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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

NFL17: Adrian Peterson Pressing For Saint-hood On a 2d Miracle Comeback

27 Apr

Adrian Peterson v. Marshawn Lynch

If New Orleans Saints new superstar in Adrian Peterson can pull off yet another miracle comeback as he did in 2015 when, post-injury, he led the League in rush yards and the Vikes to an 11-5 mark, it won’t qualify him for sainthood by Vatican standards but it should help to return the NFL Saints back to contendership while exorcizing any demon that All-Day may’ve realized in last year’s physical and family troubles. “The power of Christ (and a Super Bowl ring) compels you!”

On Monday, Peterson inked a 2-yr, $7 million deal with the Saints (3.5M gtd (2.5b)) that has a potential to pay the future HOF’er $8M+ if incentives are met.

Adrian’s exit from Minnesota and subsequent sign with his former team’s 2010 NFCC opponent, ironic in that it was they (NO) who forced him into fumblitis (3) to stymie his one chance at Super trip, marks the end of an era for the franchise which is still seeking its first SB win in four tries and return trip to the Big Game since 1977 when Bud Grant strolled the frigid Metropolitan (MoA) sideline.

In Peterson’s ten seasons in the Land of 10.000 Lakes, missing almost two complete campaigns due to knee injuries, Purple made the playoffs four (4) times, getting as far as the NFCC once with Brett Favre under center, Adrian winning All-Pro honors four times and MVP (AP) in 2012.

The Vikings have some things to smile about on the departure of their franchise face: A glittering new stadium (US Bank), veteran, fairly savvy QB in Sam Bradford and a head coach in Mike Zimmer who has returned the Norseman to a semblance of defensive respectability (#3 yapg / #6 papg) that has only been seen sporadically since the Vikings glory days in the 70s.

But while their braintrust in GM Rick Spielman, owners Wilf (Zygi – Mark) and the coach may feel equal parts of gratitude and relief when the optioned-out Peterson turns topic, they’ve still got a major problem in matriculation (offense) that’s persisted since Favre’s exit, one which the Draft won’t resolve quickly.

The Saints, on the other hand, they matriculate just fine.

In final 2016 regular season ranks, New Orleans led all teams in yards gained per game (426), just ahead of NFC champion, Atlanta (416 (#2)), and flip it with their regional rival in the all important points scored per game category (#1 / 33.8), putting up on average 29+ per (#2) last year.

When you’ve got record-setter Drew Brees expertly manning the controls (2001), an ageless wonder who, like Tom Brady, looks to have some kind of a Dorian Gray thing going, sans the gruesome painting (See; O.Wilde), offense is rarely a problem. Those 1000 receivers can come in (Michael Thomas) and go out (Brandin Cooks (NE)) and Brees just keeps breezing along.

And even a quarterbacking-machine like Brees needs a break from the pressure now and then. And that’s the run game’s job, assuming the OL is doing theirs.

Besides relieving the signal-caller of certain stress, a good ground attack also helps keep the defense on its toes and guessing. New Orleans got that in 2016 from backfield tandem in Mark Ingram (5.1) and the since departed Tim Hightower (4.1 (SF)). And that’s where All-Day will come into play.

But it’s the defensive side, once a strong suit for the gold & black but now New Orleans’ mountain to conquer, that‘ll need most attention. Key defensive ranks in 2016: #27 in yards allowed per contest; #31 points per. The collapsing Falcons (See; SB51) better join that climbing team, too, or can forget winning, let alone getting back to the Big Game (#25 / 27).

— — —

With the Raiders recent acquisition of game-dormant but very visible running back Marshawn Lynch from the Seahawks for a 2018 draft swap (5R for 6R), there emerges a curious comparison to the Saints own Peterson pick-up.

Lynch sat out all of last season and played < half of 2015. It’s good to workout (ML passed his Oakland test), but that won’t replace game hits and habits. Like Adrian, Marsh is no spring chicken, having turned 31 last week (2007). In AARP years (1 NFL year = 5 AARP), both men would be eligible for benefits & discounts (Caution: Always find & read boilerplate before contracting). Unlike Adrian, Marshawn has a title ring, playing a small but key role in ‘Hawks SB48 win.

Where Peterson gets winning points is in his attitude.

Lynch promotes himself as a free-spirit, some might say a wingnut. That’s cute when times are good but when rough waters hit, it’s the kooks that tend to pout and withdraw inward, a bad character trait in the ups & downs of team sport. In addition, because of his extended absence from the NFL, one has to seriously question Marshawn’s level of commitment to the competition.

With Adrian commitment is never in question. Imbued with great determination, his drive for perfection is pronounced, maybe too much so at times, in himself and with those around him. Big question on Peterson is not whether there is still sufficient ‘gas in the tank’ but will the tires hold out (knees)? Like Lynch, AP has missed nearly two of the last three seasons and turned 32 in March.

Ingram (2011), who joined the 1000 rusher club in 2016, is expected to remain the #1 carrier in Sean Payton – Pete Carmichael’s scoring scheme. If Peterson can contribute 600 on the ground, 200 in the air and impart some of his 10 years of NFL experience to the up n‘ comers, GM Mickey Loomis will be pleased.

The Saints (7-9) were competitive down the stretch in 2016, going 3-3 with only the Detroit loss a poor show. Again, a serious reconfiguration of D-scheme is New Orleans’ key to success in 2017 (See; Atlanta), but a healthy and occasionally electric Adrian could give their offense that added pop to keep defenders, and then the whole Saints sideline, confident in a return to contendership.

Commentators in the Bayou and in the Saints’ circle of strategy are tempering expectations over the arrival of the rehabbed and rather aged Mr. Peterson. But his gangbusters style of run and Hall-of-Fame credentials will no doubt give Saints fans hope that Adrian has another miracle in his pocket, or in his legs, as it were. The man and his mission to make good will likely be in their prayers.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject; A.Peterson, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12, wc.cca; D.Brees-Conways, USMC, E.Kirk-Cuomo, 11.2.9; M.Lynch, wc, 2.5.14, D.Sizer; Mosaic-Saint, Geolina, AachenCathedral, wc, Germany, 2011; J.Otto, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 4.27.17 @ 4:16pm; Copyright © 2017

NFL17: Draft Dogs and Pony Show to Exhibit at Philadelphia Museum of Art

21 Apr

Gotta’ hand it to the curators of the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft, they can spin friggin’ straw into freakin’ gold, holy Rumpelstiltskin!

With a player product possessing of such a high degree of uncertainty as do most college draftees, the Cufflinks have done a splendid job in persuading media conglomerate (Disney / Comcast / NA / Fox / TW) that draft days (4.27 – 29) are “must see TV” and the plethora of fluctuating mockery (pre-draft boards) that precede ‘em are required homework for every fantasy follower.

Within this year’s mildly-anticipated draft will quite possibly be a future Hall-of-Famer, maybe two, likely multiple Pro Bowlers (today about half the NFLPA membership) and anywhere from 30-50% who will roster in the NFL and / or practice squads for on average of 3-5 years.

On the flip side, of the seven (7) rounds of picks, including those of the compensatory selections, about 2/3rds will last for but from 0-2 years in the National (50-70%), never to roster or just in for a cup o’ Gatorade®. Keep in mind that the League does need to replenish its ranks, so, even if that year’s pool is rated luke-warm, if teams are top-heavy in older players, the so-so selectees may get an atypically longer look-see from needy coaches & GMs.

With those numbers, with that state of ephemeralia, it’s nothing short of miraculous the job that NFL Suits & Skirts have done in selling this Traveling Circus of Selection to the buying public.

I use ‘buying public’ generously here, given that 90% of those enthralled with the tedious tally of picks over three days are young males aged 9-22, 20% of those matriculating in sport media. But hey, they’re consumers, too, you know it.

— — —

I’ve listed herein a break-down of all the 1R pick performances from last year’s 2016 draft held in the city with “Big Shoulders,” in total a result I believe that’s pretty typical of most first-year, first-rounders in the League.

A team’s 1st-round pick is certainly not wholly determinative of the success or failure of that year’s draft or its decision-making. The following rounds (2-7 (+C)), assuming every team chooses in most of those later phases, can, on wisdom and a little luck, bolster a clubs roster for years to come, even as the #1 turns pumpkin before its pie-time (bust-a-roo).

But that first pick, even as a 2nd-rounder, is also a very well vetted pick.

And not just combine skills but mental maneuverability as well, in test form and real world record, making Deshaun Watson’s surprise visit to a Tuscaloosa eatery a few weeks back, with no intro, no greet n’ meet before settling-in to start a good vibe, a display of ghastly gall that may’ve banked on the race – rivalry confusion to pull off the play, a factor then in his reliability rating, on field and off.

There is bold & brave, and then there is just plain bad judgment. Rivals worth their weight will often need only the smallest excuse to be generous beyond their legal duty. I guess small is still humungous for the gargantuan ego.

But in truth, most of the time and hope that a search committee invests will ride on that first selection. When it doesn’t pan out or provides less-than-expected benefit, it puts just that much more pressure on the following picks, where the pool of talent dilutes accordingly with each passing round, to pan in. And of course, draft outcomes will play to some degree on the tenor of talks come contract time with established veterans

That doesn’t mean that positively peachy picks can’t be had on the back branches. They certainly can as the Dallas Cowboys (Dak Prescott 4R(C) -MVP candidate), Chicago Bears (Jordan Howard 5R) and Kansas City Chiefs proved (Tyreek Hill 5R, 1T-All Pro) with some of the best grabs in the bunch for 2016.

#31: Germain Ifedi, OT, Seattle Seahawks, 13g (13s)*
#30: Vernon Butler, DT, Carolina Panthers, 10g (0s), 1-fr, 1.5s, 5t-8a
#29: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Arizona Cardinals, DT, 5g (0)
#28: Joshua Garnett, OG, San Francisco 49ers, 15g (11), 3fr
#27: Kenny Clark, DT, Green Bay Packers, 16g (2), 2-fr, 13t-8a
#26: Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos, 3g (2), 1-1, 59%, 2t-1i, 6.ypa
#25: Artie Burns, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 16g (9), 3i, 13pd, 51t-13a
#24: William Jackson, CB, Cincinnati Bengals, 0g, pre-season injury (pec)
#23: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 9g (1), 1r, punt team
#22: Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins, 2g (0), 2r, not “healthy (?)”
#21: Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans, 14g (13), 47r, 635y, 2td
#20: Darron Lee, LB, New York Jets, 13g (9), 42t-28a
#19: Shaq Lawson, DE, Buffalo Bills, 10g (1), 7t-6a
#18: Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis Colts, 16g (16), “one of good pieces (GM)”
#17: Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons, 14g (14), 72t-33a, 5pd, 5ff
#16: Taylor Decker, OT, Detroit Lions, 16g (16)
#15: Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns, 10g (10), 33r, 413y, 3td
#14: Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders, 12g (9), 44t-16a, 1i, 1ff
#13: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Miami Dolphins, 14g (14)
#12: Sheldon Rankins, DT, New Orleans Saints, 9g (0), 4sk, 15t-5a
#11: Vern Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 16 (16), 10pd, 68t-8a
#10: Eli Apple, CB, New York Giants, 14g (11), 7pd, 41t-8a, 1i-1ff-2fr
#9: Leonard Floyd, LB, Chicago Bears, 12g (12), 7sk, 23t-10a (W11 neck-C))
#8: Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans, 16g (16), AP.1T – All-Pro
#7: DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers, 15g (15), 6sk, 2fr, 43t-30a
#6: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens, 12g (12), AFCN – ROY
#5: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars, 16 (16), 2i, 14pd, 55t-10a
#4: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas, 15g (15), 1631y, 15td, 32r – 363y, 1T-All Pro
#3: Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers, 12 (11), 10.5sk, 29t-12a
#2: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles, 16g (16), 62%, 7-9, 16t-14i
#1: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams, 7g (7), 55%, 0-7, 5t-7i, 5+ypa
* Patriots forfeited 29th 1R pick per Deflategate penalty to reduce total to 31

There were 1st round dandies (12) in Draft 2016, impact possibilities (12) and wish-we-had-it-overs (7). Any wash-outs are still pending.

It’s not exactly an exhaustive analysis but then who wants to fall asleep at the screen (See; sabrmetrics)? Likewise, it’s not exactly hard to demonstrate just how over-sold is the NFL draft every year, at least as family entertainment.

In the League’s defense, they target their market (See; above) and probably reach it to some degree of satisfaction, keeping the boys busy for a few days and host city restaurants hopping with happy customers.

Nearly every NFL fan will take a gander at their team’s #1 selection, and then the tally of names / positions / college affiliations of the rest when it’s all done by Sunday AM. Fans of football won’t invest too much mental energy but will instead put the lion’s share of their trust in their team’s calculations of particular needs and then to pick accordingly, even if that‘s the next best player available.

There is good art, there is bad art, and then there is NFL Draft 2017 jammin’ up the parking lots and lavatories with their performance art and all the drama “of a bladder (Twain on viewing Shakespeare bust in Straftford-upon-Avon).”

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; R.Goodell-L.Boyd-M.Green, NFL.Draft, NYC, 4.26.12, R.Clinton; E.Elliott, wc, 11.9.14, WOSNsports; D.Watson, wc, 1.10.16, AtlantaFalcons; JimMarshall, Topps, 1970
Posted: 4.21.17 @ 1:07pm; Copyright © 2017
Sources: Wikipedia (draft) & pro-football-reference (#s)

NFL17 – Las Vegas: Think Symbolism Is For Suckers? Try Sitting Out Francis Scott Key

6 Apr

Las Vegas Raiders: It has a certain NFL ring to it, no pun, even as I’m not a fan of the relocation. But “a rose is a rose,” i.e., it is what it is, in pragmatic speak.

The Raiders name is not what I would envision for the League’s newest member of metropoli (2019), a family of locales where, once you’re in it’s not hard to get out (Oakland, San Diego, St. Louis), i.e., no knuckle-crushing or horse-head sheets. Though, Davis-the-Younger will no doubt take heed of Tom’s warning, “you can’t go home again,” not to set things right, anyway.

That’s not because the silver & black pirate-guy image is not a terrific motif. Arguably, it’s the NFL’s best. I’ve got a hat and cherish it. And its slogan from the mind of AFL original and their legendary owner Al Davis (d.2011), ‘just win baby,’ flows from the lips like wine on a Spanish galleon.

But when a city (LV) – State (NV) contract to commit $1.5 billion (+) to build a new home in cement & girders, coupled with the fact that those parties-of-the-first-part are landlocked (not oceanside), they’ve every right…no, they’ve every obligation to nix half-measures, start anew and wave their own design.

I like the Nevada Sunsets or Las Vegas Buffets (seriously) as new name possibilities, but if the Raiders name remains, which it probably will, the slogan and uniforms will need some detail work: ‘Just roll baby’ and gold ($) trim to create a sense of both separation and remembrance of their California roots.

— — —

Back to the decision to relocate, a move marking the ramblin’ Raiders third attempt to find a permanent home (‘82-94 LA).

I’m no curmudgeon. I like football.

I like city- states that’ll fork over the ducats to get it done (new stadium).

And I like games of chance in their proper place, person and time. But this is neither the place nor the time to set-up shop in the gambling capital of the Milky Way galaxy, outer rim, notwithstanding.

NFL Cufflinks collected in Phoenix the last weekend in March and voted on Monday 31-1 (Mia) to give go-ahead to majority holder Mark Davis to move his father’s silver & black baby from Oakland 400 miles southeast to Sin City.

Vegas’ detractors in its smaller TV market (#40 +/-) (Bay area #5 +/-), and a more transient, tourist-based economy were obviously out-weighed by its biggest asset in that the citizenry of Nevada are willing to foot a little over one-third the $2 billion bill expected for a new stadium planned to open for play in 2020.

But sport + gambling (≠ success) = $#8%?@!! (big trouble).

Does an NFL presence in Las Vegas (NHL’s Golden Knights (there’s a bold name) begin play in 2017) necessarily mean team personnel will be rubbing shoulders with corrupt elements, those who’d solicit game-change (fix)? No, it does not.

The morality of individual or corporate greed aside, Vegas’ strip is no longer gangster-operated as it was in the heyday of heavies (1950 – 70s) as depicted so colorfully (gulp) in the Martin Scorsese crime-drama, Casino (95).

It’s now quite the opposite as Sin City is one of American’s favorite destinations for family fun, food and wholesome frolic.

As for betting, practically anyone, anywhere with internet capability can make a wager in 2017. Knowing a bookie, or as “Jim Rockford” would’ve quipped, “those short little guys in their green cigars,” is no more necessary than dressing up for the game in fedora and dress-jacket (See; 50s photos).

And that, while gambler age seems of little concern to sport moguls or Americans in general as all the Majors have been soliciting investments from children by way of fantasy for a decade now yet raising not a peep from politicos nor socialites.

It’s one thing to bombard kids with shoe and team apparel advertisements where the buyer gets something concrete in return, but the fantasy gamble offers no such quid pro quo, only speculation as if it were Romper Room roulette.

The goings-on in Las Vegas is not so much the problem with it housing a major pro sport team, but rather, the symbolism of what used to go-on (bone-break / life-savings lost) and still does in the Neon City (gambling galore).

‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ may apply to a whole slew of sultry affairs in Sin Central but not when it comes to symbolism.

The city’s wagering reputation, even as fun-parks fill-up daily with families working to scrub that image clean, will remain the same were the Girl & Boy Scouts, Policeman’s Benevolent Society and Sisters of Notre Dame to all relocate their headquarters to Nevada’s most populous city.

That means the message will remain the same with a Vegas major: ‘Gambling is good for everyone in the NFL fan family, its partners in business and pink-wear (ACS),’ where the gamble cancer-patients and families fretfully undertake every-day is the costliest of all and was the real message behind early Breaking Bad.

While I’m confident the vast majority of Nevada citizenry are as hard-working (or lazy) as anywhere else in America and probably have little or no connection to the gamble, that’s not what the public nor players will see.

Some jocks might use Vegas venue as excuse to cross the line (‘Hey, the Big Boys (NFL) are rolling in it, takin’ chances, why not me?’). Why not indeed? It’s a crossover that, if it did happen and were detected today by League watch-dogs would likely not be broadcast in the news as it was in 1919-20 (Black Sox).

Can’t mess with the golden goose, right? Right. And athletes don’t need another reason to cheat themselves and the fans (See; PEDs).

Think of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, aka, Kaep Krusader, and ask yourself if symbolism doesn’t matter.

Kaepernick was never gonna’ be an elite QB, not with his red-zone blues, a habit of coming up empty on the goal-line late in the big game (SB47 – NFCC14). It was a run-QB skill-set that would keep him in the back-up or temporary starter’s role. Once that status became clear in 2016, the Anthem kneel-down began as he threw caution to the wind which became his best completion percentage (ugh).

But Kaepernick’s matured in the pocket, less likey to rabbit and improved TD ratio (v. INT) which should’ve made him an ideal clip-boarder to have rostered if a starter goes down. But no such luck for him, not at this posting.

Clearly, it’s not CK’s limited skill-set that has him waiting on the phone call. Had he caught one more break and put it in the end-zone to win SB47 (+ power-outage), he’d be sporting one of those god-awful-looking champion rings.

And it’s not his National anthem stance, or sit, in protest of what he claims a brutal American police policy. These United States were born in protest (1776-83) and can appreciate, or at least stomach, a sincere objection.

Instead, it’s Kaepernick’s racist pig socks that depicted only white (pink) police that he sported as he hit stride on his shtick, which has him persona non grata and unemployed apart from Beats By Dre, etcetera. And that’s not owner collusion, that’s fighting the good fight against ignorance and hatred.

Symbolism matters. Money matters, too.

But when you make a pact to be the gambling Mecca to every creature with coin or credit (‘Take me to your (ATM)’), a social contract Las Vegan elders freely entered, you forfeit the moral right to house a major professional sporting enterprise, meaning, all bets are off, or on, or whatever the bad one is.

The National Football League, who, ironically, have been successfully fighting a legal battle against the sport-betting biz, it’s sponsors and current Vegas elders are all in breach, non-actionable as that state will remain.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: R.Goodell, NFL, wc.cca, 8.30.12, SSG.T.Wade, USMA; LasVegas-sign, wc, 4.19.05, D.Vasquez; dice-Antonio, wc, JGuzzMaan, 6.24.16; C.Kaepernick, wc, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; NFL-wikiproject
Posted: 4.6.17 @ 12:28am EST, edit 4.10; Copyright © 2017

NFL17: A Patriots Peer, It’s Back To Top-Tier or These Packers Turn Flat-Beer

28 Mar

Pretendership: It’s an NFL station most Green Bay Packers devotees have never knelt before in prayer for guidance and delivery. Anyone rooting for the Acme club yet having no recollection of the play that made John Brockington and Lynn Dickey house-hold names in the badger state is probably in that blessed group.

But that’s for later.

For now, just imagine rooting for an NFL team, one that not only wins most of its regular season games but will have on display any given year a future Cantonese or two roaming the turf, that for most of your conscious life has been an NFL contender. Imagine that. Easy enough for New England Patriots faithful but for the rest of fandom it’s a little hard to picture even in the mind’s eye.

Twenty-five years of pretty much football bliss in Northeastern Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, thanks in large part to two men (GMs), four if you count the coaches (Holmgren / McCarthy), six if you include the QBs (Favre / Rodgers).

Sure, there were some struggles, a few 8-8s seasons, even a couple losing campaigns, but there was always an easy scapegoat to find (Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman, Bill Schroeder) and soon enough the Good Ship Green & Yellow would find its contender course again and all was ship-shape.

The Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson Packers have never dominated the sport as did former Green Bay juggernauts under Vince Lombardi (60s) or founding father Curly Lambeau (20-40s) but playoff births have been nearly automatic since 1992 and the two Super Bowl victories (1997 & 2011) have given the period of prosperity a legitimacy that can only come with championships.

While the Patriots recent reign of championships is incomparable in this still newish century of play, it’s not hyperbole to write that it is actually the Packers, hang with me here, by way of a crafty continuity in success that’ve been the more impressive of NFL’s two most juggernautious franchises these past 25 years.

Sure, New England coaching genius Bill Belichick and his sure-to-be 1st ballot HOF quarterback extraordinaire in Tom Brady are likely the most terrific title tandem in the Super Bowl era (See also; Noll & Bradshaw, Landry & Staubach, Walsh & Montana), but the manners in which both Wolf and then Thompson engineered their respective coach – QB tandems-in-terrificness are the templates in ‘How To,’ 1) Acquire a diamond-in-the-rough bench-warmer (Brett (ATL)), and 2) draft a replacement (Aaron) for a living legend.

Just imagine, two consecutive GMs who respectively displayed an expertise in post-draft patience (Ron) and then prediction on player longevity (Ted), that player in Favre being, to Wisconsin sports fans, next to God, making it very risky business to draft any heir apparent in 2005 (Aaron).

Wolf’s persistence and then shrewd calculation in extracting Favre from Atlanta’s roster in trading a #1 pick (respectful enough to get their interest but not so generous to get ’em wondering) should be an example to every GM and fantasy fan, i.e., that post-draft follow-up can be of greater value than draft day doings.

And Thompson, in showing Brett the door by drafting the Berkeley Bear Rodgers in 2005, took one humongous gamble. To appreciate just how bold a move it was you have know just how popular was the man from Southern Miss.

Directly north up in Wisconsin, Favre was bigger than Lombardi had ever been, in part because every female sport fan in America’s Dairyland had become enamored with the dude. And that’s putting it mildly.

You think Tom Brady’s huge in 2017? He is, but Brett Favre was huger. Hell, Brett was bigger than the NFL. The Green Bay Renaissance that he and his team fashioned, back-to-back Super Bowls and plenty o’ playoff action, briefly put them in the America’s Team seat, after the Aikman Cowboys disbanded, a starry status that played no small role in facilitating formation of the still budding international game in the early 2000s (Mexico City (05), London (07)).

Consider that when “Onslow (Geoff Hughes)” dons Packers gear on the hit British TV comedy, Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95),” it’s not because of NFL rules changes or networks addition of female sideliners. It was Favre, plain & simple.

So if Rodgers doesn’t pan out when handed the offensive reins in 2008, Ted probably gets run out of paper-mill country on a rail, figuratively speaking, after hustling out the family dog first (See; Devine ‘74). But instead, the pan turned up gold and Ted will get a street named after himself, if he hasn’t already.

“Mississippi,” as Falcons Jerry Glanville referred to the rookie QB in smirk, had a couple good seasons left in the tank when he exited Lambeau: An injury-affected Jets campaign (10-6) and two seasons with arch-rival Minnesota, the first in 2009 which would be his best single statistical show and see the Vikes fall to the Bounty-gate Saints in the NFCC10-OT and finale when he dragged himself back for one more go before hanging up his Canton-bound cleats.

♫ Shades of Mediocrity ♫

Mercurial might aptly describe the 2016-17 Green Bay Packers.

Hovering around .500 to the midway, then going three (losses) in the hole, the Pack found some consistency the rest of the way (6 + 2PS) until getting stomped in the NFCC at Mercedes-Benz (Georgia) Dome (44-21 (24-0 H)).

The party isn’t over, not by a long shot, not while perennial MVP entry Aaron Rodgers has his legs underneath and maintains his pin-point passing precision. But some of the good-times have started to head for the exits and a few of those that remain are looking a bit green around the gills (gulp).

One of those always in attendance is the Green Bay defense. It’s a curiosity for even as they helped raise a Lombardi for head coach Mike McCarthy in 2011, it’s also a unit that’s looked wather wobbly since the Reggie White – George Koonce – Sean Jones – LeRoy Butler bunch broke-up.

Team ranks tell the tale. In 2016, the Green figured about where they usually do in the McCarthy era, 22nd in yards allowed per game (364), 21st in points (24+). In the NFCC17 those middling marks came home to roost as Atlanta feasted.

At the center of the defensive scheme has been The Hair, sack-minded linebacker Clay Matthews. Never a top tackler, perplexing for a middle-man, Clay’s numbers have been trending down since that Super season to the point where real value should be a real question for GB staff. He does make a fun soup commercial.

The run game, as party-goers go, hasn’t had much to say lately.

The weighty part of the ball-carry was spending most of its time at the buffet. But Lacy’s gone now and won’t find better eats in the greater Seattle metro, that is unless you really like salmon. And maybe that‘s the point. Bon appétit, Eddie.

Ty Montgomery (2y-SU) filled the void nicely in 2016, for a time, then faded late, 2010 draftee James Starks was not re-signed of , another 2d-yr. in big guy (6’1 255) Aaron Ripkowski (Sooner) will full-back just fine (4.4 – 2td), F/A pick-up Don Jackson (Nevada) had 10 carries last year while former Seahawk Christine Michaels was inked to a deal but has much to prove (9-GS from 2013 (4.3)).

Finding replacements, not mockery, is why the draft matters.

And then there’s Mike ‘What Have You Done For Us Lately’ McCarthy.

Coaching the Green Bay Packers, an early NFL entrant (1921) with accolades enough to fill a cruise liner (sink it along with its Captain in rough waters), is like riding a tiger: When times is good, everybody purrs, but when the champagne rarely flows, the big kitty pitches a fit and sometimes eats its own (gulp).

Mike’s got a monkey on his back clutching an NFCC runner-up trophy in symbol of GB’s disaster known as Cheese-Melt 2015. Packers 1st half lead frittered away and overtime nailed their coffin shut as the Seahawks returned to the Super.

Mike McCarthy has been suffering the “slings and arrows” of regional critics with no return trip to the Big Game. But the rather disappointing playoff runs, enabled by a rather terrific career regular mark (.651), is just part of a pattern he’s displayed since being hired to replace Mike Sherman in 2006. Some good years, a few pedestrian and patience, more patience.

There’s only one Bill Belichick, folks.

Mike’s big mistake was caving to pressure after the Melt to concede offensive play-call, a concession he…revoked (?) at last season’s midpoint. Trust then becomes an issue. But remember, MM turned Packers back into champions when all looked discombobulated, six (6) years after the guy who was prone to sideline temper tantrums left for the State of Washington.

It wasn’t easy filling Favre’s sizable shoes…wait…come to think of it, it actually was pretty easy for Thompson. But Brett was bigger than life and there’s only been one mobile pocket-passer the likes of Mr. Rodgers, a player who, as he will enter his thirteenth (13) NFL summer camp shortly, I’d give four (4) 1Rs in trade today if by some fluke he became free and I a GM in need.

Such a smooth succession in kingly QBs in Packerland in pass of the bejeweled scepter of signal-caller royalty, the Patriots (Belichick – Brady) have not yet displayed. Course, they haven’t had the need. When Tom retires, likely same time Bill hangs up his headset, we’ll see how they do it in Foxborough.

But the Pack are on the championship clock. They need to return to elite status in 2017 (12-4) or their royal carriage may turn pumpkin before anyone expects it.

Last season’s road to the Halas Trophy (NFCC) was not exactly strewn with pot-holes in serious contenders. It was more like the E-ZPass® highway.

The Atlanta Falcons were the real deal in 2016-17 yet may still feel the reel this upcoming campaign from their colossal collapse in SB51.

To write that the rest of the NFC was deficient would be an understatement.

Though much ballyhooed after a W1 loss to the Giants, the Cowboys much anticipated playoff turned Texas-sized soufflé in loss at home to Green Bay; G-Men and Lions proved pretenders, not because they lost in the PS which, by itself is no fraud, but in both getting shellacked; Seattle, never quite the same since losing SB49, gave one of those shellackings (DET) but then got one themselves (ATL); and while Tampa surged to respectability, Redskins never got rhythm, Vikes were extra-mercurial (6-0), Panthers licked their wounds all season (SB50 – L) and pre-season hopeful Arizona never got going.

Residence in the once vaunted North divsion, f/k/a Black & Blue, always boosts the Packers pre-season rank which sits just under Atlanta as NFC favorites, ahead of Seattle (Lacy ≠ Lynch), then Arian’s Cardinals sure to rebound, the Giants, Lions, Dallas who won’t surprise in 2017, D-Vikes, maturing Bucs and sometimes capable conundrums in Redskins, Eagles, Saints and Carolina.

Procuring a reliable run-game is not the challenge that is finding a top-flight, resilient pocket passer, but good ball-carriers don’t grow on trees, either.

Letting lunch-a-lot Lacy exit looks prudent now, but if McCarthy, Thompson and OC in former GB ball-carrier Edgar Bennett cannot in trade or late-April draft find that impactful runner(s) to spell Rodgers and give opposing DCs a ground-attack to diagram, and then the bodies to shore-up a defense that too often turns leaky in rough waters, Packers will continue to get bounced too early from playoffs, Mike will get pink-slipped with no contribution to anyone’s awareness and this era of exuberance will creep to a close, great QB, notwithstanding.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: A.Rodgers-M.McCarthy, wc.cca, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; Packers-print, wc, 1959; B.Belichick, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; A.Rodgers, wc, M.Morbeck, 12.7.08; Minnesota-Vikings-GreenBay-Packers, P.Loadholt-C.Matthews, wc, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck; M.McCarthy, TJ.Grant, wc, 8.11.07; NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao
Posted: 3.28.17 @ 11:39am EST, edit 11:01; 3.31; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 – SB51 Super Cherry Jam: Make Way Fred & Ginger, Swing Time Has a New Team in Foxborough

9 Feb

Top hoofers Astaire & Rogers were hip to it, now Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and rest of the reigning NFL champion New England Patriots are discovering swing time, an odd, devolutionary trend in football that comes by way of the rise in the colossal and inalterable shifts in game momentum.

The typical swinger plays out like this: First he orders a martini…wrong swinger (ba-dum tish!): In the first half, team #1, the eventual loser, charges out to a commanding and seemingly insurmountable lead, only to lose all of their traction and watch helplessly (?) as its once dormant opponent awakens from its doldrums and begins to play like gangbusters (See; SB51).

I first noticed the oddity back in the early part of NFL 2012-13.

Peyton Manning was in year one with Denver who was off to an inauspicious start at 2-3. In San Diego (MNF), however, Mustangs caught swing time, roaring back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to score 35 unanswered for a head-spinning win.

astairerogers-fdtr-1933-rko-l-brock-47kAnd that ’unanswered’ word is key. When used in a football context, it’s synonymous with the word, defense, both the good (NE) and the ugly (ATL). Every stop the Pats D made of the Falcons offense after their 28th point was like a B-12 booster shot to their own offense while at the same time demoralizing the A-Birds.

Back in the day when a team built an early lead, especially if aided by points off a turnover, you could pretty much put the result in-the-books by the middle of the 3rd quarter. The betting window is closed!

In Super Bowl One it was Cantonese safety Willie Wood who intercepted fellow Hall member Len Dawson’s 3Q pass to stave off any thoughts the KC Chiefs had of besting NFL juggernaut Green Bay in 1967.

Reliable outcomes were the standard in earlier Super Bowl play as sad sack clubs like Minnesota (4L), pre-Shanahan Denver (4L), then Buffalo (4L) would usually fall behind fast and never catch up. Bills almost broke the trend in 1991 when scapegoat Scott Norwood’s late field-goal try went slightly wide (20-19).

Hotly contested affairs like the terrific Steelers – Cowboys (76, 79) and 49ers – Bengals Bowls (82, 89) were the exceptions to the rule, i.e., game over early.

Come the 2000s, opening with Rams v. Titans (23-16) and then every Patriots Super Bowl since where the point differentials have averaged 3.7 per (7), the championship game began to see some serious competition throughout.

sb47-coin-1-28-13-a-kirk-4-2mThen came Super Bowl 47 (2.3.13), pitting the Ravens against the 49ers. A watershed event in football history for it’s the first time a swinger took center stage, and I don‘t mean the halftime pseudo porn-fest (ugh). It’s true, a massive power outage at half swung momentum San Fran’s way but then the same emotional ups & downs that define swing time were triggered, too.

Football teams have been losing leads since Melbournian turned Madisonian Pat O’Dea was kicking for glory (1898-99) and Walter Camp fueling the forward pass. But today’s player is clearly subject to mood swings like no generation before.

Why so? Why does one team go near catatonic in the 2nd half, collapsing like a house of cards while the other rises from the early ashes like a phoenix? It’s a real puzzler. “Monsters from the id (fear, etc.)?” Maybe not enough monsters (anger, greed, etc.). I’ll take a stab at another answer to explain this phenomenon.

Most males today under the age of 45 were weaned on rap, most lyrics of which dismiss rules (cheat), teach converts that might makes right, to act with impunity and then portray women are chattel. It’s a boyish arrogance that can’t cope with loss and learns nothing from mistake. And though it thrives in an era that’s seen advances (desegregation – AA), it’s also one where every participant gets a trophy and athletes get coddled from the minute they suit up in junior-high.

A little false bravado (machismo) won’t typically upset the apple cart and might even help with the digestion. But to saturate one’s mind with rap from age eight (8) onward can create a dysbiotic state that’s hard to change.

mathewson-wc-1904-c-conlen-160kIt would follow then that when a team starts to fall behind, especially after having been in firm control, that those players whose constitutions have been forged with a composite (cheap) mettle, would then be unable to muster the confidence, the resilience to bounce back when their opponent begins to make in-roads.

You never stop thinking you can win. Tom and Bill didn’t.

But what about the Patriots, you ask, it’s likely most of them grew up hip-hoppin’ too. Maybe more of them just outgrew their childhood mindsets. I don’t know. What I do know is that having Tom Brady at your offensive controls is like having an IV of confidence flowing through the veins of every man on his team, including and defense who may’ve been SB51’s real MVP, collectively speaking.

What I also know is that psychology, not just pep talks and sideline pad-smash, must now be a serious, integral part of team training and game strategy.

The New York Giants pitching great Christy Mathewson (1880-25) said it well: “You can learn little from victory, you can learn everything from defeat, i.e., “winning is (definitely not) the only thing.”

There’s a whole semester of learning just waiting for the Atlanta Falcons this off-season, and 30 other teams. And while they’re at it (Dan Quinn will get ‘em at it), they can ditch the ditties, or better yet, jump a new music train:

♫ Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream (Rodgers & Hammerstein) ♫

Final record: 88 – 93 – 3 (8 – 3)

straight_shooter-thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; Astaire-Rogers, RKO, FDTR, 1933, wc, L.Brock; SuperBowl.47-coin, wc, A.Kirk, 1.28.13; ChristyMathewson, wc.cca, C.Conlen, 1904; Straight-shooter produce label
Posted: 2.9.17 @ 11:55am, edit 3:29 EST; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 – SB51 Super Cherry Pick: It’s ‘Follow You Follow Me’ With MVP Models Matt Ryan & Tom Brady

1 Feb

Seems only fitting that the two NFL teams, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, that showcased the two top players in 2016 in MVP favorites Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, should’ve successfully run their respective E-ZPass® playoff gauntlets and made it to the biggest sporting showcase on the planet, held this year at NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, for Super Bowl Five-One.

Making his first appearance in the NFL championship game is Ryan, aka, Matty Ice, the Exton, Pennsylvania native who finally gets the Platform to showcase those super signal-caller talents he‘s been displaying in the NFC South for near a decade. In that span, Falcons have compiled a PS mark of 3-4 (67.6 C%, 16-7i).

For Brady’s part, the San Mateo, California native is just doing what he does. Mere mortals might go to the Florida beach once a year but Tom, when all that AFC fun is done, usually takes a trip to the Big Game, this being his 7th (4-2).

brady-8-28-9-k-allison-wc-2m-dcThere’s not much more to write about the sure-fire Canton candidate, except that Tom’s risen above the junior media’s rolling bitch-fest on Roger Goodell (likely the same scribes who’d vote in Barry & Roger), the Commissioner who meted-out Brady’s 4-game susp’n to open the season, stating that he, Tom, who did not make his phone available in the inquiry, holds no ill-will towards NFL’s top Cufflink. A Progressive in the spirit of Robert La Follette is Mr. Brady. His Dad? What are ya’ gonna’ do?

Fitting too that the two teams most in control of their seasons (flagging destiny), would end up facing-off in the Super Duper. Delivering on destiny is never a sure thing (See; Cats SB50, Dallas 2016), but one team in Houston will truck it.

The Patriots (14-2) began their 2016 campaign without Tom Brady under center, using a duo of QBs in Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, together managing a better-than-expected 3-1 mark, then lost Rob Gronkowski but just a mere one game the rest of the way. The A-Birds (11-5) stumbled outta’ the gate in a home loss to rival Tampa Bay (24-31), went on a 4-game streaker, the up & down at midway (2-3) but kept their heads about them and finished strong going 5-1.

Most certainly fitting is that the top head coach in the pros today in Bill Belichick will be strategizing across the NRG field from NFL’s hottest new head coach in the Falcons’ Dan Quinn. The Mighty one (with a win) is no stranger to the Big Game in having served expertly as DC to Pete Carroll in Seahawks two Trips.

cherries-cloth-6-11-picdrome-wc-cca

Super Cherry Pick: For All the Marbles

New England Patriots (16-2) v. Atlanta Falcons (13-5): 2.5 Fox 6:00 EST

This one is simple: Defense. We know both teams are offensive juggernauts this season (NE 15 consecutive) and possess generally reliable kicking games, so it comes down to which can stop the scoring best over four quarters, the last being the key-Q. Falcons defenders, having stopped previously potent offenses in the Seahawks and Packers, have been playing over their heads, closing the regular season ranked #25 (yapg) and #27 (papg) while the Patriots are playing to form (#8 / #1), keeping opponent scoring totals close to their season average (15.5). In B&B’s two Super Bowl losses, both to the Giants (2008 / 12), their opposite in head-coaching was Tom Coughlin who’d previously turned Jacksonville into contenders as soon as their 2d year of existence (1997: AFCC loss to NE, 20-3), meaning, by the time TC signed with NYC, he’d seen it all and had become a post-season pro. It’s Belichick Time. Patriots win.

Record: 87 – 93 – 3

wood-topps-1970Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; cherries-cloth, wc.cca, picdrome, 6-2011; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 2.1.17 @ 11:40am EST; Copyright © 2017