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Categorizing the NFL's 32 Teams In Terms of their Playoff Chances

By Lord Castleton | Miscellaneous | November 11, 2014 |

By Lord Castleton | Miscellaneous | November 11, 2014 |

When Peyton Manning, Archie Manning’s son, became the all-time touchdown leader a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about sons of famous fathers. It’s no easy task for a child born into the long shadow of a parent to find their own place in the sun. We have some modern examples in the film industry. Ben Stiller’s IMDB page is more impressive than his father’s. Jeff Bridges has grown larger than his father, Lloyd. I never thought Michael Douglas would amount to more than his father, but he has.


So has George Clooney and John Huston and Josh Brolin and Timothy Hutton and Chris Pine and Rob Reiner. And John Ritter.


Oh John Ritter! With every passing year I miss you more. I was trying to find Noises Off! to watch recently and it wasn’t available on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. I ended up ordering it from my local library and I suggest you do, too. What a blast. Play-to-film adaptations are often tricky prospects, and can have the unfortunate effect of absorbing the original pacing of the theater, which doesn’t often work in the medium.


Not so with Noises Off! It’s just masterful, and you sit back and miss Christopher Reeve and John Ritter and Denholm Elliot from a place in your heart you didn’t even know existed. And you thank all the fake gods and the real gods for Michael Caine. I was just watching him in Interstellar a few days ago, thinking that his career is like a touchstone for anyone born in Generation X. We’ve always had Michael Caine, and he’s always been fucking amazing.


Anyway, for every one of these examples of sons superseding fathers, there’s a dozen sons who couldn’t quite rise to the level of their dads. The Julian Lennons. The George dubyas. The Scott Caans and Jake Buseys of the world. The Jaden Smiths and Jakob Dylans and Ziggy Marleys.


But one example from the ancient world really seems like a comparable overlay for the Archie and Peyton Manning example. For that we go back to Carthage, which was once a powerhouse of commerce in the western Mediterranean in the third century BCE. The father was Hamilcar Barca, a noble general and strategist who won many battles in Sicily, Africa and what is now Spain. He founded the city of Barcelona and was, among Carthaginians, their most revered military commander. Until of course, his son’s accomplishments all but erased his own from history. Who was this son? A mighty general named Hannibal.


The history of Hannibal is one of my favorite stories to re-visit. Schooled by his father to have a deeply entrenched distrust of Rome, he famously marched a veteran army, including war elephants, up through Iberia and Gaul and crossed the Alps into Italy itself. If you have a few hours, reading about Hannibal’s approach to Rome is fascinating stuff. How the Romans kept raising armies to basically go and get absolutely slaughtered by him reads like a morbid comic opera. It all culminates at the battle of Cannae, where Hannibal annihilates the largest Roman army to ever take the field. In about six hours, Hannibal’s men killed 70,000 Roman soldiers in an area that’s about twice the size of Central park.


I could write about Hannibal all day, but the sad fact is that after a legacy of greatness, Hannibal ended up having to return to North Africa when the Romans invaded there. Eventually, he was soundly defeated at the battle of Zama in 202 BCE by the Roman Scipio Africanus, a masterful tactician who studied Hannibal and used his own strategies against him. Remind you of anyone I’ve written about lately?


After the battle of Zama, the Carthaginians were never again a major player on the world stage. A mere 50 or so years after that, at the behest of Romans like Cato the Elder, Carthage was again attacked. Cato, incidentally, ended every speech he gave (no matter what the topic was) with the words: “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.” Which roughly translates to “By the way, I think that Carthage must be destroyed.”

“People of Rome! There is too much garbage down by the old Aventine market district! Have your slaves pick up their shit! Also, we’re looking forward to a pretty kick ass parade on the Kalends but we really need more Egyptian grain so tip your Phoenician merchants accordingly. Let’s make sure to burn a lot of sage at the temple of Demeter next week. And a Equite boy lost his Romulus & Remus figurines over there by the Collis Capitolinus last dies Saturni. If you have any information on it, speak with M. Lepidus at the frigidarium. Lastly, we should also slay every man woman and child in Carthage. Cato out!”

In 146 BCE he got his wish, as Rome razed the city and is rumored to have plowed the land with salt, to ensure that nothing would ever grow there again. Kind of bitchy if you ask me, but it sent an undeniable message to other would-be enemies of Rome.


So as we enter week 11 of the 2014 NFL season, let’s put the league in Carthaginian terms, based on three of the notable dates in Carthaginian history.

250 BCE — Rise of Carthage: Before the First Punic War with Rome, Carthage at the height of it’s maritime empire.

219 BCE — Hannibal in Italy: Before the Romans lost at Trebia (218 BCE) and Lake Trasimene (217 BCE) and then Cannae (216 BCE). A time when it could have gone either way.

146 BCE — Carthage Salted - The fall of the once mighty Carthaginian civilization, utterly wiped out and destroyed by Rome.

Carthage Salted: Teams that are done

New York Jets: Don’t let the recent win over the Steelers fool you. The sun does shine on a dog’s ass once in a while. I’ll say it again: every team should be lining up for the services of Rex Ryan. It’ll be sad to see him in another color next year, but he’s gonna make some fools pay.

Tennessee Titans: Talk about a team that never mattered from day one. Ken Whisenhunt took Bishop Sankey over backs like Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Hill. Incompetent. A nothing franchise.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Maybe with a spot of tea and a bit of jam in the shadow of Windsor castle these donkeys might amount to something. They have some promise, just not this year.

Oakland Raiders: You know how you feel a bit disoriented when you’re trying to adjust to the timeline of something like Memento? That’s how this team feels all the time. It’s where talent goes to die.

Washington: What a dumpster fire of inadequacy. They’ve had their share of injury issues, but this team is missing an identity. You have the sense that as long as RGIII is on the payroll, it’ll be that way. A new owner is too much to hope for, but they need it. Yesterday.

Chicago Bears: A history of imposing defenses is being plowed under with salt. It’s shocking to see a team from the windy city giving up 50+ point games. If you could isolate the genetic code that makes Jay Cutler so awful (in every way) and eliminate it from the human genome I’ll bet we would all be invited to enter the Q continuum. Side note: Lovie was fired for going 10-6! Gaaaaaahhhhhhh.

Minnesota Vikings: I love me some Teddy Bingeslaughter and Mike Zimmer, but with the AP mess, Cordarrelle still learning how to run a route and a defense that’s missing some key pieces, they’re a year away. But they’ll rise.

St Louis Rams: Too much devastation to overcome. Too many shifting variables. Not enough true skill position playmakers. And as much as we all like a decent mustache, has Jeff Fisher ever been anything other than slightly-better-than-average? Who shudders at a Jeff Fisher earthquake? Answer: Nobody.

Carolina Panthers: A few years ago I wrote that while I didn’t personally like Cam Newton, we should make sure to clone his perfect body to someday colonize other planets with it. Well, I still don’t like Cam Newton, and I may have “accidentally” dropped that test tube with his cloning information. Because whither he goest, failure will follow. I’ll never understand how this team paid so much for running backs that can’t run. An abysmal failure at the highest levels.

San Francisco Forty-Niners: Yeah, I’m not buying it. Maybe getting some healthy bodies back on their defense will give them a spark, but as long as they have Jafar at QB and Jim Harbaugh as their coach, you’ll have a franchise no one can really get behind. It’s like backing a politician because he or she is the less shitty option.

Atlanta Falcons: We saw the seeds being sown on Hard Knocks. If you’re soft, no amount of yelling “we’re not soft” will harden you up. Mike Smith should be running a banana stand somewhere, not an NFL team. I once predicted that neither Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan were good enough to win the Super Bowl. I’ll still be half right.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie will get this ship righted, it’ll just take a few years. Or like five. There’s a ton of decay and not a lot of young talent in the ranks. Gerald McCoy and Mike Evans are good anchors for a better future.

New York Giants: For a second, just a second, they looked like they might turn it around. Not this season.

San Diego Chargers: This team has been found out. Like when a jerk whispers the end of the Crying Game to you as you’re having your first sexual encounter with a transgendered person. First you’re like “this is wacky” and then you’re like “great, thanks for ruining that movie for me.” Philip Rivers deserves to be sacked on every play for the rest of his career.

Kansas City Chiefs: This team blooooows. I see that they have six wins and I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. It’s true that they’ve beaten the Bills, Dolphins and Patriots but I refuse to take the bait. I don’t believe in Alex Smith. I don’t believe in that defense. I don’t believe in miracles.

Rise of Carthage : Teams that are certified contenders

New England Patriots: I’ve written enough about them lately. They’re solid.

Denver Broncos: Ditto.

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck is a breath of fresh air in a league that drafts and hypes up so many goddamn busts. Everywhere you look: busts. Not Andrew Luck. And I love rooting for Ahmad Bradshaw. I bet in week 9 the Giants were thinking “goddamn it, we should have kept that guy.” This team has the talent to go the distance. Maybe.

Dallas Cowboys: As long as Tony Romo is actually upright and they keep feeding the ball to DeMarco Murray, they’re going to be just fine. A Dez Bryant motivated to get YAC is a terrifying sight for defensive coordinators.

Green Bay Packers: Yes, they lost to the Saints, but it was after Aaron Rodgers tweaked his hammy. If he’s healthy, and that defense plays like they did against the woeful Bears, there’s no reason they can’t be playing in February. Jordy Nelson is superlative.

Hannibal in Italy: Teams that can go either way (this is the interesting group)

Miami Dolphins: That defense is just fantastic. Rooney Rule or no, somebody better be penciling Kevin Coyle in at the top of their coaching candidates list. And every three or four games Ryan Tannehill plays as if he’s actually going to deliver on all his promise. Then he doesn’t. I think they need a running game before we’ll take them seriously.

Buffalo Bills: Kyle Orton has helped to show just how good Sammy Watkins can be. Fred Jackson might just be my favorite player in the league right now. It just feels great when the Bills win, doesn’t it? They have a lot of the right pieces, but they’re in the wrong division to be a B+. If they want to knock off the Pats, they need to be an A, and they’re not there yet.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Really, guys? The Jets? You could have had sole possession of the division. This team is two Big Ben 6 TD games away from being kind of a yawner. Mike Tomlin and Dick Lebeau are doing their best but you never know which Steelers team is going to show up. Why isn’t Le’veon Bell seeing the field like he did earlier in the season. And for the love of all that is holy in this world: I know he’s a big fellah, but LeGarrette Blount has always SUCKED as a short-yardage back. This team has more of a spoiler feel than a champion feel.

Baltimore Ravens: You also never know what these idiots are going to do. Losing Jimmy Smith may be when Forrest Gump just up and stops running. It’s nice to see Justin Forsett have some success, but that run game is weird and Steve Smith apparently has stopped taking age-defying medicine. Just blech. All deference to Dan Rydell, but this franchise grosses me out.

Cincinnati Bengals: Jesus, another AFC North franchise who has no idea who it is. Can you really be that bad, Andy Dalton? Because that was a Derek-Anderson-bad level of play. That was a Jake-Delhomme-at-the-end-of-his-career level of play. Don’t tell me the Red Rifle is full of Purple Drank. A healthy Gio and AJ will help this team, but that defense without Mike Zimmer is like when Phil Hartman wasn’t on NewsRadio anymore. Just heartwrenching to watch.

Cleveland Browns: You dipshits. This is your year! This is the only year where your brand of mediocrity might be enough to win the division. All I do is complain that Isaiah Crowell doesn’t get the ball enough. That’s because you should be feeding him like Hagrid with a baby dragon. Haven’t you seen Sugar Hill? 8 Mile? Zoolander? You only get one chance and you’re blowing it.

Houston Texans: Oh brother, you guys deserve to be in the salted list. Ryan Mallet has a lot to learn about being an effective starting QB, but you have to give it to Bill O’Brien for seeing what he has on the roster. You’re here because Jadeveon Clowney is back and I want to see what a fracas he and JJ Watt can stir up. That’s it. You’re here because of your fracas potential.

Philadelphia Eagles: I stand by my assertion that Mark Sanchez is a franchise killer, and spent much of last week making fun of the guys in my fantasy football league who are high on him. Verily I say unto all of you: BUTTFUMBLE. Yes, they mauled a piss-drowned Carolina team, but they have some actual competition on the horizon, and it’s not going to be pretty. Don’t go chasing waterfalls, Philly fans, please stick to the rivers of shit that you’re used to.

Detroit Lions: They’re leading the Packers in their division but I have them in this category because it’s tough to believe in them. If Michael Bay suddenly directed something that wasn’t complete garbage, wouldn’t you want to wait for an encore before inviting him to the Martin Scorsese brunch? I would. Keep showing us, Lions. We’re watching carefully.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees. That’s why you’re not on the salted list. That, and someone has to technically win the NFC South. What a shit division. It’s like a category at the people’s choice awards where you’re like “Jesus, every person in that category is either 12 years old or awful. Or both.” People are dumb. So is the NFC South.

Seattle Seahawks: The Tom Cruise of the league. Where one second he’s Top Gun and the next second he’s on Oprah’s couch. I vacillate between being impressed by what they’re able to do and disappointed by what they fail to do. There’s some kind of identity problem there as well. I’m thinking they need an offseason to regroup. They may play the role of spoiler, like the Steelers, but like Tom Cruise I don’t see them winning an Oscar again.

Arizona Cardinals: This team, with the Browns, was one of my dark horses. 8-1 and they don’t get rated as a contender? WTF? That’s bullshit! Well, Carson Palmer and his berrylicious ways are now gone, and so are Arizona’s hopes of mattering in the post-season. They’ll be one and done. Drew Stanton is a pleasant enough bloke, but you can’t paint a skyscraper with a crayon.


Wherever your team falls on this scale of Carthaginian glory or demise, you can take comfort in the fact that, many times, the Super Bowl champion wasn’t the best team in the league. Hell, How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane for the Best Picture Oscar and Carol Reed (Oliver!) beat Stanley Kubrick (2001:A Space Odyssey) for Best Director. Life, and football are fraught with injustices, mistakes and botched victories. For every team, on every play, there’s a world of possibilities. Remember, as Nietzsche says: “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also look into you.” As the regular season begins to wind down, we’ll see what team, what coaches and what players are able to look into that abyss and come out with less salt on them than the once powerful city of Carthage.

See y’all next week.