As it turns out, real life translates nicely into the world of the Internet mailbag.
Like thousands of angry parents calling school to complain about a child's report card, the lines were jammed this week with fans complaining about my midterm grades for all 32 teams. I've never seen so many responses. It was a record-breaking week, for both number of emails and cuss words. Seriously. I could have had Andrew Dice Clay screening the mail this week, and he would have gone home in tears.
The response was so overwhelming, I've decided to limit this week's rants to the midseason grades and awards, and dump the usual email shenanigans about power rankings and league news. We'll get back to those next week. There are just too many rants about the grades to ignore them. And you wouldn't believe what I've gotten this week. Green Bay Packers fans are furious the Pack were given an F for the 1-7 start, and the Cheeseheads sound like they are holding out for an "A for effort." I also heard from – get this – a bunch of Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts fans who were mad their teams "only" got an A. Hmmm. Greed is a terrible thing.
But enough talking. It's time to unleash the fury. And please, don't stop this week. Keep it coming. And remember to include your first and last name and your city and state – we like to give you the recognition you deserve. My comments are in italics.
To the mail …
I see a lot of your reasoning for these grades are numbers based. Are you actually watching any of these teams play? I have seen most of the games this year and think that your grades and second-half improvements are a little off.
You got me, Jason. I haven't seen any of these teams play. In fact, I haven't seen a single NFL game since 1988.
You said in your report card article that the Cincinnati Bengals have yet to beat a winning team. They defeated a Chicago Bears team in Chicago in Week 3 – a team that currently leads the NFC North with a 5-3 record. Not to mention the Bears have won four games in a row. Why do so many writers condemn the Bengals for beating losing teams?
Culver City, Calif.
To Ryan (and the 100 or so Bengals fans that pointed out the win over the Bears), you are absolutely right. That was an oversight on my part. My bad. In my head, I keep thinking the Bengals beat a Chicago team that started the season 1-3. But that's not a fair assessment. The Bengals deserve credit for whipping a solid Bears squad – and on the road, no less.
You have the AFC North, South, East, and West on your report card. What about the Central? They may be the worst in the class but you still gotta grade them.
The AFC Central? Ummmmm. That division was so bad that I forgot it even existed. I think the NFL has, too.
I don't get your midseason grades. You seemed to have based it solely off team records, so what the point of bothering to do it?
Your "grading" is a joke. You give no clear definition of what constitutes a good grade versus a bad grade. The Jets are given a D. Why? Because they are one of the most injured football teams in the league? The Packers are given an F for the same reason? I don't think you actually watch either of these teams play because, if you did, you would realize how competitive both teams are with a severe depression of talent.
OK, I've had a lot of complaining about not listing my criteria, so here goes: Wins and losses are the No. 1 factor in grading, followed closely by quality wins. People need to understand that these grades are more a reflection of how these teams stack up within the league – not how they've played compared to expectation or potential or how they've played relative to injuries. Think of the first half of the season being like a class taking a multiple-choice test. Grades are a reflection of what teams got right and what teams got wrong, not how well they tested considering their injuries or how good they "should be." And as you can see, not all of the teams with the same win-loss record got the same grade (that disparity is more of a reflection of quality wins).
I recently read your midterm grades' comment about the Broncos not getting much pressure on the opposing team's quarterback. However, it is known, and has been mentioned on a televised game, that the Broncos are either leading the league, or nearly leading the league in quarterback pressures. You neglected to mention that Champ Bailey has been injured all season, and they have two stellar rookies who have started at corner. They are near the top for run defense, and the Broncos' offense has forced teams to become one-dimensional early by scoring points in the first half of games. We appreciate the excellent grade, but want to strive for the A-plus.
You make a good point about the quarterback pressures. I should have said that Denver needs to finish off with the pass rush and create more sacks and turnovers. But saying the Broncos "aren't getting much pressure" was not accurate. One thing about Broncos fans, though – many of you complained about "just" getting an A on the report card. Come on, folks.
I guess it would have been too much to ask for a little more about the Colts' grade, which is A-plus. You wouldn't have us on your page if we we're failing, either. Nothing new from people like you!
New Castle, Ind.
Another one complaining about getting "only" an A. Sheesh. Fans of teams like Detroit, New Orleans and Arizona must be gagging.
I can't believe the midseason grade you gave the San Diego Chargers. A B-minus? Gimme a break. Can you honestly sit there and tell me you believe San Diego is no better than the Kansas City Chiefs or Jacksonville Jaguars (the other teams were given a B-minus) just because they have identical records?
Big Rock, Ill.
Yes, I can honestly tell you that I think those three teams – Kansas City, Jacksonville and San Diego – are far more comparable than people want to admit. San Diego is a good team, but it still has plenty to prove. And no, I don't care about four losses by 12 points, the same way I don't read too much into beating the New York Jets by "only" five points.
Once again you only have it half right with the Arizona Cardinals' performance this season. The foremost problem is the offensive line. It's not that they haven't been as "solid as thought" – it's that they have been downright embarrassing. That, in turn, has led to the severe problems in the running game and our quarterbacks getting killed.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Saw your midterm grade for the New England Patriots, and I think that's pretty fair. One small point of contention, though. I don't think we have enough evidence to characterize the Chad Scott signing as a bust. He was lost for the season so early into the year, and even though he was in the process of learning a new and complicated defense, I actually thought he held his own until he was injured.
From what I saw of Scott, both in person and from watching New England's first few games, I thought he was a below-average pickup, particularly in the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But I'll concede that he could have turned it around if he hadn't gotten injured. I'll say this – he couldn't have been worse than Duane Starks.
You were too kind in your midseason grade for the Detroit Lions. An F was appropriate.
Oak Park, Mich.
You're killing me, man. No way does the Pack deserve an F. Look at their points scored versus their opponent's points scored. They have lost some close games, except the Pittsburgh game. I'm not saying they're in the "passing" grade category, but come on, re-evaluate. Clearly it's a C-minus for the Pack. Speaking of grades, I'd give Philly an F for letting T.O. last that long.
Los Banos, Calif.
I sympathize with Packers fans who are suffering through this season. Along with New England, Pittsburgh and New York Giants fans, you are by far the most loyal to your team when it comes to my mailbag. But you're stretching it with this stuff about Green Bay being "the best 1-7 team ever" and "first 1-7 team in history to score more points than the opposition." All that means is that Green Bay has lost a bunch of close games, and destroyed a crummy New Orleans Saints team for its lone win. There is a bottom line in the NFL, right? Losses are losses. You can use close defeats as a moral victory if you want, but the last time I checked, those don't win you the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
While I agree with you that Green Bay is having a bad year, at least you could have mentioned that the Packers' defense is ranked ninth overall. That doesn't sound like an F to me.
Green Bay's 1-7 defense is ranked ninth overall. F-plus.
I believe that you truly are grading some of these teams too hard! In the salary-cap, here-today-gone-tomorrow age of football, any win these days should count for something. I am a diehard San Francisco 49ers fan, and I realize that they are talent-challenged at every position on the field except linebacker. But with the exception of two games – blowout losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins – San Francisco is one the few teams in the league that consistently gets the most out of the least.
The Chargers' players deserve an A-minus and the team's management – mainly ownership – deserves a non-passing grade. If Antonio Gates had been signed earlier, the Chargers would now be 7-2 and in the hunt.
Darrell S. Markham
San Diego, Calif.
I'm guessing you're blaming the front office, and not ownership. The Gates fiasco lies at the feet of general manager A.J. Smith, not owner Alex Spanos.
As a rabid Atlanta Falcons fan, I have to take umbrage with the B you gave them. In the scope of the NFL, I'd agree they are clearly not in Indy's class as an A. However, the B seems inadequate.
Here is exactly what I said: "The secondary has recorded one interception this season." Note the use of the word "secondary."
It looks like you grade on a curve. A C-minus for the Raiders? I've been a Raider fan all my life (which hasn't been easy for the past 20 years or so), but even I think you give them too much credit. Way too much. Anything above an F is too gracious.
You say Carson Palmer is one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL. Perhaps down the road, Palmer will be better, but now, I'd be more confident with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, Michael Vick, Jake Delhomme and Marc Bulger.
I've seen Palmer in person five times dating back to training camp, not to mention about 80 percent of the snaps he's taken this season during games. And if I were a GM, I'd go with Peyton and Brady and then have to think extremely hard about taking anyone else over Palmer.
How you give the Broncos an A and the Giants a B-plus is beyond me. They have the same record, they faced each other head-to-head, and the Giants won. And you even acknowledged that in your remarks! Rocky Mountain bias if you ask me.
Schedule. The Broncos have more quality wins, and they've played a tougher slate. That – and the fact that New York had to engineer a last-minute drive to beat the Broncos at home – gives Denver the edge.
The Minnesota Vikings get an F! This organization is a complete (mess). When you look back and pine for the days of Denny Green and choking in the playoffs rather than the regular season, you get an F.
You incorrectly state in your midterm grading that Jake "The Snake" Plummer has three interceptions. Jake has not thrown an interception all year and that's been huge. I think somebody messed up the stat sheet, easy error, but my man is perfect this season.
Raed G. Battah
Bowling Green, Ky.
Like your memory, Jake Plummer is not perfect. Three picks. Check the box scores for yourself.
I'd like to take exception with your comments on the Buffalo Bills. "Playoff hopes fizzled?" Sure, they're 3-5 and have five playoff teams in the last eight games, but bringing J.P. Losman back? C'mon now. Did you watch Weeks 2 through 4? The best move for the Bills would be to have some stones, not worry about a first-round pick sitting the bench and show J.P. his seat for the next 24 games. If Kelly Holcomb gets hurt, then J.P. sees the field. No earlier than that.
Sitting Losman for another year and a half? I'd agree, if the Bills were sure they could win with Holcomb. But they aren't, and that means the team is better served working J.P. through his struggles right now.
I don't want to be a smart-aleck, but how can Ronnie Brown, who has 611 yards through eight weeks, be on pace for 1,500 yards? Six touchdowns, I agree. But do you honestly think he's going to get 1500? He's on pace for 1222 yards, not 1500.
Here is exactly what I said: "(Brown) is still on pace for almost 1,500 total yards and six touchdowns." Note the word "total."
FIRST-HALF HONORS ("Midseason Awards," Nov. 9, 2005)
Your pick of Carson Palmer for MVP over LaDainian Tomlinson is terrible. Tomlinson's numbers have been so outstanding that one has to assume that you just wanted to be different.
Ladera Ranch, Calif.
I won't argue with people who like Tomlinson over Palmer. It's a coin flip.
Palmer over L.T.? Are you smoking crack rocks?
While you're at it, list the best and worst offseason trade. Randy Moss has made Oakland VERY competitive while exposing Duante Culpepper as an overrated quarterback.
Kansas City, Mo.
Smith has had a fine season, but he's not the NFL's MVP for the season's first half.
What the heck has Ronnie Brown done this year? Cadillac Williams or Kyle Orton are the only two in consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Orton, maybe. Cadillac? He better get it in gear again soon.
How come Big Ben gets absolutely no MVP consideration whatsoever? Ben Roethlisberger has a higher passer rating than Carson Palmer, a better record, fewer turnovers and less to work with offensively.
Roethlisberger's passer rating and lack of interceptions is skewed by his low number of passing attempts. He's throwing 21.6 times per game to Palmer's 32.5. That's a monumental difference. And the weapons surrounding Palmer are only slightly better.
Wow. Not a single Cowboy considered for an award. Surprisingly, the Cowboys have been able to transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 almost seamlessly. How about considering Anthony Henry as Defensive Player of the Year? He has had a huge impact in the secondary with the Cowboys. Also, maybe DeMarcus Ware should be considered Defensive Rookie of the Year. A 4-3 pass rusher out of college who transitioned to a 3-4 OLB and DE who has made an impact immediately.
We didn't list our runner-ups, so I'm not sure how you could have come up with the idea that "not a single Cowboy" was considered for the midseason awards. In fact, I strongly considered Ware for Defensive Rookie of the Year and Drew Bledsoe for surprise player. As for your suggestion that Henry could be Defensive Player of the Year, well, maybe in fantasy land.
Carson Palmer still has a way to go for MVP. Have you ever heard of Shaun Alexander?
Palmer as first-half MVP? How about L.T.? What has this guy not done? Eli Manning as the most surprising? This guy hasn't exactly knocked the socks off the top competition. How about Jake Plummer? Not the huge stats but he's not turning the ball over and he's controlling his offense. You could even throw Stephen Davis in there too ahead of Eli.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Great email, Jeff. Those are all good choices – especially Plummer.
Fred Smoot as the worst offseason addition? Did you stick him in there so you can take another jab at the already-worn-out Love Boat joke? Yeah, he was brutal against Carolina, but he has not been that bad all year.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
True, Carolina was Smoot's worst moment, but there might be 15 cornerbacks in the NFL playing better right now. That, plus his $10.8 million signing bonus (not to mention the scandals and trash talking) makes him the league's worst offseason addition.
Fred Smoot was a big disappointment, but Duane Starks on New England has to be the worst addition. Do I really have to explain that one? He's been burned for a touchdown bomb just about every game. His name and jersey number must be underlined and in caps on every opponents chalkboard. I don't think anyone is surprised about Eli Manning. You know, Eli of the football Mannings. How about Drew Bledsoe, a guy with one of the greatest throwing arms ever whom people continue to write off because he can't run? Or Mark Brunell, who was supposed to ride the bench all year? Or Joey Galloway, who continues to make sparks with Chris Simms in the pocket. And Steve Smith wins comeback player by a landslide.
A great, thoughtful email. Starks is a big disappointment, but then again, he's not being paid "shutdown" money among cornerbacks.
I was saddened to see that there was no mention of Heath Miller in any of your awards. He has been a great addition to the Steelers and is among the top five tight ends in THE ENTIRE NFL, with the likes of Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzales. And HE'S A ROOKIE! We are looking at a future Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer.
Whoa. You can tell all that after a half-season?