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NFL18 Wild Cherry Picks: ‘Surprise Surprise Surprise,’ Injuries Have These Playoffs Gomer-ized

5 Jan

The NFL 2018 playoff pool is not without its familiar faces in teams like the New England Patriots (#1 AFC seed) and their SB51 NFC opponent, the Atlanta Falcons (Wild Card), but not in recent memory have there been so many surprises, in and out of the post-season festivities.

On the AFC in-side, that means the Bills, Jaguars and Chiefs.

Most would’ve figured pre-season that if a 2nd Eastern squeaked into the PS it’d be either the Dolphins or Jets, not Buffalo who’re still iffy on the QB state that’ll carry over into the next season no matter how they fair in this playoff run.

In Jacksonville, many were writing off fourth-year starter Blake Bortles who’s thrown 64 INTs in that span while his team averaged all of four (4) wins in each season prior to 2017’s surge upward (10-6).

The Chiefs were figured by most to contend this season and things looked promising with another 5-0 start for Reid‘s guys, but with a 1-6 mid-season swoon things turned gloomy for the Arrowhead bunch until their late-season adjustment when they went 4-0 to close, luckily in a woeful AFC West.

In the NFC, Eagles and Vikings, both finishing 13-3, like the Bills, were seen as possible contenders who might slip into the party but without much fanfare.

The Saints, winners of the South and possessing of maybe the greatest passing QB of our time in Drew Brees, are a surprising participant in this post-season only in that they’ve been mired in mediocrity for three straight 7-9 finishes.

The Rams of Los Angeles, THEY, like the Jags, are a full-blown, genuine, grade-A surprise, reaching eleven (11) victories and taking the West crown.

But what may be more surprising about this playoff field are the no-shows, teams many expected to make the playoffs and whose absence would’ve had GomerPyle USMC (JimNabors d.11.30.17) exclaiming his trademark expression to the four-corners of his Carolina county: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

Ten player names and their absence for most of the 2017 regular season explain in large part why most of their respective teams didn‘t get their tickets punched: Four in the AFC in Dolphins’ QB Ryan Tannehill, Colts’ Andrew Luck, Houston’s J.J.Watt and MVP-caliber wide-receiver Antonio Brown (PIT); Six suit-up in the NFC as defender Kam Chancellor (SEA) and offensive stalwarts Aaron Rodgers (GB), David Johnson (AZ), Odell Beckham (NYG), 6-game suspended Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and the leading candidate for Associated Press swag (MVP) before his W14 injury, QB Carson Wentz (PHI).

The Steelers (Brown) and Eagles (Wentz) made it in with a bye but you’ve gotta’ wonder how such serious losses can’t work serious damage to their chances.

And those surprise out-siders fall into two categories of teams:

1) Those out who were expected MIGHT contend and never did
2) Those out who were expected WOULD contend, get in and have an SB run

Group #1: Miami, Cincy, Houston, Indy, Giants and Tampa
Group #2: Detroit, Seattle, Arizona, Redskins, Baltimore and Oakland

2018 Wild Cherry Picks

Titans @ Kansas: 1.6 ESPN 4:35: Chiefs
Falcons @ Rams: NBC 8:15: Atlanta
Bills @ Jacksonville: 1.7 CBS 1:05: Jags
Carolina @ NewOrleans: Fox 4:40: Saints

Record: 76 – 59

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Gomer-Pyle-USMC, wc.cca, CBS, Nabors-Sutton, 1968; A.Smith, wc, 11.26.16, SAF-MH-Denver, USAF, GabrielleSpralding; M.Ryan, 8.18.16, E.Drost, wc; cherries-ripe, Chirak, wc, 6.24.07; W.Wood, ToppsChewingGum, 1971.
Posted: 1.4.17 @ 11:15pE; Copyright © 2017

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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 Cherry Picks W6: Skin CAN Be Topical, When Thickness Is the Theme

12 Oct

We’re 1/3rd the way through NFL 2017 and only the Kansas City Chiefs’ mark remains, like that rare high school mug, unblemished (5-0), having avoided the deflating though brief malaise that will accompany that first loss of the season to keep the hopeful if naïve notion alive that ANYTHING is possible (16-0).

Five games in is when you’ve had enough ball under the belt to get a good idea of what’s working and what’s not, but not so late you can’t right the ship after a couple losses have begun to blow the vessel off course.

Since the 1960s, only the Dolphins (72) and Patriots (07) have managed to make it through the entire regular season Clearasil® clean (no losses), New England finally breaking-out (succumbing to the Giants in SB42) while Miami bested the Redskins in SB7 to stay Stridex® sound (undefeated). So in all likelihood, every team will post a pimple (loss) at some point early in the season. Eek.

It’s how a team HANDLES losing that’ll prove the biggest test.

Here’s what some famous people have had to say about winning, losing and how lemons can get turned into lemonade:

I believe the greatest failing of all is to be frightened: New Zealand (London) writer, Katherine Mansfield (Kathleen Mansfield Murry, 1888-1923)*

You can learn little from winning, you can learn everything from losing: New York Giants baseball great & WWI veteran, Christy Mathewson*

What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate: Donald Trump*

It is not enough to conquer, one must learn the art of seduction: Voltaire*

Okay, so that last one’s a bit bawdy for football but you get the idea, i.e., there’s more to it than winning. Holding onto power can be tougher than taking it.

But to handle a loss, even one that embarrasses badly, a good team with a champion’s constitution must have thick skin, thick enough to withstand the burning remarks of critics. And then, after the pain subsides, a mind-set for learning from the miscues that led to the collapse in confidence and play.

Who needs thick skin at this juncture? Prit near everyone, but those with a contender capability might be having their’s tested the hardest.

Arizona Cardinals (2-3)

Pre-season hopefuls, the Desert dwellers have had their skin tested in the next best (worst) manner, serious injury to a key cog, that being MVP-caliber running-back David Johnson who went out in W2 with a dislocated wrist.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3)

The Pack are always contenders for the Halas trophy (George must crack a smile up there every time someone ties his name to the Green & Yellow) with the likes of Rodgers under center, but giving ’em 20 points in the 4Q, at home in a game you had in control from the get-go has to burn the Boys skin bad.

As to some folk’s notion that last Sunday’s tussle (GB 35-31) constitutes NFL17’s game of the year, I say ‘Oh brother.’ Besides being premature (W5), any game where 30 points are allowed in the closing quarter can’t rank too high. Defense still has to count for something in the game of football.

Los Angeles Rams (3-2)

Looked to be the surprise contender of 2017 and might still fill-the-bill. With Russ Wilson, Wagner, Kam, Thomas, Wright and Coach Carroll, the Hawks, like GB, are an NFL Elite who own their Division, now that AZ has degressed. As such, there’s no shame in losing a close one to Seattle, even in LA. And when was the last time a Rams v Jaguars game seemed worth a look-see, eh?

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)

Ben Ben’s talk of his demise is disheartening. Ever since Tomlin did his $100K (fined) turkey-trot on T-Day (13), I’ve hoped for better leadership to utilize best the final years of Pittsburgh’s future HOF quarterback. No such luck. But here’s more advice from the sage Giants moundsman: You must have an alibi to show why you lost. If you haven’t one you must fake one. Your self-confidence must be maintained. But keep it (alibi) to yourself, where it belongs.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 6

Eagles @ Carolina: 10.12 CBS 8:25: Cats
Packers @ Vikes: 10.15 Fox 1:00 GTW: GB
Detroit @ New Orleans: Fox 1:00: Lions
Patriots @ New York Jets: CBS 1:00: Patriots
Buccaneers @ Arizona: Fox 4:05: Cardinals
Los Angeles Rams @ Jaguars: Fox 4:05: Rams
Chargers @ Raiders: CBS 4:25: Los Angeles
Pittsburgh @ KansasCity: CBS 4:25: Steelers
New York Giants @ Denver: NBC 8:30: NYG
Indianapolis @ TN: 10.16 Disney 8:30: Colts

Record: 16 – 11

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Katherine-Mansfield, Archives-New-Zealand, wc, “thick-skinned-toady,” T.S.Eliot-critique, 1915 (+/-); Rhinoceros, India, wc.cca, Brehms-Life-Of-Animals, 1895;
Posted: 10.12.17 @ 4:55pE; Copyright © 2017
References (*): Mathewson: 1001 Fascinating Baseball Facts, Nemec & Palmer, 1994; Pres. Donald Trump, Google; Mansfield, Wikipedia; Voltaire, Wikipedia.

NFL17 Division Cherry Picks: Chaff Aside & Eight Seeds Alive, Goddess Ceres Asks, ‘Who’s Got Destiny?’

11 Jan

Green Bay Packers
New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Seattle Seahawks

They are the juggernauts of the oh-so sticky-glove era, winners of four (4) of the last eight (8), seven (7) of the last thirteen (13) NFL championships and almost half (13) of the last thirty (30) American – National Football Conference Super Bowl births. That’s alot of Bowl Babies, “by gosh by golly.”

ceres-wc-france-late19c-jlpc-9mThey are the haughty half of the eight remaining teams in the division playoff round, teams who have in recent times won their respective Conference hardware (Halas / Hunt) and are again in position to punch their ticket to SB51 in hopes of hoisting the vaunted Lombardi trophy, again.

The rich getting richer? It’s been the unaltered economic state going back to Nixon and will likely continue on with Trump directing the flow, so why buck the trend, eh? Ugh.

It’s in divisional play where the bye guys (no pun) in the Patriots, Falcons, KC and Dallas will now be tested under the brightest of lights and fiercest of foes. Simply stated, this is “the best of times,” for football viewers.

wilson-2-5m-11-11-12-l-maurer-wcUnlike the NCAA championships (March Madness) where Rd-1 of 34 games displays some of the most exhilarating and unexpected outcomes, NFL’s wild card stage is largely an exercise in separating chaff (hull) from the wheat (seed), i.e., threshing or thrashing, as it were. While Derek Carr’s presence would’ve had an impact, injuries plague every team and the WC is becoming semi-pathetic.

Did any unbiased, rationally-minded prognosticator truly believe that the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders or Miami Dolphins stood a snowball’s chance in Hades of advancing? And the one team some thought (moi) might put up a fight and make it interesting, the Giants, they too looked like they didn’t belong (13-38 GB).

Atlanta Falcons
Kansas City Chiefs
Dallas Cowboys
Houston Texans

They are the wannabes, the aspiring four remaining teams who’ve been out of the mix (Super) for so long (ATL, DAL, KC), or never in it (HOU), that they cannot rightly call themselves a standard-bearer, no matter the jersey sales (Dallas), and must earn their way back to where the big boys hang their hats (See; above).

kelce-wc-j-beall-9-14-14-1-5mThree of the four, Falcons, Chiefs & Cowboys, will play host to a juggernaut, boosting their chances a bit but had better bring their best game or next Monday they’ll be spending the day planning the next family cruise.

Winner’s Tale

1) Always able: Easy ability to matriculate (24+ pts);

2) Fourth-quarter defense that stops the scoring and bolts it down. Same holds true in college football and something that Alabama genius Nick Saban overlooked this time (“Clemson’s Dabo Swinney may have the nation’s best progression (75-27) since taking the Tigers’ reins (2008) and is a top candidate to topple cartel. Explains the raise ($5M) (9.2.16)”);

3) Fewest turnovers; and

4) Reliable kicking game (50 yd+).

cherries-hispalois-7-2-12-caceres-spain-wc-4-4m

Cherry Picks Division Grade

Seattle (11-5-1) @ Atlanta (11-5) 1.14 Fox 4:35 EST

Almost four years to the date (1.13.13) when in the divisional it appeared Pete Carroll’s building project hadn’t yet matured. Seattle played Swing Time in Atlanta to roar back for 21 points in the 4Q, only to lose on a late Matt Ryan-led FG drive (30-28). Falcons “Mighty (Dan) Quinn” was Hawks’ DC then and next year when Seattle hoisted (SB48). A-Birds are a scoring machine (33+) with best PS kicker in Bryant (92% (6-8 50+)) but DQ hasn’t built the top-stop (D) like he did in Emerald City. Awash in injuries, Seahawks’ defense still sticks while Rawls motors (6.ypc-DET). Earlier W6 battle is indicative (SEA 26-24): Close one where 4Q stoppage will decide it: Seahawks win.

Houston (10-7) @ New England (14-2) CBS 8:15

Osweiler battles Tannehill for ‘Rodney Dangerfield award (“no respect”)’ while facing maybe the best coach-QB tandem in history (Bill & Tom), in Foxborough, versus well-rested hosts with Tom in top form. Houston will need a Texas-sized shamrock to pull-off upset of the century. O’Brien has the defense clicking on all cylinders, even sans Mr. Celebrity (Watt), but the Pats, scoring experts they are, also play some D themselves, leading in all-important PPG rank (15.6), 2+ pts lower than next best, NYG (HOU 20.5), which goes to their W3 blanking of Texans (27-0). “Houston” would like to play for the crown in their NRG park come February but may have to satisfy still with the world’s Rollerball (‘75) championship (Ouch!). New England wins.

packers-cheer-9-26-10-m-morbeck309k

Pittsburgh (12-5) @ Kansas City (12-4) 1.15 NBC 1:05

Fans of this former AFL power hope Andy Reid’s plan gets Chiefs back where Hank Stram got ‘em when KC did “matriculate” all over the Vikes (SB4). Steelers defense is rated (342 ypg (12)) but KC bests their guest on PPG, 19.4 < 20.4. It’s former Chiefs guru Haley designing Pitt’s scoring scheme (24.9 ppg), a smidgen up on Chiefs OC Childress (24.3). Steelers have big weapons in Brown, Bell, Big Ben and SB coach Tomlin who wants desperately to prove he’s more than a “cheerleader.” No ICBMs in KC but QB Smith is cool customer, Ware aches (rib) but is all-purpose, Kelce a top TE and Peters a game-changer. Digits and W4 win (43-14) say Steelers favored but Ben’s gimpy (ankle) and Chiefs benefit from the home-field advantage: Kansas City wins.

Green Bay (11-6) @ Dallas (13-3) Fox 4:40

Packers get top TV slot, again, though, green & yellow would just assume face America’s Team sooner than later. Big Question: Will Dallas’ transplendent rookies in Prescott & Elliott hold up under bright lights or is middling GB defense (#22 / 21) enough to rattle their senses? Green Bay lit-up Vikes top D (#3 / 6) in W16 on a secondary that defected. No such discord in Dallas (#14 / 5). Boys W6 win at Lambeau (30-16) caught Pack in a state-of-funk, one since deodorized by a 7-game streak (sweet smell of success). GB still has a run void but Ramblin’ Man Rodgers is locked in. Long layoff helps veteran-led teams like Patriots but takes the edge off young Turks (Dak & Zeke). Nelson ribbed but was non-factor vs. NYG. Experience trumps exuberance. Packers win.

Record: 83 – 91 – 3

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-sign, wikiproject; Goddess-Ceres, France, late.19c., wc.cca, JLPC; R.Wilson, wc, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; T.Kelce, wc, 9.14.14, J.Beall; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Packers-cheer, wc, M.Morbeck, 9.26.10
Posted: 1.11.17 @ 11:14am, edit 3:35, pic-fix 1.13 @ 2:20pm; Copyright © 2017