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Tag:Houston Texans
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 16, 2012 1:19 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-11

Protocol in Tackling

The storylines are all too familiar in this week’s NFL: concussions, Big Ben injury updates, Giants mid-season funk, dysfunction in Jetsland, Tebow talk, etcetera.

And when the topic is concussions, “protocol” is the buzz word that swarms the hive. Protocol, in health assessment, is a good thing. It means people are taking notice and then steps to try to prevent, or at least lessen a dangerous state.

Here’s another word to put in your cabeza when the talk is concussions: cheap-shot.

Cheap-shot practitioners have been around since the days of leather-helmets. But it was the Raiders Jack “Assassin” Tatum who popularized the dirty hit in the 70s (SB11 / White) and began the gradual amelioration of their negative perception by fans and players alike.

Some concusses are unavoidable, part of the inherent danger of the game. Cases in point: Mike Vick, Ryan Clark and Cliff Avril all concussed on routine plays in Wk-10. Others are of the cheap-shot variety, a product of choice, like the too-wicked hit laid on Bears’ QB Jay Cutler by Houston Texans’ linebacker and Tatum disciple Tim Dobbins in Sunday night‘s wet clash.

Dobbins sighted his victim and then, rather than lower his shoulder, aim at Cutler’s mid-region and knock the wind out of him, he aims high, leads with helmet and after laying Jay out, raises his hands in a weak-attempt to avoid criticism he knows is due. It’s a too-dangerous tactic too many defenders refuse to lose. Tim was flagged (UR) (fined 30T) and Cutler pulled himself up off the ground and stayed in until tossing an INT.

Funny how baseball players charge the field at the drop of a hat to defend a teammate’s honor, while footballers stand around their fallen brother, acting the models of good behavior. The League does what it can by way of instruction, fines & suspensions, but cheap-shots won’t wane until players take matters into their own hands and police the hit-parade. I’m not holding my breath.

Coaches, on the other hand, they can find shelter behind protocol.

Bears Coach Lovie Smith speaking after Texans game: “Symptoms (concussion) weren’t displayed right away (by Jay)…There’s a protocol we go through when a player has a concussion.” That’s cute, Lovie. Any lay-person who saw the too-heavy hit on Jay and the prone state it put him in, could easily discern that the QB was a serious candidate for a medical determination of concussion. But rather than take a pro-active approach by taking Jay out of the game and harm’s way, Smith (like others) bank on a standard that buys time and waits first for “symptoms” to manifest.

Because the League’s ham-strung (NFLPA / captured media), because players won’t institute their own tackling protocol, coaches, on-field and in the booth, become the last line of defense on concussion matters. If Lovie Smith can’t meet this reasonable duty, Halas Hall best find someone who can.

Veterans Day

A belated thank you to all military veterans, past and present, in air, land & sea, American and allied. I’d like to think my enjoyment of combat movies stems in part from my appreciation for the risks and sacrifices service people make. A favorite is Darryl Zanuck’s 1962 B&W, star-studded film “The Longest Day,” a multi-national work that chronicles D-Day, the Allied landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Top notch.

Cherry Picks Week 11

Green Bay Packers (6-3) @ Detroit Lions (4-5) (11-18 / Fox 1:00)

Best of Wk-11’s intriguing field general match-ups. Seems like oft-injured Stafford’s never made it this far into a season. Stats aren’t showy but Matt, along with capable D, keeps Lions viable, while low-priority run-game withers. Pack feels dangerous coming off bye and 4-gm win-streak, but like Lions, GB run-show under-whelms (2TD). Rodgers is sublime (25-5), just spare us the pantomime, okay Aaron? Foot facts: Vet Lions’ K’er Hanson PROB (L), GB P’er Masthay super IN-20 (24). Edge to hometown Lions.

New York Jets (3-6) @ St. Louis Rams (3-5-1) (CBS 1:00)

Both QBs having sub-par years and looking for break-out game. Bradford’s got the edge in YDS, COMP%, TD-ratio, AVG, Sanchez should get a medal for bearing the pressure. Mark’s decision-making must improve and up-tick run-game might help his focus. Side generals spice it up, Fisher gets time to build, Ryan feeling the heat. With injuries rising and effort being questioned, emotions running high and Gang green wins one for Rex.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) @ Carolina Panthers (2-7) (Fox 1:00)

This one’s got potential for fireworks. Bucs surging of late (4-1) while 4 of Cats last 5 losses (bar DEN) average by < 3 pts. Skills are there but Cam must embrace the pain, ride out storm and feast on TB pass-D (32). Carolina team-ranks decent (Kuechly 87T) but Rivera’s wrong allowing QB as top runner. Freeman solid (18-5) and RB Martin (862-7) making waves, though SD slowed the surge (68). WTW: Cat pressure (25-S) on guarded Josh (13-S) and Newton ability to sit-tite & spread the pass . Panthers get a W.

New Orleans Saints (4-5) @ Oakland Raiders (3-6) (Fox 4:05)

A return of all-purpose Sproles (PROB) adds dimension to Brees offense, though Ivory & Ingram picked-it-up vs Falcons. Gotta’ like Palmer’s production (15-9 / 2723 / 61%) with pedestrian run-game. Only thing worse than NO’s run-D (30) is their pass-D (31) so CP should work the air-lanes. But key Q’ables (Branch / H-Bey / Goodson / McFad’n / Myers / Janikowski / Seymour) make much needed home win that much harder. Saints keep marching & win.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) @ Denver Broncos (6-3) (CBS 4:25)

“Ac-cen-tuate the positive.“ That’s Norv Turner’s motto this week in prep for Denver re-match. First half of Wk-6 loss (35-24) was Chargers’ heaven, going up big. Whatever worked that half to stop the lordly one (Peyton), do it again. Fox does the same, using 2nd half battle plan to befuddle the mystery man (Rivers). David’s still got it (2203 / 7.3 / 68%) but presses at times (15-12). Risky going against Manning, McGahee & Woodyard at home but SD has balance, knows Denver and like Jets, are motivated. Upset Alert: Chargers win.

Indianapolis Colts (6-3) @ New England Patriots (6-3) (CBS 4:25)

If you're an advertiser, this is the time-slot you want. Luck v Brady is marketing gold. Both teams sizzle, winning 5 of 6, though most weren’t mettle-games. Andy looks the young pro most expected (58% / 2631 / 7.3) with growing pains (10-9), while Tom is the un-sung MVP aspirant (65% / 18-3 / 2645 / 7.4) beaming over run-game (Ridley / Bolden) and improved run-D (9). NE injuries mount but Belichick battle-plan red-lights Colts’ joy-ride in Foxsborough. Patriots win.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 9, 2012 3:48 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-10

All Incredible

His peers affectionately refer to him as “All Day.“ Watch Adrian Peterson’s tireless play on a football field and you’ll know why.

It was the day before Christmas last year when Peterson suffered what will often be a career-ending knee injury, sustaining ligament tears (ACL) and sending shockwaves throughout the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  But low & behold, AP healed-up and how!

After just nine games into NFL 2012, Peterson has nearly surpassed last year’s 12 game total (957 / 970) and is on pace to break his single-season high of 1760 yards set in his sophomore campaign (‘08) (Pro-football-reference.com).

Though his steady accumulation of big yardage totals, along with the prized single-game rushing mark (296 / SD / ‘07), have him on track for a bronze bust in Canton, it’s his electrifying run-style that’s always kept this writer in awe: the bruising power of a Larry Csonka coupled with open-field moves of the “Kansas Comet” Gale Sayers.

Ever since Sid Gillman (AFL) and Don Coryell (NFL) sold American football fans on the wonders of the forward-pass, non-QBs have had a devil of time trying to get voters to take them seriously for MVP accolades (20 of 55).

Today it’s a QB-League and everyone seems to like it that way. But not since the days of Earl Campbell has an running back bowled over defenders like Peterson, his signature scamper coming in ‘09 against the Cleveland Browns where he tossed aside would-be tacklers like so many rag-dolls.

The lines are getting long in early MVP voting and, as expected, exit polls show quarterbacks leading the count with Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and fellow come-backer Peyton Manning holding sway over voter opinion. Their mid-season records are persuasive. But if Adrian stays healthy, his miraculous 2012 story is just the stuff MVP bestowments should be made of.

Tim Tebow: The Anti-Story

The votes were cast, tabulated, some given the ol’ Diebold Switch-a-Roo and the results reported. Scott Pelley, capable anchor of CBS’ 2012 election coverage gets credited with the night’s best and worst metaphors. The best: “donnybrook,” and the worst, “carpet bombing,” used by Pelley to describe the flood of campaign ads reigned down upon Connecticut by unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon. Needn’t read everything the kids put in front ya,’ Scottie.

Tim Tebow gets this writer’s vote as the biggest anti-story for first half of NFL 2012. Though he works in America’s media mecca, last season’s hottest commodity has been about as big a news-item as a Wyoming Presidential tally. And like Mitt, both are second-guessing their campaign strategies, wondering what might’ve been (Jaguars).

But there’s still time for Timbo to leave his mark on the New York scene. It likely won’t come at QB (even if he gets the nod) or in a pointless wildcat deployment. That leaves Tim’s original high school slot, tight-end.

Jets have a bevy of T-ends in Cumberland, Keller and Rueland, but Tim’s got ball-hands, good speed, a nose for the end-zone and doesn’t just take a hit, he likes it. And as Tim loves the spotlight (and boss Woody loves the PR), he should know tight-end is a position not without its share of cachet (Gronk / Gonzalez / Witten). There’s your spark, Rex.

Quote of the Week

Rex Ryan on being named (by 35 players) “most over-rated coach in the NFL” in a Sporting News poll, the TMZ of sport media. “My first thought was I looked and saw who was second. Hey, I finally beat Belichick. I got him. I knew it would take time, but I finally got him (CBS / 11-7 / Jets’).”  A coach with a sense of humor.  Kudos, Mr. Ryan. 

Cherry Picks Week 10

Detroit Lions (4-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (5-4) (11-11 / Fox 1:00)

One of six intra-division battles on the slate, this pits two blue-state rivals, one feeling their oats, the other scuffling. Some terrific purple play (Greenway / Winfield / Brinkley / Walsh / AD) off-set by key downers (Ponder / Allen). Injuries come with the territory but gimpy catalyst Harvin (ankle) is nonpareil. Lions’ Suh not making news (+), Stafford’s healthy, Detroit run-game netting TDs (10) and nice 1st-down ratio. Teams going opposite directions and a Vikings’ loss will fuel Frazier debate. Lions avenge WK4 loss in triumph.

San Diego Chargers (4-4) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) (CBS 1:00)

San Diego’s a swing-team. Start 3-1, then drop three before topping KC in WK9. Big-arm Rivers slowly finding rhythm while run-trio contributes (4.5 AVG). Bucs feelin’ the love after two road wins (MIN / OAK). Timely D (13 INT), surging Martin (5 TDs WK8-9), stout O-line (12-S) and patient Freeman (16-5 ratio) key the rise. No fan of Schiano’s numbskull kneel-down no-no (WK2 @ NYG), but admit Greg’s got TB believing. WTW: SD run-D (4) v. Martin; TB pressure v. Rivers. Projected winner: Buccaneers.

Atlanta Falcons (8-0) @ New Orleans Saints (3-5) (Fox 1:00)

First of three mettle-games for ATL (NO 11-29 / NYG 12-16), more vital than running the table, Mr. White. Rivalry ranks with NFL best: Falcons 1st SB (‘99), Saints hoist it in ‘10. As such, road to respectability goes through Louisiana. Given the troubles in New Orleans and Dallas, this would seem Falcons' year to assume Southern throne. Write-off Saints first 3-Ls and start with tough loss @ GB, making ‘em 3-2. New Orleans' D-rank is rank (R31 / P28), but tackle corps sticks (Harper / Jenkins / Lofton), while Atlanta defense is not up to typical standard (R23 / P13). Ryan v. Brees will be an air-show.  Home Saints win.

Houston Texans (7-1) @ Chicago Bears (7-1) (NBC 8:20)

GOTW. But a Clash of Titans? “Maybe no (Furio),” as GB spanked both. QB Schaub is reliable (12-4 ratio) and RB Foster compliments. Both signal-callers face sack-attack (25 / 25) as Texans protect (10) while Bears O-line a sieve (28), hurting Cutler’s head and numbers (12-8). Forte needs more carries (5.0), Hester TDs (1) and Marshall Plan needs to spread the wealth (BM 59 REC / next 20 & 16). Though aches & pains are piling-up on Houston roster, they’ve got balance like 70s Olga Korbut. Texans win on the road.

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
Posted on: October 18, 2012 7:01 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-7

Welcome to the Surge

A pendulum swinging back n’ forth. One team starts out like gang-busters, jumping to a huge, seemingly insurmountable lead, then, just when you’re about to stick a fork in ‘em the other guys start surging back and there's still half a‘ quarter left on the clock! Amazing…or maybe not.

What happened in last Monday night’s Broncos / Chargers game would’ve been a story for the ages ten years ago, but today, it’s just another wild weekend in the NFL. I’m not keeping records but the power-surge (front & back) seems as commonplace in the National as a failed PED test and a Drew Brees rant. And I’ll be damned if I can explain why.

Some clues: 1) turnovers will often trigger the rise & fall; 2) sticky-gloves and the unbelievable grabs they enable can feed the rush, and 3) as the rally builds, the team-in-disarray loses all its scoring punch until the final minutes when they sometimes tie it up and then win in OT.

Chargers, don't despair, you‘re in good company and it's growing.

‘Strange But True’ Department

He’s been one of the most fined defensive players in the NFL during his 10-year tenure, most levied for dangerous helmet hits. And when penalties are announced, rather than show the slightest concern for long-term, player-safety he’s used the occasion to rag on the League in a dismissive joviality.

The man’s name is James Harrison (Steelers) and he’s now joined the ranks of safety advocates, his own safety, to be exact. James spoke to the issues of concussions & helmets Tuesday (“After double-digit” / CBS / 10-16), sounding more like a spokesman for Unequal Technologies, developer of a new pad product line (CRT) Harrison is using and which UT hopes the NFL will soon incorporate into all its helmets. My comment: You’ve got a lot of nerve, James, a lot of nerve.

Cherry Picks Wk-7

Seattle Seahawks (4-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-2) (10-18 / NFLN / 8:20)

If I gambled and owned a farm I'd bet the homestead on this one. Your typical ‘exposed pretender’ (Seattle) and ‘rebound’ (49ers) game. Seahawks’ strengths: 1) when rookie QB Wilson hangs tight and fights urge to rabbit (5 / NE), he distributes well and the offense is capable; 2) Carroll built a defense along 49ers’ lines with maybe best inside tackle-corps in NFC (Chancellor / Wright / Wagner). But 49ers are no fluke, their top D will pressure the kid and profit in the secondary. 49ers bounce back and win.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3) @ Carolina Panthers (1-4) (10-20 / Fox / 1:00)

As usual in the Romo era, Boys are best losing team in football (6-O / 2-D). As both are eager for victory (rough stretch awaits Dallas (NYG / ATL / PHI) and frustrated Cats losing close contests), this is sleeper GOTW. A Dallas loss and Jerry starts ‘wheels in motion’ while Camster & Co. coming up short puts Rivera on warm-seat. Cowboys win.

Baltimore Ravens (5-1) @ Houston Texans (5-1) (CBS / 1:00)

Test game for both, coping without centerpiece players: Ravens’ Ray Lewis and Texans’ Brian Cushing. Near carbon-copies, both squads are balanced on both sides of ball, no flash and should adjust well enough. Besides WK1 (CIN), Ravens squeak by, but too much squeak and wheels fall off. Like Niners (NYG), Texans got shamed last week (GB) and are rip-roaring for bounce-back. Texans win.

New York Jets (3-3) @ New England Patriots (3-3) (CBS / 4:25)

It’s nice work if you can get it, playing in the AFC East. And for a team coming off the Super Bowl, Patriots' schedule looks a little tame (Jets too). They’ll take it. If Dallas is best losing-team, Pats are best .500-team with all three Ls coming as nail-bitters. Jets should feel good about trouncing a team they’re suppose to trounce (IND), that doesn’t mean they are good, yet. Patriots win.

Detroit Lions (2-3) @ Chicago Bears (4-1) (10-21 / ESPN / 8:30)

Black & Blue bout. Lions 2nd-best struggler (2-O / 9-D), all loses coming in close ones. Bit more balance in Detroit than Chicago (20-O / 3-D), both have run games as QBs work to find rhythm with as many picks as TD tosses (tipped-pass INTs gotta go, NFL statisticians). Road-wins are sweet (CHI 2-1), but Bears’ one loss was against the one team they must dominate to show growth and hoist the hardware: GB. Lions ride Philly high (26-23) with heavy hearts (Alex Karras) and pull off upset in Windy City.

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