Category Archives: NFL

Coming to Grips with the Rams’ Win over the Saints

There is no worse feeling for the collective of sports fans than the feeling that the wrong team has advanced in the playoffs.  I don’t mean “wrong team” in the “Jaguars over Steelers last year” sense.  Sure, most of us were hoping for a Steelers/Pats AFC Championship game, featuring the two teams most of us thought to be the best in the AFC; but we were happy for the Jaguars for pulling off the upset fair and square.  No, when I say “wrong team”, I mean it in the sense that the wrong team has advanced as a result of something completely beyond the control of the teams in the game.

Unfortunately, this was the case with the Rams/Saints NFC Championship Game.  It is extremely rare for all sports fans to agree on an officiating call, but that is just what happened with Los Angeles and New Orleans.  Everyone knows that the officials should have called either pass interference or unnecessary roughness on Nickell Robey-Coleman, but the officiating crew somehow rendered no penalty.  Meanwhile, a penalty call would have given the Saints a 98% win probability.  In that case, the Saints would have been able to bleed the clock down to 23 seconds or so before giving Will Lutz the chance to kick a game-winning and tie-breaking 21-yard chip-shot field goal.

Of course, the officials missed the penalty call, so the aforementioned scenario did not occur.  The Rams are now heading to the Super Bowl.  As a result, I spent the first several days of last week trying not to think about the Super Bowl.  Just as I have tried to avoid football after devastating Giants playoff losses, I did the same for a few days here because of the Rams/Saints game.  Never in my life have I seen an official’s call so drastically affect a playoff result, and this happened to send essentially the wrong team to the Super Bowl.  Sitcoms and dramas are scripted.  Reality shows are REALLY scripted.  However, sports are not supposed to be scripted at all.  Sports serve as a meritocracy where each team must earn all of its success.  I did not feel that the Rams had earned its trip to the Super Bowl.

Image result for rams super bowl 2019

Fortunately though, as last week wore on, I started coming to grips with having the Rams in the Super Bowl.  I know you might be thinking, “Jesus, it’s just a game, Focker.”  However, if I actually had that type of attitude toward sports; chances are I would not spend hundreds of hours per year watching people I have never met compete against each other on the field.  I certainly would not spend multiple hours per week writing blog entries.  Therefore, I did truly need to come to grips with the Rams being in the Super Bowl, and I was somewhat successful.  My consolation has come from this simple fact: After the missed call, the Rams STILL had to do a whole lot to win the game.

We are all correct when we cite the “98% win probability” number as reason why this missed call should not be treated equally with the multitude of other missed calls in NFL games.  However, many people act like the missed call handed the Rams the win.  That is not the case.  With the non-call, the Saints’ win probability fell to 78%.  After the non-call, my thought was “Let’s hope the Saints hold on to win anyway, so that this call does not matter”, not “Oh my God, the refs just took the Saints’ win and gave it to the Rams!”

After the missed call and Will Lutz’s subsequent go-ahead field goal, the Rams still needed all of the following to happen:

  • Jared Goff needed to lead a last-minute drive into field-goal range in one of the toughest road venues in sports
  • Greg Zeurlein needed to kick a game-tying 48-yard field goal
  • The Rams needed to win the overtime coin toss, since we all know that, if a team has a Hall of Fame quarterback (like Drew Brees), that team will score a TD on the opening possession of OT.
  • Oops, the Rams lost the toss but forced that Hall of Fame QB to throw an interception.
  • The Rams needed to drive to at least the Saints’ 33-yard line so to minimize the risk of a missed FG giving the Saints great field position.
  • Oops, the Rams stalled, and Sean McVay showed enormous spheres by letting Zeurlein kick a 57-yard FG (as I implored McVay to punt), which was good by several yards.

 

I should also note that, if the officials had made the correct call on the disputed play, the Rams would have likely ended up with the ball at their own 25-yard line with 20 seconds to play.  They would have needed to gain 35 yards to set Zeurlein up for a 57-yard game-tying field goal, which he clearly could have made.  Could the Rams have gained those necessary 35 yards on consecutive sideline passes before letting Zeurlein tie the game?  It is not likely, but it is also not impossible.

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Image via The SoBros Network

Anyway, whether that last scenario works for you or not, the fact remains that the refs did not hand the Rams a win.  The refs merely upgraded the Rams’ chances from “long shot” to “unlikely”.  Kudos to the Rams for taking advantage of a slight opportunity.

Lastly, I should note that one could consider the missed penalty call a lucky moment for the Rams.  Whether we like to admit it or not, many of these nail-biting games come down to luck.  No, luck does not always involve a missed penalty call, but luck could be a bounce of a fumble, a made or missed FG, or a lucky catch.  Just look at the Chiefs/Pats game.  Dee Ford being offsides had nothing to do with what should have been a game-sealing Chiefs interception, but the penalty gave the Pats a second life.  Because of a guy lining up a few inches offsides, a different team is now heading to the Super Bowl.  It happens.  Actually, speaking of the Pats, look at the first Giants/Pats Super Bowl, and look at the Patriots/Seahawks Super Bowl.  In both games, the Patriots were victimized in the last minute by incredible catches with elements of luck (David Tyree’s Helmet Catch: combination of skill and luck, Jermaine Kearse having the ball fall in his lap: mainly luck).  In the former case, Eli Manning used Tyree’s catch and several other clutch throws to give the Giants the win over the Pats; in the latter, Malcolm Butler’s interception kept Kearse’s catch from leading the Patriots to defeat.  Of course, for another modern example of luck, we know that the Eagles beat the Bears this postseason by a fraction of an inch on a “double-doink”.

Over the years, we have had many, many NFL teams win playoff games by the slimmest of margins, and those games are always the most bitter of pills for the losers to swallow. Unfortunately for the Saints, they have been eliminated in consecutive seasons by those slim margins in as devastating fashions as possible.  The Saints are not the first deserving-to-be-there team in history to watch the Super Bowl from home, and they will not be the last.  They are not even the only current team feeling that way, as the Chiefs are in the same boat.

The closer the game, the more likely it is that a bad bounce or bad call will greatly swing the result.  Sports can be cruel.  In this case though, the Saints still had a 78% chance of winning after the bad call.  How much does this assuage my initial negative reaction to the game?  I do not know.  If the refs had made the right call, we are probably watching the Saints on Sunday, February 3.  However, I keep telling myself that the Rams did what they had to do to win the game.  I think I have come to grips with the Rams’ victory, and I hope you have too.

Do I Suffer from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome?

The date was February 1, 2004, and the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots were facing off in the Super Bowl.  I sat with 4 friends who were Patriots fans, and I was the sole person rooting for the Panthers.  The Pats had already won the Super Bowl two years prior, and the Panthers had never won one.  The game was exciting, but the Pats won on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal.

Fast forward a year…

The date was February 6, 2005, and the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots were facing off in the Super Bowl.  Although I strongly dislike the Eagles, I was pulling for them that day.  After all, they had never won a Super Bowl, while the Pats had won two of the past three Super Bowls.  After that day, the Pats had won three of four Super Bowls, and the Eagles had still never won one.

Anyway, most of you readers are probably thinking, “Big effing deal.  Anyone who isn’t a Patriots fan always roots against the Patriots.”

Well, allow me to explain the big deal.  After that Patriots/Eagles Super Bowl, things started to change for me.

The following year, Jake Plummer’s Denver Broncos took care of business against the Patriots in the Divisional Round, and it did not sit well with me.  By that point, I had begun to feel that the Patriots were “supposed” to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl every year.  All of a sudden, I actually found myself feeling bad for Patriots fans who had to experience losing a playoff game for the first time in 7 years.

The year after that; as the Patriots took on the #1-seed 14-2 Chargers in the Divisional Round, I began the game rooting for the Chargers.  However, as the game wore on, I found myself changing to root for the Pats.  When the Pats ultimately pulled off the upset, I was happy.  The next week, when the Pats traveled to Indy for the AFC Championship, I knew that I wanted Peyton Manning to advance to his first Super Bowl….yet, lo and behold, as the Patriots were coughing up a 21-3 lead, I found myself unhappy.  When the Colts won the game, and the Pats walked glumly off the field; I was very disappointed.

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Then, the next year, the you-know-what hit the fan for non-Patriots fans.  Week 1 brought Spygate, and the Pats – armed with new acquisitions Randy Moss and Wes Welker – went on a rampage through their schedule.  Most fans treated the Pats as Public Enemy #1 as the team stormed to an undefeated regular season and set the single-season scoring record.  I, on the other hand, loved everything the Pats did.  I rooted for them all season long, with a few very notable exceptions.  I obviously pulled for the Giants in their thrilling Week 17 loss to the Pats and in their legendary win in Super Bowl XLII, one of the greatest moments of my life.  For most people, the thought of shattering Brady’s and Belichick’s hearts was a dream come true.  For me, I was thrilled to win an incredible Super Bowl, and I loved and still love that the Giants are the team that knocked off the only 18-0 team in league history.  However, I did not get satisfaction from Brady’s and Belichick’s pain.  My joy came completely from the Giants’ amazing accomplishments.

Back to the Pats now…Since that glorious day 11 years ago when David Tyree pressed a football against his helmet, there have been only three games – all against the Giants (including the Giants’ wondrous second Super Bowl win over the Pats) – when I have rooted against the Pats.  While Spygate and then Deflategate have led many to believe that the Pats are the ultimate cheaters, I always find myself saying, “What they are doing worse is no worse than what other teams are doing.”  I have had multiple people bring up the fact that BenJarvus Green-Ellis never ever fumbled with the Pats but fumbled a bunch when he went to Cincinnati.  Obviously the Pats are up to no good, these other people think.  However, I never think the Pats do anything wrong.  Heck, I wrote a really long post last January as I became waaaay too excited about the Patriots’ greatness over the years.  I never think the Pats do anything wrong.

Am I thinking logically?  I have no idea.  It is as if the Patriots kidnapped me during their 2001 Championship season (the one time when most of America was actually rooting for the Pats), and, by 2005, the team had convinced me that everything with the Patriots is a good thing.  By 2007 with Spygate, the Pats had convinced me to defend them at any cost.  As I look back, I wonder, “Do I suffer from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome?”  I rooted against the Pats in consecutive Super Bowls 14 and 15 years ago, but I have defended them and sympathized with them every step of the way – through wins, losses, and scandal after scandal – since then.  I think that is textbook Stockholm Syndrome.

Let us now evaluate whether or not I have fallen prey to this syndrome.  There are three main reasons why I think I have developed such an affinity for the Pats – Routine, Nostalgia, and Respect.  Perhaps I have followed these reasons rationally, or perhaps the Pats have brainwashed me into it.  Here we go…

  • Routine: I do not like change. I am not OCD about scheduling, but I do like to have some consistency in my days and weeks.  I like to run at 5PM; I like to eat Moe’s on Tuesday nights (and sometimes Thursday nights….and sometimes Friday nights too); I like to start listening to Christmas music on November 18; and I like to eat Thin Mints and listen to The Road to El Dorado soundtrack (Elton John) during the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.   Normal stuff.  Therefore, I like to have the Patriots involved with the Divisional Round, AFC Championship, and Super Bowl.  After all, this weekend will be the Pats’ 13th AFC Championship game in 18 seasons, and the team has played in 8 of the past 17 Super Bowls. Seeing Kraft, Belichick, and Brady on those January and February weekends feels just as right as Moe’s and Thin Mints do at their respective times.

 

  • Nostalgia: Maybe it is because I have a good memory, but I am a very nostalgic person. I can get nostalgic about a week ago, so you can imagine how much nostalgia I have for the entirety of the Pats’ run since 2001.  I have discussed the “Routine” issue, and the Pats have been part of my routine for that long.  I watched them win their first Super Bowl while I was a sophomore in college; I watched them go 18-1 and lose to the Giants in my first year as a teacher; I watched a Pats team with Kenbrell Tompkins as its main receiving threat come within one win of the Super Bowl in the year when I first met the venerable BTB editors; and I listened to Bill Belichick’s “Mona Lisa Vito” press conference before going to see American Sniper (and being enamored by both Sienna Miller’s attractiveness and the fact that Todd and Sack from Wedding Crashers were reunited) in the theater.  Therefore, when I watch a Patriots game, I am flooded with nostalgia from my last three years of college, three years working for AvisBudget, and 12 years teaching at Ramsey High School.

 

  • Respect: I cut my teeth as a sports fan while watching the dominant Devils teams from 1993 forward. The cornerstone of those Devils teams’ successes was that nobody was bigger than the team.  GM Lou Lamoriello had no qualms with letting talented players go if those players were to act selfishly or do anything against team protocol.  Those teams had three Hall of Famers (Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer) and possibly a fourth (Patrik Elias), and all of those players put the team above individual goals.

 

It was a delight to watch the Devils ride this disciplined approach to 20 years of dominance, and the 2001-2018 Patriots are the football equivalent of the Devils.  Actually, to be fair, the Pats have outdone the Devils, considering that the Devils 1993-2012 Devils won 3 championships, appeared in 5 Stanley Cup Finals, and appeared in 6 Conference Finals; all numbers that the Patriots have comfortably beaten (using the hockey equivalents).  That said, Brady and Belichick have made an art form out of bringing me-first players to New England and turning them into team players.

Image result for randy moss patriots

Also, just as the Devils received large championship contributions from unheralded players like Jay Pandolfo and Randy McKay, the Pats always make the most of players who are slightly less talented than their peers around the league.  Look back over the past 18 years, and you will see huge contributions from James White, Jabar Gaffney, David Patten, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Legarrette Blount, and (of course) Julian Edelman.  I have always surmised that Belichick’s theory is to use guys who are 5% less talented than most of their peers around the league, because these less-talented players will work 10 times harder on and off the field than the more talented guys without rendering any of the headaches.  (See “Brown Antonio” and “Beckham Jr. Odell”.)

Additionally, while a team can win a Super Bowl in a season in which its players do many choreographed touchdown dances (see “Eagles, Philadelphia”), it remains noteworthy that the Patriots do not take part in such elaborate numbers.  Think of James White and Julian Edelman dominating in the comeback win over Atlanta two years ago, and you do not recall eccentric touchdown celebrations.  I am not anti-celebration, but it is nevertheless refreshing to watch a team whose players direct all of their on-field effort toward winning.

I also have great respect that, in so many years, we wonder if the Pats are done.  We wonder if Brady is too old or if is supporting cast is too weak….but the Pats always find their way to 11 wins.  It is incredibly impressive.  Perhaps I also have a soft spot for Belichick, because his defense was so dominant in the Giants’ Super Bowl XXV win over Buffalo, my first thrilling moment as a sports fan.

Anyway, I have now officially finished detailing the three reasons – routine, nostalgia, and respect – why I pull for the Pats.  I had hoped that this self-evaluation would give me insight into whether I am still rational or am suffering from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome.  Unfortunately, I still do not have an answer, so you will have to judge for yourselves.

All I do know is this: I love Patrick Mahomes.  I loved watching his father pitch for the 1999-2000 Mets; I put $20 on the KC QB to win MVP (at 80:1 odds in August); and watching Mahomes play quarterback is a beautiful, Heavenly experience.  I want the Chiefs to win their first Super Bowl in 49 years, and I want Andy Reid finally to earn his first ring.  This all sounds rational to me now, but why do I sense that I will probably still end up rooting for the Patriots on Sunday?

Do I suffer from “Patriots Stockholm Syndrome”?

Five Thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend – Don’t Worry; Only Three are About Kickers

Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, and I am not here to provide full recaps of the four games.  I would, however, like to cover five thoughts from the weekend.  Yes, most of them deal with kickers.  Let us dive right in.

  • Maybe teams should activate second kickers for playoff games.

 Yes, Seattle did overcome the loss of Sebastian Janikowski by converting the team’s fourth downs and two-point conversions.  However, the Seahawks had no chance at an onside kick and gave the Cowboys good field position on the regular kickoffs.  Furthermore, had Seattle recovered the onside kick in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks would have unlikely been able to attempt a field goal at all, though the team was down by only 2.  This got me to thinking….What is more important, carrying a last depth linebacker or special-teams guy or making sure that an injury does not end your entire kicking game?  While I never like to overreact to the worst-case scenario (which occurred to Seattle), the debate has merit.

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Photo via The Seattle Times
  • Coaches should not be able to call timeouts.

It has now been more than ten years since the league changed the rule to allow coaches to call timeouts.  Before that, only players could call timeouts.  I believe that it was an unintended consequence of this rule change that coaches now call timeouts as kickers are kicking game-winning field goals, but all coaches use this tactic.  Sometimes the kicker makes the nullified kick and misses the second (as Cody Parkey did).  Sometimes the opposite happens.  Sometimes, the kicker misses both.  Sometimes, he makes both.  It does not matter – I cannot stand this rule.  If you are a sports fan at all, it does not feel right when the timeout is called as the kicker is striking the football.  You cannot call a timeout mid-free throw or mid-penalty shot.  You should not be able to do it as a kicker approaches a field goal either.  Thus, leave timeouts to the people on the field.  Yes, teams could still ice kickers under my rule change, but at least teams would have to ice the kickers before they boot field-goal attempts that end up not counting.

  • Do not ask kickers what happened when they missed a field goal.

As if it was not tough enough for Cody Parkey to miss a do-or-die playoff field goal, he then had to answer questions from a million media members about how he missed the field goal.  The simple answer is that, when people try to kick an oblong object 43 yards through the air and between two goalposts, even the best people are not perfect.  We all watched Parkey miss the field goal, and we all saw him strike the ball like any field-goal kicker does.  We have all seen kickers miss field goals, and this was another such case.  It happens.  There is no magical explanation.

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Photo via NJ.com
  • It is funny how athletes’ narratives change based on things completely out of their control.

The classic case of this is how Mike Mussina is not considered a “winner” as a Yankee, yet, had Mariano Rivera closed the door on the DBacks in the Bottom of the 9th Inning, Mussina would be considered a “winner”.  The same thing is true right now with Nick Foles.  Look, I love Nick Foles.  I would love Nick Foles to be the Giants’ starting QB next year.  However, he did lead the Eagles to only 16 points on Sunday.  If Cody Parkey’s kick were an inch to the right, we are all talking today about how Carson Wentz would have been able to lead the Eagles to more than 16 points.  Instead, we are discussing Foles’s magic in leading the Eagles on another game-winning drive.  At least Foles did lead a dramatic game-winning drive and lead Philly to more than 10 points.  The most egregious example of my “narrative” point came three years ago with the Blair Walsh Seattle/Minnesota miss.  Seattle won that game because Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal to give the Seahawks a 10-9 win.  People are unfairly treating Parkey’s 43-yard attempt as a chip shot.  It was not.  Blair Walsh’s, however, was a chip shot….and he missed it.  What happened immediately after the game?  The FOX NFL crew (Terry Bradshaw and pals) praised Russell Wilson for doing enough to win.  Yes, I am sure that is exactly what they would have been saying had Walsh made a kick that kickers make 98% of the time to give the Seahawks a 12-10 loss.

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Photo via The Ringer
  • Who foresaw the “Allen Robinson catch/no catch” issue coming? This guy.

Last year, I responded to the Jesse James play by saying that the issue was not that it is wrong to have to complete the catch to the ground.  After all, if a guy is tumbling to the ground, he might take three steps and have the ball pop out.  If that receiver has never actually gained his footing, it seems wrong to call a fumble.  That was the case with Anthony Miller.  We have all seen many plays like this, and we know these passes are incomplete.  With James, however, he clearly planted two feet before diving for the end zone and then having the ball pop out.  We all knew that should have been a touchdown. Therefore, it is a bit arbitrary to decide when receivers must complete the catch to the ground and when they need not.  That is why I proposed last year to leave the catch rule alone but to limit reviews to one minute.  This way, the obvious bad calls are reversed, but we do not end up with ridiculous overturns like with Jesse James.  Furthermore, the Anthony Miller play would have ended up “incomplete” as it should have been.

 

That sums up my key thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend.

Meet the One Person in America Who Likes the MNF Announcing Crew

This year, ESPN completely overhauled its Monday Night Football announcing team, as the network handed duties over to play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and analysts Jason Witten and Anthony “Booger” McFarland.  We did not have to wade too deep into the 2018 season for NFL fans across the United States to begin ripping this announcing trio.  It seems that football fans have decided that this announcing team is not ready for prime time.  Well, I have come across one person who actually likes this crew of announcers, and that person is yours truly.  Yes, I admit it – I enjoy Tessitore, Witten, and Booger.  Before you have me committed to a mental institution, please allow me to explain myself.

When I analyze an announcing team, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Does the play-by-play announcer do a good job describing the play?
  • Does the play-by-play announcer have a good voice for TV?
  • Do the analysts have serviceable voices for TV?
  • Are the analysts are able to dissect a play that has just happened in a way that educates me but does not feel “over my head”?
  • Do the announcers discuss the most important storylines of the game at the appropriate times?
  • Do the announcers converse comfortably with each other?
  • Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?

 

Very simply, the more “Yes” responses I can give to the questions above, the better the announcing team.  In terms of the MNF team, I am actually able to answer “Yes” to all seven questions above.  Allow me to explain, question by question.

 

  • I believe that Tessitore notes everything that is happening in a comfortable way. He does not embellish anything to try to put himself above the moment.  His voice rises and falls appropriately, based upon the moments he experiences.

 

  • Tess has a great, deep announcing voice.
Image result for joe tessitore monday night football
Image via USA Today
  • This is where most people will start to disagree with me. I think that Witten and McFarland have serviceable TV voices.  Their voices are not James Earl Jones-level great, but, for analysts, all I need is “serviceable”.  In other words, their voices need to avoid being Jerry Glanville-level annoying.  (Yes, I realize that most of you college students will have to Google “Jerry Glanville”, and some of you will even have to Google “James Earl Jones”.)  Anyway, it has become very easy to mock Jason Witten for the long pauses he tends to take mid-sentence.  I do not deny that these pauses exist, but I do not find that they hurt Witten’s ability to make points.  His pauses are his thing.  The guy played an entire NFL career and never missed games due to injury.  If the sole repercussion of Witten’s 15 years of NFL collisions is that he pauses mid-sentence, I can live with it.

 

  • The “Booger”-mobile is something that I initially thought would not work, but I have actually enjoyed it. I feel that the combination of Witten in the press box and Booger at field level do a great job of analyzing plays immediately after they happen.  I am not going to compare these guys to Cris Collinsworth nor Tony Romo, as those are the best two analysts in the business.  However, just because there are people better does not make the MNF trio bad.  In fact, it is weird to me that people’s bar for judging these announcers seems to be at the elite level.  Have you ever watched any announcing team below the networks’ top teams?  I covered some of this a few weeks ago, but there is plenty not to like about those announcing teams.  Furthermore, even if you use a higher bar for national announcing teams than for other teams; I ask you to remember Troy Aikman, Jon Gruden, and Tony Kornheiser.  It is fun to mock Aikman, but I would say he is on a par with the Witten/Booger duo (which is a compliment only when it comes from me).  As of the other two guys, I put Witten and Booger well above them.  I will return to this discussion in a bit.
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Image via The Big Lead
  • As I also discussed a few weeks ago, it is very annoying when all of the viewers at home are discussing a different aspect of a game or play than the announcers are. For example, an announcer might be analyzing whether or not a receiver has kept his two feet inbounds, while everyone at home can see that the ball came loose to render the “feet” discussion irrelevant.  The MNF team successfully avoids this awkward scenario.

 

  • My favorite thing about the MNF team is that Witten and Booger often disagree with each other but do so in a respectful manner. The classic example came during Week 3’s Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay contest; as Witten argued that Le’Veon Bell was wrong for holding out while Booger argued that Bell was correct.  Both analysts provided compelling cases for their sides, and the two announcers were civil the whole time.  We are used to seeing forced laughter between broadcast partners (which does sometimes happen with the MNF team too) and especially between studio hosts on FOX and CBS.  We are used to announcers mindlessly agreeing with each other about everything.  (Aikman says “You’re exactly right, Joe.” in his sleep.)  Therefore, it is refreshing to hear differing opinions within the same broadcast.

 

  • For those who forget this question read, “Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?” In other words, do the announcers avoid doing the main thing that ESPN always does???  Ironically this announcing team does.  For years, we were saddled with Jon Gruden singing the praises of guys like Preston Parker and Blake Bortles.  We heard him say that Jarvis Landry is as good as OBJ.  We heard Gruden say, “I like this guy” about at least 75 players per team per game.    Prior to that, we had Tony Kornheiser try to do three hours of PTI during every MNF game.  That meant that Kornheiser would awkwardly try to weave 3 or 4 storylines like “Are the Cowboys the most popular team in America?” into every minute of every game.  That stuff worked on PTI.  It did not work during games.   You are announcing a football game; you do not need to fabricate storylines.  The game presents its own storylines.  Kornheiser did not get it.

 

Who does get it though?  Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland.  Therefore, I would like to congratulate ESPN.  Even a blind squirrel catches a nut once in a while, and that is the case with ESPN and this announcing team.

 

If the Jets Were Going to Fire Todd Bowles After This Season, They Should Have Fired Him Before This Season

If the Jets were going to fire Todd Bowles after this season, they should have fired him after last season.

I lived through the entire 2018 offseason, and I listened to countless local radio personalities discuss what the mark of a successful 2018 Jets season would be.  Everyone seemed to be in agreement that we should judge this Jets season on the development of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, not on wins and losses.

I felt that this was completely logical.  The 2018 Jets team had one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL, and most of the team’s talent was either first/second-year players (Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Chris Herndon), players with offseason issues (Robby Anderson), or players returning from major injuries (Quincy Enunwa).  Sure, Leonard Williams, Trumaine Johnson, and Darron Lee are also talented players, but the fact remains that most of the roster was composed of untalented players, unproven players, and players returning from major injuries or off-field issues.  Thus, if Sam Darnold could show some signs of success and progress as a rookie; it would be reasonable to assume that he would improve next year and in future years, as he gains NFL experience and as the team increases the talent around him.

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Image via NJ.com

Anyway, what ultimately happened this year?  The Jets went 4-12, and Sam Darnold showed signs of success and progress.  He showed that he has a chance to be a true franchise quarterback for the Jets.  Meanwhile, the 2018 Jets went 4-9 with Darnold as a starter and 0-3 when Josh McCown was the starter.  As a result of this season, Todd Bowles was fired.  This makes no sense to me.  I thought that we all agreed that, if Darnold had a good enough rookie campaign, Todd Bowles would stay onboard.  Instead, the Jets moved the goalposts between the 2018 offseason and the end of the 2018 season and fired Bowles on Sunday.

Were there good reasons to relieve Bowles of his duties?  Sure.  Some believe that he was at fault for the Jets taking too many penalties.  Some believe that he was at fault for various forms of locker-room dissension.  Some believe that he is too dry and boring to be a good head coach.  (This was pretty much the main knock on Bill Belichick after his first six underwhelming seasons as an NFL head coach.  Once Belichick started winning Super Bowls, that “dry” and “boring” demeanor suddenly became an asset.)  Thus, yes, there were legitimate reasons to fire Bowles.

The only issue is that all of these issues existed before the 2018 season as well.  Thus, the Jets could have fired Bowles before the 2018 season (on the same grounds that they ultimately used to fire him on Sunday).  Then, the team could have hired a new coach to start 2018 fresh with Darnold.  This would have allowed Darnold to grow with the stability of one head coach (and likely one offensive coordinator).  Instead, the Jets decided to let Darnold have a solid rookie season, gain confidence, and then be saddled in 2019 with a completely new head coach and offensive coordinator.  Good move, Jets.  I am shocked that an organization that both fired Eric Mangini after two winning seasons in three years and put starting QB Mark Sanchez behind a third-string offensive line in a preseason game would make such a bad decision…

…but hey, at least the Jets did not fire their coach after his first season, a season in which he was given Sam Bradford, a rookie quarterback, and the 30th-most talented roster in the league.  No, that honor goes to the Arizona Cardinals and their recently deposed head coach, Steve Wilks.  I have vented in the past about teams firing coaches too soon, but I really feel bad for Wilks on that one.

Image result for steve wilks
Image via Arizona Cardinals

That said, the Jets did mess up the Todd Bowles situation. I am not saying that he deserved to be fired last year or this year.  Bowles seems to be a respected football man who knows how to coach.  However, if the Jets were going to fire him after a solid rookie campaign by Sam Darnold, they should have fired him before this season.

Every NFL Broadcast Needs a Young Guy on the Staff to Keep the Old Announcers from Repeating Nonsense

We watched a thrilling Bears/Giants game Sunday.  It was easily one of the more enjoyable Giants games I have ever watched, even though the Giants are going nowhere this season.  That said, FOX’s analyst Charles Davis made me realize that NFL broadcasts need to employ an additional person.  They need to employ a football fan under the age of 40 whose sole job is to notify the production team when an analyst makes a point that everyone under 40 knows is wrong.  This plan will keep the announcer from belaboring that point.  I am not trying to single out Charles Davis here.  Plenty of veteran announcers (see “Aikman, Troy”) fall into this same category.

You are probably wondering, “What did Charles Davis say today to make you want to write this post?”  It was actually two things.  Let us start with the main one…

If you watched the game, you know that the momentum-changing play was Saquon Barkley’s 3rd-and-23 run at the end of the first half.  Instead though, Charles Davis focused over and over and over again on the fact that the Bears called timeout before this run.  When the Bears called timeout, there were 16 seconds on the clock with the Giants facing 3rd and 23 from their own 30.  The Bears’ only mistake was that they let time (I am not sure exactly how many seconds) tick off the clock between the previous play and this timeout.  Anyone under 40 watching this game knows that the Bears should have called timeout immediately after second down (a sack of Eli).  This way, assuming the Bears create a stop on 3rd down, the Bears can call another timeout and have a chance to block a punt or throw up a Hail Mary.  Somehow, neither play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt nor Davis noted at any time before the timeout that the Bears should want to call a timeout.  Everyone knows that 3rd-and-23 is supposed to be an automatic 3rd-down stop.  Thus, the Bears did the automatic thing by calling timeout.  It is a basic thing. There is nothing noteworthy at all about it, yet Davis harped on this point over and over and over again for the rest of the game.  Saquon made an amazing run.  That was the story, not the timeout.  Had FOX gone with my suggestion, someone could have told Davis after his first comment about the timeout, “everyone knows the timeout made sense.  Focus on the Saquon run.”

Image result for charles davis and kevin burkhardt
Image via Charles Davis

The second Davis faux-pas deals with the classic “down by 10 with 2 minutes to go” saga.  Roughly 10 years ago, older announcers could not yet deal with the concept that it sometimes makes sense to kick a field goal, then do an onside kick, and then go for a touchdown.  Now, older announcers have caught on to the concept, but they overuse it.  The Bears used a big play to arrive at 1st and Goal with 1:28 to play.  From that point on, Davis said repeatedly, “The Bears don’t need to go for a touchdown here.  They are going to have to get a field goal at some point anyway.”

Of course, he is not wrong that a field goal there keeps the Bears’ hope for a win alive.  However, anyone under 40 watching that game knows that the primary storyline at that point is: If you have made it to first and goal, you really really really really want to get the touchdown there.  After all, to get an onside kick is tough enough.  To then march downfield for a touchdown is even tougher.  Thus, you do not want to sacrifice a goal-to-go scenario by settling for a field goal.  The main goal there is to score a touchdown, so that, in the event of a successful onside kick, the Bears need only a field goal to tie.  Plus, they could then win the game on a touchdown.

Granted, we know that the Bears did ultimately kick a field goal on 4th down.  Once 4th down arrived, Davis was justified in saying it was OK for the Bears to settle for a field goal.  Yes, the Bears did score a touchdown after the onside kick, but, if they had scored a TD on that first of the two drives, perhaps they would have won the game with another regulation TD.  The moral of the story is that anyone under 40 was thinking that Davis was off-base with the “The Bears can kick a FG here, since they need a FG at some point anyway” storyline.  Let us get someone on the production team to tell Davis to stop repeating that comment unless it is fourth down.

At this point, you might be wondering if today was the first day that this thought entered my head.  Definitely not.  Over the years, here are the most common cases where broadcast teams could use a young mind in the production staff:

  • 4th Downs: Plain and simple. If you are over 45, you are Troy Aikman, or you are both; you think that teams should never ever go for it on 4th down unless it’s 4th and goal from the 1 with 1 second remaining and your team down by 7.  (And even then, Aikman might advise a field goal.)  Needless to say, young people recognize that, in the modern era of crazy amounts of offense, going for it on 4th down is often the right move.  In fact, the second-quickest way to out yourself as an old person is by saying, “You always wanna take the points”.  Of course, the quickest way to out yourself is to say either “The Twitter” or “The Facebook”. Additionally, young minds realize that, if you go for it on 4th down inside the other team’s 20 and do not convert, you still force the other offense to travel further than if you kick a field goal.  When a team misses a conversion deep into opposing territory, no 40+-year-old announcer has ever noted that the team benefited thereafter from forcing a three-and-out and receiving good field position after the punt.
Image result for troy aikman in booth
Image via Fox Sports
  • Space-time continuum: This one overlaps with #1. If a team passes up a 1st-quarter field goal, goes for the first down, and does not convert; you cannot say with 2 minutes left in the game, “The Giants are down by 2, but, if they had only kicked that field goal in the first quarter, they would be winning now.”  Back to the Future came out in 1985, yet older announcers know nothing about the space-time continuum.  If you change what happens early in a game, everything that happens thereafter changes too.  The under-40 production guy would know this.

 

  • Committing to the running game: Older announcers are always bewildered when teams with strong running games deviate from the run when down by 21 in the second half. “I don’t know why the Cardinals are abandoning the run here.  They told us in production meetings that they wanted to control the running game.”  Wanna know who does know?  Young people.  Teams do not run the ball when down 21 in the second half.

 

  • “You’re on the road/at home/going nowhere this season, you might as well go for it here.” – Again, I have never heard someone under 40 base a punt/FG/go-for-it decision on whether a team is home or away. I swear these comments are the small talk of old announcers.  We are annoyed when people walk tell us, “Monday again?  Oh, the weekend goes by too fast.”  Mindless talk, just like this “home/road” garbage.  Herm Edwards was right that every coach “plays to win the game”.  Your record does not dictate whether or not to go for it on 4th  Neither does home/away.  Your talent and the game situation do.  Speaking of which…

Image result for herm edwards you play to win the game gif

  • Going for two: For older announcers, going for two is like new technology, new rappers, and difficult-to-pronounce names combined. It is an absolute trainwreck.  It has always been a disaster, but, now that strong offensive teams have realized that, with extra points being less sure things (since being moved back), it can make sense to go for two all the time.  This makes things especially tough for older announcers.  “Why wouldn’t you just take the sure point here???” is something they say in their sleep at this point.  Additionally, when a team is down 15 late in a game and scores a TD, you know that an old announcer’s head is ready to explode if the team goes for 2 after the first TD.  “Why are they going for two here????  They don’t need to go for it yet.  If they miss it here, the game is over.”  As a counterpoint, young people present math.  You might as well go for two first, so that, if you miss it, you know you have to find a way to score twice more.  Lastly, in terms of 2-point conversions.  If you are down 7 and score a touchdown at the end of regulation, your decision is simple.  If you are the favorite, you kick the extra point and take your chances in OT.  If you are the underdog, you go for two.  It’s the basic “NCAA Basketball Tournament” premise.  There is no way UMBC would have beaten UVA in a Best-of-7 last year, but UMBC was able to win a Best-of-1.  If you are the underdog, your chances improve as you decrease the sample size.  Thus, you would rather beat the favorite over one play than over multiple overtime possessions.

 

Guess who understands this?  Young football fans.  Thus, NFL broadcasts, the time has come to put young guys in the production staff to make sure your announcers do not keep harping on silly points.

Condoleezza Rice Being a Head Football Coach Makes as Much Sense as Having a Reality Star for President

A pretty surprising rumor spread around the NFL today:

Former Secretary of State under the George W. Bush Administration could be the next Browns head coach? When you’re as bad as Cleveland has been for the past decade, you really have to explore ALL options. Crazier things have certainly happened. I mean Magic Johnson has a Grammy and Kobe has an Oscar. Apply for the job you want, not the one you’re qualified for.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no truth to the rumors. The Browns have denied it, and Rice turned down the job almost immediately.

This would certainly be an unprecedented moment in NFL and US history. It might rival Trump becoming President, which whether you are a Democrat or Republican have to acknowledge is a wild concept. It’s like if JJ Watt became the next Crocodile Hunter (RIP Steve Irwin). It would just be a head-scratcher. Although, Watt versus the crocs of Australia would be must-watch television. That’s a free idea, Animal Planet. Run with it.

I know this wasn’t something the team actually tried to do, but to be honest I believed for a second it was happening. They have officially entered the “Fuck it” zone and any rumor I hear about them is credible. If you told me the front office hired my Operations Management professor as a special advisor to try to streamline the offensive efficiency, I’d buy it. If I heard Denzel Washington got a phone call about the being next head coach, I’d head to Google to see if he took the job.

Image result for Remember the Titans

The Browns overall just need to stop trying to be a successful franchise. The NFL is a lot more fun with them as the “bad team”. When the Seahawks clock in for a qualified stinker, at least I can fall back on the fact that Hue Jackson was 3-36-1. Somebody needs to set the low-bar, and life is better/funnier when it’s the Browns. It’s like, I know I’m a really bad cook, but when I hear that some people my age don’t know how to boil water, it makes me think maybe I should submit for some open chef jobs. The Browns being historically atrocious keeps things in the status quo. Please, never change.

 

 

 

Life Becomes Easier When You Just Accept the Rebuild

It was a gloomy and gray Tuesday morning. I had to get up early to go to the DMV because Saturday they closed early on my ass when I was literally two people away. I had a three hour class and a full day of work right after. And to top it off, the Seahawks were embarrassed on Monday Night Football. Yet, on this day, and amongst all this, I found peace.

The score does not in any way indicate the way the Seahawks-Bears game went last night. They lost 24-17, with a less than 1% chance at tying it up in the last ten seconds if they recovered an onside kick. As a team, they had 276 total yards, but 99 of those came on the final drive when the Bears defense was in protect mode. They were 5 for 13 on 3rd down, lost 2 fumbles, threw a pick-six, and at one point were only averaging 2.9 yards per play. There was one time where I walked out of the room for a second right before first down, and by the time I came back they were already punting. But, as I said before, I have found peace.

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Image via UPI.com

The Seattle Seahawks are 0-2, with Dallas coming to them next week. They lost to the Broncos and the Bears, two teams with good defenses. The thing is, if you want to be a Super Bowl winning team, you have to beat teams with good defenses. That is not in the Seahawks destiny this year though, and now that I have come to realize that, I have found peace. I’ve said it three times now, so I’ll explain.

I’ve officially accepted the Seahawks run as a contender is over. It’s a hard reality to face, and one you don’t truly believe until it actually happens to you. I compare it to being on the receiving end of a dad-bod. You’re young, you workout a few times a week, but let’s be honest, you drink a lot of beer and McDonalds tastes so good. For a while, you’re in denial. The v-shape starts to fade away underneath a plump circle that is now your stomach. You think “Nah, I’ll just go for a run tomorrow and I’ll be back in shape in no time”. Similarly, the Seahawks thought, “We’ll sign average linebacker Barkevious Mingo and we’ll be back in contention, even though we lost Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, and Richard Sherman!”. Friends, it doesn’t work like that. Life doesn’t work like that. In football, and in dad-bods, there is a point of no return. One day you’ll look in the mirror and you’ll say to yourself “I think I’ve peaked”. The Seahawks have reached that point, and if this paragraph sounds a little familiar, you might have too. It’s better to just accept it. Once you embrace your current fate, life becomes a whole lot simpler. And you find your peace.

Look how happy Clayton Kershaw is

You see so many fans who get frustrated over every loss because on the surface they think their team has a chance to play on that Sunday in February, but deep down they know it’s over. When you wholeheartedly come to terms that your team is mediocre at best, everything around you opens up. The sun comes up, the grass gets greener, people get kinder. The games become easier to watch, and your Mondays through Saturday aren’t filled with “what ifs” and getting angry at Colin Cowherd for insulting your team’s “pitiful” performance.

This isn’t an overreaction to an 0-2 start, trust me. If the Seahawks of three years ago started 0-2, I probably wouldn’t even be panicking. They had an abundance of talent and usually found a way to figure it out. But this year, you can just see it. There’s a lot of young players who don’t really understand the flow of an NFL game, or what to do when they are forced to adjust on the fly. Beyond them, the veteran talent really isn’t there. They have the makeup of an average to below average team. And you know what, that’s okay. We had our reign at the top, it’s time for somebody else.

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Image via OregonLive.com

The frustrating part is when the team you know can’t compete does not just rebuild already. I would love nothing more than to see the Seahawks tank this year, get a top pick and impact player, and explode back onto the scene in two or three years before Russell Wilson leaves his prime. I pray Pete Carroll is thinking the same way, but it also gets me nervous because he might be trying to squeeze the last bit of success out of his former championship window so when he is done coaching after the 2019 season, he’ll retire knowing he at least gave it his all. I don’t think many coaches plan to start a rebuild at 67 years old, and I think it’s a reason Earl Thomas is still in a Seahawks uniform.

He believes in his team more than he should, which I respect. If the Seahawks turn it around this year, please, shove this article in my face forever. I’ll be glad to take the beating. But, it’s gonna be really annoying to see them try to capture the magic they’ve lost when they could bite the bullet now and find their way sooner than later.

A little advice from a hardcore fan, just press “Go” on the rebuild button. It’s green, it’s big, and it’s wrapped with a 5th overall pick in 2019 and a 12th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (on top of the Cowboy’s picks when we finally trade Earl Thomas there). It’s a beautiful thing, and I’ll take hope for the future as opposed to dismay in the present any day. Delayed gratification is a beautiful thing, let’s get this thing started.

You Have Probably Read a Million NFL Previews, so Here Is Another!

It is a glorious time of year, as the NFL season is upon us.  For me, the NFL is the only sports league in which I can watch and enjoy a regular-season game between any pairing of teams.  It was like that when I was a kid, as I knew that, with a 16-game regular season, every game was of monumental importance.  As much as I love MLB and the NHL, a May Athletics/Tigers game or a November Flames/Blues game has never exactly glued me to the TV.  Of course, as time and my life have progressed, my love for the NFL has increased with fantasy football and the many pools in which I take part.

Anyway, with the NFL season’s arrival, I am providing a preview.  I am not going to preview all 32 teams’ strengths and weaknesses.  I am merely going to make a few predictions about which I feel strongly.  Let us begin.

  • The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins signing will prove to be a mistake. Last year, Case Keenum stepped in for an injured Sam Bradford and led the Vikings to a 12-2 regular-season record a miraculous playoff win over the Saints.  Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins has been 26-30-1 as a starter and lost his only playoff game.  Of course, it is easy to argue that Keenum was pretty much awful before last year and pulled a shamrock-encrusted rabbit’s foot out of his butt to win last year’s playoff game, but that does not refute my point.  I would say that Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins would give the Vikings an equal chance for success this season, so it would have been more logical to re-sign Keenum for much less money than the amount for which Cousins signed.
Image result for kirk cousins vikings
Image via ClutchPoints
  • The Giants will finish 9-7 and earn a Wild Card berth. Obviously, I hope that the Giants win the Super Bowl.  I hope that Eli Manning dominates from September through February en route to a third Super Bowl championship and makes me eat a giant plate of crow.  Realistically though, I see the Eagles winning the division at 10-6.  Even though the Giants have won two Super Bowls after playing on Wild Card Weekend, I am not ready to make that prediction when (to paraphrase Rick Pitino) Justin Tuck isn’t walking through that door.  Michael Strahan isn’t walking through that door.  Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t walking through that door.  Osi Umenyiora isn’t walking through that door.  OK, I will stop before I end up putting Jay Alford on the list.  That said; with a revamped offensive line, a healthy Odell, and a debuting Saquon; this offense should put up enough points to put the team in the playoffs.  If the offense does not dominate and people continue to say that Eli deserves to be the starter for as long as he wants, then I do not know what to tell those people.
  • The Jets will finish 7-9 in a season reminiscent of Geno Smith’s 2013 season. No, I am not making this comparison just to backhandedly remind people that I was actually rational in supporting the Giants’ move to start in Geno in Oakland.  I say this because Geno’s talent brought the Jets some exciting wins in 2013.  I was eliminated from my Survivor pool when Geno won Week 5 on MNF in Atlanta that year.  Devastating stuff for me, but wins like that and their win over the Pats (with some help from the officials) gave Jets fans major hope for the future at the time.  Of course, Geno proved to have discipline and dedication issues that kept him from taking that next step.  In 2018, I expect that Sam Darnold will similarly lead the Jets to a few exciting wins (as Geno did in 2013), but he remains a rookie taking over the reins of a 5-11 team.  7-9 would be a solid year for him, and Jets fans should feel good about that.  Unlike with Geno, I would expect that Darnold would build on this season in 2019 with a best-case scenario being Darnold mimicking Carson Wentz’s second season.  (Thus, the Jets should be ready to sign Nick Foles next season.)
  • For the same reasons; the Raiders and Islanders will be similar train wrecks this coming season and the coming seasons. Let us examine the traits:
  1. The game has passed by the team’s stubborn leader: Mike Francesa always says the biggest reason why NFL coaches do not succeed after long layoffs is that, after three years away from the game, it is difficult to assemble a coaching staff. After all, most of a coach’s former assistants have been gobbled up by the time the third year rolls around.  Moreover, the game changes radically over a few years.  Jon Gruden last coached in 2008.  Back then, it was still somewhat OK to try to decapitate opposing players on the field.  Now, there is a 3-inch-by-3-inch square in a quarterback’s midsection that opposing players are allowed to touch.  Anything else is a penalty.  Plus, I do not know that Gruden can be as harsh now as he was 10 years ago. Similarly, Lou Lamoriello is now the Islanders’ general manager, and I have a feeling that he will return to his usual Lou mantras: signing defensive defenseman, placing a large emphasis on veteran leadership, and avoiding star players with any egos.  All of those premises served Lamoriello well when he was (in my opinion) the best general manager in the NHL for 20+ seasons with the Devils.  However, his ways did not serve the Devils well at the end of his tenure in New Jersey, and I feel that Brendan Shanahan (Leafs’ general manager) was calling all the shots when Lou and Shanahan were in Toronto.  I do not feel good about Lamoriello being in full control of the Isles’ personnel.
  2. Both teams have lost their top players. The Isles were unable to re-sign John Tavares, who ironically moved to Toronto, Lamoriello’s former home.  Meanwhile, Khalil Mack has been traded from the Raiders to the Bears.  Both moves are obviously bad for the players’ former teams.  Plus, if Gruden had anything to do with pushing Mack away, some of his players might grow resentment toward Gruden.  That is a bad thing.
  3. Lastly, both teams are in geographic limbo. The Isles are spending part of the next few seasons at Nassau Coliseum and part of it in Brooklyn.  Having two different homes does not exactly seem like a recipe for success.  Similarly, the Raiders are finishing out their time in Oakland, as a future home in Vegas looms on the horizon.  Neither of these scenarios bode well for fan support or thus for the teams’ potential success.
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Image via The Mercury News
  • Anyway, let us wrap this up with my playoff predictions. Note that I made these before the season-opening games.

Playoff Seeds:

AFC:

1 New England

2 Jacksonville

3 Pittsburgh

4 Kansas City

5 Houston

6 Los Angeles Chargers

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Image via Roster Resource

NFC:

1 Atlanta

2 Green Bay

3 San Francisco

4 Philadelphia

5 Los Angeles Rams

6 New York Giants

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Image via Washington Post

Wild-Card Round:

Pittsburgh over Los Angeles, Houston over Kansas City, San Francisco over New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams over Philadelphia

Divisional Round:

New England over Houston, Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, Atlanta over Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay over San Francisco

Conference Championships:

Jacksonville over New England, Green Bay over Atlanta

Super Bowl:

Green Bay over Jacksonville

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Enjoy the season, everyone!

The Sophomore Slump: Why You Should Be Hesitant with Second-Year Running Backs

In athletics there are trends that coaches, players, and fans all make a note of. In baseball, it’s struggling after the Home Run Derby or a World Series Hangover. In football, there’s the Madden Curse. And in every sport, there’s the Sophomore Slump.

This trend is particularly notable in football, and to be even more specific, in running backs. If you look back, there have been a countless number of running backs who have gone from exciting rookies to disappointing busts in the matter of a few seasons. Some have picked their career back up the next season, and others you’ll be left saying “Oh shit I forgot about that guy”.

There are countless reasons why it happens, whether it be injury, suspension, or just lack of productivity. No matter the excuse, a striking consistency exists and you have to wonder…why?

Take a look at some of the guys. I made an extraordinarily average and plain chart that will document exactly what I mean, dating all the way back to 1972.

PLAYER, Rookie Season ROOKIE SEASON SOPHOMORE SEASON
Ezekiel Elliott, 2016 1,631 rush yards, 15 TD 983 rush yards, 7 TD
Todd Gurley III, 2015 1,106 rush yards, 10 TD 885 rush yards, 6 TD
Thomas Rawls, 2015 830 rush yards, 4 TD 349 rush yards, 3 TD
Zac Stacy, 2013 973 rush yards, 7 TD 293 rush yards, 1 TD
Trent Richardson, 2012 950 rush yards, 11 TD 563 rush yards, 3 TD
Doug Martin, 2012 1,454 rush yards, 11 TD 456 rush yards, 1 TD
Steve Slaton, 2008 1,282 rush yards, 9 TD 437 rush yards, 3 TD
Cadillac Williams, 2005 1,178 rush yards, 6 TD 798 rush yards, 1 TD
Kevin Jones, 2004 1,133 rush yards, 5 TD 664 rush yards, 5 TD
Rashaan Salaam, 1995 1,074 rush yards, 10 TD 496 rush yards, 3 TD
Don Woods, 1974 1,162 rush yards, 7 TD 317 rush yards, 2 TD
Franco Harris, 1972 1,055 rush yards, 10 TD 698 rush yards, 3 TD

I’m sure the more you dug, the more you’d find guys just like this. I had to exclude guys who burst onto the scene into their second season, but first as a starter, then declined the next year because that is “technically” not a sophomore slump. These were the more obvious and overt ones. Players like Gurley, Doug Martin, and Cadillac have had their moments after their slump, and we expect Elliott to do the same. But a lot of these players completely fell off.  Like where the hell is Steve Slaton? Probably doing maintenance at a Walmart somewhere in Houston. Trent Richardson? He’s the poor man’s Eddie Lacy and turned in a pretty sad NFL career.

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Image via Yardbarker

My guess for why these things happen is people get complacent (in Zeke’s case, stupid or conspired against if you’re a Cowboys fan). They feel they’ve accomplished the world because they see they can dominate the NFL. Or, they get figured out…and all they had on teams was the element of surprise. Once teams are prepared for them, they are simply not good enough to adjust and be effective again.

This trend exactly is what makes me scared to draft, or be confident in if I’m a fan of these teams, players like Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, and Leonard Fournette. All these guys achieved at par or above their rookie expectations. It’s hard to predict who is going to actually fall, but I’ll give it my best.

Kamara: Possibly the most surprising of the bunch, but I actually think he will continue to perform at a high-level. Usually, small and quick players don’t last but Kamara proved last year he can do it. When Ingram was the starter throughout the first few weeks, Kamara was still forcing playing time because of his big play ability. By the time the year ended, he was getting more snaps and getting better each and every week. Now that Ingram is gone for the first four weeks, it’s Kamara’s job to run with. The only problem, which could lead to a decline, is can he handle the heavy workload? That remains to be seen, but due to the fact he had an increased role towards the end of the year, I believe he can.

McCaffrey: He only ran for 435 yards last year, while totaling 651 through the air. I can’t imagine he puts up similar numbers receiving-wise with Greg Olsen back, Cam more comfortable with Devin Funchess, and rookie D.J. Moore coming in. But with that said, Jonathon Stewart is no longer there to hog carries, so McCaffrey’s run game should improve, as well as his TDs. I don’t see him declining from an overall perspective.

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Image via Panthers Wire

Hunt: With essentially a new mindset on offense, the Chiefs are going to be very different this year. Mahomes plans to throw the ball deep with heavy consistency, making Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and maybe even Sammy Watkins great options. But that leaves Kareem Hunt, somebody who excelled in the Alex Smith check-down game, with a somewhat smaller role. With the Chiefs barely ever running the ball last year and a healthy Spencer Ware on the sideline in 2018-2019, I can definitely see him taking a step back this year.

Fournette: Not much has changed in Jacksonville, so nothing should change for Fournette. He should be another success story this year, and I strongly believe he’ll have long-term success similar to Adrian Peterson thanks to his size and speed.

Again, this is just my analysis. I wish all these guys success, but ya never know. One of them is bound to be a different player this year, but it could be anyone of them. That’s why you play the games.