Wednesday, January 26, 2011
History is a cycle, something that the National Football League experiences more often than most observers care to recall or acknowledge. Learning from the past doesn't always make for a better future, but it can typically steer the participants away from certain avenues previously proven unwise.
In 1982, a six-time Pro Bowl cornerback had his contract expire with the New England Patriots. He had won the 1976 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and had snared 28 interceptions with 11 fumble recoveries in his seven seasons. Not only was he considered one of the very best players at his position that season, an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was in his future.
Mike Haynes played in an era before free agency, but he was not returning to New England. The teams owner was well known for not paying his players on scale and would later lose such key players like offensive tackle Leon Gray because of his stance on players salaries.
Haynes had been teaming with Raymond Clayborn to give New England the very best pair of cornerbacks in the league and the team a top-notch defense. They were drafted in the first-round in consecutive seasons by the Patriots and had grown together over the years. Clayborn finished his career a Patriots legend who went to three Pro Bowls and picked off 36 passes in 13 years with the team.
Al Davis, the Hall of Fame owner of the Raiders knew that Haynes was just what his team needed. Lester Hayes was the star cornerback of the team, having just been named to the second of five consecutive Pro Bowl games. Davis realized this would give him the best set of cornerbacks in the NFL and Raiders history.
Giving up a first and second-round draft pick to New England, the Raiders acquired Haynes and them promptly went on to win Super Bowl XVIII that year as Haynes and Hayes dominated opponents. Haynes intercepted a ball in the win. He lasted seven years with the team and intercepted 18 balls as well as making three Pro Bowls and the only two First Team All-Pro nods of his career.
Davis has recently told Nnamdi Asomugha, his three-time Pro Bowl cornerback whom he drafted with a first-round pick in 2003, that the final year f his contract was voided. Davis hinted he might have cut Asomugha instead of picking up the option. Like Haynes was in 1982, Asomugha is just 29-years old and considered one of the very best at his position in the game today.
What makes Asomugha different from Haynes is the way the game is played today. Both are players who shut down opponents of any size and skill set, but Haynes spent several seasons defending in the 10-yard chuck rule as opposed to the five-yard rule Asomugha is stuck playing in.
Cornerbacks in Haynes time had to have the ability to play man-to-man defense, shadowing a receiver all over the field. There are just a very few cornerbacks with that ability in the game today, and Asomugha is probably the very best in the game right now.
Defenses today play zone defenses most of the time, mainly because of the rules. With only five yards to work with, a cornerback typically lays off and the art of the bump and run defense has almost become extinct today. Asomugha is one of those cornerbacks you can put against the other teams best wide receiver and leave him alone on a island all game without concern. Teams fear him so much that he has just three interceptions and 26 passes defended in the last four seasons.
The list is so small of cornerbacks who can play the best one on one all game in the game today, you can count them on one hand. Darrelle Revis, of the New York Jets, Champ Bailey, of the Denver Broncos, and Charles Woodson, of the Green Bay Packers, are generally considered to be part of that group.
Blame the offensive friendly rules, not the castrated defenders, for this dearth in excellence. This makes the Raiders decision to terminate the contract of a player in his prime at the top of his game even more curious. Davis said, "Can that $17 million (that Asomugha would have made if Oakland had picked up his option) bring you two or three quality players to help you win?"
What teams could vie realistically for Asomugha is the question. He has not canceled out Oakland because he likes newly hired head coach Hue Jackson and he has been heavily involved in the rebuilding of the team, believing the Raiders future is bright. He has also lived in California his entire life, even going to college in the state.
What makes him extra special is not just the fact he was just honored with his second First Team All-Pro nod. Asomugha is extremely generous and active in his local community for those less fortunate than him. He won the 2009 Byron "Whizzer" White Award for his humanitarian work with orphans, widows, homeless people, and his own foundation that takes selected high school students on college tours across the country.
If he does not return, the team across the Bay could really use his services. The San Francisco 49ers could provide stability for his home base and foundation while Asomugha could team with veteran Pro Bowler Nate Clements and provide a significant upgrade over Shawntae Spencer. That is, of course, Asomugha prefers to stay in California.
The Patriots could get from Asomugha what Haynes provided the Raiders in 1983. Though New England struggled mightily against the pass for much of last season, the player they picked in the first-round in 2010, Devin McCourty, excelled and would have won Defensive Rookie of the Year if it were not for the great season Ndamukong Suh had with the Detroit Lions.
New England is not getting much from 2009 second-round draft pick Darius Butler. He was replaced by Kyle Arrington, a second-year undrafted player probably best suited as a nickle back. The Patriots pass defense gave up two key touchdown passes to wide receivers in their 28-21 playoff loss this year on plays an excellent cornerback like Asomugha may have prevented.
The impending players strike will have impact on where many free agents go and how much they earn next year, but New England should strike while the iron is hot. Asomugha is an intelligent and educated man who understands the history of the game and how being on a team like New England would give him a very good chance at earning a Super Bowl ring.
They would not have to give up draft picks like the Raiders did for Haynes, and New England has a boat load of draft picks this year that they attained from wheeling and dealing over the years. Asomugha would put them over the top and make them instantly a favorite to win it all in 2011 because their main weakness would be shored up.
He has already indicated by his interest in possibly returning to Oakland that money does not rule him and the highest bidder will not necessarily win his services. Winning games is what he wants to do, something he would achieve on a Patriots team that has won at least ten games every year Asomugha has been in the league. Oakland had never had a season where they won more than five games in his career until winning eight in 2010.
The game is played to win championship. This brings immortality because it is forever emblazoned in the history books who was the best. New England has been a dominate team since 2001, winning three of four Super Bowls. Solid coaching and player selection has helped them maintain this consistency.
Getting the 6'2" 210 lbs Asomugha to shut down the opponents best receivers as the rest of the young secondary learns from them will probably bring them more trophies and further the legend they are currently writing in the history books.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
While several former and current NFL players complain about the toughness of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, his teammates vehemently defend Cutler and claim there was a sound reason for Cutler leaving his team early in the third quarter of a 21-14 NFC Championship loss to the Green Bay Packers.
When Chicago mortgaged their future on Cutler in 2009 by dealing two first-round picks and a second-round draft selection, along with quarterback Kyle Orton, to attain his services, they expected a franchise quarterback to lead them to the promise land. Though he struggled in his first year with the Bears, he took them within one game of a Super Bowl appearance in his second season.
Critics have said he is not an upper echelon quarterback, but his 2010 statistics were not far off those who are considered the best at the position. The Packers Aaron Rodgers is one of those lauded as a top tier quarterback, yet Cutler had just five less touchdown passes and five more interceptions than Rodgers in 2010 with a lesser talented receivers corps.
That does not ease the anguish of Bears fans after Cutler completed just six of 14 passes for 80 yards before bowing out of a loss to their arch rivals. The media has spent their time since his departure trying to find the moment Cutler hurt himself, something Cutler himself was unable to pinpoint. Critics also wonder why Cutler was allowed to walk to the locker room at halftime instead of having his injury treated.
Bears center Olin Kruetz thought he saw Cutler hobbling towards the locker room, so the question has to arise if Cutler failed to mention his injury to the Bears training staff or if anyone else failed to alert them considering it appears they failed to notice the hitch in Cutler's gait themselves. "I know my body", he said, “I was going to keep playing but, you know, they made the decision that giving Todd (Collins) a shot would better suit the team.”
The critics were also found in the Bears own clubhouse after the defeat. "I don’t see a brace on that knee. Do you?”, said one Bear player left unnamed.
Whomever the blame is temporarily laid on, Cutler, the Bears coaches, or training staff, the problem mostly symbolizes the modern day NFL quarterback that Roger Goodell has molded. One who is so coddled that he is considered gutless when he stands on the sideline claiming his knee aches yet surrounded by cameras when his team wins because of a superior defensive effort.
The game today has very few leaders willing to pull a Johnny Unitas and hobble out onto the gridiron in order to be there when his team needs him most. A player willing to gamble his contract, endorsements, and football future all for a shot at winning a championship ring.
One Packer the Bears fans disliked but respected was Brett Favre. Favre was built like other legendary Green Bay leaders who defeated Chicago too often for their fans tastes. Packer Hall of Famers like Arnie Hebner and Bart Starr who were renowned for their gritty leadership as much as any other intangible they had that made them champions. Like them, Favre built his legend on picking up his slammed carcass off the turf and winning the game at the end.
Part of the reason the Bears fans dislike for Favre is the fact they haven't had a tough quarterback of their own for a long time since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman retired in 1950 after having won four championships. Bill Wade was fairly tough at times, leading them to a title in 1963, but he was a Bear for only for six years and split time with Ed Brown and Rudy Bukich most of his career. Jim McMahon led Chicago to a title in 1985, but he was hurt and missed several games in each of his seven seasons with the team.
Luckman's 14,686 passing yards still leads all Bear quarterbacks 61 years after he retired. A yardage total Drew Brees has almost surpassed in just his last three years with the New Orleans Saints. Cutler was brought in to finally topple Luckman from the top of the Bears passing yards mountain, but now there are members of the media questioning if he will return next year after his latest actions.
Caleb Hanie was put on the field with a erroneous gamble by the Bears coaching staff that luckily paid off almost to a Super Bowl showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the 39-year old Collins, most likely playing in his last NFL game, failed miserably in a few passing attempts, Chicago inserted a second-year pro who had 14 career passing attempts that resulted in eight completions and an interception.
The problem was that the move happened before the third quarter ended, thus nullifying Cutler and Collins from the rest of the contest. If Hanie had been hurt from that point on, Chicago would have been stuck with inserting another position player behind center. Hanie stayed upright and almost led his team back, going 13-of-20 for 153 yards and a scoring pass. He also threw a key pass that led to another score, but tossed two key interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown and the other sealed a Packers victory.
The next six months should find Cutler hiding from the voracious Chicago press if his knee does not require any surgical procedure. Many will question whether or not Cutler has that rare intangible to be a champion, even though he took his team just 60 minutes away from playing for one. Critics will point out how he failed to win much in college or in his three seasons with the Denver Broncos.
Giving Cutler credit for a nice season goes away with him standing along the sideline when his knee was reportedly keeping him from playing. Bears fans respect toughness. They have legends like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after excelling on the field with injuries that included them playing several seasons on one good leg.
Maurice Jones-Drew, the Pro Bowl halfback of the Jacksonville Jaguars expected to get a few MVP votes this year said," All I'm saying is that Cutler could have finished the game on a hurt knee. I played a whole season on one."
But this is how the Bears quarterbacks have been since Luckman left. Long before Goodell put a protective bubble around the position to hinder the defenses. These rules almost ruined the NFC Championship, which was supposed to be lauded as an intense defensive battle between the two longest running rivals in NFL history. When Bears Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers hit Rodgers with a clean shot in any other era but the Goodell Era, he got a 15-yard penalty that luckily resulted in no points for Green Bay.
Chicago still houses a generally young team with enough experience to load up for another run next year. This will be boosted by a sound draft, but the luck of staying healthy and having lucky breaks like they had the first game of the season is a trick hard to replicate. It also would be the second season Cutler would be under offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system, assuming Martz returns.
The only way for Cutler to shed his new branded label is to win. Much like how Ben Roethlisberger has quelled the chatter of his sexual assault charges by taking the Steelers to a third Super Bowl in his young career, or how Michael Vick quieted talk of his past by being successful with the Philadelphia Eagles this year.
But Chicago fans need Cutler to accomplish this for many more years every game to break the revolving door around the quarterback position. He will be just 28-years old when the next season kicks off and he has been durable enough to miss just one start the last four years, which occurred this season.
All Bears fans need is at least one Super Bowl win over the next seven years where he takes practically every snap. If Cutler does this, he should top Luckman on the passing yards list thanks to the offensive-friendly rules of the game now. He'll never surpass Luckman in their hearts, even with multiple titles and an induction into Canton, but even doing well gets you a life long pass in the hearts of the loyal Bears fans. McMahon is proof of that even though he never played more than 13 games in a season for the Bears.
The teams future is still mortgaged on Cutler even though it appears to some that he went on vacation at a crucial time. Though a few lucky breaks are needed, he is under contract with the team until 2013. If he fulfills his potential, let alone expectations, Cutler could very well have the Bears on the verge of a Super Bowl again. What he does with it remains to be seen, but it would be almost on par with almost every other quarterback that followed Luckman that his NFL epitaph has the 2010 NFC Championship Game Bailout engraved on his resting stone.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, Wes Unseld, Otto Graham, Bart Starr, Norm Van Brocklin, Elgin Baylor, Larry Wilson, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, Mike McCormack, Pete Retzlaff, Dick Szymanski, Mike Reinfeldt, Stew Barber, Bucko Kilroy, Matt Millen, Eddie LeBaron, Dwight Clark, Gene Shue, Mike Dunleavy, Phil and Tony Esposito help represent Group A.
Ozzie Newsome, Jerry West, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Wally Walker, Danny Ainge, and even the influence of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux can be put into the category of Group B.
Group A is a list of some of the greatest athletes ever to take jobs running professional teams via the front office, only to fail at finding any of the successes they did as players. Group B is the smaller more exclusive list of great athletes who won championships even after replacing their uniforms for a coat and tie a front office executive often wears.
National Football League legend John Elway is back as a Denver Bronco for the first time since retiring after the 1998 season when he became the oldest quarterback to even win a Super Bowl. Now he returns to a franchise that has been struggling to win consistently for several years, hoping his influence upon arrival can propel the franchise to the excellence it enjoyed when he played for them.
Elway's story up until now has been well publicized. The son of a successful collegiate coach, he attended college for four mostly exciting years that had little success. He was an All-American who won the Pac-10 Player of the Year twice and once finished second in the Heisman Trophy race despite never leading his school to a single bowl game.
The biggest moment in his career at Stanford would be in his last game. As Stanford kicked off leading California University 20-19 with little time on the clock, "The Play" transpired. With several laterals and the steamrolling of the Stanford marching band on the field, California returned the kick for a winning score. Ironically, Elway's father was named head coach at Stanford two years later and lasted five seasons. Jack Elway is the only Elway to lead his team to a bowl game.
Selected with the first pick of the 1983 NFL Draft, Elway refused to sign with the Baltimore Colts. He played summer baseball with the New York Yankees until the Colts buckled by trading Elway to the Denver Broncos.
The move worked out for Denver. The Broncos posted a .500 or better record in in six of the previous years, including four years with 10 or more wins. Elway started 10 games as a rookie and won four times. He would have just two more years where he posted a losing record until he retired after the 1998 season.
Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowl's over his 16 seasons, winning twice in the final two years of his career. He went to the Pro Bowl nine times while throwing for over 51,000 yards and 300 touchdowns, chipping in over 3,400 rushing yards and 33 more scores before being the very first Bronco inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He has enjoyed a post-retirement life where he ran several automobile dealerships, restaurants, and even an Arena League football team successfully. Elway majored in economics while attending the prestigious Stanford University.
Now he is being asked the run the Broncos. Unlike several sports legends who failed trying to handle this type of job before him, Elway grew up breathing football almost daily because of the fact his father was so heavily involved in the game. He spent his childhood moving a few times as Jack Elway climbed the coaching ladder to build his resume by being an assistant at the University of Montana and Washington State University before becoming head coach at California State University, Northridge.
Denver is opening a new era, but still have luxuries in some respect despite such a poor showing last year. Quarterback Kyle Orton had a career year before being injured towards the end of the year. His replacement, Tim Tebow, was a first round pick last year and performed well in his few starts. Whether Denver trades Orton or keeps both will be a question that may not get answered until draft day.
Elway spent his rookie year learning from Steve DeBerg before taking over.DeBerg had served the same role for Hall of Famer Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers before moving on to Denver. After leaving the Broncos, DeBerg mentored future Hall of Famer Steve Young with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Elway knows the value of that type of learning but realizes moving forward is necessary.
If Tebow is handed the keys to the franchise by trading Orton for more draft picks on top of the draft picks they received by acquiring Orton for Jay Cutler, Denver could find themselves in the thick of a battle for the AFC West crown next year. If they feel it prudent to retain Orton, they keep a man who threw for over 3,600 yards and 20 scores in just 13 games during 2010.
Denver is expected to lean heavily on improving the defense now that John Fox has been named head coach. Fox is a defensive oriented coach who won a Super Bowl ring as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants before taking the head coaching job with the Carolina Panthers. In nine years with Carolina, he took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship appearances.
When Fox was a defensive backs coach with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers, as well as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Raiders, Elway faced his schemes as a player and knows what Fox can give Denver. Most experts feel the Broncos will use their first pick, the second overall in the draft, on a defensive player. They also have two selections in the second round.
Though the task of rebuilding the Broncos may not be as difficult as some other NFL teams, Elway is expected to complete the task. The franchise has not made the playoffs since 2005, but "Captain Comeback" spoiled their fans when coming into town in 1983. Denver went their first 18 years of existence before making the playoffs in 1977 and had three total seasons of post season glory before Elway was drafted.
He took the team to the playoffs in 10 separate years, and the team has experienced just four more years of such success since his retirement. He was used to such pressure as a player, as have most of the legends who later took over teams from the front office after retiring as players.
Though the list of failure is long for legends, those few who have succeeded prove one can find glory by pushing buttons behind a desk. Newsome won his Super Bowl ring as an executive while never getting the chance as a player. History might be against Elway in his quest, but he has generally spent most of his professional athletic career coming back when the chips were down with circumstances slightly crumbled around him.
While Denver fans brace for his moves to get the team better, Elway is also on the verge of possibly putting the NFL on notice by certain roster moves. Champ Bailey will soon be 33-years old and entering his 13th season in a career that will eventually find him in the Hall of Fame. While Bailey is still an excellent player opposing teams rather not challenge, he is a free agent and is is questionable Denver will offer him the $9 million salary he earned annually during seven years spent with the Broncos.
What Elway decides to do with Bailey and other free agents is certainly worth watching as much as his first draft as Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Broncos, which has him overseeing the general manager and head coach of the team. He is expected to have a prominent hand in who and how the team drafts and builds the roster even though he readily admits that "I don't have that kind of experience to be able to pick those players day in and day out and such".
What the team does will be credited to him much like other legends who went to the front office. As the AFC West improves in trying to be the powerhouse it once was, Denver is attempting to set a pace of their own as well. No one should discount John Elway or the impact he could have, but this has been said before when so many great athletes before. Which group Elway will join gets decided over time, but Broncos fans must thank their captain for once again coming back trying to win.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
A lot has been made of the past scrums that these teams have butted heads in. From the even amount of points scored to the repeatedly close victories, there is one statistic that looms larger than the rest.
In the five games that quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have squared off, "Big Ben" has won each time. The most recent came with a broken nose suffered by Roethlisberger in the Steelers 13-10 victory just over a month ago. Baltimore had won the first encounter of 2010 by winning 17-14 with Roethlisberger missing the game while serving a suspension.
Both quarterbacks are similar in that they are large, mobile, and difficult to tackle at times. Roethlisberger may be the most difficult to bring down amongst NFL quarterbacks, thanks to immense strength in his 6'5" 241 frame. Despite missing four games to suspension this year, he has tossed just five interceptions all year. He also has thrown for just 422 yards less on 100 less attempts than Flacco this season.
Flacco has been no slouch himself in 2010. Though the offense for Baltimore hasn't been as explosive as some predicted, he has played mostly mistake-free football and has just ten interceptions. While the offense leans heavily on halfback Ray Rice's 1,220 rushing yards and 63 receptions he provided this year, wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, along with tight end Todd Heap, are all capable of taking over a game themselves.
Pittsburgh has the only offensive Pro Bowler amongst the two teams in rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. They have an extremely explosive wide receiver in Mike Wallace, who averaged over 20 yards on 60 receptions while scoring ten times. Halfback Rashard Mendenhall has scored 13 times while churning out 1,257 yards on the ground.
Defense, however, is king in both clubhouses. The Steelers allowed the least amount of rushing yards this year and the Ravens ranked fifth. Pittsburgh had the second rated overall defense in the NFL in 2010 while Baltimore's ranked tenth. Four Raven defenders were named to the Pro Bowl this year, while two Steelers were named also.
Special teams may be a deciding factor. While both teams have excellent punters, Baltimore's Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff holds an edge over journeyman Shaun Suisham. Suisham has been at his best this season after joining the Steelers in week 11, missing just one field goal in 15 attempts. Eight came from attempts of 40 yards of more.
Cundiff bounced around on seven teams since 2002 before finding his groove with Baltimore this year. He tied an NFL record with 40 touchbacks on kickoffs this year, while missing just three field goals on 29 attempts. He has made five field goals of 45 yards or longer.
Both teams will try to run the ball, but Baltimore's starting center Matt Birk is hurting with a knee injury. Both teams come into this game in good health, though Roethlisberger has been playing with an injured foot for quite awhile. Any success on the ground for either team will provide a major shot in the arm.
This game should be like any other game for the squads. It will be close late into the fourth quarter most likely as they struggle to win in the turnover department. Pittsburgh was plus-17 in the Giveaway/ Takeaway department this year, good for second best in the NFL, while Baltimore was a plus-seven.
Pittsburgh averaged 23 points this year while giving up an NFL best 14.5 to opponents, and Baltimore scored 22 while giving up 16. They know each other well and have a genuine dislike for one another that is tempered with respect. Baltimore keeps trying to get over the hump by defeating Pittsburgh, something I expect them to finally accomplish because the Ravens were my preseason pick to win Super Bowl XLV.
Ravens 21 Steelers 16
Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons
Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Pro Bowler Matt Ryan may get the most ink for this game, the other aspects of the game hold just as much interest and maybe more impact. Joining Ryan at the Pro Bowl with be four other Falcons. This includes their starting backfield. The Packers sent two offensive players to the Pro Bowl as well.
Green Bay appears to have an edge on paper. Despite a plethora of major injuries to their roster all year, they have the fifth overall rated defense in yards allowed this year, as well as the ninth best offense in yards gained. The 15 points per game they gave up this season was the second best, and they are a plus-ten in the Giveaway/ Takeaway department.
Three Packer defenders will go to the Pro Bowl this season, and linebacker Clay Matthews III leads the charge. He is a candidate for NFL Defensive MVP this year, something teammate Charles Woodson won last year. Atlanta sends one defender, defensive end John Abraham, but the defense was underrated all year.
Though Atlanta gave up just 23 more yards than Green Bay this season, it ranked them 16th in the NFL. Yet they gave up just 18 points per game all year and were a plus-14 in the Giveaway/ Takeaway department. When Atlanta played Green Bay in Week 12 this year, the defense led them to a 20-17 win.
What may make the difference in this game is a balanced attack. The Packers rely heavily on Rodgers and the defense because their 24th ranked rushing attack has been wildly inconsistent all year. The Falcons can run the ball well, led by halfback Michael Turner with his 1,371 yards and 12 scores. Both teams have Pro Bowl wide receivers in Greg Jennings and Roddy White, who have nearly identical statistics.
Green Bay has been susceptible in stopping the run in 2010, ranking 18th this year. If they can slow down Turner, the key to this game might be which secondary receiver stands out. The Packers have excellent talents in Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones, while Atlanta counters with Pro Bowl, and future Hall of Famer, tight end Tony Gonzales with wide receivers Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas.
Considering how much the Falcons passing attack relies on White, his getting shut down by Woodson could have a tremendous effect on the game. Gonzales averaged less than ten yards a reception in 2010, while Jenkins and Douglas have been inconsistent all year. Reserve halfback Jason Snelling has also snagged 44 passes this year.
Cornerback Brent Grimes may end up being the most important Falcon this game. He had five interceptions and 23 defended passes this year, making him the teams top defensive back. He will be matched up against Jennings often most likely. If he locks down his position, possession receivers with less explosiveness than Jennings become primary targets.
Both teams should try to establish the ground game, but Atlanta expects to do so and wear the Packers down. If Green Bay is forced to pass too often, their defense may end up being on the field longer than expected. If this occurs, that and the home-field advantage should prevail.
Falcons 27 Packers 24
Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears
No one really knows how the Seahawks have gotten this far into the NFL season. That includes all of Seattle as well. Pete Carroll might have sewn up the Coach of the Year award last week after his squad sent the defending champion New Orleans Saints home for the year.
Seattle won the NFC West with seven wind and being ranked near the bottom on both offense and defense. No one will represent them in the Pro Bowl, though return specialist Leon Washington played well enough to make it. Earl Thomas is just a rookie, but he is probably the best Seattle defender.
Neither team has a quarterback that in considered top notch, but both have had moments of excellence in their careers. Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck is three time Pro Bowler who drew a breath from his past last week by throwing four scores against the Saints. Seattle obviously needs a repeat performance from him if they want to move forward.
Jay Cutler was thought of so highly by the Bears in 2009 that they traded two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and veteran quarterback Kyle Orton for his services. Orton has played better than Cutler since the trade, but his team was putrid in 2010 and Cutler's is still playing. With 16 interceptions against 23 touchdown passes, Cutler makes too many mistakes and is known to have melt-downs on the gridiron.
Matt Forte is the primary weapon on offense, leading the team with 1,069 rushing yards and 51 receptions. The Chicago defense is a huge reason the team is in the playoffs, ranking ninth overall in yards allowed. Led by a pair of Pro Bowl linebackers in Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, and Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, Chicago is fourth in the NFL in points allowed.
Peppers is the player to watch. Matched up against rookie Russell Okung, who has battled ankle problems all year, he could provide a huge force off the edge that causes Seattle to help Okung with more blockers. This would free up defensive end Israel Idonije, who put virtually identical statistics as Peppers.
If the Bears stifles the Seattle offense, that gives Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester more opportunities. Hester scored three times off punt returns this year, giving him ten in a career. It is tied with Eric Metcalf as the most in NFL history. He and Washington have the ability to carry their teams to victory on their returns.
Playing in Soldier Field, on a turf that the greatest players ever once walked, is a privilege. Bears players are well schooled on knowing how the ghosts can trip up present opponents. Chicago should ride their defense to a win here.
Bears 31 Seahawks 17
New York Jets @ New England Patriots
The Jets trash talk has jumped the shark so much that even Reggie Jackson, a baseball Hall of Famer who once played with the New York Yankees, is telling them to just shut up and play. They are even being clowned by Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who recently made innumerate innuendos about feet that some feel was a stab at Jet's coach Rex Ryan. Ryan and his wife purportedly have a foot fetish that was broadcast on a video.
New York is coming off a win against the Indianapolis Colts last week that ended with a field goal as time expired. Though they dominated much of the game, questionable play calling almost allowed the Colts to pull it off. They cannot afford these types of mistakes again.
Ground and pound is how the Jets win. With a fourth ranked rushing attack and third ranked defense, they are sixth in the NFL in points allowed and are fifth in the Giveaway/ Takeaway statistic. They have done this despite intercepting just 12 passes this year.
New England does not turn the ball over anyways. Tom Brady is the front runner of the 2010 MVP Award, a future Hall of Famer, and probably the greatest quarterback in Patriots history. He threw a paltry four interceptions all season while tossing 36 touchdowns that led the league.
New England is not only the highest scoring team in the NFL this year, but their plus-28 on the the Giveaway/ Takeaway department also leads the NFL. Though critics point to a defense with a young secondary, the 19.6 points allowed per game by the Patriots ranks eighth best in the league. While ranking 30th in yards allowed passing, they did rank 11th in rushing yards allowed.
Of the two games New England has lost this year, one came in the second week of the season to the Jets. New York won it by shutting down the Patriots ground game, intercepting Brady twice, and running the ball well enough that quarterback Mark Sanchez tossed three touchdowns.
New England still needs to run the ball to win here, much like they did while whooping the Jets 45-3 just over a month ago. While Brady has been on fire the past few months, this would relieve him of the pressure of having to be perfect while allowing him to be human by possibly making a mistake. The need to run the ball well is only outweighed by their need to stop the Jets on the ground.
While beating the Colts last week, they decided to lean on the run in the second half. It led to all of their points scored as halfbacks LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 152 yards on 35 carries. Though it happened against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, New York must continue with this formula against the Patriots.
If the Jets run the ball, it will keep Brady off the field much like it did with Peyton Manning last week. Facing two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in consecutive weeks is an unenviable task few would want, but this is the hand the New York is dealt. The task becomes especially daunting due to fact the Jets are the road team in each contest.
Brady should be ready to nail down his MVP Award this week. With Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie calling him an expletive this week, Brady will look to make a fool out of the Jets cornerback most picked on by opponents. Though veteran receiver Deion Branch is hobbled by a sore knee, Welker and Brandon Tate are capable of picking up the slack.
Patriots 30 Jets 21
Saturday, January 1, 2011
As a new year squirts out Father Time's loins, an old relic gets dug up out of desperation. The 2010 regular season of the NFL concludes on Sunday, a perfect time to lament and cherish it with some POINTLESS PONDERING that lovingly holds and nurtures life the same way Lorena Bobbitt did with her husbands manhood.
Last week we heard Terrell Owens, a resident NFL psycho, do his annual Adolph Hitler impression where he blamed everyone but himself for the woes of the Cincinnati Bengals. He had been to busy mentoring Chad Ocho Cinco on a weekly television show that probably carries an audience of less than 100.
Owens decided to tell everyone he gave up because everyone around him is inferior. His peon came out this week saying the same thing. While the Bengals might be the biggest disappointment of the 2010 season, winning four games a year after winning the division, it really is amazing no one saw this coming if they claim they had not.
Their season was doomed the day they signed Owens to a contract. Cincinnati already had been dealing with the boorish stupidity of Ocho Cinco, a drama queen who once punched a coach in the face during halftime of a game, but signing Owens just said they preferred to lose by singing this loser. T.O. is easily the biggest idiot the NFL has seen the last decade.
Marvin Lewis should lose his job on this decision alone, gambling two clubhouse cancers were going to play well as a duo instead of tap dancing on a bunch of lies and monikers as they led the team to losses. Not only did this decision kill that special bond the locker room shared last season, but it destroyed the offense on the field too.
Carson Palmer is the quarterback who seems to have lost 65% of his arm strength over an arm injury a few years ago. He also has a roller coaster relationship with Ocho Cinco, and he certainly saw Owens call quarterbacks losers, homosexuals, and other pearls from his lunatic wisdom. He wrongly decided to look for harmony by force feeding the two big mouthed geezers at the expense of the offense's flow.
While the demonic duo did grab 139 passes and 13 scores, neither averaged more than 13 yards per catch. The inability to stretch the defense was probably more frustrating to the aging egomaniacs than the team losing weekly. The best passing weapons the team had, two rookies, took a back seat all year and halfback Cedric Benson was not as effective as last year due to less touches per game in order to appease a pair of over the hill psychopaths.
While they probably keep Ocho Cinco, cutting Owens is much needed. Cincinnati scored a season high 34 points last week mostly because the old receivers sat on the bench, proving they are probably a better team without either player.
Was anyone really shocked that Roger Goodell yet again defiled the NFL last week? Who didn't see it coming? He tried to claim there was no proof that Brett Favre harassed anyone, and tried to compare it to sexual harassment at the workplace. Of course he had this view, because Goodell grew up in an ivory tower his Senator dad provided and never left. He's never had to work a day in his life, and further alienates the working man by showing how soft in the head he is too.
If anyone at any other work place had texted a female coworker pictures of him exposing himself and masturbating in between of demands for sex "because I'm Brett Favre dammit", they would have been immediately suspended or fired. Even if a few weeks away from collecting a gold watch at a retirement home like Favre is.
Not in Roger Goodell's NFL, a league now committed to castrating defenses, performing fellatio on quarterbacks, pretending to care about player safety to get a players agreement contract signed, and spitting on the legacy of a league that has meant so much to millions of people. Knowing Favre was finally retiring after this season, Goodell purposely dragged his heels under the guise of mulling over the obvious facts.
The reality is that Favre was given a pass because of fear from Goodell for a guy who has made the NFL lots of money and has some media outlets in his pocket. If a sweaty lineman had done any of the things Favre did, he would have met immediate suspension. Knowing the drama queen Goodell is, it most likely would have been a lifetime ban so the commissioner could flex his fake, flabby muscles while proclaiming he was keeping the NFL free of scum bags.
Yet he left his favorite scumbag alone. Who knows what other women he has harassed since, or still may be? Women in the age area of his daughters. Who really knows how vile and despicable Favre is because Goodell and Favre's media buddies will never report it.
Yes, it is good that Brett Favre is finally gone. As predicted, he ended his career like Y.A. Tittle and other Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the field by playing one too many seasons. Yet he found a new niche for himself along the way. Long known as a selfish man, he went overboard this year and even had his own agent tired of the act. He might go into Canton with little said about how poorly his career ended both on and off the field, but many hope his victim steals some of that thunder by taking Favre to civil court.
Long the headline grabber for all of the wrong reasons, it would be fitting karma to see him experience some negativity at the apex of his career.
Most NFL fans like to predict how a season will go before it starts, and yours truly is not any different. I did quite poorly, but decided to pay the piper by reviewing things.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas decided to start their season ignoring the run play on offense, and it bit them hard. The defense looked old and overmatched often too. After firing head coach Wade Phillips as the scapegoat, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett finally decided to run the ball. Too late. Hopefully owner Jerry Jones gets a better coach than Garrett in 2011.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Philly won the NFC East with some players they knew what to expect from and one that shocked them. Instead of Kevin Kolb leading the charge at quarterback, Michael Vick had the best year of his career and could very well win NFL Comeback Player of the Year as well.
3. New York Giants
The Giants are a strange bunch. After a poor start to their season, many were calling for the firing of head coach Tom Coughlin. This was retracted after the Jints went on a winning tear and led the division. They are playing poorly again now, so Coughlin has his back to the wall once more.
4. Washington Redskins
The team is a mess, as well as the oldest in the NFL. Mike Shanahan will need time to prove what is the method behind his madness. Washington appears to be many years away from being consistently competitive again.
1. Green Bay Packers
Losing halfback Ryan Grant was a crushing blow, but the team lost loads of players and somehow stayed in the playoff hunt. Good defense can take a team a long way, and the Packers have one of the best in the league despite losing so many valuable players. Probably the best work defensive coordinator Dom Capers has done in his fine career.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Pat Williams came back to this? Too bad the fine defensive tackle retires on such a sour note as the Vikings are a loss away from last place. Let the rebuilding on this old team begin immediately.
3. Detroit Lions
I said the Lions would improve and win five games this year. Detroit goes for six on a very winnable game Sunday. It is obvious how good the kids have gotten, and no one should be shocked if they are in the playoff hunt in 2011.
4. Chicago Bears
I wasn't a fan of the Bears blockers, receivers, except Johnny Knox, and defensive backs. While blocking is still an issue, receivers like Devin Hester have improved. The defensive secondary has done a decent job, but that is mostly thanks to a ferocious pass rush.
Defensive ends Julius Peppers, who should get several votes for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Israel Idonije have nearly identical numbers in sacks and tackles. This pair of 6'7" monsters give Chicago a luxury few have.
1. New Orleans Saints
Defending an NFL title is hard, but the Saints have done a great job so far. No one wants to face them in the playoffs.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta has been a nice story in 2010, holding the best record for several weeks. They are a smart bunch who hit you with a well balanced attack.
3. Carolina Panthers
Even worse than I thought, this team needs to draft great the next few years. Some think they want quarterback Andrew Luck, showing how much faith they have on the current group of signal callers that they employ.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Every season has a "Cinderella Team". Tampa Bay was just that for the NFC. Young quarterback Josh Freeman has Bucs fans excited about the future, and the kid does seem to have a knack on how to win already.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Head Coach Mike Singletary was fired a few days ago because the Niners are in last place. He didn't draft quarterback Alex Smith, but that is a big part of the reason Singletary is gone.
2. Arizona Cardinals
I thought Derek Anderson would experience a rebirth with a fine group of Cardinals receivers, showing his 2007 Pro Bowl form. He was lousy, being benched by a pair of rookies throughout the year. The only question left for Arizona is if to blow up the roster and rebuild or try one more time to duplicate their 2009 magic.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Give Seattle credit, even if they play in the lousy NFL West. No one could have seen them get so close to making the playoffs. Pete Carroll deserves a few votes for Coach of the Year.
4. Saint Louis Rams
They might win the division with seven wins, but it still counts big for a franchise that won three total games the previous two seasons. The reason for the improvement has been defense.
1. New England Patriots
Many saw this coming.
2. New York Jets
The Jets still are alive in their quest to support all that Super Bowl talk.
3. Miami Dolphins
Quarterback Chad Henne has a rough year, so some now wonder if he is the future. But they need a young running back now that Ricky Williams retires after Sunday.
4. Buffalo Bills
The team played well for a month, but they appear to be many years away from playing well for a longer period of time.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are tied for first place in spite of erratic play from quarterback Joe Flacco.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals prefer to being the Bungles. What a disastrous season they had in 2010.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Overcoming a four game suspension of the starting quarterback to begin the year, Pittsburgh is in first place with a lot of help from an excellent defense.
4. Cleveland Browns
It appears Eric Mangini's final day as a head coach in the NFL is this Sunday.
1. Indianapolis Colts
How Peyton Manning made this happen after a bunch of injuries was excellent. Maybe one of his finest accomplishments ever.
2. Houston Texans
A very disappointing Season that could cost head coach Gary Kubiak his job. Their best story was halfback Arian Foster.
3. Tennessee Titans
Halfback Chris Johnson did not duplicate last years performance, but Vince Young had a lot to do with that by quitting on the team again. Big changes are needed in Tennessee, but getting a franchise quarterback may prove difficult.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
One the best stories in 2010 for the NFL, thanks to the MVP caliber play of halfback Maurice Jones-Drew. It probably saved the job of head coach Jack Del Rio for at least one more season.
1. San Diego Chargers
A miserable head start to their season, combined with holdouts and having a horrible head coach, did the Bolts in early. They need to get a coach interested in getting his players be their best.
2. Oakland Raiders
Oakland improved on offense, but were held back by a bad head coach.
3. Denver Broncos
They had a really bad season. It led to the firing of the head coach. There were a few bright spots with the play of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, a leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, and quarterback Kyle Orton.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Good running back performance, as well as excellent blocking, led the Chiefs to a AFC West crown this season. Their quarterback, Matt Cassell, did not turn over the ball much, and the defense was led by a young and exciting secondary.
This team was not only the Cinderella of 2010, but one of the best stories all year too.
Super Bowl XLV
Baltimore @ Green Bay
Most Valuable Player : Tom Brady, New England Patriots
- Who else will win this? Maurice Jones-Drew is worthy and Michael Vick might get a few votes, but Brady should have this.
Offensive Player of the Year : Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
- Peterson surely had a year worthy of winning, but his team lost too much and AP still fumbles too often. He might get a few votes.
Defensive Player of the Year : Patrick Willis, San Francisco - With 128 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles, Willis was great this year. Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews III should get more votes than him.
Offensive Rookie of the Year : Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati
- Gresham caught over 50 balls and has a bright future. Quarterback Sam Bradford might get it if the Rams win their division. Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong came out of nowhere to average almost 19 yards on 42 receptions, but is a dark horse at best.
Defensive Rookie of the Year : Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
- The clear winner. Third on his team in tackles, his nine sacks leads all rookies. He is a huge reason the Lions are much improved.
Coach of the Year : Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
- He will get a lot of votes for keeping his team in the playoff hunt despite massive amounts of injuries to his roster. He did a great job.
Week 17 Picks :
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
New England wants to keep momentum while getting out healthy. Tom Brady might wrap up his MVP trophy here.
Patriots 31 Dolphins 20
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
Detroit might win their sixth game Sunday, a feat not all expected because of recent struggles of the past. They will play hard, no matter what the outcome is.
Lions 24 Vikings 20
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
If the Ravens want to win their division and get a first-round bye in the playoffs, they must win this game first before hoping for help. Marvin Lewis might be coaching his last game with the Bengals.
Ravens 28 Bengals 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints
The Bucs had a surprising season, and you just get the feeling they will give it all they got Sunday. The Saints need this if they are to have a shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Saints 27 Buccaneers 20
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets
Buffalo can't wait to go home and the Jets will play hard.
Jets 24 Bills 10
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
Mike Holmgren didn't hire Eric Mangini, but he will fire him after Sunday.
Steelers 27 Browns 17
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City wants to get out this game healthy. Tom Cable's career as a NFL head coach should end Sunday.
Raiders 16 Chiefs 13
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons
Carolina goes into this knowing head coach John Fox is fired, but they axed their 2010 season long ago.
Falcons 34 Panthers 10
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
Game of the Week
Chicago already owns the NFC North crown this season, as well as having obtained a bye in the playoffs. Green Bay would need a lot of help to sneak into the playoffs if they lose, but go in with a win. This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL, and the Bears would love to out Green Bay just so they don't face them again until next year.
While Green Bay has no running game, they are dangerous with an excellent defense and a passing game that can be explosive. While Chicago has nothing to play for here, it is hard to see Lovie Smith having them lie down. The Bears head coach would love to keep their winning momentum going.
Packers 23 Bears 21
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
The loser of this one owns sole possession of last place in the NFL West.
Cardinals 27 49ers 21
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Hopefully the Chargers players lay down on this one since neither team is playing for anything. Denver fired their head coach, something San Diego should have done two years ago. The players could send a strong message upstairs by laying an egg here. Only Norv Turner would lose leading a team in the top-five on both offense and defense in the NFL. Plus, it adds to the Tim Tebow legacy that has grown so quickly the past few weeks.
Broncos 27 Chargers 24
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts
Jim Caldwell deserves some Coach of the Year votes. His team is about to win their division despite not being very good. It helps, of course, to have Peyton Manning constantly bailing out a very leaky ship.
Colts 31 Titans 17
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
Kevin Kolb started 2010 as the Eagles starting quarterback, yet his finishing the year as one was not quite the journey he had in mind. He will show he is one the best backups in the league today, cementing the idea Philadelphia needs him on their roster next season.
Eagles 34 Cowboys 20
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
Jacksonville had a season that probably saved the career of head coach Jack Del Rio and their franchise by selling out all home games. They should finish 2010 strong.
Jaguars 30 Texans 24
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
Washington might be trying to look at the positives of benching Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman last week, yet it should be noted the Redskins played a team that has struggled on defense all year. The Giants, who really need this win, are a truer test of the abilities of Grossman.
Giants 37 Redskins 16
Saint Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
Real simple : winner takes the NFC West crown. You know Seahawks fans will be pumped for their surprising team, so the young Rams defense needs to win this so halfback Steven Jackson can attack the third worst defense in the NFL with frequent touches.
Rams 23 Seahawks 20