Tag Archives: football

NFL18 Cherry Picks W9: Patriots and Red Sox Making New England America’s Region of Champions

4 Nov

Traditionally, after the War, it was b-ball (Celtics) and hockey (Bruins) that gave Bean-Towners their steady source for sportful community pride.

It’s when names like Bobby Orr, Cousy, the Joneses, Esposito, Kev McHale, Bill Russell, Cheevers, DJ, Chief Parish, Hondo, Bird and Red Auerbach made those cold Noreasters just slightly more bearable.

Today the tables have turned, in a good way.

Besides a singular season in the sun (Celts 08; Bruins 11), the Hub City has become the mecca for America’s two top entertainment venues, able to claim superiority in both the MLB and the NFL, the defending yet struggling Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) being of little consequence.

The New England Patriots of Foxborough and the Boston Red Sox have won collectively, nine (9) world championships since 2001, Bill Belichick’s Pats hoisting the Hardware in 2002, 04-05, 10 and 17, the BoSox, under three different managers, in 2004, 07 (Francona), 13 (Farrell) and in 2018 (Cora), nearly sweeping the Dodgers, 4-1. Those World Series titles to add to previous five (5) championships in the earlier part of the twentieth century.

Both clubs show no sign of fading from the title picture anytime soon.

So how do the other metropoli and national regions stack-up in the image department when it comes to tumultuous merriments?

Gotta’ start with the Big Apple (NYC-NJ), but that doesn’t look too shiny these days. The New York Yankees have had their share of World Series titles of late (2009 + 4), but the Mets, Knickerbockers, Nets, Islanders, Rangers (94), Jets and Giants since 2012 (08) have been pretty dog-gone pathetic.

As for Philadelphia, the 76ers and Flyers have been bad since Bobby Clarke and Julius Erving left town while the more recent championships seem to happen in the one-hit-wonder variety (Eagles: 2018; Phillies 2008). In the Western part of Pennsylvania, the Pirates, like Milwaukee, are beset with frugal ownership which, unless you’re talkin’ about the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals, usually translates into no titles. But the Steel City does have Big Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers: 2006, 09) and Sidney Crosby (Penguins: 2009, 16-17).

Heading south, it’s been the collegians who’ve given fans something to cheer about: Duke in men’s basketball where Mike Krzyewski has taken up where Adolf Rupp left off in winning five (5) NCAA titles during his 39-year tenure, the last in 2015, and, since Florida football hit the skids and LeBron bolted Miami, it’s been mastermind Nick Saban at The University of Alabama scoring big, where his Crimson Tide have garnered five (5) national titles, the last in 2017.

Then there’s NFL owner Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys who had their 2nd run as America’s Team (1993-94, 96). Now they look done.

Out West, the Los Angeles Dodgers win Pennants (2017-18) but no more World Series (88) and the Lakers these days are just dreamers. But the Steve Warriors (Kerr and Curry) of the NBA’s San Franscico Bay area representative and Pete Carroll, first at USC (03-04), now at NFL Seattle (2014), are the leaders who’ve been carrying the Pacific time zone banner of greatness.

Continuing clockwise and heading to the Midwest, the St. Louis Cardinals still win on occasion (2011, 06) while the Detroit Red Wings were Hockey-Town for a time (2008, 02, 97-98) but have turned into a weigh-station.

The Old Northwest Territory’s biggest metropolis, Chicago, has been doing itself almost as proud as Boston has in the sporting venues, the Cubs finally breaking through again in 2016 with their first World Series title in over 100 years (1907-08), the White Sox winning the fall classic in 2005 (last in 1917), the Blackhawks recently winning three (3) Stanley Cups in six seasons (2015, 13, 10) and the Michael Jordan Bulls taking their final of six (6) NBA titles in 1998. Only the once proud George Halas’ Bears going long without a championship since their remarkable Super Bowl win in 1986 under Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan.

And while they can only claim two world championships since Vince Lombardi parted company with Green Bay faithful in 1968 (1997, 2010) and must concede the Titletown moniker to their opponent this Sunday nite in the Tom Brady-led Patriots, the Packers have enjoyed one heck of a quarterback run in the persons of Brett Favre (1992-2007) and Aaron Rodgers (2005-present). Never in the history of the NFL has a franchise, for over 25 straight seasons, entered so many games with such hope for victory as have the fans of the green and yellow.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 9

Bears @ Buffalo: 11.4 Fox 1:00: Bills
Buccaneers @ Carolina: Fox 1:00: Bucs
Chiefs @ Cleveland: CBS 1:00: Browns
NewYork @ Miami: CBS 1:00: Jets
Steelers @ Baltimore: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Detroit @ Minnesota: Fox 1:00: Vikings
Atlanta @ Redskins: Fox 1:00: Falcons
Houston @ Denver: CBS 4:05: Denver
LosAngeles @ Seattle: CBS 4:05: Hawks
LosAngeles @ NewOrleans: Fox 4:25: NO
GreenBay @ NewEngland: NBC 8:20: NE

Record: 34 – 24

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject 2011; T.Brady, wc.cca, 8.28.09, K.Allison; cherries, 6-2011, wc, picdrome; Jim-Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 11.4 @ 1:11aE (edit 6:05p (PA)); Copyright © 2018

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NFL18 Cherry Picks W7: On Jim Taylor’s Death, One Can Ask, Where Are the White Ball-Carriers Today?

21 Oct

Perspective can be everything.

The angle, the light, the timing, the placement, they’re all important.

When you’re talking about performing a biopsy or having a tire mounted properly on your automobile, perspective matters not very much, but for many a circumstance in this life, it can matter plenty.

Debating the greatest ball-carrier in NFL history requires perspective.

Many believe the Vince Lombardi Packers of the 1960s, a team that won five (5) NFL championships and the first two (2) Super Bowls, to be the USA’s greatest pro football team of all-time (See also; CFL).

And a key cog in that magnificent machinery was fullback, Jim Taylor (1935 – 2018), who died recently at the age of 83.

Jim was a regular 1000-yard rusher in the mid-60s when 12-14 regular season games was the schedule and when the ground game, at least in the high-tone NFL (See also: Gillman, Hadl & Alworth (AFL Chargers)), was still the gridiron game plan.

So, arguably the best offensive player (Paul Hornung, Bart Starr and Boyd Dowler were three pretty key cogs, too) on the best team ever could fairly be called the greatest ball-carrier that ever laced ’em up, right? But that might be called having too narrow of a perspective, eh?

Around the same time JT was churning out yards and scoring TDs (83 career), there was another guy in Cleveland named Jim Brown who was doing what the guy in Wisconsin was doing but even better (led NFL in rushing eight (8) times, amassing 1863 yards in 1963 and averged 104 per game for his career), on a team you could say he carried on his back, or with his legs, more specifically, leading the original Brownies to the 1964 NFL title under head coach Blanton Collier.

Okay, so Jimbo Taylor might not’ve been the greatest ball-carrier in NFL annals, but he’s certainly in the discussion and was probably the biggest money back you could find in the golden age decade of the 1960s.

Both which, Taylor’s death and his football legacy, beg the question, where are the white ball-carriers in today’s NFL?

The last one of note I can recall was Mike Alstott, who played his entire career with the Tampa Bay Bucanneers (1996-06), being chosen All-Pro three (3) times and helping the Bucs to their first Super Bowl and victory in 2007. And of Mike’s eleven (11) campaigns, just over half could be considered highly productive.

White man can’t jump? Don’t tell that to Dick Fosbury or Dwight Stones. And don’t tell Paul Hornung or John Riggins he can’t motor with the pigskin, either.

But coaches at both the collegiate and pro levels are opting almost strictly for black running backs, a preference (bias) that carries over to the defensive side of the ball where the secondary is as well, almost entirely of one race, black. What Jim Taylor thought of the development I can just image. I’m sure he was asked.

Is the state explained by a clear and substantiated superiority of strength, speed, technique and tenacity by one race? I would think not.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 7

Titans @ LAC (Ldn): 10.21 9:30aE: Bolts
Houston @ Jacksonville: 1:00 CBS: Jags
Carolina @ Philadelphia: 1:00 Fox: Eagles
Minnesota @ NYJets: 1:00 Fox: Vikings
New England @ Chicago: 1:00 CBS: Pats
Cleveland @ Tampa Bay: 1:00 Fox: Bucs
Detroit @ Dolphins: 1:00 Fox: Lions
Saints @ Baltimore: 4:05 Fox: Ravens
Cowboys @ Washington: 4:25 CBS: DC
Cincinnati @ Kansas City: 8:20 NBC: Cats

Record: 24 – 17

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; Jim-Taylor, wc.cca, 1967, New-Orleans; cherries, Hispalois, Caceres-Spain, wc,7.2.12; Jim-Marshall, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 10.21 @ 2:29aE; tag edit 11.27; Copyright © 2018

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

14 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— — —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Cherry Picks Week 6

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

Record: 17 – 15

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, Wikiproject, 2011; Pittsburgh-Steelers-enlarged-helmet, wc, Daniel-X-Oneil, 4.28.15, Chicago-Draft; Heidi-film, 1937, wc, Jean-Hersholt, Shirley-Temple; cherries-ripe, wc, Chirak, 6.24.07; Harold-Jackson, wc, Topps-Chewing-Gum
Posted: 10.14.18 @ 3:47aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W5: Mayfield’s the Manziel Equalizer, Mahomes the Mr.Smith Memory Buster

7 Oct

When all is finally written on his professional football achievements, it’s likely they won’t compare to those of the Cleveland Browns (maybe NFL’s) greatest quarterback in their long, hyphenated history (AAFC-NFL 1946-95, 99 >), that being Otto Graham (8 pro championships).

But if the University of Oklahoma Heisman trophy winner and #1 overall draft pick (2018) keeps playing with the composure he’s shown in just his first two NFL games, Baker Mayfield, will, at very least, last long enough to make Forest City faithful forget about the Johnny Manziel crap shoot (2015-16) (oy).

As an Aggie (Texas A&M), Manziel was a freak talent where he might’ve become the greatest NCAA signal-caller to ever lace ‘em up, had he hung around for his junior and senior seasons to grow physically and emotionally.

But John, currently rostered with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, was also a freak-show, obsessing with beer, sugar (“Skittles®), chicken-feed signature fees, celebrity and the hanger-ons who worship it.

The Browns play in the first quarter of NFL18 can be summed-up in one word: Improved (1-2-1). That doesn’t read very exciting but for a franchise that’s been down in the dumps since, excepting a couple playoffs (02, 94), the Kosar-Schottenheimer era (85-89), it’s plenty good enough, at this stage, anyway.

In the team breakdown, no blowout losses at this juncture (1-2-1: PIT NO NYJ OAK), and that’s important for a club in rebuild. Every game’s been a battle and a possible win. If you can keep it close into the 4th, anything can happen. But that works both ways. If ahead, you better protect that ball and play some D.

Individually, #1 running back Hyde has five TDs on an unimpressive 3.4ypc, veteran QB Taylor hurt his back but is not very missed on a 48.8 C% (2t-2i), Landry is the leading receiver (24r -312y), Joseph is perfect with the foot (4-4 / 3-3xp), Schobert is the tackler (37) and Garrett the sacker (4.5).

On Mayfield’s ledger, in one start, two games, he has a pleasing 59.4 C%, 2 TDs, 2 picks, a pretty spiffy 7.8ypc average and has showed a poise in the pocket in opposite of his collegiate scamper-style, rushing just six times for eight yards.

The rest of the slate leading up to Cleveland’s bye (W11), a total of six games, will make or break the season. And it’s quite challenging. Just two on the road but the tough teams look to be the Ravens this Week 5, plus KC, Atlanta, @ Pittsburgh and two .500 clubs in the Bolts and the Bucs in Tampa Bay.

That stretch will also do much to test young Baker (b.4.14.95 Austin), who will come through a winner if he shows judgment capability in protecting the ball and then keeps reining in the rabbit habit, the latter being more likely if he gets protection and same-page reads with his receiver corps.

*The numbers on 2d-year Patrick Mahomes, another Texas native (Tyler), are nothing short of astounding, if one can be that good in just the first four games of a season: A 4-0 mark as the starting quarterback, a 65C%, 1200 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes, zero (0) interceptions and a stellar 8.7ypc average. And these numbers with just one prior starting assignment in 2017.

Might this be a case of the new pitcher no one’s seen yet who gets the best of a lineup that’s still a bit befuddled (Dak Prescott?), but once they figure out his delivery, they make him pay but big?

The Chiefs slate so far might support such a belief (opposition unawares).

The four clubs the Chiefs have bested have a combined total of seven (7) wins. That’s pretty pedestrian. But 3 of 4 contests were on the road, always a big challenge in the NFL, and Pittsburgh is sneaky bad right now while the Broncos were 2-1 entering their W4 match with eventual victor, KC.

Of biggest concern to Andy Reid and his team is not be whether they keep matriculating on offense, for proven stars Hunt (289y – 3t – 4.1), Hill (23r – 3t) and Kelce (23r – 3t) are all again on the All-Pro track, but whether the defense, ranked poorly in points and yardage allowed (25 / 32), can do enough to hold leads late in the game against those teams that can put up points anytime, i.e., Packers (Rodgers), Pats (Brady), Saints (Brees), Rams (Goff) and the like.

Of most encouragement is Mahomes has kept his own flash to a reasonable infrequency, averaging just under five (5) rushes per game. That semi-poise will be tested well in the Chiefs upcoming schedule, one that include matches versus the Jags, Pats, Cincy, Denver and the Rams. Reid likes a West Coast system, so scamper will not be well tolerated. That means, Pat, take your licks and like it.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 5

Falcons @ Steelers: 10.7 Fox 1pE: Pitt
Jaguars @ Kansas City: CBS 1:00: Jags
Packers @ Detroit: Fox 1:00: Lions
Baltimore @ Browns: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Dolphins @ Cincinnati: CBS 1:00: Cincy
Oakland @ Chargers: CBS 4:05: Raiders
Minnesota @ Philly: Fox 4:25: Eagles
Los Angeles @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Hawks
Redskins @ NO: 10.8 Disney 8:15: Saints

Record: 13 – 10

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, Wikiproject, 2011; Browns, 8.17.18, wc.cca, EricDrost; Patrick-Mahomes, wc, US-MO-Air-National-Guard, Mstr-Sgt.M.Crane, 8.14.18, St-Joseph; Cherries-cloth, 6-2011, wc, picdrome; Jim-Otto, TCG, 1970
Posted: 10.7.18 @ 2:39aE, edit 10.9; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W4: Matthews Sports Angel-Hands As Brees Staves Cantonization

30 Sep

Together they constitute the 2d-longest running coach-QB duo in this current NFL, the New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees, dating back to 2006, tied with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and just one year greater than Big Ben and Mike Tomlin in the Steel City (07).

Only the Belichick-Brady pairing (2000) is longer in time and just a bit more accredited with eight (8) Super Bowl appearances and five (5) wins.

And like the Packers (2010-11) and Steelers (2008-09) long, successful pairings, Sean & Drew earned an NFL championship ring together (2009-10) in a game most memorable to this writer for the Saints’ head coaching call to start the 2d half with an on-side kick, one his men recovered and put in for score. New Orleans had been building back against the Manning-led Colts but this gutsy call gave the NFC rep full momentum which they never relinquished (NO 31-17).

But since that pinnacle performance, it’s been a mixed bag for the Big Easy bunch: Four (4) playoff shows + four miss-outs = lots of unfulfilled expectations, so much so that Sean’s retention by the Saints has been subject of discussion in recent years among fans, if not ownership (Tom Benson (d.2018) and family).

The Bountygate scandel certainly took its toll on New Orleans‘ winning ways.

The defense, traditionally a mainstay in New Orleans (67), has struggled somewhat since those semi-glory days, with the burden heavy on an offense that never lacked for passing yards but, like most NFL clubs today, found a reliable run-game (80-120y per) hard to come by, as hard to roster for most clubs as the master matriculator under center.

And that shaky defensive trend has continued into 2018. With a record of 2-1, the Saints have given up on average 34+ per contest. Not exactly awful in this NFL age but still pretty poor stoppage effort, one that cannot forever rely on future Canton inductee Brees to keep bailing them out of jam after jam with his heavenly passing arm.

The Austin, Texas native Drew is set to turn 40 next January and shows no sign of decline (80.6% / 1078y / 8t-0i / 144-107).

This Sunday or next he’s likely to surpass Peyton Manning’s pass yardage mark of 71,940 (71, 523). I remember when the Vikings’ Fran Tarkenton (47,003) surpassed the great Johnny Unitas’ (40,239) in the mid 70s, both marks, in their times, that seemed unbreakable. And that’s a big one. Yardage on level with the TD record, Peyton held, as well (539), another one that, baring serious injury, Drew should nab in not too distant future (496).

It does bear mentioning, Mister Brady is within striking distance for taking that yardage title himself someday (66,803), though, that’s a longer chance for Tom than the TD record (494), the ultimate holder of which is anybody‘s guess. Then there’s a guy in Green Bay named Rodgers.

All of this leading to the conclusion, we live in a very special time for great pocket passer quarterbacks. So enjoy it while you can, before flash-QB becomes the norm, again (30s-40s single-wing tailback).

Most sporting types know about old “Angel Eyes,” the Bad one of Sergio Leone’s trio of bounty-hunters that flavorize his Classic spaghetti Western, The Good The Bad And The Ugly (66), played by the incomparable Lee Van Cleef (d.89).

What they may not know, at least by its official name, is the National Football League’s own version of angelica called, the angel hands.

It attaches whenever a defender makes serious contact with an offensive player and immediately throws his sticky-hands up like a pair of angel wings, claiming innocence of any wrong-doing the officials or fandom my charge.

In Week 3’s Packers – Redskins tussle (DC 31-17), Green Bay linebacker and Campbells® Soup spokesman Clay Matthews was flagged in third-quarter play for unnecessary roughness as he pile-drove DC signal-caller Alex Smith into the FedEx Field turf in a disallowed sack.

Cries of over-protection and a seriously “soft(ening)” NFL soon flowed from the mouth of the charged offender, but Matthew’s whine has a bitter taste.

As Matthews rolled out of his thunderous thump of Smith, his right, then left hand rose upward in typical angel manner, clearly indicating his own self-doubt, a likely awares of the rule (one that, rather than soften the game had aimed to prevent over-zealous sack-seekers from needlessly pile-driving opponents into the ground) and then a pre-emptive plea for sympathy. A hard tackle is a favored feat among footballers and its followers but the pile-drive is a personal macho move that is best left to video aficionados.

Clay’d been better to’ve kept his hands to himself, post-piling.

But alas, when a Packers’ lad feels mistreated and declares that mental state to the world (“NFL’s gone soft”), the League that reveres Lombardi like he were its Founder (Halas), listens, whether it’s “earn(ed)” or not. They Suits & Skirts on the Rules Cmte have now undertaken to review what appears a sensible rule. And that can only mean one thing: “Soft(ening)” the rule to sooth egos. Oy vey.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 4

Jets @ Jaguars: 9.30 Fox 1:00: Jags
Miami @ Patriots: CBS: New England
Eagles @ Titans: Fox 1:00: Philly
Bills @ Packers: CBS 1:00: Green Bay
Lions @ Dallas: Fox 1:00: Cowboys
Tampa @ Chicago: Fox 1:00: Bucs
Bengals @ Falcons: CBS 1:00: A-Birds
Saints @ NYG: 4:25 CBS: New Orleans
Ravens @ Steelers: 8:20 NBC: Pitt
KC @ Denver: 10.1 Disney 8:15: Denver

Record: 8 – 5

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Drew-Brees, wc.cca, Kelly-Bailey, 1.8.11; Brees, wc, DB-King, 9.14.08; Clay-Matthews, wc, Amy-Anderson, 2010; JimMarshall, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 9.30.18 @ 11:40aE; Copyright © 2018

NFL18 Cherry Picks W3: Are the Raiders Trending Tank?

23 Sep

Team dynamic: It’s a special kind of animal.

Some would call it a fickle beast. Fiddle with it too much or test it when the mood feels right and it may bite you back.

Before NFL18 kicked-off with defending champ Philly hosting National bird-rival and co-contender Atlanta on what may be one of the few anticipated match-ups to play on the long and widely-disfavored Thursday Night Football schedule (Eagles won), Raiders new, returning head honcho, Jon ‘I’m Older Than I Look’ Gruden (8.17.63) and Las Raiders braintrust did something considered by most in the junior-media to be unthinkable in trading 2016 AP-Defensive POY, Khalil Mack to Chicago for two, 1R draft picks.

Exactly what caused the rift in Raidersland may never be fully detailed by the relevant parties, even after their respective books hit the market. We can pretty easily surmise it involved personality-clash, money or parts of both. Money molds minds and minds can mint money.

It’s also safe to write that Gruden, aka, Chuckie, is putting his stamp on this team to shape it to his liking as any coach with wherewithal will do, whether the package delivers to destination Super Bowl or not. And in doing so, the message is loud and clear: Either you get on board or you get off at the next stop.

And Gruden’s got the credentials to demand as much, having taken his two prior clubs, the Raiders (98-01) and Bucs (02-08), to five (5) playoff spots collectively and having won the two of the NFL‘s three most coveted trophies: The Halas (NFC title TB-02) and the Lombardi (Super Bowl champion 03) (Hunt AFC).

— — —

It’s not uncommon, when a star like Mack is moved, that on a weaker team, a malaise suddenly sets in and all prior hopeful expectations tumble fast.

The Silver and Black (If Vegas folk add gold to the Raiders motif, they won’t be the Raiders anymore) looked unexpectedly malaisful in their season opening loss at home versus the Rams (LA 33-13), followed by an equally uninspired Week 2 result, a 19-20 loss at Denver to make it a losing streak (0-2).

And how has the former Raider been faring with the Monsters of Midway?

In Chicago’s opener at Lambeau Field, Khalil Mack is a tale of two halves: In the first, he played like an All-Pro by intercepting Rodgers for a touchdown, forcing a fumble, getting a sack and two tackles. In the 2d, the Mack-Attack had little impact when it counted most, allowing a hobbled Rodgers to carve ‘em up like an early, furry turkey in snatching victory from the Bears toothless jaw of defeat (GB 24-23). Was there any doubt Aaron would pull it off?

In Week 2 hosting Seattle, no dramatics in this one but the 27 yr old Florida native made four solos, another sackaroo (2) and a forced-fumble (2).

Mack’s had some good quarters in his two Bears outings but has not sustained a high level of play, falling short of deserving the exaggerated praise the pro-player junior media heap upon their reading public to his favor and Gruden’s disfavor.

I’m of that school of thought that believes the sporting gods created Mr. Linebacker primarily to tackle and approved of his evolution in disrupting rudimentary pass lanes that Walter Camp may have envisioned in 1905. He was not designed for frequent sacking and one-on-one pass defense.

Your typical linebacker in a 3-man set has too much territory to cover to be pursuing glory stats and ephemeral highs gotten from turfing opposing QBs. The well-timed red-dog can stop a drive cold, but work it too often and your defense turns loosey-goosey, one that a wily QB will slice n’ dice like a ripe tomato.

If Mack does not increase his weekly tackle totals, his teammates will have to cover his lessened load and the sacks will fall far short of returning the Bears’ D to its former monster state. But then, maybe it’s just that sort of revised job description which fueled the fall-out in Oakland.

— — —

Coaches must find a balance in their style between bossy and brainy (listening).

Players, too must work a balance between individualism and conformity. BOTH are suppose to put team first, if they truly seek titledom above all else.

But no player, nor guru can ‘possess’ his / her team, emotionally speaking, not unless they’ve attained such lofty heights of success that their balancing act has earned a more subjective scaling: Belichick, Brady, Ray Lewis, Bill Russell, the names are known. And even those giants must subjugate to some degree, their need to lead, to control in order to achieve that productive team end. The days of the dictator like Lombardi, Bryant, Jordan, Knight, they’re gone for good. One exception: LeBron James. He does WHATEVER he wants.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 3

Saints @ Atlanta: 9.23 Fox 1:00pE: Falcons
Packers @ Washington: Fox 1:00: Redskins
Indianapolis @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Buffalo @ Minnesota: CBS 1:00: Vikings
Oakland @ Dolphins: CBS 1:00: Miami
Broncos @ Baltimore: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Cincinnati @ Carolina: CBS 1:00: Bengals
Tennessee @ Jacksonville: CBS 1:00: Titans
San Francisco @ Kansas City: Fox 1:00: 49ers
LA Chargers @ LA Rams: CBS 4:05: Rams
Cowboys @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
New England @ Detroit: NBC 8:20: Patriots
Pittsburgh @ Tampa: 9.24 Disney 8:15: Steelers

2017-18 record: 83 – 63 (7- 4)

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Raiders-wordmark, wc.cca; KhalilMack, wc.cca, 2013, J.Beall; JonGruden, wc, 2003, TokyoDome, M3C-J.Woods, USNavy; cherries, wc, Hispalois, Caceres, Spain, 2012; WillieWood, TCG, 1970
Post: 9.23.18 @ 12:34p, edit 9.24 (LJ); Copyright © 2018

NFL18: Wild West as Chiefs Roll Dice on QB and Rival Raiders Gamble On a Gruden Return

20 Mar

The upstart AFL was never too tied to tradition to forgo taking a gamble or two.

That was a pretty typical tack for any entity trying to survive in those days when monopoly was tightening its Court-aided grip on their respective business interests (NFL, MLB, communications, food, energy, banks, etc.).

One of those dice-rolls was instant-replay, introduced by red & white-striped zebra Cal Lepore (1919-02). Like it or not (me no likey), I/R continues to have a big impact on the game of football and sport generally.

And unlike the AFL’s older brother, the National Football League, which, in the 1960s, was stuck in the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust‘ offensive mentality, the American Football League (1960-70) was wide-open, turning the pro game into a pass-first profession, thanks largely to men like Oilers quarterback George Blanda and the strategies of San Diego Chargers sideline genius, Sid Gillman.

Sadly, at the insistence of deal-maker and co-founder Lamar Hunt, the AFL in 1971 merged with the more established NFL and became the AFC (NFC). In 2018 it takes absolutely NO gambles, not even on the Super Bowl halftime show where Justin Timberlake promised he wouldn’t pull another nipple-stunt like he did in 2002 with co-creator-in-crass, Janet Jackson.

But stop the presses!

Two AFC West teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders are harkening back to the days of yore by risking plenty in making dicey decisions that could significantly shape the 2018-19 NFL season.

KC head coach Andy Reid is entering his sixth season at Arrowhead and chose to part ways with his starting QB, the capable veteran but still priming, Alex Smith. He did this in the midst of a luke-warm, NFL signal-caller pool, while the Davis Trust decided Jon Gruden, he cooling his heels and collecting lots o’ loot at Disney (ESPN) for the last ten years, was worth another look-see (1998 – 02) in hopes he can shake off the rust and hasn‘t lost the zeal.

Rivalry: For many decades it stoked the fires in the sport furnace.

When Mays, McCovey & Marichal visited Chavez Ravine to face Drysdale, Wills, Koufax and rest of Walter Alston‘s West Coast Bums, all California buzzed.

When the Halas or Ditka-coached Bears arrived at City (Lambeau) Field in Green Bay, much of the NFL media turned out in anticipation of fireworks.

When Russell and Chamberlain, Magic and Bird battled under the NBA boards, the Earth stood still, then rocked with rhythm.

And when Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Boston Bruins headed to Canada to face Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer and rest of the Habs at the Montreal Forum, it wasn’t the War of 1812 (all Canucks) but you could cut the tenison with a knife.

Today, regionalism and the long-running, raucous rivalries that sprung forth from those adjacent locales has largely been neutralized, some weirdly cancelled altogether, at least in the college football setting.

On campus, the rivalry has been sacrificed for a miniature playoff system, positioned by mindlessly-drawn, mega-conference alignments and then, just as in the professional game, capped-off by celebrity (Heisman race), sold most seriously by a socially-driven junior media who can’t seem to get enough of the gossip and tiresome tidbits that accompany any life that runs in the mix.

But happily, rivalry still rocks the craddle of competition where men butt heads in the National Football League, though, you might not sense it where some of the League’s oldest grudge matches have become little more than concessions to tradition with one or both clubs are, to put it politely, in re-building mode. The Bears v. Packers (or Cardinals), Giants v. Redskins (or Cowboys), Bengals and Browns remain mired in mediocrity.

Yet some rivalries remain vibrant.

The SaintsFalcons, both recent Halas hoisters, still rules the Southland.

VikesPack are the dominent donnybrook in the Old Northwest Territory.

On the Pacific rim, Dick Sherman believes his transfer south to the 49ers will rekindle a rivalry with his former squad, the Seahawks. If Dick weren’t in full-fade, maybe, but more likely Pete, Russ & Bobby will keep doing what they’ve usually done to the Miners these past ten years: Beat the metal out of ‘em, even with Mr. Garoppolo now grappling the pigskin for the Bay backers.

And the best rivalry West of the Mississippi? That’s still the RaidersChiefs.

This will remain so even after the Silver & Black pull up stakes to head east and settle in Nevada. It may grow bigger, given the closer proximity, as long as LasVegas keeps the logo and color montage ‘as is.’ Add gold into the design, get gaudy, and then they are no longer the Raiders.

Both teams are AFL originals, Chiefs relocating from Dallas (Texans) to begin the 63 season and Raiders filling a slot that opened up for inagural 1960 when the Vikings backed-out on an offer to join the senior circuit NFL in 1961.

The rivalry’s intensity reached boiling point in late 1970 as both teams, the Chiefs reigning SB4 champions, battled for the AFCW crown. With KC ahead and QB Len Dawson on the turf after having ran for what seemed a game-clinching 1st-down, Raiders’ defender Ben Davidson speared Dawson with his helmet, triggering a melee where the Chiefs Otis Taylor was later penalized for his own ferocious response in defense of his quarterback. No permanent injuries but it all nullified KC’s gain, Oakland got the ball back, tied it up late, won in OT, clinched the West, the Chiefs were prevented from defending their Super Bowl win and missed the post-season. Ouch!

You can believe, stories like that are handed down by generation.

With Gruden back on point for the Raiders (OAK-TB / 95 – 81), owner Mark Davis hopes Jon can set young Derek Carr back in the saddle of success and work the same magic he did in coaching the Buccaneers to their first ever Super Bowl (SB37) when they trounced the Oakland club he coached just the year prior.

Carr has the pocket poise, taking-off a mere 23 times in 15 starts in 2017 (6-9). The O-line helps in that regard (20sk) but the Raiders need to provide the young QB with more offensive weapons to work his own magic that raised hopes in 2016, while Jon must retrieve those personal skills that served him so well with diva players like Keyshawn who, I must say, matured into a fine studio voice.

As to KC, a stable coaching state has not inspired off-season confidence.

In trading away veteran quarterback Smith (Redskins) and only toe-testing in the free-agency pool, Andy Reid & Co. have, at this posting, saddled themselves with a near-rookie QB in Patrick Mahomes (NFLD17) who’s started one (1) NFL contest (a win on zero TD, one INT) and who, at Texas Tech, showed a tendency to rabbit (averaging 10+ per). All meaning, it’s project time on the Plains.

Not being a pro-style signal-caller like Carr makes Mahomes’ promotion all the more perplexing when you consider the scheme Reid employs: WestCoast.

Evasive quarterback mobility is a plus but the WC-scheme sets the signal-caller to facilitate OTHER player movement in getting the pigskin to his ball-handling teammates in a forward thrust to pay-dirt. It won’t function at an optimal level if said QB is in flash-mode whenever that pressure floods the pocket.

The Patrick Mahomes issue aside, Kansas City does have some formidable offensive threats in dual-duty Kareem Hunt (1327y rush / 455y catch), veteran tight-end Travis Kelce (1038y – 8td), 3d year receiver Tyreek Hill (1183y) and new addition (BUF) in Sam Watkins who, if healthy, fills nice as a secondary choice in the slot, an essential for every title team.

Powerful as those players be, they must have a field general who can matriculate with confidence and consistency to maximize their capabilities in order to make a major run. Without one, team talent is only half-realized and a Wild playoff spot may be the best scenario for the Chiefs whose Super drought (SB4) is longer than the team they vanquished (MIN-78) in KC’s lone NFL championship.

StevenKeys
MacroSport
Photo Credit: NFL-symbol, 2011, wikiproject; KCTV5-Dani-Welniak, Reid-Andy, wc.cca, 12.31.17, J.Beall; Packers-Vikings, 11.14.11, M.Morbeck, wc, Loadholt-Matthews; dice, N.Morberg, wc, 2.22.09; J.Gruden, wc, 2003, USNavy, John-Woods; J.Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 3.20.18 @ 6:05pE: Copyright © 2018