Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Saints Playoff Scenarios


            With only three games remaining in the NFL regular season, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the New Orleans Saints stand in the playoff race. First, let’s take a look at the divisional race in the NFC South.

NFC South Divisional Standings

Wins
Losses
Win %
New Orleans
9
4
.692
Carolina
9
4
.692
Atlanta
8
5
.615
Tampa Bay
4
9
.308

New Orleans sits in first place in the NFC South thanks to its two victories over Carolina this season. If the Saints and Panthers finish tied for first, New Orleans will win the division and guarantee itself a home playoff game. Carolina would likely make the playoffs as a wildcard team.

Currently, FiveThirtyEight gives New Orleans a 91% of making the playoffs and a 60% chance of winning the division. The Saints have three games remaining against the New York Jets, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay. Of those three games, the Falcons game looms as the most important. According to FiveThirtyEight, a win over the hapless Jets (very likely) and the Falcons would guarantee the Saints a playoff spot and give them a 94% chance of winning the division heading into the last week of the season. A loss to Atlanta would leave them with an 86% chance of making the postseason and only a 22% chance of winning the division.

Now let’s look at the NFC conference standings to get a sense of who the Saints might be playing in the playoffs and whether they’ll be on the road or at home in January.

NFC Conference Playoff Standings
Playoff Seed
Team
Wins
Losses
Win %
1
Philadelphia
11
2
.846
2
Minnesota
10
3
.769
3
LA Rams
9
4
.692
4
New Orleans
9
4
.692
5
Carolina
9
4
.692
6
Atlanta
8
5
.615

The winners of each of the NFC’s four divisions are first four seeds and the first and second seeds earn byes in the first round of the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight estimates that Philadelphia and Minnesota have a 99% and 83% chance of winning byes. That leaves the LA Rams and the Saints as the most likely teams to host playoff games in the first round against the two wildcard teams. Even if New Orleans managed to finish with the same record as Minnesota, they would not receive a bye since they lost to the Vikings in Week 1. Additionally, the Saints are the fourth, rather than the third seed because of their loss to the Rams a few weeks ago. As a result of these losses, the Saints only have a 5% chance of getting a first round bye.

Under this current playoff scenario, the Saints would host the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the playoffs and then travel to Philadelphia and play the Eagles in round 2. 

So, Saints fans should start getting excited for their first playoff game since 2013 and it will likely be in the Superdome against the rival Carolina Panthers.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Great Wall

            What if I were to tell you that the Great Wall of China was built to repel four legged green aliens that crashed into the side of a mountain in ancient China on top of a meteorite? And what if I were also to tell you that the only thing stopping their attacks (which occur every sixty years) was a secret color-coded Chinese army and Matt Damon? Well, that is the plot of director Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall. Yimou, however, never fully embraces the film’s bonkers premise. Instead of developing coherent characters or a somewhat logical plot, he immerses himself in pageantry and Chinese nationalist themes of cooperation, imperial corruption, and heroic sacrifices for the greater good.


            No one in The Great Wall is playing anything resembling an actual person. Matt Damon’s character, William, is a generic European in search of gunpowder to bring back to the West. His accent (something vaguely Irish?) shifts between nearly every scene without explanation. William’s partner, Tovar (Pedro Pascal), is from Spain. At one point, he grabs a shiny cape and does his best impersonation of a matador to lure in one of the alien creatures so William can kill it. Chinese actress Tian Jing plays Commander Lin Mae, the leader of an all-female jumping corps, who has devoted her life to fighting the aliens. Luckily though, she speaks perfect English so she and Damon can awkwardly flirt with one another. The rest of the film’s cast is a bunch of stock characters including the wise strategist, the seasoned general who dies a third of the way through the movie, and the coward who redeems himself.

            The film’s plot is similarly nonsensical. The Great Wall of China is, as the film’s opening crawl reminds us, is 5,500 miles long and took 1,700 years to build. Yet, the tao tei (the aliens) always attack wherever the Nameless Order (the name of the secret Chinese army) is. Why didn’t they just go ten miles down the road and go over the wall there? The characters constantly remark how much smarter the tao tei are this time, but after thirty-three different attacks they still can’t figure out how to get around a wall. Under or over are generally good options. Additionally, after every attack the Nameless Order unleashes some kind of new and more destructive weapon. They progress from bungee jumping women with spears to flaming cannonballs to gunpowder weapons to giant scissors that cut the tao tei in half to hot air balloons armed with grenades. All of this leads you to wonder, if your mortal enemy only attacks every sixty years, what’s the point of holding back?


            The Great Wall, however, is visually stunning. Yimou seems more interested in luxuriating in the colors of the Nameless Order than portraying battle scenes. His camera pans over the yellow, purple, blue, and black clad soldiers marching up and down the wall. Dozens of soldiers bang oversized blue drums to signal the call to battle. Hundreds of arrows, cannonballs, and other projectiles hurtle across the screen all in sync with one another. Yimou uses of all this synchronicity to portray his themes of unity and victory stemming from the cooperation of everyone. Lin Mae has no family, but has risen up the ranks to command the Nameless Order because of her courage and skill. On the other hand, Yimou portrays the emperor as an effeminate young man lashing out at his protectors and hiding behind the throne when the tao tei reach the capital. The emperor is surrounded by a cadre of Confucian intellectuals armed with bad advice and worse facial hair. The imperial order is as much the enemy as the tao tei.

            The Great Wall is an absurdly plotted medieval adventure movie—gunpowder blows up everywhere and no one knows how to handle it properly. There’s plenty of green aliens, but no human characters. The film’s nationalist themes are laid bare for everyone to see. But at least it offers something pretty to look at.