Tag Archives: Carolina Panthers

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

Auburn: Is Kevin Steele The Answer?

Kevin Steele is the new defensive coordinator at Auburn University. He indicated, at his press conference on Tuesday, that his goal is to make Auburn the last stop on his coaching journey. That is certainly possible, but is it likely? Steele’s path, like that of countless other assistant coaches, is often long and circuitous. That is simply the nature of the business.

Here is look at Steele’s ‘long and winding road’.

After his playing days, as a linebacker, at Furman and Tennessee, he became a graduate assistant for the Vols from 1978-1979. He was promoted to outside linebackers coach in 1982. He held this position for one year.

1983 saw Steele as the coach of linebackers at New Mexico State.

Steele then took the job as linebackers and tight ends coach at Oklahoma State for three seasons. Afterwards he returned to Knoxville to coach defensive backs from 1987-1988. The head coach at Tennessee throughout his playing and coaching time there was Johnny Majors.

Lincoln, Nebraska was the next stop for Steele. He spent six seasons with the Cornhuskers, under the tutelage of the legendary Tom Osborne, as a linebackers coach. He departed the Midwest for an opportunity to test the waters of the NFL. Charlotte was the destination and the job was linebackers coach of the Carolina Panthers for four seasons. Dom Capers was the head man for the Panthers during those years.

In 1999 Steele was offered an opportunity that every coach must relish. He was hired as a head coach. The job was with the Baylor Bears. The four years in Waco did were not productive, as far as wins and losses were concerned, and he moved on to Tallahassee, Florida to assist another coaching legend, Bobby Bowden. Linebackers were his duty there.

In 2007, the University of Alabama, in an effort to end years of frustration, announced Nick Saban as head coach of the Crimson Tide. Saban lured Steele away from the Seminoles to be his defensive coordinator. Assistant head coach was added to his title in 2008.

Dabo Swinney enticed Steele away from Tuscaloosa to Clemson as the DC of the Tigers in 2009. He remained in that capacity through 2013, when he was dismissed after a blowout loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Then it was back to Alabama where Steele, again, coached linebackers for one season.

The phone rang early in 2015. Les Miles was on the line. He offered Steele another shot as a defensive coordinator. Steele accepted. And, as you know, things got a little dicey down in Baton Rogue this past season.

“It’s certainly an exciting time for (his wife), myself and my children. … It’s an exciting time to be here with coach. It was a very, very easy decision for me.” – Kevin Steele

Everything wasn’t coming up roses for another group of Tigers during this most recent campaign. The Auburn version of fierce felines went 6-6 on the Plains of east Alabama. Auburn’s DC, Will Muschamp, was given the chance to turn it around in Columbia, South Carolina and he, wisely, embraced it. If you are afforded a shot as a head coach in the SEC then you are probably set for life, as far as your finances are concerned.

Gus Malzahn said that he was looking to build stability and continuity in his hiring of a new defensive coordinator. Will this be possible with Steele, or anyone else for that matter? If you follow football, whether it be college or pro, you know that coaches move and move and move, again and again and again. You just read of a perfect example in the words above. It is somewhat rare that any coach stays at a job for a lengthy period of time, be he the head coach or an assistant, these days. The pressure to win NOW, and continue to do so, is enormous.

But, Steele has very strong ties to the state of Alabama and Auburn. His daughter is a graduate of Auburn. His mother lives in Prattville. The first college football game he attended was at, then, Cliff Hare Stadium in Auburn. That was back in the late 60’s when his father was a head coach in Gordo, Alabama. Steele said that most of his relatives live within a one-hundred mile radius of Auburn.

Auburn has, for multiple reasons, and not all of them good, changed defensive coordinators SEVEN times in the last ten years. They desperately need that stability and continuity that Malzahn spoke of before he hired Steele. The Tigers haven’t fielded a truly good defense since the 2008 unit. That takes a toll on the program.

“I don’t know how to read a contract.” – Kevin Steele

Will Kevin Steele, at 57 years old, actually find the last stop of his coaching career at Auburn University? Will he help bring the stability and continuity that both he and Malzahn, together, seek? Will the Auburn family, finally, be able to step off the roller coaster ride that has been Auburn football since Pat Dye’s last SEC Championship in 1989?

Stay tuned.

E-mail Bird at bird.lecroy@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Photo: TigerNet/Flickr

More Than A Friday: A Pedestrian Day of Football

The future is awesome; I think we’ve established that as fans.  You can watch every game, and basically every time slot gives you options.  The internet gives you a voice, and the time saved by technology actually provides the layman with that precious commodity of time to put knowledge behind that opinion.

Here’s an opinion.  Perhaps, we’ve met the point of critical mass or boiling point, or whatever, when it comes to being overwhelmed by things.  On Thanksgiving Day, we’re offered three NFL games and usually big-time College Football showdown involving the University of Texas.  Granted, two of those professional games are going to be home games for the Lions and Cowboys, so buyer beware on the excitement over those contests.  Texas was a better game when A&M was involved, but why would I get hung up on something like that?

It’s an honest question.  I have no skin in the game with the institutions of higher learning in Austin or College Station1While I’m at it, what happens in Norman, Stillwater, Waco, Fort Worth, or anywhere else in Big 12 Country mean much to me either., but I’m somehow predisposed to believe this game lacks an “it” factor, sans the Aggies.  Under Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M is a far cry from the style of play they exhibited as a Big 12 member, and frankly, Texas is currently a name-brand program without the name-brand results.

It’s football on a Thursday night, and I wasn’t watching by accident.  After a slow first quarter, I sent a text to a colleague that said spending my Thanksgiving evening watching that Texas Tech-Texas clash2With the option of watching a Bears-Packers game looming. felt too much like work.  Not a minute passes, and I’m watching the second coming of the Immaculate Reception3Only, this one didn’t hit the ground..  Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant found himself in the right place at the right time after an apparent interception by Holton Hill; only, Grant’s teammate Devin Lauderdale turned into a defender and jarred the ball loose, and Grant took it 65 yards for the score.

As an encore, Texas responded with this 91-yard jaunt by Chris Warren III.

I’m well aware that there’s potential intrigue at every turn, and I enjoyed every bit of awesome that Texas Tech and Texas would yield in the Red Raiders 48-45 victory at the home of the Longhorns.  Still, I remember when football was every bit as much of the pageantry of Thanksgiving as the bird in the oven.  You didn’t care that you were getting crummy Detroit and Dallas games, you watched.  You know you watched?  Because it didn’t happen very often.  Football on a Thursday, then more on Sunday; why would you even care that you were watching Mike McMahon?

The answer is now, it’s because now happened.  By the way NFL, thanks for not troubling any AFC teams for their services today.  Seriously though, if you had things to do, are you going to fight with loved ones over seeing the 4-6 Eagles and 3-7 Lions?  You should probably do the things you don’t want to do for other people, and get your lazy on with Cam Newton getting points in Dallas.  The thing is, I know I’m going to get plenty more Cam, and we should talk about Kuechly and Norman more with that Panthers squad, and unless interrupted by divine intervention, FOX is going to give me a lot more Cowboys4The Cowboys 3-8 record be damned!, so there’s nothing unique to draw me away from the dinner table, but still, I watch.

The night game is easy.  Classic rivalry, and the Bears have shown much more than a faint pulse lately, while we’ve micro analyzed the Packers and torn apart their their losses.  I don’t know what it was, but that game got second screen treatment on this Turkey Day.  Maybe I’m not ready for College Football to end, and had to cram in that Big 12 game that doesn’t affect the big picture.  Maybe I’m as burnt out on the Packers as I previously stated I am on the Cowboys.

I might just need things to be moved around a little.  Getting A&M back to Austin would help.  Rotating the Cowboys and Lions out of the daytime slots on Thanksgiving Thursday might be something to think about.  

Maybe I’m just getting old, but sports are fun.  I’m thankful to have them in my life.

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1. While I’m at it, what happens in Norman, Stillwater, Waco, Fort Worth, or anywhere else in Big 12 Country mean much to me either.
2. With the option of watching a Bears-Packers game looming.
3. Only, this one didn’t hit the ground.
4. The Cowboys 3-8 record be damned!

Fixing the NFL Playoffs

Well, it finally happened. We had seen it coming for weeks, but now it’s official. A team with a losing record ended the season in first place in the NFC South when the now 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers defeated the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to capture the division title.

Afterwards, the Panthers’ players and coaches celebrated the same way that any other team would celebrate a division crown. They certainly were not concerned about their losing season.

“The beautiful thing — record doesn’t matter,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s the best part.”

Really, record doesn’t matter? The NFL regular season’s purpose is to determine which teams are worthy of competing in the playoffs, and this is measured by a team’s wins and losses i.e. its record. Typically, the regular season effectively weeds out the weak and sends 12 of the league’s best teams to vie for a championship in the postseason. This year Carolina found a loophole, the same one that Seattle took advantage of in 2010. Despite finishing with losing records, they won their divisions. Based on the current NFL playoff setup, both of these teams not only qualified for the playoffs, they earned themselves home-field advantage in their first round games
The idea of referring to a sub .500 team as a champion of anything, even the worst division in the NFL, sounds disingenuous. Add the fact that this team will host a playoff game and it becomes downright repulsive. The NFL failed to amend this systematic flaw after the 2010 season, but it is not too late to make the correction now. The solution to this issue is simple (mostly).

Here is the plan: the playoff teams in each conference will typically still consist of the two wildcards and the four division winners. The possibility of an adjustment comes into play when a division winner finishes with a non-winning record (8-8 or worse). If a division winner finishes 8-8 or worse, that team can be replaced by a third wildcard team if and only if said wildcard team meets three criteria.

  1. The additional wildcard team must have won at least 3 more games than the division champion.
  2. The additional wildcard team must have won the head-to-head matchup with the division winner if the two teams played during the regular season.
  3. The additional wildcard team must have a better conference winning percentage than the division winner.

Since a single conference rarely has three non-division champions win 11 games, this new setup would likely not be a factor unless a division champion finishes with a losing record. The NFL playoffs are meant to give the teams that succeeded most during the regular season a chance to contend for a Super Bowl title. Most would agree that a 10-6 team had a more successful regular season than a 7-9 team. Therefore, most would also agree that the 10-6 team is more deserving of a playoff slot than the 7-9 team—hence this adjustment allows a more deserving team to make the playoffs.

This playoff proposal involves one additional change. The new setup determines which team hosts each matchup based upon which team had the better regular season record. For instance, an 11-5 wildcard team would host the playoff game against a 10-6 division champion. This change would take effect with or without the inclusion of a third wildcard team replacing a division winner.

While this proposal ensures that the most successful  regular season teams will be rewarded with a playoff berth, not everyone is in favor of the change. Some will argue that a division champion, regardless of record, has earned the right to compete in the playoffs. However this is a myopic line of logic. There are 16 teams in each conference of the NFL. The goal should be to send the six most deserving teams from each conference to the postseason. This does not mean that divisions should be abandoned. They still serve the league by creating rivalries, simplifying scheduling, and reducing the amount of travel that each team endures. But a division title should not be the only requirement for a postseason berth. Record should matter. A 10-6 team that finishes third in its division is more deserving than a 7-9 division winner. That third place finish is not an indictment; it’s just a testament to the toughness of that team’s division. Teams should not be punished for playing in strong divisions.

Likewise teams should not be rewarded for playing in weak ones.

Perhaps the NFL opted not to make any changes after Seattle made the playoffs at 7-9 because the Seahawks won their opening postseason game. Maybe the league believed that the victory proved that Seattle was playoff-worthy. Even if that was the league’s reason for taking no action, they still blundered.

Seattle’s playoff win may have been impressive (even though they had the luxury of playing at home against a team that won four more games during the regular season) but it did nothing to validate their playoff-worthiness. A team’s playoff-worthiness is determined solely by its regular season performance.

A postseason victory does not retroactively validate a team’s playoff berth the same way that a postseason loss does not suddenly make a team’s berth invalid.
In all likelihood, the NFL is not going to make any changes to the current playoff selection process. If this is the case, maybe they will agree to a compromise—let regular season records determine playoff seeding. This will still reward the lowly division winners like Carolina, but it will reward them less by making them the sixth seed. At the very least, the NFL should leave division winners as the top four seeds, but let the team with a better regular season record host each playoff matchup. If any change is made, this is certainly the most likely.

A small improvement is better than no improvement at all.  The NFL must realize this and make the necessary changes this offseason.  The entire league will improve as a result.

Another Season Ending Browns Losing Streak

Another season, yet another depressing and crushing losing streak to close it out. The more things change around here, the more they always stay the same. Always. As in, I can’t remember the last time that a Browns team didn’t completely collapse down the stretch. It’s lame and lazy and cliche, but you can set your watch to it. It’s as predictable as a grey, windy, cloudy December day in Cleveland, Ohio.

Granted, I didn’t see this particular collapse coming, but come it did. And shame on me for thinking that anything had changed. Shame on me for thinking that this team was different when it was sitting at 6-3 and 7-4. Shame on me for not seeing the edge of the cliff several yards away while we were careening toward it at an incredibly high rate of speed. Shame on me for expecting something that just about every other team in the NFL is capable of doing, and has done at some point during this infuriating and incomprehensible drought that has been taking place in Cleveland over the past two decades.

Full disclosure, I didn’t see one second of the game against Carolina. I was confined to the front seat of my car, steadily driving North up I-77. There was a holiday gathering down on the border of Ohio and West Virginia that I just couldn’t miss. And that meant that I would have to listen to the radio broadcast of the penultimate game of the 2014 season as I returned home from beautiful Marietta, Ohio.

And listen I did. I would have just recorded it and watched it when I got home, but the cable that connects my DirectTV dish to the receiver snapped about 10 minutes before I left for the weekend and I do not currently have any kind of television service. That occurrence was not only insanely frustrating, it seemed to sum up so perfectly this entire Browns season.

I had a plan. I had something I was looking forward to. And then one thing went wrong that threw all of it out the window. And now I have to go buy a new cable, remove the old one that I had permanently wrapped around the wood trim of my living room, and run the new one over the path of the old one that I’ve removed. That is, of course, once I’ve removed it. Which will be incredibly annoying and frustrating. And stupid in the fact that I have to do it in the first place, because I had already fixed the old cable around thirty feet of wooden trim and why in the hell would I ever have to remove it?

Only if the wire snaps in half at the point where it connects into the box. And, of course, that will never happen. Never, ever, ever. I mean, seriously? What are the chances?

Insert screaming and exclamation points here. Of course that ridiculous thing happened. Of course a coaxial cable snapped in half and that will lead to a ridiculous and needless amount of work on my part just to get back to the point where I have the television service that I had before last Friday.

Try and tell me that this is not the perfect microcosm for every single season of Browns football. Go ahead. I’m anxiously awaiting anyone trying to refute that.

And when I’m down on my hands and knees prying fasteners out of drywall sometime this week to only allow me to refasten them minutes later, know that that perfectly captures the feeling of being a fan of this team.

We’re always struggling just to get back to the point of being competent. The point of being relevant. And not relevancy in terms of jersey sales or media coverage. Relevancy in terms of winning. Of, at the very least, making the playoffs. A relevancy that, sadly, is more clearly understood in not having a massive losing streak to end every freaking season.

I don’t have the energy after hours on the road and listening to that incredibly boring game to go in depth on its happenings. And does anyone even want that? What is there to say that hasn’t been said over and over for the past month? The quarterbacks were awful, the offense was abysmal, the defense was alright but was overextended, and the special teams are a disaster. Does that about cover it? Is that not the same story we’ve had for weeks? For months?

We all know how hard it is to watch these meaningless games. We do it every single year without fail. It’s the worst tradition in all of sports. Well, maybe second worst to “Seven Nation Army”. But it’s definitely up there. Either way, it sucks. That’s the best, most analytic way that I can put it.

Every year. Every single winter. This is how we kick it off. I’m sure there are positives to peel off this decaying carcass, but it feels far too soon to try and do that. I think we should all be respectful, watch the Browns get blown out in Baltimore next week, let the body cool down a bit, and then start dissecting it.

That’s my plan, at least. And if I’m looking on the bright side of things, I can probably get my article for next Monday finished right after I get this one published. I can see it now. I’ll start off with some myopic, depressing vision. Then cut to a story that ties in to how frustrating and depressing watching a Browns game actually is. I can then sprinkle in some talk about how the offense is atrocious and the special teams are a special kind of embarrassing. I’ll throw in a sad ending, and voila! An article on the second half of the 2014 Cleveland Browns season.

Read one, and you’ve read them all. Which is incredibly sad, but something we’re incredibly used to. But I’m now realizing that what I just said was completely and entirely wrong. There is no way to know what is going to happen next week. You’re going to have to tune in next week to find out. And then, of course, you’ll have to come over here to get some new and unique insight on the new and unique events of the game. Trust me, it’s going to be great. Something you’ve never seen or read before. Ever.

Monday Night Football, Where 5-8 Doesn't Add Up

Some things just don’t add up. Sure, after Monday night’s contest at Soldier Field, the Bears, Saints, and everyone else in the NFL had played 14 games, but the logic with numbers stops there. In New Orleans and wherever else Saints fans might reside, they watched their 5-8 team on Monday Night Football, with the hopes their beloved Saints would jump the 5-8-1 Panthers for the division lead in the NFC South. Meanwhile, the hometown crowd just hoped Jay Cutler and the 5-8 Bears wouldn’t embarass their city on national television.

Cutler hasn’t been much of a favorite with the home crowd, or any crowd, except maybe the Green Bay crowds, since being traded to the Windy City in 2009. Under Lovie Smith, he was just expected to be better than Rex Grossman or whatever other void has lined up under center for the Bears this century. In other words, he just needed to do enough to let the defense win them ball games. Now, enter offensive-minded Marc Trestman, add Cutler’s favorite weapon from his Denver days, plus a big physical receiver, and the role has changed. Nobody was asking for leadership from the Vanderbilt product, just good quarterback play and an attitude that reflects the opposite of what you might consider a douchebag.

The Bears haven’t gotten that, but they also haven’t had a losing season, since going 7-9 in Cutler’s first year with the team. It’s for that reason and possibly a legitimate fear of not being able to upgrade the position that a decision was made to commit to Cutler for the next seven years after his contract expired at the end of last season. It didn’t take long for what we assume would be buyer’s remorse to kick in with Cutler’s play in 2014, even if mitigated by key injuries in his supporting cast. The Bears wear their 5-8 with shame, while their fans look to the NHL, NBA, and Major League Baseball chapters in town for some sports salvation.

Meanwhile, the Saints are far enough removed from both their World Championship run of 2009 and the scandal that plagued in 2012 that they have both expired as factors for the 2014 Saints. They did, however, still enter their Monday Night game with an identical 5-8 record to the Bears, who are, by every definition of the word, broken. However, hope springs eternal in the Bayou, as there hasn’t been a more perfect year than this to be medicore, or even slow, out of the gate in the NFC South. Entering play on Monday, the division was a collective 17-37 in the Win-Loss Column.

There’s no criteria to flex out of Monday Night football, but if there was, this was the one to kick to the curb. Maybe someone could have sold you on the idea that the Saints weren’t as bad as their sub-500 record might have suggested, but it’s countered by Chicago is probably worse than their 5 wins might insinuate. The Bears might have stolen a few and New Orleans probably gave a few away, but the bottom line is, you are what your record is. Come to think of it, both of these teams were ranked in the bottom 5 of many pertinent defensive categories across the National Football League. You expect teams like this to lose more games than they’ve won, but somehow the Saints still control their own destiny to host a playoff game.

It only took two plays from scrimmage from each team to demonstrate to anyone who has dismissed either participant in Monday’s game that they’ve done so with merit. Cutler’s first pass was ridiculously incomplete, and in a “I should probably tell everyone I was throwing the ball away, only I wasn’t throwing it away” kind of way. His second pass was picked off. The Saints didn’t fare much better. After a nice run to move the chains, Drew Brees hit his tight end, Jimmy Graham for another first down, inside the 10, but didn’t protect the football and the Bears defense had quickly bailed Cutler out for his first mistake of the night.

The two teams stalemated for 15 minutes, but the Saints opened up the scoring in the second quarter, and eventually took us to the fourth quarter with, really, a less than impressive 24-0 lead. The Bears did salvage some points to go through the motions, but ultimately looked exactly as sloppy as you might have expected in a 31-15 defeat. There’s out-of-order, there’s dysfunctional, and then there’s the 2014 Chicago Bears. They host the Detroit Lions next week, and you can expect to see some empty seats. You can also expect a lot of talk about eating eight figures in guaranteed money that Bears ownership might decide to eat just to rid themselves of another six years of the headaches that #6 brings to the table and the locker room.

It’s a different story for Sean Payton‘s team, going forward. As tough as the sledding has been for the Saints, they know that they’re in the playoffs with wins at home against Atlanta, and in Week 17 at Tampa Bay. They won’t even need the win over the Bucs if the Browns beat Carolina and they hold serve against the Falcons, but it gets a little messier with a loss to Atlanta, who also controls their own destiny at 5-9. If the Saints do win their last two games against their division rivals, they would finish 8-8, like a handful of division champions before them, and it’s a non-story.

If the Saints lose in Week 16 or 17, we’d have our second playoff team with a losing regular season record ever, whether it’s a 7-9 team or the 7-8-1 Panthers. On the bright side for the NFC South, at least the Saints know all too well that a team with a losing record isn’t doomed to be one and done in the postseason. In 2010, the 11-5 Saints visited the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks as the top Wild Card team in the NFC, and left the emerald city with a 41-36 defeat, which prematurely began their off-season.

It’s funny how we talk about trends early in the year, as soon as Week 2 or 3 sometimes, and how doomed a 1-2 team might look when stacked against teams of the same record historically. You might think a Week 15 battle of 5-8 would spell doom a little more boldly, and for the Bears it does. In this case, the winner is sitting pretty, and 6-8 equals 14 games just the same, but it just doesn’t add up. I’m not sure it ever will.

Fantasy Football and the NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan – Ryan is coming off of a season in which he attempted a career-high 651 passes and threw 17 interceptions, also a career-high. He still topped 4500 yards to make it his third consecutive year in which he finished in the top 5 in passing yards. With a horrible defense and a lack of a running game, Dirk Koetter should look to let Ryan continue to air it out, and with a healthy Julio Jones, Ryan should sniff around 4500 yard and 30 touchdowns this season.

Roddy White – White caught only three touchdowns last year, while averaging a career worst 11.3 yards per reception. With a lot teams looking to key in on superstar Julio Jones, I look for him to bounce back this year after receiving a four year, $30 million dollar extension in the off season.

Julio Jones – Jones played in only 5 games last year and he went over 100 yards receiving in three of them – and 99 yards week five against the Jets. If his now twice surgically-repaired foot can hold up, Jones should be a shoe in for top-5 fantasy WR status being the clear-cut featured wideout in an offense that will be playing in a lot of shootouts.

Steven Jackson – Jackson is still listed as the starting, goal-line, and third down back on the Falcons depth chart. He has already missed time in camp with another hamstring, and rookie Devonta Freeman is proving that he is capable of running between the tackles. I would be very weary of selecting the 31 year old, touchdown dependent tailback as he hasn’t proven he is able to remain healthy over the course of a full NFL season anymore and with a youth movement at the position lurking in the shadows.

Devonta Freeman – Although he is still listed as the Falcon’s number 4 running back on the depth chart, Freeman is clearly the most talented pure runner of the group. If and when Steven Jackson misses time, Freeman should be thrust into an early-down role with Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith continuing their roles as COP and passing down backs.

Harry Douglas – Douglas is coming off of a breakout season in which he racked up 85 receptions for 1067 yards and two touchdowns. Now while he was able to amass those numbers playing as and every down WR with Julio Jones on the shelf, there should be plenty of balls to go around in 2014 giving him a bit of a WR3 appeal, but he would become a must-own player is Jones or White were to miss any time.

Levine Toilolo/Bear Pascoe – There is no Tony Gonzalez here. Both of these tight ends are much better blockers than receivers and should offer very little fantasy value. I would recommend looking elsewhere instead of trying to talk yourself into thinking one of these bums can fill Gonzalez’s shoes.

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton – Cam quietly had a real nice year last year after his sophomore slump of a 2012. He completed 61% of his pass attempts and threw 24 touchdowns – he did record career lows in both rushing yards(585) and rushing touchdowns(6) – that being such a big part of Newton’s fantasy appeal there is a bit of concern in that regard. If his surgically-repaired ankle is as good as the Panthers are saying it is Cam should look to make more plays with his feet this year with his go to guy, Steve Smith, off to Baltimore, and Carolina’s glaring lack of offensive weapons outside of Newton.

Kelvin Benjamin – Rookie wideouts rarely make too much of an impact from a fantasy perspective. Benjamin may be an exception though, not the rule. He reportedly has formed as outstanding relationship with Cam Newton and will operate as Carolina’s clear-cut number 1 WR. At 6’ 5” and 240 pounds, and with very little talent behind him at the position, Benjamin should expect to be force fed the football and on that volume alone is in the high-upside WR3 conversation.

Jason Avant/Jerricho Cotchery – I think we all know what these guys are. They are both strictly possession guys that at this point in their careers leave a lot to be desired athletically. Both could flirt with 50 catches since they’ll probably be Cam’s third and fourth reads in an offense that is devoid of any proven star power at the WR position, but neither is on any kind of fantasy radar.
Greg Olsen – Olsen is coming off of a 2013 campaign in which he caught a career-high 73 balls for 816 yards and 6 touchdowns. He will remain Cam Newton’s go-to-guy when he needs to move the sticks in third and intermediate situations, and should also see plenty of red zone targets. He is a low-end TE1.

DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart/Mike Tolbert – The Carolina Panthers have been going at this RBBC for a long time now and have inexplicably been shelling out cash left and right to its underwhelming RB group. Deangelo Williams seems to be the best bet for touches in standard scoring leagues, though I don’t like him as anything more than a RB3/4, and Tolbert should be the guy in TD heavy leagues considering he should see more goal-line chances than any of the other running backs. As far as Jonathan Stewart, I am still not convinced that he is an actual person, either way for me the fact remains that the best running back on this team is playing quarterback.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees – This guy is an absolute machine. Brees has topped 5100 passing yards and 40 touchdowns each of the past three seasons. He is sitting out preseason games because of a mild oblique injury, but more so just because he doesn’t need preseason games; the guy knows what he is doing. Brees promises to put together another sparkling year and remains a slam dunk top-3 fantasy quarterback.

Jimmy Graham – At the start of 2013 Graham was playing at a level unlike any other we have seen. Through the first 5 games he recorded 37 receptions for 593 yards and 6 TD. That is a nice season for most TEs. He sustained an injury, played through it, but was held catchless by Aqib Talib in week 6. Graham failed to find that record setting form he enjoyed in games 1-5 playing with a bad wrist, but still went on to catch 86 balls for 1215 yards and 16 TDs. He remains the clear cut number one TE in fantasy, and in my opinion the number one overall pass-catcher in fantasy, if I really had to I could make a strong case for taking Jimmy Graham number one overall in fantasy drafts.

Marques Colston

Marques Colston – Last season Colston failed to top 1000 receiving yards for the first time since 2008, a season in which he only played 11 games. I look for the veteran wideout to bounce back and have a nice season this being, being in the conversation for 1000-1200 yards and 7-10 touchdowns as teams will try to shut down Jimmy Graham, try being the operative word. Colston is a steal in the seventh round.

Brandin Cooks – This rookie jitterbug of a receiver has been the talk of the town in most fantasy circles, with a new report about Cooks making waves and turning heads at Saints camp surfacing seemingly every day. Although he projects as a prototypical slot receiver – Sean Payton likes to use both Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham in the slot – I don’t foresee a lack of opportunity for Cooks. The Saints have made it clear that the want to get the ball in the dynamic speedster’s hands one way or the other. He could catch around 60-70 balls and handle another 15-25 carries, while also returning a punt or two here and there. Cooks is a WR3 that could bring WR1/2 value to your fantasy team.

Mark Ingram – Ingram has looked like a beast in the preseason so far. He has been working as the starter and has been running with authority, slashing through holes, and punishing defenders as he finishes his runs. Now I’m sure this sound all too familiar for those of you who bought your ticket to the Mark Ingram hype-train last year, and I really cannot blame you for your continued skepticism as Ingram hasn’t proven he has what it takes to shoulder the load as the Saints feature back. Whereas I am probably higher than ever on Ingram’s seasonal outlook, I still couldn’t bring myself to roster him as anything more than a RB4.

Pierre Thomas – Thomas seems to be the forgotten man in New Orleans’s three-headed monster of a rushing attack, with a lot of the preseason hype being reserved for Khiry Robinson (we’ll get to him) and the aforementioned Ingram. Not for me. With the Saints being a pass-first offense and Darren Sproles heading to Philly, I expect Thomas to build on his 77 catch season a year ago. Drew Brees loves throwing to his running backs and Thomas has proven that that is a role he was capable of taking on. He is the back to own in PPR formats, hands down.

Khiry Robinson – Robinson showed pretty well in limited action as a rookie last year, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Robinson’s role in this year’s Saints offense promises to be increased, but I am still unsure of shape it is going to take, with Ingram looking to operate as an early-down option and Thomas handling passing-down and long-yardage duties. My guess would be that he will take bites out of a little of both, though it remains to be seen just how big of bites. There is definitely some late round flier appeal here in deeper leagues, but we will probably just have to wait and see what kind of role the second year back carves out for himself.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh McCown – Even though journeyman signal caller lit it up last year to the tune 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception in 8 games spelling the injured Jay Cutler, I down think anyone outside of a 16 team, 2 QB league is seriously considering drafted him. Although much like in Chicago last year McCown has two enormous targets on the outside, the Buc’s woeful offensive line doesn’t project to allow McCown to operate efficiently enough. Coupling that with him no longer being under the wing of 2nd year, quarterback whispering head coach Marc Trestman, puts the 35 year old off of any sensible fantasy radar.

Doug Martin – The Muscle Hamster averaged 23 touches per game in his first to NFL seasons, on his way to a sensational rookie outburst, followed by a lackluster sophomore year that ended abruptly in week 7 with a season-ending shoulder injury. I do not expect Lovie Smith to allow that kind of usage for him to continue. Martin remains one of the true anomalies in fantasy football for me this year, even though rookie Charlie Sims – who projected to be Dougie Fresh’s direct backup – is going to miss the first three months of the season, the Buc’s still plan to rotate backs in behind Martin to keep him fresh. We can still see Martin easily handling 14-16 touches per game in this run-first offense, but that massive volume was what had Martin in the number 2 overall pick conversation last year.

Vincent Jackson – Jackson as really reanimated his career in Tampa Bay. In two seasons with the Buc’s the veteran has compiled a 150-2608-15 line while staying healthy and playing in all 32 games. Given that V-Jax has put of those numbers with the likes of Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon, there is no reason to believe that he cannot do much of the same with Josh McCown. Although I do expect a bit of regression with Jackson now 31 years old and a physical freak of a rookie looking to take targets away and make a name for himself, he should remain a serviceable WR2.

Mike Evans – This number 7 overall pick has all the measurables you want out of a big time NFL wideout, going 6’ 5” 230 pounds, with a wingspan approaching 7 feet. He is another one of these converted basketball players with great size and strength and incredible high-pointing ability. Like almost all of these former hoopers in the NFL, Evans is very raw and is a certainly going to struggle with the language, speed, and route conceptuality at this level early in his career. If he figures it out sooner rather than later Evans can be a WR4 that offers WR2 upside.

Brandon Myers – Myers received a 2 year $4 million contract from the Bucs this past offseason, looking to bolster their TE corps a bit. I am not sure how successful they were in that as the slow, in-line TE promises to be part of a TEBC with pass catching specialist Tim Wright and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins being far more athletic and explosive than the 28 year old.

That’s it, that’s the NFC South and its impact on Fantasy Football. To see the all of the conference Fantasy Football Forecasts, check out my author profile!

Follow me on twitter@ASquiresFF or email me with Fantasy Football questions!

My Two Cents on Idiot Quarterbacks and Jadeveon Clowney

by Ryan Isley

Before I get started on this week’s Two Cents, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you to all who read last week’s piece in this spot and sent words of encouragement and prayers to everyone involved. I have passed those along to Haynes and Smith families as they try to deal with their tragic loss.

This week, I get back to concentrating on just sports as I look at idiot quarterbacks and a freak named Jadeveon.

On Idiot Quarterbacks:

It seems like just yesterday that Peyton Manning was calling Mike Vanderjagt an idiot kicker. Well it now looks like there are a few quarterbacks that could easily be called idiots.

First it was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick wearing a Miami Dolphins hat and then defiantly tweeting that he would wear whatever he wanted to wear when he was criticized. Now it is Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton saying that he is still an Atlanta Falcons fan – well for all but two weeks of the NFL season.

This can’t be real life, right? Two supposedly franchise quarterbacks who are showing support for other teams in their own league (and in Newton’s case, his own division)? This is something that I cannot believe actually needs to be addressed. Not only is it an unwritten rule that you don’t show support for a competing team, it should be a written rule as well. Of course, most players aren’t stupid enough to publicly support other teams so having to make it a written rule seems like overkill.

As I tweeted earlier this week:

Let’s address Kaepernick first. I have already heard the defense that he was wearing the hat because it matched his outfit. I will be the first to admit that I do this as well. But the difference is that the 49ers are not paying me millions of dollars to play for them and be the face of their franchise. If you want to wear a hat of an NBA or a MLB team, that is fine. You don’t have to support other teams in the area, but you sure as hell can’t go around wearing stuff from other teams in the NFL.

What was worse was the tweet Kaepernick sent out after the critics started attacking.

Seriously, Colin? Get a clue. And stop kissing your damn bicep after every good play.

Now to Newton. While Newton has never been accused of being one to make great decisions, this one might have been one of his worst. Newton was asked about growing up in Atlanta and being a Falcons fan after an event in the city for his foundation. While the smart answer would have been to say he grew up rooting for the Falcons, he is now a member of the Carolina Panthers and that is the only team he supports, Newton decided to say that he is still a Falcons fan except when they play Carolina.

Wow. Admitting that you root for a team within your division except for when you play them? I just can’t see someone like Ben Roethlisberger saying that he roots for the Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals 14 weeks a season just because he grew up in Ohio. Newton needs to eventually mature and realize that he is supposed to be the leader of the Panthers.

Now someone call that “Play 60” kid – I think his arm should be warmed up by now.

On Jadeveon Clowney:

This week marked the media days for the SEC when it comes to the 2013 football season. While most people were tripping all over themselves to read everything they could about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel – the reigning Heisman Trophy winner – I was drawn to talk of another player. And this one tweet from Michael Haney of 107.5 in Columbia, South Carolina in particular:

My response was pretty simple:

If Jadeveon Clowney has gotten himself down to 270 pounds and is running a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, we may witness one of the most dominating years from a defensive player in college football in years. This is a guy who already had 13.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season. He was a monster on the South Carolina defensive line and should terrorize the entire SEC this season.

In case you forgot what Clowney is capable of, I am sure Vincent Smith will never forget.

This all got me to thinking – how good would Clowney look in a Browns uniform in 2014? Actually, I had been thinking about that during this past draft:

As much as I hate hearing talk of teams tanking in professional sports to get a better draft pick, I would be perfectly fine if the Browns decided to do this in 2013 to get the top pick in April 2014. This would give head coach Rob Chudzinski a season to install his system without having to worry about winning right away and also give owner Jimmy Haslam a year to get his legal troubles in order.

Just think about how easy Clowney would be to market to Browns fans – and not just because he is the best player in college football.

Remember “Suck for (Andrew) Luck”? The tagline of this tank job could be “Brownies for Clowney.” The popular chant of “Here We Go Brownies” could be changed to “Here We Go Clowney.”  Hell, people already refer to the Browns as the Cleveland Clowns, so now they would have good reason.

Before you lose your minds Browns fans, I am just kidding. Well, sort of. I think. But damn, Clowney would look good in brown and orange.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryan@morethanafan.net


Tailgate Confidential: Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton – QBs Dominating Differently

Exit wrong
Enter right
Take my picks
We’re off to tease and parlay land…
Game of the Week

Green Bay Packers  @  New York Giants

 This isn’t my traditional Game of the Week.  I think the Packers win and cover a touchdown relatively easily, but I think that watching Aaron Rodgers dominate against a traditionally good team will be great TV.  Here’s Rodger’s stat line: 72% 3,475 yards, 33 TDs, 4 interceptions.  That’s absolutely ridiculous. 

The Giants may be able to keep it close for a while against a Green Bay defense that gives up a ton of yards, but only scoring 18 points per game during their current three game losing streak isn’t going to be enough to prevent a big Packers victory.

Green Bay 38  –  New York 21

Continue reading Tailgate Confidential: Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton – QBs Dominating Differently