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Tag:NFL 2012-13
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 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: December 26, 2012 12:15 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-17

Teaching Collegians How

It’s called ‘piling-on.’ Not that celebratory heap o’ fun in the end-zone that befalls the poor guy who’s just scored a TD. No, I’m talking about a coaching strategy where, when having your opponent beat late in the contest, rather than letting up on the gas, choosing instead to continue the onslaught because “winning isn’t everything, it’s (just one small part of a massive ego trip).”

Defenders of the practice play dumb to the fact they’d be first in line at the complaint department if their guys got salted. And besides, they say, defenders are suppose to defend, it’s why they get paid. True enough, but when your offense is clueless even a top-D gets gassed by Q4 and that’s when the ‘good judgment’ is suppose to kick in.

Packers were up on Tennessee 34-0 entering the 4th last Sunday at Lambeau Field and proceed to tack-on three more 7s. Looks bad, right?  A closer examination shows Mike McCarthy made the right calls. True, Titans were no threat up to then (0) and sitting Rodgers would’ve made sense, but coaches want to watch being too respectful for that’s when disaster strikes. Then GB’s final TDs were hard to avoid, coming off a nice return (Ross) and COP (@ TN 32).

Back in Wk-11 New England put up 59 vs. the Colts (24) but Indy’s offense proved capable into the 4th quarter, making the Patriots point pile-up pragmatic & defensible.

Some accused Seattle’s Pete Carroll of ‘running-it-up’ in recent wins over ARI (58-0) & BUF (50-17), but Hawks’ minimal 4Q scoring doesn’t support the claim.

The NFL and its fans take pride in distinguishing their sport from the college variety where loyalties shift to wherever the money blows and running up the score to boost poll position is SOP for most coaching regimes. On campus, putting up 70 on a badly beaten foe is the prevailing scum-line for many a BCS aspirant. Higher education? Sure, whatever.

So the next time you feel like verbally bashing Roger Goodell & friends, think again and be glad you follow a sport that still encourages on-field sportmanship.

Quote of the Week

Deion Sanders on NFL Network Sunday night after watching a 4th quarter Tony Romo TD pass against the Saints: “Can anybody cover?” Not since you & yours retired, Sir.

Charles in Charge

Good news hearing Colts’ Head Coach Chuck Pagano was given the okay last week by medical care-givers to resume his NFL duties after receiving treatment for leukemia. ‘If it works don’t fix it’ is usually sound advice but in this case, successful back-up coach Bruce Arians should be more than happy to hand-back the reigns to the team’s spiritual leader and get “Charles (back) in Charge.”

Pink Eye

They are sacred cows in America: the Chiefs of Staff, higher education, the business of medicine, NASA, religious entities and many not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charities. Always aim above the belt when challenging these heavyweights.

It’s a lonely, frightening feeling that grips one tightly when suffering a serious health malady. So the NFL’s effort to bring awareness to breast cancer would seem beyond reproach. That is until you sift through all that pink game-wear put up for sale and get to the bottom-line.

The Huffington Post and Business Insider report that just 5% of sale-proceeds reaches American Cancer Society coffers of which just over two-thirds of their donations will go to research and patients services (70.8%) (“Breast Cancer” / Huffingtonpost.com / 10-12).

Unless the pink parade is designed largely to indoctrinate female consumers into buying the NFL product under the guise of empathy and better health, this well-intended campaign cannot be considered a success.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for NFL brass. Retire & replace in-game pink-wear and its cost of operations with an off-field advertising campaign that brings awareness to all forms of cancer and seeks to allot 1.5% of yearly NFL, TV network game broadcast, merchandizing (Nike) and stadium vending net-revenues to a variety of cancer-related NFPs that includes ACS but with an emphasis on research-focused foundations.

Cherry Picks Week 17

Baltimore Ravens (10-5) @ Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) (12-30 / CBS 1:00)

Steelers tout #1 defense, so a win @ Pitt should be sweet, right? Wrong. Had Bengals pounced and dictated terms last Sunday they’d inspire confidence, instead they eke out a W on late gifting by Ben (2 INT). Ravens find groove vs NYG, learning life w/out Ray and look to close out RS play on a divisional high note. BAL goes 2-0 v CIN in 2012.

Houston Texans (12-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (10-5) (CBS 1:00)

Texans sheepish after another home beating by fickle NFCN (MIN), but as Miss Scarlett said, “Tomorrow’s another day.” Foster (heart tests OK), Schaub, Johnson and Watt will finish RS having earned paychecks. Another motivation-game as Texans look to bounce-back for PS and Pagano returns to Colts’ sideline but Houston won’t oblige and wins series.

Green Bay Packers (11-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (9-6) (Fox 4:25)

Packers v Bears is more historical, Dallas v DC more lucrative, Cincy v Pitt more Eastern, Oakland v KC more AFL cool and Peyton (DEN) v Tom (NE) more high-falutin but none is more visceral than this one. These fans hate each other so much they’re happier seeing enemy lose than their own guys win. Not really, but it‘s close. Though Rodgers respite in ’11 backfired, MM might hold-out Nelson, Woodson & Cobb per PS. WTW: QB-security (GB gives (46S) & gets (46)) and kickers (GB’s Crosby (1-8 / 50+) vs MIN Walsh (9-9)). Peterson averaging 150+ @ home last-4 and wants record vs GB who dread the thought. Vikings’ win feeds me crow and punches ticket to PS.

Dallas Cowboys (8-7) @ Washington Redskins (9-6) (NBC 8:20)

Four weeks back and both squads looked headed for early golf. Is club-man Tony sad? If yes, he’s not showing it as his QB game’s picked-up while RG3 & sub KC have DC fans believing again. If brace keeps Rob in pocket (2 @ PHI), all the better as it’s only way to titletown. If Dallas had rush-more (31O / 33S), they’d be 11-4. Though DC has terrific tackle-trio in Fletcher, Riley & Hall, pass-D poor (29 / Foles 345) and expect Romo to matriculate. So too expect Morris to motor but at-risk Rob gives Cowboys edge & win.

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 13, 2012 5:52 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-15

All Process That is Due

The longer Bountygate dragged-out the more likely Paul Tagliabue does exactly what he did in his ruling on Tuesday: found middle ground.

At least that’s how NFLPA is selling it to members. In truth, DeMaurice Smith and other union sharks hope their clients don’t read too deeply and stick to the pro-player headlines, as Tags re-buffed the jocks in validating NFL’s fact-findings (bounties existed & players participated) and then slammed Saints’ coaches & cufflinks for “broad organizational misconduct“ and “contamin(ing)” the bounty case (“Paul” / NFL.com Wire / 12-11).“

Roger Goodell comes out vindicated (though the extent of his “authority” to discipline in such cases, if and when they arise again, isn’t all that clear), players get table scraps in having their punishments “vacated,” Jon Vilma’s def-suit should get tossed (he hopes), Drew Brees tweet tantrums get front page ink and it’s back to the business of football.

Fall of the North

What a difference a month makes. Northerners were ridin’ high back in November, positioning to send two, maybe even three teams each to the post-season party. Now both North Division winners will be lucky to bring a friend to the festivities.

In the NFCN, Green Bay rebounds nicely (9-4 / 4-0D) after early stumbles, correcting in Texas but has feasted on easy-prey since, excepting yearly rough-up from NYG Wk-12.  Vikes stave off elimination (7-6) and dug deep last week in mild upset over banged-up, fading-fast Bears (8-5), talented but snake-bit Lions (4-9) seem determined to find new way each week to lose a winnable game and only Pack likes its remainder.

Despite dire reports, Ravens (9-4 / 4-1) still team-to-beat in AFCN after booting a W in DC and then oddly cut their OC after the defense bungles late. Ben rallies in Chargers loss but shoulder hurts can linger, though Pitt’s (7-6) remaining schedule is no scary tale. Like Ravens, Bengals (7-6) can’t close vs Dallas and have mettle slate ahead while intra-State rival Browns (5-8) are learning to win (3-0) but given tough row to hoe rest of the way.

Kick-off Krazy

As reported this week in Time, Goodell has floated an NFL Rules Committee idea to replace kick-offs with a pre-set field position in the interest of reducing excessive danger. I’m more concerned with defender cheap-shots and NFLPA refusal to test blood (PEDs), but RG1’s been consistent in his player-safety agenda and its apparent non-money motive. Upside: scraping k/o's eliminates football's weakest play, the on-side kick.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

It’s that time of year when baseball & golf hibernate, it’s too early for b-ball & hockey to matter much and NASCAR, F1 & MLS have all crowned winners. And that means from November through early February, the NFL is king.

Andy Williams sang about the season, more specifically, Christmas time. He crooned one of Yuletide’s most memorable songs in my title above (‘63 / Pola & Wyle). It might grate on you after hearing it the 100th time in the shopping mall as your back aches and nerves fray, but it’s still a gem. Williams died this fall at the age of 84 from bladder cancer (Wikipedia). He strayed into the bizarre his final years but gave us wonderful musical memories that will live on forever. 

Cherry Picks Week 15

New York Giants (8-5) @ Atlanta Falcons (11-2) (12-16 / Fox 1:00)

NFL might just invite Pack and 49ers to join these guys and settle the whole NFC thing right then & there. Better still, get the old Tudor electric football game out and settle it with style. Brother Kev & I loved that game. A-bird’s ticked, NYG’s enigmatic, Falcons win.

Indianapolis Colts (9-4) @ Houston Texans (11-2) (CBS 1:00)

Colts are nice story in ‘12 and who knew? Not this writer. Indy 1st-dwn & TOP ratios are pluses, but don’t be fooled by Texans’ New England flop. Vet Schaub rebounds, HOU-D stuffs run (2), boxes (37S) Luck into misfortune (18 INT / 10 FUM) and Texans win.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) @ Chicago Bears (8-5) (Fox 1:00)

Not Packers’ biggest rival (Vikes) but they’re not telling. Even with Bears’ losing teeth it’s still historical high-ground. Monsters best shot for upset: alarm Aaron often and with all due speed. And of course, protect your own guy Jay. Not easy for Chicago. From Halas to Smith, only Ditka had GB's number (Papa won a few). Packers push on & win.

Denver Broncos (10-3) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-4) (CBS 1:00)

Rebound-effect flies-by CHI and makes stop in Poe country. Ravens bunged-up D lets prey get away in DC but need only heed FDR’s advice that saved humanity: “(O)nly thing we have to fear is fear itself (‘33).” Broncos feel their oats, look like the money-pick and Elway looks…wise. He did matriculate at Stanford. Pey-dirt looks sublime and O-line OK (19S). Rice is nice but GI Joe (good indicator) is key & needs time (31S). Baltimore wins.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (7-6) (CBS 4:25)

Dallas plays through pain and comes up big vs talented Cincy crew. But Big Ben’s back, tossing rust and moving in 2nd-half in SD loss. Should expect air-show as both pedestrian ground-games (24 / 30), and that’s just when you feed ’em the ball (Dwyer / Jones?). Hurts hit Cowboys' key cogs (Murray / Bryant / Ware) while Roethlisberger (shoulder) needs shield (20S). Steelers win.

San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) @ New England Patriots (10-3) (NBC 8:20)

Team that should’ve faced Pats in SB46. Now new look under center. Kaep Krusader’s #s last 3: W2-1, TD1-1. Remind you of anyone? Guy who should be under center (AS). San Fran bread & butter ball, solid all-around and even pass-D (26) maturing. But you know where this is headed. 49ers pan-out dry as Patriots looking good as gold. New England wins.

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 29, 2012 1:08 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-13

They Made Me a Criminal

“Illegal.” It’s a word that was popping up with odd frequency this past weekend in major media descriptions of Detroit Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz and his now infamous challenge-flag faux pas on Thanksgiving Day. I’m no legal expert but am not aware of the existence of any State of Michigan or federal criminal, regulatory or like provision that such an on-field miscue would violate.

No harm, no foul? Sure, why not. But c’mon production people, get on the ball and give these guys a break.

But there is something that happened in Detroit, a misdeed I hope lawmakers address soon and pass legislation making its occurrence punishable by fine, community service and required viewings of the ‘97 version of the movie “Titanic:” the ‘prevent defense.’

Lions didn’t lose on turkey day because Schwartz’ impulsive flag toss, nor did they lose because place-kicker J. Hanson boinked a late 47-yarder off the cross-bar. They lost because they permitted the Houston Texans to run-off 15 plays and drive 97 yards for the game-tying TD by employing what seemed to be that time-honored concession to fear & doubt, the dreaded PD.

“I do not choose to run”

Those words stunned a nation in 1927 when America’s popular laissez faire President Calvin Coolidge announced he’d not seek a 2nd full-term as Chief Executive. Cal didn’t exactly brim over with personality, nor was he what you might call an economic visionary (the Depression), but his famous statement is surprisingly apropos when the subject of discussion is Redskins’ rookie QB sensation Robert Griffin.

Bob’s put together a couple of gems his last two games against woeful division rivals Philly & Dallas, tossing four TDs in both walkover wins. In a conference (and League) where top teams are in short supply in 2012, the Skins are still players for the post-season at 5-6.

With today’s flash-QB, run-attempts are a key stat. In Dallas Bob kept it down to six. If he stays around that number week in, week out, win or lose, he’ll make it in this League because it means he can take the hits while learning to read defense and find receivers. Mike Vick never got the message, or if he did, couldn’t make the adjustment.

Run-QB is the biggest thing to hit football since the 300-yard passer made RBs just so much icing on the cake. They’re reminiscent of a by-gone era when the single-wing tail-back was expected to do pretty much everything (pass, run, block) but load-up the bus.

Run-Johnny-run is all the rage on college campus where Coach knows the next Cam or Timbo is his ticket to glory. Just make sure you have a back-up plan when he goes pro (Chizik). But for now anyway, the sit-tite, stand-tall pocket passer rules the NFL roost and he has the hardware & blindside bruises to prove it.

So when you feel your mobility turning into flight, best heed Cal’s words Bob and take your lumps. It’s called the long-view, something Mr. Coolidge ($) couldn’t see.

Cherry Picks Week 13

New Orleans Saints (5-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (10-1) (11-29 / NFLN 8:20)

A must win for Falcons? Already a lock for PS, a win here goes a long way exercising demons of doubt from recent playoff flame-outs and earlier loss to their regional nemesis (11-11). On other side, still a flicker of hope for Saints as Vikes & Hawks fade fast while RG3’s got Skins believing. Kaep Krusader & the Niners gave NO a dose of reality and banged-up A-birds will hammer home the point but with “more feeling.” Atlanta wins.

Minnesota Vikings (6-5) @ Green Bay Packers (7-4) (12-2 / Fox 1:00)

There is history (Bears / GB), and there is rivalry. The later, that’s this, the Midwest’s biggest grudge match. Makes Yanks / Red Sox feud seem kinda’ quaint. And it would have been a barn-burner this year ‘cept Vikes lost their way. MIN didn’t just get beat in their two mettle games (TB / CHI), they barely showed up, Mr. Frazier. And if GB can’t protect Rodgers (37S), they won’t beat Titans WK16, but Pack beats purple pretenders.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) @ Denver Broncos (8-3) (Fox 4:05)

Difference between a win & loss can be miniscule (v ATL) but TB takes comfort knowing they’re headed in the right direction (5-2). It’s telling, about the NFL, when you stuff the run (TB 1/ 82) and still rank 30th overall (D). WTW: Both O-lines stout (16S) but Denver brings it big (37S / TB-18S) and Josh will be tested. Martin runs big but can get stuffed (SD / ATL / DEN 8R), while Peyton likes the opportunity (TB 32P). Denver prevails.

New York Giants (7-4) @ Washington Redskins (5-6) (12-3 / ESPN 8:30)

In talking of GB’s woes this week, Hoge & Jaworski (ESPN) hit on this: QBs need time to work their “progression.” No matter the skill-set (Rodgers), if rushed, mistakes follow. Giants D (30S) plans same press on RG3. But as the young lad has no progression as yet, Rob’s make-it-up-on-the-go approach just might thwart the blitz. Better still, Skins have a real run game in Mr. Morris (4.7 / 982). Eli & Company are back in rhythm, having found that self-confidence that seems to energize late-season runs. Giants win at FedEx.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 22, 2012 1:10 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-12

Season of the Fall-Guy

Can you fire an entire roster? It’s a pretty crazy notion but one that wouldn’t meet with much protest if you’d polled locker-rooms of the Cardinals, Lions, Browns, Bolts, Jags and Panthers after their Week 11 meltdowns.

The embarrassment showed in player post-game interviews and shameful they should all feel, moving their coaches one-step closer to the figurative guru guillotine.

Did Norv Turner tell Phil Rivers to throw two picks and cough-up another vs Broncos? Nope. Did Lions’ Jim Schwartz whisper into Matt Stafford’s ear, ‘Hey, how bout turning it over thrice and stalling in the red-zone so I can get canned?’ Don’t think so. Did Packers Mike McCarthy brow-beat Mason Crosby into missing 2 of 3 (50 / 38) or Mike Smith taunt former-MVP candidate Matt Ryan into throwing five INTs (not all his fault) against the Cards? Nyet. And wasn’t every defender in the NFL instructed that ball-carriers must be tackled whenever possible? Yes on that one. Point being, coaches coach and players play, sometimes real bad and then at the worst possible times.

As a rule, today’s fan has closer affinity for players than the coaching set, Rex Ryan, Belichick, McCarthy, Lovie, Tomlin, Peyton & Pagano excepted. As such, today’s guru must be part strategist, motivator and, to the smallest degree possible, task-master, something even college imports J. Harbaugh and G. Schiano must grudgingly accept.

So when that blade of separation begins to fall on coaching tenures and shrill cheers rise from the tricoteuse of fans & media, remember this, it takes a team to win AND to lose.

San Francisco Treat

With starters Alex Smith and Jay Cutler still sidelined, 2nd-stringers took center stage as Colin Kaepernick filled-in nicely (16-23 / 243 / 2) in leading his 49ers crew to a lop-sided 32-7 win over Jason Campbell and the Bears in their Monday night contest. John Q. Public loves controversy and Jim Harbaugh rarely disappoints, responding with “We‘ll see“ when queried post-game on whether a healthy Smith would be his starting QB.

Unlike most professions, the business of sport is highly predicated on emotion and momentum. As such I’m not of that belief which holds a starter has some kind of entitlement to his pre-injury position. I favor the view that ‘if it’s working, don’t fix it.’

I’d hand the reigns back to a healthy Smith because he’s proven his worth in taking 49ers to the threshold of last season’s Super Bowl (46) and continued the trend in compiling a pretty nifty 6-2-1 tally pre-concussion. And as for tattoo parlor regular CK, Harbaugh should know that in football, offense & defense feed off each other and with Cutler out and Campbell acclimating, the normally stout Bears’ D was off-kilter, opening the door wide for a capable back-up to take advantage, a door that won‘t always be open.

Cherry Picks Week 12

Houston Texans (9-1) @ Detroit Lions (4-6) (11-22 / CBS 12:30)

Lions shouldn’t qualify for cherry pickin’ this week but Thanksgiving’s traditionally their time and I feel kinda’ bad for the dudes after last weeks el-foldo. More than sympathy, Detroit’s D stepped-up vs GB, run-game had a pulse, Stafford’s still healthy and as for that coaching staff rift, well, what doesn‘t tear us apart makes us stronger, right?. Texans building back post-GB (WK6) but 1-9 Jags proved work’s not over. Lions play 60, show mettle & win.

New England Patriots (7-3) @ New York Jets (4-6) (NBC 8:20)

This might’ve been a mettle-game for both squads 2-years ago, testing PS possibilities and resolve. In 2012, Jets are a sad story. Their gusty win versus improved Rams in St. Louis is hopeful sign but just first step. Long way to go to concoct chemistry and the Patriots are unsympathetic. Good stage to display Tebow at natural position (TE) but then Rex is oblivious. NE weak vs. pass (30P) but then it’s NYJ (29P). Patriots win.

Minnesota Vikings (6-4) @ Chicago Bears (7-3) (11-25 Fox 1:00)

Either NFL schedulers are closet GB fans or favor tough-love. Vikes’ quest for PS glory must go through roughest remaining slate in NFL and begins in Windy City. QBs will feel heavy heat as both bring it but Bears more leaky (34-S). Rosters quite clean, except key cogs Cutler & Harvin. Black & Blue battle royal with Bears in bad mood post Bay bloodbath, but Vikes rested off bye with deeper talent-well from stick (Allen / Greenway / Winfield / Brinkley) to kick (Walsh / Kluwe). Jay or Jason, Vikings win mettle-game.

Atlanta Falcons (9-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4) (Fox 1:00)

Second mettle game for each: Falcons a loss (NO), TB a win (MIN). No one’s pick yet for SB but Bucs of late playing as well as anyone (5-1) on so-so slate. Mark of a fine team (ATL) that commits 6-TOs and still prevails (ARI). A-birds get balance (R28 / P3) if feed RB Turner more ball (15+), while Tampa DBs (1R / 32P) might work on breaking-up passes over INTs (15 / 32P). Both squads near full strength, Martin will run (ATL 26R) and Ryan will pass (TB 32P). WTW: Turner vs TB run-D (1) & snug Freeman (14S) vs ATL press (24S / Abraham Q'able (9S)). Bucs run stops here, Falcons win.

San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1) @ New Orleans Saints (5-5) (Fox 4:25)

Two more teams playing like contenders and avoiding rash of injuries. QB Smith could sit again but Jim must avoid mid-season, dueling QBs. Waterfield / Van Brocklin (Rams ‘49-52) was a whole different animal. Saints enjoy home dome (3-0 Oct on) with Sproles PROB, while 49ers 3-1 on road. K’nick is still WBTE, but if he gets the nod, has a top D (6R / 2P), run game (1), fine targets (Crab / Davis / Mario) and even kickers that can help (Lee (24 IN20) / Ackers (63)). Alex or Colin, San Fran wins.

Green Bay Packers (7-3) @ New York Giants (6-4) (NBC 8:20)

Marquee match-up pits lead candidates for NFC party nomination. Swaggering GB is red hot (5-0) and should send NFL scheduler a holiday muffin basket. Packers’ run-game (R24) and O-line (32S) are trouble-spots but Rodgers rolls like nobody’s business (2619 / 27-6) and Pack pressure cooks (33S) even w/out the hair guy. Eli’s TD ratio (12-11) belies nice protection (13S) while Giants’ run-game can be an enigma. Numbers suggest GB but like Disraeli said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."  G-men seem to ramp-it-up lately versus this longtime rival. Giants fashion a win at MetLife.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
 
 
 
 
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