Have you ever played draw poker? The current rage in the poker world of course is for Texas Hold'em. It's an awesome game, and yes as the players state, it is a game of skill and not just random chance. Draw poker though, is much more subtle and will test a players ability to chart his opponents. Very subtle movements (called tells) are often made by players without their knowledge. The astute player will observe his opponents and make note of (or chart) his opponent and by so doing be able to predict (with better than random accuracy) what he will do. Could one apply this technique to the NFL and find success? Read on if you love the sound of poker chips clicking and the feel of green felt under your fingers...
The title of this post came to mind because of the Trips part. Often times, in a home game, limits are set on draw poker games to give players the basis of where they are starting. It puts all the participants of a particular pot on the same footing when the hand begins. Normally this is embodied by the "Jacks or better" requirement. If you do not have a pair of Jacks or better in your originally dealt hand, you are not allowed to make the opening bet. This lets the other players know that the player that opened the betting for that hand has at least a pair of Jacks. Trips to win means that the lowest hand you can win the pot with is 3 of a kind. This ensures that the opener MUST improve his hand from that opening pair in order to win the hand. This is important because lesser pairs may decide to call the bet and stay in the pot in hopes of improving their hand and thus make the pot bigger.
The fact that some of the players must reveal small amounts of information about their hands makes draw poker a very fun entertainment for those who like to observe subtleties and use that information to solve mysteries. The type of critical thinking involved in mastering draw poker is the same type of thinking that goes into trying to predict the future in terms of which NFL team among the group will out perform the others and why. Observing the subtle moves made by teams and predicting how they will play given those changes is the basis for fantasy football. Getting it right often wins one the championship. Getting it kind of right puts you in the mix. If you swing and miss, well, there's always next year.
Trips to win...In football, when you line up three receivers on one side of the line it's called Trips. Trips right or trips left. Trips in the NFL (actually, we'll define trips as the receivers available but most likely to play) will often make the same kind of impact on where a team finishes as those predictions in fantasy football. I got to thinking about those trips in relation to the AFC west. Whose receivers are best? Arguments can be made for many different combinations but what good are they without the signal caller's ability? Receivers are half the equation but the QB is the other half. Looking at the four sets of receivers combined with their respective QBs and predicting success (or failure) based on those combinations...now that is a deed full of subtleties to be sure.
I am sure that some fans will want to also include discussion on the offensive lines whose responsibility it is to keep those signal callers from eating dirt on third downs. A dissertation of the quality of the offensive lines of these four teams would be beyond the scope of the original intent here which is to compare QBs and their receivers. If you want to start that convo in the comments section, fire away!!
Let's start off with that wonderfully silver and bleak example of the Chokeland Faiders, er Oakland Raiders.
Ouch!! That hurts to look at! Welcome to the jungle. A lion nearly chomped your leg off! Carson doesn't look very successful right here, but if we take a look at his stats, you may draw a different opinion.
As you can see, he completes 62.7% of his passes over his eight years in the league. In the five seasons that he played all 16 games, he averaged 26.6 TDs per season. That is pretty decent. He spent his most productive seasons throwing the ball to Ocho Stinko (who just recently signed with Miami in case you missed it) and TJ Who'surmama. In addition they had Rudi Johnson in the backfield and Reggie Kelly as TE. Johnson ran for 2767 yards in their best two years of '05 and '06. I think it's fair to say that having a 1400 yard back certainly helped out the throwing game. In their best two seasons, that team scored nearly 25 pts per game.
Now comes the question, is Carson set up in Oakland to repeat this kind of success? Let's see who he's got to help him.
In the backfield the Raiders still have Darren McFadden. The question is, can McFadden stay healthy long enough to play an entire season? So far he has not. He did finally start 7 games last year and averaged about 88 yards a contest in doing it. If he goes down to injury again, the backfield becomes mighty suspect. If he is actually healthy and keeps that average, he hits that 1400 yards that 'ol Rudi did for the Bengals back in '05 and '06.
Wideouts for the Raiders include Denarius Moore, Darius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy. The Raiders don't have much in the way of receiving TEs so I left them out of the equation. All of these guys tend to get hurt and miss games. DHB was recently arrested for DUI and how this will affect his playing time this season is still unclear. They all are/have been highly touted but so far their potential is unrealized. Is this powder keg ready to blow, or will they once again find themselves struggling to win 8 games?
I believe that Palmer makes them instantly better and the fact that there are several to choose from gives him more than one choice to build a rapport with. These receivers are fast and tough in different amounts, but I can see them come alive with a proven commodity throwing them the rock. Consider their mindset. All of them have been pointed out as players that should make something of their careers. So far, we have only seen flashes of that potential. I believe that's largely because they didn't have a good QB (that and having been injured too frequently). They finally found that veteran signal caller that can make a difference, and now they've got an off season to get to know each other and practice together. If they have anything at all in the tank, they are going to play hard. If they all hit their stride on the same day? Look out.
Al's gone, Hue's gone and things are changing in Oakland. This team could go a long way. They certainly have enough under the hood to challenge our Chiefs. Even with that blanking in Oakland last year, they came into Arrowhead at the end of the season and pulled out a win. Given the rivalry that exists between these teams, it won't be difficult for these games to be hard fought and hard to figure. Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer were college roomates. If that don't spell rivals I don't know what does. Carson has eight years in the league and a fresh start. I know he feels like he has to prove himself every day. Figuring anything more that splitting the series with these guys at this point is just a bit too homerish for this fan.
Next comes Phyllis, er, Phillip Rivers. He's pictured here telling Ryan Mathews that he put creamegesic in Antonio Gate's jock strap. Phyllis, Phyllis, Phyllis, always clowning. Just like last year on MNF, when you had such a bad hair day and wore the wrong cleats...Sorry, I digress. Here's Phil's numbers:
Would you agree that Phyllis is a touch better in his 8 years than Carson? I thought you might. Here's a guy that averaged 27 TD passes a year since he became the starter. That includes last year when I am pretty certain he was playing hurt. He's always had a throwing motion that looks like a girl (hence I call him Phyllis) but last year it was pronounced. I think he was hurt and his accuracy was poor due to that. If he comes back full strength this season, he will be the same old fly in the ointment we have come to expect in SD.
Who are his trips? Let's take a look.
This is Antonio Gates. If you know who he is, then he needs no explanation. If you don't know who he is and your a Chiefs fan that doesn't get out much, just think Tony Gonzales in powder blue, only faster (much faster). This guy is a play maker and it is his pleasure to give Chiefs defenses fits. 'Nuff said.
Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown will return to the Charges this season. Both are just like those Raiders receivers we talked about--full of potential. Floyd being the veteran and Brown the up and coming NFL sophomore with lots of promise. With the abdication of the throne by Vincent Jackson, Floyd becomes the only other 'familiar' target that Rivers has. Just not the 'only' other target.
That's right sports fans, San Diego has been busy this off season searching for and signing receivers galore to give 'ol Phyllis plenty of places to throw the ball to. They went out and got this guy
and this guy
To help out. Eddie Royal and Robert Meachum. Now here are two brand new toys that can make plays for Phyllis to play with. Meachum comes to town having been the beneficiary of receiving passes from Drew Brees for the last few seasons (another QB that has worn the powder blues--that color is a bane to the Chiefs and should be banned from the league dammit!) so he should be quite used to seeing the ball coming his way. Royal has had his moments (mostly when Cutler was his signal caller) but don't you think that Phyllis makes him instantly better as well? Throw in Ryan Mathews at RB (who incidently, is heading into his third season in the NFL--often looked at as the 'break out' season for players) who is very good at catching passes out of the backfield, and Roscoe Parrish who they picked up from Buffalo as a part time receiver/mostly dangerous return guy and this team looks down right hard to beat (at least on paper). Maybe this is where the discussion will turn to offensive lines being offensive?
Given all this, you'd think that the Bolts were the odds on favorite to win the West this year, right? Wrong. At least it is if Mr. Football has anything to say about it.
All right, who among you actually believed we would ever have both of these guys going against us in our own division? Not to mention Carson Palmer? Against all that's holy and an Indianapolis Curse protecting him from loss against the Chiefs, Manning became a Donkey this off season. My nephews live in Denver and when they found out that Manning was going to the Broncos, you know what they said?
Yes little brother, it is. It really only makes sense that if you are going to change teams you go from being a Colt to a Bronco, right? I mean, once you get used to seeing horse face, you NEED to see horse face to feel at home, don't you? Talk about giving Romeo fits during game planning sessions. Romeo has quite a history against Mr. Football, all of which is pretty solid. What worries me is what happened to him when he was with the Browns and had no offense. Here is the story of Romeo vs. Mr. Football.
Just in case you live on Jupiter and don't know him, I have included his numbers like the other two.
Just for purposes of comparison, in thirteen seasons that he has played in the NFL, Peyton has averaged 30.7 TDs per year, topping Phyllis by nearly 4 TDs a season. He's done it with a spectrum of Wide outs that go from ok to fabulous (or was that because of Mr. Football?). We are going to find out soon.
Denver too has been busy, trying to set their newly acquired HOF QB up for success. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are returning third year receivers (here we go with this break out stuff again) who, just like the recievers for Raiders and the Bolts, are expected to be very good but as yet have not had All Pro seasons. Do you suppose Mr. Football might have a hand in improving their careers? In addition, here in Denver we have a wild card. Mr. Football walks into a situation with a wide out that he knows quite well--Brandon Stokley. Stokley just happened to spend four years in Indianapolis catching passes from Peyton, one of which won him a Super Bowl ring. BTW, Stokley has TWO SB rings. He won another with the Ravens before coming to the Colts. You think having a familiar face will help Mr. Football transition? Hey, it can't hurt.
Peyton will also benefit from a back field that includes Knowshown Moreno and newly acquired Willis McGahee. Both are capable of 1000 yard seasons if they stay healthy. Then, just to add some icing to the cake, the Broncos picked up Andre Caldwell from Cincinnatti in a similar role to what the Chargers will do with Roscoe Parrish.
All in all, if that Chicken bone they soldiered into Mr. Football's neck holds up, he should be in a position to make some noise in Denver.
Matt Cassel. Here's Matty's numbers.
Hmmm...2008 Looks pretty good albeit a bit light on yards and TDs but he did get 10 wins running an offense that was rife with talented receivers. Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Ben Watson as TE makes a pretty good combination. Do the Chiefs have this potential? Sure they do. Can they put this kind of a season together? Can they hang with these other offenses we just looked at and have a chance at the AFC west? Unknown.
The obstacles they must overcome are many.
Will Dwayne Bowe hold out or will he be in camp? Given the quality of our counterparts in the division in regards to receivers, we'd better hope so. Bowe is the only legitimate star Wide out on our Roster. At this point Baldwin, Breaston and Wylie (maybe Horne) are all the potential guys. They don't have a Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning or even a Carson Palmer to make them better than they are. I believe that Matt Cassel has it in him but he certainly cannot boast stats to prove it--yet. If the Chiefs are to succeed this season, those guys are going to need to play like All Pros. They are going to have to make plays. No excuses. Once you see Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi on the field, you can pretty much cue the fat lady.
Given that the Chiefs have decided to change Offensive Coordinator for the fourth time in as many seasons, how likely is it that they will all be on the same page enough to overcome their lack of time as a cohesive unit? Unknown. We do, however, know that the new OC has struggled in his three years in the NFL and now he's starting over again. It just doesn't look promising. The only part that could be promising is Jamal Charles. If he is healthy, he could give this offense that 1400 yard back that it needs to be competitive. If Hillis stays healthy, he could complement Charles as well. Seems like a lot of ifs though.
The bright spot? Romeo is going to continue to call the plays on defense. This defense has the potential to be every bit as good as those defenses that Marty put on the field some 20+ years ago now. Our D can and should wreak havoc with opposing offenses. The question is, will it be enough? If this offense stumbles and cannot score the answer is no. I believe that what you will see on the field this fall will be Martyball 4.0. If the Chiefs succeed this year, it will be because of the defense. That much is certain. Romeo is one of the best DCs to ever coach in this league and he knows how to get it done. The problem with that is remembering Marty's record in the playoffs. One and done just don't cut it any more.
It would appear that in the AFC west the battle lines have been drawn. Three teams have decided to go with veteran Field Generals in an effort to outscore their opponents on any given Sunday. Kansas City will try to counter with a Defense that is hoping to gain a name as the modern reincarnation of the Orange Crush, or Steel Curtain or Doomsday defense. I believe that they could actually be that good. Unfortunately, unless Dabol catches lightning in a bottle, it could all be for naught.
Remember that draw poker game I was talking about at the beginning of this article? The Chiefs are definitely on a draw to play in this pot. What do we need to draw to have a chance? We need to stay healty, win the turnover battle (a good defense helps make that happen), and hope against hope that Bowe gets paid. That's the trips that the Chiefs are trying to draw and those cards will give us a shot at making a winning hand in 2012.