play combine, hard work and effort are rewarded, and being the best meant earning the title of the “greatest in the world”.

You know, aside from that whole thing with Gameshark and cheat codes. Any kid who used that crap is disqualified from that last paragraph.

If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I am not exempt from the current re-up phenomenon that this game has become. I’m a Level 12 with a kick-ass Lapras that was hatched out of a 10km egg. Yay for effort!

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There’s a whole WORLD of Pokemon out there!

Now? Story time. Another technician from The Core and I went on a little Pokemon hunt on Sunday night around 6:30pm. We were both, as millions are, still very new to the game and testing how everything works. We began our journey in Wynyard Quarter, walking around the docks and catching Poliwags and Ponytas as friends do. Our levels went up, our bag of items grew too big to handle, and our sights were set on bigger and rarer pocket monsters as we went along. As we walked around, we encountered anywhere between fifty to one hundred other players just in Wynyard Quarter, and many of them would look up from their phones for a quick glance at the other nerds that were on the same youthful buzz as they were, giggling at the realization that they were not alone in the endeavor. We’d pass trainers who would have helpful advice to finding certain rare types of Pokemon, because they were “just around the corner, Bulbasaur is kind of like near that water fountain”. We’d pass the same information to anyone looking distraught and hopeless, but never too low to concede to the defeat of losing a one-of-a-kind Magmar that doesn’t pop up every 2 meters.

The Auckland Domain packed with trainers, at 9:30 PM, on a Sunday night.
The Auckland Domain packed with trainers, at 9:30 PM, on a Sunday night.

Eventually, we found ourselves walking all the way around Victoria Park, back towards the Quarter. I, myself, was on the hunt for a magical Dratini that seemed to have been evading us for a solid two hours. The footprints on my tracker would increase and decrease like the steady winter wind that whipped at us on the docks (G.O.T. REFERENCE! Nailed it). We would get close, then she would escape. My prize! Come back! (A tear rolls over this author’s cheek in memory of that night). Finally, we took a break and had some dinner…then finished and immediately drove to the Domain where 3o cars were parallel parked in one central location where some Lure Modules (items that attract Pokemon and benefit all players in the area) had been installed to bring those little creatures into our loving grips. Random strangers, all glued to the screen of their phones, were crawling around the far reaching grass of the massive park to catch that ever-elusive Growlithe or Rhyhorn. More advice from fellow walkers, more cars driving through around the museum on the high hill, and SO MANY ZUBATS. UGH.

We did eventually end our night (since we had to work the next day helping you wonderful people repair your screens and batteries), but not before taking a long detour from the Domain to Newmarket and a good distance down Remuera Road, then doubling back to head home…at 10:30pm. We had walked 10km each, and caught dozens of new Pokemon.

And the next night, my compatriot went out for another spin at the training game while I rested my weary hamstrings. He’s better than me now. I am sad. I’m going to go train some more now. I’d say goodbye, but there’s a Vulpix outside of Burger Fuel Queen Street. Hopefully management doesn’t mind.

Back In My Day…

I’m not normally a nostalgic person…

Ok, no, that’s a lie. I dwell on the past like a retired football player who’s heyday was 1984.

Recently though, my nostalgia has been more focused on a specific period in my life that I never had. I know that sounds strange, but if you know me personally or have read my blog previously, then you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

My family and I moved out to New Zealand around six years ago. Since then, things have been less than ideal, but I’m incredibly lucky to have seen two completely different worlds in my just under 23 years of living. But when we moved, I was smack in the middle of my junior year of high school in Seattle. By that point, I had known most of my best friends since the 3rd grade and my roots were deeply dug into the ground in little Redmond, Washington.

Life was a beautiful mess of insecurity, crushes, puberty, and stories that I carry with me today, good and bad both. I remember the little tree house we discovered hidden deep in the forest behind thorny blackberry bushes in my neighborhood, and all the days that came with that place. I remember too-early mornings waking up for school to go to Jazz Band an hour before classes and the sun rise. And there was always driving home from soccer practices on a small red brick road in the dying evening heat of August in my sixteen-year-old, grey-with-peeling-paint ’92 Dodge Caravan with the oil stain in the back, listening to the mix CD I had burned with Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind, Rock Kills Kid, and Lifehouse blasting out of the overused speakers that sung so sweetly.

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All of those memories have been flooding into my conscious thoughts because of two recently discovered loves of mine. I started binging on The O.C. Yeah, that’s right, I’m watching teen drama trash in the midst of my over-thought, critically acclaimed drama as a break from the latter. Judge me all you want, it’s thoroughly ridiculous and entertaining.

I am definitely enjoying shouting at my laptop at 3 a.m. in bed like a potato four hours before I start work because Ryan just needs to fucking make it work with Marissa. Seth is hilarious at every turn, and his parents are pretty great (I’d say on par with Eric and Tammy Taylor from Friday Night Lights as the greatest portrait of a marriage on television). And Mischa Barton is the apple of my teenage eye long past. What a babe.

Watching the show has been a roller coaster of memories and old raging emotions that I hadn’t felt or thought about in a very long time. As tough as high school was sometimes, I miss the hell out of the days when we were care-free and completely unhinged from the atrocities of adulthood.

Because I moved away at the worst time as a high schooler, I’m constantly reminded of the fact that I never really got to come into my own while I was in Redmond. I didn’t start to hit my stride as a person until early in the final year of my high school career out in Auckland. The thought that I could have been that new person back home, surrounded by the people who I had loved so dearly in the town I called, and still call, home has my heart breaking all over again.

Now, I know: The O.C. is the worst possible platform to stand on and look back at what could have been. As I recall, my time at Redmond High wasn’t plagued by cheating and gunfire. I’m lucky to have lived an upper-middle class life in Eastern Seattle, one where I was truly protected from harm and innocence-breaking tragedy. We were far removed from the real issues that were just half hour drive away from us. But the thoughts of how different my life would be cloud my present. It shouldn’t, and dreaming is always better than the reality. I suppose it’s a reflex to the stresses that envelope life now: having to worry about jobs, money, paying the rent, maintaining social circles, and all of that.

But still, I’m guided by the idea that deep down, I still want to have had the All-American high school/college years. It was a strange turn when I came to New Zealand because the culture was so different. There wasn’t any prom or school dances, no real high school sports following (even for the rugby team), and people were generally less concerned about what happened at school. Everyone was ready to leave already. It’s probably me having moved there around that time when everyone was on their way to move on to college anyways, but it was still jarring to me that those conventions from back home were not to be mine. I did enjoy those last years in high school, yet I was never able to shake the Breakfast Club values and stories out of my head. The depression that came with all of the events following the move have guided and moulded me into my present self.

I’m convinced that, being on the outside looking in, life seemed like it would have been a lot better stateside. And maybe I’m right. I think I’ll start watching The O.C., less as something I don’t know about, and rather as it should be watched: as stories that happened at some other high school than my own. Television will suck you in and make the characters into friends of yours, and it’s interesting that the show’s created such a deep resonance with me that I’m blogging about it to get it all sorted out in my head. Say what you want, The O.C. is creating its desired effect on my fried cranium.

The other thing that’s been making me want to go all Back To The Future on the days gone by is this new song I’ve quite literally replayed about 80 times since Thursday. The song is REALiTi by Grimes. She remembers her young love and how she’s never had the same feeling that she had since that time. It’s one of the most sonically gorgeous and lyrically heartbreaking songs I’ve heard in so long. You see where I’m going with this.

grimes

There’s one line that gets to me every time. I hear it, and I can already imagine the John Hughes-esque film whose title sequence I see being laid on top of this song, with this line killing me each successive time I’d hear it. This line puts my entire teen-hood into perspective. It literally explains everything that I ever thought about, felt, knew, or was too naive to understand.

“When we were young, we used to live so close to it
And we were scared and we were beautiful…”

That line destroys me. It makes me reflect on every memory, every feeling that I had growing up. I’d think, “Yeah, we were all still half-baked, fearful young kids. But it was beautiful. WE were beautiful, all of us, because we weren’t complete yet.”

I can’t stop listening to it, because, every time, it simultaneously saddens me and fills my heart with joy and love. It’s so weird that this particular period in our lives, while so short, was the turning point for all of us in some way. We all started to become real people with fully formed ideas and dreams to lead us forward, while still being completely in love with the world with innocence that still remained in us.

I know, this is getting really sappy. But it’s been such a difficult few years that it’s wonderful for me to harken back to a time that, for all its craziness, were some of best years of my life. And I know that I can’t get them back, which is what makes them so much more valuable. I’m reminded over and over again that to value those years is just as important as having lived them. I’m more than happy to be where I am now because I know that a scared, young Arneet had started to put together the pieces that would come form the man writing this little piece that you’re reading today.

I’m not living in the past, I trust you believe me on that. The ships have sailed, and I’m so hopeful for my future. I’m working hard with my dreams and goals still visible through the thin fog that lingers less and less as I travel the road further and further. And, hey, maybe life didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought it would, with an Oscar in hand at age 25, my own production company, and a range of designer coffee mugs.

But I like where I am, I love where I’ve been, and I can’t wait to see where I’m going.

The Cycle of Self-Inflicted Mind Games: A Hopeful Essay

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When I was 15, I couldn’t have cared less what the world saw me as. My style was mine (though, now admittedly I see why I never got dates). My mind was mine. My interests, my dreams, and my passions were entirely up to how I saw them, not influenced by anyone else’s thoughts about me and who I was “supposed to be”. Allow me to be slightly immodest when I say that I was wonderful to be around. I was happy, energetic, incredibly positive about life. Of course, I made mistakes that everyone makes as they grow up that turned people off every now and then, but I wasn’t a bad kid. I was inherently as good as I knew how to be. Like my beating heart, I never needed to tell myself to be good. I just was, as well as I could be. But that version of me is now a distant memory to my almost-23-year-old self.

When I was 17, my family moved to New Zealand. We were in a country where we knew few and whose social landscape we knew even less about. It was a difficult time that I was nowhere near emotionally prepared for. My parents split up (I knew it would happen one day, but not before I was in college), I would continue to have problems adapting to new surroundings, and my late bloomer body finally started exhibiting damaging examples of crippling insecurities. Unsureness of my standing as a person amongst my friends and family.

I don’t know that it was anxiety or mild depression, but rather a sign of some late stage puberty that hadn’t decided to infect me with its cruel hands of change. Puberty’s a dick.

With so much going on, coupled with the fact that, at age 19, I had just been fast-tracked into managing the family-owned (now Dad-owned) cafe that I had worked at since we had gotten off the plane, and my psyche was cluttered by thoughts of being too young to know how to deal with anything that was going on around me at the time. I was still a kid in my own eyes, and I had at least that much intelligence in my noodle to acknowledge that. Initially, I began questioning every decision I made in the cafe as the manager, and then even began to ask the staff if I was doing a good job. And I asked a lot.

I began to wonder what being good was, and always tried to consider all of the way-too-many variables to any situation before doing anything. I became overly careful and self-conscious, and considered anything that was really done to a good standard with the utmost negativity. I was so hard on myself that I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough.

Insecurities inhabit everyone’s mind. What I have to remind myself all the time around other people is that they’re too busy thinking about themselves to think about you. It’s not a shallowness thing; it’s literally remembering that everyone has the same fears in this regard that you do. I know now that I’m not alone in the struggle to maintain a balance of humility and confidence amongst my fellow humanoids. It’s a vicious cycle of self-inflicted mind games that we play with ourselves at a young age and allow to bring us down to a place where we think is impossible to leave.

Fun fact: in our 20’s, we’re still in the late stages of who we are going to become for the rest of our lives. We’re not little baby birds learning to fly anymore, but we’re still trying to figure out how to get the other birds to accept us, or even just like us, even though many of us think that we have an awkward looking wing that those asshole birds will make fun of.

I thought I’d be over being so self-conscious by this stage in my life. That, at 22-ish, I’d be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, “Kid, you’re doing alright,” or, “Everything will be alright.” But it’s still not happening. In that same mirror in the real world, I’m still looking at the guy looking back at me with those piercing, unwavering eyes, and he’s saying, “You’re not doing it right.” It’s not anxiety or depression, but it’s still something I’d consider a formidable foe.

It’s the understanding that I have a LONG way to go to becoming someone whom I can be proud of.insecurity-meme

For years, I’ve been put into positions professionally and personally that make me feel like I’m becoming an adult faster than I can catch up. Conversely, I’m still yearning to do things that make me feel more adult-y, like having my own apartment, making the choice to get ultra-fast broadband because I’m my own man, and having a job that helps me save multitudes of moolah in the bank. But it’s not the moment and its contents that make the man. Rather, it’s what the moment means in the grand scheme of growing up and achieving great things that make the man. I have hopes, I have goals, and I have dreams. I just need to start giving myself more credit for being the person that I really am.

I’ve been told over and over again by so many customers at the cafe that I have great service. They appreciate my sincerity and my humor, and they tell me to “keep it up”. I shouldn’t just let that roll off my shoulders, but rather take it in and let it fill my heart with the juice I deserve to push even further in my quest to do better. I’ve been told by friends that I have a real talent for writing, and they tell me I should “keep doing it”. And yet, I barely write in my blog anymore, but I should take those words of encouragement in and really, truly, deeply believe that they’re not just saying it for the sake of being nice. With that said, can you see me making progress here?

The truth to the whole matter of having both confidence and humility working within you in unison is this: remember that you’re always going to be good at the things you love doing as long as you remember that you can never stop growing.

Watching my mother struggle with being on her own for the first time, and the great strength and bravery that she’s handled it has given me an appreciation for the fact that we never stop learning. We never stop growing up, because we’re always experiencing new things and with those new things come new problems to learn how to deal with and overcome. Those insecurities and fears don’t leave you, but definitely listen to them less as you grow up.

I know for certain that things I was worried about four years ago are, like After Earth to Will Smith, now dark remnants of the past (why Will? WHY?). Without the pursuit of happiness, humans would be without a path (yeah, I just made a double-Smith reference). If we were given happiness and emotional security at every turn in this increasingly judgmental society we live in, we would be without challenges and competition. Put it this way: in video games, if you’re not coming across enemies in your path, you’re not going in the right direction. Life is like that, too.

So, the things that make you feel terrible about yourself, make you question your goodness as a person, and/or create impossibilities in your head about how to grow up are all but chapters in the story that create the finished product that readers are searching for when the struggle is over. We’re never going to stop finding reasons to doubt ourselves in the face of adversity, because it’s just the way we learn. When you get your first late fees letter from the power company and see that you do actually have to pay that, you learn that that stuff is real (ugh).

So, as I continue writing my blog posts every week (and this time, it will happen), I will continue to work on being as observant as I can to educate myself on the ways in which I can one day achieve my dreams of…whatever I fucking decide, thank you very much. I will persevere, I will fight, and I will continue to make my own happiness wherever I choose, because I’m going to be alright. Internal or external, my insecurities will guide me, never own me.

After all, what’s a good movie without some conflict?

Diary Entry of an Overly Analytical Male

I’m not the first, nor is there any way in which I would be the last dude to over-think life. I’m 21, I’ve only had two real relationships in my life, and I’m constantly thinking about why I have no success with women. And seemingly, no success with people either. Other would probably say otherwise, but I think I’m right because it’s my brain.

Sure, there have been other, still-important-yet-less-significant times in my life that one could argue (don’t know why they would argue anyways) are times that show that I actually have had successful points. That’s true. But what I know is what I feel, and I’m starting to feel that point of the walls of my social life falling in.

You know that feeling when you have a string of days that just go right? Everyone seems to want to talk to you. Conversations are fun, natural, and unforced. And no one has a bad thing to say. Even the girl you’ve had a thing for is texting you off and on.

And then, it all comes to either a slow, or a screeching halt. Either way, the fun is over. You feel like everyone’s too busy (which they are), your crush isn’t texting back, and you can’t seem to hold a sentence together without apologizing to whoever has the displeasure of having to make your acquaintance. In your head, it’s all because of you.

Now, back to women. It’s crazy how many little details tend to escape me in moments of thought with girls. Whether it’s me thinking on my own, or actually hanging out with the girl I have a crush on. Every word I’ve read, heard, or thoughtfully came up with on my own about how to stay mentally balanced with women goes flying out the door when the good times are rolling. It’s intoxicating, that feeling of being totally at ease with whoever you’re chasing. And there are so many times when you feel like no matter what you say or do, that person is going to find you amazing.

That, dear diary, is false confidence.

There isn’t a moment in my life where I’m not wishing that I had natural confidence. And I have to remind myself that no one is exempt from wishing that as well at some point. But you can only think about you in the moments when you’re most insecure. I’m not confident without my insecurities, because that’s what keeps me grounded, but to what end? I wish I had some magic juice that just made everything go well. But that’s why life is life.

Luckily, I think I’m starting to realize more and more what I’m doing wrong when I’m single. I fixate. I adore. I get hopelessly attached, exaggerate in my mind, and set myself up for disappointment all the time. What’s the problem there? Well, it’s a mixture of limiting my social scope as well as filling myself to the brim with false hope.

The social scope thing is just a fancy way of saying that I’m constricting my ability to look at a bigger picture of people who I can talk to and communicate with. My friend circle isn’t massive; it’s just the right size. But outside of that, I don’t know that I step out of my comfort zone enough. I really try, but I can’t always just walk up to someone and strike up any old conversation. I end up being that guy at parties who drifts between talking to people and letting them come to him. The latter rarely ends up working unless alcohol is involved.

Same thing with girls though. I know I need to step up, but it’s not easy when your mind is scrambled eggs like mine. There’s just no sense in me going up to a person that might not respond the way you think. But who cares? Who does it really affect in the end? It shouldn’t affect me. All I need to do is learn and move on. Take one, examine it, pass it down. Short, sweet, and simple. That way there’s no extra thought that needs to go into the process of new connections. But you end up lingering on the experience.

Most importantly, I really can’t afford to think so far into the future about things that haven’t even happened yet. Not just socially or romantically, but career-wise etc, as well. If you can’t make it happen now, whatever ‘it’ is, it can’t happen later either. It’s not something that you can help at any other time except in the present. There’s no secret: it’s just effort.

She’s not going to love you instantly. She isn’t even necessarily interested. She probably has the same insecurities as you. Even if she’s been told her entire life that she is fine, she’ll still think about her flaws.

Because we know ourselves better than anyone else, and that’s the scariest part.

We tend to forget that no one knows the back of our hand better than we do. People are programmed to believe that there’s someone out there who, one day, will know you just as well and understand you better. They will make you wonder how you ever thought you weren’t good enough. But the problem isn’t about effort or looking for this person. The problem is that we aren’t patient. We look outside and we see happy couples, happy people, and satisfaction in smiles that look honest and real, and we want that.

But we don’t know where those smiles came from. We don’t know how close two people on the street talking really are. And even if we know their relationship, we don’t know how much they truly know about each other. But we invent the story in our head that we know exactly who they are, what they’re feeling, and how that compares to this moment of us watching the world.

I for one can’t help but think about other people’s happiness before mine, but I know on the inside, I’m still burning out of my own, self-declared insufficiencies as a person. But how do I know that my friends and family don’t feel the same about themselves? What about your acquaintances who you know even less about thinking the same way?

And what about that girl you like, who is sitting across from you at a cafe with a hot latte, staring at the steam like it’s more than just evaporating water?

I feel a little bit more like I understand what my problem is. I look too far inward, and I fail to observe what really counts: feeling these crazy, misunderstood emotions that aren’t just mine. I still haven’t grasped the fact that everyone, at some point and throughout their lives, feel these same infuriating thoughts. But until I really understand how to make it right in my head, I can’t hope to achieve anything other than an understanding when I’m with others. It’s a fear that, like all others, can’t be overcome by anyone except the fearful.

There’s something about fear that’s so…complex. It’s not just fear of the world and the things that you do to shape yours that creates your understanding of yourself.

It’s the fear of being fearful, and of other people knowing it, that will make you understand yourself and how to be the best version of you.

The Big Bryant Burst: Dez Isn’t a Diva

Dez Bryant pleading his case to the undrafted judge.

I’m not sure I understand why everyone is so against Dez Bryant right now.
He had a recent explosion of emotion on the Cowboys’ sideline against the Detroit Lions, a game they lost in the last second on a 1-yard run by Lions QB Matthew Stafford.
Bryant initially appeared to be outraged at the lack of targets he received during the course of the game, which is fair enough because he did score two touchdowns on three catches on the day. But what most people assumed, mostly because of the stereotype of big personality receivers having ‘me me me’ diva attitudes, was that Dez wanted to prove a point that he made a few days before the game, saying that he could “do whatever Megatron can do”.
Of course, that ended up being untrue in 329 different ways (for non-statisticians, Calvin Johnson caught fourteen balls on the day for that number of yards, second most in a game in NFL history by a receiver).
But after hearing what he actually said on the sidelines, thanks to NFL SoundFX keeping a mic close to him, there was a strangely small amount of “I”, and a lot of “we”. It sounds like Bryant had heart and passion enough to keep reminding his team that they had to act on their immense talent, but maybe got a little too hot under the collar as an inexperienced young star on the team.
Bryant, despite everything, was the Cowboys’ only
hope of winning against Detroit. Until they didn’t win.
Specifically, Bryant was telling Romo that “we are the best in the NFL at this”, ‘this’ being the Romo-to-Bryant connection that has oft-been a successful link in the Dallas Cowboys tumultuous offense.
The problem isn’t Bryant’s sideline antics, it’s that the media has portrayed him as just another diva receiver. I’m strongly opposed to that notion. Honestly, the Terrell Owens’s and Randy Moss’s of the NFL have ruined the image of the majority of big-play, showman pass catchers in recent years. The perceptions of DeSean Jackson, Santonio Holmes, and Greg Jennings have suffered in the face of an influx of diva receivers who want to be long-time stars for franchises to market and profit from.
And these days, players like Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald are heralded as rare quiet performers who do their job. Isn’t that supposed to be the norm? Hey ESPN, that IS the norm. You just don’t like it that way.
But Dez on the sideline wasn’t a guy who was angry about the lack of on-field air time he was getting, but wanted to remind everyone on his team that they aren’t down, they aren’t out, and they’re way too talented to just let the Detroit Lions take this game away from them. If he had tried to convey his message to his teammates with more positivity and less anger at the performance they were putting on the field, then we would be talking about something completely different.
Dez had a troubled past coming into the league, a big reason why, as talented as he was and still is, he dropped into Jerry Jones’ lap as the 27th pick in the 2010 draft. And he displayed those problems at the beginning of his career, Exhibit A being his arrest on a class A misdemeanor domestic violence charge for allegedly striking his mother.
The man has gone through his share of trouble.
Why ridicule him for being a team player?
But Dez has grown considerably since then from a boy into an admirable NFL player and man. He’s been a star in the league since finally breaking out in late 2012 with disciplined practice and a five week stretch in which he scored seven touchdowns to help the Cowboys win four out of five and get a shot at the division title.
So for Dez to go off at his offense, and especially Tony Romo, this week was admittedly a little out of line, but his intentions were not. He wants the Dallas Cowboys to be great. It appears that he is ready to do whatever it takes to get this team up on its feet and fighting the way it should, and he wants to lead the charge.

There’s nothing diva-esque about that. Not at all.

Seattle Seahawks: Why Winning Ugly is OK

Clemons chasing Clemens…or…Clemens on…yeah, this game was weird.

The Seattle Seahawks, a team with talent enough to destroy teams like the St. Louis Rams, played an ugly game on offense and still won on the last play of the game thanks to Legion of Boom member, CB Brandon Browner.

Mother of God that was an ugly game. But Seattle won.
It’s not easy winning in the National Football League. All games are tough to win in any sport. So winning ugly is still winning. And this game was like that one girl/guy at the school dance with acne all over their face, outdated glasses, and braces bigger than their actual teeth.
Ok, maybe that’s only real in the movies, but you get what I mean.
Winning ugly is not a bad thing. Winning at all is still winning. Ugly victories show flaws and changes that need to be made for both teams, and they are far more valuable as teaching points than blowouts. Teams who win these games become painfully aware of their shortcomings and truly understand that they have to make changes to ensure that they don’t allow the game to be decided by the other team in the last seconds. They relish the win for a moment, but the reality settles in that they could just as easily have lost the game, it still means that adjustments need to be made.
Golden Tate’s 80-yarder was the difference in
a divisional stalemate.

By ugly, I completely mean it was a hard fought, skilled, physical battle between two very good defenses, and the attacks from each team made plays when they needed to…most of the time. Seattle’s 80-yard touchdown from quarterback Russell Wilson to receiver Golden Tate was the deciding play of the game. Without that blown coverage in the Rams’ secondary, the Seahawks’ inability to move the ball offensively would have been the number one story of the game, because they certainly would have lost the way they played tonight.

One could argue that the Greg Zuerlein missed field goal was the actual play of the game. Had Legatron made that 50-yarder, all St. Louis would have needed to do on that last drive was get in field goal range again (which they ended up doing) and kick the game winner through.
And the Seahawks offensive line…*shivers* I wouldn’t call them to guard my house against blowing leaves. They would still let those through. Seven sacks and their start quarterback hurried the entire game? It’s going to be a good feeling when starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini come back from injury.

But Seattle is somehow pounding out wins that now have them with a 7-1 record, best in the NFC, and an identity of winning any kind of game; however ugly, however tight, they can win it. Yes, critics will absolutely point to the Indianapolis game that they lost 34-28, but one blemish on an otherwise perfect record points to a team that is imperfect with the tools to overcome those imperfections.
Yes, they let a team with a losing record and a backup quarterback in the starting role keep them from winning big the way they did in Arizona and against Jacksonville. But tell me that Rams defense was bad. Give me one example in which that Rams defense was subpar. The D is relentless, with Chris Long and Robert Quinn destroying offensive lines, especially half healthy ones like Seattle’s. I’ve never seen Marshawn Lynch so irrelevant as a Seahawk before. Seattle’s offensive line was just plain gutted, so neither Lynch nor Wilson were able to get holes or time to make the plays that they’re accustomed to making.
But Seattle pulled out another necessary win.
Kellen Clemens is not quite the answer
at quarterback for the Rams.

This is winning like an elite team still finding its sea legs. Seattle doesn’t shy away from a tough, ground out game. Ugly matchups are a real test to the best of the best because each play means something bigger than it does in matchups that don’t truly challenge a team. The Seahawks are separating themselves from the rest of the league, and in my article about the teams that would survive and win in the Super Bowl in New York this year, I said that they could win if they make it to the big game this year because of the weather.

Wilson was subpar, Lynch was disappointing, and the run defense was non-existent. But they pulled out the win because they are a mentally tough football team that doesn’t give up when they need to make the biggest of big plays.
The following sentence is without bias. This football team, without a doubt, will win the Super Bowl.
With the coaching staff doing such an incredible job mentoring their young players, preparing them for big, primetime games with calmness and promoting team-before-player mentality, this team has what it will take to make the trek through the playoffs and, in what could be the ugliest game of the year, take what they deserve at the end of the season…

…a Lombardi trophy.



Let me know what you think. Tweet comments @aceing82.

San Diego…Y U No Be Consistent?

You’re killing me, Rivers.
The San Diego Chargers have always been an enigma to me.

From mid 2005 to 2010, they were on par with the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. And then…they disappeared. 2011-12 were throw-away years for the Chargers, mostly at the hands of former head coach Norv Turner.

But for me, whenever I would try to predict individual team records for the season, the Chargers were one of the biggest challenges for me to guess. Why?

I’ve never been quite sure.

Most fans blame A.J. Smith for the failures
of the 2011 and ’12 Chargers squads.
Their quarterback, Philip Rivers, was quite often mentioned among the contenders for NFL MVP through the good times, showed true guts in the 2007 AFC Championship Game playing on a torn ACL, and was instrumental in leading one of the most feared passing attacks in the league. Their running back, Ladainian Tomlinson was a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, still producing at the top of his class, breaking the single season touchdown record for a running back in 2006. Their wide receiving corps was almost unparalleled in height and speed with Vincent Jackson leading the charge (pun slightly intended) along with Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee. Their defense? Quite impressive actually, with the likes of Quentin Jammer, Eric Weddle, and Antonio Cromartie sitting in the backfield, waiting to make the opportunities come their way, the team was a formulation of high end talent.

So you would think it would have been easy to just say they would win eleven games a year, hands down…right?

Computer says no.

2006 came around the bend, and we all said Marty Schottenheimer, then head coach, had passed his time in the league and wouldn’t be able to effectively turn this team in to a champion. What happened? They went 14-2 and almost beat the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.

2010, we all said they would be one of the teams to beat. What happened? They shat an egg and missed the playoffs…and so forth through 2012.

So now the Chargers are 4-3 and Philip Rivers is playing his best football since those hey days of MVP talk. What do I say they’re going to end up with?

I’m not even going to speculate. I wouldn’t be able to definitively say what their record will be at the end of the season. They’ve been a wild card for me, and not in terms of them actually getting a wild card seed in the playoffs. I mean I just don’t know with them.

Their defense seems to be playing solid football…I think. The running game is showing signs of life between Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead…I think. And their receiving corps is showing up with rookie Keenan Allen and the somehow-he-found-the-fountain-of-youth tight end Antonio Gates…I think.

It appears to me that the Chargers are screwing with us all, week in and week out. They show up in some parts of the game, pull out in other parts (and you never just pull out), and then they’re among the best in the league in other random parts.

San Diego, I just have this to say: Give me something here.
No caption necessary really.

Give me a signal as to whether or not you’re going to rock our socks off, or if you’re going to stink worse than a skating rink locker room. If I had to pick between you and the current version of the Denver Broncos circa-week 8…I’d say the good Chargers team would kick their asses, and the bad team would be decimated by a horrible pass defense.

But I don’t know. I hate you San Diego, but I love you.

Our relationship is like a bipolar patient, there’s no telling what flavor ice cream you’re going to want from one minute to the next.

For the love of god, just stick with the Oregon Blackberry, it’s a good flavor. Until then, you just sit there and think about what you’ve done and decide whether you want to be a good little munchkin, or a child with bad manners.

But in the end, give us something.

Super Bowl XLVIII: Throwback Championship Game?

Say hello to the final destination of the 2013 NFL Season
1. Seattle
2. Kansas City
3. San Francisco
4. Cincinnati
5. Indianapolis
6. Carolina
1. Denver
2. New England
3. Philadelphia
4. Atlanta
5. San Diego
6. Dallas
7. Miami
What do the teams in each list have in common with each other?

Just for your reference, only two teams that play their home games in a dome have won the Super Bowl since 2000: Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI, and New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV, who won it against those dome-Colts. That’s 11 years of open-air developed NFL champs.
I think we’re all pretty aware of the fact that this year’s Super Bowl will be hosted in Polar Bear City, USA.
No, not Minneapolis. A Super Bowl in the Metrodome? Psh, HA…no.
East Rutherford, New Jersey is the host of this year’s Super Bowl XLVIII, and it’s going to be frosty. The conditions in the Northeast in early February are…cold.
And it gets you thinking: in this Golden Age of passing in the NFL, is there any chance that a team with a bottom ranked running game or disabled defense is going to win a game in those conditions? 
Dome, sweet dome.

Obviously the ball is a lot harder to control through the air when it feels like throwing a large rock, which makes the running game more essential to winning. But because of the NFL’s requirements of warm stadium conditions, the last few Super Bowls have been won by teams with a mediocre run game, defense, or both, and it has become the norm to see that. Super Bowl XLIV is a perfect example of that, since both the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts had a run games ranked in the bottom 5 in the NFL that year. Plus, they are both teams who, yep, play inside a dome when they are at home.

Could Gore, not Kaepernick be
the key to a 49ers’ Super Bowl win?
MetLife Stadium’s successful bid to host Super Bowl XLVIII was a landmark win for open air stadiums in northern American states. Until this year, only stadiums in the South, with temperatures more like a mild summer in the winter, were allowed to host Super Bowls despite being open air. Stadiums like Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and Everbank Field in Jacksonville have been Super Bowl hosts as of late for their beautiful weather in February. But no open air stadiums North of Missouri have ever hosted the game because of frosty conditions.
Oh, you’re in the north? You want a Super Bowl? Get a roof.
The NFL wants a level playing field for their championship game, and their thinking is the weather shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to determining the best of the best. But how is a team the best if they don’t play well in cold weather situations? Football is a game built to be played in the open air on grass. And we don’t take a bye from football games during December and January. In fact, the toughest games, the playoffs, are played in those frosty months, and places like Green Bay and Seattle are open air with freezing temperatures. If the NFC or AFC Championship games are exempt from worrying about weather, why should the Super Bowl? I think having the Super Bowl at MetLife is fantastic.
I mean, if the Falcons go into Green Bay in the playoffs during a cold front and lose, you don’t blame the weather.
You blame the team for not being good enough to play football outside.
So let’s get down to brass tax: which teams would prosper in the face of playing in colder weather, and which teams will have shat their pants after the coin toss because they can’t win unless the weather is perfect?

The latter types of teams sound like delicate little kites in the summer.
Let’s look back again at those two lists above:
This image could become a common occurrence in the
Super Bowl should the Patriots make it this year.
Can:
1. Seattle
2. Kansas City
3. San Francisco
4. Cincinnati
5. Indianapolis
6. Carolina
Can’t
1. Denver
2. New England
3. Philadelphia
4. Atlanta
5. San Diego
6. Dallas
7. Miami
The first tier of teams is made of tough, ground and pound teams who, thus far this year, have won many different games in several different ways. The first four have optimal run games that produce consistently and form the offensive identity of those teams, and their defenses play three-and-out football possession after possession. Especially the Seahawks and Chiefs, those two teams are winning hard-fought games in many different ways.
Marshawn Lynch makes Seattle a legit Super Bowl
contender and increases their chances of winning it.
The last two lean heavily on the arms of their quarterbacks, Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Cam Newton of Carolina, but both have surroundings casts on offense that make their leader’s life easier. Trent Richardson is a solid back that will keep improving all season for the Colts, and Newton, along with Mike Tolbert and the re-emerging DeAngelo Williams create a tough ground identity for the Panthers. Both teams’ defenses are becoming harder to move against as this season has progressed.
These seven teams, whether their Super Bowl chances are likely or not, have the identity suited to win the big game if they make it. The cold weather will make it easier for any of these units to play against pass-oriented teams that won’t have the stamina, or the simple football ability to play a game that could be reminiscent of the 1947 NFL Championship Game.
The second tier is exactly the opposite. While you could argue that Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, being the current rushing leader this season, should put them with the Can’s of the NFL, their defense is putrid. At this point, a turtle could “run” for a 99-yard touchdown against them without getting touched. And don’t get started on New England, Dallas, Atlanta, OR Denver. All four of those teams are either injured at the running back position, don’t utilize their ground game consistently enough, or have defenses that don’t compliment their quarterbacks well enough to compete in cold weather.
Manning’s already-weakened arm could fall
victim to the cold of winter in New Jersey.
Peyton Manning is getting old, there’s no way around that, and it’s going to show on those short passes he’s been thriving on since he arrived in Denver. Knowshon Moreno has been solid, but the offense runs through Manning, and he’s going to put the game on his shoulders, whether it’s right or not. Plus, that Pass D let Jacksonville (JACKSONVILLE!) stick around for way too long before Manning started sprinkling the magic fairy dust. Not good.
New England isn’t built for the postseason right now. Sure, their defense is grand, I will absolutely agree with that. But their running game isn’t consistent enough for Tom Brady to fool defenses on his reads. Opponents know the ball will stay in Brady’s hands when it’s crunch time, and that’s going to kill the offense if the Patriots do in fact make it to New Jersey.
And in Atlanta, Matt Ryan may be great, but until they get Steven Jackson back, we can’t know how balanced they’ll be. Plus, if their defense couldn’t instil fear in New York Jets’ quarterback Geno Smith, they won’t be very scary come the post season.
I’m not saying that these teams will or won’t win, guaranteed. But certainly, one would be worried about their team if they can’t beat Mother Nature. Weather is a natural part of the game; however we might try to combat it. Dome teams don’t prosper in the Super Bowl. And especially dome teams that are oriented around the pass.

But let’s wait those 13 more weeks before we try to rationalize anything else.




We know you have your own opinions on this. Get a debate started by posting comments down below! Or you can tweet us at @aceing82 or comment on the LFTP Facebook page!

After a LOOOONG Delay…

Hello hello! Welcome back to Let’s Forget the Politics: A Fan’s NFL!

I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t had enough time to spend writing blog posts to keep up with how quickly things are shaping up in the NFL this season. You can thank my university tutors for piling on crap that have no reason to be inserted into my memory bank.

But, I digress…

The 2013 season, while in a version of adolescence, is HOOO MAI GAD amazing! And not just because my Seahawks are 6-1. The best part about this young season is that every team (including the Jaguars, which was weird this week) has a chance to win any game, any given Sunday.

Yeah. Any Given Sunday: the most overused cliche of any sport. But it hasn’t been more true than this season.

Think about it. The Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, and St. Louis Rams are all faltering this season, all below or at .500. But as opposed to other seasons, these teams display the ability to stay in almost all of the games they play and push their opponents, however elite they might be, to the very limits of the their skill levels. I feel like there’s a lot of parity in this league in 2013. Anyone besides the Giants, Steelers, Raiders, and Jaguars have a very good chance to challenge the rest of their schedule and make a push for the playoffs.

That’s not to say that they will, but they certainly show a lot of zeal.

Let’s be honest now, we should move on to the teams that matter this season. Following this sentence, here are my predictions for the playoffs after six weeks of games:

AFC:

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. New England Patriots
4. Cincinnati Bengals

Wild Card:
5. Denver Broncos
6. Baltimore Ravens

NFC:

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Detroit Lions
4. Dallas Cowboys

Wild Card:
5. Chicago Bears
6. San Francisco 49ers




WOAH WOAH WOAH!!! WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE BEARS WON’T MAKE IT?

DENVER’S A WILD CARD?

B-b-b-b-b-but…this isn’t football! This doesn’t look like 2012!…

Damn straight, minions. This season is full of racehorses that just won’t quit until the camera snaps the picture at the finish line. This year, the team that finishes strongest will definitely make the playoffs. Throw out of the window what you know about the season so far in terms of records. ANY TEAM ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY.

Think about it, because you’ll need to. Green Bay is down to two, maybe three healthy receivers. Detroit is playing smarter football. And Jay Cutler’s grizzlies haven’t been the same dominant team that they started the season as. Forget about Minnesota, unless Josh Freeman turns out to be the second coming of Randall Cunningham.

Denver vs. Kansas City? Honestly, I’m going to take Kansas City every time. Why? Peyton Manning hasn’t played a defense quite like the Chiefs’. Baltimore, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Jacksonville. Now, proceed to tell me which of those defenses is on the same level of Kansas City’s this season.

Answer? *chirping crickets*

As good as Denver has been, Manning has been coming down to Earth slowly but surely. Since he torched the Ravens for 7 TD’s, he’s been slowly pacing backwards to an acceptable level of normal Peyton Manning levels, which is still elite, but not good enough to handle the Chiefs’ violent pass rush.

If you have any other reasons to doubt my predictions, don’t call me a bandwagon Seahawks fan. Give me some real reasons. Critique me like a smart person, and I’ll be happy to tell you why, at season’s end, this is going to be the closest, most accurate prediction on the web.

I won’t go Namath and guarantee it, but you know the drill.

And I’ll be happy to apologize if my rankings somehow make you alter your Fantasy Football rosters as well. I ain’t no guru, just a man on a couch.

Next week, I’ll tackle the reason why this year’s division showdowns won’t feature second-stringers no one has ever heard of. Welcome back, and stay tuned!

A Negative Opening

A Negative Opening

I really need to vent…which is part of the reason I’ve created a WordPress account tonight, sitting in my university library while I should be doing research for my essay due next week.

Fuck it. The news I read today on buzzfeed.com has pissed me off to no end. Seriously getting annoyed and disheartened with the types of people who are allowed to have Twitter accounts, spreading their useless hate and uneccessary, un-informed opinions.

Before people talk trash, they need to know what and who they’re trashing.

I am proud to call myself an American, even though my heritage is Indian. But seeing these tweets is making me question why I’m so proud of America. Take a look at the link, and then go on and read ahead:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/a-lot-of-people-are-very-upset-that-an-indian-american-woman

They say “This is America”? Well, in America, people respect the individual and don’t judge based on the color of their skin. That’s what Martin King wanted. That is what America has worked so hard to make the norm. “The Arab wins Miss America”? She’s Indian-American. Just because her skin color is brown doesn’t make her an Arab. It doesn’t make her any less of an American. And it doesn’t make her any less deserving of an award like this one.

And being Arab doesn’t mean a person is automatically a terrorist. It means they’re Arabian, a culture covering multiple nationalities. Arabians are of a wide range of ethnic groups and nationalities in middle eastern Asia, not a collective terrorist group.

People need to get off their asses, do their research, learn what they are talking about, and only THEN put forth their opinions. All these tweets just look like mindless chatter from an ignorant group of people who, I’ll bet anything, are in the 90% range of immigrants from other countries dating back to the 1600’s and even further. America is a melting pot of people who all have a right to live without the fear of being subjected to insults regarding their heritage and beliefs.

I am proud to call myself an American, even though my heritage is Indian. But seeing these tweets is making question why I’m so proud of America. I know that the majority of Americans, and people around the world, are not so ignorant to what goes on around them. So still, I’m not ready to give up hope that one day, reactions to someone like Nina Davuluri winning a pageant (A FREAKING BEAUTY PAGEANT) won’t be so horrifyingly prejudice-laden.

The Passing of the Torch

 Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.

One of the most charismatic Presidents of the United States, a man whose time was cut too short, provided us with a quote that defines the world as we know it. He foresaw a young generation taking the reigns of the world and staking their claim as the next crop of successful Americans. They’ve seen the hardships of the world, and they know, at a young age, what dilemmas they will face as they grow older. Kennedy was a man of youth himself, and believed that just as presidents step down to make way for a new direction, the torch must one day be passed down to the next generation in all evolving events.

The same is true in sports. There will always be an elite set of players who reign over the sport like a Mt. Rushmore of the talented and famous. Those players define the sport and all who grow up with it. Everyone remembers their favorite players from their time. The fans of the 80’s would have grown up with Joe Montana, John Riggins, Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Rice and The Fridge. The 90’s? The Triplets in Dallas, Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders and Derrick Thomas.

Even after 17 bruising years, he’s still one of the most
feared players in the league.


Who are the 2000’s? Well, there’s a plethora of players who define their positions and the sport. I mean, who can you think of right off the top? Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Ed Reed, and…definitely Ray Lewis.

The first time I watched Ray was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in ’06 on opening day. The Ravens dominated that game, winning 27-0. But with it being my first real look at the play of Ray Lewis, I was beyond mesmerized. The tenacity, ferocity, and passion that he played with were unprecedented. When he had his arms reaching for a player, you could be sure that they wouldn’t see the rest of the play. It was a moment of (almost) clarity for me that there were players who were so powerful and unrelenting in their play. It wasn’t until the end of the season when I realized that there’s only one Ray Lewis, one of the best linebackers in football history.



Out of pure boredom two years later, I watched a San Francisco 49ers game in  Week 2 versus my Seahawks. I remember it because I was curious to see what all the hype was surrounding this kid called Patrick Willis. Yes, I speak as though they’re kids, that’s just my style.

Patrick Willis. The One. The Only. The Best.


It was astonishing. Willis was the most dominant player on that squad, never allowing a single tackle to evade him. He finished with only eight tackles, but each one of them came at a time when his team direly needed a stop. And to top it all off, Willis began a surge of scores with an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown to take the lead in the third quarter. The 49ers would win that game in OT on a field goal.

After just two seasons of my thinking that Lewis was the only player of his kind, I found his match. A young buck with a hunger for hard hits and takeaways. Both were the scariest players on their respective defenses. Teams couldn’t run without accounting for them. Quarterbacks couldn’t pass without keeping an eye on where they were. To this day, they still keep their eyes on those two stalwart ‘backers. And it’s scarily ironic that they’re both exactly the same build, both being 6’ 1″ and 240 lbs.

Ray Lewis’ time has come. Sunday, February 3rd will be the last game of his career. The last chance he has to leave the field with it all. His final opportunity to show the people of the football world why he’s the name of the decade. He’s Ray Effing Lewis. The time has come for him to go out with a bang, and leave the field, win or lose, for Patrick Willis to take over the title of best linebacker in football.

We’ll miss jarring hits like these, and the man who
delivers them in #52

Don’t get me wrong, though, Willis is not Lewis. And he never will be. But Ray knows as well as the rest of the league that someone will pick up the torch. Who better than another dominant player like Patrick?

Lewis is what remains of the older generation of football players. He defines what used to be, and what used to be wasn’t a long time ago. Still Patrick Willis the new generation of football players, and he has slowly become the definition of the youth movement in football.

I don’t think there’s a single player at the middle linebacker position more deserving of the title. He’s more powerful, aggressive, driven, passionate, and competitive than any player on the field where he presides. He doesn’t have the bravado and showmanship that Lewis has brought to every game he’s ever played, but he’s still a match. He let’s his playing do the talking. He powers over offenses like King Kong tossing over a line of Jeeps in the middle of New York City. If you’re a wide receiver with the ball running towards Willis…say goodnight, buddy.

The torch has to be passed at some point. Lewis was the future of the position at his zenith. He defined how linebackers play today. Like Lawrence Taylor, Lewis made quarterbacks, offensive coordinators, and head coaches insomniacs in the week leading up to playing him. And like Lewis, Willis makes you pay for every mistake you make.

Lewis and Willis are not the same. They never will be. They have their own styles of play and their own styles of leading. But they’re the best at what they do.




And now, they meet.

They meet on the biggest stage in all of sports. Both are riding highs: Willis, being in his first Super Bowl after years of toiling on one of the most underachieving teams in the NFL from 2007-10; and Lewis, Super Bowl XLVII being the last game of his legendary career. Both will leave legacies, and both have changed the game and how we view the power of defense, especially in this golden age of passing offenses.

Willis’ time to be recognized as the best
is well overdue. But his moment is here.

Now it’s time for Ray Lewis to hand off the terrorizing of quarterbacks to Willis. Lewis has done his part. He’s been the hallmark of a franchise, and a nation. He’ll be talked about forever. Defensive coordinators will tell their players to watch film of Lewis to see what it really means to play defense.

Where better to hand it off than on the biggest stage in sports? Patrick, get ready. This is your stage. This is where Ray shows his best for the last time, and where you prove why you’ll be the best for years to come.

It’s time for you to don the hot, fiery torch. Don’t burn yourself.



Y’all get yo popcorn ready. On Tuesday, we rustle through the trash and rediscover the beginnings of our modern San Francisco 49ers. Tweet us @aceing82!

Life Before Greatness: The 49ers Rise from the Rubble of a Golden Era

2003-2010                                                                                         2011-2012

In today’s modern world, every great piece of art rises from the rubble of some other form. Music, film, painting, sculpturing, etc., are all a version of a form that was once the evolution of the forms that came before it. It’s a cycle that will continue for as long as art is a part of our civilization, and it can’t be stopped.


The way sports evolve is something of an enigma. I wouldn’t consider baseball an example because of the way their lack of a salary cap articulates success for the teams with the most money. Why do you think the Yankees have won 27 World Series since 1901? Cold…hard…big-city cash. There’s no possible way that baseball can evolve this way, unless big money teams fall victim to embezzlement, or some form of financial crime.

Football is continuously evolving, becoming a different form of what it once was. The league used to stress the importance of running the ball and playing tough defense. Now, it has become a league where, without an elite quarterback, you will be lucky if you even make the postseason. But there are so many teams who have the intangibles. Every year, multiple teams rise up and win games that they wouldn’t have won the year before. At the same time, teams fall from grace with the same speed. I predict 2010-2020 will be the decade of parity for Super Bowl Champions. Every team is on the rise and decline. No one team is more dominant than the other.

The San Francisco 49ers, as amazing as they have been in the last two years, are not any exception to the rule. Thanks to the era of football we watch, the 49ers can’t be super every year. But for the last two years, they’ve evolved into the next best thing.


But hold on just a moment. Evolution won’t always be positive.

You all remember the 49ers of the 1980’s. Bill Walsh and the quick rhythm West Coast offense, Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott patrolling the defense as one of the most feared hitters in NFL history, and, of course, their four Super Bowl wins. They were the Kings of the Hill, the best of the best. And they were lucky enough to have another Hall-of-Fame quarterback sitting behind Montana in Steve Young, who led them to a fifth Super Bowl win in 1994.

Those teams were the face of that era of football, when franchises and fans had more patience with their teams. Those 49er teams were consistently giving their fans reasons to believe that they’d be in contention for a title every season.

The 49ers, however, became a victim of the evolution into the modern era of football. The sport and its decision makers have the shortest memory span of any in football’s past. The mentality of “win now, or you’re gone” began to envelop the league in the last decade, and it has become the culprit of premature evaluations of players and coaches, hundreds of lost jobs, and the burning down of storied franchises. The monetary constraints and need to keep fan interest and star power strong and consistent is more important than ever. Teams have continued to win Super Bowls, of course, but it’s harder and harder now for teams to maintain the core group of their best players.

Every tackle hurts that much more
when you’re losing.
San Francisco hasn’t reached the top since that last title win in ’94. 1999 and 2000 were seasons below .500, their first since 1982. And 2002 was the last time they made it to, and won a game in, the playoffs.

Bay Area fans who grew up in the Golden Age of 49ers football will tell you how much of a struggle it was to watch their team in the 2000’s. 49ers football, as far as they knew, was a mentality of winning, of being the best every year. They were witness to teams that, year in and year out, were favorites to win the Super Bowl.

As a fan of Seattle since their 2005 season in which they lost the Super Bowl, I can tell you that I know how Niners fans feel, if only in a small way. I watched Seattle in the middle of their four consecutive division-winning seasons. I always assumed that they were going to be in the playoffs and have a chance to win it all every year. Then, in 2008, one of the worst years for Seattle sports, they went 4-12 and completely belly-flopped on the winning culture I thought was always a part of Seahawks football.

And I watched my team beat those terrible 49ers teams of the 2000’s. It was strange for me to have seen film of the 49ers teams from their hey day, and then watch them get pummeled game after game.


Arnaz Battle loses a fumble.
The red and gold were laughing stocks for almost an entire decade. For eight dark years, the team did not post a record above 8-8. In 2004, they went 2-14 and, for the first time since 1964, owned the first pick in the draft in 2005. Fans thought that maybe the pain was over. Two seasons with an overall record of 9-23 were hard enough. With that first selection, the 49ers picked quarterback Alex Smith from the University of Utah. In college, he was poised, he was confident, and he was a leader who could take a team and carry them to the finish line. Smith looked like the miracle response to the prayers of San Fran fans.

You know how that turned out. For Smith’s first five seasons, he was considered a bust. The 49ers did not get better. In fact, they got worse. They won only 16 games over the next three years and would disappoint fans over and over again, in complete contrast to the Niners of old. Fans kept their hopes up, reminding themselves that there was a time when the 49ers were the best in the business. When they were contested by and answered to nobody.

But the losses kept coming. From 2003 to 2010, their overall record was an abysmal 46-82. Their seventeen previous division titles were a distant memory. There was nothing but a shell of a team. No matter how you looked at them, analyzed them, measured up the statistics…the 49ers were gone. Darkness set over Candlestick Park every game, with every fan simply hoping for a win.
But, lo and behold, a savior, a real answer, was about to walk through the gates of Candlestick. The former kingdom of champions was about to be jolted back awake.


Coach Jim Harbaugh brought a winning
culture back to the 49ers franchise.
Jim Harbaugh, the former coach of the Stanford Cardinal, the man who groomed one of the best college quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, since the great Peyton Manning, and was once a brilliant quarterback himself for fifteen years in the NFL, was coming to San Francisco. Harbaugh, whose brother, John, coached the consistently brilliant Baltimore Ravens on the east coast, signed a five-year, $25 million contract to revitalize a franchise once known for winning big.

And, boy, have they.

2011 became a season of redemption. Jim Harbaugh, with his blue-collar mentality, the aggression of a linebacker, and the passion of a seasoned veteran, somehow took the same roster that had been lackluster and disappointing for eight seasons, and showed how underachieving they really were.  No one believed that a rookie college coach, no matter how much NFL experience he had as a player, would be able to take this terminally ill team to even eight wins.

They went 13-3 and almost claimed a conference championship.

Harbaugh turned Patrick Willis, perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the San Fran defense into the best unit in the league. He stressed running the ball on an offense that carried one of the best power runners in the league in Frank Gore and one of biggest stalwart offensive lines in the NFC. Most importantly, Jim Harbaugh turned Alex Smith from liability and draft bust, into the most efficient and reliable quarterback in the NFL. Smith may have been a game manager and not a team carrier, but he was a primary reason why the 49ers were able to succeed in 2011.

Harbaugh took the whole team and forced it to evolve into a team that emphasized smash mouth football. He knew that to counteract the passing trend taking over the NFL, he would need to find the antithesis that would pose a unique problem for any opposition that the 49ers would face. Why not go back to the roots of the football? Run the ball and stop the run? That almost got them to the Super Bowl last year.

2012 NFC Championship Game.

Don’t forget that if it weren’t for a couple of gaffes on kick returns against the eventual Super Bowl winners New York Giants, we could be talking about the 49ers who are returning to the biggest stage for a second straight championship after a Cinderella Super Bowl win last year. 

This time, second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is taking them to the Super Bowl for real, after taking over the starting job from Smith in Week 9 in Tom Brady circa 2001 fashion when Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams. Kaepernick added a running dimension to his position and molded the team into one of the most explosive offenses in the league.

The team has become a playoff contender for years to come. Maybe not a Super Bowl contender for every year, but certainly the fans of the Bay Area need not worry with Harbaugh, Kaepernick, and their paralysis-inducing defense eating teams for dinner.


Even though we all know the 49ers have a winning history, the fans of the 49ers deserve the wins that are rolling in.

San Francisco became a team feared by the league because of the unique problem it posed to all other teams. They went against the grain, and allowed themselves to grow into an identity that seemed foreign to them. The 49ers are not the Packers, the Patriots, or even the Ravens. They simply became better in their own way.

I’m personally rooting for Baltimore, simply because I believe that every player on that Ravens team has toiled for too long to be denied a championship now.

But San Francisco has risen from a broken team, pieces of what they once were, to the top of the NFL food chain through reinvention, innovation, and realizing the opportunity before them. Take a step a back and take in what you’ve just read. The fans, the franchise, and everyone who has been a part of the struggles of being in the cellar is finally being rewarded.

San Francisco’s turn around is the model of what teams can become with the right vision. Evolving, it seems, is not to conform to what is trending, unless you have the talent on your team to conform and believe that it’s the best way to win. Evolving is more about how you make the new, incoming and outgoing pieces fit. A coach cannot simply choose their team’s identity, but rather finds an identity that makes the machine work. You can’t shove a gear into a machine that doesn’t quite fit. It stops the entire process.

Not only have they risen back out of the scrap heap, but San Francisco is transforming everything we know about the game today.

Perhaps San Francisco, and not the Baltimore Ravens, are the real team of destiny this year.

The Immortal Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco, finally in the element he deserves to be in.

I felt weird even writing that title for this spot. Immortal? Flacco? A few weeks ago, I would have put the word “infamous” in its place. Flacco is not a great quarterback. He’s not Tom Brady. He’s not Peyton Manning. 

He already beat those guys. He’s one of the best.

We, as fans of the game watching on our asses from our couches, make quick opinions in our heads about how good or players are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never watched those players play as long as you hear the stories or if you’ve watched all of their games. We judge based on what we feel and hear. I certainly know that I can’t even make an educated guess when it comes to evaluating players.

And we all felt that Joe Flacco, for the last four and 3/4 years was good, but not great. Yeah, he’s won postseason games like nobody’s business, but did he ever reach the Super Bowl? Nah. When he goes through the regular season, where he’s never been consistently good like the Mannings and Bradys and Ryans of the league, we don’t automatically put him on the pedestal of the best in the league.

Years of preparation are paying
off for Joe Flacco.


That’s about the change.

Flacco, who is 8-4 in the postseason, and is now riding an eight TD, no INT streak into the Super Bowl, has a shot to make a place for himself in the fraternity of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. At the end of the game on February 3rd, Joe Flacco could be holding the fabled Lombardi Trophy. He’ll be interviewed for NFL Network’s acclaimed doco series “America’s Game”. He’ll be the new “Discount Double Check” kid of Advertising U.S.A.

Prepare yourselves, ’cause this stuff’s about to go cray.

It’s not Flacco’s having a Cinderella story season. He’s been an above-par quarterback every year since he was drafted in the first round by Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens. He’s won a postseason game in every one of the five years since then. He’s fast, he’s tall, he’s strong, and he has a cannon for an arm (maybe the strongest arm in the NFL in front of Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler). For some reason, I’ve always had the feeling that he’s a great quarterback in the making. But when you’re winning playoff games right off the bat, there’s only so much room to improve. Once you’ve made the playoffs, your next step is the Super Bowl. Forget about winning a playoff game. Win the whole damn thing.

That’s the mantra of all teams with playoff aspirations. The 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens team said that there are plenty of those consistent underachievers who say, “OK, boys. Let’s just make it to the tournament”, or, “Let’s just see what happens.” But the Ravens said, “We’re here, we’ve got the opportunity. Why settle for less?”

Joe Flacco is seizing the moment.


And right now, that’s exactly how the 2012 Ravens are operating. This isn’t some lucky, destiny-ridden Super Bowl run. This is an all out assault. And Joe Flacco is at the head of it.

Baltimore preaches team, team, team. But their leaders in the retiring LB Ray Lewis and their younger gun in Flacco are spearheading a force of complete aggression and raw winning emotion that are propelling these written-off division champions into the stratosphere of NFL history.

Now, Flacco is seizing his opportunity to become greater than he could ever imagine. Obviously he didn’t start playing football without the dream of winning a championship. But never under such emotion-driven circumstances. Flacco is ready for the big time. He’s been preparing himself since his days at Delaware, where the NFL doesn’t look.

It’s time for Flacco to achieve something bigger than anything he’s ever achieved in his life.

It’s time for him to be called one of the greatest.


Tune in tomorrow to read about the passing of the torch between the best linebackers in football. Tweet at @aceing82!

The (Apparently Second) Best Week of the Year

I’m not going to linger… I’m not going to talk about it…


…WHAT IN THE HELL, PETE CARROLL? I MEAN, SERIOUSLY! Your team is down 7-0. You have a chance to come away with some points. 4th DOWN. Any coach with a strong background KNOWS to go for the field goal to at least establish something. Come away with three points. In the end, those three extra points would have won the game.

In any case, I look forward to next year, and Carroll will certainly take this game and put it in the ground, six feet down. Seattle is young, raw, and talented, and will be a Super Bowl contender next season.

But enough about the pain of being a fan in the NFL. Let’s look forward to a weekend of what is, without out a doubt, going to be one of the best weekends of postseason football that you or I have ever seen.

Oh, you don’t believe me? You’re one of the few. Let’s change your mind here:

NFC Championship Game – San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons

How is this not a compelling game? A high flying offense in Atlanta, at home, versus the tough, versatile running game that San Francisco is going to bring in the Georgia Dome. Not to mention, or TO mention, San Francisco’s stalwart defense featuring Smith & Smith Inc. The NFC has brought in some of the best Championship games in the last four years, and this match-up is going to be all of that, plus more.

The real story in this game, though, is how the Mike Nolan and the Falcons’ defense plan to stop Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick ran wild on Green Bay last weekend, rushing for an NFL record 181 yards, the most for a quarterback in the regular or postseason. Safety Thomas DeCoud has been a ballhawk in the secondary for Atlanta, but that may have to change if the Falcons plan on keeping Kaep’n Rush contained. But the problem is that even if they keep Kaepernick in the pocket, they’ll have to gear their other cornerbacks towards stopping 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

Crabtree has become Kaepernick’s security blanket since the quarterback change all those weeks ago. He’s been targeted three times as often as the San Fran receiver with the second most targets, Randy Moss. So Atlanta has its work cut out for them in two spots. Oh, by the way, San Fran can kill you with RB Frank Gore both running and receiving.

But the 49ers aren’t about to have a picnic in Atlanta. The defense is going to be destroyed if they can’t control the line of scrimmage against RB Michael Turner and Atlanta’s array of receivers in WR’s Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, TE Tony Gonzalez (who, if not handled on third downs, can win the whole day by himself), and RB Jacquizz Rodgers. There isn’t a single Falcon offensive player who doesn’t power over their defenders. Matt Ryan has been ice cold and on target most of the year, and he’ll beat you if you don’t pressure him. But even then, he’ll beat you on his third read options even when you do get near him. Aldon Smith will have to be on his A game if the 49ers plan to halt Atlanta and their famous fast, first quarter starts.

This game has all the intangibles that have this game looking like another classic in the making. In the end, though, it will be the Falcons on top. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith finally have a playoff win under his belt, and they’re not about to let this opportunity go easy. The Falcons have a lot more to play for, and have the fire power to set the pace and keep San Fran from keeping up.
San Francisco – 27, Atlanta – 34

AFC Championship Game – Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

If you’re going to tell me that New England going to their sixth Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era, then one second. Cool your jets and pump your breaks. This is no sure thing for the Pats. I assume that you all watched the Baltimore – Denver game last weekend, so you’ll know that Flacco, despite his struggles in the regular season on the road, is money in any stadium in the postseason. He’s had one of the most successful starts to a career in the playoffs and has been to the title game before. His deep ball ability won them a spot in this game, when he tossed a 70-yard bomb to Jacoby Jones for a touchdown, tying the game, and sending it into two OT’s, winning with a field goal. In fact, he and the Ravens were in this very stadium a year ago, when they lost a heart breaker to New England in the last seconds. You think Baltimore’s forgotten the sting of that game? Hell no.

The entire Black and Purple team, franchise, and fans know exactly how much it matters that they win this game, and they can do it. Not only do they have that chip on their shoulder, but they want to send MLB Ray Lewis off with a second ring on his finger. And he’s super charged as well. Against the Colts in the wild card round, Lewis played a very average game for him. He then proceeded to be right near the ball on every play against Denver and was a huge reason why Baltimore held up against the fifth best offense in the league.

Now they face the number one offense, but nothing has changed. All they are is fast. Know why? Because Brady doesn’t get pressured. It’s time to unleash the Kruger. Paul Kruger has been seriously Watt-ish this postseason, and he’s about to play in what could be the most important game of his career. He’ll be asked to rush for Brady with all of his will and might, while Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs hold up the middle and left side of the line. This isn’t going to be an easy one for Tom Brady, but he’s at his best in the postseason. He’ll be doing his best to keep the rush off and operate with WR Wes Welker to keep a short, quick rhythm game going. The Ravens’ secondary is no Legion of Boom, and Brady will be ready to exploit that.
Joe Flacco, however, showed last year that he can keep up with Tom Brady, playing one of his best games that season in the AFC Championship Game. And he did the same against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, keeping up blow for blow and willing his team to the upset. New England plays bend-but-don’t-break defense in the secondary, with safety Devin McCourty ball-hawking like Ed Reed, who, don’t forget, just happens to be the Ravens’ Hall-of-Fame bound safety. But Flacco’s a real man with the deep ball. He’s got an arm that simply flicks the ball like a short pass for 60 yards, and he always puts the ball right where Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin can grab it and where DB’s can’t even see it.

I want Flacco in the Super Bowl. I want John Harbaugh in the Super Bowl. And I want Ray Lewis in the Super Bowl. We’ve all seen Tom Brady in action and what he’s capable of. But I’m not sure that their greatness will overcome a Ravens unit that is riding the high of an upset, the power of their retiring legend, the idea that this is their destiny, and so many other chips that shoulder pads aren’t needed. This is finally Baltimore’s time, and they aren’t going to fall.
Baltimore – 30, New England, 27

Are you prepared for a Baltimore-Atlanta Super Bowl? I am. It’s time to separate the boys from the men and all that jazz. Good luck to all of the teams, and I’ll see y’all after the games!

The Rundown: Division Playoffs

Boys and girls of the NFL world! Before you go to sleep, I have to get my thoughts out on where the we stand for the games coming up. If you’re an article-reading nut like me, you’ve probably read the same story lines over and over again, so let’s get those out and done with now:

  1. Matt Ryan needs a win for credibility.
  2. The Ravens are probably not going to win in Denver.
  3. The AFC Championship looks like one last Brady vs. Manning hurrah.
  4. Green Bay vs. San Francisco looks like the battle of the crappy kickers.
Blah, blah, blah, hutututut, on with it. There’s more to the games in this round.

Nate Gray of the Nate Gray Zone sent me his thoughts on his picks:

And I agree almost completely. Let’s take a short look at what we’ve got here:

Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos (24-31)
No, Baltimore is nowhere near as good as Denver on either sides of the ball. Joe Flacco is not Peyton Manning, and even though LB Ray Lewis is a surefire Hall of Famer, Denver’s Von Miller is tearing it up and will punish the Raven’s offense if they slip up.

I do believe Denver will win, but I only give them a slight advantage. Keep in mind, the playoffs are a place where good teams can become great. All bets are off, no matter how good a team’s record is. Green Bay and the New York Giants won it all in the last two years, and the last six Super Bowls included a wild card team who no one thought had a chance.

I’m not saying the Ravens are getting hot at the right time, because they’re luke-warm, if I’m being nice. But anything can happen, and Denver is not invulnerable.

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers (27-24)

Green Bay didn’t come into the postseason with a winning streak. Hell, they lost to the team that they beat in the wildcard in the season finale. But Aaron Rodgers is one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the league. He’s proven that he can win in the postseason, and he can win on a long road with the team in a wild card seeding. I pick the Packers only because I think Colin Kaepernick won’t be able to dial it up in pressure. Kaep hasn’t faced this kind of pressure all season long, handily beating the teams San Fran won against, losing big time to one division rival in the Seattle Seahawks, and losing a nail biter against another rival in St. Louis.

Please put it out of your minds that this is some sort of legit rematch from Week 1. These are NOT EVEN CLOSE to the same teams we saw at the beginning of the season. Rodgers was continuing a slump that started last season and ended in Week 5. San Fran’s starting QB in Week 1 was Alex Smith, and Justin Smith was healthy on a defense that would go on to terrorize opponents until his triceps injury in Week 15. Since then, Green Bay has improved, and the 49ers are less of a sure thing and more of a “I know what you’re thinking, but you’re probably not right” team. The game could go either way, but I trust Mike McCarthy and his offense much more than San Fran from top to bottom.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons (24-20)

Matt Ryan has a monkey on his back, we all know it. I’ve been reading articles about how Ryan is actually statistically better on the road than he is at home this season (I’m not counting passer ratings, but rather raw, unprocessed stats). Atlanta just hasn’t given me enough confidence to believe that this is the year they move on after one game. The defense is not in a good position battle, as they’ve been mediocre against the run and Beast Mode, Skittles junkie Marshawn Lynch is coming to town on a streak of five consecutive 100-yard performances. Oh, and that one rookie for the Blue’s is pretty fleet-of-foot, too.

Russell Wilson has ignited a read-option attack that’s become a hallmark of Seattle’s winning strategy. Of course, Atlanta has a 2-1 record against teams that ran the same offense this season (Carolina twice, and Washington). But Seattle is a different monster altogether. They are complete package team that won’t be stopped on offense. And Legion of Boom in the defensive secondary will give Roddy White and Julio Jones of Atlanta a tough time trying to simply locate the ball. I expect one of the two to surpass 100 yards receiving, but I doubt that they’ll have a serious impact on the game.

And don’t get me started on Michael Turner. He’s lost the tread on his tires, let alone any decline. Jacquizz Rogers will be the deciding factor in this game if it’s close, but I don’t know that he’ll be there to save the day with enough time on the clock. Seattle will take this one and move on to play their grudge rematch in Green Bay.

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots (23-35)

This is one pick that I really do hope is wrong. All of my picks are based on the most realistic possibility in my mind. I absolutely believe that the New England Patriots will win this game. They’ve played it before. Just hit rewind on the tape.

But Houston was my AFC pick this year. Not only that, I’ve been so sour since Brian Cushing went out for the season on an ACL tear after a BS “tackle” on the play. I can’t stand to see New England win this one. We need new blood!
But I digress.

Win this game, and the Patriots are in against Manning, possibly for the last time. New England’s defense has become a bend-but-don’t-break unit once again, ball-hawking Oppa Ed Reed Style. And on the offense, Brady has had Stevan Ridley, finally a complimentary back in a passing offense for Tommy, to keep defenses true. It helped, in part, to keep Wade Phillips on his heels when they beat Houston 42-14 earlier in the season. This is as good a time as any for New England to capitalize and bring Brady closer to a fourth ring. 

But if Houston wants to win, J.J. Watt needs to be 1000% better than in their last meeting. Watt was non-consequential last time and that’s not him. He’s got to be in a higher zone than he’s ever been to pressure Brady. And Matt Schaub has to, HAS TO, elevate his game to the Pro Bowl status he was deemed worthy of. Without extra effort against a team they know, there will almost certainly be disappointment in what was once considered their “season of all Texans seasons”.

Shame.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hey Hey Hey, everyone! Happy New Year! Hope you all have had a great winter vacay. We, Will and I, have had our own little vacation, so we haven’t had a lot of time to write for the blog. But we’re back! And at a good time, too.

The postseason seeding has finally come together, and it’s an interesting lineup of teams this year. The NFC has three new entries in the Redskins, Seahawks, and Vikings in the wild card round. On the other side, the AFC only has one new entry in the Colts. The Big Three of the 2012 quarterback draft class (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson) all have their teams in the postseason, and RG3 and Wilson are facing off on the first wild card weekend, while Luck faces a shuffling Ravens team without a lot of momentum coming in.

Let’s take a moment and examine these teams to see what we can expect from the twelve best of 2012 by seeding:

AFC:

Denver Broncos: Without a doubt, this team is the most complete in the NFL. We can speculate and say that the Texans and 49ers are just as stacked on both sides of the ball, but Denver has the numbers and talent to clearly show them above the rest. The offense is ranked fourth in the NFL with 397.9 yards per game and second if you go by its 30.1 points per game total. And the defense ain’t too bad neither, having allowed only 290.8 yards a game.

Peyton Manning needs to keep this team chugging
along at the same pace that’s gotten them to 13-3.


Peyton Manning was the missing piece on the offense that finally made a talented unit into one of the most consistent in the league. Manning is fully integrated in the MVP award conversation, let alone Comeback Player of the Year, and it’s safe to say that he’s not going to squander what could be his best shot at another Super Bowl ring. And defensively, second-year linebacker Von Miller, who himself is vying for the Defensive Player of the Year award, is motoring a defense who, since Week 6, has given up less that 12 points a game. The team is riding an eleven-game win streak, so they have to be accounted for on every level. This team is the Super Bowl favorite, hands down.

New England Patriots: Who woulda thunk it? The Patriots in the playoffs. What a change of pace. New England is annoyingly consistent and continues to be a force in the late season. And it’s all thanks to Tom Brady, who solidly shoots the offense into the stratosphere, killing opponents with his many weapons in WR’s Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Brandon Lloyd, and TE’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Also, the running game has finally proven to be a difference maker, making the Pats a more diverse team on offense. Stevan Ridley has had a great season keeping some pressure off of Brady, scoring on short yardage touchdowns and grabbing the first down in a pinch.

Who else would we put in this picture? He’s been playing
lights out again, and he wants a fourth ring.


The defense, on the other hand, hasn’t been great yards- or points-wise, but they get takeaways when they need them the most. It’s been a huge help having Aqib Talib playing cornerback the way they needed it, along with the payoff stemming from moving Devin McCourty to the safety position. This is the side of the ball, however, that will make or break this team’s Super Bowl opportunity. If Tom-terrific can’t quite get it done on offense and the defense can’t hold in make-or-break situations, then New England, and Tommy, can say “wait ’till next year” for another season.

Houston Texans: I really don’t know how you can go from being undefeated halfway through the season, to a team with only one loss, to being called the best team in the league, to being shattered by the Patriots, to losing your last two games, and then to losing home-field advantage in the last loss of the season. Especially considering that that last loss came against a division rival with a rookie QB who hasn’t been as on-target as he was earlier in the season. Coach Gary Kubiak had better toss out his copy of “How To Look Awesome And Then Suck for Dummies”.

J.J. Watt, the man who has to lead the charge
to get the defense going.


In all seriousness, the Texans can still be dominant. They haven’t lost any key players since losing Brian Cushing earlier in the season. Matt Schaub hasn’t looked like the Pro Bowler he was to begin the year and right now is the best time to get back there. He’s got Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones, Owen Daniels, and Arian Foster catching passes for him, along with Foster himself being a force on almost every down. The entire offense needs a regrouping, and fast. The defense has also lost some of its power since losing Cushing, however its still an important part to how the Texans win. J.J. Watt is still playing quality football, but the linebackers and the secondary are getting beaten consistently. Yes, they did hold Adrian Peterson to 86 yards in Week 16, but they still lost because they made Christian Ponder look like Aaron Rodgers Lite. If they want any chance at winning even their first playoff game against an upstart Cincinnati Bengals team, they had better get it together on both sides of the ball.

Baltimore Ravens: I don’t see this team winning the Super Bowl. At all. I mean, seriously, the team doesn’t even know that it has weapons. They run everything through Flacco and it hasn’t helped. Joe Flacco is not Peyton Manning, he doesn’t seem to make everyone around him better. Sure, he’s got a .45 Magnum for an arm and can make the deep pass to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, but here’s the deal: until they learn to give RB Ray Rice 25 to 30 carries a game, the Ravens have a hobo’s chance in Wyoming to succeed going forward. The playoffs are not for teams with identity crises, especially when you face teams who know exactly what they want to be their strengths in the most crucial times of games.

If the Raven want any chance at even a win,
they need to feed the ball to this guy, Ray Rice.


The defense is also suspect, and I’m not sure that having Ray Lewis back is the answer to all of their problems. They haven’t been the defense that Baltimore has been known for over the last decade. They’re ranked 17th in the league, allowing 350.9 yards and 20.1 points per game. Now, the points part doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but when you’re allowing so many yards, better teams are going to score with that much leeway. You can bend and not break, but this team has broken a few times on both sides of the ball that makes their Super Bowl chances pretty much zero.

Indianapolis Colts: For Andrew Luck to be so good in his first season is a very promising sign. But he’s been declining recently. Not badly, but for a rookie who is making his postseason debut soon, it might bring on some concern for Colts fans. The team’s engine is headed by eight starters on offense who weren’t even on the team last season. That’s like forcing a Hummer to run with water in the gas tank and rubber bands holding the transmission together. It’s worked thus far, but eventually it doesn’t work. I hope Luck gets a playoff win, especially considering how weak the Ravens have looked late this season. But I don’t know that this attacking unit can hold.

He’s been one of the best first round picks in NFL
history. Let’s see if he can make it more.


The defense is in roughly the same shape. Some players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are a little older, and there’s a lot of new blood. They’re ranked 26th in the league, so they’re not really scary to go against. But they look like they’re a unit that can pick up the pace in the postseason. They’ve been consistently average, but Luck isn’t the only reason that they’ve gone from two wins last season to eleven this season. I’m not sure I’m sold on a deep playoff run here, but crazier things have happened in the NFL.

Side note: How incredible would it be to watch Luck beat Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship game? WHAT A SHOW IT WOULD BE.

Cincinnati Bengals: The team has won six of their last seven games. Yeah, they’ve lost one game since Week 10. The defense is stifling, the offense is high octane, and they’re riding a three game winning streak into the playoffs. If any team in the AFC is ready for a deep playoff run, look out: it might be the Queen City Cats.

Geno Atkins is a prime reason as to why the Bengals
are so hot on defense.


Cincinnati is a force on both sides of the ball as of late. This isn’t the only team we’ve seen get hot late in the past few seasons. Of course, these are the Bengals, originally the Bungles of the 90’s. They’re a young team that’s destined to get better and better, year after year. Andy Dalton to A.J. Green has, in its second season, already become a fearsome connection, accumulating 1350 yards and 11 TD’s on the year. Other receivers on the team such as Brandon Tate, Marvin Jones, and Andrew Hawkins are quickly rising and making this receiving corps. one of the most deep and talented rotations in the league. And defensively, coordinator Mike Zimmer has worked magic again for a fifth year. The unit allows only 20 points per game total, and only 12.7 since Week 10. The whole team has come together and formed into a complete unit, ready to make a deep playoff run.

NFC

Atlanta Falcons: The team is 13-3 going against one of the ten weakest schedule in the league. However, they’ve won when they’ve needed to, and they wrapped up the top seed in the conference a game early. Matt Ryan has the offense running again, with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and Jacquizz Rogers working to restore some positive vibes going into the playoffs.

Thomas DeCoud, the ball hawking safety, and leader of
the Falcons defense.


You may have noticed that I mentioned Rogers, and not Michael Turner. That’s because I think Turner is going to be supplanted as the starter in the postseason. Rogers has looked like a force from the backfield, running and receiving, and he’s productive as hell. Turner’s losing tread on the tires after four season of bruising technique, and Rogers will get hot at the right time for the Falcons. They’ll likely face either the Packers, Seahawks, or Vikings, and they’ll need a back who can truly attack those defenses in multiple formations. Rogers will be that back.

The defense is also a huge part of the Falcons and their Mid-Season Reputation Reformation and Implementation Project (we’ll call it the MSRRIP). It’s a group that has become a force that is hard to run or pass safely against. It’s one of those units that can play well with a lead and hold opponents in crunch time. FS Thomas DeCoud is the only real ball-hawk on the team, but we don’t know how Asante Samuel will be since his absence from postseason play back from 2008 with Philadelphia. The team is 0-3 in postseason play since Mike Smith and Matt Ryan came to town, so it’s now or ridicule for the Atlanta Falcons. They’re an NFC power until proven otherwise.

San Francisco 49ers: They’re a competitive and aggressive team on both sides of the ball. RB Frank Gore is a power hitter and one of the best pass-catching running backs in football, and the whole D from Aldon and Justin Smith to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis is scary. QB Colin Kaepernick has also shown some serious balls in and outside of the pocket, producing big plays often and in crunch time. We haven’t seen him in the clutch yet, but we can assume he’ll be reliable.

Strangely enough, Willis hasn’t been the best defensive
player for San Fran this year. That speaks volumes.


However, I have one knock on this team, without bias. These guys don’t seem to be able to put back-to-back dominating performances together. It was especially on show in the two week stretch against New England and Seattle. They handily beat the Patriots, despite a late game comeback from Tom Brady, but they were shoved flat on their asses on the Clink’s field against the division rival Seahawks. To go from beating the then best team in the league 41-34, to losing 42-13 against a team on a 108-17 point, two-game win streak is not what a Super Bowl team should look like. But weirder circumstances have been overcome before. If they can string dominant wins together, they’re world champs, plain and simple. If not, then definitely next year with Kaepernick getting a full season of play under his belt.

Green Bay Packers: How do you not consider this team a Super Bowl contender? Aaron Rodgers, though not looking like his 2011 version, is playing lights out, and has gotten the Packers wins in nine of their last eleven. Only problem? They lost to Minnesota in Minneapolis in the season finale with the number two seed and a bye week on the line.

Aaron Rodgers started slowly, but now is the man
of the Packers who will carry his team once again.


They do get to play the Vikings again, but this time on their own turf. I don’t know that Adrian Peterson, with the Hall-of-Fame season he has had, will be affected by the Packer faithful in the stands, but Christian Ponder might be rattled. It’s ideal for the Packers, who need a momentum push before they play on the road against the 49ers, who who beat them in the season opener 30-22 at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers has been rising since that loss, and so it will be a different game this time around. The defense has also become more reliable, going from 32nd to 11th in the league in total yards allowed. The team has always had talent. It’s just a matter of it being healthy. Like a Victoria’s Secret Model, they’re young, they’re hot, and given their talent, they can go the distance.

Washington Redskins: RG3 is hurting. It’s as simple as that. RG3 is the main reason that offense works, and they did their job against the Dallas Cowboys in the season finale. But the ‘Skins rookie quarterback’s knee is still in a bad shape and it’s holding Griffin back from some of the more electric plays he usually produces running the ball. It’s also preventing him from being effective outside of the pocket and pretty much making him Tom Brady with some legs (that’s just average). It’s not a good thing.

He’s hurt, but he’s still RG3, the man who can
do it all and bring this team to unknown possibilities.


The defense has picked up the pace slightly in their seven game win streak, but they are also very suspect. They come up with stops at the right times, as they showed against Dallas, but they are not yet ready to hold off power scoring teams like New England, Denver, Green Bay, and Seattle. Yeah, they are on a seven game win streak, but the most important piece of their offense isn’t at his best, which could hold them back from a deep playoff run.

Seattle Seahawks: My ‘Hawks are in!! #GoHawks #foshizzle #okillstop. This is huge. Russell Wilson has this team hopping at the right time. 170-43 in their last four games is unprecedented. It shows that the offense and defense are both boasting power at the right time of the season. They’re going into wild card weekend on a five game win streak and having won seven of their last eight. There might not be a hotter team in the NFL right now, let alone the NFC.

Marshawn Lynch, third in the league in rushing, was
consistent and the main reason teams fell in Seattle.


Not only is the offense clicking, but the defense has been downright destructive. Richard Sherman has 8 INT’s on the season, with four of those coming in the last four weeks, along with a blocked field goal that he returned for TD against the 49ers. Add CB Brandon Browner coming back from suspension, and you’re getting a Seattle team that has the luck of the world on their side. It’s hard to not see this team, as young as it is, not winning a couple of playoff games. Frankly, I’m starting to get groggy here, writing this bit, and it’s unfortunate because it’s not only my team I’m writing about here, but they’re also the most likely NFC candidate, aside from Green Bay and San Fran, who could make it all the way to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings: Hellooooooo, Adrian! Here’s the part where Peterson runs all over Clay Matthews. This team relies on their star running back to win almost every game. Aside from the Week 16 Houston game that Christian Ponder finally got off the couch to win, Peterson has been the main reason why this team is in the playoffs. Yeah, Percy Harvin did some hard work earlier in the season, but the problem was that he went on IR and the Vikings had lost their MVP candidate. Well, they got another one. Peterson has already proven twice that even when an opponent’s sole focus is to beat the Vikes on the ground, he’ll still beat you. And he gets to go against the Packers for a third time in the wild card round. He rushed for 211 and 199 yards consecutively in their two meetings this year, and he might be even more dangerous with the Super Bowl on the line.

Let’s all hope the NFL AP is smart enough that they’ll
hand Peterson the MVP trophy. No one deserves it more.


And the defense compliments him in a way. Though ranked 16th in the league, they quietly hold opponents when needed. It gives the offense enough time to either choke or win the game. Minnesota hasn’t been terribly consistent this year on either side of the ball aside from AP2K, but they have the look of one of those low-seeded teams that could get hot at the right time. We know how those teams fared in the last few years. Yeah, they kicked ass. In fact, one of them was the Green Bay Packers of 2010. If Minnesota can make the Packers bite, then the Vikings have the assets to make a run at the championship game. Super Bowl? Well, it’s up to Ponder.

We’ll be back next week to review wild card weekend and make new predictions for the divisional round! Good luck to your team, and I hope Seattle destroys Washington!