Tag Archives: Atlanta Falcons

NFL18 Super Cherry Jam: Eagles Win Proves Pocket-Passer Still Surest Route To Promised Land

10 Feb

The Take from SB52? Eagles don’t even get close to the Lombardi trophy with a run-QB subbing for Wentz on short-notice. Not a snowball’s chance in Hades or even the 70° cozy confines of US Bank Stadium.

Pocket-passer quarterback is a rare bird, endangered species in the pros due to emergence of collegian flash-QB, a place where he thrives like a Georgia robin in spring (they move in herds here) under laissez-faire tutelage of Coach-Lite.

But the traditional, stand-tall-in-the-pocket signal-caller who matriculates well past the RIF-stage to read D with proficiency, rabbits as a last option rather than reflex, is still the surest, quickest way to reach that wonderous state we call Titletown, aka, whatever metro currently holds the Silver Swag (Philly).

— — —

Hail the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Pederson, owners Lurie, SB-MVP Foles, regular-season super-QB Wentz, a defense that played well for 18 of 19 games and the rest of the E-Birds rosterees and staff, the 2017-18 NFL Champs!

In besting the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl 52, Philly nabbed their first NFL title since 1960, a club led by Chuck Bednarik (D) and Norm Van Brocklin (QB), that topped Lombardi’s first title-game Packers, 17-13.

And what a shocker it was.

Not because these Eagles weren’t impressive all season long, excepting a pathetic regular season finale (6-0 loss at home v. Dallas), but because they finished their run with a back-up quarteback that had started a mere one contest (KansasCity) since 2016 (22-14 career) yet defeated the juggernautious Patriots to do it while Nick’s defensive teammates allowed said New Englanders a whopping 600+ yards in total offense on way to hoisting the prized Lombardi hardware.

Nobody picked Philly to win SB52, nobody who wasn’t a fan, gambler or media hoping for some office bragging rights.

I don’t think anyone, not even Eagles brass and players, saw this kind of time-line for a championship. Maybe in 2-3 more years but SB52? Not on your life.

— — —

It’s the top topic for sportswriters in the days following every Super Sunday: What’s the champ’s template for success? In Philadelphia’s case, there is none. Forget about it. Eagles have no template for Titledom. Doesn’t exist. Nope.

What these present E-Birds DO have is, if not a wholly unique GM / coaching skill-set, a not altogether common ability to accomplish the two following tasks:

1) Execution of draft-picks with a certain wisdom (Wentz); and

2) Rostering a quality back-up QB (Foles), something the Patriots too have shown a panachee for finding (Cassel 10-5 (08) / Garoppolo 7-0 (NE / SF)).

But as important as are those two abilities, the 2017-18 Eagles were recipients of a gift from Lady Luck. That being that they competed in the least competitive NFC in this writer’s recent memory. A tale of the tape:

Giants (3-13): OB was out but we now know TC wasn’t the big problem.
Packers (7-9): Mike dodged one on Rodgers ill-advised return at Carolina.
Seahawks (9-7): Maybe the most disappointing winning-mark this decade.
Cowboys (9-7): Elliott’s on-off susp’n was disruptive but Dak’s still learning
Cardinals (8-8): Loss of star Johnson early-on is big blow cuing Arians exit.
Buccaneers (5-11): Tampa was expected to contend but barely made a ripple.
Falcons (10-6): Defending NFC champs were clearly a lesser grade in 2017.
Lions (9-7): Detroit is becoming the pretender of all 20-teens pretenders.
Redskins (7-9): Like TB, maybe higher expectations are not a good thing.

And yes, the Vikes and Rams infused some much needed competition into the NFC but it hardly made up for the general malaise that permeated, not all that much worse than a rather weak AFC itself in 2017.

It’s not the Colin Kaeprnick effect that explains the malaise. Better chance it’s the plethora of run-QBs, the never-ending flood of poorly-trained, modern single-wing tailbacks masquerading as quarterbacks coming into the League unprepared for the pro-style play. Oh yeah, throw in the mass of DCs who rely on glory stats (INTs / PD / sacks) to stop the score, and not too effectively at that. Translating into most defenders today who couldn’t skillfully tackle an opponent if their life depended on it. There’s that, too.

Photo credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject, 6k; Eagles, SB52-Victory-Parade, souvenirs, 2.8.18, wc.cca, 7Beachbum; SB52, Kitten-Bowl, wc, 2.3.18, B.Allen-VoA; Eagles, SB52, Parade, N.Foles, 2.8.18, PA-GovWolf, wc; Eagles, SB52, Parade, VL-trophy, 2.8.18, wc, PA-GovWolf
Posted: 2.10.18 @ 4:49pE; Copyright © 2018


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

5 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Wild Cherry Picks

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

Record: 76 – 59

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

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 W1: Nuff With Knees & QBs, It’s Time For Bridesmaids & Tacklese

8 Sep

Even the best NFL tacklers like Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner could enjoy the chick-flick Bridesmaids (2011). That’s no foolin.’

When the thin one (Kristen Wiig) starts to panic on the jetliner (pills + liquor), triggering the air-marshal plan, it’s on-the-spot volunteer “Megan (Melissa McCarthy),” a G5 federal employee, who lays her friend flat with the best flying tackle seen by this football fan since Pat Willis patrolled the tundra (ret. 2015).

‘That was acting, Steve.’ Sure, but then sport itself can be fairly fantastic.

Take soccer (fútbol) for example. ¡Ay, caramba! Those guys fall to the turf more than The Bad News Bears (76), pre-“Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley)” and “Amanda (Tatum O‘Neal).”

— — —

For all the fascination with scoring by guys like Tom Brady and David Johnson, the foundation of every team will lay in its defense. It’s football 101.

And if you don’t have it for the whole shebang, i.e., 4Qs for 16Gs and the entire post-season, you’re in for a shootout at worst possible time, something the Atlanta Falcons, and Green Bay Packers for that matter (NFCC), know about all…too…well.

The two key measures in team defense have traditionally been yards allowed per game (yapg) and point allowed per game (papg). Why? Because you can’t pile up points without both of ‘em. Get it?

In NFL16, Houston (301), Arizona, Minnesota, Denver and Seattle (319) held down the top five (5) spots in the former category (yapg). Combined, they were eight (8) games over .500, two division titles, three (3) had winning marks with the Vikes even-Steven and Cards ½ game under. Not proof-positive of the D’s value, but not too shabby an indicator, either.

A better gauge might be the later rank, papg.

Those top five (5): New England (15.6), Giants, Seahawks, Broncos & Cowboys, a combined thrity-five and one-half games (35.5) over .500. “Zowie!”

The short story, and that’s what you’ll get most often at NFLCherryPicks in opposite of the trend to long story (See; sabrmetrics), is that defense matters, alot.

We know about the Patriots positioning prior to the playoffs (#8 / 1) but where’d the Falcons finish up in the top D rankings?

An inglorious 25th (yapg) and 27th (papg) is where the A-Birds settled in. And like I wrote above, those deficienies will not remain hidden forever. Great teams will expose them in the brightest of lights.

So if Atlanta was so deficient on the defensive side, how would you think they could make it through the post-season and into the Big Game?

Besides stellar offensive efforts by their quarterback and League MVP Matt Ryan, 3rd-year RB Devonta Freeman, another monster stat-season by receiver Julio Jones and offensive line that did their job (37s), the non-team-related reason was that the NFC was a veritable graveyard of competition in 2016.

Youth-movement-led Cowboys rolled after a W1 loss to the Giants but proceeded to flop in the PS, Green Bay had to kick-start its campaign and lost home-field in the process, Seattle hasn’t been the same since Lynch went wingnut and Arizona, expected by some to make the SB51, proved the Big Enigma of 2016.

Falcons’ defense did have its performers that shone bright when it counted most, of note was the League’s top sack-master in Vic Beasley (15.5) and the 25th best tackler in Deion Jones (75s – 33a). Those aren’t eye-popping stats but Jones was busy elsewhere, having 14 PDs and 3 INTs. Another player, or two, like Deion and A-Birds might make a return trip to the Big Game in 2018.

Cherry Picks Week 1: On the right foot

Chiefs @ New England: 9.7 NBC 8:30: NE
Cardinals @ Detroit: 9.10 Fox 1:00: Arizona
Buccaneers @ Miami: Fox 1:00: Tampa Bay
Raiders @ Tennessee: CBS 1:00: Titans
Ravens @ Cincinnati: CBS 1:00: Bengals
Seahawks @ Green Bay: Fox 4:25: Packers
Giants @ Dallas: NBC 8:30: New York
NO @ Minnesota: 9.11 Disney 7:10: Vikings

2014: 97 – 55 -1 (NE)
2015: 105 – 101 – 1 (DEN)
2016: 88 – 93 – 3 (NE (8 – 3))

NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: NFL-icon, wikiproject; B.Wagner, wc.cca, 10.6.14, K.Allison; M.Ryan, 8.8.16, wc, E.Drost; cherries, Hispalois, Caceres-Spain, wc, 7.2.12; Wood, Topps, 1970
Posted: 9.7.17 @ 8:28pE; Copyright © 2017

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: Adrian Peterson Pressing For Saint-hood On a 2d Miracle Comeback

27 Apr

Adrian Peterson v. Marshawn Lynch

If New Orleans Saints new superstar in Adrian Peterson can pull off yet another miracle comeback as he did in 2015 when, post-injury, he led the League in rush yards and the Vikes to an 11-5 mark, it won’t qualify him for sainthood by Vatican standards but it should help to return the NFL Saints back to contendership while exorcizing any demon that All-Day may’ve realized in last year’s physical and family troubles. “The power of Christ (and a Super Bowl ring) compels you!”

On Monday, Peterson inked a 2-yr, $7 million deal with the Saints (3.5M gtd (2.5b)) that has a potential to pay the future HOF’er $8M+ if incentives are met.

Adrian’s exit from Minnesota and subsequent sign with his former team’s 2010 NFCC opponent, ironic in that it was they (NO) who forced him into fumblitis (3) to stymie his one chance at Super trip, marks the end of an era for the franchise which is still seeking its first SB win in four tries and return trip to the Big Game since 1977 when Bud Grant strolled the frigid Metropolitan (MoA) sideline.

In Peterson’s ten seasons in the Land of 10.000 Lakes, missing almost two complete campaigns due to knee injuries, Purple made the playoffs four (4) times, getting as far as the NFCC once with Brett Favre under center, Adrian winning All-Pro honors four times and MVP (AP) in 2012.

The Vikings have some things to smile about on the departure of their franchise face: A glittering new stadium (US Bank), veteran, fairly savvy QB in Sam Bradford and a head coach in Mike Zimmer who has returned the Norseman to a semblance of defensive respectability (#3 yapg / #6 papg) that has only been seen sporadically since the Vikings glory days in the 70s.

But while their braintrust in GM Rick Spielman, owners Wilf (Zygi – Mark) and the coach may feel equal parts of gratitude and relief when the optioned-out Peterson turns topic, they’ve still got a major problem in matriculation (offense) that’s persisted since Favre’s exit, one which the Draft won’t resolve quickly.

The Saints, on the other hand, they matriculate just fine.

In final 2016 regular season ranks, New Orleans led all teams in yards gained per game (426), just ahead of NFC champion, Atlanta (416 (#2)), and flip it with their regional rival in the all important points scored per game category (#1 / 33.8), putting up on average 29+ per (#2) last year.

When you’ve got record-setter Drew Brees expertly manning the controls (2001), an ageless wonder who, like Tom Brady, looks to have some kind of a Dorian Gray thing going, sans the gruesome painting (See; O.Wilde), offense is rarely a problem. Those 1000 receivers can come in (Michael Thomas) and go out (Brandin Cooks (NE)) and Brees just keeps breezing along.

And even a quarterbacking-machine like Brees needs a break from the pressure now and then. And that’s the run game’s job, assuming the OL is doing theirs.

Besides relieving the signal-caller of certain stress, a good ground attack also helps keep the defense on its toes and guessing. New Orleans got that in 2016 from backfield tandem in Mark Ingram (5.1) and the since departed Tim Hightower (4.1 (SF)). And that’s where All-Day will come into play.

But it’s the defensive side, once a strong suit for the gold & black but now New Orleans’ mountain to conquer, that‘ll need most attention. Key defensive ranks in 2016: #27 in yards allowed per contest; #31 points per. The collapsing Falcons (See; SB51) better join that climbing team, too, or can forget winning, let alone getting back to the Big Game (#25 / 27).

— — —

With the Raiders recent acquisition of game-dormant but very visible running back Marshawn Lynch from the Seahawks for a 2018 draft swap (5R for 6R), there emerges a curious comparison to the Saints own Peterson pick-up.

Lynch sat out all of last season and played < half of 2015. It’s good to workout (ML passed his Oakland test), but that won’t replace game hits and habits. Like Adrian, Marsh is no spring chicken, having turned 31 last week (2007). In AARP years (1 NFL year = 5 AARP), both men would be eligible for benefits & discounts (Caution: Always find & read boilerplate before contracting). Unlike Adrian, Marshawn has a title ring, playing a small but key role in ‘Hawks SB48 win.

Where Peterson gets winning points is in his attitude.

Lynch promotes himself as a free-spirit, some might say a wingnut. That’s cute when times are good but when rough waters hit, it’s the kooks that tend to pout and withdraw inward, a bad character trait in the ups & downs of team sport. In addition, because of his extended absence from the NFL, one has to seriously question Marshawn’s level of commitment to the competition.

With Adrian commitment is never in question. Imbued with great determination, his drive for perfection is pronounced, maybe too much so at times, in himself and with those around him. Big question on Peterson is not whether there is still sufficient ‘gas in the tank’ but will the tires hold out (knees)? Like Lynch, AP has missed nearly two of the last three seasons and turned 32 in March.

Ingram (2011), who joined the 1000 rusher club in 2016, is expected to remain the #1 carrier in Sean Payton – Pete Carmichael’s scoring scheme. If Peterson can contribute 600 on the ground, 200 in the air and impart some of his 10 years of NFL experience to the up n‘ comers, GM Mickey Loomis will be pleased.

The Saints (7-9) were competitive down the stretch in 2016, going 3-3 with only the Detroit loss a poor show. Again, a serious reconfiguration of D-scheme is New Orleans’ key to success in 2017 (See; Atlanta), but a healthy and occasionally electric Adrian could give their offense that added pop to keep defenders, and then the whole Saints sideline, confident in a return to contendership.

Commentators in the Bayou and in the Saints’ circle of strategy are tempering expectations over the arrival of the rehabbed and rather aged Mr. Peterson. But his gangbusters style of run and Hall-of-Fame credentials will no doubt give Saints fans hope that Adrian has another miracle in his pocket, or in his legs, as it were. The man and his mission to make good will likely be in their prayers.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject; A.Peterson, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12, wc.cca; D.Brees-Conways, USMC, E.Kirk-Cuomo, 11.2.9; M.Lynch, wc, 2.5.14, D.Sizer; Mosaic-Saint, Geolina, AachenCathedral, wc, Germany, 2011; J.Otto, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 4.27.17 @ 4:16pm; Copyright © 2017

NFL17: A Patriots Peer, It’s Back To Top-Tier or These Packers Turn Flat-Beer

28 Mar

Pretendership: It’s an NFL station most Green Bay Packers devotees have never knelt before in prayer for guidance and delivery. Anyone rooting for the Acme club yet having no recollection of the play that made John Brockington and Lynn Dickey house-hold names in the badger state is probably in that blessed group.

But that’s for later.

For now, just imagine rooting for an NFL team, one that not only wins most of its regular season games but will have on display any given year a future Cantonese or two roaming the turf, that for most of your conscious life has been an NFL contender. Imagine that. Easy enough for New England Patriots faithful but for the rest of fandom it’s a little hard to picture even in the mind’s eye.

Twenty-five years of pretty much football bliss in Northeastern Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, thanks in large part to two men (GMs), four if you count the coaches (Holmgren / McCarthy), six if you include the QBs (Favre / Rodgers).

Sure, there were some struggles, a few 8-8s seasons, even a couple losing campaigns, but there was always an easy scapegoat to find (Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman, Bill Schroeder) and soon enough the Good Ship Green & Yellow would find its contender course again and all was ship-shape.

The Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson Packers have never dominated the sport as did former Green Bay juggernauts under Vince Lombardi (60s) or founding father Curly Lambeau (20-40s) but playoff births have been nearly automatic since 1992 and the two Super Bowl victories (1997 & 2011) have given the period of prosperity a legitimacy that can only come with championships.

While the Patriots recent reign of championships is incomparable in this still newish century of play, it’s not hyperbole to write that it is actually the Packers, hang with me here, by way of a crafty continuity in success that’ve been the more impressive of NFL’s two most juggernautious franchises these past 25 years.

Sure, New England coaching genius Bill Belichick and his sure-to-be 1st ballot HOF quarterback extraordinaire in Tom Brady are likely the most terrific title tandem in the Super Bowl era (See also; Noll & Bradshaw, Landry & Staubach, Walsh & Montana), but the manners in which both Wolf and then Thompson engineered their respective coach – QB tandems-in-terrificness are the templates in ‘How To,’ 1) Acquire a diamond-in-the-rough bench-warmer (Brett (ATL)), and 2) draft a replacement (Aaron) for a living legend.

Just imagine, two consecutive GMs who respectively displayed an expertise in post-draft patience (Ron) and then prediction on player longevity (Ted), that player in Favre being, to Wisconsin sports fans, next to God, making it very risky business to draft any heir apparent in 2005 (Aaron).

Wolf’s persistence and then shrewd calculation in extracting Favre from Atlanta’s roster in trading a #1 pick (respectful enough to get their interest but not so generous to get ’em wondering) should be an example to every GM and fantasy fan, i.e., that post-draft follow-up can be of greater value than draft day doings.

And Thompson, in showing Brett the door by drafting the Berkeley Bear Rodgers in 2005, took one humongous gamble. To appreciate just how bold a move it was you have know just how popular was the man from Southern Miss.

Directly north up in Wisconsin, Favre was bigger than Lombardi had ever been, in part because every female sport fan in America’s Dairyland had become enamored with the dude. And that’s putting it mildly.

You think Tom Brady’s huge in 2017? He is, but Brett Favre was huger. Hell, Brett was bigger than the NFL. The Green Bay Renaissance that he and his team fashioned, back-to-back Super Bowls and plenty o’ playoff action, briefly put them in the America’s Team seat, after the Aikman Cowboys disbanded, a starry status that played no small role in facilitating formation of the still budding international game in the early 2000s (Mexico City (05), London (07)).

Consider that when “Onslow (Geoff Hughes)” dons Packers gear on the hit British TV comedy, Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95),” it’s not because of NFL rules changes or networks addition of female sideliners. It was Favre, plain & simple.

So if Rodgers doesn’t pan out when handed the offensive reins in 2008, Ted probably gets run out of paper-mill country on a rail, figuratively speaking, after hustling out the family dog first (See; Devine ‘74). But instead, the pan turned up gold and Ted will get a street named after himself, if he hasn’t already.

“Mississippi,” as Falcons Jerry Glanville referred to the rookie QB in smirk, had a couple good seasons left in the tank when he exited Lambeau: An injury-affected Jets campaign (10-6) and two seasons with arch-rival Minnesota, the first in 2009 which would be his best single statistical show and see the Vikes fall to the Bounty-gate Saints in the NFCC10-OT and finale when he dragged himself back for one more go before hanging up his Canton-bound cleats.

♫ Shades of Mediocrity ♫

Mercurial might aptly describe the 2016-17 Green Bay Packers.

Hovering around .500 to the midway, then going three (losses) in the hole, the Pack found some consistency the rest of the way (6 + 2PS) until getting stomped in the NFCC at Mercedes-Benz (Georgia) Dome (44-21 (24-0 H)).

The party isn’t over, not by a long shot, not while perennial MVP entry Aaron Rodgers has his legs underneath and maintains his pin-point passing precision. But some of the good-times have started to head for the exits and a few of those that remain are looking a bit green around the gills (gulp).

One of those always in attendance is the Green Bay defense. It’s a curiosity for even as they helped raise a Lombardi for head coach Mike McCarthy in 2011, it’s also a unit that’s looked wather wobbly since the Reggie White – George Koonce – Sean Jones – LeRoy Butler bunch broke-up.

Team ranks tell the tale. In 2016, the Green figured about where they usually do in the McCarthy era, 22nd in yards allowed per game (364), 21st in points (24+). In the NFCC17 those middling marks came home to roost as Atlanta feasted.

At the center of the defensive scheme has been The Hair, sack-minded linebacker Clay Matthews. Never a top tackler, perplexing for a middle-man, Clay’s numbers have been trending down since that Super season to the point where real value should be a real question for GB staff. He does make a fun soup commercial.

The run game, as party-goers go, hasn’t had much to say lately.

The weighty part of the ball-carry was spending most of its time at the buffet. But Lacy’s gone now and won’t find better eats in the greater Seattle metro, that is unless you really like salmon. And maybe that‘s the point. Bon appétit, Eddie.

Ty Montgomery (2y-SU) filled the void nicely in 2016, for a time, then faded late, 2010 draftee James Starks was not re-signed of , another 2d-yr. in big guy (6’1 255) Aaron Ripkowski (Sooner) will full-back just fine (4.4 – 2td), F/A pick-up Don Jackson (Nevada) had 10 carries last year while former Seahawk Christine Michaels was inked to a deal but has much to prove (9-GS from 2013 (4.3)).

Finding replacements, not mockery, is why the draft matters.

And then there’s Mike ‘What Have You Done For Us Lately’ McCarthy.

Coaching the Green Bay Packers, an early NFL entrant (1921) with accolades enough to fill a cruise liner (sink it along with its Captain in rough waters), is like riding a tiger: When times is good, everybody purrs, but when the champagne rarely flows, the big kitty pitches a fit and sometimes eats its own (gulp).

Mike’s got a monkey on his back clutching an NFCC runner-up trophy in symbol of GB’s disaster known as Cheese-Melt 2015. Packers 1st half lead frittered away and overtime nailed their coffin shut as the Seahawks returned to the Super.

Mike McCarthy has been suffering the “slings and arrows” of regional critics with no return trip to the Big Game. But the rather disappointing playoff runs, enabled by a rather terrific career regular mark (.651), is just part of a pattern he’s displayed since being hired to replace Mike Sherman in 2006. Some good years, a few pedestrian and patience, more patience.

There’s only one Bill Belichick, folks.

Mike’s big mistake was caving to pressure after the Melt to concede offensive play-call, a concession he…revoked (?) at last season’s midpoint. Trust then becomes an issue. But remember, MM turned Packers back into champions when all looked discombobulated, six (6) years after the guy who was prone to sideline temper tantrums left for the State of Washington.

It wasn’t easy filling Favre’s sizable shoes…wait…come to think of it, it actually was pretty easy for Thompson. But Brett was bigger than life and there’s only been one mobile pocket-passer the likes of Mr. Rodgers, a player who, as he will enter his thirteenth (13) NFL summer camp shortly, I’d give four (4) 1Rs in trade today if by some fluke he became free and I a GM in need.

Such a smooth succession in kingly QBs in Packerland in pass of the bejeweled scepter of signal-caller royalty, the Patriots (Belichick – Brady) have not yet displayed. Course, they haven’t had the need. When Tom retires, likely same time Bill hangs up his headset, we’ll see how they do it in Foxborough.

But the Pack are on the championship clock. They need to return to elite status in 2017 (12-4) or their royal carriage may turn pumpkin before anyone expects it.

Last season’s road to the Halas Trophy (NFCC) was not exactly strewn with pot-holes in serious contenders. It was more like the E-ZPass® highway.

The Atlanta Falcons were the real deal in 2016-17 yet may still feel the reel this upcoming campaign from their colossal collapse in SB51.

To write that the rest of the NFC was deficient would be an understatement.

Though much ballyhooed after a W1 loss to the Giants, the Cowboys much anticipated playoff turned Texas-sized soufflé in loss at home to Green Bay; G-Men and Lions proved pretenders, not because they lost in the PS which, by itself is no fraud, but in both getting shellacked; Seattle, never quite the same since losing SB49, gave one of those shellackings (DET) but then got one themselves (ATL); and while Tampa surged to respectability, Redskins never got rhythm, Vikes were extra-mercurial (6-0), Panthers licked their wounds all season (SB50 – L) and pre-season hopeful Arizona never got going.

Residence in the once vaunted North divsion, f/k/a Black & Blue, always boosts the Packers pre-season rank which sits just under Atlanta as NFC favorites, ahead of Seattle (Lacy ≠ Lynch), then Arian’s Cardinals sure to rebound, the Giants, Lions, Dallas who won’t surprise in 2017, D-Vikes, maturing Bucs and sometimes capable conundrums in Redskins, Eagles, Saints and Carolina.

Procuring a reliable run-game is not the challenge that is finding a top-flight, resilient pocket passer, but good ball-carriers don’t grow on trees, either.

Letting lunch-a-lot Lacy exit looks prudent now, but if McCarthy, Thompson and OC in former GB ball-carrier Edgar Bennett cannot in trade or late-April draft find that impactful runner(s) to spell Rodgers and give opposing DCs a ground-attack to diagram, and then the bodies to shore-up a defense that too often turns leaky in rough waters, Packers will continue to get bounced too early from playoffs, Mike will get pink-slipped with no contribution to anyone’s awareness and this era of exuberance will creep to a close, great QB, notwithstanding.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: A.Rodgers-M.McCarthy, wc.cca, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; Packers-print, wc, 1959; B.Belichick, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; A.Rodgers, wc, M.Morbeck, 12.7.08; Minnesota-Vikings-GreenBay-Packers, P.Loadholt-C.Matthews, wc, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck; M.McCarthy, TJ.Grant, wc, 8.11.07; NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao
Posted: 3.28.17 @ 11:39am EST, edit 11:01; 3.31; Copyright © 2017