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Tag:Baltimore Ravens
Posted on: February 5, 2013 1:18 am
 

Aliens Behind SB47 Blackout?

“Take Me to Your Leader“…and Nachos To Go

Maybe it was an act of God, one that favors 49ers, or space aliens tapping into the power-grid.

It could’ve been as simple as too many plug-ins or even someone at the network cutting the juice to tighten the game. Nah. Whatever the real reason, the 3Q power outage & delay (34m) in SB47 put the brakes on what was shaping-up to be a Ravens’ rout.

Jim Harbaugh aught consider himself lucky. Rather than trying to explain a humiliating, lopsided defeat and field new questions about his mid-season QB flip, he received manna from Heaven that cooled-off a stoked Baltimore squad, bought him time to re-group, triggered a late-game surge and now he need only (try to) blame the loss on officiating.

Kaepermania Denied

Had Niners won SB47 we’d be having a whole different conversation this week…and the next week, and the week after that and so on and so forth. It would’ve gone something like this: ‘The pocket passer is history, athletic-QB is unstoppable and the game of football has changed forever.’ So much for that campaign.

And yet, the possibility that flash-QB will someday hoist Mr. Lombardi remains a real one, as college coaches continue to crank out run-QBs like so many widgets. And why not, as Young, Tebow and Newton are testament that having the modern-day, single-wing tailback under center is the easiest route to the Heisman and NCAA championship glory.

For now, pocket passer reigns supreme with SB-MVP Joe Flacco its new spokesman, having handled the Super Bowl pressure like a trooper. Joe is up for a new deal, will get franchised but well-compensated. It won’t be glorious, like say, Brees, Brady or Peyton money. That’s elite territory, requiring multiple rings and / or big numbers over time. And don’t forget Joe & agent, Eli (16M) has two rings. Tailor your pitch accordingly.

Whine-Fest II

Didn’t think anyone could top the whine festival put on by Packerland and media friends last fall after the replacement refs “simultaneous catch” call went against ’em in Seattle.

But the carnival of complaint being put on by Jim Harbaugh & friends over the Crabtree non-call in SB47 is coming close. Like Packers last fall, 49ers stunk it up for well over a half, looked over-matched, stalled repeatedly in the red-zone late, Colin Kaepernick proved the near-rookie his resume shows and his 4D pass to Crabtree was arguably un-catchable. Time to put a cork in it, whine lovers.

SB47 Winners

Baltimore Ravens: Coach John Harbaugh's late season shake-up (OC), the NYG romp and Ray Lewis' return all spark a club that played pretty pedestrian football most the season. Sweeter had Art Modell been alive to savor the win.

The Cufflinks: in the NFL, CBS, New Orleans, betting syndicates, etcetera

Pocket-passers and their many (non-media) fans, across America

Jerry Rice: There are four greatest NFL receivers of all-time: Don Hutson (GB), Lance Alworth (SD / DAL), Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. While I may never forgive him for kicking the Vikes when down in ‘09, there’s no denying that since his coming-out party vs Green Bay on MNF in ‘98, no receiver had an impact on the opposition as did Mr. Moss. He was a game-changer like we’d never seen before or may never again. But had Randy nabbed a title-ring I fear he’d still be talking, about himself.

Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl 9”: Better than any over-baked Super Bowl commercial

Super Performers Alicia Keys and Beyonce Knowles: Not in my music collection but like Hesh (Sopranos), I know a “hit” when I hear it and these ladies are both hits.

San Francisco 49ers: Last year they came within a hair’s breadth of SB46 (v NYG) and in SB47 nearly pull off a comeback for the ages. They’ve got the PS experience, talent on both sides and their swaggering coach acts like he won’t be denied. Be proud, gracious and bite your tongues 49ers for you played in a City that knows what real pain is all about.

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Posted on: January 29, 2013 1:33 am
 

Super Bowl 47 Hunch Line

“Nobody can eat fifty eggs”

The biggest story leading-up to SB47?

The Harbaugh family reunion might make a great Hallmark movie but seeing a couple of privileged, cocky men hit pay-dirt doesn’t exactly float my boat.

Nice to see Joe Flacco finally get some positive feedback but the JF interview is just slightly more interesting than an episode of NOVA.

And Ray Lewis, he’s not really retiring. He’ll be giving his NFL insights from the cozy confines of ESPN’s Connecticut studio for years to come. And the rich get richer.

The big story in the Big Easy is the 49ers’ fleet-footed QB Colin Kaepernick and how he’s energized the biggest debate going in football today: pocket passer vs. flash-QB.

The kids love anything that rocks the status-quo, older folk favor pocket poise and the rest are taking a wait & see approach.

Like "Society" (Cool Hand Luke), maybe I'm stubborn, but I’m not buyin’ run-QB.

Some call him revolutionary. I say guys like Kaep Krusader, Vick, Tebow, RG3 and Newton are just newer, muscled versions of the old single-wing tail-back of the 1930s (See; Cecil Isbell).

As for the “read option,” that’s like asking a 6th-grader to read a book rather than watch TV. Not likely. Give flash-QB the “option” to rabbit and he’ll do it 8 outta' 10 times while his reading skills (on defensive schemes) will never mature beyond “See Spot run.”

And if you think highly-paid, spotlight-craving receivers and true ball-carriers are gonna’ forever happily accommodate their ball-hog quarterbacking teammates, you've got another thing coming.

When you think how the passing game changed the nature of football (Sid Gilman ‘60), keep in mind that that change expanded the franchise to anywhere from 4-8 possible targets who might be on the receiving end of a pass play. That was revolutionary.

It’s why stopping the aerial attacks of a Joe Namath, Doug Williams or Tom Brady has always given defensive coordinators fits, as in, ‘Where’s the damn ball gonna’ go?’

Sure, CK did a real number on GB that won‘t soon be forgotten and the counter-punch he delivered to the Falcons’ heavy helpin’ of run-stuffing was evidence he can multi-task. But seeing isn’t always believing, even for a Missourian ("Show Me").

More than match-ups, the pro game is about adjustments.

Atlanta needed less than a week to make the necessaries to sufficiently contain Colin in NFC title (letting it slip away, like SF in ‘12, on costly TOs), and expect the same from around the League come September. As such, SB47 might be the high-water mark for run-QB as coordinators make necessary modifications to secure the middle and injuries mount for General Athletic .

Does that mean an ‘all expenses paid’ trip to Disneyland is outta‘ the question for Colin in the week following SB47? Heavens no. It just means that, how shall I put this, if Trent Dilfer can hoist the Lombardi, then getting one ring does not a revolutionary make.

The only revolution we’re likely to see will come courtesy of Nike Corporation as they guillotine every classic NFL logo & uniform-design they can hunt down in their youthfully-misguided reign of marketing terror.

The Other Ray

To some, Ray Lewis forever wears a scarlet ‘C’ on his chest: Criminal.

On the night of January 31, 2000, Lewis and two friends (Oakley & Sweeting) were involved in a street fight in Atlanta resulting in two deaths (Baker / Lollar). Lewis was charged with Obstruction by Fulton County in return for his testimony in the murder trial of his companions. Both men were acquitted and no one else was charged (Wikipedia).

Some people believe the investigation was mishandled (Munson / ESPN). To those with a prejudice, this means cover-up. To the rest of us, the lack of sufficient evidence, right or wrong as that may be, allows us to choose forgiveness or just simply move forward.

For the forward thinker, it’s the heavy hits, the passion play and his standard of success that will define Ray Lewis’ legacy.

My favorite Ray Lewis trait: honoring the line.

When you compete on a playing field, there’s a place you never go.

It’s different in business, where Machiavelli is patron saint. The end justifies the means, buyer beware, greed is good, lawyer on retainer and all that jazz.

On the gridiron you bring your “killer instinct” (Bednarik) and if you catch your opponent unawares, all the better (head on a swivel), but you don’t cheap-shot and you don’t take away his dignity. You leave enough there so he can pick himself up and go ‘til the bell rings. That’s Marquess of Queensberry and that’s a professional.

Cross that line and you go from hero to hooligan, from player to punk.

Before you start listing off all of Ray’s late hits, unsportsmanlikes and other boo-boos…don’t bother. Every player’s got ‘em, from Ray Nitschke (“Mean on Sunday”) to 49ers’ All-Pro Patrick Willis.

And Ray Lewis never crossed the line.

Super Bowl 47 Pick

Believe it, basketball can be entertaining.

By the time Super Sunday finally rolls around I’ve cashed in my football chips and vested in Mr. Naismith‘s invention. For me, it’s the lead-up to Super Sunday which is apex of the NFL season.

Had the powers-that-be not tacked on an extra week of sales & hype I might feel different. But with the delay, the players are running on fumes (most at it since May), momentum curried in the PS is lost and fans like myself are not all too pleased at being played for saps.

And using the semi-Pro Bowl to somehow tide us over doesn’t sweeten the deal, Roger & DeMaurice. Apart from PED prevention, those two cufflinks play the same course.

As for the game, the guys will give their best effort, even if it won’t be their best. That usually means a pretty good show, ever since the NFC decided to join the modern era with the help of Roger Staubach and Bill Walsh.

In the pros, there’s no easier road to a title than the NFL playoff highway.

The Ravens’ path to New Orleans was no cakewalk, besting three foes, including wins at Denver and New England, whereas, SF gets a R1 bye, a homer versus enigmatic WK1 foe GB and find their “golden ticket” in the Georgia Dome against Atlanta’s great pretenders.

Why San Fran favored? Odds-makers are businessmen, not football fans.

Post-season, Baltimore's defense has become equal of 49ers’ vaunted crew, has a capable run game, holds an edge in passer proficiency, brings more pressure, can clog the middle to force CK horizontal, has traveled a tougher road to get here and will not be bested in the intensity department. Clichéd, but expect moderate scoring affair with these defense-favored coaching philosophies. The winner: Baltimore Ravens.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 16, 2013 2:29 pm
 

NFL '13 Conference Picks

Breaking All the Rules

First Jim Harbaugh adds Randy ‘Ipecac’ Moss to the 2012 49ers’ roster, a man washed-out & retired since being cut loose by New England, Minnesota and Tennessee in 2010.

In Week 11 he changes horses mid-stream, benching a recently concussed veteran in QB Alex Smith (6-2-1) in favor of 2nd-year man from Nevada, Col. Kaepernick.

And the piece de résistance: Jim employs a modern version of the old single-wing tail-back formation, putting Kaep Krusader’s 6’4” 230 lbs. frame and run ability to full use.

Who ever said Michigan men are too conservative?

New Landscaping or Captured by the Moment?

To borrow Pete Carroll’s post-game wordage, last weekend’s Divisionals were “exquisite.”

Colin’s record-setting play against Green Bay would win him ‘Best in Show’ by a land-slide if polling the public but the quality of competition weighs heavy and the Niners’ win just looked too darn easy. Packers lost something in that fateful trip to Kansas City in late 2011 and haven’t gotten it back, appearing completely befuddled after nabbing an early pick-6.

And I’m not so sure that Mike Vick’s 2002 win at Lambeau over the Favre crew (27-7), handing G-Bay their first ever home playoff loss, wasn’t slightly more momentous.

Best of last weekend’s performances is a five-way tie: four Ravens and a rookie Seahawks’ QB who nearly pulled off the unthinkable in Atlanta.

Joe Flacco went toe-to-toe with the NFL’s 2012 likely MVP (AP) Peyton Manning, Ray Rice churned out 131 against the # 3 rush-D in the NFL and a rejuvenated Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs scored 10 tackles each in pressuring Pey-dirt into fatal mistakes.

And while Matty Ice flirted with disaster and Mike Smith nervously worked the clock with the dreaded ’prevent-offense,’ Seattle’s Russell Wilson played cool as a cucumber in leading the Hawks’ 2nd-half surge to a late-game lead-grab before watching in agony as Ryan coolly drove 41 in final seconds to set up M. Bryant’s game-winning 49 yarder.

Absence of Good Faith

DeMaurice Smith is no slouch, that‘s for sure. The NFLPA executive director (‘09) is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, an experienced trial attorney and was instrumental in fashioning the NFL 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

He’s also quite adept at the art of pre-emptive strike.

No sooner had MLB announced agreement on expanded blood-testing for the up-coming 2013 season (“MLB” / CBS / Snyder / 1-10) when it’s reported Mr. Smith has shot off a letter to all players & agents (“DeMaurice” / CBS / Freeman / 1-11), heading-off media inquires as to why football lags behind baseball in HGH testing, by laying blame at the doorstep of, you guessed it, NFL owners.

The dispute centers on one point: Smith is demanding a right “to challenge the science underlying the hGH (sic) test (“DeMaurice”).” It’s a merit-less position, as WADA has signed-off on its reliability long ago (“WADA” / NFL / Ellenport / 12-1-11). But Mr. Smith has a trump card: players, and more importantly fans, on the whole, seem little concerned about the ethical and health issues raised by use of PEDs on the gridiron.

But a day will come when NFL players have their blood tested for HGH and its spawn. And as long as DeMaurice Smith and like minds remain in charge at NFLPA and Federal efforts remain ephemeral and toothless, you can expect the believed rampant use of PEDs in the NFL will continue largely unimpeded for years to come.

Makes one wonder, where’s Rob Parker on DeMaurice and, for that matter, Oprah Winfrey (Lance Armstrong scrub-up)?

2013 Conference Picks

San Francisco 49ers (1-0 / 2) @ Atlanta Falcons (1-0 / 1) (1-20 / Fox 3:00)

Networks choose Georgia Dome for the early game over Foxborough where the temp could dip below 30° by kickoff with wind, rain & snow? Thanks, cufflinks.

The 49ers had their way with Green Bay while Atlanta wins by a “hair on their chinny chin chin,” so San Fran is a lock on Sunday, right-o?  Wrong-o.  In the words of “a great & mighty warrior,” “Nothing is written (Lawrence of Arabia).” Jim H. found space in Capers’ D-scheme that they won’t find in the Dome. The pros are big on adjustment so expect A-birds to put all their chips on ‘Colin Containment,‘ something they’re not half-bad at, as they slowed Mr. Lynch (46), held Russell to 45 and are more than happy to test Colin’s arm with an A-grade pass-D (6 / 20 INT).

Offense and defense have symbiotic rapport. The thrill & spontaneity generated by flash-QB can also produce a volatility & unpredictability that alters the defensive flow. Niners D has given up an average 30 pts. last four (36 (-) Cards game). Kaepernick’s road-play gets mixed results, Atlanta’s run-game is clicking and Ryan’s confidence is measured, all spelling kryptonite for Kaep Krusader. Falcons win and earn a trip to New Orleans.

Baltimore Ravens (2-0 / 4) @ New England Patriots (1-0 / 2) (CBS 6:30)

At this stage of the game, numbers, match-ups, histrionics and an early rumble (BAL 31-30) do as little for predicting as urine-samples do for PED appraisal. Injuries matter but low-factor here (media double-std: Bill (Gronk) vs Mike (RG3)?). One team follows a code of silence, the other likes to chit-chat (Ayanbadejo); one’s a bit of a party-crasher, the other often holds court; and while one is a ‘jack of all trades and master of none,’ the other is multi-talented but with an Achilles heel (PD-29 NE).

Both squads will take Gillette field ‘feeling their oats’ after proud wins and Flacco can sense that brass ring. Ray’s return a big booster but that can wear-thin. This is Baltimore’s best chance at AFC title since ’01 but they’ll face a field general in T. Brady who, unlike 1-yr. Mile High mustang Peyton, is ensconced at Foxborough. Patriots win.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 10, 2013 1:44 pm
 

NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

Why two Conferences in the NFL? The simple answer: two places from which to draw our Super Bowl combatants.

Another might be is that they serve as good starting-point for League schedulers.

But what you may not realize it that the Conference alignment is a quaint reminder of the NFL’s tumultuous past when lucky fans in the 1960s enjoyed something called competition, i.e., AFL v NFL.

Even after the merger was complete (’70) each Conference retained its own distinct philosophy on how the game should be played, a variation that lasted well into the 1980s.

Thanks to football innovator Sid Gilman (SD ‘60-71), the AFL / AFC offered it’s fans a more wide-open game where QBs often aired-it-out and “matriculat(ed)” like nobody’s business, as opposed to the NFL / NFC who would still operate largely by the ‘3 yards & a cloud of dust’ modus operandi until Don “Air” Coryell landed in St. Louis.

I thought the homogenization process was complete but then I took a gander at this weekend’s slate of Divisional match-ups and spotted something I hadn’t seen for years, something that harkens back to those days of choice.

In this round of Division play the AFC displays a plethora of pocket-passers with Schaub & Brady, Flacco & Peyton calling the signals. No fear-flight tendency from these guys. They’ll hang tough, work their progression, read defenses, make mobile to avoid pressure, take hits on late release and avoid downfield pops by handing the ball off to rostered muscle-men who get paid to run up field.

Over in the NFC it’s a different animal where the full spectrum of mercurial quarterback play is offered up for fans to feast upon.

Matt Ryan: stand-tall, pocket passer with forward mobility but the good team-sense to slide when he gets a nice chunk (141 YDS on 34 ATT, 1-2 runs per game (RPG) );

Aaron Rodgers: pocket passer extraordinaire who likes the occasional up-field scamper to satisfy his inner Steve Young and occasionally pays the price (259 on 54, 3-4 RPG);

Russell Wilson: latest in wave of run-QBs but shows willingness to polish pass skills and curtail the fear-flight pattern in favor of air option (489 on 94, 6 RPG / 26TD-10 / 64%);

Colin Kaepernick: typical flash-QB with big arm but rabbits quick & often, seeking to carry the load like the single-wing tailback of leather helmet days (415 on 63, 9 RPG / 10TD-3 / 5RTD).

Hail Caesar!

I love history. And you can’t be a history person without developing a healthy respect for the Roman Republic (400 BC), its successor Empire (27 BC - 476 AD) and their many accomplishments, along with some serious shortcomings (See; Ben-Hur ‘59).

I’m calling for an end to the NFL’s long-running use of Roman numerals in Super Bowl classification. Clunky and dated, at first glance they’re impossible to decipher (#47 in New Orleans (XLVII)), and what little cachet they had in the 70s is long gone. Maybe a favorite of Pete Rozelle, nonetheless, it’s time the Roman numerals fell. 

Divisional Round Picks

Baltimore Ravens (4 / 1-0) @ Denver Broncos (1) (1-12 / CBS 4:30)

It’s QBs on parade come January but this is one tussle where a defender gets equal billing. Ray Lewis brought his emotions and skill (9T) in last week’s return vs Colts. Ravens run sparkled vs IND run-D (28) but Denver stuffs it (3 / 91) and the pass too (3 /199). A big test for Flacco, too bad it’s in Denver against healthy Pey-dirt. Broncos' run-by-Cmte suffices. With ESPN gig set, Ray’s comfy and won‘t return. Thanks for the memories. Denver wins.

Green Bay Packers (3 / 1-0) @ San Francisco 49ers (2) (Fox 8:00)

Since beatdown in Jersey WK12 (10-38), GB’s song of success is building to crescendo. Must take WK1 result with salt (SF-W) though it proves SF can run with the Pack. And run they do with fleet-of-foot K’nick under center. One issue of flash QB is the effect on trad’l run-game: Can Gore establish with Kaep on the move? Packers’ O-line leaky (51) but defense-minded Niners (3) quite polite (38S). GB press + cover scheme will rattle wide-eyed CK into rabbit-mode + mistakes and Packers make NFC Title game.

Seattle Seahawks (5 / 1-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (1) (1-13 / Fox 1:00)

A benefit of having top D (SEA / 4) is you can stop bleeding fast, which not only keeps your offense hopeful but secures momentum the other side may not get back (Skins). It may come in handy versus quick-strike Falcons. Hawks’ so-so QB-press (36S) can ill afford Clemons loss (12S), making Chancellor & Sherman’s jobs that much harder. Keys: guarded Ryan (69% / 28S) with bevy of top targets vs. Lynch (132 @ DC). QB League, Falcons win.

Houston Texans (3 / 1-0) @ New England Patriots (2) (CBS 4:30)

“That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (Nietzsche).” Might tack that one above the doorway in Texans’ locker-room. Whatever helps. Out of the blocks fast (5-0), Houston never fully adapted to loss of LB stalwart Cushing. First a shellacking at home WK6 vs GB (24-42) and then 1-3 closing stretch that began with Texas-sized beating at NE (14-42). Patriots cauterized vs Niners (34-41) then grooved on cupcakes (JAC / MIA). Texans look banged-up until you see Pats' roster: quasi-MASH unit. Fool me once. New England prevails.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 2, 2013 10:18 am
 

NFL '13 Wild Card Picks

The Whole Nine Yards

That’s what stood between Adrian Peterson and sport immortality in Sunday’s contest vs Green Bay (MIN 37-34). Nine yards and Adrian owns the single-season rush-record (ED / 2105) and goes to head of the MVP line, besting Peyton and a closing fast Rodgers. As it stands, Pey-dirt will win his fifth AP award because voters love QBs and his team’s spiffy W-L record (13-3). Aaron may be NFL’s best, surviving a leaky O-line (51S) and gamey run fare (20), but key loses throughout ‘12 will keep AR from winning this MVP race.

As for Adrian coming up short, Eric wants the record for the son. That’s nice…and near 90% hogwash. Packers taking pride in ‘holding’ All-Day to 199 is like saving your favorite golf club from a tornado that just took your house, or like Jake LaMotta chiding Sugar Ray for not putting him down while the raging bull’s eye hangs out of its socket. Sure Jake, whatever.

“Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand ("Luke"),” Mr. Peterson. You da’ man.

Rainy Days & Mondays

Keenest coach cut: Bears’ Lovie Smith. Leaving Jay Cutler in after the wicked, violative hit he suffered vs Houston (Wk10 / Dobbins) showed this soft-spoken man had his priorities skewed.

Golden Rule coach cut: Cards’ Ken Whisenhunt. KW broke #1 rule in QB league when he failed to protect his signal-callers (58S), then had the back-up blues (Skelton / Lindley).

Best coach keeper: Rex Ryan. Unless Jets, who appear ready to move Sanchez, somehow land top-quality QB in off-season, things probably won’t improve much in NYJ come 2013. But Rex provides continuity and keeps things light. Besides, the Tebow fiasco (Tim deserved better) has Jets’ owner Woody Johnson’s finger prints all over it.

Cheese-flavored Karma

While it won’t make-up for getting the “fuzzy end of the lolly-pop (Marilyn)” in Wk-3 vs Seattle (“simultaneous catch”), the football fairies were keeping watch over GB in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Rather than having an automatic review quashed for a challenge-flag faux pas after a 3Q scoring play, a fate which befell Detroit in their T-Day loss to Houston, the Packers profit from the resulting rule change and suffer only an unsportsmanlike penalty. Feel better now, Packerland? Dumb question.

Applying for Membership

It just might be the most exclusive club in America, harder to get into than even Skull & Bones, that secret fraternity W. and John Kerry are reportedly members in. Good god.

Money, fine credit rating, great wardrobe, huge Facebook following, even a call from Tony Soprano won’t cut you a key for this guild. You can only get in the “old-fashioned way, you eaaaaaarn it (Houseman).”

The heading above the door reads, ‘Elite Quarterback Club.’

You needn’t win a Super Bowl to be elite, which explains why Mr. Marino, Tarkenton, Moon and Jim Kelly have all been seen frequenting the premises. Fran practically lives there, still bending anyone’s ear who’ll listen to his rants on Brett Favre going purple.

But then triumphs like taking a title or getting a bronze bust are no golden-ticket for EQC membership, either. Super Bowls are won largely in the trenches and HOFs have become feel-good facilitators, Halls of Good n’ Plenty and no longer repositories of only the great.

So, what is the standard for an elite QB? Who can really say. Plenty try, but suffice to say, when the elite quarterback’s name is spoken, you’ll know it.

Today’s active membership includes Tom Brady, Peyton and Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. McNabb & Matt Hasselbeck came close.

Three quarterbacks in this year’s NFL playoff field have applications pending: FalconsMatt Ryan, TexansMatt Schaub and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (half the field is too wet-behind-the-ears to be applying for EQC just yet). All three have shown enough to get their application fast-tracked if any of ’em happens to grab hold of that brass-ring this playoff run.

Wild Card Picks

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) @ Houston Texans (12-4) (1-5 / NBC 4:30)

Two lackluster acts to end the season (PIT / BAL), even in victory, is poor sign for Cincy who looked to be rising, while Texans are 1-3 last four. The Yawner Bowl? Nyet. Try Balance Bowl as both squads usually play both sides like it matters. TFD, TOP and sack ratios (44+ / 28-) favor Texans, and then there’s Foster, Johnson, Watt & Schaub. Houston wins.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6) @ Green Bay Packers (11-5) (NBC 8:00)

Next to health nothing matters more than momentum entering PS. Minnesota has it with 4-0 closing argument and then the whole record / MVP thing has ‘em energized. If Vikes want cake they must rock Aaron’s world in pressure (Allen), cover scheme and get clean-play from Ponder. GB won’t scare like years past but will control air space over low flying MIN (O31 / D24) and Cobb / Woodson suit up. Vikings have AP & Walsh (K), Packers have AR & Jennings. Green Bay wins.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (1-6 / CBS 1:00)

If you believe in momentum & karma, this one’s clear. Indy takes M&T field the winners in 5 of last 6 while BAL is 1-4. That’s the energy. The bad karma, that’s John Harbaugh sitting starters in finale vs Bengals. Two schools: one likes the risk-reduction & rest (JH & McCarthy), the other likes the rhythm, practice and fans. Flacco has the experience but Luck is riding high, especially now that his alma mater (Stanford) has won the amateur college FBS D1 title, edging out Northwestern. Colts win.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) @ Washington Redskins (10-6) (Fox 4:30)

Next week AFC stars come out, this weekend the NFC has showcase match-ups with this one big on curiosity-factor. Misters Griffin & Wilson have the kids all in a tizzy with late season surges. Both QBs distribute well while Russ a bit less likely to rabbit, giving SEA more options. Stars Morris & Lynch cancel each other out, both teams field top tackle-corps but Hawks get edge in pass-D (30 vs 6) and crafty Carroll. Seattle plays into Rd-2.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: December 20, 2012 12:18 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-16

Pey-Dirt vs. All-Day

And then there were two.

With two weeks left in the NFL's 2012 regular season, the MVP race has come down to two men: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and Minnesota running-back Adrian Peterson.

It’s been a two man race ever since Matt Ryan had his INT-fest back in Week 11 (5) and Aaron Rodgers got the smack-down at MetLife (NJ). Popularity contests can be cruel.

Peyton: G 14 / YDS 4016 / PCT 67.9 / TD 31 / INT 10 / W-L 11-3
Adrian: G 14 / YDS 1812 / AVG 6.3 / TD 11 / FUM 4 / REC 38 / W-L 8-6

While both men have put up tremendous numbers and paced their clubs to winning records (with his performance last Sunday (STL) AP’s given himself a better-than-fair chance of besting Eric Dickerson’s single season rush-mark of 2105 (‘84)), the fact both are experiencing recoveries that are nothing short of miraculous (neck / knee) weighs heavily on why both candidacies have an aura of greatness.

Today, the scale tips in favor of Peyton. Two reasons why, neither of which has anything to do with his race, though ESPN’s “First Take” producers & talking-heads will do their damndest to make you believe otherwise.

First off, Peyton’s turned his team into arguably the NFL‘s topper and a lock for the post-season, whereas, the Vikes are making but a brief stop-over in Contention City and will likely finish outta’ the money.

Second, the Broncos’ QB is…well, a QB. NFL’s a quarterback league and voters seem to feel if they don’t cast for a signal-caller they haven’t done their job. Which also explains why so few defenders have garnered past awards (Page ‘71 / Taylor ‘86) and why AP’s tackling titan teammate Chad Greenway (OLB / 140T / 3S) will not be considered. An uninspired, narrow-minded outlook to be certain, but the prevailing one, nonetheless.

Things change fast in this League. New England’s Tom Brady was in the mix until the 49ers made his team look like the old Boston Patriots in last Sunday’s contest (L41-34), at least for one half and long enough to stave-off another Brady comeback-for-the-ages.

If Vikings win their final two and Peterson sets the new mark, the award is his. Anything less and Manning will, at the very least, take home one of the NFL’s two most coveted trophies to put on his mantle come next Lombardi, I mean, February.

MVP (Most Valuable Pigeon)

Need a chuckle? Check out YouTube for the bird that came to dinner and wouldn’t leave. For eight minutes a pigeon calmly fed on the Oakland Coliseum carpet, strutting his stuff smack dab in the middle of Chiefs & Raiders play last Sunday (“Lunatic” / Brinson / CBS / 12-18). No nut-job, the little guy‘s an individualist. Funniest part is players & referees (I still can’t believe GB got y’all screaming for the ‘regulars’) kept side-stepping the bird like he (or she) was a family pet. The impact of PETA, both good and bad.

Back-up to the Future

He’s the wave of the future, as certain to impact the NFL scene as that Nike hatchet-man (or woman) who’s already made plans to chop-up your team’s beloved logo & uniform.

He’s today’s back-up quarterback that’s certain to see action once the fleet-of-foot starter runs his way into his next in a long-line of sidelining-injuries he’s sure to suffer.

Having a capable 2nd-stringer come off the bench and take charge has always been more luxury than game plan. But with more & more owners willing to bank their team’s future on a running-QB, having a rough & ready 2nd-stringer is now, more than ever, an essential component, nearly as vital as the flashy but fragile 1st-stringer he understudies.

Briefly subbing for hobbled rookie RG3 in a WK15 win, fellow fledgling Kirk Cousins (R4-102) gave us a glimpse into the future. If ESPN insider Adam Schefter is correct (12/17), Mike Shanahan and crew had their sights firmly set on KC in last April’s draft with belief he’d likely be much more than a clip-board holder. Nice call, Mike.

Tip o’ the Cap, Mr. Sanchez

It took a bit longer than expected but the Jets’ fading-fast QB Mark Sanchez finally got the hook. Coach Rex Ryan announced this week his 2nd-year man from Alabama, Greg McElroy, is the Jets starter versus San Diego. Put a talented but non-elite, 4th-year QB, on a team with diminishing capacity, playing in NYC, fending off Tebow questions in August, with a new OC whose contribution is the ‘mild-cat’ offense and head coach who wants to please everyone, in a business that runs on high-emotion and you get this result.

And if you trust the NY Daily News this also gets you Mike Vick. Only another Super Bowl win could make Giants’ fans happier.

Kudos to Ryan for sticking by Mark this long, but when it turns it turns. With all the QB needs around the NFL and a resume that includes two AFC title-games, Sanchez should get good opportunities if shopped. Remember Mark, ’tis the season to be grateful.

Cherry Picks Week 16

Minnesota Vikings (8-6) @ Houston Texans (12-2) (12-23 / Fox 1:00)

Texans are in and Vikings have pretender written all over ‘em. So why tune in? Nice playoff warm-up for balanced Houston club and test of top-ranked run-D (5 / 93) with Peterson charging hard for biggest record in the game. Vikes get unbalanced (32P) as Frazier fails to find tutor for Ponder and plan-ahead for yearly loss of oft-injured Harvin. With help from determined O-line, Adrian gets 100+ but Texans two-step to victory.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) (CBS 1:00)

Had they nailed Dallas game, Cincy would be big. As it stands they’re AFCN top-dog, momentum-wise, heading to final two. Ben brews bad karma in whine-fest (Haley) post-Dallas loss and better-balanced Bengals figure to nail Pitt coffin shut. But like NYG, Steelers bite back if cornered and Baby Ben does penance, makes good and Pittsburgh wins.

New York Giants (8-6) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-5) (Fox 4:25)

These guys looking for a way back onto playoff-highway. NYG O-line still stout (16S) but 1st-dwn & TOP going wrong direction, while Eli (3G / 5TD-4) must take a page outta, yes, Romo’s book that’s getting good (3G / 6-1). Ravens TOP worse while Joe losing his grip (3G / 6-3-3) when not on his back (34). Baltimore D dinged with McClain out (spine) and Pollard / Ellerbe hurting as target Smith (7TD) C’ussd. Giants more needy per PS but I don’t see BAL losing 4 straight. Good time to be home, Ravens (gulp) win.

San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (8-6) (NBC 8:20)

Still count me in the Alex Smith camp but gotta’ give Kaep & Jim credit. No matter how you slice it, NE win was big. And if not for a FG miss at STL the kid’s 5-0. In Seattle, 49ers face a kindred-spirit (WK7 SF13-6). CK gets passing edge (66% / 1.3 INT%) over running Wilson, but pay-back, nice D-rush (35S), San Fran sieve (OL-39S), home crowd and necessity give Seahawks winning edge.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: December 6, 2012 11:04 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-14

Remains of the Season

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna’ get (F. Gump)”

Winston Groom’s simple sage could’ve been talking about NFL 2012. Expect the unexpected. That’s the title on this season’s marquee.

Given that state, gauging the remaining match-ups might seem a pointless endeavor, as in, the winners are anybody’s guess. But as unpredictable as 2012 has been I’d still thrill to find the likes of Eagles & Jaguars (as opposed to Patriots & Packers) on my team’s 4-game slate.

In ranking the remainder I exclude sub-.500 clubs, though Seattle slipped into the PS at 7-9 in 2010 (a format foible the NFL has ignored) and proceeded to bump the defending champion Saints. Get that ticket punched and anything can happen.

Favorable: Broncos, Seahawks, Steelers, Redskins, Buccaneers, Bengals 
Sweet & Sour: Saints, Texans, Colts, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Dolphins, Cowboys, Giants
Yikes: Lions, Vikings, Ravens, Falcons, Bears

And if you’re a playoff aspirant, don’t forget what the butler and the pretty housekeeper taught us in that British flick from a few years back (Remains of the Day): when opportunity knocks, you better answer ‘cause it may not knock again.

Playoff Teams You Wanta’ See

Denver Broncos: Ridin’ a mile high again, but this time around with a healthy Peyton Manning.

Patriots vs Giants III?: Reincarnation of the 70s Cowboys / Steelers Super rivalry.

Seattle Seahawks: Rookies Wagner (MLB) & Wilson (QB) display abilities usually found only in seasoned pros, making themselves key cogs in the Hawks’ drive to contend.

Washington Redskins: Like Michael, Tim & Cam, Rob Griffin disdains pocket-presence (642 yds) but very few players today (healthy Percy Harvin or pre-‘12 Devin Hester) electrify the field quite like DC’s fledgling QB-RB.

Indianapolis Colts: Not exactly Tebowmania but there’s an effort afoot in Indy that goes beyond Xs & Os, compelling this team to play with gusto and pull rabbits outta’ the hat.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1st-yr. guru Gregg Schiano got off on the wrong foot in play-calling a sucker-punch on one of NFL’s class-acts (Eli) but has clearly nudged TB into relevancy.

Atlanta Falcons: The egg & bottle-tossing types excluded, the rest of Atlanta, players & coaches of this long frustrated organization deserve a shot at the title and now have a team capable of taking good aim. Throwback helmets a nice touch.

Minnesota Vikings: These guys never really did have it in 2012 but it’d be a holiday treat just to watch Adrian Peterson & Chad Greenway (OLB) ply their trades in the PS.

Cherry Picks Week 14

Baltimore Ravens (9-3) @ Washington Redskins (6-6) (12-9 / CBS 1:00)

Beltway battle in new hot-bed of sporting fare (Orioles / Nats). Ravens falter vs Ben-less Pitt and media freaks. D-cline is real in crab-cake country but it’s lackluster offense that vexes: poor 1st-dwn ratio & TOP. No time for doubters as Flacco's confidence is key. DC seeks mandate after big home win vs NYG but they’d met before.  Washington needs it, but Baltimore wants it more (See; slate) and decipher RG3 riddle. This ain’t college. Ravens win.

Chicago Bears (8-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (6-6) (Fox 1:00)

Wk-12 meet exposed Vikes as pretenders (10-28), then winner proves toothless vs Seattle (L17-23). NFC North looking sad. Urlacher exit (ham) may be bad omen, while G3-LT unplugs electric Harvin. Bears’ Forte only fair last four (2.9) but Cutler solid and protected in comeback (2TD / 1S). Ponder regressing w/out top-target Percy (62) while Peterson and defense carry the load. Though former Bear knows D, Coach Frazier's scoring scheme punchless but Allen & purple people put pressure (29S) and Vikings forge a win.

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) (Fox 1:00)

Nobody’s topic of conversation, Boys 3-1 last four. Ugly losses (SEA / CHI) were in early campaign. Tony proves critics right when forcing the issue (16-15) but, excepting Wk-13, gets little help in under-used run-game. Bengals are streakers and now run with glee (4-0). Balance on both ends impresses and Dalton’s ratio (24-13) shows matriculatory skill. Should be a dandy as both clubs rising and motivated to show PS-mettle but Bengals more polished and press (39S) the win at home.

Houston Texans (11-1) @ New England Patriots (9-3) (12-10 / ESPN 8:30)

Favorites enter marquee match-up on win-a-thons (6), both losing last in Wk-6 (GB / SEA). But quality trumps quantity. Who ya’ beat matters and these guys have feasted on nolo-contenders & pretenders. Now test time and both bucking for dean’s list with fine team-ranks but fair (HOU) to poor (NE-29) pass-D. Tom gets edge in stats & résumé but Matt’s shown 4Q-mettle in '12. Both run (Arian / Steve), gun, guard (15 / 19S) and Texans bring it (36S). Pats' C. Jones (6S) ankled but Mayo (118T) covers and New England wins nigh pick‘em.

Note: Life can turn on a dime. Those directly affected by tragedy try to find a grounding, the rest of us move on because life moves on. The speed & manner by which that happens in sport has been fodder for debate since ‘63 (JFK) and was no different this weekend. Sympathy goes out to family & friends of victim Kas Perkins and murderer-suicide Jovan Belcher in Kansas City on Saturday, and then also to those near to basketball coach Rick Majerus who died in Los Angeles later that same day after losing his battle with heart disease.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 2, 2012 12:20 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-9

Last-Chance Grill & Gas

It’s the half-way marker on our long & winding road to Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans, so make a pit-stop, get your goodies, hop back in and “fasten your seat-belts (‘cause) it’s going to be a bumpy (ride) (B. Davis)” the rest of NFL 2012.

Eight weeks back the road was dark, sights unseen and too early to know what lay ahead along interstate NFL. Now we’ve seen the line-ups, gandered at the game-plans and have a pretty fair idea which teams got ‘zots under the hood’ and which are, how should I put it, in need of some serious lift-time.

National Cherry Coupés

1) New York Giants
1) Green Bay Packers
3) San Francisco 49ers

Where are the Falcons and Bears? When it comes to rules of the real roadway, I always use my turn-signal (me and about eight other people on the North American continent), but in sport analysis, rules be damned.

There seems an un-written rule that W-L records rule the ranking. But would you really pick Atlanta or Chicago to topple any of the three listed above? That’s right. At home, maybe the Birds & Bruins prevail, but on the road, not bloody likely.

Dates to circle on the calendar: Falcons, 11-11 & 11-29 (Saints), the Bears, 12-16 (Pack). These are the ‘mettle-games’ for both squads. Until they can knock-off their long-time nemeses, Atlanta & Chicago are just post-season pretenders. But if they do, watch out.

American Cherry Coupés

1) New England Patriots
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
3) Denver Broncos

Texans proved playoff-worthy last January but play in mediocre South, took a drubbing from GB (24-42), get back up at home vs. leaderless Ravens, beat an out-of-sync Denver WK3 and, like Baltimore (Lewis), will need more time to fill big shoes (Cushing).

College Notes

State of flux: that’s college football in the new millennium. But traditionalism still runs deep. As long as there’s a human element in the ranking, a program like Chip Kelly’s (Oregon) with its run-up-the-score 80s mentality (70-14 v. CO) and total deference to marketers (Nike), will always get passed-over by some voters when they're given any viable choice. 

Cherry Picks Week 9

Miami Dolphins (4-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (4-3) (11-4 / 1:00 CBS)

Land of Opportunity Bowl. Lesson #1: Wk-1 results (MIA 10-30 HOU / IND 21-41 CHI) mean about as much as a Fox News political panel. No mucho. Makes you wanta’ duct-tape alarmists in Lakers-land. But here they be, ‘Phins & Colts, lookin’ like players. October: Colts 3-1 (GB); Miami 3-0 (NYJ). Kind of an ‘immovable object vs irresistible force’ thing, in reverse, or something: Colts pass (9), stop pass (7), Dolphins can’t (27); Miami runs (11), stops runs (3), Indy can’t (27). QBs even-Steven. Colts win at Lucas Oil.

Chicago Bears (6-1) @ Tennessee Titans (3-5) (1:00 Fox)

It’s the Halas way: stout D, ground-grind. But ‘85 Bears don’t shine w/out McMahon. As ’12 defense is older than Ryan’s and run-game (Forte-Bush) not quite Payton-Suehy, Jay needs better distribution (BM (40%)), TD-ratio and line help (25-S). Veteran Hasselbeck spreads the ball while Johnson’s hitting stride at right time. Playing well of late (2-1), top tackle-corps of Ayers, Griffin & Babineaux keep it close. Home Titans take upset win.

Minnesota Vikings (5-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (4-4) (4:05 Fox)

No “Clash of the Titans” (2010 movie: I vote ‘81 Burgess-Bubo ticket), both teams are year off, built on defense (M-11 / S-5), serious run-game (7 (AD) / 8 (Lynch)), manager QBs and look for bounce after stumble of late (1-2). Young QBs Ponder & Wilson impress with suitable-stats, pocket progress and press-room maturity usually found in vets. Home turf helps Hawks after 2 tough road losses, while Vikes’ engine knocks (TB). Seahawks win.

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) @ New York Giants (6-2) (4:25 CBS)

Certified C.O.T, 4 of last 7 Super Bowl winners. No-Respect Bowl: Ben & Eli keep hoisting the hardware and all talk is about Tom, Tim, Peyton & RG3. Cliff-Notes: Steelers got balance (10-O / 2-D), G-men keep finding a way (4-O / 24-D). Quality wins, NYG (2): @ DAL and SF; Pitt (1) vs. NYJ (.5) and PHI (.5). Pitt’s well of RBs running dry (Dwyer / quad) but Giant Bradshaw hobbled too. Pass-proficiency will dictate as both QBs distribute like venders. Ben’s groovin’ (67 Comp% / 14-3 ratio) while Eli’s protected (6-S / 2300 yds). Pass Ds: Pitt’s stingy (1) but key cog Clark Q’able and Giants soft (26). Steelers win.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (7-0) (8:20 NBC)

Falcons are funny. Away they win convincingly (4), at home they eke out Ws vs. early-Broncos, Carolina & Oakland. Too good to lay an egg Sunday, Birds face Dallas team that’s talented and angry (BAL / NYG). Cowboy D works (4 / 3P), 1st-down ratio nice and pass-game clicks under Tony (3) who’s pressing (9-13 ratio). Bank on injury-news (Bryant-Murray-Jones) and you’ll suffer, so I won’t. Like NYG tussle, should be aerial-act as Falcons’ run-show (24) no bigger hit than Boys. Atlanta falls, Cowboys lasso a W.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com