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NFL19: Belichick-Brady Eke Out Excellence as Sense of Swan Song Season Settles In

23 Apr

It must be the hope, the dream of every pro athlete and coach, to finish-out a career on top of their game, either in strong stats or preferably, hoisting a champion’s hardware. And so much the better if this good fortune can be had with a body and mind that are still largely in-tact and, where the jock is concerned, untainted by the PED tattoo (ugh).

Fantastic final season finishes are not uncommon and deposited in the memory banks of fans and followers. For this writer, a few of them stand-out:

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wins the 1986 Masters for a record 6th time at age 46; Steffi Graf wins her 22nd and final major singles title in taking the 1999 French Open, her 6th; In his 16th and final NHL campaign, Alberta-born Lanny McDonald captains the Calgary Flames to their first and only Stanley Cup (1988-89); Reliever extraordinaire Mariano Rivera ends his career in style by nabbing 44 saves on a stellar 2.11 ERA, securing a 1st-ballot HOF election; And Peyton Manning, plagued for two years by a neck injury, returns to the Denver lineup at mid-season to lead the Broncos to an SB50 victory before calling it a career.

And then there were those singular, final-game feats, like the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams who, on September 28, 1960, homered at Fenway in his final at-bat of a long, illustrious career (1939), and the Bambino, Babe Ruth, swating three home runs at Pirates’ Forbes Field on May 25, 1935, in his fond, if not somewhat inconspicuous farewell to the business of baseball.

But my favorite goodbye involves one of sports great personalities.

I lived in Wisconsin in 1976 when, that December, Marquette University men’s basketball coach Al McGuire surprised nearly everyone when he made statement he would be stepping down from his post at season’s end, an end not realized until his Warriors would win the NCAA national championship that following March by defeating his Finals opponent, Dean Smith’s UNC Tar Heels.

A dreamy career ending, if their ever was one.

There are two fellas today employed in Foxborough, Massachusetts, one a player, the other a coach, both getting long in the football tooth, highly accomplished (6 NFL titles) and both at that point in their careers where thoughts must certainly be turning to that day in the not too distant future when closure is in the cards.

The fellas: Quarterback Tom Brady (00) and his only pro head coach, Bill Belichick (91-5; 00), both still seemingly at the top of their games entering NFL19, all aglow after brushing aside the latest challenge to their decades long supremacy, the upstart Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53 (13-3) who clearly got Belichicked, mate. It wasn’t a pretty win, yet it was a win and that’s all that matters in the NFL battle for the championship.

But it does beg the question, at their advanced NFL ages, eking out excellence in ever more narrow margins of victory and with key cog Rob Gronkowski having shown the way with his recent retirement announcement, is this the right time for B&B to peg 2019-20 as their final, swan song season?

And keep these points in mind: 1) When they do exit, Bill and Tom will likely do it in the same season, and 2) avoid the now common ‘This is my final season’ announcement and hopefully spare us a farewell gift-giving tour (ugh).

Here then are the reasons why I think this will be their last hurrah.

The clearest reason why Bill and Tom call it quits after this season, they’ve got little else of significance to achieve. Getting that second back-to-back (03-04, 04-05), a technical dynasty, may be the only thing motivating B&B at this point.

If one does not consider them the masterminds of the greatest team in NFL history (It’s a debatable topic), they’re certainly right near the top of any reasonable list. And to be frank, the Pats are the only consistent ’big fish’ in what’s become a little NFL pond of competition, the only real challenge left for them being their respective battles against age.

And when Belichick does leave the Patriots, I don’t suspect he’s going to take the Lombardi route in assuming a new challenge as Vince did in DC (1969). I’d expect he follows John Madden’s play-call and stays out for good, maybe accepts an advisory position with Kraft & Co.: “Easy money.”

Then there’s reason #2 to think this is a swan song season: Preserving health.

Tom’s been fairly fortunate in the injury department. He missed almost all of 2008 with a knee bang but has had fewer concussions than other QBs with as many seasons. He doesn’t want to press his luck and his wife may think as much. And even though Belichick works the sidelines, his job classifies as high stress, a state now considered by heart experts to be one of the highest risk-factors for myocardial infarction and poor health in general, along with sugar addiction.

And reason #3 why B&B likely call it quits after this season? It’s like Gordie Lightfoot says, “walk away like a movie star (♪ IfYouCouldReadMyMind ♫).” The Patriots presently are the NFL standard and can hold their heads high.

Even if New England fails to win their fourth consecutive Hunt trophy (AFC) (They’ve copped four of the last five, five of the last eight), a simple winning mark (9-7), playoffs or not, would go down in my book as a successful exit.

How Gronk’s absence will play on team chemistry is hard to predict. He’d a great career and one of Tom’s favorite targets for nine seasons (2010-19), but then Bill has cycled through many great players in his New England reign, finding such, or he and Tom molding those men INTO greatness.

Whenever the two DO decide to hang up their respective cleats and headset, it’s certain they’ll take a good part of the NFL with them, explanation to follow.

Their departure will mark the end of an era, not just one that saw a franchise sustain success on the girdiron for 20+ seasons, but the end of an era in how the game is played and then enjoyed, it seems progressively less & less by an evermore fickle fandom, many who‘ve made whipping-boys of the zebra set.

Though pocket passers will always remain in the game in some numbers as they matriculate the ball and fire-up the exictement best, Tom’s stand-tall-in-the-pocket style of quarterbacking, in opposite of the rabbit-habit trend (aka, flash-QB or single-wing tailback), will become more rare as every year passes, no pun. The college training ground guarantees it. If given a choice to take hits in the pocket, learning to read with poise, or run-at-will with the ball over incapable collegiate defenses, most young athletes will choose the latter.

The NFL has always been a business first, but since B&B teamed-up we’ve seen a serious ratcheting-up of profit-taking in TV transmission, advertising, stadium and merchandise costs. No stone goes unturned today where even player jerseys and shoe-wear become billboards, enriching owners and players alike.

But the biggest change they’ll leave behind is the NFL’s new commitment to the millennial business model in youthenization, one that demands constant change and has a haughty disdain for continuity (tradition).

This callow, artless approach is seen in endless uniform changes (Nike) and rule tinker, to appease the target market (ages 8-28); Networks display little for serious sport fans but cater to those who boner-up on celebrity, sex and shallow trash talk; skittish online reporters deliver the new message while stifling fan input (no more fan-blogging or comments allowed), and gimmickry in ephemeral events like combines, weekly power ranks, endless mock-drafts, mindless re-drafts from years past, their one concession to history, and then the oversold draft day itself where youth is served a heaping helping of freshly-baked heroes to devour, most who never really pan out anyway (6-8 yrs+).

So consider this an early adieu, Misters Belichick and Brady. Don’t spend it all in one place and thanks for the memories because they’re probably going to have to last us real NFL fans the rest of our lives.

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; Brady-Belichick-x4; Patriots-HOF, wc.cca, Leoparmr, 10.20.08
Posted: 4.22 @ 9:04pE; Copyright © 2019

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NFL19 Wild Cherry Picks: A Showcase of Styles On the Evolving (Devolving) Pro-QB

5 Jan

If you think this 2019 NFL Wild Card playoff round looks like the makings of a quarterback revolution, I’d hold off on that thought for now. Think more like a less taxing, not as angry, Whiskey Rebellion (1791-94). That doesn’t make complete sense, either, but it ain’t a revolution, not yet, anyway.

The quarterback landscape is changing pretty rapid these days. With the college football ranks filling faster on flash quarterbacks than a tackle does on mashed potatoes (NO GARLIC, PLEASE!!), they’ve gotta’ end up somewhere, right? Canada’s one destination (CFL), but south of the 49th parallel north, the National Football League venue is every amateur’s biggest dream.

Couple that with the NFL’s need to replenish its ranks with capable signal-callers and it only stands to reason that the modern single-wing tailback would become plentiful at the pro-level, too, where, unfortunately, the real quarterback training in field assessment and development of serious intestinal fortitude begins.

Be that as it may, the pocket-passer will remain an NFL fixture, even if it becomes the exception, rather than rule, or ruler, as it were (See; SB).

As the run-quarterback operates largely on rabbit-sense, i.e., fear-flight, it will always be the master matriculaor, the ones who show poise behind the line, withstand hits in the face of pressure to connect consistently with receiver corps and in the most critical of times (red-zone), that will always be favored, not just by coaches, GMs and teammates but most by football fans who like courage and lots and lots of scoring.

And it’s the pocket-passer that will be one of the featured styles on both days of this weekend’s Wild Card slate, along with every other variety of quarterbacking style you can imagine, with the exception of maybe the wounded-duck form of field generaling. They may be gone forever.

Those were the guys like Billy Kilmer (Redskins) and Joe Kapp (Vikings) who never did perfect the spiral but generally got the job done on guts & semi-skill.

Here’s how the play-callers have been playing it:

Andrew Luck, pocket passer. Andy used to motor pretty well but recent injuries have curtailed that and the results, so far, are looking good.

DeShaun Watson, run-QB: He takes off at the drop of a hat but with an excellent C% (68+) and ypa (8.2). So the worry on scamper isn’t so much that he’s passing up opportunities in the air (red-zone blues?), but the injury risk.

Russell Wilson, mobile-manager: He has mobility to avoid the rush when the line breaks down and likes to roll-out. Russ’ earned an A+ in his biggest test in SB46 win over Denver, rambling a mere three (3) times, all early-on.

Dak Prescott, mobile-manager: Averages about 4.5 rushes per contest, finding the end-zone with regularity (6-TD). Level-headed and physically solid (“The Fortress” nickname fits), his motor has been tested in 2018 with a leaky Dallas O-line (56-sk), but can Coach Garrett deliver the Dude a game-plan?

Philip Rivers, pocket-passer: The old veteran (37 yrs) and sentimental favorite in this years early playoff round (37 yrs). Passing yards are down a bit but INTs reasonable (12) on pretty fair protection (32sk). His run-mates Ekeler (groin) and Gordon (ankle) are aching, so can Coach Lynn come up with a pass-heavy scheme that can compensate, on the road in Crabcake City (gulp)?

Lamar Jackson, run-QB: A Ravens post-season without Joe Flacco starting under center? Seems odd, but you go with what gets you there, right, and the young Mister Jackson (turns 22 on Monday) got the guys going in the right direction (6-1, 6t-3i, 695y-rush). The Bolts know offense, of course, but they also know defense this time around. Does Harbaugh know HIS offense, yet?

Nick Foles, pocket-passer: It’s a stand-tall-in-the-pocket tandem in Philly (+Wentz), together averaging a 70-C%, even as sacks are on higher side in 2018 (40). The Super Bowl winning Foles, who started the season slow, gave-way to Wentz and then got the call again, is like that race-horse who runs best in the stretch where the action intensifies and the stakes are highest.

Mitchell Trubisky, run-QB: This season, like most since 1919, defense is key in Chicago, which took some pressure off the 2nd-year from UNC (b.Ohio). Mitch carried his end well on nice C% (67), fair INTs (12) and enthusiasm, something that’d been missing on the Midway (JC), though, it does get a smidgen silly at times (post-TD). Run-game helps (Howard-Cohen-MT) but fumblitis (15).

NFL Wild Cherry Picks: Road Warriors

Indy @ Texans: 1.5 Disney 4:35E: Colts
Seahawks @ Cowboys: Fox 8:15: Seattle
Chargers @ Baltimore: 1.6 CBS 1:05: Bolts
Philadelphia @ Chicago: NBC 4:40: Eagles

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; R.Wilson, wc.cca, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; N.Foles, wc, T-Sgt-Walker, Dover, USAF; J.Kapp, wc, Ellensburg-Daily, 12.26.69
Posted: 1.5 @ 4:03pE; Copyright © 2019

NFL18 Super Cherry Jam: Eagles Win Proves Pocket-Passer Still Surest Route To Promised Land

10 Feb

The Take from SB52? Eagles don’t even get close to the Lombardi trophy with a run-QB subbing for Wentz on short-notice. Not a snowball’s chance in Hades or even the 70° cozy confines of US Bank Stadium.

Pocket-passer quarterback is a rare bird, endangered species in the pros due to emergence of collegian flash-QB, a place where he thrives like a Georgia robin in spring (they move in herds here) under laissez-faire tutelage of Coach-Lite.

But the traditional, stand-tall-in-the-pocket signal-caller who matriculates well past the RIF-stage to read D with proficiency, rabbits as a last option rather than reflex, is still the surest, quickest way to reach that wonderous state we call Titletown, aka, whatever metro currently holds the Silver Swag (Philly).

— — —

Hail the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Pederson, owners Lurie, SB-MVP Foles, regular-season super-QB Wentz, a defense that played well for 18 of 19 games and the rest of the E-Birds rosterees and staff, the 2017-18 NFL Champs!

In besting the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl 52, Philly nabbed their first NFL title since 1960, a club led by Chuck Bednarik (D) and Norm Van Brocklin (QB), that topped Lombardi’s first title-game Packers, 17-13.

And what a shocker it was.

Not because these Eagles weren’t impressive all season long, excepting a pathetic regular season finale (6-0 loss at home v. Dallas), but because they finished their run with a back-up quarteback that had started a mere one contest (KansasCity) since 2016 (22-14 career) yet defeated the juggernautious Patriots to do it while Nick’s defensive teammates allowed said New Englanders a whopping 600+ yards in total offense on way to hoisting the prized Lombardi hardware.

Nobody picked Philly to win SB52, nobody who wasn’t a fan, gambler or media hoping for some office bragging rights.

I don’t think anyone, not even Eagles brass and players, saw this kind of time-line for a championship. Maybe in 2-3 more years but SB52? Not on your life.

— — —

It’s the top topic for sportswriters in the days following every Super Sunday: What’s the champ’s template for success? In Philadelphia’s case, there is none. Forget about it. Eagles have no template for Titledom. Doesn’t exist. Nope.

What these present E-Birds DO have is, if not a wholly unique GM / coaching skill-set, a not altogether common ability to accomplish the two following tasks:

1) Execution of draft-picks with a certain wisdom (Wentz); and

2) Rostering a quality back-up QB (Foles), something the Patriots too have shown a panachee for finding (Cassel 10-5 (08) / Garoppolo 7-0 (NE / SF)).

But as important as are those two abilities, the 2017-18 Eagles were recipients of a gift from Lady Luck. That being that they competed in the least competitive NFC in this writer’s recent memory. A tale of the tape:

Giants (3-13): OB was out but we now know TC wasn’t the big problem.
Packers (7-9): Mike dodged one on Rodgers ill-advised return at Carolina.
Seahawks (9-7): Maybe the most disappointing winning-mark this decade.
Cowboys (9-7): Elliott’s on-off susp’n was disruptive but Dak’s still learning
Cardinals (8-8): Loss of star Johnson early-on is big blow cuing Arians exit.
Buccaneers (5-11): Tampa was expected to contend but barely made a ripple.
Falcons (10-6): Defending NFC champs were clearly a lesser grade in 2017.
Lions (9-7): Detroit is becoming the pretender of all 20-teens pretenders.
Redskins (7-9): Like TB, maybe higher expectations are not a good thing.

And yes, the Vikes and Rams infused some much needed competition into the NFC but it hardly made up for the general malaise that permeated, not all that much worse than a rather weak AFC itself in 2017.

It’s not the Colin Kaeprnick effect that explains the malaise. Better chance it’s the plethora of run-QBs, the never-ending flood of poorly-trained, modern single-wing tailbacks masquerading as quarterbacks coming into the League unprepared for the pro-style play. Oh yeah, throw in the mass of DCs who rely on glory stats (INTs / PD / sacks) to stop the score, and not too effectively at that. Translating into most defenders today who couldn’t skillfully tackle an opponent if their life depended on it. There’s that, too.

StevenKeys
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject, 6k; Eagles, SB52-Victory-Parade, souvenirs, 2.8.18, wc.cca, 7Beachbum; SB52, Kitten-Bowl, wc, 2.3.18, B.Allen-VoA; Eagles, SB52, Parade, N.Foles, 2.8.18, PA-GovWolf, wc; Eagles, SB52, Parade, VL-trophy, 2.8.18, wc, PA-GovWolf
Posted: 2.10.18 @ 4:49pE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Conference Cherry Picks: “Who’s Your Daddy?” Fathers Halas & Hunt Are Who

20 Jan

Every NFL fan knows all too well, the most anticipated games of the season are the Conference championships, American and National title tussles. The caliber of competition is at its peak for sure.

But just as important is that it’s the last time in the campaign, one that began back in September, when fans will be treated (like TV today is free (ugh)) to a normally conducted contest with a halftime that doesn’t annoy the begeebers out of the adult-minded viewers in audience.

Divisional Reflectional

Marcus Williams: Playing devil’s advocate and assuming the Vikes closing seconds TD hook-up between QB Keenum and receiver Diggs that won their Divisional over the Saints was not clutch but fortuitous (clutch), its blame lay not with the rookie D-back but with his coaches who postioned him too far back to make the INT / PD and yet instinctually could never lay-in-wait to tackle Diggs.

In a broader sense, the League’s obession with glory stats in INTs / PDs has most corner-backs out of position to make sound & sensible tackles that in this case would’ve prevented the big TD play and at least made Minnesota have to kick a 50+ field goal, assuming a timeout could’ve even been had.

— — —

Thomas Morstead: You probably never heard the name before last Sunday’s tussle and likely never will again outside New Orleans, but the spunky Saints’ punter made a tackle on a Minnesota retun that rang through the bird-infested rafters of U.S. Bank Stadium like with a Chuck Bednarik-like force that’s not been seen on the new millennial gridiron before (Just guessing on the birds). In the process, Tom sustained rib injury, but he’ll recover. His tackle, however, in opposite of so many pathetic attempts by punters and linebackers alike in this era, will remain in this writer’s mind for a long time.

— — —

Marvin Lewis leads a charmed football life.

The likeable, soft-spoken at pressers coach, hired by Cincy in 2003 (125 – 112 – 3), could’ve been fired in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2016, 2017 (7-9) (0-7 PS). Many media had Lewis being fired by the Bengals’ ownership in the person of Mike Brown after another disappointing finish to 2017 at 7-9. But alas, the Tigers 15-year head coach will be back for a sixteenth season. He’s gonna’ have to coach a winning campaign, then finally win a playoff game, right, Mike? Mike?

That development, while former Titans head coach Mike Mularkey, achieving 9-7 marks in his last two seasons in Nashville, got the axe, by mutual agreement, so it was reported. Imagine that, agreeing to your firing. The world of contract.

— — —

Hunting and Halasing for Silver Swag

The Conference championships aren’t just a showcase of the best in prof’l football this side of the 49th Parallel (See; CFL), it’s also the one time in the year when the two formally separate operations celebrate, in a sense, their respective founding fathers in George Halas (NFL) and Lamar Hunt (AFL), Leagues having merged in 1966.

The celebration takes place in having each father’s name etched onto his Conference champions trophy. To historians of the game, this gesture might seem a bit beneath what George Halas deserves, a nameplate on the Super Bowl swag itself. Halas ranks first in a tie with Vince Lombardi and Bill Belichick in having taken five (5) NFL titles, was an early player with Decatur / Chicago and critical in the League’s formation and survival into today’s $8 billion business and national platform for every pitch under the Sun, from cars and cola to crass sock displays (C.Kaepernick).

2018 Conference Cherry Picks

Jaguars @ Patriots: 1.21 CBS 3:05: Pats
Vikings @ Philadelphia: Fox 6:40: Eagles

Record: 81 – 62 (5-3)

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; P.Rozelle-G.Halas, 1980s, wc.cca, Summaria; L.Hunt-AFC-trophy, wc, A.Kirk; J.Marshall, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 1.20.17 @ 2:58aE, edit 4:55p; Copyright © 2018

NFL17 Cherry Picks W14: MIN @ CAR, PHI @ LAR Marquee Week’s Heavy Mettle Jams

9 Dec

It’s the NFC North leading Minnesota Vikings (10-2) versus Southern stalwart the Carolina Panthers (8-4) in the League’s marquee match-up for their Week 14 slate of games, one smothered high with like heavy mettle jams.

More than any other time in the NFL’s long season (September – February), the first week in December traditionally serves up games that will test the mettle of those teams who hold playoff aspirations and Super Bowl dreams. It’s a time that separates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the truly wise and tenacious from the occasionally clever, so to speak.

In fact, the largesse creates a playoff field bursting at the seams (12), laden on pretenders diluting the pool, getting invites to the party but only passing glances from Sporting Gods who soon enough send ‘em packing for family trips.

What makes these merry match-ups so important is not just that a win will raise chances of getting a PS-ticket punched, but also for shaping future seeds and just simply toughen-up teams for the championship road that lay ahead.

Vikings @ Panthers

Vikes are a surprise. Starting QB Sam Bradford goes down early on a knee bang as former #1 Bridgewater was still in injury-rehab. Then blossoming rookie run-back Dalvin Cook exits on an ACL tear. With all that gloom opens the door of opportunity. The 6th-year man in Case Keenum, 9-15 with Houston, 8-2 presently (67.5% / 16-5) and sporting a bit of Favresque (you read it hear first), steps in to fill the breach, Murray & McKinnon carry the pigskin capably, local boy Adam Thielen (Minnesota State) is bucking for an All-Pro selection (bigger bucks preferred), defensive specialist Mike Zimmer has the stoppers ranked high (#2 / 2) and Aaron Rodger won’t be back until 2018.

Heavy Mettle Match-Ups

Saints @ Atlanta: Already in the books (ATL). A-Birds got a little D
Raiders @ Chiefs: AFC’s biggest rivalry and in a West up for grabs
Eagles @ LosAngeles: Rams rebound in AZ, Philly loses strong in WA
Hawks @ Jacksonville: Jags slipping as the Seahawks are solidifying
Ravens @ Pittsburgh: AFC’s #2, both clubs climbing to Super seeds

Composite Mettle Match-Ups

Lions @ Bucs: Detroit still has a shot, TB can surprise sometimes
Redskins @ LosAngeles: Chargers are hot but remember W10 (v Jax)
Titans @ Arizona: AZ’s up’d it of late so it’s a good Rd-test for Tenn
Pats @ Miami: Intra-rivals rock and the Fish wanta make statement

Cherry Picks Week 14

Dallas @ Giants: 12.10 CBS 1:00: NewYork
Detroit @ TampaBay: Fox 1:00: Buccaneers
Raiders @ Chiefs: CBS 1:00: KansasCity
Vikings @ Panthers: CBS 1:00: Carolina
Redskins @ LosAngeles: CBS 4:05: DC
Tennessee @ Cardinals: CBS 4:05: Arizona
Eagles @ LosAngeles: Fox 4:25: Philadelphia
Seattle @ Jacksonville: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh: NBC 8:30: Steelers
Patriots @ Dolphins: 12.11 Disney 8:30: Pats

Record: 52 – 40

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; C.Keenum, Vikings, wc.cca, 11.12.17, MD, K.Allison; HeavyMetalViking, Unleased, wc, 2.12.07, Vassil; cherries-ripe, B.Kua, 6.1.08, wc; J.Otto, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 12.8 @ 11:11pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Cherry Picks W12: Frothy NFC Fast Filling Its Half of Super Bowl 6-Pack

25 Nov

NFL 2017: What a difference (less than) a year can make.

At the ¾ mark of this NFL season (Week 12), it is the NFC flexing its football fortitude, showcasing, as I count ‘em, nine (9) clubs that display a skill-set and team spirit theoretically capable of putting any one of ’em into Super Bowl 52.

The Junior Conference AFC (70), the group that looked loaded with good teams in 2016, are lucky if they can claim five (5) worthy of title-game consideration.

Post-Thanksgiving results, in the National (1920) it’s the Lions, Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, Rams, Saints, Cats, ‘Hawks & Falcons who rate contender status.

In the American it’s the Patriots, Chiefs, Steelers, Jaguars and Tennessee.

But as any sports prognosticator worth his weight in Stove-Top® stuffing knows, contender status will often not amount to a hill o’ giblets (Mmmmm).

Here then is the Super Six-Pack preview, three top squads from each Conference plus one extra-brew that might change the whole buzz. Not all the best records but clubs that look to possess the wisdom and wherewithal to be more than mere contenders and nearly locks to play into the playoffs and then some.

Halas trophy hopefuls

New Orleans Saints
Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings
Beer binge: Seattle Seahawks

Cats: Sit where they usually do on offense in key categories (#15 ygpg / 17), the oft-concussed defensive leader Kuechly is a concern, now and post-career.

A-Birds: Picked by many to repeat as Halas hoisters, they’re hanging tough but their forte in offense is fickle (#10 / 12). Defense? Seems like not since Claude Humphrey and Tommy Nobis roamed the turf (#10 / 13). Oy vey.

*Hawks: Kamster’s injury exit is a big blow (Sherman’s not so) but Pete Carroll, Russ Wilson and Bobby Wagner together make Seattle a possibility, always.

Lions: I’m not even gonna’ look at their offensive ranks because their defense screams ‘No Super Bowl (#23 / 14).’ Okay, I’m a curious sort (O: #16 / 5 pgpg). There’s a chance, a whiskers chance they get in and make a run.

Pack: Welcome to mediocrity. Rodgers will return, a little older, a little more brittle and maybe just one more hard tackle away from another long exit. Come NFL Draft 2018, Ted should start thinking defense for the first time in his GM tenure, i.e., find men who can tackle, not flex (See; the Hair).

Hunt trophy heavies

New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Hidden bottle: Kansas City Chiefs

Patriots: The name says it all, as long as Brady and Belichick are all in. D had been grading a D- but now its doing its homework and making the honor-roll in all-important papg (point allowed per game): 20.3 (10).

*Pittsburgh: Defense is the strong suit (offense #11 / 13) while BigBen just keeps rolling and Tomlin keeps, like a cat, landing on his feet.

Jacksonville: Newcomers to contendership, post-Tom Coughlin era, it’s tempting to mistrust this team (B.Bortles: 58.4C%, 12t-7i). But they like to tackle (#1 / #1), understand scoring (#8 / 9 papg) and have a promising remainder with four-winables (softer opponents) and just two 50-50s (tougher foes).

KC: I like Andy and Alex but when the Chiefs should’ve been settling scores and making statements they reverted to inconsistency. What’s new, since Hank Stram? But in a weak AFC and a 4 & 2 remaining slate, I’d not be surprised.

Titans: O: #20 / 16, D: #14 / 24. Next.

Bolts: Nice turnaround but too little, too late and too bad for Phil who’s getting on in years (36). And that OT loss to Jax (W10) was a sin, or a sign (?), Mr. Lynn.

Ravens & Bengals: Both conundrum but Harbaugh’s job is safe (He’s always angry, that helps) but Marvin, the nice guy he is, won’t get one more in Cincy. He should finish the season, he’s earned that much (122-109).

NFL17 Cherry Picks Week 12: Slim Pick’ins

Buffalo @ Chiefs: 11.26 CBS 1:00: KansasCity
Carolina @ Jets: Fox 1:00: NewYorkJets
NewOrleans @ Rams: CBS 4:25: LosAngeles
Denver @ Raiders: CBS 4:25: Oakland
Texans @ Ravens: 11.27 Disney 8:30: Baltimore

Record: 43 – 32

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wc.cca, Wikiproject, 2011; Corona-Six-Pack, wc, NLangeDe, 10.28.06; K.Rudolph, ProBowl, wc, 1.27.13, M.Holzworth, USAF; B.Roethlisberger, 9.29.08, wc, Andy; Cherries, Hispalois, Careces-Spain, 7.2.12, wc; WillieWood, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 11.25.17 @ 3:05pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Pre-Play: Triumvirate Intact, Patriots Grip On Power Remains Firm

1 Jun

Hail the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft!

Never in the history of sport has a tightly-woven triad of money (owner), brain (coach) & brawn (player) so effectively organized and implemented an operation of success over such a long period of time and with so little apparent friction as have these three, compatible personalities.

Historically, the triumvirate has shown mixed results.

The ancient Romans, building blocks to Western civilization, triumvirated a couple of times (Caesar – Crassus – Pompey 60 BC / Antony – Octavian – Lepidus 43BC), without much claim to victory, save brief respites from war.

Jumping forward to the North American pro sport scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same owner, coach (mgr) and top player remaining together winning titles for anywhere near as long as the Foxborough Three have been doing it.

There were the Habs (1944-79), Yanks (1923-62), Celtics & Lakers, dynasties we’ve been talking about for generations but none a triumvirate of top-level talent staying intact for as prolonged a period as these Patriots powerbrokers.

There were the Lombardi – Green Bay teams where ownership (EC – BoD), coach and key offensive player in Bart Starr, the way under-rated Bart Starr, won lots o’ titles but in a much more concentrated timeline (1961 – 68). Condensed greatness is potent (70s Steelers / 80s 49ers) and terrific in its own way but not of the championship continuum on topic here and special too itself.

It’s in the NBA where is found the only real comparison to the Patriots trio-of-time-tested-title-takers, that being the San Antonio Spurs.

The trifecta of Peoria native and current owner Peter Holt (1993), coach Gregg Popovich (1996 >) and recently retired center and championship nexus in Tim Duncan (1997-16) garnered five NBA titles (’99, 03, 05, 07, 14) in sixteen seasons, though never back-to-back (NE: 04-05), requisite for the dynasty.

But that was then, this is now, and wow, the Foxborough Three are defending NFL champions again after their Swing Time SB51 OT win over the ‘gotta’ still be stunned’ Falcons, having made the grade even as their starry starter in Brady had to sit the first four on his Deflategate susp’n. The red, white & blue bunch have been setting and maintaining a standard of sport excellence unlikely to be matched for a long, long time. Never say never, right?

Detractors will bemoan, ‘Hey dingdong, don’t forget Spygate, you fool!’ Always class-acts, and never redundant, the bemoaner boys. Rules violations are wrong, some even bad, i.e., failing to cooperate with an investigation (destroying a phone). But the general public, those with no serious rivalry axe-to-grind or having little interest in promoting their own brand of team who seek ’The Greatest’ award (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, 49ers), just won’t be too bothered by black-marks on a team’s historical ledger that involve spying or stretching of the rules, outside game-fixing and PEDs. Spys have helped us win wars. A bit off-track here but that’s how the more rationally-minded fan will think.

Can they keep it going? Not forever, they can‘t, as hard as that is to imagine in 2017. Someday Tom will hang up his cleats, Bill hand in his headset one last time and Rob just won’t care anymore. All three have accomplished just about everything they can in the business of football, personally and as a team.

With Tom and Bill both having set the new standard in SB tandem wins with five and the team having set the record for Super Bowl appearances last February in Houston with their ninth (9) (5-4) (Pitt – Dallas – Denver all at eight (8)), about the only achievement unattained is to match and then surpass the Steelers league leading six (6) victories in the Big Game.

But as long as Brady stays healthy and the Foxborough Triumvirate keeps itself amused, an NFL bound to get more amusing, and lengthy, if not better, with Raja Goodell’s kow-tow in relaxing celebration rules, Pats should keep winning.

If you’re expecting to read here roster depth-chart chatter, draft break-downs and musings on New England’s 2017 schedule, forget it. Trust, in Belichick & Company’s judgment and future performance, has never been more earned.

Besides, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em? Anyone in the AFC?

Ben’s a trooper but needs sideline help; Denver & Houston have D but the Os are iffy; Colts & Titans have Os but Ds are doubtful; Raiders Las Vegas engagement came at a bad time for a still maturing Carr; Harbaugh & Flacco know how but is owner listening; KC will play out the string with Reid & Smith; Miami has a good QB in Tannehill but no good game-plan and Cincy, well, they’re Cincy.

In the weaker NFC the Cards turned conundrum; Wilson has D but needs a plan from Pete, not protest (CK); Rodgers needs a run-buddy and a D; Saints showed spunk late; Bucs are rising; Cats didn’t claw back in 2016; Eli is locked-in (‘20); Cousins may’ve peaked and that leaves Atlanta who need to shake off the shame.

Maybe it’s like those other eras with one, or two, dominant clubs, Pack in the 60s, Pitt – Dallas in 70s, 49ers in the 80s: Until the big dog (NE) loses its bite, everyone keeps focusing on the leader of the pack, tripping over their tail at the worst possible times. Course, having a defense that can close the deal is key, its absence to continue to be the biggest issue for most teams in 2017.

But in every NFL season there is the unexpected, that turnaround team where everything begins to click (Falcons / Raiders 2016-17), or sustained success sprouts from where no special tillage had been undertaken (Dallas draft).

As long as Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain together in good spirits and keep “calm(ing) the envious spirit” in those sporadic challenges to their predominance, efforts that will require a charmed season aided in no small part by a capricious Sporting God set (See; Carolina ‘15 – Dallas ‘16), this 21st century will remain the Patriots Period, period.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, wc.cca, Ixnay-Beao; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, US-Department-of-State, 4.25.15; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 6.1.17 @ 2:13p EST, edit 6.26; Copyright © 2017