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NFL18 Cherry Picks W10: Absent Super Bowl Berth, Big Decision Befalls Packers Brass

11 Nov

It’s that time of year again. That time when talk begins about Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy getting the boot by his betters on the Board.

It’s a routine that began around 2013, a couple years after Mike & Company’s Super Bowl triumph over the Steelers. It, of course, has never amounted to much, not amongst practically-minded folk, anyway, except for periodically re-shuffling the play-calling duties to appease the gripers.

But this season might create a different mood, a cheese of a different color, so to speak, if a terrific turnaround and trip to Atlanta doesn‘t come to fruition.

At the midway, the Pack sit at 3-4-1, the tougher half of their schedule behind them where they faced maybe the two top Super Bowl contenders in the Rams and Patriots, back-to-back and on the road, suffering close losses versus both.

And if you think Packers’ R-back Aaron Jones’ fumble to start the 4th quarter of play against those Patriots as both were knotted at 17, was the reason for the green & yellow’s loss in Foxborough, you might want to stick with the NBA.

A more likely cause, one that’s reared its ugly head in nearly every Packers’ loss since White and Butler exited the Fox Valley (early 2000s): Poor defense.

On 3rd and seven at their own 27 in first series after recovering said Jones fumble to start the 4th quarter, Green Bay’s Swiss cheese D allowed Brady to connect with Dorsett for a 17-yard gain, giving the New Englanders good breathing space for a drive that would eventually end in a TD to take the lead, harness momentum and get the win.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to predict the Packers going 7-1 the rest of the way, a final regular season tally (10-5-1) that might be good enough to take the NFC North, a competitive division but with no juggernauts in the bunch.

Current division leaders Chicago (5-3) are improved with new QB Trubisky under center but look more a pretender with a youthful signal-caller prone to rabbit, a red-flag for fumbles and INTs in crucial game moments.

A visit to Seattle in week 11 (TNF), then traveling to arch-rival Minnesota ten days later on Sunday and one more seriously challenging home match-up versus Atlanta in W13 is the stretch that will decide the Packers and Mike’s fate.

All three, the Seahawks, Vikings and A-Birds are playoff contenders but of the fickle variety in 2018: One weekend they can look serious, the next, downright pathetic, even with fairly talent laden rosters.

Even at 9-6-1, a team can probably take the NFCN, the runner-up seriously challenging for one of the two wild-card spots in a down season for the NFC.

And with their remaining schedule, not terribly tough, unless you stand at 3-5, I’d not expect the Lions to get that wild-card spot.

But even a playoff spot and deep run may not be enough to save Mike. Anything short of a Super Bowl will be seen as a failure by Packers elite and fandom.

Aaron Rodgers is a rare talent, even as Green Bay had such fortune just prior to the Berkeley boy’s arrival in the person of Brett Favre. Once Rodgers hangs ‘em up, maybe less than five years with recent the injuries starting to take their toll, to nab a third consecutive Hall of Fame caliber QB is highly unlikely. The point being, Packers window for returning to the Big Game is closing.

McCarthy is not a great coach, but he’s a pretty darn good one (124-74-2 / 10-8 PS / SB45-W). He’s in that grade with Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin (SB 1-1) who himself is looking to solidify a place in the history of another storied franchise.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 10

NO @ Bengals: 11.11 Fox 1:00pE: Cincy
Detroit @ Chicago: Fox 1:00: Lions
Washington @ TB: Fox 1:00: Buccaneers
Buffalo @ New York: CBS 1:00: Bills
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis: CBS 1:00: Jags
Los Angeles @ Oakland: CBS 4:05: Raiders
Seattle @ Los Angeles: CBS 4:25: Hawks
Dolphins @ Green Bay: CBS 4:25: Packers
Dallas @ Philadelphia: NBC 8:20: Eagles

Record: 38 – 31

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo Credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Aaron-Rodgers, Mike-McCarthy, wc.cca, 9.9.12, M.Morbeck, Lambeau-Field; ripe-cherries, Chirak, 6.24.07; Harold-Jackson, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 11.11 @ 2:45aE; Copyright © 2018

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NFL18 Cherry Picks W6: Stackers, Slackers and Uff-Da, Memories of the Heidi Game

14 Oct

“We’ve just gotta’ keep stackin’ those wins”

Quoting James Conner, Steelers running-back in interview just following his club’s clobber of the visiting Atlanta Falcons, 41-17, to go to 2-2-1 (10.7).

Truer post-game words were never spoken: Stay positive, stay focused, keep it simple and keep that winning momentum going.

Conner’s a man who aught be trusted, and not tagged Pollyannaish.

*He’s the man who has proved quite capable in filling the breach created by All-Pro ball-carrier LeVeon Bell who has been holding-out for a new contract and seen his stock drop precipitously in recent weeks as Conner, a 2d-year back out of the University of Pittsburgh (b.Erie), has seen his own on the rise. Jim’s numbers through Week 5 of NFL18: 5g, 84r, 342y, 4.1ypc, 5td, 22rec – 239y.

Other stackers of recent wins include the Bengals (4-1), the Chiefs (5-0), Bolts (3-2), the defending champ Eagles (3-3), the Bears (3-1) (Did I just type the Bears (?)), Vikes (2-2-1), Saints (4-1), Panthers (3-1) and the Los Angeles Rams (5-0) whose decision to return to the white ram‘s horn on their helmet (gold in St.Louis – yellow in last years of prior L.A. residence) must be credited in some small way for their resurgence.

And whilst Jim spoke words of reason, Tom Brady spoke some of the weirdest words in recent memory in saying this week the NFL is now a “glorified college football.” If anyone’s earned the right to say silly things, it’s the New England Patriots starry quarterback. But right does not always make might. Oy vey.

— — —

Where there are stackers, there must also be slackers, teams that, plain and simple, are stinkin’ up the joint.

Some we figured would be rank in 2018 (Jets Bills Cards Giants etc.), but others we believed might just have found the formula to turn it into contendership but turned out to be so much pie-in-the-sky, hence, the term, slacker: 49ers, Seahawks, Falcons, Lions, Dallas, Oakland, Broncos and the Texans.

I was just a little tike when the Heidi Game made BIG news.

The date was November 17, 1968. The New York Jets were in Oakland to take on the Raiders in an AFL showdown, the precursor league to today’s AFC. Both clubs were contenders with Joe Namath and Daryle Lamonica quarterbacking for their respective clubs, and the New Yorkers just about two months away from their date with destiny, i.e., Super Bowl III versus the Baltimore Colts.

The game was close with the Jets taking the lead late in the 4th. Then NBC in all its wisdom decided to switch to its scheduled programming for the East coast viewership, a TV movie of Heidi. As you might guess, while millions in the Eastern time zone were marveling at the Swiss countryside, the Raiders roared back to score two TDs and win the game, infuriating Jets fans and the like.

In this NFL’s Week 5 action, a similar happenstance in Carolina as Fox network decided to switch national viewers to the later Vikings – Eagles game as scheduled. But low & behold, the hometown Panthers came from behind on the final drive with place-kicker Graham Gano booting a massive 63-yarder to win the contest against the Giants. The difference in THIS switch-a-roo was that NYG and Carolina viewerships stayed-tuned to their game, even as other viewers were deprived of the exciting finish in NC.

Not exactly a Heidi Game, but not exactly a foxy programming call, either.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 6

Tampa @ Atlanta: 10.14 Fox 1pE: A-Birds
Carolina @ Redskins: Fox 1:00: Washington
Seahawks @ Oakland: Fox 1:00: Raiders
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati: CBS 1:00: Steelers
Los Angeles @ Cleveland: CBS 1:00: Bolts
Chicago @ Dolphins: Fox 1:00: Miami
Baltimore @ Tennessee: CBS 4:25: Ravens
Jacksonville @ Dallas: CBS 4:25: Jaguars
Chiefs @ Patriots: NBC 8:20: New England

Record: 17 – 15

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, Wikiproject, 2011; Pittsburgh-Steelers-enlarged-helmet, wc, Daniel-X-Oneil, 4.28.15, Chicago-Draft; Heidi-film, 1937, wc, Jean-Hersholt, Shirley-Temple; cherries-ripe, wc, Chirak, 6.24.07; Harold-Jackson, wc, Topps-Chewing-Gum
Posted: 10.14.18 @ 3:47aE; 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 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 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 Conference Cherry Picks: Top Dogs Hunting & Halasing on Way to Houston

17 Jan

If the Pittsburgh Steelers chatty guru Mike Tomlin is a “cheerleader” coach as one sport personality recently opinionated, then all I’ve got to say (write) is this:

Give me a W!
Give me an I!
Give me an N!
Give me another N!
Give me… … you get the picture. Mike’s a winner.

tomlin-wc-m-rooney-9-16-07-405kWhether he’s a skilled tactician in offensive (Sid Gillman) or defensive (Bud Ryan) scheme or a leader who prefers delegating those duties to specialize in the emotional game (rah-rah), Mike wins alot, regular (.644), post (.615) and is 1-1 in Supers. Tomlin & team went through a rough playoff patch in recent period (2012 – 2016 (1-3)) where Steelers went one n’ done, twice, then lost in 2016 divisional.

But Pittsburgh is 2-0 in their march on Houston (SB51), prevailing over a slightly off-center Miami club who were without starter Tannehill, and then Sunday won a gutsy road game over a scoring-lite Chiefs who’re back to the drawing board.

Tomlin is a bit off-center himself, showing poor judgment in the nationally-televised 2013 Thanksgiving contest in Baltimore, stepping into the pathway of Ravens return-man in a clear effort to disruption, hence the whopping $100G fine. More recently Mike was recorded making crude reference to his next week’s Conference title opponent, the Patriots. Stay classy, MT. Ugh.

halas-1922-wc-therakishfellow-188kThere’s been speculation that former Steelers Super Bowl QB and present Fox analyst, Terry Bradshaw and his curiously-timed critique of Tomlin, just prior to playoffs, was more than simple opinionating but instead intended to stoke the fires of Steel City players, a crew that’s been fizzling out early in recent playoff ventures.

Whether staged or sincere, Bradshaw’s statement on Tomlin’s coaching style seems to have had no negative impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers championship run, one that looks to be unified and motivated to the gills, a necessary group mental state given that their next destination has been most typically an opponent’s graveyard-of-dreams in Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts.

cherries-ripe-chirak-wc-605k-6-24-7

Conference Cherry Picks 2017: Crème de la crème

Packers (12-6) @ Atlanta (12-5): 1.22 Fox 3:05 EST (Halas Trophy)

Conference play presents the best in competition as none of four remaining teams is a pretender. Nobody gets this far on smoke & mirrors. Experience over exuberance is how GB got back to the NFCC (2012). A-Birds punched their return ticket (2013 (Smith)) by topping the same Seattle and being the most offensively juggernautious team in NFL16, ranked #2 in YGPG, #1 in points scored and led by MVP-caliber Matt Ryan. Packers ranked at #8 / 4 and were rising at W17. For most of his coach career (1994 W&M), Falcons Dan Quinn has been a defensive specialist but that skill has not been apparent in Atlanta with poor 2016 team ranks indicate (#25 / 27). Lucky for the hosts, Packers didn’t fare much better on the D-side (#22 / 21), a group that nearly served up a Cheese-Melt II (See; Seattle 2015) in the Dallas divisional game. I like Falcons’ resolve: Behind early to the Seahawks (0-7), roar back with a killer 2Q (19), maintain matriculation and the D bolts it down (2H-10p). Kicker Crosby was cool late for GB (2-50+) but A-Birds Bryant (K) & Bosher (P) are toppers too. Clubs are very comparable, as it should be, except Atlanta’s run game is more est’d, and then they’ll be Benzing…the dome, not the hydrocarbon. Pack should’ve gotten hot earlier. Falcons win.

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Steelers (13-5) @ New England (15-2): CBS 6:40 (Hunt Trophy)

Media pounced on New England who lost but one quarter ((2) 10-3) to offensively tepid and defensively cranky Texans (34-16). Only surprise is that Brady’s O-mates failed to pounce on the QB’s crank (Clowney). Not in their job description (ugh)? Tom’s 2 INTs of tipped variety. Pitt had tougher time in KC but like Falcons, showed resolve. Must go back to ‘05 for Pittsburgh’s last AFCC visit to Foxborough, a 41-27 loss. Cowher’s out and Big Ben wants to forget (3 INT). Comparable clubs, too, on both O-side (NE: #4 / 3 – PIT: #7 / 10) and the stoppage (NE: #8 / 1; PIT: #12 / 9). Steelers #1 horse is clear (Bell) but I wonder why Blount (8c (HOU)), Pats proven gainer, fell to #2 behind Lewis (13c)? Pressure on the QB sets the tone: Pats OL is a wall (24sk (HOU 2)), Pitt’s is a bigger one (21 (KC 1)). Putting on pressure, both were…capable, Steelers made 38 sacks (1 KC), New England 34 (3 HOU). Weather folk see Sunday in Boston metro as 42°, clouds and no flakes, not from above, anyway (See; Mike). If not the AP-MVP, Tom should have shot at the Super variety. Patriots win.

Record: 85 – 93 – 3

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject; MikeTomlin, wc.cca, M.Rooney, 9.16.07; GeorgeHalas, 1922, wc.cca, therakishfellow; cherries-ripe, wc.cca, 6.24.07, Chirak; AFCC-LamarHunt-trophy, wc.cca, A.Kirk;
Posted: 1.17.17 @ 11:37am, edit 7:59 EST; Copyright © 2017