Tag Archives: Detroit Lions

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

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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

NFL17 Wild Cherry Picks: 8 Teams, 4 Games and One Tough Call (NY@GB)

6 Jan

rodgers-wc-k-allison-1-10-16-dc-429kSaving the best for last? Maybe so, when schedulers slated the Green Bay Packers to host, once again, the New York Giants Sunday afternoon in the last of four NFL wild-card contests (4:40 EST), a cavalcade of contenders that kicks-off Saturday.

All the action marks the first leg in a three week playoff race whose finish-line is NRG Stadium in Houston come February 5th for Super Bowl 51.

The Lambeau clash figures the keenest with the Carr-less Raiders visiting that same NRG field to face the Texans (1.7), the 0-3 closing Lions traveling to Seattle to take on the Seahawks (1.7) and another clipboard-QB led team in Miami must fly north to battle the Lombardi-laden, Big Ben-led Steelers (1.8).

manning-gb-wc-1-15-12-m-morbeck-296kPressing the point on the closer (NY-GB), Pack’s one of the hottest teams in the NFL (NE #1), appearing to’ve figured a way out of the funk that stunk up their 1st-half of 2016. For their part, the Giants, with two wins vs. Dallas, have gotten quite cozy playing in Green Bay in the most intense of circumstance, knocking Packers from the playoffs twice in recency, first, a Conference contest in 2008 (Favre / Eli), then again in a 2012 Divisional (Rodgers / Eli). Pick’em.

The playoffs mark a new beginning in the championship campaign of conquest. It’s when the crème de la crème get mettle-tested by the fiercest foes and not infrequently worst weather mother nature can dole out.

For the pro player, his body’s telling him it’s time to pack-it-in (no pun) for winter, catch up on sleep, reacquaint with friends & family, read the mail, walk the dog, anything but more football. Then the contract say otherwise, bills to pay and the desire to be the best, all driving him onward in hopes of greater glory.

Which team can prove Julius Caesar and cross the Rubicon in conqueroring the vast playoff landscape and its combatants? Some teams clearly have a leg up on the competition in weaponry, positioning and the art of field tactics & technique.

Home-field and 1st-Rd byes, deserved as it they are, give a decided advantage. And while all 12 invitees are endowed with the spirit and physical skills to take the VLT (Vince Lombardi trophy), only a handful are cloaked in that garb of destiny.

cherries-wc-cca-3-3m-b-kua-6-1-8Wild Cherry Picks: Veni Vidi Vici

Raiders (12-4) @ Texans (9-7): 1.7 Disney 4:35: Texans win

Detroit Lions (9-7) @ Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1): NBC 8:15: ‘Hawks win

Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ Pittsburgh (11-5): 1.8 CBS 1:05: Steelers win

New York Giants (11-5) @ Green Bay Packers (10-6): Fox 4:40: NY wins

Record: 80 – 90 – 3

nfl-symbol-wikiproject-6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Giants-fan, wc.cca, Darasman, 11.26.12; A.Rodgers, wc, 1.10.16, DC, K.Allison; E.Manning, @GB, wc, 1.15.12, M.Morbeck; cherries, B.Kua, wc, 6.1.08; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 1.6..17 @ 11:22am EST; Copyright © 2017

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

25 Dec

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

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

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

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

Take Adrian Peterson for example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFC Run-Lite

Detroit Lions

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

New York Giants

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

Seattle Seahawks

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

Green Bay Packers

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

Wanted: Clipboard Saviors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL15 Cherry Picks W14: Cream Rising

10 Dec

‘Tis the time of year when consumerism takes on an almost religious zeal, one where the USPS and shipping firms are the harried ushers & usherettes working overtime to get us settled-in for the big service: Gifting day.

....creampour.wc.3.9.08.Parhamr.7.45mAll the time “♫ jingle bells rock ♫” and the multitudes “♫ mix and a-mingle ♫” with the spirit of giving and a goal of getting home safe & sound. All very nice.

But to Joe & Jenny Football the holidays are when their church of cheer, National Football League, which incidentally, has not and never will seek 501(c)(3) Internal Revenue Code exemption, is getting down to it’s nitty-gritty.

The nit & grit: post-season positioning for Conference playoffs that’re just only a month’s time away and take shape in the format of wild-card weekend (1.9.16). The cream o’ the crop are rising to the top of the NFL egg-nog of champions. I’m all-in, alright.

Who gets in and who begins booking the family cruise for February will, for most contenders, of which there are, it seems this NFL season, as many in number as there will be boxes & bows under the “holiday tree (Oh Brother, Mr. President),” depend largely on this last run of (4) games.

Best o’ the Baker’s

....baker.M.Andaya.USS.JC.Stennis.11.7.06.PJ.Perkins.thm1. Arizona Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Bengals
3. New England Patriots
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Kansas City Chiefs
8. Denver Broncos
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. New York Jets
11. Houston Texans
12. Buffalo Bills

As it sits today, AFC has more contenders but the senior circuit NFC has more VLT (Vince Lombardi Trophy) viables, i.e., serious contenders. Surprised by Carolina’s rank? In a head-to-head, I’d tab any of those four clubs over the Panthers…today.

Puddin’ Proof

.....pudding.pistachio.wc.12.9.13.peterinelcajon.thmThe proof’s in the pudding, so the non-sabrmetric minded sport folk like to say.

Bengals and Panthers both have a tough task the rest of this regular. Not so much in schedule as in the mental-game. They both know their biggest tests will come in the post-season, that first contest, most likely in the post-bye divisional round. In more recent times, Cincinnati (Lewis & Dalton: 0-4) and Carolina (2015’s W vs AZ was Palmer-free) have proven low-calorie, fat-free pudding pretenders in the playoffs. They’d be wise to ditch those mental demons, for now, and focus on tasks at hand and head to the playoffs with nothing but winning on their minds.

Theory on the 12-0 Cats: They’re conservative capitalists, pouncing on opportunities (#17 ygpg but #3 in pts scored) that’ve presented themselves a’ plenty in this topsy-turvy NFL15. Then their top defense (#2 / 3) seals-the-deal. Simple, right? Sure (2015!). Cam’s getting high marks from his ‘mates (“Roman” / SI.com / R.Harper / 12.2), though, I can’t imagine more “front flips” and regular rabbit in “running QB power on third-10” serves well to get Carolina back to the Conference shindig, but in this capricious NFL campaign, ‘if it works don’t fix it’ may be maxim to hang over Cats locker-room door.

And the Packers, they sense it’s just matter of time before reclaiming their Northern throne and back in the mix. They’ve still got issues. Filling Lord Nelson’s void central. Richard ‘Jolly’ Rodgers won’t do it, but he helps. And to that TNF closing heave-ho vs Lions, not so miraculous when no defenders are within 15-yrds of throwing QB and most cornerbacks average near 5’10” today.

Opt Out

It’s time for “hosting” and toasting,” “mistletoeing” and “glowing,” and maybe the most important decision you and your family will make the rest of this 2015: What healthcare plan you‘ll be opting into and out of?

Same ‘opting’ call holds true for NFL fandom this season.

Detroit Lions: Out

Tiddlywinks: Lions game-plan after a big 1Q (17pt) vs GB last TNF. Next 3Q: two FGs. Detroit let a big, juicy win die on the vine. With G-Bay you’ve gotta’ stomp on their throats from get-go, and keep it there. Reigning MVP strikes like a cobra. Pack was befuddled, struggling for answers into the 3rd, season hanging in the balance. But the D held and Rodgers & Rodgers of Cal-Berkeley ties knotted for “longest play of the night (26).“ CBS didn’t know it but it was turning point.

.....GB@DET.12.4.15.RoopeM.thmThat all cued the Chicken Littles cluckin’ away on referees. A facemask is a facemask, strict liability-like. As such, defenders must be aware, head-on-a-swivel-like. Could you imagine League’s referees having to apply a standard that permitted them this leeway: ‘Well, it wasn’t much of a facemask, so let’s let it slide.‘ Besides, refs could’ve just as easily thrown a UR flag on Detroit. This loss (and the season) was all on the Lions and they know it.

Minnesota Vikings: Out

Vikes lost at Denver W4 (23-20), then had two games to rise-in-grade at home versus nemesis Green Bay (W11: 30-13) and Seattle (W13: 38-7), two teams with flaws, and got pounded good. Bandwagoneers are quietly stepping off.

Curious Quote

Jocks take flak for sub-par play, coaches cannot be immune. Problem with Adrian Peterson‘s critique of Mike Zimmer (”out-coached“), All-Day has a conflict of interest. The upside, it’s the first favorable critique of Pete Carroll’s ability since Whine-fest uncorked, post-SB49.

...cherries.ripe,thm.wc.Chirak.6.24.7

Cherry Picks Week 13: “Gang-way!”

Vikings (8-4) @ Arizona (10-2): 12.10 NFLN 8:25: Cards win
Buffalo (6-6) @ Philadelphia (5-7): 12.13 CBS 1:00: Eagles win
Seattle Seahawks (7-5) @ Baltimore (4-8): Fox 1:00: Ravens win
Pittsburgh (7-5) @ Cincinnati (10-2): CBS 1:00: Bengals win
Indianapolis (6-6) @ Jacksonville (4-8): CBS 1:00: Colts wins
Washington Redskins (5-7) @ Chicago (5-7): Fox 1:00: Bears win
Atlanta (6-6) @ Carolina Panthers (12-0): Fox 1:00: Falcons win
Saints (4-8) @ Tampa Bay (6-6): Fox 1:00: New Orleans wins
Oakland (5-7) @ Denver Broncos (10-2): CBS 4:05: Raiders win
Dallas Cowboys (4-8) @ Green Bay (8-4): Fox 4:25: Packers win
New England (10-2) @ Houston (6-6): NBC 8:30: Patriots win
Giants (5-7) @ Miami (5-7): 12.14 ESPN 8:30: Dolphins win

Record: 68 – 71

...NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: cream-pour, wc.cca, Parhamr, 3.9.08; cow-dairy, USDA-FM, R.Doughty, J.Hoover, 6.7.13; baker, M.Andaya, USS-JC.Stennis, 11.7.06, PJ.Perkins; pudding-pistachio, wc, peterinelcajon, 12.9.13; GBatDET, 12.4.15, RoopeM; cherries-ripe, 6.24.07, Chirak, wc; NFL-symbol, wikiproject.
Posted: 12.10.15 @ 5:35pm, edit 7:00 EST; Copyright © 2015

NFL15 Cherry Picks W9: Wide-Open NFC

6 Nov

Arizona Rising

Wild & woolly, topsy & turvy: Adjectives to describe the National Football Conference this 2015 campaign. The American Conference has been a bit woolly itself (BAL, SD (2-6, ypg #1)), though, not quite as wild as it’s senior partner.

...NFC.wc.NFL.Enterprises.thmIt’s been a strange ride in the NFC these first eight weeks of play, taking fans on turns and down exits on nobody’s road-maps in last summer’s training camps. As things stand at Week 9, most playoff slots are wide open and Halas trophy up for grabs.

I count seven teams that’ve seriously underperformed: NYG, PHI, DAL, DET, CHI, NO & SEA. And of the five teams that’ve carved out what could be called decent records, only two, maybe, three inspire much confidence to get very far in the post-season, if past performance is any indicator.

Arizona Cardinals (6-2)

.....Arians.9.8.14.wc.thmb.FF.SwamiGets the top nod, winning W8 in Forest City against a sometimes spirited Browns team, 34-20, working a killer quarter (3Q 14-0) to break it open. Of their two losses, one was a nail-biter versus intra-rival Rams (22-24) who save their best for the best, the other a roadie in Steel City. Tough schedule ahead but best coach in the biz (Arians) who sweats bullets every time his savvy but knee-banged QB (Palmer) takes to field.

Green Bay Packers (6-1)

Best title for Green Bay Press-Gazette morning edition 11.2.15, that didn’t make press: ‘Clock Cleaned: Pack Falls Back in MT Time.’

Aaron Rodgers having a bad day (11-24, 77y, 0) is kinda’ like a bad Beatles song. Even so, it’s still The Beatles. And it’s still Rodgers, who may be the Best in Show.

The NFC front-runner got spanked by Broncos (29-10) who, even at 6-0, hadn’t made many converts. Sunday GB faces 7-0 Cats who did not want to face a chagrined Green Bay squad. If Pack don’t return from Carolina with a W, Mike best be careful when he “let(s) the dog out (See; Devine).” Serious about their football in Fox Valley, those murderous thugs in ‘74 were an ugly, extreme case of cruelty and stupidity. But let it run free, Mike (if you got a dog): Cam showcase, but Pack wins at Carolina.

Atlanta Falcons (6-2)

Lost in OT to divisional Bucs in W8 (20-23) and arch-rival Saints in the Big Easy (21-31). New guru Quinn has instilled a verve (#11 ypg / 13 ppg D) and Matt Ryan matriculates with the best, including favorite targets Jones and new run guy in 2y Freeman. Remaining slate so-so with next 3 critical stretch (SF-(b)-IND-MIN).

Carolina Panthers (7-0)

Last unbeaten in NFC, their South division is most competitive. No team they’ve beaten currently has winning record, but victims Seattle (27-23) brims with talent and Saints (4-4) gelling (27-22). Late slate a challenge with 4 of 6 on road. Camster-the-Hamster’s key on offense but posts 1-2 PS mark. Gulp.

.....Newton.9.28.14.wc.K.Allison.thmOn the one hand, watching Cam’s presser persona and a return to rabbit under pressure, does not show the emotional fortitude to put him in top class. On the other hand, can’t say he’s had sufficient weapons on offense or a dynamic coaching set, either, both which weigh on the first hand.

The stage is set. It’s all there for Carolina franchise this Sunday. Cats have had bigger games (SB38) but this one could set tone for next 10y. Too bad it’s against a ticked-off GB squad rolling into Charlotte, though, that’s the big test they need. Pack have had trouble in past versus run-QB (See; Kaep (x2)), would be mistake for RR to play on that past. Pack will win but if it’s close, a poised Newton can start step-up in class.

Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

Surprise riser in NFC, the D took a turn upward as expected with Zimmer’s arrival (papg #2 / yapg 7), a DC in Cincy (‘08-13), ATL (‘07) and Big D (‘00-06). It’s offense that’s been [?] in Land of 10,000, ever since departure of Favre (‘10) who made his MIN mark in short order. Soph QB Bridgewater is pocket poised (64.5) but drives too cautiously on the learning curve (6t-5i) while ‘All Day’ keeps churning out yards.

Hit the Ground Running

The SAS’y one on Disney sport network (ESPN) is driving hard to the hoop for Cam Newton to take the coveted MVP prize.

Andy Dalton, who led nifty comeback in Pittsburgh (11.1) and played a blinder against division rival Cleveland on TNF (31-10, 21-27, 3td) is gaining votes, while the almost always terrific Aaron Rodgers took a step back at Mile High.

And still Tom ‘Terrific’ Brady (7-0) looks the MVP favorite at midway.

.....Gurley.wc.11.30.13.Thomson200.thmBut a new, unexpected name has emerged in the race for accolade: 2014 1st-Rd (#10) rookie running back Todd Gurley of the St. Louis (stb, LA) Rams.

The numbers on TG? Suffice to write, they’re big (See; PFR.com).

Even though Gurley’s success has come largely against defenses in the lower tier (yapg: CVD (30), SF (28), GB (23), PIT (20)..AZ (4 (146y))), it’s crystal clear this man can motor in the pros. So impressive it’s hard to keep him out of early MVP muse, even with the opening injury bye in missing games 1 & 2. But maybe that strengthens his case: Impactful.

Barring the unexpected, it’s Brady’s trophy to win, with Dalton, Rodgers & Newton ready to grab it if Tom loses his grip, but if Todd keeps this up, that ROY trophy just won’t seem big enough

Good Spot

Kansas City Chiefs (3-5)

On brink of pseudo-elimination, KC played a blinder at London’s Wembley in W8 action, crushing the toothless Lions, 45-10, inching closer to respectability in a Conference with still plenty of opportunity for post-season slotting.

Oakland Raiders (4-3)

“Just Win (Enough to build on), Baby!”

....Carr.D.9.27.15.wc.E.Drost.thmPollyanna take: Draft calls finally pay dividends, Derek Carr is maturing (15t-3i) in a pocket that’s coalescing (8sk) and defense is holding most leads.

Pragmatic view: If there was a season to blossom, 2015 is it. When NFL std-bearer New England does well, the “whole world smiles.” Add in perennials like Denver, GB, Cincy (regular) and regional reps in AZ and Carolina and things A-okay. But quick glance at the standings and it’s easy to see, quality of competition in the pro circuit is way down, which opens the door for that franchise on the cusp of turning the corner, who possess a sound game-plan and can avoid the injury bug. That could be the Raiders, and Rams & Vikes, too. Time tells.

Brady Quinn

The former Notre Dame – NFL (‘07-13) quarterback chimed in on the injury bug this season, some feeling it higher rate than normal (not my sense). Quinn believes the illicit use of “HGH (PEDs),” banned under the CBA and subject of rather ineffectual, random blood testing, may be the cause.

Not qualified to address injury-PED relationship myself, what is widely known fact is that the use of performance enhancing drugs is detrimental to human health, that the NFL/PA drug test policy is insufficient, affording ample opportunity for players to skirt rules to cheat the game and that union Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is not best man for the job.

Bad Spot

Jim Caldwell: Pink-slip processing

The house-cleaning in Detroit began in earnest at mid-mark. No surprise there.

With the Lions record standing at 1-7 after going 11-5 in 2014, both GM Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were dismissed on Thursday.

....Caldwell.wc.9.19.10.Sgt.JL.Small.thmBut half-measures, i.e., ousting Mayhew – Lewand, retaining Caldwell, often fail to turn the tide (See; Breaking Bad). Having written that, with Lions playoff chances nearly nil, even in wide-open NFC15, the remainder is now a rebuilding – salvage project, not so much in player personnel but strategy & psyche, making Caldwell’s retention somewhat prudent, if not very bold. For while Jim compiled a nifty 11-5 in ’14 and a couple dbl-digit runs with Colts (SB44), the fall in Detroit has been so pronounced, it may be too steep a climb back up with him in the lead.

Caldwell will get a couple, maybe three games to get the ship back on course.

Chuck Pagano & Company

Pooh-pooh those who decided to bench Matt Hasselbeck (2-0) when Luck got A-OK from MDs to return from injury. Don’t mess with mojo. It’s a sport thing.

Seattle Seahawks (4-4): Boom to Bump

Hawks escaped Dallas with a razor-thin victory Sunday evening (13-12) but most apparent to this viewer was that Seattle’s defense is…different. Not exactly boom to bust but no longer the formidable force it was the past three seasons.

Had Cowboys not shot themselves in the foot in their opening 2H drive, one that was matriculating with surprising ease and looked set to take the lead (10-6) but stymied by a motion penalty, two batted balls at line of scrimmage and settled for a field-goal, Seattle’s season might be on the brink and Dallas’ salvaged.

Curious Quote

Packers‘ coach, Mike McCarthy: “That’s a humbling loss (@ DEN, 29-10). I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time (NFL Network / 11.2).”

..cherries.Hispalois.Spain.wc.cc.thmb

Cherry Picks Week 9

Pack (6-1) @ CAR (7-0): 11.8 Fox 1:00 (GTW): GB wins
Redskins (3-4) @ New England (7-0): Fox 1:00: Pats win
Dolphins (3-4) @ Buffalo (3-4): CBS 1:00: Miami wins
Rams (4-3) @ MIN (5-2): Fox 1:00 (GTW2): STL wins
Jaguars (2-5) @ New York (4-3): CBS 1:00: Jets win
OAK (4-3) @ Steelers (4-3): CBS 1:00: Pittsburgh wins
Giants (4-3) @ Tampa (3-4): Fox 4:05: Buccaneers win
Falcons (6-2) @ San Francisco (2-6): Fox 4:05: ATL wins
Broncos (7-0) @ Indianapolis (3-5): CBS 4:25: Colts win
Eagles (3-4) @ Dallas (2-5): NBC 8:30: Cowboys win
Chicago (2-5) @ Chargers (2-6): 11.9 ESPN 8:30: SD wins

Record: 37 – 38

...NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFC, wc.cca, NFL-Enterprises.LLC; B.Arians, wc, 9.8.14, FF-Swami; C.Newton, wc, 9.28.14, K.Allison; T.Gurley, wc, 11.30.13, Thomson200; D.Carr, wc, 9.27.13, E.Drost; J.Caldwell, 9.19.10, wc, Sgt-JL.Small; cherries, Hispalois, Spain, wc, 7.2.12; NFL-symbol, wikiproject.
Posted: 11.6.15 @ 2:38pm; 2.7.16 edit (pic); Copyright © 2015

NFL15: Did Caldwell Pull All the Stops?

21 Aug

Little “Carole (Sherry Jackson)” and big “Steve Williams (John Wayne, Trouble Along the Way (‘53)),” were wrong: Not only is “winning (not) everything, neither is it “the only thing.” Spunky frozen asset turned soft-touch, court-appointed officer “Alice Singleton (Donna Reed)” of the nice legs did look a bit skeptical of her young charge’s code. Smart cookie.

.....Caldwell.wc.9.19.10.Sgt.JL.Small.thm

And such is the case in the oh-so popular NFL pre-season.

Football is a beast but the NFL exhibition slate has long been considered a slightly different animal. Someone may need to remind Lions’ Jim Caldwell & crew. Ouch!

In the minds of coaches around the League, the real culprit in the Detroit-DC pre-season scrimmage on Thursday night where Redskins’ oft-injured quarterback Rob Griffin was walked-off in 2Q for suffering from what’s been confirmed as concussion, may be Lions’ head coach Jim Caldwell who, with staffers, apparently felt it fine to ‘pull out all the stops’ in having his defensive felines go ‘full-tilt’ in the exhibition.

On video view the hits (& roll-over) looked to be extra-heavy, an effort usually reserved for regular play and slightly reminiscent of Bountygate in 2010 post-season, as legal as they appeared.

.....Gruden.1.18.14.K.Allison.wc.thm

By the time RG3 became cookie-dough for Lions’ rolling-pin 6’6” 280 lbs defensive end Corey Wootton in a fumble-fall, the ill-effects of the two prior wicked whacks had fully set in.

Major media, social circles and quick-to-pounce sport site commenters alternated between lining Redskins head coach Jay Gruden and his offensive line in their critical crosshairs to take all of the blame for RG3‘s bruising night.

But then it’s always groovin’ for PC media to bash the Washington brand, ever since 2012. Almost any reason will do. It fuels the on-going, transparently self-serving and largely hypocritical anti-Redskins (logo) campaign. Just happens to be Gruden instead of Snyder or Allen this time.

Life has it’s unwritten codes. Clarity and a necessary conformity come by way of guidance, good judgment and redress.

.....RG3.7.31.12.K.Allison.wc.TC.VA.thm

In NFL pre-season the code goes something like this: Don’t hit your hardest (D (80%)) nor extend the furthest (O). Make the play, don’t make a mess.

Reasons are obvious and well grounded, though, the heightened scrutiny that exhibitions receive today in a business whose popularity is off the charts, presents players & coaches both with a conundrum of sorts. Too much, too little?

Gruden and Redskins’ O-line may have issues (Who doesn’t?), it’s what the pre-season is made to address. But Lions may’ve broken code, taken advantage and it’s time the experts (coaches & players) chimed-in on this sad display.

And new Miami Dolphins defender Nda Suh has gotta‘ be smiling. Not at the hits, he’s human, but the irony. He was nowhere in sight to blame this time.

.......NFL.wikiproject.6kb

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Photo Credits: Griffin, wc, 8.1.12, K.Allison, TC.VA; J.Caldwell, wc, Sgt.J.Small, 9.19.10; J.Gruden, 1.18.14, Allison, wc; RG3, 7.31.12, wc, Allison, TC.VA; NFL-symbol, Wikiproject.
Posted: 8.21.15 @ 6:10pm; Copyright © 2015