Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Football 2013-14 Wrap Up: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Offenses got the headlines in 2013, but No. 1 defenses in Seattle and Tallahassee brought home the hardware.

By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Well, we've reached the end. Here is our final installment Good, Bad and Ugly, recapping the entirety of the 2013-2014 pro/college football season. Enjoy!

The Good

Offensive Innovators Excite

Three supposed "offensive gurus" lived up to their titles this year, as Chip Kelly and Andy Reid turned conference bottom dwellers into NFL playoff teams, while Gus Malzahn took Auburn from three wins to within three points of a national championship.

Most will point to Malzahn's no-huddle with spread option and inverted veer principles, or Chip Kelly's similarly up-tempo zone read, bubble screen extravaganza as the true innovations of this season, but I think that's selling Reid a little short.

The old West Coast offense guru unleashed Jamaal Charles, had Alex Smith playing like a franchise quarterback by year's end, and took the Chiefs from dead last in the league in points scored to seventh. Reid understands the relationship between the passing game and the running game as well as anyone, and he helped the Chiefs find the perfect balance for their personnel. After being run out of Philly in favor of Kelly, the old man still had a few tricks up his sleeve.


But Defense Wins Championships

But hey, as the old cliche goes, defense wins championships. With the way this year went, after Kelly and Malzahn's success, along with the historic run of Peyton Manning in Denver, many thought offense was taking over. Well, it certainly is an offensive minded game now, but both Florida State (Best scoring D in the country at  12.1 PPG) and Seattle (Best scoring D in the NFL at 14.4 PPG) proved that smothering defenses still have a place in the modern game.

That place being the top.

Seattle's defense choked the life out of Peyton Manning, as we discussed here and here, while Florida State was able to overcome a slow start by its offense and hold Auburn to just 31 points (The Tigers averaged 45 points during their 9-game winning streak). Heck, Michigan State may have had the best defense in college football (Allowed a national low 4 yards per play), and they did us all a favor by beating Ohio State, then scored a huge win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

Yes, offense is king right now, but all those people that say nobody plays defense anymore and that the game has gotten soft need to look at the best teams at each level. Seattle, San Francisco, Carolina, Florida State and Michigan State all got where they are playing great defense.


New Faces, Emerging Faces

There were a lot of guys who put together some great seasons who nobody really saw coming.

Julius Thomas and Julian Edleman shined bright for top-five offenses. Knowshon Moreno had his finest season as a pro after pre-season rumblings that he wouldn't even start over rookie Montee Ball. Ryan Mathews also had his best season after the Chargers brought in Danny Woodhead.

Eddy Lacy, LeVeon Bell, Zac Stacy, Giovani Bernard, and Andre Ellington all showed flashes of potential towards being feature backs, highly valuable rotation backs, or at the very least, names to remember for next year's fantasy drafts.

Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Pierre Garcon, Torrey Smith, T.Y. Hilton, Kendall Wright, Julian Edelman, Keenan Allen, Michael Floyd, and Brian Hartline each eclipsed 1000 receiving yards for the first time in their careers. Gordon, Jeffery, Allen, and Floyd each planted the seeds for future All-Pro seasons. 

Robert Quinn, Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette, Chandler Jones, Olivier Vernon, Jason Hatcher, Jurrell Casey, Muhammad Wilkerson, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, and Calvin Pace all had double-digit sacks for the first time this season. Some, like Hatcher, Williams, and Pace, finally got recognition after a long, productive career that lacked one standout season. Others like Quinn, the New Orleans pair (Jordan and Galette), Jones, and Wilkerson established themselves as legitimate stars that demand double-teams at all times.

After years of Patrick Willis holding the title of "best linebacker in football," guys like San Francisco teammate NoVorro Bowman, Carolina's Luke Kuechly, and Tampa Bay's Lavonte David (All three making first-team All-Pro this season) threw their hat in the ring after Willis was slowed by injury.


The Bad

Eli and Joe

Man, how a year can change things. This time last year we were debating the merits of Joe Flacco's "elite-ness" after the Baltimore quarterback won his first Super Bowl. Then, because we're crazy, some people were all like, "well, Eli has two rings. I mean, that's more than Peyton. He must be elite too, right?"

Thank goodness reality set back in this year, as Eli led the league in interceptions with an astounding 27! Flacco wasn't far behind in second place with 22, meaning that these two supposedly "elite" quarterbacks combined for 49 picks as their teams went a combined 15-17. That's statistical suckitude, and not #winning.

Really, when you consider just how bad these two were, it's amazing their teams were anywhere near .500. Let that be a reminder that there are more people on the field than just the QBs on each side.

I mean, come on, Ben Roethlisberger has been statistically better than both these guys for the last five years and has two rings, yet nobody is calling him elite. Pump the breaks on Joe and Eli guys.


BCS Favorites

Before the BCS National Championship Game, we had four BCS bowls, and underdogs won all four of them.

Now, this can be seen as a triumph of ingenuity and grit, as the underdogs used the extra bowl practices and preparation time to prepare something special for their supposedly superior opponents. But really, it speaks to everything wrong with the bowl system in general.

If you're not playing for the national championship, that bowl game pretty much means nothing. Yeah, as fans you want your team to win, and you usually pull for your conference, but the schools have already gotten their big pay days, the players have gotten their free swag, and they have already either won or lost their big rivalry games.

What does playing a team they have nothing to do with add or take away from the season?

Well, for a powerhouse program like Alabama, who was pissed to be in the Sugar Bowl, not a lot. Perhaps that explains why the Tide was sleep walking through a humiliating loss to Oklahoma. Baylor looked flat in the Fiesta Bowl against a clearly motivated UCF team, and the other two games were just, well, good games with only slight favorites.

I think most people could have seen Clemson over Ohio State and Michigan State over Stanford coming, but the Bama and Baylor losses just showed that the kids on both those teams really didn't care, while a young Oklahoma team and a slept on UCF team were out to make a statement.



Yes, Denver went 13-3 and posted the second-best SRS and DVOA scores in the league, but they were the only AFC team worth it's salt. After Seattle (first) and Denver (second), the next four teams in SRS rankings all come from the NFC: San Francisco, Carolina, New Orleans, and (surprise) Arizona. The AFC also had the league's worst team (Jacksonville), and while the NFC had the second-worst (Washington), the AFC brought up the rear with the next three after that: Oakland, Cleveland, and Houston. The NFC had two 4-12 teams (Atlanta at -2.8 and Tampa Bay and -2.7) with superior SRS scores than two 8-8 AFC teams (Baltimore at -3.5 and the Jets at -6.1). If you remove Denver from the equation, the AFC had a cumulative SRS score of -26.8 (an average of -1.8).

I went into the season with an "NFC over AFC" theory that I ditched four weeks into the season after the AFC started winning head-to-head over the NFC. I acted to soon - the NFC finished 34-30 against the AFC despite starting the season 3-11. So from Week 5 through Week 16 (Week 17 has no non-conference games), the NFC went 31-19 against the AFC. I should have stuck to my guns.


The Ugly

Tebow Rally in Jacksonville

For all the talk of Tebow's ability to put butts in the seats in Jacksonville, the "Bring Tebow to Town" rally was one of the saddest things we saw all year. Poor Jags fans.

Seriously, why not?

Gators Implode

Speaking of Florida and Tebow, his alma mater didn't exactly have a great year either. The Gators began the season 4-1, and were only a turnover-fest against Miami away from being undefeated.

A national title was pretty much out of the picture, but Gator fans still had an SEC East title in the front of their minds.

Then came a trip to LSU where the offense mustered just six points, followed by a trip to Missouri where the supposedly great defense gave up 36. A close loss to Georgia in Jacksonville hurt, but at least restored faith that this team had some fight in it, but a 17-point loss to Vanderbilt (A team that hadn't won in the Swamp since WWII) on homecoming ended all those good vibes.

A loss to South Carolina meant the Gators would need to beat No. 1 Florida State to get to a bowl game. But wait, uh, they still had that game against Georgia Southern. Oh crap, you mean an FCS team ran roughshod over the Gators in the Swamp and ended their bowl hopes?

I guess that made the 30-point loss to rival FSU the next week less painful in comparison, right?


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