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Tag:Rex Ryan
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: 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: October 4, 2012 12:57 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-5

Now that the black hole that was ‘Replacement-Ref 2012’ has imploded and stopped devouring every sport-headline within its gravitational pull, we're back to the real business of the NFL: the hits, the blocks, the kicks, the passes and the runs.  Oh yeah, some flags too.

How ‘bout some cheese with that whine?

The referee roundabout had little effect on the good folk up in beer-land, or as it’s better know this season, whine & cheese country. The regulars returned to the not-yet-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for Sunday night’s Saints v Packers contest and, if the crowd reaction is any indication, the financially-fixed referees better “fasten (their) seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy-ride (B. Davis)” for the zebras this NFL 2012 season.

Patience is a Virtue

Football fans wonder if the JetsTim Tebow was swallowed-up by a black hole as he’s barely registered a blip on the NFL radar after turning the League on its head in 2011.

With Camp Romney trying to keep it close in Election 2012, Mitt’s fraternity of friends is doing its part. Jets’ owner Woody Johnson (“very important…Romney (become) President” / B-TV / 10-1), like John Elway (Romney “proven leader” / Huff-Post / 10-2), has no qualms about airing his political laundry. Maybe related, maybe not, but now the Tebow devotees (WJ) are growing more vocal in their push for Tim’s ascension to the Jets starting-QB job.

At just four games into the season (2-2) and with Sanchez’ experience, Jets’ coach Rex Ryan knows it’s premature to bail on Plan A. But it’s a QB-league and there may come a time soon enough when Mark pays a price, not only for his own debits, but for that of his teammates as well, specifically an erratic run-game, fumbleitis and porous run-defense.

Topsy-turvy NFC

While the AFC standings are no big surprise at Wk-5, the NFC has everyone crystal-ball gazing for answers. At this juncture, phrases like “this team is for real” and “their season is on the line” are about as meaningful as a NASA mission to Mars. Not very.

Cherry Picks Wk-5

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) (10-7 / 1:00 / Fox)

The Keystone contest. Eagles are flying, but like Pack, Pats, Jets, Giants, etc., they’re “a box of chocolates: (so far) you never know what you’re gonna’ get (Forrest Gump).” You always know what you’ll get from Big Ben Roethlisberger, the Timex® QB: “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Steelers are home, healthier, ready to play and win.

Atlanta Falcons (4-0) @ Washington Redskins (2-2) (1:00 / Fox)

Last week’s squeaker at home against a groping Carolina team makes me nervous about these perfect birds, but Mike Turner’s turned-it-on (103 / CAR) and Ryan’s been terrific. If Griffin can learn to take sacks, limit his runs (7 / TB) and get comfy in the pocket, he might turn into a title-taking pro-QB. Should be a shootout but Falcons stay unbeaten.

Denver Broncos (2-2) @ New England Patriots (2-2) (4:25 / CBS)

AFC game of the week. As both Brady & Manning are finding their footing, expect the Ds to be busy. Patriots double-fisted run-attack (Ridley / Bolden) evokes memories of old (Csonka & Morris / Taylor & Hornung) and spells trouble for foes, if it lasts, though Broncos have ground-game in McGahee (112 / Oak). Another shootout. Continentals win.

Buffalo Bills (2-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-1) (4:25 / CBS)

Candlestick is not where Buffalo wants to be this weekend. Oh well, what are ya’ gonna’ do? Limit turnovers, that’s what (6/ NE). Fitzpatrick (4 Int / NE) takes page outta’ Alex Smith’s playbook, playing it safe & smart. Bills RB Spiller needs the ball more while LB Nick Barnett will roam far & wide (38T). San Fran loves the breeze by the Bay and is feeling their oats after dismantling the Jets, though I’m puzzled as to why rare-target Randy Moss is still rostered (4-1-3-0 Rec). Niners hit pay-dirt.

Houston Texans (4-0) @ New York Jets (2-2) (10-8 / 8:30 / ESPN)

ESPN-Disney likes the Nielsens. Typically a ‘Snoozer-of-the-Week,’ MNF is on a roll lately with Wk-3’s surreal affair (Packers / Seahawks) and what should be a ratings-hog this Monday night. Unless Sanchez matriculates with regularity, the camera-men and sideline-gals will be obsessing with Tebow. Had Jets battled SF, or not needed OT to best Miami, I’d pick a Jersey upset. Texans need a bigger test before elite status. This NY drama club ain’t it, but expect a contest as Jets can surprise. Houston’s top D along with a ‘measured & balanced’ offense (SF) will rule the day. Texans triumph.

Dedication

This post remembers two artists who died recently and who had tremendous impact on America’s TV sport-scene during its greatest period of change. With an encyclopedic knowledge of everything racing and a grabbing voice, Chris Economaki (9/28) defined motoring for millions of viewers since the 1960s, while Steve Sabol (9/18) took father Ed’s visionary work in NFL filming and, with the cool sounds of Sam Spence, made it all masterful. Time passed them both by in this attention-deficit age of social-network media, but for those of us who reveled in their realms, they will be missed.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 4, 2012 1:12 am
 

NFL Wish List 2012

Dear Santa Claus:

     I know it’s still summertime, the season when you and the Mrs. are just getting back from your annual Elf-Awareness Conference in Puerto Vallarta, but I have a big favor to ask.
     NFL 2012 is set to kick-off Wednesday night (Cowboys @ Giants) and I have a few early requests that I’m hoping you can accommodate. I haven’t exactly been good this year, but I haven’t been bad, either. That oughta’ count for something in these times of rampant greed and selfish rationalization (PEDs), right?
     And besides, Santa, you still owe me. Remember that Denmark golf outing I arraigned in 2010 for you and your “assistant” with TW and his putting instructor Heidi? ‘Nuff said.

Super Bowl Drift

It’s all about Super Sunday, or is it? NFL brass have already set the post-season schedule Santa, but see if you can get Roger & Company to shave a week off that mood-killing, two-week dull-fest that follows Conference title games. Football’s a business, sure, but this grant to greed is taking an edge off player games and starts us dreaming of baseball. Yuck! Just kidding, Bud.

NFL Rules, Stats & Plays that Need Eliminating

On-side kick: Gotta’ be the dumbest, most un-football-like play in the book. Walter Camp or whoever hatched this turkey must’ve been on a toot. The team that just had the ball, can get it twice-in-a-row, if the oblong-spheroid takes a funny bounce and at ten yards lands in one of the kicking-team’s cozy-covered hands. Competition at its lamest.

Icing the kicker:” Letting the defense call a TO seconds prior to a FG attempt in order to mess with the kicker’s head is bad playground etiquette. Strong kids wouldn't stoop so low.

Lambeau Leap: A routine that always was a bit too comfy, a tad too needy for my taste, has now become downright hackneyed. I’m thinking Curly, Vince & Ray would've agreed.

Senseless Stats: An INT that gets hung on a QB for a pass that’s tipped into a defender‘s hands; A fumble-stat given to a carrier who had a ball stripped / punched from his grasp.

New OT Rules: No one that matters (players & fans) was complaining when a field goal gave victory in sudden-death OT. Simple case of someone in a Suit validating a job and squeezing in more commercial time. “Tanks for nothing” (Maggs / Caddyshack).”

“Calling all (fashion police) cars”

It’s bad enough football’s become a fashion runway for Nike marketing and its revolving-door of dress (uniforms), but c’mon NFL, could your unis be anymore skin-tight? The trend is towards more material, not less, so loosen up, fellas. It’s embarrassing, Santa.

These Players

Cam Newton (CAR): Would like to see Cam develop into a SB caliber pocket-passer as he seems to have the skill-set, though I’m not holding my breath. Old (run) habits die hard.

Peyton Manning (DEN) & Adrian Peterson (MIN): The great natural abilities of these two stars of the gridiron are a joy to watch (AP’s thunderous run vs. Browns in ‘09 is unforgettable) and, as such, I’m driven to root for their successful comebacks.

Randy Moss (SF): A charter-member of the Moss fan-club, admiring his unique talent and believing his moodiness misunderstood, I cancelled my enrollment after he “vomited” (Childress) on a beleaguered Vikings' team in 2010 while sucking-up to a disinterested Patriots. It’s a shame he hooked-up with the San Francisco 49ers as I’d thought before his arrival their throwback-style (Giants / Ravens) made them a nice fit for SB47. Your call, Santa.

Mark Sanchez & Tim Tebow (NYJ): “Soon the world will divide itself into two camps: pro-Boray and anti-Boray.” That’s Joan Crawford describing the up & coming violinist John Garfield in their 1946 film Humoresque. Joan could’ve been foretelling Tebowmania, but in fact, it’s only a minority of cranks and disciples who’ve gone camping. Most, like me, see Tim as a college-style (run) QB with the same vanity you find in most athletes and Jesus proselytizers. My wish: Tim finds his natural position (TE), Mark finds the end-zone and Rex Ryan finds inner peace.

The Los Angeles…

LA is a big town with a big football pedigree. As such, the City of Angels’ absence from the NFL line-up this past decade has left a serious void. I’ve always felt the Rams oughta be back in California, Cardinals back in Missouri and then the Sun Devils (ASU Forks) resurrected pro-style to fill the vacancy in Phoenix. That scenario won’t happen but the new Los Angeles franchise is already in the works.

Time to Give Blood, DeMaurice Smith

If you grant just this one wish Santa, I’ll be a happy camper: NFL blood-tests, prior to, and during the season of play, as part of a broad PED prevention policy.

After signing-on to an HGH blood-test in last year’s CBA settlement, the NFLPA has since weaseled-out of its offer, leaving the issue in limbo. Though many in the media have been ardently defending dethroned friend Lance Armstrong, waving the white-flag on PEDs, most of America, including parents, coaches, doctors, clean players and kids not looking forward to a career of injections, are not so easily misguided.

The late football great and former director of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, had some fine qualities. Leadership on drug-testing was not one of them. Time to get crack’in, DeMaurice.

Steven Keys
Posted on: August 26, 2012 1:20 am
 

Jared Allen Tops NFL D-List

You’ve heard it a thousand times. The NFL, it’s a quarterback league.

How the QB plays is a bellwether of his team’s progress or decline, week in, week out.

They get the glory in victory, the blame in defeat and everything else on the field is just so many props. Seems a funny evolution of the game, but that’s how it is and we seem to like it that way.

As for the guys on defense, well, the late, great Rodney Dangerfield put it best: “(They) get no respect, what can I tell ya’?”

Should we feel bad? Probably not, when you consider that a good defense is hard to find, though, in fairness, you could say the same about physicians, computer repair guys and barbers. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking college or the pros (NFL / CFL), the reliable defensive scheme seems a rare commodity in this day & age.

While the linebacker corps carries the load in the tackling department and lineman put pressure on the QB, defensive backs are working a balance of tackling & pass-deflection. But nothing is more emblematic of today’s ebbing state-of-defense than NFL secondaries.

Next time you tune into a game pay close attention to the DBs. You’re likely to see more muffed tackles and blown break-ups, even as they shadow their targets, than beer ads during the telecast. You’d think the prevent-defense was a permanent state. Ever since the days of Deion “Neon” Sanders, the art of secondary tackling has become passé while the big play (INT / LB sacks) and laying-in-the-weeds for the wicked-hit are all the rage.

I exaggerate, of course, because there are some terrific exceptions who play the backfield (Tyvon Branch / OAK / SS / 109T). But there's no debate that defense has become more an after-thought than focal point for coaches and their pre-game strategies.

These are the bright spots.

Pad-Smack, Team Style

When talking team defense, it’s the American Conference that fuels the conversation, in particular, the AFC North.

Led by ageless and still thrilled Ray Lewis (ILB / 95T), who comes back for season 17, and decorated (AP-DPY) but now-achilled Terrell Suggs (OLB / 70T / 14S / 7FF), the Baltimore Ravens get the nod as 2011’s top-D (2nd vs Run / 4th vs Pass), edging out Troy Polamalu (DB / 91T) and Ryan Clark’s (FS / 100T) Pittsburgh Steelers (1P / 8R) who picked a bad time to look porous in last season’s finale versus Tebowmania.

The Cincinnati Bengals are building a defensive foundation (10R / 9P) (Tom Howard / OLB / 99T) as their young gun learns the trade (Dalton). And don’t forget Ohio’s other team, the Cleveland Browns, who came in just behind Pittsburgh (1P @ 172 ypg) against the pass (2P @ 185 ypg), thanks in large part to the 'everywhere man' D’Qwell Jackson (MLB / 158T) and active lineman Ahtyba Rubin (NT / 83T / 5S / PUP).

With a promising but green QB (Gabbert) and a run-game in flux (Maurice Jones-Drew), the Jacksonville Jaguars, like division foe Indy, seek answers on the O-side, but also like the Colts, can boast strong building blocks in a trio of tackling mavens. Paul Posluszny (MLB / 119T / shoulder), Daryl Smith (OLB / 107T) and Dawan Landry (FS / 97T) guided the Jags to top-ten finishes against both the pass (8) and run (9) in the last campaign.

Teamwork was the talisman for the Houston Texans in 2011 as they stymied both the pass (3) and run (4) without sack-happy LB Mario Williams (out Wk 5 / Bills), and then, like the Ravens, with only one name among the top-50 tacklers in Brian Cushing (ILB / 114). What void Mario leaves in Texas will be filled soon enough.

And don’t go sour yet on the New York Jets. They may have a QB quandary, of their own making, but defense is still a Rex Ryan trademark as Gotham’s junior team made strong showings versus the pass (5P), the run (13R) and added talented Yeremiah Bell (SS / MIA / 107T).

In the NFC, it’s the Western dudes who think offense is sissified.

Former QB and still ‘rah-rah’ man Jim Harbaugh has San Francisco 49ers’ fans believing again with stout defense (1R @ 77 YPG) and sound, methodical offense. Third year ILB NaVorro Bowman set a super pace with 143 tackles in 2011, as perennial All-Pro Pat Willis (ILB) missed three and still netted 97 turf take-downs.

With solid QB play, the Seattle Seahawks will take flight as a balanced defense (15R / 11P) gives them some edge. David Hawthorne will be missed (115T / Saints / knee), but stalwarts Earl Thomas (FS / 98T) and Kam Chancellor (SS / 97T) keep it respectable.

Stick Men

Football players learn quickly about the ‘stick men.’ You find ‘em at every level: high school, college and the pros. The guys on the field who were born to tackle. They find ball-carriers like a heat-seeking missile. They can, as we would say back in the day, “really stick.” And when they strike, down you go: fast, furious and unforgettable.

While defense struggles to stay relevant in this era of pinball-like point tallies, there are men in the NFL who carry on proudly the tradition of tackling. They love to hit, hit often and hit hard. And they don’t need to lead with their helmet, Mr. James Harrison.

The NFC North won’t top the team rankings, but they showcase some of the League’s best tackling tandems (and trios). Defensive diva Ndamukong Suh looks to be more trouble than he’s worth (36T / 4S / 0FR), but the Detroit Lions are firm in the middle with Stephen Tulloch (MLB / 111T / knee) and DeAndre Levy (OLB / 109T).

The book on the Green Bay Packers used to read, defense 1st, run 2nd, pass 3rd and no donnas. Stout against the run in ‘11 (14), Packers came in dead last versus the pass (32), just behind projected SB 47? (retire the Romans, Roger) opponent Patriots. Ted rolls the dice on Mr. Enigma, Cedric Benson (RB), while Clay Matthews brought hair-spray but forgot a lunch pail in 2011 (OLB / 50T / 6S). Desmond Bishop is out (ILB / 115T / ham) and Charlie Peprah is really out (SS / cut), but Morgan Burnett (FS / 107T) sticks fine while way-rated Charles Woodson (CB / 74T / 7 INT) and A.J. Hawk look to pick-it-up in 2012 (ILB / 84T).

Though the Monsters of the Midway are long-in-the-tooth, the Chicago BearsLance Briggs (OLB / 105T) and Charles Tillman (CB / 99T) can still scare. Tim Jennings added game in 2011 (CB / 77T), big name Brian Urlacher (MLB / 102T) is hurting (knee) and Julius Peppers showed some life last season (DE / 37T / 11S). After them, there's a drop-off.

Many new faces dot the Indianapolis Colts’ O-side with departure of pros like Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Jeff Saturday. The D-side, not as much, but loss of stick star Pat Angerer (great name / frac-foot) (MLB / 148T) will be felt, while Kavell Conner (OLB / 107T) and fellow tackling titan Antoine Bethea (FS / 139T) patrol the tundra.

Miami Dolphins hit-show took a hit when Y. Bell split (Jets), leaving Kevin Burnett (ILB / 105T) and gimpy Karlos Dansby (ILB / 103T / knee) to cover. Addition of pricey Mario Williams is icing on the cake for a Buffalo Bills’ entree that already features hit-men Nick Barnett (ILB / 130T), George Wilson (SS / 106T) and Jairus Byrd (FS / 98T).

No surprise the Atlanta Falcons stuffed the run in 2011 (5) with Curtis Lofton (MLB / 147T) and Sean Weatherspoon (OLB / 115T) holding court, now work on the pass (20).

It’s been a rough go recently in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and their arch nemesis to the east is beaming ear-to-ear. But there’s a silver lining in the Minnesota Vikings’ dark cloud. They’re staying put (stadium), 2-yr. QB Christian Ponder still has possibility and Adrian Peterson might run again. Add in, Vikes have two of the NFL’s surest hitters in Chad Greenway (OLB / 152T) and E.J. Henderson (MLB / 110T), while the best defender in all of football may take shape in the person of Jared Allen (DE / 66T / 22S / 4FF).

Quarterbacks reign supreme. But if there is a defender who can work a game nearly as well as a QB, it is Jared Allen. He perfected the sack in 2011 (22) but brings a fiery spirit to the field of play that only Ray Lewis can duplicate. And like Ray, Jared overcame a difficult past but has the added burden of staying motivated on a bottom-feeder.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give mention to these tackling dynamos: London Fletcher (ILB / WAS / 166T!), James Anderson (OLB / CAR / 145T), James Laurinaitis (MLB / 142T), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE / NYG / 86T / 17S), Jason McCourty (CB / TN / 105T), Calais Campbell (DE / ARI / 72T / 8S), DeMarcus Ware (DE / DAL / 58T / 20S) and Derrick Johnson (ILB / KC / 131T). Without these guys, the NFL would be, well, Arena.

Steven Keys

Note: This article is dedicated to those brave people allied around the globe who have given, or who today put their limbs & lives on the line in the dangerous fight against terror & extremism, defending, in face of a stealth and brutal foe, the freedom to choose and the right to reason.
Posted on: June 29, 2012 4:05 pm
 

Calm Before Storm Tebow

Take a deep breath. Hold it in. Breath out. Again.

Now close your eyes. Drink in the calm, the serenity. Imagine birds singing, squirrels frolicking, puffy white clouds drifting by on blue sky…wait a second. Wake up!

There’s the neighbor’s dog, doing-his-thing on your lawn. Landlord phoned, says he can’t fix the A/C ‘til next week. And today your boss put up the new schedule: you’re on graveyard now with that guy who doesn‘t believe in hygiene or teamwork. Just terrific.

Okay, so your life’s no bed of roses. But wherever you live, whatever smidgen of sanity you enjoy today, savor it, bottle it up and hide it under your bed because before you know it, Tebowmania II is gonna’ hit the fan. And when it does, it’s gonna’ be everywhere.

It’s building offshore but when Hurricane Tim makes landfall later this summer, his image will be splattered all over the consumer landscape like a Jackson Pollock painting.

The ionosphere will be so saturated with Tim-ness it wouldn’t be crazy for ESPN to craft a separate channel to accommodate the mass of minutia generated by Mr. Sunshine’s NYC experience. Call-letters: ESPNTT; permanent host: Skip Bayless; occasional antagonist: Stephen ‘Don’t forget the A.’ Smith. Best ratings on the tube after American Pickers. I used to be an Antiques Roadshow man until some chucklehead added sound effects.

Tebow’s narrative is just one puzzler that looms large over NFL America this summer.

There are, of course, some givens for NFL 2012:

Patriots & Packers will again toy with the rest the League. Brady & Rodgers, Belichick & McCarthy: money in the bank. I’d include Big Ben in that bunch but with the beating he takes every year in Pittsburgh it’s a minor miracle if he makes it to the PS in one piece.

When fans realize draft dandies Luck & Griffin can’t walk on water, both will be given sanctuary by the fact Colts, and to a lesser degree Redskins, are major reclamation-projects.

Half-measures get you the Chicago Bears. After landing prize catch Cutler they got stingy (WR). Talent at key some positions (Cutler / Forte / Urlacher / Briggs), Chicago’s still no match for hot rivals (Vikes (’09) / GB (‘10-11)), making ‘07 SB visit / loss look like an aberration. Collapse vs Denver in 2011 was low point. Soldier Field fans deserve better, but settle for 9-7.

Then there are the perfect teams, as in, all-must-go-perfectly-or-bust: Cowboys (Romo), Eagles (Vick), Ravens (Flacco), Falcons (Ryan), Chargers (Rivers). See 2013 NFL Draft.

And if the Giants could ever defend a title like they take one, fans & media might start taking Tom & Eli into their hearts. Then again, it is the greater NYC press. Maybe no.

Here then are the biggest brain-teasers to ponder on the porch-swing before NFL 2012 lifts-off this September (9/5):

1) What flavor of quarterbacking will Cam Newton and Carolina select;
2) How will the Saints tumultuous off-season play on their 2012 performance;
3) How much life is left in Peyton Manning’s multi-million-dollar arm;
4) Was the NFC in 2011 that bad or were Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers that good; and
5) What does Rex Ryan have up his sleeve on the Tim Tebow experiment?

Flash Cam

No first-year QB has ever made as big a splash as did Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton in 2011. His unexpectedly advanced passing skills were matched only by his record-setting mobility (14 rush TD). Whether he chooses to develop into the first great, black pocket-passer since Doug Williams or follow the run-rabbit-run routine of Vick and Tebow may be the most intriguing storyline of 2012. It should be a no-brainer. Doug was superb.

The Saints

“(T)he truth will set you free.” It’s a Bible verse. It’s about as popular today as ‘Love thy neighbor.’ Not very. Like Roger, Lance, Barry, Ryan and James Harrison, Jon Vilma, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have hunkered down into a mental-bunker of denial, opting for the ‘us-against-the-world’ tact in dealing with exposure of their well-documented bounty program. The general player population has stayed out of the fray but I suspect feelings are mixed. Saints are still players in this League and likely will make the PS but the cathartic-effect of coming-clean might’ve made them great again. I’ll cry tomorrow.

Wing and a Prayer

Not a gambler per se, John Elway must have a soft-spot for QBs headed to Canton. The rumor mill aside, Manning and his handlers in Denver (and Indy) have kept the wraps on his suspect wing & neck down tight. Regardless of Broncos pedestrian pool-of-talent in receiver-corps, Peyton elevates everyone around him and, if healthy, takes them back to PS. The contract terms owner Bowlen and PM put in place per chance worst is realized (tired arm) could be curious.

Real Deal 49ers?

The team Belichick didn’t want to face in SB46. Careful what you wish. Jim Harbaugh is the off-kilter coach who’s fast becoming the next Jerry Glanville: wins games and enemies. JH brought defense back to the NFL and it’s a good thing, given how he didn’t know a lick about offense (Michigan / Bears). Rex Ryan was suppose to be this guy.

Tabernacle Tim

Answering the Tebow question isn’t paramount in NFL 2012 but it may feel that way, given the hullabaloo it generates. In rare circumstance, duel-QBs can work wonders (Waterfield / Van Brocklin).  This ain't that.  Ryan's been around the game a long time, winning a ring in 2000 (Ravens), and shouldn't be so silly as to turn his QB position into a game of musical chairs. Jets’ brass know they already have a talented, successful (4-2 PS), albeit, sometimes erratic, still maturing signal-caller in Mark Sanchez.

TT’s not in NYC to upset the apple cart. He was brought in to do what he does best: motivate. It’s his calling and he’s good at it. Tim’s mission is to light a fire under Sanchez and, as such, will get some snaps and the # 1 slot if Mark unexpectedly folds. But if Rex & Tony don’t jump-start the Jets run-game and shore-up the defense, Tim’s role is moot.

While this all weighs on Mark’s mind, Jets are wise to return Tim to his original HS spot: tight-end. God knows he likes the contact, has the speed, the hands and a nose for the end-zone. If HOF, Heisman-holding Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung can embrace the theory of evolution (QB to HB), so too can Misters Ryan and Tebow.

Steven Keys
Posted on: April 20, 2012 10:42 pm
 

Vanity, Thy Name is Tebow

You wouldn’t think it from his demeanor: calm, unassuming, upbeat, always the perfect gentleman and always quick to spread credit for team success.

By media standards he’s a pleasant encounter.

To most gridiron gurus he’s a coach’s dream, provided the team’s starting QB is on terra firma and the club’s in need of a tight-end with a good pair of hands.

This is the Tim Tebow we all know. The home-schooled, prep football vagabond whose on-field exploits at the University of Florida made him a Southern fold hero.

That’s the good book on Tim.

But there’s another book on Mr. Sunshine. Not an exposé mind you, the kind Mr. Woods keeps suffering through as others cash-in on their association with the former golf great.

Rather, it’s a figurative book on his darker side and those vexing character traits you won’t normally perceive in someone as Tim but which we all possess to one degree or another: personas like vanity, banality, credulity, selfishness, insecurity and insincerity.

Recent reports lead me to believe this son of a preacher man craves attention on par with the likes of Mark Cuban, Terrell Owens, Danica Patrick and “Neon” Deion Sanders. One difference: those four knew where to land their egos. Tim, well, he picked a real doozy of a destination touching down in Jetsland, The Young & the Restless of the NFL.

Opting for the bright lights of Broadway and passing on an invite from hometown Jacksonville (Jaguars) was clear indication of Tim’s alter ego. Jags’ owner Shahid Khan and fans must still be perplexed, dumbfounded by the rebuff.

With the Broncos contented (Peyton) and the Jags ready to deal (“Khan“ / SI-FN / 3-27), I see no good reason why Denver brass would deny the man who brought Tebowmania to Mile High a chance to “weigh-in” on like-trade options (ESPN ticker / 3-21). As such, I give no weight whatsoever to Tebow’s implication that he had no involvement in the decision (“Tebow” / Strauss / Fox / 3-23), thus making him appear like so many other self-promoters.

Not that there aren’t plenty of reasons to reside in the Big Apple. New York City is a grand metropolis in many respects. Whether Tim has the inclination to partake in its myriad of enlightening and intoxicating diversions remains to be seen. Suffice to say, there’s no better place to sell yourself and your line than the media mecca of the world.

And there in lay Tim’s two-pronged mission in New York: selling the faith from the second biggest pulpit in America and selling thyself for the biggest payday possible.

It’s true that Tebow would get full exposure if he commuted to work from Nome, Alaska. ESPN interns dig the dude more than Tiger and LeBron combined. But there’s something about living, working in NYC that energizes the coverage. He’s their guy, you might say.

“Hoy-day! What a sweep of vanity comes this way (Shakes-speare / Edward de Vere)!”

I don’t begrudge anyone the freedom to pitch himself or his religion. Both endeavors are as American as apple pie and late Friday rallies on Wall Street. Old-time ball-player turned evangelist Billy Sunday comes to mind (Cubs / 1880s).

But if I’m a follower of New York Jets’ football, I’m not a happy camper.

Tebow isn’t in NYC to play football. Sport is just a vehicle for his agenda: “My goal is to create a brighter day for as many people as I possibly can by being on this earth” (ABC / 4-13).” If he were focused on the game he wouldn’t be getting detail-work in Hollywood (curing / 4-6 / ESPN) and pass up a chance to help put Jacksonville on the NFL map.

As for Jets’ agenda: “It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (Churchill).

Ryan’s lost cachet with players, new OC Sparano brings a failed gimmick (wildcat) and owner Woody Johnson appears detached: “I’m very confident Mark can develop into a winning quarterback” (“Johnson” / N. Gay / Fox / 3-25). Where’s he been the past three years? Sanchez is 4-2 in the PS. That’s more playoff wins than Romo, Ryan & Rivers combined.

I’ll say this for Jetsland, the circus atmosphere looks downright harmonious compared to the cry-babies in Beantown (Red Sox Nation v Bobby). Oh my god! Just roll with it, Youk. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I’d like to know (T. Soprano)!?”

And even if Timbo is a divo in disguise, he still might give the Jets a spark they need, wherever he’s positioned. Key is whether Rex & staff can get the roster to embrace, or at least shake hands with, Tim’s biggest asset: his sometimes infectious exuberance.

In spring, football musings are all high speculation. As that NYC philosopher Herm Edwards would say, “That’s why…you play…the game.”

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