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Tag:football
Posted on: April 6, 2013 12:06 am
 

Tony Romo, Cowboys "It" Man?

Vince Lombardi is famous for saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Point in fact, it wasn’t one of his proudest moments.

For starters, the legendary Packers’ coach borrowed the line from adorable & talented child actress Sherry Jackson. She uttered the famous words sitting next to the lovely Donna Reed in the John Wayne movie “Trouble Along the Way (‘53): “Like Steve says (her Dad), winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

And then there’s the other thing. The line doesn’t exactly make sense. If victory is the “only thing,” that’s “everything” too, right? Right.

What bothered Vince was the wrong impression it gave people. It made him sound like a narrow-minded, boob-head who couldn’t appreciate the reality of sport, which is: a team can play with heart, play smart and still come-up-short. The effort oughta’ count for something and in reality Vince knew as much.

And in the ‘come-up-short’ department not many NFL’ers have a bigger office with a nicer view and supportive staff than Mr. Tony Romo.

To the surprise of few (count chatty teammate DeMarcus Ware among that tiny group (Sirius XM / 4-4)), Tone came-up-big last Friday when he signed a contract extension which might, depending on health and term triggers, keep him in Big D the rest of his playing career (6Y, $108M, $40M-Gtd (CBS / JK / “Romo“ / 3-29)).

It’s an un-godly sum of money in a sinfully rich game for a quarterback who’s led his team to but one playoff win (‘09) since taking the Cowboy reigns in ‘06, a win quickly forgotten when the following week Dallas got dismantled by the Favre Vikes, 34-3.

To say TR doesn’t deserve such a deal ignores his skill-set and the healthy state of the NFL, meaning, Jerry Jones can afford it. Romo’s put up some terrific tallies in his seven seasons as a starter and has that even-keel persona that keeps coaches & owners happy.

But there are problems.

First off, when you’re America‘s Team, the NFL’s marquee operation, anything less than on-going, title-contention should be unacceptable. It should be.

Second: Tony Romo just doesn’t have it.

And what is “it?” Well, it ain’t what Clara Bow had (‘27).

And it’s not leadership, not by itself, anyway. Romo’s a leader, no doubt on that point. With numbers that have him on pace to best HOF’er Dan Fouts, and three post-season / Pro Bowl appearances in his seven years as a starter, Tony clearly has a director’s skill.

And you don’t need a ring to have “it,” either, though, having one of what’ve become the most grotesquely over-stated pieces of symbolic jewelry on the planet will necessarily vest recipients with all the rights & privileges accorded Super Bowl stars, including “it.”

Men like Fran Tarkenton, Craig Morton, Warren Moon (5 GC), Dan Marino, Y.A. Tittle, Jim Kelly, Dan Fouts, Jake Plummer, Ken Anderson, Doug Flutie (3) and Drew Bledsoe, all came up short in the biggest games of their NFL careers but always left fans believing one more title-run was possible as long as they laced ‘em up and strode out onto that field.

All proof that how you lose, does matter.

Simply put, “it” is an athlete’s passion for winning.

And it’s that passion, a fire in the belly that somehow enables or energizes these quarterbacks in marshaling those skills they need in the big game to lead their men to the promised land.

Sound corny? Not if that’s your man under center.

The pro-Romo camp might say something like this: ‘What else was Dallas gonna’ do, cut Tony? Where would that leave the Cowboys? It’s been slim pickens for quarterback-seekers in 2013 (free-agency & draft) and Tone still gives the Boys their best chance to win.’

True enough. It’s been a seller’s market for QBs of late.

But standard-bearer clubs ought never settle for ‘good enough’ and Romo’s just not cuttin’ the mustard, or, as they say in the Lone Star State: ‘That dog won’t hunt.’

Because you can’t always draft a Troy Aikman or pick-up a known commodity like Peyton Manning, sometimes you just gotta’ roll the dice on an unknown or unproven.

Conduct yourself like a professional for nine seasons and Jerry Jones will take care of you. That’s fine. But Jones’ responsibility goes well beyond Tony Romo. He owes a duty, like every owner, to his fandom, and in his team’s case that runs coast-to-coast.

And Jerry’s coming dangerously close to breach.

It’s his $1.3B Cowboys Stadium (‘09) and its high-falutin hosting-capacity (‘14 Final 4 / ‘15 FBS?) that’s become Jones’ crowning achievement, his pride & joy while he appears content to live off past glories (’92-93, ’95). And keeping Tony on board helps keep the lid on things. Tone may not win you a title but he will keep you outta’ the pishadoo.

So what’s done is done. Romo’s gonna’ be ridin’ point in Arlington for a few more drives and as of this writing no serious plan in the works for a Cowboys' quarterback competition this summer.

If there’s one sport where a less-than-great team can grab the victor’s laurel, it’s the NFL: win your division (NFC East no biggie (NYG rates)), get a RD1 bye and you’re just three little ol’ wins away from hoisting hardware. A veritable EZ-Pass post-season highway.

And if someone can get Jerry’s attention away from stadium scheduling, just long enough to wheel & deal a tighter Dallas D and fashion a reliable run-game, Tone just might bag that Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened. Who besides the Ravens thought Joe Flacco was gonna’ hoist last February?

One thing Tony might keep in mind when living on the links this off-season: “Winning isn’t everything” but ring-holders always get the best tee times and that means at least two strokes off your score. Think about it, Tone.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: March 13, 2013 1:39 pm
 

Friendship Fleeting in NFL Flux

Losing your best friend has always been tough, whether you’re eight or ninety-eight.

They write songs about it and plenty of ’em: See; “Popcrush.com.” I’m not embarrassed to say I knew not one of PC’s top-ten “best friend” songs until the last one on the list (#1): The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” (’71). Funny thing is, that’s ‘bout time I lost a best friend.

I must’ve been around seven or eight.  Typical age for your first shocker?

I think it was summer and I’m walking home. I get to my 'girlfriend' Carolyn’s house (first girl I’d kissed) and she’s on her porch with another neighborhood friend, Erik. She calls me over and drops the bomb: “Steve,” she says, “Erik’s gonna’ be my boyfriend now.”

Erik was a major doofus who’d earlier stolen my baseball cards so I wasn’t too surprised he was involved, but Carolyn’s betrayal, that threw me for a loss. Backstabbers & gossips are the culprits when buddies suddenly go bust but you’ve still gotta’ earn your friends. Maybe Erik put a knife in my back or maybe I’d just been neglectful and Carolyn wanted to rattle my cage, hoping I’d protest. But I never the saw point.

The point here being, losing a friend can be a big hurt.

In the NFL it’s never as personal as my tiny tale but the consequences can be weighty.

No friendship in football carries more weight than the symbiosis between a quarterback and his favorite receiver. And the big guys in the trenches who protect their field general? They’re good friends too, but that ain’t this.

I can’t recall a time in recent memory when this many highly productive QB / top-target relationships were coming asunder or subject of serious separation speculation.

The short list:

Wes Welker (Patriots and Tom Brady): 9 yrs. (‘04); Sure-handed, high-volume possession receiver of an exceptional quarterback, recovered nicely from recent a knee bang but beginning to grow fangs (age) and expects / deserves small king’s ransom.

Victor Cruz (NY Giants and Eli Manning): 3 yrs. (‘10); Young, speedy, confident deep threat for terrific QB whose early results impress but saw average (12.7 / 18.7) & yards (1092 / 1536) drop-off considerably in ‘12. Exchange-rate (1-RD) makes Victor costly.

Greg Jennings (Packers and Aaron Rodgers): 7 yrs. (‘06); Another trophy-receiver for star QB who was building HOF resume when injury hit in ‘11 (MCL / groin). Questions remain on recovery after long rehab which temper marketability.

Percy Harvin (now Seahawks, formerly Vikings (Chris Ponder)): 4 yrs. (‘09);

Mike Wallace (now Dolphins, formerly Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger)): 4 yrs. (‘09);

Anquan Boldin (now 49ers, formerly Ravens (Joe Flacco)): 10 yrs. (‘03).

Goodbyes began in earnest Monday when talented but troubled Harvin and salary-cap cut Boldin were both sent Northwest. Vikes appear the better for their trade: 1) calmer locker-room with hot Harvin history; 2) more money available to cover (cut vet Winfield, signed OL Loadholt); 3) got better compensation and 4) Ponder was coping without Percy Electric who missed half of ‘12 (9G / 62 REC / 677 YD) while Flacco relied heavily on AB (380 YD / 4 TD) in Ravens ‘13 post-season run. But Baltimore has an established QB and their 2nd Lombardi.

From player perspective I’m happier if I’m Percy. Everyone wants to win but everyone wants to play, too. If I haul in passes for a living (or run for that matter) I’m not happy sacrificing touches & stats for a ball-hog, run-QB like Col. Kaepernick or RG3. Russ Wilson rabbits too but appears, at this stage anyway, to have a better appreciation for developing the necessary pocket presence and should distribute accordingly.

From team perspectives, much hinges on Harvin’s play-time, compromised in Minnesota due to migraines and other maladies. Stress is a major factor in headaches and pricey Percy has heaped a lotta’ pressure on himself in forcing the trade. One key will be Pete Carroll’s ability to manage emotions, something he’s been quite adept at doing in the past.

Tuesday saw prize pick-up Mike “60 Minutes” Wallace (That’s not Chris Berman IP, is it?) part company with Big Ben and land in Miami where QB Ryan Tannehill played admirably in his rookie campaign on a 7-9 team that some report (CBS (PBP) 2-11) will consider going ‘pistol / no-read-run option.’ I’m sure Ryan is thrilled at the prospect of putting his head & knees at higher-risk. Ugh. As for Mike, at least the money’s great, right?

With free agency in full-swing and draft day on the horizon, NFL wheelers & dealers are moving fast & furious in keeping, cutting loose & casting far for new talent. There will be some painful farewells, joyous exits and hopeful, high anticipation for the new arrivals.

And for those QBs suffering from separation anxiety, remember this kindergarten lesson that never grows old: lose a friend, make another, try to keep 'em happy (and always watch your back).

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

NFL '13 Conference Picks

Breaking All the Rules

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

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

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

Who ever said Michigan men are too conservative?

New Landscaping or Captured by the Moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absence of Good Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Conference Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail Caesar!

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

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

Divisional Round Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '13 Wild Card Picks

The Whole Nine Yards

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

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

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

Rainy Days & Mondays

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

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

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

Cheese-flavored Karma

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

Applying for Membership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Card Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: December 26, 2012 12:15 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-17

Teaching Collegians How

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week

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

Charles in Charge

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

Pink Eye

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

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

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

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

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

Cherry Picks Week 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-16

Pey-Dirt vs. All-Day

And then there were two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MVP (Most Valuable Pigeon)

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

Back-up to the Future

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

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

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

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

Tip o’ the Cap, Mr. Sanchez

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

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

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

Cherry Picks Week 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: December 13, 2012 5:52 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-15

All Process That is Due

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

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

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

Fall of the North

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

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

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

Kick-off Krazy

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

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

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

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

Cherry Picks Week 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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