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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

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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

NFL17: Playoff Bound? Reliable Run-Game’s a Must, Keen Clipboarder a Plus

25 Dec

A savvy signal-caller and a defense that makes an impression: Two team traits well-known amongst keen footballers as essentials for a playoff contender.

But in this era of downfield divas and near 100-point results (NO 48 @ AZ 41 (W15)), it’s easy for even the most studious student of the game to overlook the Super necessity of a complementary run-game. Not a dominant ground attack, but integral, responding when called to balance the attack and spare the QB.

The days when power-backs like Earl Campbell and John Riggins, thoroughbreds like Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson could carry their clubs through much of the playoffs, seem as long gone as the gloveless receiver. While their exploits are greatly missed by those of us who remember watching them run, today’s top team doesn’t necessarily need the gargantuan ground-gainer.

blount-wc-j-beall-1-19-14*In fact, the most successful coach won’t ask his running game to carry the team and will rarely have a backfield guy contending for MVP.

Take Adrian Peterson for example.

In his seven full seasons, All-Day has led the League in rushing 3x and won one MVP (12). But only once, in 2009-10, have the Vikes been top contenders in that span, owing much of it to the arrival of 3-time Valuable man, Brett Favre who had his best statistical showing that season in leading Purple to the NFCC (v NO).

Then look at the NFL standard for most of the 2000s, the Patriots.

Since Bill Belichick took the reins in Foxborough he’s had five 1000-yd rushers, with Corey Dillon topping at 1600+ in ’04 but most (Antowain Smith, Ben Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley & LeGarrette Blount) coming in around the 1100 mark. A strong number but not in category with Peterson or prime Emmitt Smith.

No running-back MVPs, no League leaders in year-end rushing totals. And yet, Belichick teams have made it to six Supers and how many playoff spots.

Check the box scores: Quantity in rush, say, 90-100+, is not so important, not a weekly total, as much as quality. That when Belichick, Brady, New England’s OC, want a good ground gain, it’s likely to happen and give the D more to think about.

In Jim Brown’s day (64), the big, bruising back could carry a club all the way but it’s a rare occurrence in the day of play-action pass. Yet, without a strong, reliable run game (900 – 1200), one man or tandem, your team’s Super Bowl aspirations will most likely remain just that, a pipe-dream.

brownj-wc-tsna-m-emmons-315kReliability + timeliness are the watchwords for today’s Supernicitious run-game.

In the present, Mr. Blount has been Mr. Reliable for the Pats these past two seasons, averaging a modest 50-60 per (900 yr.) and fashioning one of the most inspirational football career stories in recent history.

Getting all blame (& susp‘n) in the Byron Haut punching incident, sophomore Blount and his Oregon Ducks opened their 2009 season against Boise State in loss, crushing team national title and Heisman hopes. The Madison, Florida native was then drafted by Tampa Bay, met the 1000 benchmark, was shipped to the juggernautious Patriots in 2013, started 2014 in Pittsburgh only to be returned to the Patriots to finish that season and then contributing (3td) to New England’s PS run that culminated in besting defending champ Seattle in SB49.

In 2016, Blount is the go-to guy in Patriots’ run-game, topping the 1000 mark in W15 and at this posting, leading the NFL in rushing TDs (15). Quite…a…story.

NFC Run-Lite

Detroit Lions

Run totals of Theo Riddick (357 / 3.9), Dwayne Washington (243 / 2.9) & Zach Zenner (198 / 3.5) just puts more pressure on Stafford to work his arm.

New York Giants

When the Coughlin Giants won Super #1 (09), Brandon Jacobs was top grounder, posting 1009 (5.0). Returning to the Big Game in 2011 to top the Patriots, again (SB46), to spoil NE’s perfect run, their fine backfield tandem in Jacobs (571) and Ahmad Bradshaw (659) proved effective. In 2016, no top GG and a tandem that hardly impresses: Rashad Jennings, 541 (3.3) & Paul Perkins, 354 (3.9).

Seattle Seahawks

Having not found Lynch’s replacement, no easy task, Pete Carroll & Darrell Bevell have relied on the Christine Michaels (469) / Thomas Rawls (327 (3.5)) duo. And if you figure in your QB tally (Wilson / 219), you’re asking for trouble.

Green Bay Packers

With Lacy out (IR) and Starks fizzling (2.3), new starter Montgomery (4g) was a godsend to tear up the turf (6.5). But in facing a rated Minnesota Vikings defense, Ty Anthony stumbled on Christmas Eve (23 – 2.6). If the Packers braintrust think they can ride the Rodgers – Nelson hook-up to Houston (2/5), there are gonna’ be alot of cheeseheads crying in their beer n’ curds come January.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Injuries have taken their toll on former great Doug Martin (2.9) who’d passed the 1400 mark twice in his relatively young career. Jacquizz Rodgers (4.4) and rook Peyton Barber (4.1) average well but not many carries. Upside, fresh legs for PS.

Wanted: Clipboard Saviors

It’s not often a playoff team loses their starting QB, but it does happen. Lucky for those teams who plan ahead in the off-season and pay the piper for a capable clipboard-holder to fill the void when needed.

l-olivier-pp-wc-1940What did “Zeus (Olivier)” say in Clash of the Titans (81)?: “Fortune is ally to the brave.” Wise god was (is) the Zeuster.

Bravery must be at a premium in the Oakland front office these days. With the lose of their inspiration & MVP-caliber QB in Derek Carr, going down with a broken fibula in W16 action, the Raiders’ prospects took a major hit. Not just in Carr’s exit but in the caliber of clipboard stepping into the breach. But then, an unknown like McGloin or Cook may only need an opportunity to show the world just how capable a marticulator they are. Maybe

The Tennessee Titans, losing their starter as well when Marcus Mariota was lost for the remainder on a leg fracture, are in a slightly less precarious position in that they signed veteran Matt Cassel last off-season. The career won-loss is uninspiring but the Pro Bowler did quarterback two teams (Chiefs / Patriots) to two double-digit win seasons, respectively. So there’s that.

Here then are the playoff contenders and their back-up state.

New England: Jim Garoppolo (2-0)
Miami: T.J. Yates (4-3)
Pittsburgh: Landry Jones (1-2)
Baltimore: Ryan Mallett (3-5)
Tennessee: Matt Cassel (33-44)
Houston: Brock Osweiler (13-8)
Oakland: Matt McGloin (1-5) & Connor Cook (0-0)
Kansas City: Nick Foles (20-16)
Denver: Paxton Lynch (1-1)
Dallas: Tony Romo (78-49)
New York Giants: Ryan Nassib (0-0 / 9-10 (C90%)) & Josh Johnson (0-5)
Washington: Colt McCoy (7-18) & Nate Sudfeld (0-0)
Detroit: Dan Orlovsky (2-10) & Jake Ruddock (0-0)
Green Bay: Brett Hundley (0-0)
Atlanta: Matt Schaub (47-45)
Tampa Bay: Mike Glennon (5-13)
Seattle: Trevone Boykin (0-0)

The list of names doesn’t inspire much confidence. Makes you wonder what these coaches and GMs are thinking in the off-season. Football’s a very physical game and quarterback is usually at the epicenter of the earthquake. But then nobody but Ron Wolf apparently thought very much of Brett Favre either when the HOF’er GM snatched him away from Atlanta in 1992. FFT

cherries-wc-cca-b-kua-6-1-08-3-3mSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL wikiproject; Peterson, wc, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12; Blount, wc, J.Beall, 1.19.14; Brown, wc, TSN, Emmons; Olivier, wc, P&P, 1940; cherries, wc, Kua, 6.1.8
Posted: 12.25.16 @ 2:50pm, edit 11:27 EST; Copyright © 2016