Who takes over after Brady?

I hate to break it to you Patriots fans, but Tom Brady can’t play forever. The legendary New England quarterback is in his 16th year in the league, and while he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, at age 39, you have to think he will be looking to hang up those cleats in the next 2-3 years.

Tom_Brady
Brady surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 200 career wins this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

With Brady being the undisputed (or as close as you can ever get to undisputed in sports) best quarterback in the league, his eventual retirement will open the door for someone else to take that crown.

Brady represents the end of a very dominant era, where he and Peyton Manning rewrote the record books practically every year. They squared off in some of the most memorable games of the last decade and consistently drew in viewers whenever the two matched up. Manning is already gone and with Brady set to follow in the near future, who exactly will step up to fill the void.

It is kind of hard to say. The iconic 2004 draft class of quarterbacks featuring Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers likely still have a few more years in them. However, Rivers turned 35 today, Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and Eli Manning turns 36 in January. That group likely won’t be around for a whole lot longer to constitute an era or start an awe-inspiring rivalry. Most of their time in the league will be remembered as part of the legendary Brady-Peyton era.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has an MVP award and a Super Bowl ring to his name since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

You next look to Aaron Rodgers, who joined the league in 2005. Rodgers just turned 33 last week, so he might be able to hang around a little longer than the three I just mentioned. However, he might have already started showing signs of slowing down with his rocky start to 2016. I could see Rodgers having a three-year run as the unquestioned top signal-caller. He might be the best-suited to succeed Brady in the short term. Keep in mind that even though this is his 12th NFL season, Rodgers did not start his first three years in the league, so he might have a bit more left in the tank than we think.

After Rodgers, well I’m kind of stuck. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but approaching 38, I’m not expecting him to take over. Carson Palmer is on his way out as well. As will Alex Smith.

There is an interesting crop of three quarterbacks that offer some intrigue. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton all bring a lot to the table. All three of them are 28 years old or younger, all three are rather mobile and all three have the ability to take over a football game.

The major knocks against Newton are his ball security and his completion percentage. For his career, Newton sits at around 59 percent through almost 6 seasons. While he may be a huge asset with his legs, he is prone to fumbling and trying to do too much with the ball, often leading to mistakes. Another big red flag is that despite tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015, it is the only season he has thrown more than 25 scores. This year, he has just 14 through 12 games. Those numbers don’t exactly scream elite.

Luck was named the heir apparent to the NFL quarterback throne around his junior year of college. He started with two solid campaigns, followed by an outstanding 2014, only to fall into a weird funk for the last year and a half. 2015 was a lost season for Luck as he only played 7 games and likely played all of them hurt. The big knock against him has to be his lackluster completion percentage, which is only fractionally better than Newton’s. He also has a tendency for interceptions, with 63 picks in 66 career games. Part of that is due to the amount of pressure he faces. Luck is the most sacked quarterback in the league despite missing a game already this year. Luck is actually trending up after the last few weeks we’ve seen him play. Even though he has a poor supporting cast, Luck has failed to live up to Manning-sized expectations laid on him back in 2012.

Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy
Wilson has already played in two Super Bowls, winning one. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is Wilson. He already has a Super Bowl ring. Point all you want to a great run game and defense, but that’s a good chunk of why Brady got his first three rings. Of these three, he seems the most poised to take the throne. Wilson has only 39 interceptions in 72 career games. He is closing in on his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his career completion percentage is around 65 percent. However, when Wilson is off, he is really off. In Seattle’s three losses this year, he has thrown zero touchdowns, three picks and has a yards per attempt average under 6.5. If I had to pick someone long term when it comes to taking up the quarterback mantel, it would be Wilson. He already has that championship background and I could see him getting more.

And he might just have a West Coast rival to deal with as well. There are a number of intriguing young quaterbacks in the league right now in Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Long term, we might see a really fun rivalry between Prescott and Wentz, both being in the NFC East. However, there is one young quarterback that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Derek Carr
Carr was the fourth quarterback in the 2014 draft, but looks to be the best one selected that year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Derek Carr is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. At only 25 years old, Carr has been lighting up NFL defenses all year long. He launched 32 touchdown passes a year ago, in just his second NFL season and threw for just shy of 4,000 yards. This year though, Carr is set to break that 4,000-yard mark and throw for close to 32 touchdowns again. What is more impressive though is the increased completion percentage and absence of turnovers. The young Raiders quarterback has only thrown five interceptions this year and raised his completion percentage four plus points to a healthy 65.5 percent. This is just one year for Carr, but based on the jump he has made in each of his first two seasons, I am beginning to think that this kid is for real.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Ryan in this conversation. Ryan is in the midst of a career year at age 31. He is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt as well as set a personal best for fewest interceptions thrown. If Carr is considered an MVP candidate, Ryan certainly has to be in the mix. He currently sits second in passing yards and passer rating, third in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and leads the league in yards per attempt. Given that he has a host of offensive weapons and a young offensive line, Ryan is set to play at a high level for the next several years. The tough thing is figuring out if 2016 is an anomaly based on his normal level of play or a sign of things to come. Also, if Brady hangs on for three more years, Ryan will already be 34 himself and running out of time to capture the league’s attention.

The world without Brady is kind of hazy and there is no telling if we will ever see the type of rivalry we saw between he and Manning. The league seems to be running out of elite quarterbacks, but we will have to wait and see who steps up to the plate in the next few years.

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2016 NFL Power Rankings: Week 14

Cowboys logo1. Dallas Cowboys (Last week: 1)
How bout them Cowboys? Dallas became the first team to clinch a playoff berth for 2016 edging out the Vikings on Thursday night. Minnesota has clearly been slumping but it was a very solid performance from the defense.

Patriots Logo2. New England Patriots (Last week: 2)
The Pats got another solid win at home, but with the news that Rob Gronkowski is out the rest of the season, New England has considerably less hype surrounding then they did a week ago. Trust Belichick and Brady to keep this group moving along, but it is certainly a blow to their Super Bowl chances.

Raiders logo3. Oakland Raiders (Last week: 3)
Oakland is the surprise story of the AFC this season. (I would say NFL, but the Cowboys.) Derek Carr is in the MVP conversation and this defense is finding it’s groove. Jack Del Rio is definitely headlining Coach of the Year discussions.

Chiefs Logo4. Kansas City Chiefs (Last week: 4)
Someone tell Eric Berry to stop being so mean to Matt Ryan. The Chiefs’ safety bailed Kansas City out with a pick-6 and a pick-2 to seal a win. Next up is a visit from Oakland on Thursday to decide control of the AFC West and maybe the AFC.

Pittsburgh_Steelers logo5. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last week: 7)
No one cares if it’s unorthodox if it results in a win. Pittsburgh has won three straight and has a chance to control their own destiny with three divisional games still on the slate. The Ravens lead the division right now, but the Steelers possess more firepower to get it done.

Falcons logo6. Atlanta Falcons (Last week: 5)
Brutally tough loss for Atlanta sees them only move down one spot. The Falcons moved the ball very consistently against one of the best defensive units in the league. If they clean up the mistakes, they should close out the NFC South.

Seahawks logo7. Seattle Seahawks (Last week: 8)
Will the real Seahawks offense please stand up? Seattle came off a total dud against Tampa to blow out Carolina 40-7 on Sunday Night Football. Thomas Rawls looks healthy, but Earl Thomas is likely done for the year. Seattle remains a bit of unknown as the playoffs approach.

Ravens logo8. Baltimore Ravens (Last week: 10)
Where did that come from? After failing to score 20 points in their last two games, Baltimore drubbed Miami 38-6. The division race is tight, but the Ravens are still in the driver seat.

Lions Logo

9. Detroit Lions (Last week: 12)
Matt Stafford torched the Saints’ defense to earn the Lions a fourth straight win. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not a fan of Stafford, but I have to acknowledge when he does well. Detroit has a tough final four games standing between them an a division title.

Denver_Broncos10. Denver Broncos (Last week: 6)
This might seem strange to see the Broncos drop four spots after a win. Denver outlasted Jacksonville in a defensive struggle, but Paxton Lynch continued to struggle. If Trevor Siemian is unable to play at points down the stretch, the Broncos will be in trouble against a legitimate contender.

Buccaneers logo11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last week: 15)
Luppino is ready to talk playoffs. The Bucs are the possessors of the final wildcard spot in the NFC after this weekend. An interesting final four games against Carolina, Dallas and New Orleans twice allow Tampa to control their own destiny with wins.

Packers logo12. Green Bay Packers (Last week: 13)
Don’t look now, but the Packers have won back-to-back games in commanding fashion. Even if it was the Eagles and Texans, these were two games that the Pack needed to win to keep playoff hopes alive. They are only a game back of the Buccaneers for the final wildcard spot, and a tough final stretch for Detroit means that the division is not out of reach.

Giants Logo13. New York Giants (Last week: 11)
The Giants were thoroughly outplayed Sunday against the Steelers. The defense held its own for the most part, but the offense struggled and continued to give New York headaches. The running game is non-existent and Eli Manning is struggling to win games for this team. Don’t be surprised if the Giants collapse to miss the postseason.

Washington made up logo14. Washington (Last week: 14)
That was a tough loss for Washington. They got dealt a bad hand, playing on the road in Arizona against a team desperate for a victory. Playoff hopes are still alive, but dwindling.

Dolphins logo15. Miami Dolphins (Last week: 9)
Well back to reality. The Dolphins’ six-game win streak came to an end in Baltimore in disappointing fashion. Miami allowed 38 points and now that win streak looks rather flimsy when you consider the only win against a team with a winning-record was Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)16. Arizona Cardinals (Last week: 21)
Don’t get your hopes up quite yet. Arizona got a big win against Washington, but a playoff run is highly unlikely here. Four straight wins would push Arizona to 9-6-1. The Cardinals would need to knock off New Orleans, Seattle and Los Angeles, plus get some help from elsewhere.

Vikings logo17. Minnesota Vikings (Last week: 16)
The roller coaster ride that is the 2016 Minnesota Vikings continued in Dallas with a tough two-point loss to the NFC leaders. Mike Zimmer should be back after having eye surgery, but playoff hopes are quickly slipping through Minnesota’s fingers.

Bills logo18. Buffalo Bills (Last week: 17)
Buffalo gave Oakland a run for its money in the first half. Unfortunately, the offense stagnated and the defense fell apart. The Bills still have an outside shot at the playoffs coupled with an easy final four games. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and the Jets all represent winnable games for Rex Ryan’s crew.

Saints logo19. New Orleans Saints (Last week: 18)
Not what New Orleans expected for sure. Drew Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass. The running back committee failed to do much. The defense is a joke. The Saints have a lot of offseason concerns to address.

Chargers logo20. San Diego Chargers (Last week: 19)
2016 will be remembered as a season of what ifs for San Diego. They will look to turn the page in their franchise history with a move to LA next summer. If this team is healthy next year, the AFC West might be the best division ever.

Colts logo21. Indianapolis Colts (Last week: 24)
Say what you want about how week the AFC South is, but the Colts are right in this thing. Indy blew out the Jets, which isn’t much, but it was a good confidence booster going into a slate of divisional games down the stretch. Oh and Dwayne Allen seems to be back.

Texans logo22. Houston Texans (Last week: 2o)
Another deflating loss for Houston. This team has needed a quality win all season, and continually fail to get it. They still hold a lead in the AFC South, but Tennessee and Indy are right on their heels.

Titans logo23. Tennessee Titans (Last week: 23)
The week off sees Houston lose, giving the Titans’ playoff hopes a little boost. Tennessee has a chance to knock off an AFC elite team in the next two weeks in either Denver or Kansas City to show they mean business this year.

Eagles Logo24. Philadelphia Eagles (Last week: 22)
Remember when the Eagles were 3-0 and the hottest team in football. Carson Wentz doesn’t. The rookie quarterback only threw one interception in his first five games. In his last seven, he has tossed ten passes to the other team. This is a Philly team in transition, but the second half of this season has still been a disappointment so far.

Bengals Logo25. Cincinnati Bengals (Last week: 26)
The Bengals showed a flash of their 2015 form, where they made the playoffs and won the AFC North. A dominant performance against Philly doesn’t really mean very much right now after the season they’ve had. Mark my words, this team will be back in 2017 ready to compete for a playoff spot.

Panthers logo26. Carolina Panthers (Last week: 25)
Carolina is apparently still hungover after losing the Super Bowl. Cam Newton looks pedestrian compared to the MVP version we saw last year. The defense is banged up and it is time for the Panthers to start thinking about next season.

Bears logo27. Chicago Bears (Last week: 27)
There is some promise brewing in Chicago. Jordan Howard looks like the real deal. Cameron Meredith is turning into a solid receiver. The defense is coming together. Yes it was a win over the 49ers, but any step in the right direction is a good one.

Rams logo28. Los Angeles Rams (Last week: 28)
Somehow, Jeff Fisher received a contract extension. Expect the Rams to be bad for the next two years and for Jared Goff to continue to struggle in an offense that lacks talent. Also if someone finds 2015 Todd Gurley, please let me know. My fantasy team could use him.

Jets logo29. New York Jets (Last week: 29)
Well, at least they took the field? The Jets got absolutely demolished on Monday night football. The bright side? Bryce Petty will start the last four games so the organization can see if they have their future quarterback on the roster. That’s as close to a bright side the Jets can get.

Jaguars logo30. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last week: 30)
They hung in their with Denver, but it was another disappointing loss for Jacksonville. Gus Bradley should probably start packing his desk. Blake Bortles continues to look lost and has yet to cut down on the turnovers. This is a young team, but the results have been disappointing.

49ers Logo31. San Francisco 49ers (Last week: 31)
If I’m a betting man, I’d say that San Francisco makes a move to draft a quarterback in the first round in April. Colin Kaepernick was beyond pathetic. Blaine Gabbert wasn’t much better. This team has no one to turn to right now. Chip Kelly should probably just head back to Oregon.

Browns logo32. Cleveland Browns (Last week: 32)
The Browns didn’t lose for the first time this season. They also didn’t play, but you have to take what you can get. Reports point toward Robert Griffin III playing in Week 14 against Cincinatti. This might be Cleveland’s best chance to win in 2016 at home against their division rival. If not, it looks like 0-16 for the Browns.

The Forgotten Playoffs: MLS

We are in the playoff push for the NFL season. The NBA season tipped off and NHL season is well underway. One of the most watched World Series ever wrapped up with the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year curse, the longest drought in American sports history.

sebastian-giovinco
Sebastian Giovinco could deliver Toronto a league title for a franchise that had never won a playoff game before this year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Somewhere in all of that, the MLS playoffs kicked off. Now, the MLS is not quite on par with the core four of American sports, but the last few years have pushed the top American soccer league into the national focus. The last several years have been solid years of growth in terms of league money and fans.

If anything, this year had the makings of a big year for the MLS playoffs. It features several big market teams, think New York, LA, Seattle, Dallas and D.C., a team searching for its first ever playoff win in Toronto, all three MVP candidates between the two New York squads and the return of the most-accomplished MLS player ever in Landon Donovan.

Yet all of that very easily fell by the wayside when the rest of the sports world exploded. Factor in the most ridiculous presidential election possibly ever and the MLS playoffs have been largely forgotten.

Now it is easy to write this off as just Americans don’t care about soccer, but that isn’t really a fair assumption. MLSSoccer.com reported in July that viewership was up across all ESPN platforms, specifically 32 percent on television and 127 percent via the WatchESPN app.

More fans are showing up to the stadiums as well. Total gate numbers increased by about more than 100 fans per game across the league. That might not sound like much, but that’s an extra 34,000 tickets sold this year. According to Soccer Stadium Digest, roughly 7.38 million fans turned out for MLS games this year.

Jordan Morris, Jeff Hendrick
Jordan Morris (left) scored the decisive goal in the Western Conference Final for Seattle. (Wikimedia Commons)

The stage is set for a massive final tonight, between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC. It is the first time that either team has even reached the MLS Final, so we are guaranteed to have a new champion this year.

The stage is set for an impressive final, yet it is unlikely that people will be watching. At least not in the United States. Canadian television ratings were smashed consistently during the Eastern Conference playoffs. Toronto matched up with Montreal for the first all-Canadian conference final ever.

As I mentioned before, the league holds its playoffs at a time that competes with the NFL, college football, college basketball, the NBA, NHL and the World Series. It is to imagine that soccer is going to break through all of that to make an impression or garner fans’ attention.

Once again, the league needs to start considering a shift in the season. If the MLS Final were to happen some time in September or June, there is a very good chance that it would merit more coverage. There would also be a lot less to compete with. Obviously, the league does not want to admit that soccer is not popular enough to stand out in the States, but that’s the reality right now.

Soccer is slowly growing the U.S., but the long-term success of MLS will rely on a breakthrough in television viewership.

Geno Can’t Catch a Break

It is no secret that I am Jets fan. In that position, I’ve watched Geno Smith in the Jets organization since his first day. I didn’t like the pick when he was selected in the second round. Smith was part of one of the worst quarterback drafts of all-time. To name a few, E.J. Manuel, Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones and Mike Glennon were the more notable players selected.

Geno Smith
Smith has thrown 28 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. (Wikimedia Commons)

Smith got off to a solid start in 2013, he got the starting job after Mark Sanchez went down with a major shoulder injury in the preseason. New York alternated wins and losses through their first nine games. Losing three in a row knocked them out of the playoff conversation, but winning three of their final four got the Jets to 8-8 under Smith as a rookie. It was not a great statistical year from him, but it was a starting point.

2014 ended up being a nightmare. The Jets ended up 4-12, Smith only played in 14 games. He cut down on interceptions and improved his completion percentage, but he only threw 13 touchdowns in 14 games played. Rex Ryan was fired at the end of the year, as was general manager John Idzik. There were concerns over Smith’s development and a new coach would mean some possible shake ups.

During the 2015 offseason, the Jets traded for Ryan Fitzpatrick. What many forget is that Fitz was supposed to be the backup for the 2015 season. New head coach Todd Bowles and new general manager Mike McCagnan backed Smith to be the starter for the season. They wanted to give Smith a chance to develop even more and see what they had in him before they started looking elsewhere.

That August though, IK Enempali punched Smith in the face in the locker room following a practice. Smith broke his jaw and would miss 6-10 weeks of the season. That opened the door for Fitzpatrick to take the starting job, and Fitz ended up throwing a franchise record 31 touchdowns. Heading into 2016, there was no way that Smith had a shot at the starting job.

Until he did. Fitzpatrick leads the league in interceptions and the Jets brass decided to give Smith a shot. He lasted about two quarters before he suffered an odd knee injury on a sack. It turns out that he tore his ACL, which ended his season. Smith is set to be a free agent at the end this season.

Geno Smith
Smith is 12-18 as a starter for the Jets. (Wikimedia Commons)

He had a shot finally to show everyone what he had learned in his year plus on the bench, only to have it all vanish just as quick as it came. The likelihood is that Smith will never get a chance to start anywhere now. He seems destined to be a career backup, holding the clipboard as the emergency fill in if someone is injured.

I was never a big fan of Geno Smith, but you have to wonder if the league never saw the best version of him. He was thrust into the starting role before he was ready and forced to learn NFL defenses on the job. He showed some signs of improvement from his first season to his second. We never got a chance to see what might have been with Smith if he was given just a little more time to develop on the bench, or if a team had stayed with him as their starter for a few seasons.

Honestly, he probably never would have turned into a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but he might have been an average quarterback. Being remembered as alright is a whole lot more fun than being thought of as a bust. If Smith never starts another NFL game in his life, then he will undoubtedly go down as one.

Smith probably doesn’t deserve another chance based on his previous body of work, but based on how the last two seasons have gone for him, you can’t help but wish he didn’t have to go out this way.