Tag Archives: Arizona Cardinals

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.

Advertisements

NFL17 Pre-Play: Bloom Is Off But Arians Still In League’s Elite Coach Class

5 Sep

NFL 2017 head coach ranking with Bruce Arians of Arizona Cardinals @ #5:

1) Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
2) Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
3) Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
4) John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
5) Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

— — —

It was a rough 2016 for the Arizona Cardinals and their 5th-yr HC Bruce Arians who still gets mentioned when the NFL’s best are bantered about.

Arians must be a firm believer in aberration, i.e., an unpleasant deviation from the norm. He HAS to be because he won’t, he CAN’T believe that his fairly talent-laden NFC West squad would again lay an egg like they did in NFL 2016 when, in oppposite of many favorable prognostications by fans & press and general roster health they finished a disappointing 7-8-1. Eek.

Progression can be a wonderful thing. From it will spring forth hopes, learning experiences and maybe, just maybe, a 5-year, $25M ($15M guaranteed) contract with a nice buyout clause ($7.5M). Maybe.

I don’t know how the Paterson, New Jersey native’s, who is set to turn 65 in October (10.3.52), contract with owner Bill Bidwell reads but given his former progression, its terms are most likely fair & balanced to both sides.

The problem with progression is that any sudden halt in one’s steady forward progress and it can be bone-jarring. Ouch!

— — —

Beginning his coaching career at Virginia Tech in 1975 as a graduate assistant, Bruce didn’t get his first top NFL gig until late in the game at age sixty when he took over as Indianapolis interim for the ailing Chuck Pagano who was out in cancer treatment (2012) and proceeded to win the first of his two AP-COY awards (+ 2014). In 2013 he took the reins at Arizona and kept winning, going 34-14, a total that excludes his 9-3 Colts mark (11-5), W-L numbers diverted to Pagano‘s career tally by NFL’s record keepers.

2012: Colts 9 – 3
2013: Cards 10 – 6
2014: Cards 11 – 5
2015: Cards 13 – 3
2016: Cards 7 – 8 – 1

Odd as Arizona’s 2016 devolution, odder still was that it happened even as there were some quite notable individual and team bright spots.

Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, the Bengals’ 1st-Rd draftee out of USC in 2004, appeared to’ve fully recovered from his 2014 knee injury, making fifteen starts and putting up reasonable if not great numbers.

Career-long Card and another 04 draftee in receiver Larry Fitzgerald had his eight 1000-yd season in 2016, surpassing the 100 career total in TDs (104).

On defense, Arizona sported a double-digited sack-duo in linebackers Markus Golden (12.5 / tie 3rd) and Chandler Jones (11 / 8th). Not how I’d use my main-defenders (sacks) but it got the job done in part as AZ’s defense ranked a spiffy #2 in yapg (305 (301 HOU)) but a so-so #14 in papg at 22.6 (15.6 NE).

The brightest spot was rising star and MVP candidate (I had him #2 heading into W17), running-back / receiver David Johnson, the 2nd-year man out of Northern Iowa who ran for 1239 (+ 16td), caught 80 passes for 879 yards (+ 4td) and led the League with 20 pay-dirts in total.

Some small comfort for Arians & Crew may’ve been the fact that 2016 was, as Winston Churchill put it in describing the Soviet Union circa 1939, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” especially in the ho-hum NFC which may help to account for this prognosticator’s worst effort to date.

In the American, surprise disappointments were the Jets (10-6 (15) > 5-11 (16)), the Ravens (10-6 (14) > 5-11 > 8-8 (16)) and the Bengals (12-4 (15) > 6-9-1 (16)) who were expected to contend and then, of course, el-foldo come playoffs.

In the NFC, Cards and defending Halas hoisters, Carolina, were favored to shine but stumbled in start and never recovered; Seattle didn’t find the fierceness and only Atlanta & GB looked worthy of taking on New England. And if you thought Dallas (13-3) was the real-deal with the rookies, you don’t watch much NFL.

Will Arizona rebound in 2017? League’s looking pretty pathetic these days, bound to get worse with the art of tackling fading fast and flash-QB filling the ranks, meaning, any team with pro talent in key positions, and that means AZ, should have a good shot a taking the Hunt or Halas trophy come January.

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-sign, wikiproject; B.Arians, G.Skidmore, 8.5.16, Glendale, wc; L.Fitzgerald, wc, Al-Anbar, Al-Asad, USO, 3.8.09, Cpl-J.Hernandez, Cpt-J.Daniels; Arians, 3.22.17, DoC, T.LaRussa, G.Skidmore; Topps, J.Otto, 1970
Posted: 9.5.17 @ 4.28pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL16 Cherry Picks W14: Are 11-1 Dallas Cowboys Super-Sizing or Just Surviving?

5 Dec

Monday Minute Waltz – NFL Week 13

The two most annoying words in sport today: fantasy points.

Mr. Bortles: “Trying to do too much (NFLN)” or just…plain…bad…judgment?

Larry Fitzgerald’s 2Q sideline handshake w/Redskins opponent DeSean Jackson was probably not the un-“selfish” play Cards’ coach Bruce Arians had in mind.

— — —

I don’t know who first uttered that buoyant phrase, ‘a win is a win is a win,’ but it’s point is pretty hard to dispute.

It’s the sentiment I expect was expressed by each and every Dallas Cowboys player & coach on their return flight home last Thursday nite following their narrow victory (17-15) over the hosting Minnesota Vikings.

cowboyshat-wc-5-16-8-dukeha-109ksb4That the Cowboys won their eleventh (11) straight contest and continue to have most people in the sporting biz thinking them colossal are morale boosters, for sure. That they won by the skin of their collective teeth is not all that disconcerting in that nearly every title team that’s hoisted the hardware had a close game or two on their road to Titledom.

The Minnesota win was valuable. Dallas won on the road, on short rest, topped a contender, a team that should’ve been highly motivated for victory to 1) keep playoff hopes alive that’ve been fast fading and, 2) win one for the Zimmer as head coach Mike was unexpectedly absent having emergency eye surgery (Detached retina?).

But how you win can be as important as how you lose.

‘Winning ugly’ has become a cute characterization today but in fact can be an omen, a warning sign of deficiencies that if not attended to forthwith will turn into big trouble down the road upon entering the playoff expressway.

The foreboding flipside to the Cowboys win last Thursday is in their failure to trounce a team that started hot (5-0) but has gone fairly frigid (1-5) since a week 5 win over the equally troubled Houston Texans.

garrett-j-wc-1998-user-archbridge-11kAdded to that, the host club’s home-field advantage was just lesser in that they were without their head coach and spiritual guide in Zimmer. Special teams man Mike Priefer, a key figure in the Chris Kluwe case, did a fine job filling-in and may’ve made identical calls to his absent boss but it’s just not the same.

In short, the Vikings were vulnerable, easy prey and the Dallas Dudes didn’t take full advantage. Cowboys’ failure to flex goes not only to the skill issue (do they have enough), but also to psychological aptitude as well, i.e., killer instinct.

Put more philosophically, does Dallas have the spirit of a champion?

Since their bye week, and setting aside the cakewalk win over Cleveland (35-10), in their five following victories, the Cowboys have won by an average score of 5.6 points. That’s less than a TD and that’s a close game. And had the Vikings game officials viewed the closing helmet hit on Vikes QB Bradford with an eye keener to protect passers from unnecessary harm, that average might even be lower.

Now comes the final stretch. All four of the Cowboys’ remaining opponents are contenders, some more serious than others but contenders, nonetheless.

First up are the Giants, a scheduled meeting whose timing is probably much to the liking of head coach Jason Garrett.

prescott-9-18-16-k-allison-187kThe division rival from New York (8-4), even with last Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh, G-Men are the only team in 2016 with moxie enough to topple the ‘Boys, taking the win in opening week (20-19). Garrett would just assume play the re-match now in the Metropolis having enjoyed a 10-day rest in preparation.

Next up is an AT&T call from the Buccaneers, who are, at least this week, one of the hottest clubs in the League at 7-5, followed by a visit from the roaring Lions (8-4), at least this week. Closing out the regular slate is a rematch with division foe the Eagles (5-7) whose losing mark should not belie their competitive play and the fact they’ve chalked up convincing wins over the Steelers, Vikes and bad-luck birds of Atlanta.

If the Cowboys, who qualified for the post-season on their Minnesota win and Redskins loss (@ AZ), close out strong (3-1), do so with emphasis (8+) and hold home-field, Super LI may be just their size come February.

cherries-wc-cca-b-kua-6-1-08-3-3mCherry Picks Week 14

OAK (9-3) @ KC (8-5) GTW: 12.8 NFLN 8:25: Chiefs win
Steelers (7-5) @ Buffalo (6-6): 12.11 CBS 1:00: Bills win
Broncos (8-4) @ Tennessee (6-6): CBS 1:00: Denver wins
Washington Redskins (6-5-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles: Fox 1:00: Philly wins
Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) @ Miami Dolphins (7-5): Fox 1:00: Cardinals win
Houston Texans (6-6) @ Indianapolis Colts (5-6): CBS 1:00: Colts win
New Orleans Saints (5-7) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5): Fox 4:25: NO wins
Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) @ Green Bay (6-6) GTW: Fox 4:25: Seahawks win
Dallas Cowboys (11-1) @ New York Giants (8-4) GTW: NBC 8:30: Giants win
Baltimore (7-5) @ New England Pats (10-2): 12.12 Disney 8:30: Patriots win

Record: 58 – 68 – 2

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: J.Garrett, wc.cca, K.Allison, 9.18.16; Cowboys-helmet, wc, DukeHa, 5.16.18; Garrett, wc, User.Archbridge, 1998; RD.Prescott, wc, K.Allison, 9.18.16; cherries, wc, B.Kua, 6.1.08; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 12.5.16 @ 4:20pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16: In a Sorry Season, David Johnson is an Arizona Bright-Spot

1 Dec

Stiff-Arm

It was the time-tested stiff-arm tactic that first caught my eye when happening upon Arizona Cardinals then rookie running-back David Johnson (UNI) two summers ago in a pre-season exhibit game against the San Diego Bolts.

In carrying the pigskin prize, the Clinton, Iowa native had habit of putting his free-arm out like the Heisman guy, an effective tactic at keeping his AFC opponents at bay long enough to tack on a few more yards, no doubt to the delight of Cardinals staff.

az-cards-wc-m-epsilon-9-2-12-logo-10k-2005It’s true that pre-season play by tradition and common sense does not often go full-tilt and must be viewed in a different light than the regular season play. The reasons are well known: Rusty from the layoff, trying to avoid injury (to yourself / opponents) and a team chemistry that is still in flux due to new teammates by-way of the draft, trade or free-agency.

But if I recall right, this Cards – Bolts exhibition was one of the later games when the synergy is beginning to set in, defensive hits get more pointed and borderline players are fighting for their lives to make the final roster. And in this heightened state of competition, David looked to be a gem.

The Whole Package

From the get-go, you could, if possessing of even a rudimentary level of football know-how, see that this 3rd round 2015 draftee (#86) out of Northern Iowa had all the tools to survive head coach Bruce Arians’ roster-cut and then thrive at the pro level once given a starter’s spot.

It’s kinda’ basic but Johnson clearly knew his playbook. And how many rookies and then vets too have suffered a roster cut simply failing to know that much?

arians-8-5-16-wc-g-skidmore-2-2m-az*David let the O-line do its thing, found holes the playbook predicted and when they weren’t there, could cut on a dime and carve out his own. Then, when quarterback Carson Palmer put the ball in flight, it found sanctuary in a pair of hands that were made to catch.

That pre-season audition, impressive to this viewer and his coaches no doubt, seems to have started David Johnson on a professional pathway to a cherished place.

Born to NFL?

Making the Cardinals cut and sharing duties with former 2000-yard running man in Chris Johnson, David would go on to rush for near 600 yards, eight (8) touchdowns, haul in 36 catches for 457 yards and convert four (4) of those for pay-dirt. Pretty spiffy statistics for a greenhorn.

This 2016 season has David appearing as one of the few bright spots in a sorry Cardinals campaign (4-6-1), one where the team is beginning to show the blight of the dreaded “selfish” disease, as recently pointed out by Mr. Arians. But it’s seen the sophomore’s upward trajectory put David in class with the National game’s top rushers and most reliable go-to receivers.

az-cards-plane-e-maloney-4-6-08-425k*In handling triple-duty in the lion’s share of AZ’s rushing game, a healthy portion of the reception load and turning much of it into touchdowns (13), Johnson’s fashioning himself into a top NFL multi-purpose running back, nearing that stupendous class of 1970s greats like the Minnesota Vikings’ Chuck Foreman and St. Louis Cardinals’ Terry Metcalf, both offensive stalwarts who could do…it…all!

Entering W13 action, here are David’s NFL ranks in key personal stats:

#3 in rushing yards with 921;
Tied at #27 in receptions at 55 (#2 RB);
#40 in reception-yards with 613 (#1 RB);
#1 in touchdowns with 13 pay-dirts, and
#1 in yards-from-scrimmage (run / catch) with 1534.

Every year as the NFL season winds down there are a handful of viable MVP candidates to mull over. This 2016 campaign is no different (Brady, Prescott, Elliott, Carr, Wagner, etc.). But if David Johnson is not in one’s discussion on who should take home the coveted Associated Press award, it might be best that person forget about talking football and stick with The Walking Dead.

*Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Arizona-Cardinals word mark, wc.cca, M.Epsilon, 9.2.12, 2005; UniversityPhoenix-Stdm, wc, K.Lund, 4.10.9; B.Arians, wc, 8.5.16, G.Skidmore, Glendale-AZ; AZ-Cards-plane, wc, 4.6.8, E.Maloney; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 12.1.16 @ 3:11pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16 Cherry Picks W12: Who Makes Your Playoff Final Four?

25 Nov

Minute Waltz Thanksgiving

Late-game INT aside, Bradford’s value to Vikes’ roster is unquestionable;

Lions Tahir Whitehead goes John Lennon (Here, There & Everywhere): 11 solo;

Cowboys’ Sean Lee goes Paul McCartney v. Redskins with 14 tackles, 9 solo;

Cowboys half-time show: Grotesque, in the contemporary Super Bowl tradition;

Steelers @ Colts: A proven back-up QB on roster is no luxury, it’s a necessity.

Minute Waltz Week 11

brady-8-28-09-k-allison-wc-cca-862mCards miss their Sun King, Tyrann Mathieu;

Likely less than ten 1000-yard rushers in 2016;

Tannehill = Rodney Dangerfield (“no respect”);

It’s “Future Shock” for the Green Bay Packers and the Cheesehead Nation who are now fast approaching Mediocre City;

Quarterback GWD totals are driving much of the excitement this 2016 season.

The Jell-O® Four: Proof is in the Pudding

For clothing, proof is in the wear…and the wash.

manningeli-wc-4m-aj-guel-10-10-10In the culinary creations (food), the proof is in the tasting…and then the digestion (Burp!).

For football teams, evidence of a championship caliber (SB) is found in week-to-week play.

At the two-thirds mark of this NFL 2016 season there’s been plenty of game action, mettle testing from which to glean who are those top (four) contenders for hoisting the 2017 Lombardi trophy. That all making it possible for some bold predictions.

Not the Super Bowl forecast, mind you. Picking those two teams at Week 12 would be like pre-season prophecies on the Big Game, which are about as valuable as four-day old turkey. Hash it, Honey!

Instead, it’s time to select your AFC – NFC Conference championship teams for the games that often prove more competitive than the Super (Snoozer) Bowl.

roethlisberger-9-9-12-wc-cca-j-beall-3-9mTime to cut through all the crap, i.e., playoff pretenders (NFCN, AFCS champ), and settle on the four juggernauts who are just one win away from the Big “Par-taaay (D.Heffernan),” teams that’re most likely to run the gauntlet and come out Top Dog. Woof, woof!

And because it’s possible that your (my) Conference picks will face-off earlier in the PS, consider THAT game to be the championship bout between the two best with its winner making the final four, or too possible that none of your chosen CC teams at W12 will even land a playoff spot (0-4), you could end up with some sizable egg on your face when the title tussles actually kick-off in mid-January. But no risk, no reward, like if you go all Rogers Hornsby with the picks (4-for-4).

What to look for in Conference championship combatants?

1) Balance (offense / defense team rankings);

2) 1st-Team All-Pro talent at key positions;

3) ‘In good’ with the Gods (at / below League average on injuries), and

4) Small point-margins in losses. How you lose is as relevant as how you win.

wilson-2-5m-11-11-12-l-maurer-wcJuggernaut Club cues: D-mettle and composure (GWD).

2017 NFC Championship: Seattle v. Giants
2017 AFC Championship: Patriots v. Steelers

Seahawks: It’s Carrolling Time.
Giants: Gathering of veterans (Eli)
Patriots: Bill, Tom & Pax Patriotana
Steelers: Big Ben Roethlisberger

cherries-ripe-chirak-wc-605k-6-24-7Cherry Picks Week 12

Titans (5-5) @ Chicago (2-8): 11.27 CBS 1:00: Bears win
Bengals (3-5-1) @ Baltimore (5-5): CBS 1:00: Cincy wins
Cardinals (4-5-1) @ Atlanta (6-4): Fox 1:00: Arizona wins
Los Angeles Rams (4-6) @ New Orleans Saints (4-6): Fox 1:00: Saints win
San Diego Chargers (4-6) @ Houston Texans (6-4): CBS 1:00: Chargers win
Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1) @ Tampa Bay Bucs (5-5): Fox 4:05: Seahawks win
Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) @ Denver Broncos (7-3): NBC 8:30: Denver wins
Green Bay (4-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (5-5): 11.28 Disney 8:30: Pack wins

Record: 49 -58 -2

......NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: P.Carroll, wc, K.Allison, 10.6.14; T.Brady, wc, Allison, 8.28.9; E.Manning, wc, 10.10.10, AJ.Guel; B.Roethlisberger, wc.cca, 9.9.12, J.Beall; R.Wilson, wc, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; cherries, wc, Chirak, 6.24.7; NFL-symbol, wc, wikiproject
Posted: 11.25.16 @ 1:13pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16 Conference Cherry Picks: Halas n’ Hunt

22 Jan

“Do you fear the force of the wind,
The slash of the rain?
Go face them and fight them,
Be savage again.
Go hungry and cold like the wolf,                        5
Go wade like the crane;
The palms of your hands will thicken,
The skin of your cheek will tan,
You ’ll grow ragged and weary and swarthy,
But you ’ll walk like a man!”                                 10

Do You Fear the Wind?, by Hamlin Garland (1860 – 40 (W. Salem, WI)), contemporary audio illustration by J. Facenda, NFL Films

Dichotomy Bowl

Cherry Pick NFCC: Arizona Cardinals

Before big games it’s customary to look for common threads that run between the two opponents, maybe as a proof that there’s a winning template or something of the sort. But as “Donnie Brasco” might’ve said, “forget about it.”

Besides the obvious rare appearance in Conference championship play, memorable 2015 runs and a rare Heisman head-to-head in signal-caller spot, analogies between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers are few & far.

......Rozelle.Halas.80s.J.Summaria.wc.cca.thmCarson and Camster couldn’t be more different in poise (pocket v. run), personality (low-key v. high-flyin’) and roads taken (USC v. Auburn).

To the history buffs this 2016 NFC championship offers up a contrasting pair, pitting one of NFL’s charter-members in the Cardinals, Phoenix being their 3rd stop (CHI ‘20 / STL / AZ), against one of it’s newest clubs, the Carolina Panthers (‘95).

All that variety should help make for a top-notch tussle in Charlotte for Sunday’s Super selection game slotted in the late showing on Fox (1.24 / 6:40 EST).

And the winner can hoist high the coveted George Halas trophy, named in honor of one of the League’s original players (Decatur Staleys), founding fathers (“Papa Bear“) and long-time coach of the Monsters of Midway.

If you think Manning – Brady is big doings, even as Peyton’s embers may burn their final blaze, when you talk about sport rivalries, none was bigger than the Halas – Bears v. Lambeau – Packers – Lombardi battle that rocked back n’ forth for parts of five decades (1920s – 60s). Trophy hogs, these guys were.

.....Arians.9.8.14.wc.thmb.FF.SwamiAnother chasm in claim of commonality between Carolina and the Cards are the differing personalities and résumés of the two head honchos, Bruce Arians (AZ ‘13) and Ron Rivera (CAR ‘11).

You could say the former Hokie’s pathway to his present job took the “Long and Winding Road (‘75 VT / 14 jobs)” while Ron’s, comparatively speaking, is more like ‘the shortest distance between two points is a straight line (‘97 CHI / 5).’

After playing QB at Virginia Tech Arians went straight into coaching while Ron played 9 seasons with Chicago (‘84-95 (LB)) and five years later took a job with the Bears as a defensive coach. Shoot-from-the-hip (Arians) vs calculated (Rivera), Bruce tends towards offense (See Also: Harold Goodwin (OC)) while Ron is, not surprisingly, a defensive specialist (Sean McDermott (DC)).

What’s gotten both teams to the pinnacle of these playoffs is their coaches similar ability to expand their repertoires and fashion success on their lesser sides, with the respective help of top-notch staffers in Carolina’s Mike Shula and Cardinals’ James Bettcher (DC).

.....Rivera.6.10.11.R.Paraglide.wc.thmOf course, both clubs are red-flagging a smidgen.

Playing at home, AZ barely got by GB in the divisional (26-20 OT), Pack not exactly being juggernautious in 2016, while Carolina forgot the realtor’s mantra, ‘always be closing.’ Cats jumped out big against the defending NFC champ ‘Hawks only to invite Swing Time (’36) and see their sizable lead fritter away, lose all scoring punch (0 2H) and escape with the win.

That coach who can best work his left-handed talent, that coaching area to which he was not befitted by a natural inclination, may prove the winner in Sunday’s slugfest between these top dogs who tangled in last season’s WC round where Cats came out on top (27-16) of a Cards team that featured 3rd-stringer Ryan Lindley subbing for Palmer who’d exited late-season with injury.

Continuity Bowl

Cherry Pick AFCC: Denver Broncos

Since 1997 the Patriots and / or Broncos have been represented in the AFC title game fourteen (14) times, Bill Belichick at the helm for ten, with one head-to-head in 2014 (DEN 26-16). A 3-game stretch (2009 – 11) being the longest time w/out either club appearing. Stout stuff, to say the least.

....AFC.Hunt.trophy.2.2.13, A.Kirk,thumbThese franchises are on solid footing, to be sure, thanks to ownerships that have vested fully in success, Patriots Robert Kraft and Broncos’ Bowlen family (‘84) where Pat ran the club until diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014.

It was Bill Parcells who re-awakened New England pro football which hadn’t had a title-test since their crushing loss in SB20 (Bears), in guiding Patriots to SB31 (GB 35-21 (L)), and then Mike Shanahan, building some on Dan Reeves’ work, did the same in Denver where in SB32 John Elway would run & gun the Broncos to their first NFL crown in besting the Green Bay Titletowners, 31-24.

Add in Tom Brady and the near perennial playoffer Peyton Manning and Sunday’s early game (3:05 CBS) at Sports Authority field drips with cachet, if not for the haters, of which both teams and QBs have gaggles.

‘America loves a winner’ someone once quipped but may, in these present times, love even more trying to tear one down.

....Belichick.8.28.09.wc.cca.K.Allison.thumbWho prevails Sunday at Mile High stadium even has the sporting gods hedging.

Trendy talk says Peyton’s running on fumes with Denver’s home-field and D not enough to deny a Patriots destiny that has confidence of a champion (SB49).

Pragmatists liked what they saw from Denver against Pitt in the divisional (23-16 W). Come-from-behind victories reflect more than “Whew, that was close (Close Encounters ‘75)!”

Against Pittsburgh, Mr. Mustang orchestrated a 65 yard, 14-play drive for the go-ahead TD, took 6+ minutes off the 4Q clock and converts the 2. Holding your pot (defense) and cashing in your opportunities in crunch-time shows a team laden with leadership in any football fan’s book.

....Kubiak.wc.J.Beall.10.5.08.thmExpect New England’s glamour grabbers (Gronk, Edelman) to suit up but they’re still feeling the pain. Patriots’ run game is nearly nil (0) with Blount out and late pickup Jackson’s game looking gone which only puts more pressure on pocket-passer Brady. Whereas, an admittedly lesser Peyton compared to the one who won AFCC in2014, has a more reliable motor-pool in Anderson & Hillman.

And not exactly ‘advantage Denver’ with the likes of Steve Gostkowski kicking well for NE, but watch if it comes down to the leg-men (Ginger Rogers had the best). Broncos’ Brandon McManus went 5-5 v. Pitt and hit a 50+ yarder.

Cheese & Whine: Arizona 26 v Green Bay 20 (OT (NFCD 1.16))

It wasn’t always this way (I lived in Packerland in 70s & 80s), but ever since the good times began “rolling” again at Lambeau (‘92) no franchise, jocks and fans alike, has more consistently served up the ‘whine’ in casks after a defeat, quite like Packer-backers. Unbefitting of this a glory-laden franchise, the gripe-fest has become as standard as the pre-game tailgate (See: Cheese-Melt 2015).

....Rodgers.wc.cca.M.Morbeck.12.7.8.thmThe Cardinals – Packers game went long (OT) and Aaron Rodgers got the call, heads or tails. Then something unusual happened: Coin no flippy.

Since the NFL rules do not specify necessity for at least one complete rotation of the fly-coin (It will now), referee Clete Blakeman did Pack a solid, his common sense, no doubt, by affording a 2d toss that was not mandated. In effect, Packers got two tries at winning the toss. Not exactly gripe-able.

The reigning MVP has been quoted as saying the ref called “off” the first toss to “avoid the embarrassment.” Hardly, Mr. Double-Flip. My guess is he, as Aaron (“we obviously thought it was unfair”), simply believed a non-flip toss was “not right” nor w/in the spirit of the act, i.e., toss a coin so it rotates to enhance probability of chance for either team to win the side-show (head-tails).

...Favre&Lopez.11.7.08.E.Durie.USN.thmbThere is regulation fairness and there is overtime fairness, a different balance that seeks to afford opportunity (If that’s your defense stopping the opponent’s offense, so be it) while encouraging a conclusion to a game that’s gone long.

Aaron Rodgers may someday equal or surpass his predecessor, the well-decorated ironman, former Wisconsin demi-god but now back in the fold quarterback Brett Favre in key statistics, MVPs and Super Bowl starts, but the Chico, California native will never match the peerless one in style. There is where Brett will always have him beat.

Record: 103 – 100

...NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Rozelle-Halas, 1980s, wc.cca, J.Summaria; G.Halas, wc, therakishfellow, 1922; B.Arians, wc, 9.8.14, FF.Swami; R.Rivera, wc, 6.10.11, R.Paraglide; AFCC.Hunt.trophy, 2.2.13, A.Kirk, wc; B.Belichick, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.9; G.Kubiak, wc, J.Beall, 10.5.08; A.Rodgers, wc, M.Morbeck, 12.7.8; B.Favre-Lopez, 11.7.8, E.Durie, USN; NFL-symbol, wikiproject.
Posted: 1.22.16 @ 1:31pm EST; Copyright © 2016

NFL16 Division Cherry Picks: What’s a Leader?

16 Jan

Leaders: They come in all shapes & sizes.

If one trait stood out in the NFL Wild Card weekend, one that separated the mice from the men, it was the importance of having a leadership on your squad, from coaches to players, in skill and sensibility. Of course, lady luck and bad karma had their hands in it, too (See; SEA @ MIN).

........Manning.wc.8.26.12.J.Beall.thmSome wear the regalia of a commander.

Four-star General George S. Patton who led US troops to victory in North Africa (‘42), Sicily (‘43) and the Battle of the Bulge (‘44) in the Western crush of Nazi Germany, wore his medals with pride but was as near as famous for the his loose-tongue and “damn the torpedoes” tactic as he was for the Allied conquests he achieved.

Other chieftains are the stuff of fables.

Though he acted in the enormous shadows of his two famous co-stars, “Buzz (Corey Allen)” from Rebel Without a Cause (‘55) was the proto-typical teen-leader of the angstful 1950s. He had Natalie Woods heart, for a time, kept his kooky crew in check, brought James Dean (“Jamie“) into the fold and then accidentally drove off a cliff.

And people can lead by refusing to act.

.......Parks.wc.1955.USIA.NARA.thmRosa Parks was not an imposing figure at 5’3.” And she wasn’t the first bus-rider to stand (sit) against racial segregation (Rustin-Morgan-Keys-Browder et al). But Civil Rights leaders saw the time was right to test again Constitutionality of Jim Crow and in her the right person to do it in exercising civil disobedience in refusing to cave to command of a Montgomery (Ala) bus-driver to give her seat to a white rider.

And sometimes leadership becomes an excuse.

In wake of Texans thumping at the hands, arms, legs, etcetera of the visiting Chiefs, their quarterback Brian Hoyer (15-34, 0t, 4i) said this in his post-game press conference: “This wasn’t nerves…I wasn’t gonna’ take myself out of the game…that would be a lack of leadership, a cop-out.”

Pluck is admirable but sometimes a leader finds strength to hand over the reins when his way is clearly, not only not getting the job done, but helping list the ship. No shame in occasionally passing the baton, especially when there are back-ups galore (Weeden, etc.). Just another way of ‘taking one for the team.’ And there is where the head coach must lead (See; O’Brien).

Hoyer recovered in closing with, “bad things happen in life. Hopefully I can learn from this.” Hopefully, yes.

.......Watt.9.23.12.J.Beall.thmb.wcHis defensive teammate, national celebrity and Schwarzenegger buddy, J.J. Watt, left the game in the 3rd quarter with injury but didn’t exhibit any better command in post-game questioning.

Reporter: “Does this (loss) take the edge off the season?” “Yes…it’s all about the Super Bowl.” Okay, J.J.

A real leader wouldn’t feel the need to convince fans he really wants the Lombardi. It’s a given. But to devalue the terrific accomplishment Houston worked in an injury-riddled, QB-carousal campaign, to assess a 9-8 record with a mopey mug post-game is not the stuff of staunch to inspire the throngs who cluster near for autographs.

In the other AFC tussle (PIT v CIN) where gloom hung heavy in the loser’s locker-room, a place where leadership or lack thereof will make itself quite evident (explaining a win is easy), the issue of control or lack thereof was top topic.

......Lewis.9.16.13.wc.emeybee.thmThe unsportsmanlike penalties called on Bengals Vontaze Burfict (Brown) and Adam Jones, game-changer plays, raised that never-ending question: How much responsibility does a coach bear in keeping it clean on the field?

Did Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis show sufficient leadership in his manner & means regarding his players on-field behavior? By the same token, did Steelers coach Joey Porter show good example in stepping onto the playing field, putting himself in the middle of the ruckus and becoming a trigger-point?

When you question a coach’s responsibility, think of parenting.

The analogy is not childishness per se, although, anytime anyone willingly veers from responsible behavior it may be deemed immature, but rather, the limits on influence & control, as well as certain duties that are inherent in tutorial ties.

Mom & Dad, guardians, are asked the same sort of question regarding their kids and in turn ask themselves: How much, and then, what exactly can we do to try to ensure our children grow wise and fit-in with the flock?

......Madden.Collins.12.6.07.wc.USGovt.thmTo note, Hall of Fame Raiders’ coach, broadcaster and toy icon, John Madden had a controversial defender on his winning Oakland teams named John “Jack” Tatum. His nickname: “The Assassin.” He worked the NFL gridiron for 10 years, 9 with John, made three Pro Bowls and laid-out Darryl Stingley (NE) on a targeted hit that was so vicious it left the Patriots end paralyzed.

Others showed a natural leadership or one that has grown sure as sun-up with the test of time and many battles fought.

Andy Dalton’s substitute A.J. McCarron, an Alabama champion himself just two years ago, led a late-game drive to put his Bengals ahead only to see it fritter away as two of his ‘mates unraveled. In post-game presser he was dejected but not bitter, refusing to “point fingers” even as the justification was present.

.....Roethlisberger.9.9.12.J.Beall.thmb.wcWhile on the winner’s side, well decorated QB Ben Roethlisberger, having been knocked from the game earlier and, by some reports, spat upon by host fans as he headed to the locker-room for repairs, returned to lead a game-winning drive (FG).

Leaders keep it in-house and “their eyes on the prize.”

Who will step closer to that VLT prize after this weekend’s Divisional games will turn on three keys: Tall talent, little bit o’ luck and loads of leadership. Bank on it.

..cherries.Hispalois.Spain.wc.cc.thmbDivisional Cherry Picks 2016

Chiefs (12-5) @ Patriots (12-4): 1.16 CBS 4:35: Pats win
Packers (11-6) @ Cards (12-4): NBC 8:15: Arizona wins
Seattle (11-6) @ Cats (15-1): 1.17 Fox 1:05: ‘Hawks win
Steelers (11-6) @ Denver (12-4): CBS 4:40: Broncs win

Record: 100 – 99

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: P.Manning, wc.cca, 9.9.12, J.Beall; Manning, 8.26.12, J.Beall, wc; R.Parks, wc, USIA-NARA, 1955; J.J. Watt, wc, J.Beall, 9.23.12; M.Lewis, wc, 9.16.13, emeybee; Collins-Madden, wc, 12.6.7, USGovt; B.Roethlisberger, wc, J.Beall, 9.9.12; cherries, Spain, Hispalois, 7.2.12, wc
Posted: 1.15.16 @ 11:00pm EST; Copyright © 2016