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NFL18: Wild West as Chiefs Roll Dice on QB and Rival Raiders Gamble On a Gruden Return

20 Mar

The upstart AFL was never too tied to tradition to forgo taking a gamble or two.

That was a pretty typical tack for any entity trying to survive in those days when monopoly was tightening its Court-aided grip on their respective business interests (NFL, MLB, communications, food, energy, banks, etc.).

One of those dice-rolls was instant-replay, introduced by red & white-striped zebra Cal Lepore (1919-02). Like it or not (me no likey), I/R continues to have a big impact on the game of football and sport generally.

And unlike the AFL’s older brother, the National Football League, which, in the 1960s, was stuck in the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust‘ offensive mentality, the American Football League (1960-70) was wide-open, turning the pro game into a pass-first profession, thanks largely to men like Oilers quarterback George Blanda and the strategies of San Diego Chargers sideline genius, Sid Gillman.

Sadly, at the insistence of deal-maker and co-founder Lamar Hunt, the AFL in 1971 merged with the more established NFL and became the AFC (NFC). In 2018 it takes absolutely NO gambles, not even on the Super Bowl halftime show where Justin Timberlake promised he wouldn’t pull another nipple-stunt like he did in 2002 with co-creator-in-crass, Janet Jackson.

But stop the presses!

Two AFC West teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders are harkening back to the days of yore by risking plenty in making dicey decisions that could significantly shape the 2018-19 NFL season.

KC head coach Andy Reid is entering his sixth season at Arrowhead and chose to part ways with his starting QB, the capable veteran but still priming, Alex Smith. He did this in the midst of a luke-warm, NFL signal-caller pool, while the Davis Trust decided Jon Gruden, he cooling his heels and collecting lots o’ loot at Disney (ESPN) for the last ten years, was worth another look-see (1998 – 02) in hopes he can shake off the rust and hasn‘t lost the zeal.

Rivalry: For many decades it stoked the fires in the sport furnace.

When Mays, McCovey & Marichal visited Chavez Ravine to face Drysdale, Wills, Koufax and rest of Walter Alston‘s West Coast Bums, all California buzzed.

When the Halas or Ditka-coached Bears arrived at City (Lambeau) Field in Green Bay, much of the NFL media turned out in anticipation of fireworks.

When Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird battled under the NBA boards, the Earth stood still, then rocked with rhythm.

And when Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Boston Bruins headed to Canada to face Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and rest of the Habs at the Montreal Forum, it wasn’t the War of 1812 (all Canucks) but you could cut the tenison with a knife.

Today, regionalism and the long-running, raucous rivalries that sprung forth from those adjacent locales has largely been neutralized, some weirdly cancelled altogether, at least in the college football setting.

On campus, the rivalry has been sacrificed for a miniature playoff system, positioned by mindlessly-drawn, mega-conference alignments and then, just as in the professional game, capped-off by celebrity (Heisman race), sold most seriously by a socially-driven junior media who can’t seem to get enough of the gossip and tiresome tidbits that accompany any life that runs in the mix.

But happily, rivalry still rocks the craddle of competition where men butt heads in the National Football League, though, you might not sense it where some of the League’s oldest grudge matches have become little more than concessions to tradition with one or both clubs are, to put it politely, in re-building mode. The Bears v. Packers (or Cardinals), Giants v. Redskins (or Cowboys), Bengals and Browns remain mired in mediocrity.

Yet some rivalries remain vibrant.

The SaintsFalcons, both recent Halas hoisters, still rules the Southland.

VikesPack are the dominent donnybrook in the Old Northwest Territory.

On the Pacific rim, Dick Sherman believes his transfer south to the 49ers will rekindle a rivalry with his former squad, the Seahawks. If Dick weren’t in full-fade, maybe, but more likely Pete, Russ & Bobby will keep doing what they’ve usually done to the Miners these past ten years: Beat the metal out of ‘em, even with Mr. Garoppolo now grappling the pigskin for the Bay backers.

And the best rivalry West of the Mississippi? That’s still the RaidersChiefs.

This will remain so even after the Silver & Black pull up stakes to head east and settle in Nevada. It may grow bigger, given the closer proximity, as long as LasVegas keeps the logo and color montage ‘as is.’ Add gold into the design, get gaudy, and then they are no longer the Raiders.

Both teams are AFL originals, Chiefs relocating from Dallas (Texans) to begin the 63 season and Raiders filling a slot that opened up for inagural 1960 when the Vikings backed-out on an offer to join the senior circuit NFL in 1961.

The rivalry’s intensity reached boiling point in late 1970 as both teams, the Chiefs reigning SB4 champions, battled for the AFCW crown. With KC ahead and QB Len Dawson on the turf after having ran for what seemed a game-clinching 1st-down, Raiders’ defender Ben Davidson speared Dawson with his helmet, triggering a melee where the Chiefs Otis Taylor was later penalized for his own ferocious response in defense of his quarterback. No permanent injuries but it all nullified KC’s gain, Oakland got the ball back, tied it up late, won in OT, clinched the West, the Chiefs were prevented from defending their Super Bowl win and missed the post-season. Ouch!

You can believe, stories like that are handed down by generation.

With Gruden back on point for the Raiders (OAK-TB / 95 – 81), owner Mark Davis hopes Jon can set young Derek Carr back in the saddle of success and work the same magic he did in coaching the Buccaneers to their first ever Super Bowl (SB37) when they trounced the Oakland club he coached just the year prior.

Carr has the pocket poise, taking-off a mere 23 times in 15 starts in 2017 (6-9). The O-line helps in that regard (20sk) but the Raiders need to provide the young QB with more offensive weapons to work his own magic that raised hopes in 2016, while Jon must retrieve those personal skills that served him so well with diva players like Keyshawn who, I must say, matured into a fine studio voice.

As to KC, a stable coaching state has not inspired off-season confidence.

In trading away veteran quarterback Smith (Redskins) and only toe-testing in the free-agency pool, Andy Reid & Co. have, at this posting, saddled themselves with a near-rookie QB in Patrick Mahomes (NFLD17) who’s started one (1) NFL contest (a win on zero TD, one INT) and who, at Texas Tech, showed a tendency to rabbit (averaging 10+ per). All meaning, it’s project time on the Plains.

Not being a pro-style signal-caller like Carr makes Mahomes’ promotion all the more perplexing when you consider the scheme Reid employs: WestCoast.

Evasive quarterback mobility is a plus but the WC-scheme sets the signal-caller to facilitate OTHER player movement in getting the pigskin to his ball-handling teammates in a forward thrust to pay-dirt. It won’t function at an optimal level if said QB is in flash-mode whenever that pressure floods the pocket.

The Patrick Mahomes issue aside, Kansas City does have some formidable offensive threats in dual-duty Kareem Hunt (1327y rush / 455y catch), veteran tight-end Travis Kelce (1038y – 8td), 3d year receiver Tyreek Hill (1183y) and new addition (BUF) in Sam Watkins who, if healthy, fills nice as a secondary choice in the slot, an essential for every title team.

Powerful as those players be, they must have a field general who can matriculate with confidence and consistency to maximize their capabilities in order to make a major run. Without one, team talent is only half-realized and a Wild playoff spot may be the best scenario for the Chiefs whose Super drought (SB4) is longer than the team they vanquished (MIN-78) in KC’s lone NFL championship.

StevenKeys
MacroSport
Photo Credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; KCTV5-Dani-Welniak, Reid-Andy, wc.cca, 12.31.17, J.Beall; Packers-Vikings, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck, wc, Loadholt-Matthews; dice, N.Morberg, wc, 2.22.09; J.Gruden, wc, 2003, USNavy, John-Woods; J.Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 3.20.18 @ 6:05pE: Copyright © 2018

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NFL18: It’s Famine State On Franchise QBs As Eagles Have a Field-General Feast

22 Feb

Some call it a quandary, a quarterback conundrum in Eagles-land.

With two 6’5” Pro-Bowl signal-callers likely to be vying for the champion E-Birds starters spot come summer camp, one of them a would-be AP-MVP if not for a late-season ACL tear (Carson Wentz), the other, the reigning SB52 Most Valuable (Nick Foles), Philadelphia’s head coach Doug Pederson looks to have a tough choice on his soon-to-be bejeweled hands.

Pederson & Co. are envy of the League, one where at least a dozen other clubs wished they’d had such a dilemma to deal with this NFL off-season.

But don’t count the Vikings, even as the team Philadelphia vanquished in last January’s NFCC, in amongst the wishers.

With three capable QBs rostered, counting most recent starter Case Keenum, a rehabbed from his most recent injury, vet Sam Bradford (just nine months older than CK) and the youngest of the group, Ted Bridgewater who’ll be entering his 3rd NFL season after having lost the starter’s spot to his own injury and Bradford signing, Minnesota has their own field general quandary to quell.

Contract maneuvers aside, I’d tab Keenum.

Bradford’s always been a skilled pro and mentally focused but is now looking egg-shell and Teddy, in 28 starts (17-11), didn’t appear to have the matriculatory skill-set to move Minnesota into the upper echelon of contenders (28t-22i).

Keenum has 40 starts under his belt (20-19 / 1-1), put up strong numbers in 2017 (11-3, 67.6C%, 22t-7i, 3550y, 7.4 ypc), inspired on an incalculable capability (NFCD18) and is in his prime, having just turned 30 in February (2.17.88).

The Chiefs, count them in with the ‘wish-we-had-more-options’ group.

The sorry state of affairs in quarterback commodity makes Kansas City’s call to part-ways with the capable Alex Smith perplexing. Smith is aging (34 in May) but then so is his former head coach Reid (60 in March).

Alex is a veritable youngster compared to some other NFL stalwarts like Brady (40) and Brees (39) and had a strong 2017, going 9-6 on a 67.5C%, over 4000 passing yards and a super 26-5 TD-ratio. Chiefs lost their lone playoff contest versus the Titans but Smith played his part pretty well (24-33, 264, 2-0, 4sks). Go figure a franchise that hasn’t been to the Big Game since Stram in 1970. And with Gruden back in Oakland-LasVegas, that Super drought may get drier.

For the Eagles part, instinct would have you think an abundance of proven signal-callers in camp is a dicey state best to be avoided, but the NFL does have its case histories showing a wealth of quarterbacks can be a good thing.

The dual QB system was in place with the original Los Angeles Rams from 1949 to 1952, the Bob Waterfield – Norm Van Brocklin dynamic duo producing four NFL championship contests with one title realized (1951).

The 49ers of the late 1980s, early 90s began their dynasty with Joe Montana at the helm and would add Steve Young to the roster for a fifth and final title in 1995. Steve didn’t sub too much during Joe’s reign but they did co-exist on active-duty for four seasons in the Bay City (87-90).

Around the same time as Joe & Steve in SanFran, the Giants had a quarterback tandem of their own going with Simms & Hostetler, Phil leading the New Yorkers offensively in their SB21 (87) win over the Broncos and then had the baton passed to Jeff who called the winning plays in SB25 against the Bills.

So it’s been done before, the duality thing. But the player contracts will control. The broad-strokes: Wentz signed a 4-year deal in spring of 2016 for $27M, Foles a 2-year term in early 2017 for $11M.

Barring the bizarre like player holdout or a contract-term permitting Philly to avoid the dilemma and part ways with one of their two starter QBs before the season begins, both men will be rostered for the entirety of 2018-19.

But whether it’s the rostered versus trade-bait or starter versus sideliner debate, Nick Foles should get the nod in either discussion.

For starters (no pun), the man is no playoff fluke.

Foles has earned his spurs, not only of the post-season variety but has proven himself to be a capable regular season quarterback as well when he went 14-4 on a 62C% as an Eagles’ starter spanning the 2013-14 campaigns.

Carson is younger (25 > 29) but Foles is healthier, has been shipped out of Philly once before (2014), has a regular season career mark of 22-17 (Wentz 18-11), 3-1 in the post-season and is now imbued with the aura of a pro-football Titlist, sans as many as the 352 dimples (Titleist® Pro V1).

It’s all been a bad break for Wentz.

Sure, Carson can wear his Super Bowl ring with pride in knowing he played a big part in getting the Philadelphia Eagles to a playoff position where they controlled their own destiny on home-field and in imbuing his teammates with a confidence, a winning spirit needed to close the deal against New England.

But the knee injury derailed an MVP-like season and it’s the QB who hoists the Lombardi who gets the love. Add to that, we don’t really know exactly how well Wentz will play once he hit’s the turf with his repaired knee. Recent history does bode well, though. showing that the medical community nowadays is doing wonderful things in the orthopedic department as Adrian Peterson can attest.

And maybe Philadelphia goes all in, strategizes like a real champion by taking a page outta’ the old LA Rams’ playbook in implementing a true, dual-QB system. Not so crazy when you consider both their current #1 and #2 quarterbacks are tested, highly capable and have the trust of their teammates.

Bottomline: These Eagles should count their blessings. They’ve already done the unthinkable and achieved the goal of every owner, GM, coach, player and fan in the League: Win the Super Bowl, and did so in besting the best club of the past twenty years. Anything from here on in should be gravy, pure gravy. That means they can roll the dice, take some reasonable risks, keep both Carson and Nick, for a time, see how it plays out and HAVE SOME FUN.

StevenKeys
Photo credit: NFL-symbol.2011.wikiproject; D.Pederson, wc.cca, 1.19.16, PressCon, T.Johhson; N.Foles, SB52-VictoryParade, 2.8.18, GovWolf, wc; C.Wentz, .9.10.17, wc, K.Allison, Hanover-MD: H.Jackson, TCG, 1970
Posted: 2.22.18 @ 3:52pE; 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

NFL18 Division Cherry Picks: No Favre or Peterson Present But Revenge May Factor In Saints @ Vikings

11 Jan

And then there were eight.

The NFL 2018 Divsional playoff round looks pretty competitive, if your glims are gandering at the National Football Conference side of things. Atlanta @ Philly, the Saints @ Minnesota both figure to be barnburners. As for the American Conference, baring the bizarre, those results you can pretty much bank on.

Upsets can happen in sport but the Jaguars @ Pittsburgh and Tennessee @ New England both figure to finish in favor of the home teams by…mid-3rd quarter.

The #1 curiosity clash: Revenge Bowl in Minneapolis.

U.S. Bank Stadium will play host to one of the hottest teams going into these 2018 playoffs in the Minnesota Vikings who went 11-1 in their last 12 regulars, their lone loss a close one in Carolina in W14 (24-31), while the New Orleans Saints were 9-3 after their bye week and are coming off a big post-season win against those intra-divisional rival, the Panthers (31-26).

New Orleans fell to the hosts in Week 1 action, 29-19.

Of greater emotional weight in the balance of power entering the Divisional slugfest may be bad feelings that remain from the 2010 NFC Conference Championship game that was played at the Superdome and saw a crew that would later be tagged with Bountygate penalties, best the Northern visitors, 31 – 28 in overtime on-way to a SuperBowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The only Vikings’ personnel remaining from that game might be owner Zygi Wilf and his family. On the Saints side, star quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton are some of the remainders, the guru whose sideline hissy-fit pushed NFCC zebras to flag Minnesota for an illegal substitution and then penalty, taking the Vikes out of field-goal range late and leading to Brett Favre’s careless INT to send the championship game into OT. And as every fan knows, overtime mojo tilts to the home-team, especially when the opposing field-general has been over-undered into oblivion, oy vey.

Of no great bearing on the game’s outcome but of some curiosity is that this divisional showdown will not be the last game played at U.S. Bank in this 2017-18 NFL campaign. It may even be the site of two more contests: An additional game if the hosts prevail over New Orleans and then face the Falcons in the NFC title tussle, but a certain venue once more as Minneapolis is in present preparations to be the hosting metropolis for SB52.

More curious than a busy venue in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is the possibility for a Pennsylvania Polka at Super Bowl 52, i.e., the Eagles versus the Steelers. And wouldn’t that be a halftime hoot, hey? Not so much that revenge would be at play for such a match-up, but more like a family reunion of sorts seeing as how both teams briefly consolidated as one squad during World War II (1943), compiled a winning mark (5-4-1) and came to be known by some as the Steagles.

Division Cherry Picks

Falcons @ Eagles: 1.13 NBC 4:35: Philly
Titans @ New England: CBS 8:15: Patriots
Jaguars @ Pittsburgh: 1.14 CBS 1:05: Steelers
Saints @ Minnesota: Fox 4:40: NewOrleans

Record: 79 – 60 (3 – 1)

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, Wikiproject, 2011; DrewBrees, wc.cca, 1.8.11, Seattle, KellyBailey; CaseKeenum, 11.12.17, wc, KeithAllison, Maryland; Cherries, B.Kua, 6.1.08, wc.cca; BrettFavre, 10.24.10, wc.cca, MikeMorbeck
Posted: 1.11.17 @ 12:54pE 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 Cherry Picks W9: It’s Paradise Found For Gridiron Leg-Men In London Town

4 Nov

NFL London Games is proving a Paradise for those players rostered to leg the ball, whether it be field-goals, kickoffs or punting the pigskin (cowhide) to opponents in an act of sportsmanship on their own failure to fashion a score.

That last bit is on slim chance a reader new to North American football (China, GreatBritain, Mexico, etc.), just happens to read my post and could use a little insight into just exactly how the gridiron game works and why (I’m still cricket-challenged). And that’s a chance slimmer than the one the Cleveland Browns presently hold (0-8) for winning the 2018 Lamar Hunt trophy (+ SB52 ticket to Minneapolis 2.2.17). But you do what you can.

In this age of massive passing stats, still highly-valued run-games (See; Ezekiel Elliott), sieve-like defense (prevent) and corresponding scoreboard tilt, kickers in football have generally been treated by most fans as chopped liver: Not a salivator but good for the mind and body.

One man’s punter whipping-boy can be another’s perfect athlete. That’s the case for NFL kickers when they sail off USA shore to the other side of the pond.

Here’s what the Browns injury-sidelined, perennial All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas had to say in observation of the Twickenham Stadium crowd while in attendance of last Sunday’s Pond East contest (and loss) against the Vikings, with Wembley Stadium serving as the other NFL London venue:

“The English sure seem to enjoy the kicking plays, the biggest applause seem to be these punts (USAToday – sports, 10.30.17 (@ JoeThomas73 on Twitter))!”

In actuality, this would be more of a return to paradise than a first find, as the kicking game was, in football’s early years, one of its most valued aspects.

Names like Pat O’Dea (UW 1898-99 (CFHOF 62)) and Jim Thorpe (Carlisle 1910-12 (CFHOF 51)) made national headlines with their famous footwork, long before Walter Camp turned the forward pass into a gridiron strategy staple.

The English (rugby) and the Mexican (fútbol – soccor) can teach us Yankees a new perspective, a broader appreciation for all the aspects of our own game. Because as every NFL fan knows, the kicking game, with all its memorable moments both good and bad can, when you least expect it, prove decisive.

And that’s the way we want to keep it. ¡Sí cómo no!

NFL17 Cherry Picks W9

Cincy @ Jaguars: 11.5 CBS 1:00: Jackson
LosAngeles @ NewYork: Fox 1:00: Giants
Atlanta @ Carolina: Fox 1:00: F-Birds
Baltimore @ Tennessee: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Arizona @ SanFrancisco: Fox 4:05: 49ers
KansasCity @ Cowboys: CBS 4:25: Dallas
Raiders @ Dolphins: NBC 8:30: Oakland
Detroit @ Packers: 11.6 Disney 8:30: Lions

Record: 34 – 23

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; mini-skirted-legs, wc.cca, S/E-England, 1972, IXIA; J.Thomas, D.Whitner, E.Drost, 4.14.15, wc; Cherries-ripe, wc, 6.24.07, Chirak; mini-skirted-lady, wc, 8.5.70, PiccadillyCircus, JaneArt
Posted: 11.3.17 @ 11:29pE; Copyright © 2017