2014 Duds Look to Re-Launch in NFL 2015

18 May

Now that NFL Draft 2015, brought to us by the City of Big Shoulders (Chicago), is in the books (Is there any event less deserving of its big build-up than the televised dice-roll that is the draft?), it’s a good time to glance back at what was, and what lay ahead.

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Though, safe to write that a plan to look back and examine the past (history), a tradition that’d bonded families, communities and a nation for centuries long, would not exactly meet with applause from your average audience in 2015.

Nothing to do with sage Satchel Paige (“Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”), but due to these two states: 1) a tendency today to love ourselves, our times with a fulsomeness, and 2) not much moolah to be made in getting too reflective.

It’s why Disney in its youthenization movement has forsaken its Classic and ESPN News channels to make way for the likes of ESPNU and scads of re-broadcasts, while their History channel (Hearst 50%) airs almost anything but, i.e., Pawn Stars, Swamp People, Ax Men and the like.

But while Mr. Obama doesn’t appear to put history too high up on his list (See; D-Day gum gauche) and the GOP can have selective memory, we sport fans put a premium on the past.

Whether it’s records & sabrmetrics, throwback uniforms, collectibles or the passing of a former great, oh-so sport fans will not soon forget from where their own journey began.

........Bubblegum.12.5.06.wc.Mary

And looking back over NFL 2014-15, it’s safe to write that it was one of the most memorable in recent years, for better and for worse.

Had it not been for the plethora of spotlight-grabbing storylines, i.e., Hernandez arrest, Rice-gate, the Peterson case and then post-season inflatables (exaggerated stories) like Catch-gate, or non-Catch, as it were (DAL @ GB), Meltdown-gate (poor Mike McCarthy (SEA @ GB)), Deflate-gate, featuring ‘Frick & Frack (J&M), and finally, 2nd-Guess-gate (poor Pete Carroll (SEA v NE)), this particular topic might’ve hovered above the radar and been spotted: the Duds.

Not in this writer’s memory have so many pre-season hopefuls seriously under-performed and played like they had something better to do but hung around anyway, to our chagrin. Largely on the QB issue, Houston, the Jets, Buffalo, Cleveland, Minnesota, St. Louis and Washington were not considered by most to be serious contenders pre-2014.

I count three American clubs (MIA, SD & KC) and six in the National Conference (NYG, CHI, ATL, NO, CAR & SF) who either made lift-off but veered off course into oblivion or never got off the launching pad in the first place.

AFC

Miami Dolphins: 8-8 (2014)

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Finishing 8-8 in ‘13 in midst of Bullygate, Joe Philbin survived the fallout and young QB Ryan Tannehill looked a keeper, even as fickle fans called for change. Despite low support in ‘14, Ryan had MIA in top-half offensively (ypg (14)), saw C% rise nicely (66%), hit 4000 mark and had nifty 27-12 TD ratio. But MIA couldn’t build momentum, even as LB Jelani Jenkins finished with 110 total tackles and the D finished #12 (ypg), just ahead of eventual Super champ and intra-divisional rival, the Krafty Patriots.

Draft‘15: Devante Parker, Louisville, WR, 1R-14; Jordan Phillips, Okla., NT, 2-20.

San Diego Chargers: 9-7

Having gone deeper into ‘14 playoffs with loss to Denver in divisional (24-17), Bolts were expected to take the next step up to serious contender. But while Phil Rivers kept up his end (66.5%, 4286y, 31-18), legs of Ryan Mathews which’d been a catalyst in ‘13 reverted to old form as he stared only 7g and moved to Philly in FA. Defense held the fort with FS Eric Weddle roaming wide (114t) and the stoppers coming in respectable ranks: 9th ypg (338) and 13th in ppg (21.8). Expect 3y head coach McCoy to right the ship.

Draft‘15: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, RB, 1R-15; Denzel Perryman, Miami, R2-16

Kansas City Chiefs: 9-7

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Bolts, say howdy-do to your kissin’ cousins, figuratively speaking, intra-division foe, the KC Chiefs. Another 2013 achiever (L 44-45 IND ‘14 WC) who had justifiably high hopes of rising above the rabble in ‘14. So much of hope, figuratively so. Chiefs rollercoaster in ‘14 left observers scratching heads, their own, of course. QB Smith was stout again (65%, 18-6) even with leaky line (45s). Run-QB should be so brave. Charles settled to earth (1033 / 291 / 9td) from a Wow! ‘13 as offense finished w/in sight of cellar (#25 ypg). Like SD, defense carried at 7th ypg and 2nd ppg. And like his Chargers‘ counterpart, Andy Reid’s got the men. Whether he’s got plan, even KC faithful aren’t sure anymore.

Draft‘15: Marcus Peters, Washington, CB, 1R-18; Mitch Morse, MO, OL, 2R-17.

NFC

I don’t know if the Packers, Cowboys and Seahawks were as good as their spiffy records sported or just that their competition was so lacking that they simply had no choice but to win, lots and lots of games.

Lions, Cardinals and Eagles were others clubs who had seasons of note.

Detroit won 11 games (11-5) for first time in over two decades (12-4 ‘91) under new HC Caldwell and actually knocked off intra-division stalwart Green Bay in W3 (19-7). That alone is big doings for the usual also-rans of the NFC North.

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The surprising Cards looked the new force in the NFC until vet QB Carson Palmer went down midway and rising star head coach in Bruce Arians did his best to answer the rash of injuries that decimated his bunch as they limped into the playoffs.

And the Eagles missed the cut at 10-6 but showed spunk in staying respectable after QB Foles (STL) hit the DL and Sanchez entered. Chip Kelly and owner Jeff Lurie’s response: shake-up the roster (Bradford, Tebow (?), Murray, etc.) and give it another whirl.

New York Giants: 6-10
Draft‘15: Ereck Flowers, Miami, OB, 1R-9; Landon Collins, Alabama, S, 2R-33.

Chicago Bears: 5-11
Draft‘15: Kevin White, WV, WR, 1R-7; Eddie Goldman, Florida St., DT, 2R-7.

Atlanta Falcons: 6-10
Draft‘15: Vic Beasley, Clemson, LB, 1R-8; Jason Collins, LSU, CB, 2R-10.

New Orleans Saints: 7-9
Draft‘15: Andrus Peat, STAN, OT, 1R-13; Steve Anthony, LB, Clemson, 1R-31.

So similar, it’s then only fitting these four sorrowful squads get lumped together.

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If you didn’t predict rebound for all four in 2014 (Saints did go 11-5 in ‘13 after falling to 7-9 (’12) in Bountygate year) you’re not much of an NFL‘er.

That looked to be an easy call as all four possess well-est’d QBs (Eli Manning, Cutler, Ryan & Brees) and had proven head coaches directing the action. Both Coughlin (NYG) and Peyton are Lombardi lofters, Mike Smith (ATL (Dan Quinn)) is the winningest coach in Falcons history (66 (7)) and Marc Trestman (CHI (John Fox)) had an NFL resume won along w/ back-to-back Grey Cups (Montreal ‘09-10). Cool credentials all around.

But look no further than the woeful defensive showings of all four clubs and it’s easy to see how things once again came unraveled for this football Gang of Four. All four brought up the defensive rear in the all-important categories of yards per game (ypg) (32-29) and fell to the bottom ten in points per game (ppg).

Carolina Panthers: 7-9-1

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Though Cats sparkled at 12-4 in 2013, their pitiful playoff loss at home to the 49ers (10-23) had to make one wonder if the gaudy record was more mirage than matter. And sure enough, Carolina sunk to a losing mark in 2014 but did manage to take the South and win back smidgen of respect in knocking off the MASH unit that’d become Arizona in Wild Card round (27-16) before falling prey to Super-bound Seattle in divisional (17-31).

Camster’s moving in wrong direction as the scamper trends up again (103a / 539y) while pocket poise proves elusive (58.5% / 18-12). But as long Luke Kuechly keeps the defense top-tier (171tt (CAR 340 ypg (10))), Panthers are players.

Draft‘15: Shaq Thompson, WA, LB, 1R-25; Dev Funchess, MI, WR, 2R-9.

San Francisco 49ers: 8-8

Something tells me it may be awhile before we see the Niners trolling again for Super Swag. When that brass ring swings around (NFCC ‘12 & ‘14 / SB47), you’d better grab it with gusto and hold on tite for it may not come again for quite…some…time.

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Anyone who thought San Francisco was a top contender in 2014, and there were many, might want to consider covering a different beat in 2015. Mediocrity was an easy call.

More troubling than Colin Kaepernick and coach’s inability to master the red-zone in crunch time (NFCC’14 / SB47) was the loss of arguably the game’s top defender in NaVarro Bowman to a torn ACL during the ‘14 NFC title match (v SEA).

Master motivator Jim Harbaugh (Jim Tomsula (E. Mangini DC)) has returned to his alma mater pump life back into a gasping Michigan program, perennial All-Pro Pat Willis has hung up the cleats and Bowman is hoping to return to form even as there is no position in football that puts more pressure on the intricate knee-joint than rover-in-the-middle.

Draft‘15: Arik Armstead, Oregon, DT, 1R-17; Jaquiski Tartt, SAM, S, R2-14.

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Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo Credits: E.Manning, M.Holzworth, wc, USAF, 11.19.13; E.Manning, wc, GB, M.Morbeck, 1.15.12; chewing bubblegum, 12.5.06, wc, Mary; A.Smith, wc, 1.26.14, Cpl.M.Bragg, USMC; R.Tannehill, wc, J.Rivera, 9.16.12; B.Arians, wc, 9.8.14, FF.Swami; J.Cutler, wc, 11.1.09, M.Schadle; C.Newton, 9.28.14, K.Allison, wc; C.Kaepernick, wc, 9.9.12, GB, M.Morbeck; NFL-symbol, Wikiproject.
Posted: 5.18.15 @ 6:47pm; edit @ 11:08 EST

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