Tag Archives: tom brady

NFL17 Pre-Play: Triumvirate Intact, Patriots Grip On Power Remains Firm

1 Jun

Hail the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft!

Never in the history of sport has a tightly-woven triad of money (owner), brain (coach) & brawn (player) so effectively organized and implemented an operation of success over such a long period of time and with so little apparent friction as have these three, compatible personalities.

Historically, the triumvirate has shown mixed results.

The ancient Romans, building blocks to Western civilization, triumvirated a couple of times (Caesar – Crassus – Pompey 60 BC / Antony – Octavian – Lepidus 43BC), without much claim to victory, save brief respites from war.

Jumping forward to the North American pro sport scene, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same owner, coach (mgr) and top player remaining together winning titles for anywhere near as long as the Foxborough Three have been doing it.

There were the Habs (1944-79), Yanks (1923-62), Celtics & Lakers, dynasties we’ve been talking about for generations but none a triumvirate of top-level talent staying intact for as prolonged a period as these Patriots powerbrokers.

There were the Lombardi – Green Bay teams where ownership (EC – BoD), coach and key offensive player in Bart Starr, the way under-rated Bart Starr, won lots o’ titles but in a much more concentrated timeline (1961 – 68). Condensed greatness is potent (70s Steelers / 80s 49ers) and terrific in its own way but not of the championship continuum on topic here and special too itself.

It’s in the NBA where is found the only real comparison to the Patriots trio-of-time-tested-title-takers, that being the San Antonio Spurs.

The trifecta of Peoria native and current owner Peter Holt (1993), coach Gregg Popovich (1996 >) and recently retired center and championship nexus in Tim Duncan (1997-16) garnered five NBA titles (’99, 03, 05, 07, 14) in sixteen seasons, though never back-to-back (NE: 04-05), requisite for the dynasty.

But that was then, this is now, and wow, the Foxborough Three are defending NFL champions again after their Swing Time SB51 OT win over the ‘gotta’ still be stunned’ Falcons, having made the grade even as their starry starter in Brady had to sit the first four on his Deflategate susp’n. The red, white & blue bunch have been setting and maintaining a standard of sport excellence unlikely to be matched for a long, long time. Never say never, right?

Detractors will bemoan, ‘Hey dingdong, don’t forget Spygate, you fool!’ Always class-acts, and never redundant, the bemoaner boys. Rules violations are wrong, some even bad, i.e., failing to cooperate with an investigation (destroying a phone). But the general public, those with no serious rivalry axe-to-grind or having little interest in promoting their own brand of team who seek ’The Greatest’ award (Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, 49ers), just won’t be too bothered by black-marks on a team’s historical ledger that involve spying or stretching of the rules, outside game-fixing and PEDs. Spys have helped us win wars. A bit off-track here but that’s how the more rationally-minded fan will think.

Can they keep it going? Not forever, they can‘t, as hard as that is to imagine in 2017. Someday Tom will hang up his cleats, Bill hand in his headset one last time and Rob just won’t care anymore. All three have accomplished just about everything they can in the business of football, personally and as a team.

With Tom and Bill both having set the new standard in SB tandem wins with five and the team having set the record for Super Bowl appearances last February in Houston with their ninth (9) (5-4) (Pitt – Dallas – Denver all at eight (8)), about the only achievement unattained is to match and then surpass the Steelers league leading six (6) victories in the Big Game.

But as long as Brady stays healthy and the Foxborough Triumvirate keeps itself amused, an NFL bound to get more amusing, and lengthy, if not better, with Raja Goodell’s kow-tow in relaxing celebration rules, Pats should keep winning.

If you’re expecting to read here roster depth-chart chatter, draft break-downs and musings on New England’s 2017 schedule, forget it. Trust, in Belichick & Company’s judgment and future performance, has never been more earned.

Besides, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em? Anyone in the AFC?

Ben’s a trooper but needs sideline help; Denver & Houston have D but the Os are iffy; Colts & Titans have Os but Ds are doubtful; Raiders Las Vegas engagement came at a bad time for a still maturing Carr; Harbaugh & Flacco know how but is owner listening; KC will play out the string with Reid & Smith; Miami has a good QB in Tannehill but no good game-plan and Cincy, well, they’re Cincy.

In the weaker NFC the Cards turned conundrum; Wilson has D but needs a plan from Pete, not protest (CK); Rodgers needs a run-buddy and a D; Saints showed spunk late; Bucs are rising; Cats didn’t claw back in 2016; Eli is locked-in (‘20); Cousins may’ve peaked and that leaves Atlanta who need to shake off the shame.

Maybe it’s like those other eras with one, or two, dominant clubs, Pack in the 60s, Pitt – Dallas in 70s, 49ers in the 80s: Until the big dog (NE) loses its bite, everyone keeps focusing on the leader of the pack, tripping over their tail at the worst possible times. Course, having a defense that can close the deal is key, its absence to continue to be the biggest issue for most teams in 2017.

But in every NFL season there is the unexpected, that turnaround team where everything begins to click (Falcons / Raiders 2016-17), or sustained success sprouts from where no special tillage had been undertaken (Dallas draft).

As long as Robert Kraft, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick remain together in good spirits and keep “calm(ing) the envious spirit” in those sporadic challenges to their predominance, efforts that will require a charmed season aided in no small part by a capricious Sporting God set (See; Carolina ‘15 – Dallas ‘16), this 21st century will remain the Patriots Period, period.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-wikiproject, wc.cca, Ixnay-Beao; Belichick-Kraft-Kerry, wc, US-Department-of-State, 4.25.15; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 6.1.17 @ 2:13p EST, edit 6.26; Copyright © 2017

NFL17: 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 – SB51 Super Cherry Jam: Make Way Fred & Ginger, Swing Time Has a New Team in Foxborough

9 Feb

Top hoofers Astaire & Rogers were hip to it, now Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and rest of the reigning NFL champion New England Patriots are discovering swing time, an odd, devolutionary trend in football that comes by way of the rise in the colossal and inalterable shifts in game momentum.

The typical swinger plays out like this: First he orders a martini…wrong swinger (ba-dum tish!): In the first half, team #1, the eventual loser, charges out to a commanding and seemingly insurmountable lead, only to lose all of their traction and watch helplessly (?) as its once dormant opponent awakens from its doldrums and begins to play like gangbusters (See; SB51).

I first noticed the oddity back in the early part of NFL 2012-13.

Peyton Manning was in year one with Denver who was off to an inauspicious start at 2-3. In San Diego (MNF), however, Mustangs caught swing time, roaring back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to score 35 unanswered for a head-spinning win.

astairerogers-fdtr-1933-rko-l-brock-47kAnd that ’unanswered’ word is key. When used in a football context, it’s synonymous with the word, defense, both the good (NE) and the ugly (ATL). Every stop the Pats D made of the Falcons offense after their 28th point was like a B-12 booster shot to their own offense while at the same time demoralizing the A-Birds.

Back in the day when a team built an early lead, especially if aided by points off a turnover, you could pretty much put the result in-the-books by the middle of the 3rd quarter. The betting window is closed!

In Super Bowl One it was Cantonese safety Willie Wood who intercepted fellow Hall member Len Dawson’s 3Q pass to stave off any thoughts the KC Chiefs had of besting NFL juggernaut Green Bay in 1967.

Reliable outcomes were the standard in earlier Super Bowl play as sad sack clubs like Minnesota (4L), pre-Shanahan Denver (4L), then Buffalo (4L) would usually fall behind fast and never catch up. Bills almost broke the trend in 1991 when scapegoat Scott Norwood’s late field-goal try went slightly wide (20-19).

Hotly contested affairs like the terrific Steelers – Cowboys (76, 79) and 49ers – Bengals Bowls (82, 89) were the exceptions to the rule, i.e., game over early.

Come the 2000s, opening with Rams v. Titans (23-16) and then every Patriots Super Bowl since where the point differentials have averaged 3.7 per (7), the championship game began to see some serious competition throughout.

sb47-coin-1-28-13-a-kirk-4-2mThen came Super Bowl 47 (2.3.13), pitting the Ravens against the 49ers. A watershed event in football history for it’s the first time a swinger took center stage, and I don‘t mean the halftime pseudo porn-fest (ugh). It’s true, a massive power outage at half swung momentum San Fran’s way but then the same emotional ups & downs that define swing time were triggered, too.

Football teams have been losing leads since Melbournian turned Madisonian Pat O’Dea was kicking for glory (1898-99) and Walter Camp fueling the forward pass. But today’s player is clearly subject to mood swings like no generation before.

Why so? Why does one team go near catatonic in the 2nd half, collapsing like a house of cards while the other rises from the early ashes like a phoenix? It’s a real puzzler. “Monsters from the id (fear, etc.)?” Maybe not enough monsters (anger, greed, etc.). I’ll take a stab at another answer to explain this phenomenon.

Most males today under the age of 45 were weaned on rap, most lyrics of which dismiss rules (cheat), teach converts that might makes right, to act with impunity and then portray women are chattel. It’s a boyish arrogance that can’t cope with loss and learns nothing from mistake. And though it thrives in an era that’s seen advances (desegregation – AA), it’s also one where every participant gets a trophy and athletes get coddled from the minute they suit up in junior-high.

A little false bravado (machismo) won’t typically upset the apple cart and might even help with the digestion. But to saturate one’s mind with rap from age eight (8) onward can create a dysbiotic state that’s hard to change.

mathewson-wc-1904-c-conlen-160kIt would follow then that when a team starts to fall behind, especially after having been in firm control, that those players whose constitutions have been forged with a composite (cheap) mettle, would then be unable to muster the confidence, the resilience to bounce back when their opponent begins to make in-roads.

You never stop thinking you can win. Tom and Bill didn’t.

But what about the Patriots, you ask, it’s likely most of them grew up hip-hoppin’ too. Maybe more of them just outgrew their childhood mindsets. I don’t know. What I do know is that having Tom Brady at your offensive controls is like having an IV of confidence flowing through the veins of every man on his team, including and defense who may’ve been SB51’s real MVP, collectively speaking.

What I also know is that psychology, not just pep talks and sideline pad-smash, must now be a serious, integral part of team training and game strategy.

The New York Giants pitching great Christy Mathewson (1880-25) said it well: “You can learn little from victory, you can learn everything from defeat, i.e., “winning is (definitely not) the only thing.”

There’s a whole semester of learning just waiting for the Atlanta Falcons this off-season, and 30 other teams. And while they’re at it (Dan Quinn will get ‘em at it), they can ditch the ditties, or better yet, jump a new music train:

♫ Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream (Rodgers & Hammerstein) ♫

Final record: 88 – 93 – 3 (8 – 3)

straight_shooter-thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; Astaire-Rogers, RKO, FDTR, 1933, wc, L.Brock; SuperBowl.47-coin, wc, A.Kirk, 1.28.13; ChristyMathewson, wc.cca, C.Conlen, 1904; Straight-shooter produce label
Posted: 2.9.17 @ 11:55am, edit 3:29 EST; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 – SB51 Super Cherry Pick: It’s ‘Follow You Follow Me’ With MVP Models Matt Ryan & Tom Brady

1 Feb

Seems only fitting that the two NFL teams, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, that showcased the two top players in 2016 in MVP favorites Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, should’ve successfully run their respective E-ZPass® playoff gauntlets and made it to the biggest sporting showcase on the planet, held this year at NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, for Super Bowl Five-One.

Making his first appearance in the NFL championship game is Ryan, aka, Matty Ice, the Exton, Pennsylvania native who finally gets the Platform to showcase those super signal-caller talents he‘s been displaying in the NFC South for near a decade. In that span, Falcons have compiled a PS mark of 3-4 (67.6 C%, 16-7i).

For Brady’s part, the San Mateo, California native is just doing what he does. Mere mortals might go to the Florida beach once a year but Tom, when all that AFC fun is done, usually takes a trip to the Big Game, this being his 7th (4-2).

brady-8-28-9-k-allison-wc-2m-dcThere’s not much more to write about the sure-fire Canton candidate, except that Tom’s risen above the junior media’s rolling bitch-fest on Roger Goodell (likely the same scribes who’d vote in Barry & Roger), the Commissioner who meted-out Brady’s 4-game susp’n to open the season, stating that he, Tom, who did not make his phone available in the inquiry, holds no ill-will towards NFL’s top Cufflink. A Progressive in the spirit of Robert La Follette is Mr. Brady. His Dad? What are ya’ gonna’ do?

Fitting too that the two teams most in control of their seasons (flagging destiny), would end up facing-off in the Super Duper. Delivering on destiny is never a sure thing (See; Cats SB50, Dallas 2016), but one team in Houston will truck it.

The Patriots (14-2) began their 2016 campaign without Tom Brady under center, using a duo of QBs in Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, together managing a better-than-expected 3-1 mark, then lost Rob Gronkowski but just a mere one game the rest of the way. The A-Birds (11-5) stumbled outta’ the gate in a home loss to rival Tampa Bay (24-31), went on a 4-game streaker, the up & down at midway (2-3) but kept their heads about them and finished strong going 5-1.

Most certainly fitting is that the top head coach in the pros today in Bill Belichick will be strategizing across the NRG field from NFL’s hottest new head coach in the Falcons’ Dan Quinn. The Mighty one (with a win) is no stranger to the Big Game in having served expertly as DC to Pete Carroll in Seahawks two Trips.

cherries-cloth-6-11-picdrome-wc-cca

Super Cherry Pick: For All the Marbles

New England Patriots (16-2) v. Atlanta Falcons (13-5): 2.5 Fox 6:00 EST

This one is simple: Defense. We know both teams are offensive juggernauts this season (NE 15 consecutive) and possess generally reliable kicking games, so it comes down to which can stop the scoring best over four quarters, the last being the key-Q. Falcons defenders, having stopped previously potent offenses in the Seahawks and Packers, have been playing over their heads, closing the regular season ranked #25 (yapg) and #27 (papg) while the Patriots are playing to form (#8 / #1), keeping opponent scoring totals close to their season average (15.5). In B&B’s two Super Bowl losses, both to the Giants (2008 / 12), their opposite in head-coaching was Tom Coughlin who’d previously turned Jacksonville into contenders as soon as their 2d year of existence (1997: AFCC loss to NE, 20-3), meaning, by the time TC signed with NYC, he’d seen it all and had become a post-season pro. It’s Belichick Time. Patriots win.

Record: 87 – 93 – 3

wood-topps-1970Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; T.Brady, wc, K.Allison, 8.28.09; cherries-cloth, wc.cca, picdrome, 6-2011; W.Wood, Topps, 1970.
Posted: 2.1.17 @ 11:40am EST; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 – SB51: Lombardi’s Legend Lives But It’s Bill Belichick’s Trophy Now, Vince

27 Jan

When the Big Game (SB51) is over n’ done, when all the “whohoopers” have blown and “tartookas” have bung, when the champions raise the Lombardi as a prize they’ve just won, serious discussions should begin at NFL Central about the prospect of re-naming the Big Trophy, after he hangs up his headset, of course, for the New England Patriots head football coach Bill Belichick who has for the better part of two decades mastered the sport like no other before.

— — —

It is Vince Lombardi’s name that is etched onto each Super Bowl trophy since 1971 (SB5), the year after the great NFL coach, teacher and cultural icon died from colon cancer in the nation’s capital city, Washington, D.C.

belichick-wc-d-shankbne-4-24-12-m176Vince’s pro journey began as the offensive coordinator on the 1950s Jim Lee Howell Giants (Landry as DC), then on recommendation of the Packers first choice, Iowa’s Forest Evashevski, was offered and accepted the project of resurrecting the greatness that had been Green Bay football under its founder, Curly Lambeau. When he was done in the Dairyland (‘68), having piled up five (5) NFL titles, including Super Bowls I & II, the Brooklyn-born taskmaster (Thurston: “He treats us all the same, like dogs”) was the standard of excellence in coaching and then started to tackle a new project in Washington, D.C. in guiding the long-suffering Redskins to their first winning season since Harry Truman’s first year as President in 1945 (7-5-2 (69)).

Lombardi’s Packers dominated much of the 60s, became the pride of Wisconsin football fans once again and, in its earlier days, the source of no small joy for the #1 Catholic and Vince’s friend in the White House, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

With his winning ways and confident, at times arrogant air, his legend grew to colossal size, so big that the name Lombardi become sacrosanct in sporting circles. All of which means a call to replace the name on the Silver Swag would lead Packer-backers and media friendlies to just about freak.

But the Vince Lombardi brand of ball is as old as a pair of Johnny Unitas high-tops. Not lesser in its importance, just older.

His style of coaching (“Captain Ahab” to Mike Tomlin’s “cheerleader(ing)?”) and game plans that dominated the gridiron are long gone, unknown to younger fans as the NFL’s Network rarely showcases their vintage & voluminous NFL Films library, fixated instead on gab & top ten lists to bring in the teeny-boppers.

lombarditrophy-wc-safetycap-6-16-16-619kThe last remnants of the Lombardi / pre-pass game retired when his rival Bud Grant handed-in his clipboard (‘85). Though personalities far apart (See; MMQB – SI.com), Vince & Bud were like-minded in their passion and emphasis on ground-game, team-play and toughness: No gloves, warming or sticky, nor heaters on the Metropolitan Stadium (d. 1983) or Lambeau Field sidelines, no matter the frigidity (-13°). It was a man’s game, though, on occasion, brutish ball (See; Ice Bowl).

‘So what’ you say, ‘Lombardi’s name is a terrific tie to the NFL’s glorious past!’ Agree. Nobody loves history more than this scribbler but the trophy should be fairly current in name-plate, more representative of the National game as it stands. Not to cue a change every ten (10) years but when 2+ generations have spanned and a good candidate is present (BB), a renovation is in order. Frankly, the Tiffany-designed trophy needs an update, a new model to lose the tail-fins.

This pitch isn’t about pegging the best head coach in NFL history. We know who the best assistant coach is in Buddy Ryan (d.2016), Hall-worthy anyway, voting snobs, but trying to make permanent the best ever by etching a name is foolish.

There’s never been a better football coach, motivator, than Vince Lombardi. But then one could safely say the same about Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Paul Brown, Joe Gibbs, NFL founder George Halas (NFCC trophy), Weeb Ewbank, Hank Stram, Curly Lambeau, John Madden and so on and so on.

sb-trophy-wc-2-5-12-l-tyrnes-s-lukeNot just any ol’ championship coach should be knocking the great Vince Lombardi off of his lofty, symbolic perch.

And Bill Belichick ain’t just any ol’ champion coach.

New England’s hoodie-wearing, gridiron guru is nonpareil and stands as the League’s new standard of excellence, a winning method as clear and consistent, as admired and feared by opponents as was the Green Bay Packers power-sweep in the 1960s. Success seems almost automatic.

What about Spygate? With ever-changing technologies there’s a corresponding rapid change in societal mores and then challenges in defining new boundaries.

His detractors might diss this on Bill, ‘Without Brady, Belichick is fair at best.’

But every great coach has his great player(s): Holmgren had Favre, Jackson had Michael, Huggins had Ruth…and Gehrig, Pop Warner had Thorpe, Riley had Magic, Bill has Tom and Vince had Bart Starr, who, if not the master-motivator behind the success was the master implementer of Lombardi‘s vision.

The difference? Some have a flair for innovation. In the Big Name group, men like Pop, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Sid Gillman, Hank Stram, Halas, Walsh, Lambeau, Paul Brown, Lombardi, Tommy Gorman, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, Dick Irvin, Adrian “Cap” Anson, Pete Carroll, John Wooden, Red Auerbach, Knute Rockne and Belichick invent ways to win while putting an emphasis on fundamentals.

lombardi-starr-wc-cca-gbBeauty of Belichick is best illustrated, not in Pats 2016 regular season mark (14-2), almost ho-hum for a B&B team, but that even as Tom was out, NE went 3-1 (Ws v. AZ, MIA and HOU), guided by two quarterbacks who, though played with composure, had zero (0) starts prior between them in Jim Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.

By the time Bill retires, probably not long after his #1 (Tom) hangs up his cleats, Lombardi’s name will have graced the Big Trophy for over fifty (50) years. That’s a long, respectful time.

When the Powers-that-Be named the trophy in 1970, it was about excellence, empathy & remembrance. Another naming (2020+) could be about excellence, remembrance and relevancy. But even if, Belichick, as was Lombardi, is proud and would likely refuse the honor. Great minds think alike. Vince wasn’t all too keen either about renaming City Field for the legendary Lambeau. But one can hardly imagine today the famous frozen tundra titled any other way.

Will Bill Belichick hoist his 5th Lombardi when SB51 comes to a close? That I have not yet decided. Whether he does or doesn’t, the name game will begin.

ford-851k-wc-grfl-1933-umSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, Ixnay-Beao; B.Belichick, wc, D.Shakbne, 4.24.12; LombardiTrophy, wc, Safetycap, 6.16.16; SB-Trophy, wc, 2.5.12, Tyrnes, S.Luke; Lombardi-Starr, wc.cca; G.Ford, wc, GRFL, 1933, UoM
Posted: 1.27.17 @ 1:40pm, edit (+BW) 1.28 @ 9:42 EST; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Conference Cherry Picks: Top Dogs Hunting & Halasing on Way to Houston

17 Jan

If the Pittsburgh Steelers chatty guru Mike Tomlin is a “cheerleader” coach as one sport personality recently opinionated, then all I’ve got to say (write) is this:

Give me a W!
Give me an I!
Give me an N!
Give me another N!
Give me… … you get the picture. Mike’s a winner.

tomlin-wc-m-rooney-9-16-07-405kWhether he’s a skilled tactician in offensive (Sid Gillman) or defensive (Bud Ryan) scheme or a leader who prefers delegating those duties to specialize in the emotional game (rah-rah), Mike wins alot, regular (.644), post (.615) and is 1-1 in Supers. Tomlin & team went through a rough playoff patch in recent period (2012 – 2016 (1-3)) where Steelers went one n’ done, twice, then lost in 2016 divisional.

But Pittsburgh is 2-0 in their march on Houston (SB51), prevailing over a slightly off-center Miami club who were without starter Tannehill, and then Sunday won a gutsy road game over a scoring-lite Chiefs who’re back to the drawing board.

Tomlin is a bit off-center himself, showing poor judgment in the nationally-televised 2013 Thanksgiving contest in Baltimore, stepping into the pathway of Ravens return-man in a clear effort to disruption, hence the whopping $100G fine. More recently Mike was recorded making crude reference to his next week’s Conference title opponent, the Patriots. Stay classy, MT. Ugh.

halas-1922-wc-therakishfellow-188kThere’s been speculation that former Steelers Super Bowl QB and present Fox analyst, Terry Bradshaw and his curiously-timed critique of Tomlin, just prior to playoffs, was more than simple opinionating but instead intended to stoke the fires of Steel City players, a crew that’s been fizzling out early in recent playoff ventures.

Whether staged or sincere, Bradshaw’s statement on Tomlin’s coaching style seems to have had no negative impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers championship run, one that looks to be unified and motivated to the gills, a necessary group mental state given that their next destination has been most typically an opponent’s graveyard-of-dreams in Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts.

cherries-ripe-chirak-wc-605k-6-24-7

Conference Cherry Picks 2017: Crème de la crème

Packers (12-6) @ Atlanta (12-5): 1.22 Fox 3:05 EST (Halas Trophy)

Conference play presents the best in competition as none of four remaining teams is a pretender. Nobody gets this far on smoke & mirrors. Experience over exuberance is how GB got back to the NFCC (2012). A-Birds punched their return ticket (2013 (Smith)) by topping the same Seattle and being the most offensively juggernautious team in NFL16, ranked #2 in YGPG, #1 in points scored and led by MVP-caliber Matt Ryan. Packers ranked at #8 / 4 and were rising at W17. For most of his coach career (1994 W&M), Falcons Dan Quinn has been a defensive specialist but that skill has not been apparent in Atlanta with poor 2016 team ranks indicate (#25 / 27). Lucky for the hosts, Packers didn’t fare much better on the D-side (#22 / 21), a group that nearly served up a Cheese-Melt II (See; Seattle 2015) in the Dallas divisional game. I like Falcons’ resolve: Behind early to the Seahawks (0-7), roar back with a killer 2Q (19), maintain matriculation and the D bolts it down (2H-10p). Kicker Crosby was cool late for GB (2-50+) but A-Birds Bryant (K) & Bosher (P) are toppers too. Clubs are very comparable, as it should be, except Atlanta’s run game is more est’d, and then they’ll be Benzing…the dome, not the hydrocarbon. Pack should’ve gotten hot earlier. Falcons win.

afc-hunt-trophy-a-kirk-wc-2-4m

Steelers (13-5) @ New England (15-2): CBS 6:40 (Hunt Trophy)

Media pounced on New England who lost but one quarter ((2) 10-3) to offensively tepid and defensively cranky Texans (34-16). Only surprise is that Brady’s O-mates failed to pounce on the QB’s crank (Clowney). Not in their job description (ugh)? Tom’s 2 INTs of tipped variety. Pitt had tougher time in KC but like Falcons, showed resolve. Must go back to ‘05 for Pittsburgh’s last AFCC visit to Foxborough, a 41-27 loss. Cowher’s out and Big Ben wants to forget (3 INT). Comparable clubs, too, on both O-side (NE: #4 / 3 – PIT: #7 / 10) and the stoppage (NE: #8 / 1; PIT: #12 / 9). Steelers #1 horse is clear (Bell) but I wonder why Blount (8c (HOU)), Pats proven gainer, fell to #2 behind Lewis (13c)? Pressure on the QB sets the tone: Pats OL is a wall (24sk (HOU 2)), Pitt’s is a bigger one (21 (KC 1)). Putting on pressure, both were…capable, Steelers made 38 sacks (1 KC), New England 34 (3 HOU). Weather folk see Sunday in Boston metro as 42°, clouds and no flakes, not from above, anyway (See; Mike). If not the AP-MVP, Tom should have shot at the Super variety. Patriots win.

Record: 85 – 93 – 3

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject; MikeTomlin, wc.cca, M.Rooney, 9.16.07; GeorgeHalas, 1922, wc.cca, therakishfellow; cherries-ripe, wc.cca, 6.24.07, Chirak; AFCC-LamarHunt-trophy, wc.cca, A.Kirk;
Posted: 1.17.17 @ 11:37am, edit 7:59 EST; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Division Cherry Picks: Chaff Aside & Eight Seeds Alive, Goddess Ceres Asks, ‘Who’s Got Destiny?’

11 Jan

Green Bay Packers
New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Seattle Seahawks

They are the juggernauts of the oh-so sticky-glove era, winners of four (4) of the last eight (8), seven (7) of the last thirteen (13) NFL championships and almost half (13) of the last thirty (30) American – National Football Conference Super Bowl births. That’s alot of Bowl Babies, “by gosh by golly.”

ceres-wc-france-late19c-jlpc-9mThey are the haughty half of the eight remaining teams in the division playoff round, teams who have in recent times won their respective Conference hardware (Halas / Hunt) and are again in position to punch their ticket to SB51 in hopes of hoisting the vaunted Lombardi trophy, again.

The rich getting richer? It’s been the unaltered economic state going back to Nixon and will likely continue on with Trump directing the flow, so why buck the trend, eh? Ugh.

It’s in divisional play where the bye guys (no pun) in the Patriots, Falcons, KC and Dallas will now be tested under the brightest of lights and fiercest of foes. Simply stated, this is “the best of times,” for football viewers.

wilson-2-5m-11-11-12-l-maurer-wcUnlike the NCAA championships (March Madness) where Rd-1 of 34 games displays some of the most exhilarating and unexpected outcomes, NFL’s wild card stage is largely an exercise in separating chaff (hull) from the wheat (seed), i.e., threshing or thrashing, as it were. While Derek Carr’s presence would’ve had an impact, injuries plague every team and the WC is becoming semi-pathetic.

Did any unbiased, rationally-minded prognosticator truly believe that the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders or Miami Dolphins stood a snowball’s chance in Hades of advancing? And the one team some thought (moi) might put up a fight and make it interesting, the Giants, they too looked like they didn’t belong (13-38 GB).

Atlanta Falcons
Kansas City Chiefs
Dallas Cowboys
Houston Texans

They are the wannabes, the aspiring four remaining teams who’ve been out of the mix (Super) for so long (ATL, DAL, KC), or never in it (HOU), that they cannot rightly call themselves a standard-bearer, no matter the jersey sales (Dallas), and must earn their way back to where the big boys hang their hats (See; above).

kelce-wc-j-beall-9-14-14-1-5mThree of the four, Falcons, Chiefs & Cowboys, will play host to a juggernaut, boosting their chances a bit but had better bring their best game or next Monday they’ll be spending the day planning the next family cruise.

Winner’s Tale

1) Always able: Easy ability to matriculate (24+ pts);

2) Fourth-quarter defense that stops the scoring and bolts it down. Same holds true in college football and something that Alabama genius Nick Saban overlooked this time (“Clemson’s Dabo Swinney may have the nation’s best progression (75-27) since taking the Tigers’ reins (2008) and is a top candidate to topple cartel. Explains the raise ($5M) (9.2.16)”);

3) Fewest turnovers; and

4) Reliable kicking game (50 yd+).

cherries-hispalois-7-2-12-caceres-spain-wc-4-4m

Cherry Picks Division Grade

Seattle (11-5-1) @ Atlanta (11-5) 1.14 Fox 4:35 EST

Almost four years to the date (1.13.13) when in the divisional it appeared Pete Carroll’s building project hadn’t yet matured. Seattle played Swing Time in Atlanta to roar back for 21 points in the 4Q, only to lose on a late Matt Ryan-led FG drive (30-28). Falcons “Mighty (Dan) Quinn” was Hawks’ DC then and next year when Seattle hoisted (SB48). A-Birds are a scoring machine (33+) with best PS kicker in Bryant (92% (6-8 50+)) but DQ hasn’t built the top-stop (D) like he did in Emerald City. Awash in injuries, Seahawks’ defense still sticks while Rawls motors (6.ypc-DET). Earlier W6 battle is indicative (SEA 26-24): Close one where 4Q stoppage will decide it: Seahawks win.

Houston (10-7) @ New England (14-2) CBS 8:15

Osweiler battles Tannehill for ‘Rodney Dangerfield award (“no respect”)’ while facing maybe the best coach-QB tandem in history (Bill & Tom), in Foxborough, versus well-rested hosts with Tom in top form. Houston will need a Texas-sized shamrock to pull-off upset of the century. O’Brien has the defense clicking on all cylinders, even sans Mr. Celebrity (Watt), but the Pats, scoring experts they are, also play some D themselves, leading in all-important PPG rank (15.6), 2+ pts lower than next best, NYG (HOU 20.5), which goes to their W3 blanking of Texans (27-0). “Houston” would like to play for the crown in their NRG park come February but may have to satisfy still with the world’s Rollerball (‘75) championship (Ouch!). New England wins.

packers-cheer-9-26-10-m-morbeck309k

Pittsburgh (12-5) @ Kansas City (12-4) 1.15 NBC 1:05

Fans of this former AFL power hope Andy Reid’s plan gets Chiefs back where Hank Stram got ‘em when KC did “matriculate” all over the Vikes (SB4). Steelers defense is rated (342 ypg (12)) but KC bests their guest on PPG, 19.4 < 20.4. It’s former Chiefs guru Haley designing Pitt’s scoring scheme (24.9 ppg), a smidgen up on Chiefs OC Childress (24.3). Steelers have big weapons in Brown, Bell, Big Ben and SB coach Tomlin who wants desperately to prove he’s more than a “cheerleader.” No ICBMs in KC but QB Smith is cool customer, Ware aches (rib) but is all-purpose, Kelce a top TE and Peters a game-changer. Digits and W4 win (43-14) say Steelers favored but Ben’s gimpy (ankle) and Chiefs benefit from the home-field advantage: Kansas City wins.

Green Bay (11-6) @ Dallas (13-3) Fox 4:40

Packers get top TV slot, again, though, green & yellow would just assume face America’s Team sooner than later. Big Question: Will Dallas’ transplendent rookies in Prescott & Elliott hold up under bright lights or is middling GB defense (#22 / 21) enough to rattle their senses? Green Bay lit-up Vikes top D (#3 / 6) in W16 on a secondary that defected. No such discord in Dallas (#14 / 5). Boys W6 win at Lambeau (30-16) caught Pack in a state-of-funk, one since deodorized by a 7-game streak (sweet smell of success). GB still has a run void but Ramblin’ Man Rodgers is locked in. Long layoff helps veteran-led teams like Patriots but takes the edge off young Turks (Dak & Zeke). Nelson ribbed but was non-factor vs. NYG. Experience trumps exuberance. Packers win.

Record: 83 – 91 – 3

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-sign, wikiproject; Goddess-Ceres, France, late.19c., wc.cca, JLPC; R.Wilson, wc, 11.11.12, L.Maurer; T.Kelce, wc, 9.14.14, J.Beall; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Packers-cheer, wc, M.Morbeck, 9.26.10
Posted: 1.11.17 @ 11:14am, edit 3:35, pic-fix 1.13 @ 2:20pm; Copyright © 2017