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NFL 2017 Inc.

No matter where you fall on the side of excitement over football this year two things are for certain:

  1. It has waned for everyone thanks to the issues of long term effects and all the information being fed to parents about it.
  2. Football still remains far and away the most popular sport in America.

The fact that its still a ratings bonanza for every network means it still gets to swing its dick in every room its in.  So when Roger Goodell gets to play cop and supersede the investigation done by law enforcement and hand a six game punishment to Ezekiel Elliiot, which got reversed by a federal judge on Friday, a mere 24 hours before the Cowboys and Giants were set to open the season against each other.

Of course in a weird twist, he was eligible to play in Sunday’s game but that’s neither here nor there.

The NFL has gifted its Commissioner with a brand new contract extension but i wonder if Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, two of the most powerful owners are waking up this morning exactly thrilled with the Commissioner’s powers.  He suspended Tom Brady four games for his dubious role in DeflateGate, which while it thrilled me as a Giants fan, always seemed like payback for the Patriots constantly getting themselves into these investigations after the Commissioner slapped them on the wrist for Spygate and told them “don’t do that again”.

But the NFL isn’t suffering because Roger Gooddell sucks as a Commissioner.  Or because of a looming (in 2021 no less) labor strike that’s almost guaranteed to happen.  Oh and once the new TV contracts come in the owners may be working off numbers that the players may not necessarily like.

The NFL is suffering because its retired players are and its current personnel are taking notice.  Consider that the average NFL player’s career lasts four years.  Most will never take home the millions that playing in a major professional sports league promise, but all will take home scar tissue created by sometimes almost a decade spent sustaining car crash like hits to the head and body.

Consider players like 23-year-old Su’a Cravens from the Washington Redskins who will spend the next month contemplating retirement.  Or the slew of 20-somethings who have already decided to retire early before the damage becomes permanent and affects their post-football life.

The NFL’s contract structure guarantees its players very little and gives ownership outs once the player is no longer fit to compete.  It seems unfair to ask players to continue risking its body for an opportunity that isn’t guaranteed but that’s how the NFL has always been and it doesn’t seem like it will change despite what Odell Beckham will try.  It remains to be seen what change the NFLPA can affect in the next labor negotiations but many things will be on its mind, namely the safety of its constituent base.  If not for a bigger share of the profits to then be put into a retirement fund, but at the very least to reduce the Commissioner’s power as its only legislative body dispensing his justice.

The best theory I heard about Gooddell’s recent run of challenging his sport’s best players is to do the bidding of the owners (his bosses) to undermine the players.  If you reduce them to interchangeable parts and tell everyone that nobody is special then you can negotiate from that position.  That’s where the biggest challenge will be.  It will be interesting nonetheless.

But it may blind them from the bigger issue which is to reduce the number of games (i’m looking at you preseason) that puts its best stars in dangerous spots in meaningless situations.

Moving on, I’m going to preview the season by doing my first power rankings in four tiers: Tier IV- No shot, Tier III- long shot, Tier II- raised eyebrow, Tier I- contender.

I have my picks for week 1 in the next column- enjoy

TIER IV- NO SHOT

32. New York Jets-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 1000-to-1

Outlook: Call this season what you will but the Jets are like that Delta jet that decided to race Hurricane Irma.  Sounds dumb but you have a duty to your customers.  The Jets should consider forfeiting the season but have a duty to their customers to show up physically for 16 games but every move they made this offseason from trading Sheldon Richardson to releasing Brandon Marshall was done with the future in mind.  Much of the Jet fanbase will be watching college football more intently than they do any of their games but consider this.  The defense is decent, but with a paper thin offense it will be tough to watch.  The Jets will need another season or two, after this to fully rebuild itself from this doldrum.  Not like the owner will be around to enforce any of this anyway.

31. Buffalo Bills-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 200-to-1

Outlook: The Sean McDermott led Bills made a conscious decision to remove a bunch of its former young stars via trades or letting them walk out of the complex (mostly to New England) to greener pastures.  What it did is set them up for a bountiful future.  What the Bills will do this year is play decent up front on both sides and figure out if Tyrod Taylor has any trade value.  They long ago wrote him off as a starting NFL QB and will hope to recoup some value by the trade deadline (my guess) to get more picks in the event that a team that fancies itself a playoff contender will need a competent QB.  At the very least they have a ton of picks to fall back on while the season plays itself out in Western New York.

30. Cleveland Browns-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The only reason i have them ahead of the Bills is because their rebuild is in the second phase.  The Harvard bred, forward thinking front office of the Browns has built the team in a very old school way.  They handed out a ton of money to help build one of the better offensive lines and are using the draft to build its defense.  Myles Garrett looks like a generational talent at the defensive end position and the position-less Jabrill Peppers will likely line up in the backend and use his athleticism to affect the deep pass accuracy of his opponents.  But the Browns are betting they have hit on QB already by naming third round draft pick DeShone Kizer as their starting QB.  Is it truly hard to think that a team with a stout offensive line and a rookie QB can make some noise this season?  Where have i seen that before?

29. Chicago Bears
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: This seems like a good time to mention that the John Fox tenure at Chicago is about to come to an end.  That’s the deciding factor in why I put them behind the San Francisco 49ers.  The Bears have a bad front office but have the pieces that should make them attractive to any coach-GM candidate.  The key to this season will be when Mitchell Trubisky becomes the starting QB and the city of Chicago will be on edge.  The future of GM Ryan Pace will be on the line.  If he shows any kind of promise it may be enough to keep him on the job but if this season ends as disastrously he may be on a one way ticket out.

28. San Francisco 49ers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: We can all agree that Jed York is a bad owner and his decision to pick Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh likely set his franchise back.  But now he’s armed a GM with no experience and a head coach with zero prior experience.  While every decision will be viewed from that perspective, I liked their draft, and their steadfast nature to select the best player available.  That’s how every rebuilding team should approach the draft.  Kyle Shanahan has decent pieces on offense to make them a threat to any team that thinks they can sleep walk to a win.  It makes them intriguing for the season and should help the Niners start moving forward.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Even with dictator Coughlin manning the front office rather than the sideline expect the team to be fashioned in his image.  An imposing defense and hopes that the run game keeps the offense on the field long enough to give the defense rest and makes the defense play closer to the line so Blake Bortles can throw it deep to Allen Robinson.  While I think that seems unlikely, they will make betting against them tough.  MY prediction is that Leonard Fournette is the least likeliest to succeed in the NFL.

26. Miami Dolphins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: Jay Cutler.  Every Bears fan, and every Denver Broncos fan know what this means.  Cutler is a nightmare to predict and the fact that many predict him to have his most productive year now that he’s reunited with former OC Adam Gase is beyond foolish.  What makes people think that Jay Cutler will be better than he was in his other stops in the NFL?  What makes people think Jay Ajayi is a top 10 back in the NFL?  His overall stats were solid but consider that outside of 3 games (1 against Pittsburgh, and 2 against Buffalo) where he had nearly half his year’s output, he had only one other 100 yard game.  I just don’t think this team will be the main deterrent to New England that some think.

25. Washington Redskins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: the offseason was mired in a standoff with QB Kirk Cousins who may already have one foot in San Francisco.  If that happens, the Redskins will be left to head into next season without a QB of the future and outside of a drafting slot to get one of the top QB’s expected to enter next year’s draft.  But there will be enticing options and Jay Gruden has shown that he can turn a late round draft pick into a good QB.  Kirk Cousins is in the Alex Smith memorial hall of fame of guys who seem to lead their teams to respectability at the least while not scaring any defense or opposing fan base.  That Week 17 game where the Redskins had everything to play for and the Giants had nothing to play for shows you exactly who Kirk Cousins is: he can get you to the door, he doesn’t have the ability to walk through.

TIER III: Long Shot

24. Los Angeles Rams
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: I like them even without Uncle Wade having his best toy to play with heading into Week 1 at the least in Aaron Donald.  But regardless, the Rams should be improved with Wade’s aggressive scheme.  Hiring a QB-guru-centric coach is the right way to go but getting a home crowd advantage may prove difficult in a town that has rarely shown an interest in football before.  Consider the improvement in the defense and a safer approach to Jared Goff’s development and the addition of Sammy Watkins as steps in the right direction.

23. Detroit Lions
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The Lions paid Matthew Stafford on a season where he improved his efficiency and helped his team to an above average record in close games.  The Lions were 8-4 in one possession games.  Make them even .500 and the division race isn’t even close.  The Lions will hope that games don’t end up that close by upgrading the offensive line but their defense remains suspect and that’s going to be too much to overcome.

22. Indianapolis Colts
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Scott Tolzien is starting week 1.  Which means all of the proclamations of Andrew Luck’s health improving were all fluff.  You have to worry about the organization’s franchise guy if the reports of him missing a significant portion of the season are true.  Not when Tennessee has a chance to be legit contenders this year.  Let’s see.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  The Ringer’s Robert Mays put it best: the Bengals don’t do anything particularly well.  They are just solid on both fronts.  Losing their first round pick for a few games will hurt Andy Dalton but then Andy Dalton wasn’t likely to lead the Bengals to anywhere but 8-8.  Dalton and the Bengals need to break up for both their own good.

20. Denver Broncos
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  The Broncos ultimately won the Brock Ostweiler deal even if they don’t have much to show for it.  Their defense will remain elite, but their offense won’t be unless Jamaal Charles returns to Chiefs form.  The Broncos play the style of one cut line play that fits what Charles can do but without his elite burst it may be a lot of 2nd and 8’s in the Broncos future.

19. Baltimore Ravens
Odds to win Super Bowl: 50-to-1

Outlook: This is one of two teams I’m leaving out of the contender talk but I can see a scenario in which they challenge for the division crown.  I love their defense and John Harbaugh coaches the team well.  Joe Flacco will have a decent set of weapons (none inspiring enough to make me consider them legit contenders) but ultimately won’t prove enough to overthrow the Steelers from taking the division.

18. Houston Texans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Ton of positive momentum stemming from JJ Watt’s incredible work as humanitarian/fundraiser stemming from Hurricane Harvey’s relief efforts.  But while this defense will remain elite, consider the offense’s ceiling to depend on when they feel comfortable enough to run Deshaun Watson out there.  He will take some lumps this season but this is about the future and the quicker Bill O’Brien realizes it, taking a step back, to potentially take a few steps forward, the better off the Texans will be for the future.

17. New Orleans Saints
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: These are ridiculous odds based solely out of some gumbo-eating handicapper.  There is nothing the Saints did this offseason that make them 25-to-1 odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Nothing.  Drew Brees will do his thing on offense but losing Brandin Cooks was bad but necessary.  Not getting Malcolm Butler was a curious decision in that trade but a first rounder on the OL was another curious decision.   This is a big year for the Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton team.  If this season turns bad, expect major changes in the Bayou.

TIER II: RAISED EYEBROWS

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  I’m taking points off for being on Hard Knocks.  Jameis has all the weapons on offense to realize his true potential.  This is the year we find out if he can overcome his mental mistakes.  There’s just too many moments where we heard Dirk Koetter scold him for making a poor decision.  He takes way too many chances.  This team is good enough to be 12-4 this year but it will all depend on how many times Dirk Koetter has to scold Winston.

15. Los Angeles Chargers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 60-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s a dark horse candidate to legitemately surprise people.  There’s been too many times this team has been snakebitten for one year not to go their way.  Rivers has a very good complement of weapons to put up his usual stats and the defense has an absolute stud in Joey Bosa who will terrorize opposing QB’s alongside Melvin Ingram.  Expect this team to be the talk of LA and the one difficult ticket in their 30,000 seat stadium.

14. Arizona Cardinals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  If everything about Bruce Arians wanting to chuck it deep more is true, expect Carson Palmer to have a really good year.  David Johnson is enough to scare defenses that they CAN be aggressive deep because of the many ways that he threatens a defense.  Expect the Cards to be terrific and Hasaan Reddick to have the best year from any defensive player from this draft.

13. Carolina Panthers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30-to-1

Outlook:  The great white hope Chrisian McCaffrey will be a test in where the RB position is headed.  Teams are now looking for the next David Johnson and the Panthers may feel like they have their guy in McCaffrey who will line up in multiple ways.  Keeping him on a pitch count will help keep Jonathan Stewart AND Cam Newton healthy.  I would not be shocked by a F U year from Cam and the Panthers to put them back in the discussion as among the league’s best.

12. Tennessee Titans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 20-to-1

Outlook:  The trendy AFC contender pick.  Mariota still seems like a gimmick QB to me and for me he’s the one guy that can drive this ship to be champions or not.  They will win the South but I have my reservations in putting my faith in a gimmick QB and a coach named Mularkey.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook: Ton of Super Bowl talk with a defense ready to contend but I still don’t see them being better than the Packers.  Do you?  Regardless, Sam Bradford is on injury alert for me.  His stats were misleading last year as he led the league in accuracy but his yards per attempt were the lowest out of all QB’s who started atlas 15 games.  The Vikings need Bradford to take a step forward.  It might be too much as he’s now in journeyman phase of his career.

10. Philadelphia Eagles
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s the other team that could potentially upset the natural order of things in the division. There’s a clear path forward for this team.  They improved a receiving corps that hindered QB Carson Wentz’ development.  Even a slight improvement by Alshon Jeffrey and co will make the Eagles a looming threat to both the Giants and Cowboys.  I can see them being no less than 3rd in this division and can easily see them playing important games in late December for playoff positioning.

9. Kansas City Chiefs
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: Double check those odds after a decisive Week 1 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots where it looked like they cloned dynamic offensive talent Tyreek Hill in Kareem Hunt, their rookie RB who had the best debut fantasy performance by a rookie running back in history.  I still don’t trust Alex Smith to lead an NFL franchise to the promised land.  With Eric Berry landing on IR with a ruptured achilles the back end of KC’s defense takes a huge blow given how many athletic tight ends there are in the league.  Berry was an equalizer far too few teams in the NFL have.

TIER I: The Contenders

8. Dallas Cowboys
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: Someone will have to explain the Cowboys rosy outlook given the turnover they had on defense.  I get what they are doing on defense, but have they really improved?  Wasn’t last year the high watermark for Dak’s efficiency?  Isn’t losing two of their offensive line starters going to cost them? They can’t possibly better thant hey were last year when they went 13-3 right?  Am i clouded by my Giants fan bias?

7. New York Giants
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: The offensive line still makes me uneasy.  But the defense only gets better with continuity and adding a big hulking receiver in Brandon Marshall makes them better in the red zone.  A lot of guys played beyond expectation last year and expecting that kind of projection to continue would be unrealistic.  But I think this offense plays better and my spidey-senses are tingling about this season.

6. Oakland Raiders
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: I don’t get this line.  If there’s one team that can have all the goodwill undone from the previous year, its this team.  I don’t buy the Marshawn Lynch addition as a reason to push them over the top but a good QB like Derek Carr can offset a lot.  Ask the Giants from last year.  I think Carr is a top 8 QB in the NFL.  But I don’t buy this team as a legit Super Bowl threat.  I’m just not willing to bet that they take a huge fall from last year but the first four games will be telling.

5. Atlanta Falcons
Odds to win Super Bowl: 16-to-1

Outlook: There’s got to be a Super Bowl hangover.  You don’t lose that game, THAT WAY and come back like nothing ever happened.  Matt Ryan is in a contract year and seeing what QB’s are making must have him salivating.  Steve Sarkisian, new OC for the Falcons won’t shy away from taking chances and that’s exactly the mindset you need after losing the Super Bowl for, taking chances.  Kudos to coach Dan Quinn for wanting to maintain that identity despite what the naysayers will say.  Expect a YUUUUGE year from Julio Jones.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 10-to-1

Outlook: If there’s a team that can dethrone the Patriots its this team.  If the Chiefs showed that you can play man-defense and the Pats are really going to be that thin on defense, the Steelers may have the offense to beat the Pats even in Foxboro.  But for the Steelers to have any chance in January, they better be hosting the Patriots.  Even then it may not matter given their recent history.

3. Green Bay Packers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: Sunday’s season opener between the Seahawks and Packers will legitimately have a chance to decide who hosts who in the NFC championship game so writing off Week one won’t be easy for the loser of this game.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a bevy of weapons on offense against that spectacular defense.  I still think the Seahawks are a better team overall and John Schneider made sure of that with the slew of trades he made to fortify this team’s depth.  Sunday afternoon should be eye opening.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: The Seahawks doubled down on their strengths and moved the needle slightly on offense which may have given Russell Wilson another half second to play with which may be enough.  The responsibility of keeping Wilson upright falls on a very shaky O-line which had two more starters go down with season ending injuries but expect Wilson to play almost MVP-like to lead the team to the Superbowl in a rematch against…

1, New England Patriots
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 11-to-4

Outlook: We’ve been down the road before where early in the season Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself and his demise is prematurely being discussed because…ratings.  But make no mistake, this team beefed up on offense and I trust Bill Belichieck to get his team ready on defense every week.  Against the Chiefs the Pats seemed to play against their natural instinct to be aggressive and made some uncharacteristic mistakes which swung the game in KC’s favor.  Don’t expect those mistakes to continue.  Brady is mad.  And when Brady is mad, that usually means good things for the Patriots and bad things for the rest of the league

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Big Blue Thoughts Week 7

Ten thoughts following the Giants 31-21 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T stadium in Dallas, Texas.

1. The Cowboys are good….- Naturally I reserve the right to change my mind but the eye test proves it.  The Cowboys are playing sound, power football and have the playmakers on the outside to make you pay if you overcompensate in the box (nice sexual reference I know).  The offensive line is basically the best unit going in all of football- better than the Legion of Boom Seattle secondary.  They are winning individual battles at the point of attack and helping to win games for the Cowboys.  The defense, as a result, doesn’t need to play as much and allows them to be fresh.  Remember, this is a unit that lost its two best players and still sits as the 22nd best team defense based on total yards surrendered, giving up the 15th most yards per game, 18th most pass yards, 21st most rush yards, and tied with Green Bay for 16th most points given up.  So how does a team that has a +1 turnover differential get such acclaim?  Because Rod Marinelli has tied scheme with the pieces given and formed a unit that likely will have to continue playing great football for not so long stretches of the game.  This is a team that had the ball for more than 31 minutes in the game they lost in San Francisco, then had it for more than 41 minutes in Tennessee, almost 35 minutes against the Saints, 36 minutes in OT against Houston, nearly 38 minutes in Seattle, and 33 minutes against the Giants.  The only time they LOST the time of possession game was against the Rams, where they had to pass their way to victory after going down 21-0 midway through the second quarter.  This is a team that makes no bones about its offensive identity: they will run the football with a physically imposing running back who has finally managed to stay healthy and the minute they think you’re cheating at the line of scrimmage they will throw the football to a physically imposing wide receiver who’s on the short list for dominant wide receivers in the sport.

Do I trust the defense in the second half of the season when the weather turns cold?  Just looking at their next month, they go against Washington on Monday night, Arizona at home, and then travel to Jacksonville before they hit their bye.  They could enter their bye 8-2 if we are to assume that they lose to Arizona and even then you can’t assume anything.  Then the schedule gets a bit more daunting.  Sunday night against the Giants, then a quick turnaround against the Eagles on Thanksgiving day, followed a week later by a game at the who knows where mentally they will be Chicago Bears, ten days later at the Eagles for what could be pole position in the division, home for the Colts and then close out the season against the Washington Redskins. who may have Robert Griffin back healthy with what looks like a slate of solid weapons.  If one were an optimist, and say the Cowboys run the table till the bye, let’s say they split the Eagles games, sweep the other two divisional opponents, and lose to the Bears and Colts, we’re still talking a 12-4 regular season.  Here’s where the Tony Romo, Jason Garrett era has always hit a hard thud, there will be one or two losses that could slip into that dreamy scenario that could ultimately undo them, but this iteration of the Cowboys seems markedly different than the play for the division on the final day of the season Cowboys teams that always stopped short.

Based on the records as it stands, the Eagles face a tougher stretch.  The Eagles have Dallas twice, but also have yet to play Seattle and they draw Green Bay by virtue of winning the division last year.  Let’s assume they beat Arizona at home which is no easy feat, and then beat Houston and Carolina.  Let’s say they split one of the two against the Cowboys and split one of two against the Green Bay and Seattle teams and then win out.  That’s a 13-3 record for the Eagles.  I trust the Eagles defense more than I do trust the Cowboys defense and those two divisional games between the two will be huge especially the December 14th showdown at Philadelphia.  Should be an interesting 2 months to see this drama play out in Big D and Broad Street.

2. …this loss means the end for the Giants? Technically no one is officially knocked out but look at the two schedules and the if everything plays out as it should scenarios for the two teams- Dallas, would wind up 12-4 or 13-3 and Philly would go 13-3.  The best record the Giants could get now is 12-4 and thats by running the table Jim Fassel style.  That means beating Indy and San Fran at home and then beating Seattle AT Seattle and then also beating Dallas and Philly once which would make things interesting again.  They end the regular season in Philly.  But to get there, they would have to get through that tough stretch completely unscathed and there’s no evidence that the Giants even make it out of that stretch 1-2.  Remember, these two games were as must-win as must-win can be this early in the season and they failed both times.  If you think the wild card will be there for the taking consider that one of the two spots will be taken by the Dallas/Philly group and the other spot will likely come from the NFC West who have the defending champions, the Niners, the Cardinals and a suddenly dangerous Rams team.  Good luck trying to slip in through the wild card.  Crazier things have happened and Giants fans can attest to that.  It will be difficult to envision the Giants going any better than 10-6 and barely missing the playoffs.  Of course, as the season goes on, you have the out of nowhere injuries to significant players.  The Cowboys don’t have the kind of depth on defense that can afford any type of major injury.  The Eagles are a sound team but if LeSean McCoy doesn’t start performing better and the offensive line continues to have the kind of injuries they already have had (they are playing without Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce), the season could turn and the Eagles could start to suffer.  But I still like the Eagles and Cowboys thanks to their schedules to make it out with double digit wins more so than the Giants.

3. Is it time to put an end to the fairy tale that was Larry Donnell? No.  Physically he’s still a match up nightmare.  Mentally one has to wonder if the young kid can put the two costly turnovers late in the fourth that ultimately cost the Giants Sunday’s game.  We won’t have the answer to that for a few weeks, but the Giants have capable players up and down the roster offensively to start making a difference and the “next man up” philosophy will be put to the test if he doesn’t take care of the football better.  One thing we’ve learned about Coach Coughlin is that he HATES players with fumbling issues and isn’t a coach that takes kindly to mental mistakes.  It bears watching how Coughlin handles this in terms of the depth chart.  Daniel Fells continues to be steady and reach the end zone, but I know coming into the season  The Giants are heading into the bye and perhaps time off will heal the wound of Donnell’s fumble but Coughlin will remind the young TE that a 3 TD performance in Washington does NOT a career make.  The play in question wound up being a 14 point swing when Donnell fumbled at the New York 27.  The Cowboys scored 4 plays later with a 1 yard TD run by DeMarco Murray.

4. Eli Manning continues to be mistake free….- But the Giants keep losing.  Eli’s career record when throwing for at least 2 TD’s and zero interceptions is 21-6 (.777 win pct).  Coincidentally three of the six losses were to the Cowboys.    When the Giants handed the offense to Ben McAdoo one of his chief responsibilities was to reduce the amount of interceptions thrown by Eli.  He’s already done a fantastic job.  Eli has thrown 5 interceptions in 7 games.  Compare that to 2013 when he had thrown his 5th interception by the fourth quarter of game number two.  The biggest question surrounding Eli has always been about his erratic play but there’s no doubt that the early returns on this new offense have been good.  Eli has limited his mistakes and some of that is due to the fact that he is no longer forcing the issue when being under pressure.  He’s making sure to throw those god-awful short throws at the knees of his running back rather than throw it and hope for the best.  Think about the effect that has on an offensive line that everyone agrees has not improved as much as the Giants brass would have liked.  The offensive line is projected to give up 10 fewer sacks this year than last and that’s with an eight sack performance at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles on their register.  While the benefits may not be seen now, mistake free football is what helped win two Super Bowls.  This can only lead to better things.

5. Andre Williams isn’t there yet.- And that’s ok.  The rookie was thrust into a role after a few highlights of him lowering the boom on some unsuspecting cornerback.  But you’re now seeing why he wasn’t projected as high on team’s draft boards.  He’s not as quick or shifty as the superstar running backs in the league.  He’s a pound it out in between the tackles 4 yards at a time the hard way kind of guy.  Those guys age quick.  Its the guys that can avoid the hits that last in the league and Williams hasn’t learned that trick yet.  Jennings, another big back, did a great job when he was healthy of showing burst once he hit the hole.  Williams runs into the hole and finds very little room to operate because he didn’t read the hole correctly.  That will come with time and repetition.  The Giants brought in former Jet Alex Green and former Cowboy Felix Jones for workouts but that’s more as a contingency.  They believe Jennings will be healthy enough to play after the bye.  But it does bear watching how reverting back to a part time role could make Williams more productive or if it has a negative impact on his development.  If he is in fact the future feature back, these few games may be the best thing for his development.

6. The defensive line is going back into its shell- The Giants went up against two above average (Philly) to really good (Cowboys) offensive lines and failed both times to generate any consistent rush.  Yes, their performance in Dallas was significantly better than it was in Philadelphia where it seemed like the Giants weren’t in the same league as the Eagles, but again a breakdown in fundamentals led to critical scores for the Cowboys.  Terrance Williams’ touchdown catch saw Tony Romo break to his left once he realized that JPP had taken an inside route to get the sack and he had acreage to run or stop, set himself and throw a touchdown strike to Terrance Williams.  It was similar to watching the Giants break contain against Shady McCoy.  The way to stop shifty players is to force them to try and go straight when they really want to run left or right.  Shady and Tony Romo are adept enough to wait for you as the defender to make the first move and give away where you’re going to try and get them so that they can instinctively make a counter-move.  The importance of being patient and allowing the player to fall into the hands of the defense are vital and the Giants failed both times.  During 2011, JPP had a knack for making the sure tackle and being excellent in run support because he was able to hold the point of attack on running plays and force the runner to either go way outside or shift back inside which led to short or no gain.  That’s the kind of performance we need.  Coach Nunn has promised to unleash DaMontre Moore and shift Kiawunuka to the inside on certain passing downs to generate  a pass rush but he said it with the nugget that he doesn’t think DaMontre Moore is necessarily ready to make that leap.  The Giants, more so than others, can be hamstrung by what they see in practice.  They recognize talent but if the talent doesn’t perform from Monday-Saturday they won’t trust it Sunday.  I’m not going to second guess them because their method has worked.  But sometimes you have to take chances that don’t have anything to do with your hand being forced due to injury.

7. Who deserves more credit? Tony Romo or Demarco Murray- Its a popular question but I offer this response: the offensive line.  That offensive line has changed everything for the Cowboys and I beg someone to say that the offensive line’s performance hasn’t been what has spurred the Cowboys resurgence this year.  As I wrote earlier, their affect on how long the defense has to stay out there, or their ability to wear opposing defenses out can’t be felt until the third and fourth quarter.  It reminds me of the offensive line the Giants had in late 2007  and throughout most of 2008.  The rushing stats for the Giants were unbelievable because the offensive line dominated the point of attack and forced the issue and moved buildings out of the way for the runners to run through.  Giving Tony Romo, an already talented quarterback, a running game and an offensive line that can pass protect well is creating the illusion that the Cowboys have an extra receiver on passing situations and a big TE blocking on running situations: it looks unfair.

8.  Why didn’t the Giants just keep passing it last Sunday?-  That’s a very good question and one that I think has more to do with how the game was being played and how close the game was until five minutes left.  Yes, the Giants were having success passing the football.  Eli played another fantastic, mistake free game.  But the fact is Tom Coughlin has always preached balance and he won’t change the identity of his team to suit the narrative of ONE game.  Remember, the Giants were trailing the Cowboys by 7 with 5:28 left in the game so there was no reason to panic and deviate from the game plan.  There is some merit to the thinking that perhaps the Giants should’ve gone pass heavy to set up the run and flip the script.  In the fourth quarter the Giants went pass heavy calling 12 pass plays to 4 run plays.  Technically the Giants did go pass heavy but two fumbles by Larry Donnell extinguished any chance of the Giants being able to score.  It will be interesting how the play calling changes if Rashard Jennings does not return after the bye.  Will the Giants rely heavily on the pass game?

9. Hey Rook, you’re a veteran now- That’s the headline that screamed this week as Victor Cruz’s injury now forces Odell Beckham to come into his own as a veteran.  I’m one of those guys who views injuries like this as opportunities for players who have the skill to put their talent on full display and I believe that Beckham will do just that.  I’m a fan of his route running, and his ability to get down the field and create mismatches.  Judging by “Drafting Giants” the NFL Films production that aired as a miniseries on the NFL Network, the Giants thought the world of him and love his pedigree; both his parents were professional athletes.  I did find it surprising that the Giants would be vocal about expanding his role in the offense.  There’s a difference in the tone that the Giants speak about him than say a Damontre Moore, a second year defensive end that the Giants feel similarly enthused about.  While Moore physically is able to dominate at the line of scrimmage, there are concepts he still is having problems with.  Beckham, who’s early injury put doubt into people’s heads about his toughness, sprung from his first game and immediately made an impact.  Whether its his budding connection with Eli which seems to be almost instinctive, or its his other skills that were on display from the day the Giants and other teams scouted him, it just looks like the added responsibility won’t be too much for the rookie receiver to handle.  An Adrien Robinson who has been the tight end of the future while the Giants keep inviting one year tryouts for tight ends has found it difficult to make it on the field on Sundays, and almost found himself completely out after Larry Donnell’s breakout performance the first few weeks.  The Giants aren’t sending mixed signals.  Some players progress a lot quicker than others.  Its just a nature of the game and the point of the game is to win.  The best players make the plays on Sundays and the best players play on Sundays.  For rookies, that means growing up quicker than maybe the  traditional process says.  But I don’t think Beckham minds.

10. Looking ahead- Well a bye couldn’t have come at a better time.  It feels like a coming to God moment for the Giants.  I thought they had to, at the very least, split the series against the Eagles and Cowboys.  Now, the focus comes to Indianapolis who has been playing excellently recently and that offense led by Andrew Luck and old friend Ahmad Bradshaw.  The Giants last played the Colts when they had a young buck called Peyton Manning as their quarterback.  This version of the Colt QB is just as dangerous if not more thanks to his physique.  If you thought Tony Romo was tough to bring down, I promise you Luck will be tougher.  Sacking Luck will require multiple Giants converging at the QB and even then, he has the arm and upper body strength to get the football out.  If the Giants don’t get pressure on Luck it will be a long day.  One player to keep an eye on: Dwayne Allen.  He missed virtually all of last season following a hip injury that put him on the IR.  His ability to block and be an able member of the passing game was a huge loss for the Colts but the Colts are a resilient bunch.  It forced certain players to play a more pronounced role.  With Allen back, a lot of players can now take their rightful place in the offense.  The Colts won’t expect Colby Fleener to block.  He can play the Dallas Clark role by lining up outside of the down linemen.  Allen’s presence is huge in this offense and the reason they have rolled off the kind of numbers they have.  Interestingly enough, the Colts last year played the kind of murderer’s row of schedules the Giants will.  Starting in week 3 the Colts played the 49ers in San Fran, the Seahawks at home, the Chargers in San Diego and the Broncos in Indy in five weeks and went 3-1 in those games.  So the lesson here is that it can be done.  The mistake free Eli needs to play those games.  If not, the Giants may not stand a chance and a bad 0-2 stretch can stretch into a nightmarish midseason which will give way to a pointless end of season string of games.  The Giants are now forced to win nearly all of the next few games against the Colts (at home), Seahawks (in Seattle), Niners (at home) and Cowboys (at home) to even survive and keep up with the Cowboys and Eagles.  Let’s remember, they have to win all of their division games thanks to losing to the Eagles and Cowboys in consecutive weeks.  This will be an interesting after the bye stretch.

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Jets and Giants (overdue) Post game reactions

Quick thoughts on both local teams starting with the Giants.

–  Plenty of non game balls to pass around but let’s start with the reality of the situation.  The Giants offensive line was a mess on Sunday.  The running game was decent but never given a chance to shine since the game plan was to throw it on a Washington pass D that the Giants must have seen SOMETHING to go with that game plan.

– Victor Cruz played an awful game Sunday.  His drop on a key third down on their first drive was symbolic on the Giants as a whole that day.  Never seemingly getting comfortable.  Without Rich Seubert, and Jeff Saturday’s brother Shaun O’Hara (maybe all White offensive linemen with beards look alike), the G-Men seemed to be getting the hang of David Baas as their new center calling out protections and coverages.  Either way, Cruz’ lackluster play and key drop made him a non factor the rest of the way and made the key slot position, you know the one where they let Steve Smith walk, pretty much a non factor the entire game.  Which may be a reason why they addressed that with the signing of Brandon Stokely, the 12 year receiver who is best known for his Super Bowl catch against the Giants as a member of the Baltimore Ravens when he blew right past Jason Sehorn (in my mind the most overrated cover guy in the history of the Giants).

– The complete evisceration of the Giants secondary during this preseason culminated in Rex Grossman’s performance.  It may have helped if Justin Tuck and Osi Umeniyora were in there.  The major strength of the Giants has always been their pass rush and with those two and Jason Pierre Paul (if ya don’t mind i’m calling him JPP so keep up kids) up front with a defensive tackle would’ve put a lot more pressure on any offensive line more so than ONLY having Jason Pierre Paul.  Even so, the Giants had four sacks.  Now combine that with the presence of those two in the line up the Giants should be able to generate a much better rush and afford quarterbacks like Rex Grossman a lot less time.

– Speaking of the defensive front, they were done in with their lack of depth (MLB Jonathan Goff had played excellent against the run, Marvin Austin second round draft pick) and allowed Tim Hightower to play up to expectation in terms of fantasy production.  The one cut back was a natural fit heading into the season in Mike Shanahan’s system so success was expected but playing a beat up Giants defense couldn’t have been so bad.

– Injuries are NO excuse and I agree with Chris Canty, on a day that was so sad for New Yorkers, giving them something to cheer for should’ve been enough to warrant some kind of life but all that life seemed to be sucked out of the Giants when Ryan Kerrigan intercepted Eli Manning’s pass.  The Giants played with no heart the rest of the way and seemed comfortable in accepting in chalking the loss up to injuries.  Well, most of them will be gone for the entire season so unless the G-men plan on throwing 15 more pity parties I suggest they get over it quick and get to business.  Either way, the important thing is, they are already down in the division.

– I’m actually positive with this whole starting alot of rookies in key spots for one reason.  The Giants will generate a pass rush once Tuck and Umi are back to join Kiwi and JPP.  Having Greg Jones, a sixth round pick from Michigan State at MLB will give the Giants some kind of youth in a key spot.  Goff was excellent but this is his final year on his contract and he’s going to be a free agent and having Jones get meaningful playing time will only benefit.  The strongest group of depth I saw in the preseason was the linebackers and not because of their play but because of the plays the youth were making.  The most difficult decisions the Giants made during the offseason was deciding which guy to cut.  While keeping Mark Herzlich was a great story, he’s only regaining his speed and strength and will only be at full strength later on in the season.  The Giants will need Greg Jones to pick it up over the next few weeks.  Being given the assignment of starter mid week isn’t an ideal spot to be, but here’s the kid’s opportunity, as a fan of the Giants I can only hope he runs with it.

– Also, another player who surprised me during the preseason was Tyler Sash and he will get his opportunity. He’s a little green but he has good instincts which is key because that you can’t teach.  Keeping that instinct and combining it with football intelligence will go a long way towards making him a better player and the play of Antrell Rolle did NOT make me happy.  Rolle maintained that he would be willing to go back to corner to shore up some of the weak areas the Giants had heading into the season with the loss of Terrell Thomas and Bruce Anderson, but he became an All Pro at Safety and as a Giants fan I’d rather have his speed there covering ground now that there’s enough game film evidence that Kenny Phillips and his arthritic knees are slowly robbing him of his coverage skills.  Phillips is still playing shy and indecisive and he’s lost his confidence which is a huge blow since before the injury he was on his way to a Pro-Bowl year.  Trusting Deon Grant the rest of the way is not my cup of tea.

Another week, another chance for the Giants to get a win.  LETS GO BIG BLUE.

 

As we turn our attention to the other guys.

–  The folks at the NFL clearly have heard the wails and cries from head coach Rex Ryan.  The Jets are primetime studs now and received that honor with the home game on September 11th.  The decision to play the Cowboys was also curious considering that is the Giants bigger rival.  The importance of that can’t be understated.  The NFL believes in Rex, its time to honor that trust by going all the way this year.

–  I wasn’t a fan of the move to let Shaun Ellis go but this Muhammad Wilkerson kid will be good.  Loved his stoutness on the front lines and he did a good job plugging gaps and making sure Felix Jones had to go all the way around the line to try and get extra yardage.  Jones had opportunities to break some in the first quarter but the Jets played excellent up front making sure those holes filled up quick.

–  Now the downside of losing Shaun Ellis is that the Jets already weak pass rush is going to get weaker and Calvin Pace must have a huge year.  Now, I know what people are saying, the Jets get their sacks through blitzes, but all the Jets had to do was look across from them at DeMarcus Ware to see what an all out pass rusher can do.  Sure, Ware is the best lineman in all of football as evidenced by having the most sacks in the time he’s been in this league, but the Jets have tried to bring up pass rushers and it hasn’t worked.  Now, Rex is known for his exotic blitzes and coming from everywhere and its important to note that the Jets coverage is very good but let’s be honest, the rich never say stop giving me money, they say give me more and the Jets should continue to pursue the kind of all out rusher that they would like to develop.  If they ever get the chance to trade up in a draft to go for one they are absolutely sure of they should.  Just my two cents.  I’m not saying mortgage two years drafts like Atlanta did to get Julio Jones, but you know what I mean.  Its a concern because this was a very young inexperienced offensive line for the Cowboys which the Jets should’ve ate up but they still gave them some problems.  Albeit the Boys offensive line is a bit more athletic now they were still a legit concern heading into this game but it is now the Jets lack of a pass rush which is more of the urgent concern.

– A major concern for the Jets has to be Antonio Cromartie.  He got eaten up by Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.  Albeit, they are Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and most teams don’t have that caliber of receivers on either side, still the Cowboys made it a point to target Cro from the first series on and when they did, it seemed like the Cowboys were unstoppable.  Id’ also be concerned for Kyle Wilson who seemed lost on some plays in the slot.  Witten could’ve had a much bigger day had Wilson been guarding him throughout.  Huge play by Jimmy Leonhard on that goal line tackle which began the eventual sequence of Romo sucking.

– Many people want to blame Romo for blowing that game and they can.  You can point to the dive head first which allowed the Jets to cause the fumble or the terrible 5-yard-short throw to Dez Bryant that Revis easily picked off.  But I agreed with Cris Collinsworth, having Dez Bryant on a bum leg was a liability at that point.  The Cowboys bailed the Jets out by keeping Dez in there.  Now you can make the case that they wanted Revis occupying him so that the Boys could take advantage of other areas but they didn’t.  Romo continued to go to him in key situations.  On that fumble, his first target was Bryant.  It wasn’t a fake throw in his direction to draw the defense, no, he looked his way pumped, then ran in that direction before deciding to try and slide in.  Then the rollout and throw which was an absolutely atrocious throw and poor decision to, again, DEZ, has to make you scratch your head.  If that was Garret calling the plays and Dez was the number one option then Romo was just carrying out orders but again, the blame goes to Romo for making that poor decision and read.  As a Giant fan it gave me great joy to see Romo once again under pressure, wilt.

– The Jets have to be wary of playing these kind of games.  Now, mind you, over the last two years they have had success in close games, if the season opener was any indication, the up and down Mark Sanchez, the what kind of Mark Sanchez will show up on each down, has to worry Jet fans.  He’s a thrill ride.  He can look confident, make excellent decisions and great throws with pin point accuracy and then he can make terrible throws like the pick to Sean Lee.  He reminds me alot of another New York QB currently playing.  Anyone wanna guess who?  Hey Jet fans look on the bright side, he won us a Super Bowl, and I am getting the feeling that Sanchez can also be a Super Bowl winning QB.

– I loved the fact that Rob Ryan stormed onto the field looking for someone to hit before meeting his brother for the hand shake.  I wonder what Rex said to Rob.  I’m sure it was something kinky.

 

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Giants Wrap-Up

Huge win Monday night over the Cowboys and here’s a few thoughts, and observations on the Giants game:

– Notice I didn’t say win.  It was yet another ugly win and the feeling hasn’t disappeared yet about this team.  Its a very odd season where no team has separated itself from the pack in the NFC and as much as I hated hearing that the Cowboys and Vikings were still in it (mathematically of course they were), it was accurate.  No one was so dominant where you could see them emerging to beat anyone of the top teams in the AFC.  If you HAD to pick a team today from among the NFC as the best, I suppose the Giants would be that team, but no one could say it with much conviction.

– The game played out in 3 parts:

1st Part- Cowboy Pride, 2nd part- Giants step up, 3rd part- Giants let up.

– Out of Manning’s first four passes in two drives 2 of his passes were picked off and before his first pass, it should’ve been picked off.  Even on his 3rd possession, the first completion to Hakeem Nicks was tipped but completed.  Manning has been guilty of high passes all season long and some of those tipped interceptions have been a result of those high passes.  Those have led to his 11 interceptions which at this point of the season is a very high number.  While it may not affect them early on in the season, later on those things catch up to a team that turns the ball over.

– Coming into this game it was the ballyhooed group in Dallas that got all the pub: Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant.  Here were there numbers:

Cowboys Receivers

NAME RECEPTIONS YARDS TD’s
Dez Bryant 4 54 2
Jason Witten 9 95 1
Miles Austin 3 38 0
Roy Williams 0 0 0
Totals 16 187 3

Giants Receivers

NAME RECEPTIONS YARDS TD’s
Hakeem Nicks 9 108 2
Steve Smith 9 101 1
Mario Manningham 3 40 1
Kevin Boss 1 23 0
TOTALS 22 272 4

Clearly the production shows you who was the better group on this night.  On Dallas’ side, only Dez Bryant was really a force and Witten was his usual dependable self.  Witten was more a safety valve in the second half where Kitna was just trying to dump the ball before he became another QB the Giants defense laid out.  I came out of this game truly impressed NOT by Dez Bryant’s athleticism which I didn’t find that tremendous, it was his constant motor and inability to stop on any play.  He just seemed to have a motor that kept going and even when he was wrapped up he tried to make extra yards happen.  He knew what this game meant for the Cowboys and despite only having 4 receptions his influence came on the return game where he returned one for a TD.  All is not lost here in Big D especially if Bryant begins to emerge here with Romo gone as a dependable option.  He’s a playmaker, plain and simple and deserves to wear that number.

– As for the Giants receivers, while Hakeem Nicks gets the stats, look at some of the catches Steve Smith made.  Look at the blocks he was making in the running game.  Make no mistake, while Nicks has the higher ceiling and many are predicting huge things for Nicks development wise, Smith IS the better receiver now and the more dependable option.  That’s what made the 07 team so good.  As good as Plaxico Burress was and his ability to take over games, Amani Toomer was the yard stick mover and the consummate professional and stalwart.  Steve Smith emerged later in the season and that’s the kind of development you want to see from Mario Manningham who I was excited about when the Giants initially drafted him.  He was the kind of athlete that fell due to emotional issues he had, but his talent was obvious.  He showed glimpses, but that’s all he’s shown.  Glimpses.  He’s never been a dependable option like Smith.  That third option has to emerge from the group of Manningham, Victor Cruz (who has yet to take the field) and Ramses Barden.

– It was written in yesterday’s Post, but its worth repeating: want to know what the difference is between this year’s running game and last year’s?  Bear Pascoe.  His shift from TE to full back has been a revelation and has made them so much better and he can remain on the field as a blocking TE or even a pass catching option as he emerges.  Fact is, the guy is a football player and one of the cuts from the Giants camp who decided to stay with the team despite having options on other teams but only as a practice squad player.  This game saw the Giants get back to the run.  Bradshaw with 126 yards on 24 carries and Jacobs with 75 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown (a touchdown I will get to).  I usually look at ypc (yards per carry) when I look at running stats and Bradshaw averaged 5.3 and Jacobs averaged 6.3.  Bradshaw didn’t have to bob and weave tonight, it was all downhill and making a cut.  He usually has to work for his yards but not tonight and that was telling about the Cowboys more than anything.

– Heres my thoughts on the Cowboys: they are poorly coached.  I hate to blame the coaches, but the culture in Big D is a relaxed atmosphere and for what?  They havent accomplished anything.  Ever.  You can count their playoff wins since 1996 on one hand.  This is a franchise living off the past that passed a while ago and it comes from the top.  Jerry Jones is an attention hog.  A guy who needs the credit and needs a coach who doesn’t need it.  Even when Bill Parcells came in and helped draft the core of the defense they have today (I’m not foolish enough to give him all the credit for the drafts), Jerry basically showed Bill the door (though I’m sure it wasn’t easy to work with Parcells either) and Bill returned the favor by stealing one of his better executives Jeff Ireland and a head coach as well, in Tony Sparano.  Jerry needs to relax and take a step back.  This team does not need to be rebuilt.  He needs to bring in a disciplinarian with some credibility.  You can take your chances with an unknown, but you’d be better off going with someone that you do know.  This was a game in which they were handed 2 possessions to open the game in Giants territory and a third in which they started at their own 40, and they got 13 points.  Even when Dez Bryant got that punt return TD, it wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the rust began to come off for Kitna that they even mustered some kind of effort.  That Brandon Jacobs run was a play that needs to be played over and over again in the defensive play room if only for the fact that the point needs to be made: you can’t be soft in this league.  Blown coverages get your quarterback taken out.  Blown tackles get running backs dancing on the star.  Bad coverage gets receivers open in the end zone.  That first TD by Eli Manning was one of the ugliest plays ever (on both sides) and Eli pumped to that side and that was just Nicks boxing out.  Touchdowns dont’ come that easy and they were coming pretty easy.

– Warning to the NFL: if Tom Coughlin throws the challenge flag, chances are, the Giants are winning it.

– Warning to the NFL: The Giants defense is coming for your QB.  I hope Matt Hasselback is getting prepared and that guy gets injured often.  Do I think the Giants defense is dirty?  No.  Look at all the hits, its classic blindside hits or in Romo’s case: a beautiful tackle.  Romo’s arm was wrapped up by Michael Boley when he came in which forced the injury more than anything.  Nothing dirty about this defense, they just hit you hard.  Interesting point made last night while driving by the Schmooz, Steve Somers on WFAN: Should the Giants be worried that teams are taking note of the 5 QB’s the Giants D have laid out and are putting a bounty on Eli?  It can get interesting when the Cowboys come to the new Meadowlands 3 weeks from now if they look for some revenge.

– Biggest difference this Giants team has: their run D has been exponentially better.  Canty is healthy, Cofield is healthy, Rocky Bernard is healthy and finally that depth on the defensive line is showing.

– This is why you’d much rather have Eli Manning than most QB’s in the league.  Two interceptions on his first four passes?  Who cares.  Comes back and on their next 7 possesions: 5 TD’s, and a FG.  The guy shakes off the bad as quickly as anyone I’ve ever seen.  I’d say this game was the mark of a champion but Eli is just built this way.  While we want to see an emotional QB, I think Monday’s game showed why we’d much rather have a calm cool guy who doesn’t get overly emotional.

– The Fourth quarter was as troubling as I’ve seen.  The long and short of it: Wade helped by going for it instead of going for a field goal and ended up giving the ball back on downs.  But the Giants let the Boys back in it when they threw when they clearly should’ve been passing.  Bad Eli emerged when he threw just a stupid INT (I really have no other words to describe it).  And the Boys came within a leg short of recovering an onside kick to make the last 44 seconds meaningful.  It should NEVER have came to this.

– Again, the Giants are lucky to have faced the Cowboys in their present condition.  Five turnovers (3 by INT, and 2 fumbles, one recovered by the Cowboys.) should’ve done them in but the Giants faced a team even dumber than them this night.  Tom Coughlin is just a much smarter coach but that fourth quarter was brutal and he seemingly dropped to Wade’s level.  But there is good news that came from this: they won and they made enough mistakes that the taskmaster can crack the whip.

Enjoy the bye week folks.  Be back later on with the Power Rankings and thoughts on the league.

 

 

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DIVISIONAL REACTION pt 1- the other guys

Ok, so I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting my detailed explanation as to why the Saints, the Colts, Vikings and Jets won.  Well I’m going to tell you why, but more on the Jet game in a later post.

Cards vs Saints-  As I wrote in the previous prediction column I mistakenly ignored all the good karma that the city of New Orleans had going for it and the good karma that they added on by bringing back fan favorite Deuce McCalister on a one day contract, simply so he could lead them out of the tunnel.  Peter King said it best, they had 52 healthy players and needed a player to fill in number 53 and that more than anything speaks volumes to who Sean Payton is as a coach and as a person.  He gets it.  He understood how important and how well it would be recieved by both his players and this city that has had nothing but hills to climb since Katrina.  Something is going right for this city and its this time and no one symbolizes that climb more than Deuce.

But more so, I took into account the layoff between the last good game the Saints played and equated that to being rusty.  While that’s good sensible logic (really i’m grasping at straws here to defend such a, now looking back, atrocious pick), I also failed to take into account the Super Dome.  This weekend, the dome teams went out and dominated.  Flat out.  Nothing more to say than that.  The Super Dome is one of the loudest stadiums.  Ever.  I mean, who can forget that first home game following Katrina?  I bet the Falcons walked into that stadium and from the word go probably realized they had a negative chance at winning that game, that stadium was rocking that hard that night and similarly so too was the stadium last Saturday.  It was a party from the very first Saint touchdown to the very final bell.

In between the Saints discovered a few things that I hope the Vikings were paying attention to.  Their secondary got much healthier than they had been all season.  Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay were all 100% and raring to go for the first time in a long time and perhaps in the everlasting debate over rest or ride for meaningless games, rest may have been the formula here.  Their secondary gave Kurt Warner nothing but little dink and dunk passes.  I expected both teams to limit big play opportunities but little did I know that the Cardinals would not play any defense at all.  Poor tackling, missed assignments and awful secondary play (albeit after Rodgers-Cromartie went down), contributed to the lack of defensive intensity but another huge factor missing in all this was: holy crap, that was Reggie Bush that everyone thought he would be.

Was it me or did he look huge, like cartoonish huge.  I’m not trying to say he’s on something but you’d be hard pressed to find a more physical player than Reggie Bush on saturday.  He was running over people like he was Brandon Jacobs.  He invited contact instead of trying to make the “And-One” play all the time and making people miss.  I love Reggie when he tries to but in the NFL, players are just as fast as him and bigger.  I think Reggie finally embraced his natural ability and became who he was meant to be.  North to south, east to west, ability to break things open and ability to run between tackles.  Another wrinkle that came out of this is the fact that Reggie Bush is owed a sizable roster bonus during March.  This was pretty much a resume he handed into Saints management who will have to consider him at the very least now.  Michael Lombardi said it best when he commented “he was once an accessory to this offense, and on Saturday he looked like a legitimate part of it.”

Biggest turning point of the game had to be the Kurt Warner injury.  If that weren’t sign enough that it was time to leave, i’m sure when he came to his senses, his mind was made up.  Even his suddenly much younger looking and much hotter wife, had a look of resignation as Warner was attended to as they had discussed this possibly being his last season as an NFL player.  Warner leaving will be a huge blow to the Cardinals because, i don’t know if anyone else saw what I saw from Matt Leinart but his shoes will be hard to fill by anyone they have currently on their roster.

COLTS vs. Ravens-  Let’s be clear here, Peyton Manning’s brilliance is once in a life time and his knowledge of the game is unparalleled.  I used that disclaimer before I tell you that the mistakes the Ravens made in this game cost them the game more than Peyton Manning playing his usual killer self at the QB position.  Go ahead, look at the stats.  Most of the stats are pretty similiar.  Even the turnover game: technically the Ravens picked off Peyton twice but the stat sheet will only show one.  Why?  Because one of them was nullified thanks to a penalty.  The other was returned only to have Ed Reed (the interceptor on both of those plays, back to back in fact) get the ball knocked out of his hand and the Colts recover.  Two opportunities, and both missed thanks to bad play by the Ravens.  We haven’t even talked about how many huge drops there were, and the interception that Joe Flacco threw to close the game and the other one that was tipped off the hands of Ray Rice and right to the Colts.  All rally killers and all mistakes that cost the Ravens.

We know to give credit where credit is due, but let’s go ahead and remember what was truly at work here.  The Colts defense was fast and opportunistic, while the Ravens offense was giving and slow.  One 11 of their 13 first down opportunities they ran.  Yes, they are a power running game, but their passing offense wasn’t too bad.  Looking at the stat sheet of the game, of their 12 first downs 10 were gained by passing now that means that they were left in mostly 3rd and more than 5 or 6 which meant that the Indy defense knew they were going to pass which plays into Indy’s strength.  If they had reversed the trend and ran after passing on first down, it would’ve greatly affected 3rd down on many of those occasions.  Baltimore kept making mistakes which allowed the Colts better field position and just better overall manageable situations.  That penalty on Ray Lewis was a bit of a touchy call but still, the rule is very clear: anytime the defender leads in with his helmet and hits another helmet, it is a penalty and that should NOT be something to quibble over especially if you’ve been reading the New York Times very expertly written research into the link between brain damage and football players.

VIKINGS vs. COWBOYS-  A lot of people, including me, bought into the hot Cowboys.  They were America’s team and they were putting each demon behind them as the season wore on and after decisively beating the Eagles two weeks in a row, many considered the Cowboys the second best if not best team heading into the playoffs.  Only, once again, I refused to consider how dominantly the Viking front four would play and answer the call.  I only spoke of the fearsome pass rush that DeMarcus Ware and Co. were putting together and yet glossed over the fact that the Viking front four could be equally as destructive.  In fact, I spoke so highly of the Cowboy offense that I misremembered how good the Viking offense was.  Actually, no I didn’t, I in my continued hatred for how poorly the Giants played those last few weeks, saw that last game as a mirage.  A byproduct of playing a team that no longer cared.  But in fact, the Vikings came out and executed excellently.  They never had to depend on Adrian Peterson who played yet another subpar game.  20 carries for 63 yards is a rather meager output but when you consider that his presence alone made the Cowboys come up on the line, and gave the receivers one on one on the outside.  It seems as if Brett Favre and Sidney Rice are really catching on.  Sidney is tall and athletic enough to make some catches that normally aren’t good throws but you can’t get a better thrown pass than the one Brett threw him for the first touchdown.  It was literally there on his hands and it was such a good job of Rice to act as if he wasn’t the intended target that the safety never turned around or ever put his hands up either.  It fell right in his lap and he took it the rest of the way for the touchdown.

The chop block for the second TD was a bit sketchy but stood simply because it was a heads up play to never give up.  Favre really had no other options and found Rice open in the middle of the field.  The third one was a perfect throw again which really the Cowboys couldn’t have defended any better.

The game was lost because of the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys.  You can make a case that Romo lost the game but that again is the simple answer.  Romo never had any time to step into a throw and was constantly pressured to the point that he was constantly running around like a headless chicken.  What’s more is that the Vikings did it with a conventional 4 man rush which goes to show you how much depth they have on the front line.  Ray Edwards, up until his knee injury, was a beast and the Cowboys never had a shot at defending him.

A major question to come out of this is will Wade Phillips be fired.  According to Ed Werder he will NOT be fired and will be back next season.  Here’s the thing, working in an environment where you are evaluated year after year is something we all have to go through but Wade knows that he won’t be anyone’s head coach next season and Dallas is the only place that will put him at head coach.  Also, Jerry Jones knows the players love playing for Wade and not just that, he’s a guy who he can manipulate and control and won’t fight back.  Jerry has always loved those guys and stick by them.  As long as Wade isn’t impeding on Jerry’s team, he’s not going to make a move although many Cowboy fans will be upset by this, its the truth.  Forget the fact that Wade is in my top five of dumb head coaches.  Forget that Wade will never get further than where he is right now.  Forget that the Cowboys have built up enough bad karma over the last twenty years that Wade’s dumb ass can’t undo.  Forget that Romo always has that deer in head lights look when his team gets down.  Forget that Flozell Adams is the dirtiest player in the game.  Ok, so he had nothing to do with my point, but i just wanted to hate on him a little bit.  Forget all that and remember this: like the Chargers and Cowboys, during the regular season, both teams have shown that they CAN beat the top tier teams in the league, yet fail to do so when it comes to the post season.  Why?  Because their coaches have reached the limit of where they can guide those teams.  They need someone else to come in and get them over the hump.  Dan Reeves proved it during his career that no team that he coached could win with him despite having one of the greatest QB’s of all time John Elway.  It took Mike Shanahan to come in and win for Elway to finally win.  Some coaches are in front of the door unable to find the right key to get them in, and other coaches are ones that answer the door and Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, those guys will always be great assistants but will never lead their team to the promised land.  Sorry Dallas, and sorry San Diego, no matter what you will say in the coming weeks, nothing will make me think otherwise that your coaches will ever get further than they got their teams thus far.

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Divisional Predictions

We all claim to know a lot about a certain topic. I figured after last week’s 3-1 weekend, I knew all there was to know about playoff football. Last night, I figured that I knew enough to figure that the Arizona Cardinals were good enough to beat the New Orleans Saints. The reason I figured, was that
1. they had more momentum going into the game.
2. Kurt Warner hinted at retirement prior to the playoffs starting and of course God loves him so…can’t really go against that logic.
3. They were battle tested after surviving against the Packers.
4. The Saints were reeling.

Those are all fine and well, unfortunately I failed to properly analyze all the factors the Saints had going for them:

1. The Superdome. Many call it the loudest place for a visitor to come, and one of the last true home field advantages left in the NFL.
2. They resigned fan favorite Deuce McCalister to a contract simply to lead them out onto the field. On the cool scale that rates a 8 and it rightfully sends chills down my spine for them to extend that courtesy to a guy who symbolized the Saint franchise for so long.
3. Louisiana. If any one place has karma stored up, who beats N’awlins, right? This entire state deserves everything good coming to them.

So for todays game, I refuse to look past obvious signs when picking today’s games.

(Home team in caps)
Dallas (+3) over MINNESOTA- Calling it for what it is, I just don’t think the Vikings are playing the kind of football that would warrant me having any kind of confidence in them. Plain and simple. More importantly, I think the Cowboys are finally playing up to their ability which was always their knock. Whether it was Romo’s inability to win in December (which, while really funny and good to use in trash talk to Cowboy fans, shouldve never fell solely on his shoulders), the T.O. distraction, or Wade Phillips (come on, stupid coach theory in full effect here), there were always silly factors legitemately holding them back.
What’s changed? Maybe watching himself on the humongo screen has finally wisened up the bunch that they need to play better. Maybe, having all those distractions finally cast aside has freed all parties from this imaginary weight hanging over this franchise. Or maybe they realized how good they were and they decided to play hard each snap. Regardless, I believe firmly in that “a-ha moment”. That moment of epiphany which seldom few have. The Boys had it against the Saints when they decided to go all out and beat the Saints, then unbeaten. Its similiar to when the Giants, having nothing to play for, played all out against the Patriots and gained confidence from the mere fact that they could hang with what many people were already crowning the best team ever. You know how that story ended. The Cowboys walked into the Superdome needing to win that game to stay alive in the playoff race, and in a performance that was flat out dominating, thoroughly out-played the best team in football at the time. That was the sparkplug, which eventually has led them to the Hubery Humphrey Dome in the Twin Cities. Its led them to Brett Favre, Tony Romo’s idol growing up. No need to tell you that in my mind these offenses match up very well against each other. However, the strength of the defenses is a little different. The offensive line of the Vikings have played absolutely atrociously. No doubt in my mind, I see the combo platter of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, having a field day and spending so much time on Brett Favre that they may become permanent stitches of his jersey. Brett might have been his idol, but today the student will beat the master. Now, I know, you may be saying, but Swith, what about Wade Phillips, don’t you feel he will make a stupid mistake to ruin it for the ‘Boys? My answer is, remember that Brad Childress is his counterpart today. A man, I’m convinced, got that beard, and head mic for the sole reason that he felt as though no one was taking him seriously. I still don’t.Wade, you’ve met your match.

Jets (+8) over Chargers- The closer I’m getting to game day, the more I want to pick the Chargers here, but let’s see, the Chargers have one of the worst run defenses and the Jets have the best run game in the league. On the flip side, the Chargers have one of the best passong attacks in the league, while the Jets blitz from every angle exposing their secondary to one on one match ups on a receiving corps that averages 6’4 and taller. I get that the Chargers will score points regardless of how many Darell Revis’ there are on the field. I get that the Chargers won’t be run heavy today and put Darren Sproles split wide to use his speed. I get that Norv Turner is excellent at spreading the field against blitzing teams. Ok, so what is my case for the Jets? No homer-ism. I think they can control the clock. They can get enough stops, and Mark Sanchez can be capable enough for another 12-18 effort. Will he throw a pair of picks? Likely. Will he get sacked? Yes. But will the running attack go over 200 yards? Yes. Will Brad Smith be feautured? I think so. Will Jets, regardless of outcome, have a better time of possession. Yah.
As long as the Jets do that, they have a chance to keep it close. My prediction is this: either a very close Jet win, OR a San Diego blowout.

Enjoy Divisional Weekend!

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