Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:San Francisco 49ers
Posted on: February 5, 2013 1:18 am
 

Aliens Behind SB47 Blackout?

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

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

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

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

Kaepermania Denied

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

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

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

Whine-Fest II

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

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

SB47 Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl 47 Hunch Line

“Nobody can eat fifty eggs”

The biggest story leading-up to SB47?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Ray

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

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

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

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

My favorite Ray Lewis trait: honoring the line.

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

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

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

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

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

And Ray Lewis never crossed the line.

Super Bowl 47 Pick

Believe it, basketball can be entertaining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '13 Conference Picks

Breaking All the Rules

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

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

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

Who ever said Michigan men are too conservative?

New Landscaping or Captured by the Moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absence of Good Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Conference Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail Caesar!

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

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

Divisional Round Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: 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 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
Posted on: October 18, 2012 7:01 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-7

Welcome to the Surge

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

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

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

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

‘Strange But True’ Department

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

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

Cherry Picks Wk-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 20, 2012 12:27 am
 

NFL Cherry Picks WK-3

False starts.  That's been the common thread so far running through analysis of NFL 2012.

Green Bay was suppose to be in trouble after their WK1 lose to the 49ers while da’ Bears were finally a burgeoning power. “Maybe no” to both, as "Furio Giunta" would say (The Sopranos).

The Patriots were suppose to be unbeatable, then the mighty Cardinals flew into town.

Peyton was suppose to be back in form after a nice start. That’s a work-in-progress.

Giants were suppose to be defending champs and then loose right outta’ the gate, at home, to a Dallas squad that in WK2 proceeds to get beat-up in, of all places, Seattle.

And some folks thought the wildcat would work wonders in Jetsland.  It's still early.

One common take that’s so far proving wise is the confidence many had in draft dandies Misters Luck and Griffin. But hedge your bets accordingly. While Andy’s schedule befits a team deep in rebuilding mode, Rob’s slate of games gets a tad wicked as the season matures.

Biggest win to date in NFL 2012

It’s the 49ers 30-22 take-down at Lambeau opening weekend. While they came in as slight underdogs after coming within a hair’s breadth of SB46, strong-arming the Pack in GB is always a feather in your cap. And with the Giants returning to their enigmatic, post-SB form, this win could set the tone for all 2012 with San Fran the team to beat in the NFC.

The NFL schedulers might know what they’re doing after all.

Biggest surprise through WK-2

Arizona Cardinals topping the lordly New England Patriots last Sunday in Foxborough, no less (20-18). The fact the game was decided by a late, missed field goal attempt by a normally reliable Steve Gostkowski doesn’t detract one iota from its significance as the Cards and Kev Kolb were in control most of the way.

Biggest bore in September

That would have to be all the cry-babies on the substitute referees. Once the regular zebras and NFL packed up their negotiation-tents and the replacement refs were signed-on, you knew the whining would come fast & furious. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I wanta’ know (Tony Soprano)!?"

Cherry Picks WK-3:

New York Giants (1-1) @ Carolina Panthers (1-1) (9-20 / NFLN / 8:20)

The G-men are defending NFL champs but you might not know it. Getting outplayed by equally enigmatic Dallas in WK1 and barely outlasting the lots-to-prove Buccaneers, the Giants like to keep us guessing. I’d guess victory in Charlotte as NYG defenders flush-out run-rabbit-run Cam Newton who’s back to his college-ways with double-digit scampers (13 v NO). Cam might be trying to carry the run-game that was as nowhere-to-be-found in Tampa as the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke (NC) in 1587. Giants win.

San Francisco 49ers (2-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-1) (9-23 / Fox / 1:00)

An early season test-game of Coach Leslie Frazier’s retention value. Niners come in with former Viking, Mr. Ipecac, Randy Moss, as NFL’s top-ranked club. It should provide slow-outta-the-gate Jared Allen reason to revive and Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf a good measure of his team’s progress. Are Vikes respectable rankings (O16 / D12) and QB numbers (Ponder / 76% / 2TD / 0-INT) sign they’ve turned the corner, or merely mirage of a program on the wrong track? 49ers win, exacting revenge for Favre & Lewis ‘09.

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) @ San Diego Chargers (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Ryan, Rivers & Romo: 3-Rs of quarterback frustration. All hat and no cattle, meaning, playoff busts. Cowboys & Tony took a step back in Seattle, but all three signal-callers are playing with high confidence and generally pleasing their fans. San Diego stuffs the run like nobody’s business (1 / 42 ypg). Without a balancing run-game (Turner was off kilter pre-DUI) to compliment Matt Ryan’s arm, Falcons strong-suit is a capable tackling corps of Weatherspoon, Moore and Nicholas. Home-team Chargers bolt to 3-0.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) @ Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Eagles are a mixed bag: nice passing-rank (2) with a QB (Vick) who rates low (67%) and throws picks like he needs glasses (6). Defense is stout (4) but with only Nate Allen in top 50 tackles (15). So much for stat-worship. Bird Bowl turns on QB pressure and who handles it best. Eagles’ D is good-to-fair (P4 / R15) while Cards can bring the bodies (Washington / Lenon / Campbell). Michael’s gonna’ like working in Arizona, whether they retract the roof or not (U of Phoenix Stadium). Eagles by a bird-beak.

Houston Texans (2-0) @ Denver Broncos (1-1) (CBS / 4:20)

Everyone and their grandma loves the Texans. Me, I’m no Sooner but more like a Missourian (Show Me). Houston’s got the troops: field general (Schaub); run-attack (Foster / Tate); hands (Johnson / Daniels) and team-spirit (O-10 / D-1), now they’ve gotta’ act like Romans (Empire) and grab the booty. Peyton Manning is a problem-solver. If it’s broke, he’ll fix it, fast. Expect cleaner play from PM, a featured McGahee (20+RA) and D-emphasis on run-stuff. Broncos win and slow the Houston love-train.

New England Patriots (1-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (NBC / 8:20)

Both teams look for bounce after close losses. If Pats are unsure of themselves they shouldn’t be, with Brady & Ridley (196). Like Ravens, they should be 2-0. Rank wise, Ravens are in new territory: top-10 O (8P / 10R), low-10 D (25P / 20R). Joe Flacco wants better distribution and comp-% (60), while Ray Rice is a workhorse (167 / 6.4) with nice hoofs / hands (9). When you’re good, home field’s a decided edge. Ravens are good and victorious.

Steven Keys

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