Tag Archives: football

NFL19: Belichick-Brady Eke Out Excellence as Sense of Swan Song Season Settles In

23 Apr

It must be the hope, the dream of every pro athlete and coach, to finish-out a career on top of their game, either in strong stats or preferably, hoisting a champion’s hardware. And so much the better if this good fortune can be had with a body and mind that are still largely in-tact and, where the jock is concerned, untainted by the PED tattoo (ugh).

Fantastic final season finishes are not uncommon and deposited in the memory banks of fans and followers. For this writer, a few of them stand-out:

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wins the 1986 Masters for a record 6th time at age 46; Steffi Graf wins her 22nd and final major singles title in taking the 1999 French Open, her 6th; In his 16th and final NHL campaign, Alberta-born Lanny McDonald captains the Calgary Flames to their first and only Stanley Cup (1988-89); Reliever extraordinaire Mariano Rivera ends his career in style by nabbing 44 saves on a stellar 2.11 ERA, securing a 1st-ballot HOF election; And Peyton Manning, plagued for two years by a neck injury, returns to the Denver lineup at mid-season to lead the Broncos to an SB50 victory before calling it a career.

And then there were those singular, final-game feats, like the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams who, on September 28, 1960, homered at Fenway in his final at-bat of a long, illustrious career (1939), and the Bambino, Babe Ruth, swating three home runs at Pirates’ Forbes Field on May 25, 1935, in his fond, if not somewhat inconspicuous farewell to the business of baseball.

But my favorite goodbye involves one of sports great personalities.

I lived in Wisconsin in 1976 when, that December, Marquette University men’s basketball coach Al McGuire surprised nearly everyone when he made statement he would be stepping down from his post at season’s end, an end not realized until his Warriors would win the NCAA national championship that following March by defeating his Finals opponent, Dean Smith’s UNC Tar Heels.

A dreamy career ending, if their ever was one.

There are two fellas today employed in Foxborough, Massachusetts, one a player, the other a coach, both getting long in the football tooth, highly accomplished (6 NFL titles) and both at that point in their careers where thoughts must certainly be turning to that day in the not too distant future when closure is in the cards.

The fellas: Quarterback Tom Brady (00) and his only pro head coach, Bill Belichick (91-5; 00), both still seemingly at the top of their games entering NFL19, all aglow after brushing aside the latest challenge to their decades long supremacy, the upstart Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53 (13-3) who clearly got Belichicked, mate. It wasn’t a pretty win, yet it was a win and that’s all that matters in the NFL battle for the championship.

But it does beg the question, at their advanced NFL ages, eking out excellence in ever more narrow margins of victory and with key cog Rob Gronkowski having shown the way with his recent retirement announcement, is this the right time for B&B to peg 2019-20 as their final, swan song season?

And keep these points in mind: 1) When they do exit, Bill and Tom will likely do it in the same season, and 2) avoid the now common ‘This is my final season’ announcement and hopefully spare us a farewell gift-giving tour (ugh).

Here then are the reasons why I think this will be their last hurrah.

The clearest reason why Bill and Tom call it quits after this season, they’ve got little else of significance to achieve. Getting that second back-to-back (03-04, 04-05), a technical dynasty, may be the only thing motivating B&B at this point.

If one does not consider them the masterminds of the greatest team in NFL history (It’s a debatable topic), they’re certainly right near the top of any reasonable list. And to be frank, the Pats are the only consistent ’big fish’ in what’s become a little NFL pond of competition, the only real challenge left for them being their respective battles against age.

And when Belichick does leave the Patriots, I don’t suspect he’s going to take the Lombardi route in assuming a new challenge as Vince did in DC (1969). I’d expect he follows John Madden’s play-call and stays out for good, maybe accepts an advisory position with Kraft & Co.: “Easy money.”

Then there’s reason #2 to think this is a swan song season: Preserving health.

Tom’s been fairly fortunate in the injury department. He missed almost all of 2008 with a knee bang but has had fewer concussions than other QBs with as many seasons. He doesn’t want to press his luck and his wife may think as much. And even though Belichick works the sidelines, his job classifies as high stress, a state now considered by heart experts to be one of the highest risk-factors for myocardial infarction and poor health in general, along with sugar addiction.

And reason #3 why B&B likely call it quits after this season? It’s like Gordie Lightfoot says, “walk away like a movie star (♪ IfYouCouldReadMyMind ♫).” The Patriots presently are the NFL standard and can hold their heads high.

Even if New England fails to win their fourth consecutive Hunt trophy (AFC) (They’ve copped four of the last five, five of the last eight), a simple winning mark (9-7), playoffs or not, would go down in my book as a successful exit.

How Gronk’s absence will play on team chemistry is hard to predict. He’d a great career and one of Tom’s favorite targets for nine seasons (2010-19), but then Bill has cycled through many great players in his New England reign, finding such, or he and Tom molding those men INTO greatness.

Whenever the two DO decide to hang up their respective cleats and headset, it’s certain they’ll take a good part of the NFL with them, explanation to follow.

Their departure will mark the end of an era, not just one that saw a franchise sustain success on the girdiron for 20+ seasons, but the end of an era in how the game is played and then enjoyed, it seems progressively less & less by an evermore fickle fandom, many who‘ve made whipping-boys of the zebra set.

Though pocket passers will always remain in the game in some numbers as they matriculate the ball and fire-up the exictement best, Tom’s stand-tall-in-the-pocket style of quarterbacking, in opposite of the rabbit-habit trend (aka, flash-QB or single-wing tailback), will become more rare as every year passes, no pun. The college training ground guarantees it. If given a choice to take hits in the pocket, learning to read with poise, or run-at-will with the ball over incapable collegiate defenses, most young athletes will choose the latter.

The NFL has always been a business first, but since B&B teamed-up we’ve seen a serious ratcheting-up of profit-taking in TV transmission, advertising, stadium and merchandise costs. No stone goes unturned today where even player jerseys and shoe-wear become billboards, enriching owners and players alike.

But the biggest change they’ll leave behind is the NFL’s new commitment to the millennial business model in youthenization, one that demands constant change and has a haughty disdain for continuity (tradition).

This callow, artless approach is seen in endless uniform changes (Nike) and rule tinker, to appease the target market (ages 8-28); Networks display little for serious sport fans but cater to those who boner-up on celebrity, sex and shallow trash talk; skittish online reporters deliver the new message while stifling fan input (no more fan-blogging or comments allowed), and gimmickry in ephemeral events like combines, weekly power ranks, endless mock-drafts, mindless re-drafts from years past, their one concession to history, and then the oversold draft day itself where youth is served a heaping helping of freshly-baked heroes to devour, most who never really pan out anyway (6-8 yrs+).

So consider this an early adieu, Misters Belichick and Brady. Don’t spend it all in one place and thanks for the memories because they’re probably going to have to last us real NFL fans the rest of our lives.

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; Brady-Belichick-x4; Patriots-HOF, wc.cca, Leoparmr, 10.20.08
Posted: 4.22 @ 9:04pE; Copyright © 2019

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NFL19 Super Cherry Pick: A Bowl of Contrasts Topped With Pocket-Passer Poise

3 Feb

It’s what they used to call the ‘Big Game,‘ usually referring to the college kind.

Hollywood loved it, fitting fandom in racoon coats and waved pennants as co-eds in the outdoor stands rooted for their pigskin-carrying hero who typically ran it into the end-zone for a touchdown and swell hugs all around.

As marketing matured, that high-spirited, collegial hoopla eventually gave way to pro game profits and creation of the super serious, late (6:30p k/o), long, commercial laden NFL Championship, aka, the Super Bowl, known as such since the 1970 game (SB4), this one presently numbered 53.

And when the Big Game rolls around, even as late as February when baseball begins to bud in the consciousness, its midnite conclusion (EST) marking the end of the holiday season, we look for themes to stoke interest and set it apart.

In 2019 there are three themes I spot: 1) The stark contrasts between the two participants in the New England Patriots (AFC) and the Los Angeles Rams (NFC); 2) no few commonalities, and 3) possible conflict in protests.

Contrasts

1) East coast (Pats) versus west coast (Rams)

2) AFL original (Pats 1959) versus NFL oldie Rams (1937), though, interestingly, the Cleveland locale originated with the second AFL (1936), the first lasting just one season (1926), the third born in 1959 and merging into the NFL in 1970 (66) as the AFC (NFC) in the present-day set-up.

3) A very experienced coach-quarterback tandem (Belichick-Brady) versus one in just their second season together (McVay 17 – Goff 16), as were B&B in SB36 (02), though, the Rams head coach does have the very experienced Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator, a man with two Super Bowls under his belt, the first in 1981 with Denver in loss (SB24 90 SF), the second, having returned to Denver, but that one with a victory result (SB50 2016 W CAR).

4) Franchise history: More recently, New England has been template for success, winning ten Hunt trophies and five Lombardi in the Robert Kraft era, while the Rams have made two location moves the past twenty-five years (LA > STL > LA) and played in two Supers, both as St.Louis residents, one a win (00 TEN), and two years later a loss (02), that being the Patriots first championship hoist.

Commonalities

1) Defense: No forte for either club, both are quite capable. In the regular, even-Steven on ypg (359), edge Pats in ppg (20 v 24), but Rams tighten it better in the PS (22 DAL – 23 NO) (NE: 28 LAC – 31 KC).

2) Offense: If you know football, you know these two teas can put up the points, scoring almost at-will in regular (LAR #2 ypg – ppg / NE #5 in both), with Patriots holding slight edge in the playoffs, NE 41 LAC – 37 KC; LAR 30 DAL – 26 NO, though the Rams lesser totals accrued against slightly better defenses in Saints and Cowboys.

3) Pocket-passers: Both Brady and Goff are mobile when need-be but stand tall under pressure, running up-field only rarely. And the coaches like it that way, i.e., less injuries, more completions and fewer fumbles. Duh-hey.

4) Sort-of-a-rematch: Patriots and Rams first Super Tussle was in SB36 at the Louisiana Superdome (Feb-02), as New England topped St. Louis version of Rams, 20-17 to start the great Belichick-Brady run of championship play and effectively end the Rams, who’d taken the Lombardi (v. TEN) two years earlier in this same same host city of Atlanta, in the now demolished Georgia Dome, replaced by Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the summer of 2017.

Not much to gleen from those two facts, except that Brady-Belichick have been here many times and Rams can win in Georgia. But then, a similarly under-experienced coach-QB tandem in Pederson-Foles topped the B&B in last year’s Super, giving us all something to keep in mind: Experience matters but it’s not everything .. when your opponent has poise.

Conflict?

Will one, two or three players, take a knee for Colin Kaepernick in the biggest spotlight on Earth? If they do, he and his vague mission don’t seem worth it. CK is to some people believed to’ve been black-balled out of the NFL for his on-field protests, though, his same supporters will never include Tim Tebow in their line of gripe. That difference speaks to the sincerity question: Answer, not very.

The Win

The Patriots will again face another recently-tenured head coach (Pederson SB52) employing a not-inexperienced but not-well-tested quarterback (Foles). But Doug was an NFL signal-caller for ten-plus seasons, and though of the clipboard variety, certainly learned his share under Holmgren – Favre in Green Bay and as an assistant with offensive specialist, Reid in KC. That background proved invaluable to the Eagles QB Foles in SB52.

McVay handles his own OC duties, played receiver at Miami of Ohio and coached the same for half of his time in NFL (TB / DC) before taking the reins in Los Angeles. Against a highly-decorated club like the Patriots, knowledge by experience is everything, poise included. I don’t believe the Rams will have that deep well of knowledge at QB (Zac Taylor) to top New England through four quarters, the last as critical. Phillips has the years of experience but that’s D-side, edge Rams, and even then, his Super Bowl win was over the Panthers, not known as an offensive juggernaut. Brady & Company are not Newton & Friends.

Turnovers are always the wild-card, but not the officiating. The zebras are human, I want to keep it that way and champions don’t give game officials the power to decide the outcome. They win, regardless of penalties.

Super Cherry Pick 53: Patriots

Record: 64 – 52 (4-2)

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, 4.25.15, White-House, USDoS; J.Goff, Rams, wc, 7.31.16, Praveer-Sharma; T.Brady, Patriots, wc, 11.29.15, J.Beall; cherries, Hispalois, Cacares-Spain, wc, 7.2.12; J.Marshall, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 2.3.19 @ 5:33pE; Copyright © 2019

NFL19 Conference Cherry Picks: Presidents, Field-Generals & Super-Chiefs

20 Jan

The National Football League quarterback: He’s sometimes called a field general, a commander-in-chief who musters his troops into an offensive, forward thrusting campaign to gain territory and vanquish the enemy.

Though America’s Chief Executive and gridiron signal-caller live worlds apart in the duties department, there is a commonality their jobs share. Even as both are just one part their respective operations, as Big-Kahunas (A2-US Const.), each will in good times receive much of the credit while, in bad, most of the blame.

As the partial federal government shutdown remains a reality and new accusations of illegalities fly concerning the investigation into current President Trump’s prior campaign tactics, blame is being apportioned, some to the White House, some to Congress (Pelosi-McConnell), some to the lead investigator (Mueller) and some to the press (journalist / junior-media). Surprising, in this democracy called the United States of America, is that no blame will be assigned to the public who assume none of it on their own, THAT you can bank on.

Followers of the NFL too have, as is customary, been engaging in their own critique in apportioning praise and blame on recent playoff game results.

While the blame has occasionally been debited, in part, to a coach (Harbaugh Garrett), kicker (Parkey) or receiver (Jeffery), as mentioned above, most has been layed at the doorsteps of the respective losing quarterbacks, though, all of it easily enough recycled with yesterday‘s news.

In this final round of post-season Conference championships in lead-up to the Super Bowl pairing, the League’s crème de la crème are in the spotlight.

Typically, these are the best contests. The wheat has been separated from the chaff, making most games real barnburners with outcomes often decided late.

Adding to the watchability this go-round are the two quarterback match-ups.

Each game will pit a wily, well-decorated field general (Brady – Brees), against a much younger upstart, both Patrick Mahomes (KC) and Jared Goff (Rams) in offensive leadership of clubs in quest of their first NFL title in many moons.

It’s not far-fetched to pen, these four signal-callers are, this season, the best four in the business, given that two of them in Mahomes (1) and Brees (2) are the top contenders for AP-MVP award. And Tom, even on a less-than-stellar statistical season, is almost always terrific, while Mr. Goff (and team) has compiled a sparkly 24-7 RS mark after a learning-curve rookie year (0-7 – 55C%).

Tom Brady: New England Patriots

1) FDR: The only Commander-in-Chief besides the cherry-tree-chopper who could’ve been king (Defacto?). Elected four times, his economic vision prescribed emergency medicine in seriously Depressed times (New Deal) and took federal policy beyond simply feeding greed, then undertook to save the world (WW2). He had a wife who was pretty swell, too (Eleanor).

Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints

2) Lincoln: Made the union whole, more human and gave his life in the process.

Jarod Goff: Los Angeles Rams

3) Washington: Iconic leader in War and government who led the world’s first revolt against Imperium slavery since Spartacus (d.71 BC), gave the new office of President serious stature and the budding nation a good head start.

Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs

4) Jackson: Old Hickory from Tennesse was his nickname, he was the first non-elitist President who fought hostile Indians, British invaders, banker thugs and brought the people and democracy to the nation‘s capital.

Cory Littleton: Los Angeles Rams (ILB)

5) Wilson: Prof President (1856–24) with steel resolve to make America a world leader in war (WW1) and peace (LoN), whose 2nd wife Edith (Ellen) co-ruled after his stroke (19) making her first unofficial female President (1872–61).

Aaron Donald: Los Angeles Rams (DE)

6) JFK: He saved planet Earth (Cuban Missile Crisis ‘62) and then lost his life in Dallas (11.22.63) in the risky battle against entrenched, corrupting power.

Anthony Hitchens: Kansas City Chiefs (ILB)

7) Cleveland: Should’ve been the first 3-term President, designing the template for modern-era “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

John Johnson: Los Angeles Rams (SS)

8) Jefferson: Crafty Louisiana Purchase doubled nation’s size, after drafting Declaration of Independence (‘76) and blue-printing first public college (UV).

Demario Davis: New Orleans Saints (OLB)

9) LBJ: Mis-policy in Vietnam did not derail efforts of this legislative juggernaut in making civil rights reality and protecting America’s seniors (Medicare);

Chris Jones: Kansas City Chiefs (DE)

10) Polk: Pragmatic, fiscally sound and productive, Mr. Manifest Destiny added thirteen (13) States in whole or part to America’s flag family of stars. Worn to the bone, he died only 3 months after leaving Office.

11) Truman: Plain-talking, former farmer, WWI major, haberdasher and pianist (See; leggy Lauren Bacall) finished out the big War with gutsy call on Japan A-bombs and proved critics and premature press-men, wrong (Chicago Tribune) with a strong, spirited and common sense administration.

12) Teddy: “Big Stick” policy boosts US clout, trust-buster checks monopolist greed and initiates our national parks network. A celebrity turned progressive.

13) James Madison
14) Andrew Johnson
15) William McKinley

Conference Cherry Picks: “Nothing to fear but fear itself”

Rams @ NewOrleans: 1.20 Fox 3:05pE: Saints
NewEngland @ KansasCity: CBS 6:40: Patriots

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; T.Brady, wc.cca, A.Campbell, 9.14.14; The-Conways, USCMC, D.Brees, E.Kirk-Cuomo, 11.2.09; cherries-ripe, Chirak, wc, 6.24.07; A.Jackson, wc, 1844, Boyer-Houghton-Mifflin
Posted: 1.20 @ 2:33pE; Copyright © 2019

NFL19 Wild Cherry Picks: A Showcase of Styles On the Evolving (Devolving) Pro-QB

5 Jan

If you think this 2019 NFL Wild Card playoff round looks like the makings of a quarterback revolution, I’d hold off on that thought for now. Think more like a less taxing, not as angry, Whiskey Rebellion (1791-94). That doesn’t make complete sense, either, but it ain’t a revolution, not yet, anyway.

The quarterback landscape is changing pretty rapid these days. With the college football ranks filling faster on flash quarterbacks than a tackle does on mashed potatoes (NO GARLIC, PLEASE!!), they’ve gotta’ end up somewhere, right? Canada’s one destination (CFL), but south of the 49th parallel north, the National Football League venue is every amateur’s biggest dream.

Couple that with the NFL’s need to replenish its ranks with capable signal-callers and it only stands to reason that the modern single-wing tailback would become plentiful at the pro-level, too, where, unfortunately, the real quarterback training in field assessment and development of serious intestinal fortitude begins.

Be that as it may, the pocket-passer will remain an NFL fixture, even if it becomes the exception, rather than rule, or ruler, as it were (See; SB).

As the run-quarterback operates largely on rabbit-sense, i.e., fear-flight, it will always be the master matriculaor, the ones who show poise behind the line, withstand hits in the face of pressure to connect consistently with receiver corps and in the most critical of times (red-zone), that will always be favored, not just by coaches, GMs and teammates but most by football fans who like courage and lots and lots of scoring.

And it’s the pocket-passer that will be one of the featured styles on both days of this weekend’s Wild Card slate, along with every other variety of quarterbacking style you can imagine, with the exception of maybe the wounded-duck form of field generaling. They may be gone forever.

Those were the guys like Billy Kilmer (Redskins) and Joe Kapp (Vikings) who never did perfect the spiral but generally got the job done on guts & semi-skill.

Here’s how the play-callers have been playing it:

Andrew Luck, pocket passer. Andy used to motor pretty well but recent injuries have curtailed that and the results, so far, are looking good.

DeShaun Watson, run-QB: He takes off at the drop of a hat but with an excellent C% (68+) and ypa (8.2). So the worry on scamper isn’t so much that he’s passing up opportunities in the air (red-zone blues?), but the injury risk.

Russell Wilson, mobile-manager: He has mobility to avoid the rush when the line breaks down and likes to roll-out. Russ’ earned an A+ in his biggest test in SB46 win over Denver, rambling a mere three (3) times, all early-on.

Dak Prescott, mobile-manager: Averages about 4.5 rushes per contest, finding the end-zone with regularity (6-TD). Level-headed and physically solid (“The Fortress” nickname fits), his motor has been tested in 2018 with a leaky Dallas O-line (56-sk), but can Coach Garrett deliver the Dude a game-plan?

Philip Rivers, pocket-passer: The old veteran (37 yrs) and sentimental favorite in this years early playoff round (37 yrs). Passing yards are down a bit but INTs reasonable (12) on pretty fair protection (32sk). His run-mates Ekeler (groin) and Gordon (ankle) are aching, so can Coach Lynn come up with a pass-heavy scheme that can compensate, on the road in Crabcake City (gulp)?

Lamar Jackson, run-QB: A Ravens post-season without Joe Flacco starting under center? Seems odd, but you go with what gets you there, right, and the young Mister Jackson (turns 22 on Monday) got the guys going in the right direction (6-1, 6t-3i, 695y-rush). The Bolts know offense, of course, but they also know defense this time around. Does Harbaugh know HIS offense, yet?

Nick Foles, pocket-passer: It’s a stand-tall-in-the-pocket tandem in Philly (+Wentz), together averaging a 70-C%, even as sacks are on higher side in 2018 (40). The Super Bowl winning Foles, who started the season slow, gave-way to Wentz and then got the call again, is like that race-horse who runs best in the stretch where the action intensifies and the stakes are highest.

Mitchell Trubisky, run-QB: This season, like most since 1919, defense is key in Chicago, which took some pressure off the 2nd-year from UNC (b.Ohio). Mitch carried his end well on nice C% (67), fair INTs (12) and enthusiasm, something that’d been missing on the Midway (JC), though, it does get a smidgen silly at times (post-TD). Run-game helps (Howard-Cohen-MT) but fumblitis (15).

NFL Wild Cherry Picks: Road Warriors

Indy @ Texans: 1.5 Disney 4:35E: Colts
Seahawks @ Cowboys: Fox 8:15: Seattle
Chargers @ Baltimore: 1.6 CBS 1:05: Bolts
Philadelphia @ Chicago: NBC 4:40: Eagles

Record: 63 – 51

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; R.Wilson, wc.cca, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; N.Foles, wc, T-Sgt-Walker, Dover, USAF; J.Kapp, wc, Ellensburg-Daily, 12.26.69
Posted: 1.5 @ 4:03pE; Copyright © 2019

NFL18 Cherry Picks W17: Christmas Is Over But Carroll-ing Time Knows No Season

30 Dec

A Pete Carroll team won’t stay bad for long.

That may not read like much, but in today’s wild n’ wacky NFL where things can change faster than a Florida forecast, it’s a pretty fair compliment.

In his nine (9) seasons with Seattle, Pete’s first two were losers, both 7-9, the rest all winners, including Halas hoisting at the close of the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

This year the Seahawks started slow at 0-2, rebounded on successive wins, then a close loss to the rising Rams, two more wins, another two loses, a season-saving four game win streak, a stumble against lowly 2018 division rival San Francisco and last Sunday’s confidence-builder victory at home against AFC Super-hopeful, Kansas City. Phew!

Fickle football: In a nutshell, that is what characterizes this 2018 NFL season. I’d have to list over half the teams as qualifiers for the tag, including the Seattle Seahawks. One never knows what to expect these days, even from apparent stalwarts like New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, the Packers who will miss the post-season, again, the Patriots and Steelers who, one week, can look ready for a title run, the next, their QBs ready for retirement talk.

But with a playoff spot locked-up, posting one of the best 2d-half marks in the League (overlooking W15’s loss to the Niners), a #6 offense (pts) that can pass (Wilson: 34-6i) and run (Carson-Davis), a defense that lacks Boom but ranks top half (Wagner), a reliable May (MD) – Dec (SJ) kick game, still plenty of players remaining who sport a championship ring (SB48) and head coach in Carroll who understands the stakes, Seattle might just be that under-the-radar club that has enough of the pieces to put a title run together.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 17

Dolphins @ Buffalo: 12.30 CBS 1pE: Bills
Atlanta @ Buccaneers: Fox 1p: Falcons
Dallas @ NYGiants: Fox 1p: Cowboys
Carolina @ NewOrleans: Fox 1p: Saints
NYJets @ NewEngland: CBS 1p: Pats
Jaguars @ Texans: CBS 1p: Houston
Detroit @ GreenBay: Fox 1p: Packers
Philly @ Washington: Fox 4:25: Eagles
LosAngeles @ Denver: CBS 4+: Broncos
Oakland @ Kansas City: CBS 4+: Raiders
Chicago @ Minnesota: Fox 4+: Vikings
Cleveland @ Baltimore: CBS 4+: Ravens
SanFrancisco @ LosAngeles: Fox 4+: Rams
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh: CBS 4+: Steelers
Cardinals @ Seahawks: Fox 4+: Seattle
Indianapolis @ Tennessee: NBC 8+: Colts

Record: 52 – 46

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; P.Carroll, wc.cca, K.Allison, 10.6.14; cherries, wc, picdrome, 06-2011; J.Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 12.30 @ 12:54aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W14: St. Nick’s Maybe Memo to Packers, ‘Better a Big Fish Than Small Fry’

8 Dec

Fish n’ Chips

If there’s no news, then make some news. That could be a placard above the entrance to the managing editor’s office at SI.com.

Someone at the long-running magazine got it in their head this week to float the wobbly notion that Alabama football coach Nick Saban should become the next Packers guru to fill the vacancy created by the panic-driven firing of Super Bowl winning Mike McCarthy who’d been at the Green Bay helm for over a decade (06). Where there’s M&M (money & motivation), anything can happen.

But the Packers Executive Board doing what it takes to pry Nick away from UA where he rolls towards what could be his sixth national title in Tuscaloosa (7 + LSU), in money & position (club president), well, that’s about as likely as the forever frugal Brewers signing Bryce Harper to a 5-year deal: Not very.

There are plenty of reasons why someone of Saban’s caliber would never coach the green & yellow, starting with the fact the Packers would never go after someone with a celebrity carrying such a high price tag. That’s for the Yankees, Lakers and Cowboys of sportdom who like to throw money around.

Green Bay likes to think they can find diamonds in the rough, and they have, on occasion, but usually of the already cut variety (Wolf (OAK) – Holmgren (SF) – Lombardi (NYG)). Below the radar might be the better metaphor.

Besides that, the Packers Board of Directors ‘throw nickels around like manhole-covers (See also: Bears).’ But then all this has been common knowledge amongst real NFL fans for quite some time now.

And Saban himself might not like giving up the near reverential status he’s held in college football for about twenty years. At Alabama, Nick is becoming the John Wooden of college football (JW: 10 basketball titles @ UCLA). There’s Saban, and there’s everybody else, now that Urban Meyer has hung-up his head-set, again. The West Virginia native just might want to keep it that way, until he retires and goes into consulting and motivational speaking.

Though, it would not surprise that Saban has buried in the back of his mind a belief that he could do in Green Bay, or another NFL city, what Pete Carroll has done so marvelously in Seattle after his own great success at USC (2 titles 2003-04) and two brief NFL head-coaching stints with the New York Jets (94) and in New England (97-99 27-21), in winning back-to-back Halas trophies (NFCC 2014-15) with Wilson, Lynch and Legion of Boom. But such a build-from-scratch success story as Carroll fashioned is a rare feat indeed.

A Packers post means accepting the challenge of winning big in the Fox Valley. Key word there is ‘big.’ Winning’s not enough in Packerland. Titles must be won. That’s titles, plural. Once, as they said in the movies (75), is not enough.

Success in Green Bay does have its rewards.

The Packers are one of the most storied franchises in American sport. The head coach is a big fish in a small pond. That means you can gobble up pretty much whatever and whomever you want whilst you swim in it. They’ll probably name a street after you if you win a Super Bowl. Make that two, at least, two Halas trophies (NFCC). But if you don’t win early and often, they’ll hand you your walking papers right quick and might even string-up your family pet if the rabble get riled-up enough (See; Dan Devine 70s).

A former NFL Coach of the Year, Ray Rhodes, lasted but one 8-8 season before getting his pink slip from the Packers, even as Brett Favre had a sore thumb on his throwing hand most of that 1999 season.

Now this unexpected, rather ignominious mid-season firing of McCarthy, and you tell me, would you want take the reins in Green Bay? And it’s not like they’re gonna’ fork out the big bucks to help you assume the risk. No sir-ee, Nick.

This is a recent statement made by Packers All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his relationship with Mike: “We would finish every time that we talked.”

And I know what Rodgers meant: Listening in kind. That means, hearing each other out and responding. Not always in agreement, but in understanding: That’s maturity, that’s respect and that’s not easy to find today anywhere.

The coach community is a club. They understand the ups and downs, risks and rewards that come along with being a head coach. Some of those risks are unanticipated, like getting fired in-season with a 125-77 overall. That then creates a community wide impression, and not a good one.

Another name that’s being bantered about for the Packers’ HC job in 2019 is Northwestern’s resourceful Pat Fitzgerald (95-70 / 3-5 (3-1 since 2012)).

Pat’s done a marvelous job in Evanston but the former All-American linebacker is a defensive specialist. And as any real football fan knows, while the HC must delegate duties to capable staffers, they must also have a near expert understanding of play on both sides of the ball. Not that the Pack couldn’t use a boost on the D side of things, but with a guy like Rodgers running the offense, it’s scoring that is Green Bay’s forte, at least in the forceable future.

And therein be the carrot on Packers President Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst’s stick, Mister Aaron Rodgers.

Sure, money is important to a coaching candidate but so too is the prospect of winning quickly and winning often so you can keep earning that money, and that’s what Mr. Matriculator gives his coach, in all likelihood.

But Aaron, future Cantonese he be, is no spring chicken, as he will be entering his fourteenth season come next summer training camp in 2019.

While his first three seasons were limited to clipboarding, the fact Rodgers has recently suffered two semi-serious injuries (broken clavicles), missing half of 2013 and 2017 seasons, makes one wonder if he‘s become … susceptible?

How many NFL seasons does the Berkeley Bear have left?

He’s not the type to play just to break records or get a paycheck. His endorsements have him set for life. But the beatings in the backfield take their toll, even with new rules in place to protect the field general. I’d say 4-6 year, and that may not be enough to pull in the biggest names.

Then there’s interim, Joe Philbin, who led the Dolphins for parts of four seasons, compiling a so-so record of 24-28 as Bullygate unfolded. Not impressive but capable enough to get a short-term deal as search goes on as needed, or not.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 14

Saints @ Tampa: 12.9 Fox 1:00pE: Saints
Patriots @ Dolphins: CBS 1:00: Pats
Baltimore @ KansasCity: CBS 1:00: KC
Indianapolis @ Houston: CBS 1:00: Colts
Atlanta @ Green Bay: Fox 1:00: Packers
Panthers @ Cleveland: Fox 1:00: Browns
Denver @ 49ers: CBS 4:05: Broncos
Cincinnati @ Chargers: CBS 4:05: Cincy
Detroit @ Arizona: Fox 4:25: Lions
Philadelphia @ Dallas: Fox 4:25: ‘Boys
LosAngeles @ Chicago: NBC 8:20: Rams
Vikes @ Seattle: 12.10 Disney 8:15: Hawks

Record: 44 – 42

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, 2011; Fish-and-Chips, wc.cca, Mathias-Meckel, Blackpool, 2018; N.Saban, wc, 8.18.09, Ramma-Jamma-Yella; cherries, B.Kua, wc, 6.1.08; Willie-Wood, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 12.7 @ 10:49pE, edit 12.8; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W12: Pegging the Pretenders In a Contender Poor Playoff Picture

22 Nov

They‘ve gotta’ pick SOMEBODY, right?

The Halls of Fame, the Oscar®, that Mark Twain thing, we can’t make everybody happy with these honors and award shows but we sure can try, right?

And at the end of each NFL regular season the owners hold a playoff to spread the joy, selecting as many post-season participants as they can stuff into that PS bird, satisfying regional interests and keeping those coffers filling fat.

That meant expansion, adding teams (1971 AFL-NFL merger), crafting cute little divisions and then adding the wild card clubs which rarely have any wild about ‘em at all. So far, that means two more playoff participants per Conference.

Those slots must be filled, even if half the clubs are, for most the NFL weekends, just about as likely to stink up the joint as they are to shine bright.

Like most seasons, there are about 6 to 8 teams that have a pretty fair chance of winning their respective Conference (Halas (NFC) / Hunt (AFC) trophy) and then taking the Super Bowl, teams that look sound, front (O) and back (D).

We’ve got a ways to go before the twelve (12) playoff berths are awarded (Please, no cork-popping just yet, fellas (oy vey)), but it’s not too early to sift out the pretenders, those who’ll show their weaker hand and falter before the regular season winds up, while others will pass the mettle-test, in win or loss.

National Football Conference

Serious Contenders: Saints, Rams, Seahawks and Packers

We know New Orleans and Los Angeles have offense, but Saints are near top half in defense (Rams middle), while Hawks and Packers rank respectable on both sides, kinda-sorta.’ Even as their clubs sit around .500 each, I like the experience of Wilson & Rodgers, the latter whose club has a nice remaining slate. GB’s lost three close contests on the road vs top dogs, are better than half the clubs with winning marks and going 5-1 gets ’em into the PS where anything can happen.

Possible pretenders: Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, Washington

Bears got growl that’s been hibernating since Lovie days and it’s not just Mack. Second-year QB Trubisky, like AFC counterpart Mahomes, has high confidence, though, with fewer weapons at his disposal. But Mitch also has a rabbit-habit which will cost him and his club dearly as quality of competition and game-importance grows. Cats and Vikes O&D ranks are respectable but both compete for 2018’s Fickle Franchise Award (+ Titans, etc.), while Washington’s solid season went down with Alex Smith’s broken leg in W11 action.

American Football Conference

Serious Contenders: New England, Pittsburgh and Houston

Houston (7-3): Texans started slow (0-3) but’ve found their mojo since (6-0), albeit on maybe the NFL’s easiest schedule. Nice win at DC in W11.

Possible Pretenders: Chargers, Colts, Ravens, Titans, Dolphins and Chiefs

Bolts loss at home to 3-6 Denver was telling and their remaining schedule, besides AZ (W12), is a bear. Indy, on the other hand, while a slow start has an easy remainder but probably won‘t gel soon enough to impact. Maybe 2019, if Andy can stay healthy. Baltimore is not better with Flacco floundering. Get him healthy again and back on track and we’ll talk about contending.

And the much touted Chiefs? They get their own separate breakdown.

The last Monday Night Football fiasco makes it clear (Rams 54-51 KC), the NFL, all four major American sports, for that matter, are now just about offense. Kids and the Jr.-media, especially the sabrheads who voted Mets’ deGrom NL-CY last week, just adore score. We adults like it too but, if unbridled, it makes us nervous because we understand that old adage, ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘careful what ya’ wish for, you just may get it.’

Defense, football, was born in a much more brutal time when boxing was big. Bad still happens today, of course. Selfishness, greed, dishonesty and cowardice abound, but your average fan, player and coach, are just not built that way, not like Chuck Bednarik and Lawrence Taylor. They loved to stick, to punish.

Today’s team must score early, often and be comeback capable. No pouting when your D miscues. Your offense must pull on their big-boy pants, get back out there and put another TD on the board, not settling for FGs. It’s a fair measure that the club with higher Super Bowl potential is the one that’s scoring proficient and at least defense capable, rather than the other way around (top D, so-so O).

The Chiefs clearly have offense, scoring well against some of the better Ds in early going (PIT, DEN, JAX, LAC). Keep in mind that those same teams will, as season progresses, figure better the habits of a newcomer like Mahomes which were unfamiliar in earlier weeks of play.

But KC’s own defense is atrocious, even when you adjust for the MNF disaster, which will haunt them in this final regular stretch and the playoffs where the level of competition is more clear and certain.

Kansas City is on their bye this Thanksgiving week to lick wounds and afford Reid & Co. time to figure a new plan. And don’t count on it. Andy is one of NFL’s senior gurus and made a Super Bowl with the Eagles, but defense has never been his stronger suit. The HC must delegate duties (DC), but it all starts at the top.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 12

Falcons @ NO: 11.22 NBC 8:20pE: A-Birds
Jaguars @ Bills: 11.25 CBS 1:00: Jacksonville
Hawks @ Carolina (GOTD): Fox 1:00: Seattle
New York @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Dolphins @ Indianapolis: CBS 4:25: Colts
Pittsburgh @ Denver: CBS 4:25: Steelers
GreenBay @ Minnesota: NBC 8:20: Vikings
Titans @ Houston: 11.26 Disney 8:15: Tenn

Record: 40 – 38

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; D.Welniak-A.Reid, wc, J.Beall, 12.31.17, KCTV5; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Jim-Marshall, TCG, 1970
Posted: 11.22 @ 5:07pE; Copyright © 2018