Tag Archives: Dallas Cowboys

Bar is Raised for Packers This Week in Arizona

Having beaten the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders in the last 3 weeks, the Green Bay Packers will have their hands full this week in the desert against the 12-2 Arizona Cardinals.

Detroit was a game they should have won, and needed the Rodgers to Rodgers hail mary to get it done. Dallas was a must win game without Romo, and Green Bay exploded in the run game to put them away in the 2nd half. Last week they went on the road and held a feisty Raiders team to 20 points, and though the offense only produced 2 touchdowns, it was enough to get the win and go to 10-4 with 2 games remaining. They’ve done what they were supposed to do, and for that Packer fans are grateful. Now the bar gets raised.

Heading into what could be the toughest game of the year so far on the road against a very well balanced Arizona Cardinals team in the 2nd of back to back west coast road trips, just enough may not be enough to get the job done. This pivotal week 16 test somewhat conveniently serves as a way to settle the debate within Packer Nation as to what this team is capable of this year. Listening to sports radio the last month or so you’d think the Packers were the most flawed 10-4 team in the history of the NFL.

I understand most of it. Expectations are high for this season, and deservedly so. Aaron Rodgers will only be in the prime of his career for so long. Mike McCarthy and this organization have said they want to be judged on championships. When fans assess this Packer team against that expectation, they don’t see a team that has displayed the ability to make a run through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. They see a team that is finding ways to win games against teams they should beat, but who has struggled on offense against good defenses, and has not played their best football this year. Inexplicable losses to the Lions and Bears have the Packers 2 games behind Arizona for the 2nd seed and first round bye. Winning those games would have the Pack tied up with Arizona at 12-2, with this week’s game determining the 2nd seed in the NFC. Instead Green Bay will have to win this game, and next week vs. Minnesota 1If Minnesota wins this week that game will also be for the division, as well as having Arizona lose next week against Seattle. Possible sure, but this sure could be easier if Green Bay wouldn’t have made it so much harder on themselves.

We are good at the quarterbacking.
We are good at the quarterbacking.

The Oakland game last week serves as a microcosm of the Packer season thus far. The defense played great, keeping them in the game against a good offense, even scoring on a pick 6 by Damarious Randall. The offense didn’t do anything spectacular and sputtered out at points, but was able to maintain some drives and put up 2 touchdowns and 3 field goals. Just enough. With only a 4 point lead in the 3rd quarter, the pack went on a 19 play, 92 yard, 8 minute drive that only ended in a field goal. They moved the ball well, converted 3 third downs, maintaining possession and momentum in a drive that effectively helped to seal the game away. But once again they weren’t putting this game away earlier, and they weren’t getting in the end zone. They were doing just enough.

 

Unfortunately just doing enough does not win championships. It can beat Detroit, Dallas and Oakland. It can’t beat Denver or Carolina. Sometimes doing just enough, or not quite, even loses to the Lions and Bears. The Packers have not passed their most difficult tests this year, and this week 16 tilt against Arizona stands as a point of reckoning for the somewhat split fan base. If Green Bay plays their best football, they’ll have a chance against Arizona, and that’s all that we can ask for. Being able to play with the best teams in the league is what we rightfully expect, to be able to compete for championships. But just enough won’t be enough in the desert this week. Just enough will get them beat by 3 scores and embarrassed if Arizona is on their game.

Arizona’s offense is lead by quarterback Carson Palmer, coming into this game with a beat up finger that shouldn’t keep him from playing to his potential. He threw a couple touchdowns after injuring it last week. The Cards put up a league leading 422 yards of offense per game. The vaunted passing attack has weapons out wide in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, possibly the best trio of wideouts in the league this year. The Cardinals also boast a potent rushing attack with David Johnson having filled in for the injured Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. David Johnson has torn up defenses the last 3 weeks and offers a stiff challenge for the Green Bay defense. I’ve been very impressed with the Packer defense this year, and it has been the most consistent and unheralded unit of the team, keeping the Packers in games and giving them a chance to win. I don’t believe they’ve faced a better offense this year, so Dom Capers will need to have his defense ready to play their best game yet.

Green Bay’s offense will attempt to regain past form and display some consistency this week against a good defense in Arizona. Though the Honeybadger Tyrann Mathieu is out for this game, Patrick Peterson, Deone Bucannon and Dwight Freeney lead a physical and stout defense for Arizona. Mike McCarthy will try to keep the play calling balanced with the run and pass, and getting Lacy and James Starks involved early will be key to keeping the Cardinal pass rush at bay. With Mathieu out some passing lanes may be more open. Outside of Peterson the other defensive backs for Arizona show some weaknesses. Getting in a rhythm through strategic use of the hurry up offense to take advantage of personnel matchups throughout the game will be key.

Despite how much faith Packers fans have been able to put in the defense, with the Arizona offense as potent as it has shown this year, the Green Bay offense will have to put up points to keep Green Bay in this game. Controlling the time of possession to keep Palmer and his weapons off the field, and finishing those drives with touchdowns, will be needed to win in the desert. I believe they’ll be able to do that in spurts, but this Arizona team will be too tough of an opponent to take down on the road if the defense can’t force Arizona into uncommon mistakes. Arizona takes this one 31-27 in a game where the Packers play well, but not well enough to take out a very good team on the road in their 2nd west coast trip in as many weeks.

We're nobody's flawed 10-4 team.
We’re nobody’s flawed 10-4 team.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers don’t have time for the media’s or fan’s negative questioning. They’ve gotten to 10 wins for the 7th straight year. I don’t know if I buy that, but if that is their way of having an edge and creating an atmosphere akin to the “We’re nobody’s underdog.” run in 2010, that’s fine with me. Certainly they know of the issues the fans have been worried about all year.

They’ve already over-promised, and us fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s hope Green Bay over-delivers on expectations this week. They’ll have to if they want to make it a game and prove they belong at the top of the NFC, competing for the Lombardi Trophy. You can be sure it will take more than just enough.

 

   [ + ]

1. If Minnesota wins this week that game will also be for the division

Packers Heating Up December

Now that is what a December Packer victory in Lambeau Field should feel like. The only thing missing was cold weather, and I don’t pretend to miss that much at all. At a critical time of the season with many goals hanging in the balance and fan confidence wavering, the Green Bay Packers thoroughly dispatched the Dallas Cowboys 28-7 last Sunday to pull ahead by 1 game for the Central Division lead, after Arizona had beaten Minnesota 23-20 to kickoff week 14 of the NFL season in a good game a few days earlier.

Yes, the Packers were supposed to win this game. but not many fans were letting themselves feel too confident since nothing else has come easy this year. Now sitting at 9-4 and a step closer to a division title, home playoff game and maybe even a first round bye, Packers fans can now breathe a sigh of relief for, well, a few days at least. It didn’t look as if it would be so easy through the first half and even into the 3rd quarter. I did find myself getting a bit nervous they hadn’t pulled away yet, anxiously dreading a big momentum changing play by Jerry’s ‘boys to make me all the more uneasy, but it never came. Green Bay pulled away from and beat an inferior team. They did what they were supposed to do, and it was quite the welcome feeling. Better luck next time Jerry.

On the offensive side of the ball, much of the talk was about Mike McCarthy’s decision to take back play calling. He had kept it a secret all week in an attempt to make sure Dallas couldn’t use the information to prepare better. I think a little bit much is being made of this. It’s not like McCarthy has had nothing to do with the offense up until now. He heard every play former play caller Tom Clements was sending in through his headset, and you’d have to imagine he had veto rights on anything he felt wasn’t a good call. That being said, play calling in the NFL can be somewhat of an art, and coach McCarthy has been considered one of the best in the game. Having him back calling the plays and getting in a rhythm for the playoffs is only a good thing. I only question the original decision to give up those duties in the first place. Something could also be said for how often it seemed the Packers offense was getting to the line earlier with more time for Aaron Rodgers to digest the defensive alignment and audible if necessary. He seemed to change the plays less at the line this game, possibly an effect of better calls being made in the first place.

After reading my column last week (presumably) and finding himself extra motivated, Eddie Lacy ran as hard as I’ve seen him run all season. He was a man possessed, running through attempted tackles and grinding Cowboy defenders into paste on his path to his best game of the year with season highs in carries (24) and yards (124). He and James Starks (11 carries for 71 yards) put the game away with over 100 yards rushing and 2 scores combined in the 4th quarter. For the whole game, including 27 yards of Rodgers scrambles, the Packers rushed for 230 yards, the most they have had in a game in 11 years. As Packers guard Josh Sitton alluded to, when they are running the ball like that, the entire offense feeds off of it, and it can grind down a defense through the course of a game. Running the ball successfully on early downs also helped them to convert 7 of 14 3rd down opportunities, extending drives and keeping a good but tiring Dallas defense on the field. The game ball definitely goes to the Packer run game and all involved, from Lacy and Starks to McCarthy’s play calling and the blocking from the offensive line and receivers.

The fact I’m into the third paragraph talking about offense and I’ve yet to complain about the struggling passing game serves to underscore the dominance they displayed on the ground. The passing game was not as big of a focus in this game, and was a bit underwhelming as a result. Aaron Rodgers completed 22 of 35 attempts for 218 yards and 2 scores, which was more than enough with the defense and running game dominating. Most importantly Rodgers protected the ball, as we’ve all come to expect, and McCarthy made a concerted effort to get an underutilized weapon in Randall Cobb more involved. Cobb was used more extensively out of the backfield and even lined up on the outside from his typical slot designation a few times. With 11 total touches for 90 yards, he threatened the formidable Cowboy defense in diverse ways, proving his worth in a game where he was involved as much as any this season.

It may be the somewhat overlooked defense that deserves the most praise. Granted, the Cowboys are missing some key weapons and haven’t been stellar on offense without Romo this year, but the Green Bay defense held them to 7 points on only 270 yards of offense, going 1 for 11 on 3rd downs and 0 for 2 on 4th down attempts. The Cowboys did not have a drive longer than 6 plays the entire game.

The Pack did give up some long runs to McFadden, 2 of which came on Dallas’ only touchdown drive of 80 yards that kept the ‘boys within reach in the 3rd Quarter. Besides that it was a stellar performance. Dez Bryant was essentially shut out, catching one pass for 9 yards. Sam Shields had a pick intended for Dez in the end zone and essentially eliminated him from the Cowboys game plan before leaving with a concussion in the 2nd quarter. Impressive rookie Damarious Randall took over without missing a beat and kept the clamps on Bryant for the rest of the game. While much attention has been focused on the previous offensive woes, the Green Bay defense has quietly surged as of late, now all the way up to 6th in the league in points allowed.

If you have a passing game struggling some with various deployments of 1-high safety blitz packages, having a dominant and improving run game and defense is certainly a good way to make it through that stretch. Next up this week are the Oakland Raiders (6-7), 3rd place in the AFC West. They are a better team than Dallas, and this one will be on the west coast. New coach Jack Del Rio has them playing a physical and aggressive brand of football with a very solid offense and somewhat underrated but streaky defense. I’m excited to see how the Packers respond with the bar being raised this week prior to yet another level the following week at Arizona.

Latavius Murray is a talented running back but for whatever reason the Oakland ground game has struggled the last 5 weeks, with Murray averaging under 50 yards per game and less than 3 yards per carry in that span. Derek Carr is a rapidly ascending 2nd year signal caller for the Raiders. Equipped with a very quick release and excellent arm strength, he also has the speed to occasionally beat you with his legs. He compares in many ways to a young Aaron Rodgers as far as general skill sets, especially with that quick release. At Carr’s disposal are 2 very good weapons on the outside in veteran Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper. Crabtree is a savvy and sure-handed wideout who has rejuvenated his career after a couple subpar seasons. Cooper has a lot of speed and is extremely polished for a rookie. He is on pace to be the first 1,000 yard receiver since Randy Moss for the Raiders and he has 6 of the longest 12 receptions for his team this year.

The solid and improving Packers defense will have it’s hands full in what I believe will be a stiff test. Even more the case now that word has come down that defensive back Sam Shields will not play, causing the packers young secondary to be tested on the road this week. Any help they can get from the front 7 pressuring Carr to make decisions faster than he wants to will be a huge help. Carr has shown less of an ability to deal with pressure up the middle, so look for the Packer defense to run some stunts to get rushers in his face quickly.

On defense Oakland deploys both 3-4 and 4-3 Under concepts in an aggressive scheme that makes big plays but can also give some big plays up. Strong side linebacker Khalil Mack is a terror. He leads the league in sacks (14) and has an excellent balance of power, speed and discipline. 5 (!) of those sacks were in an upset of Oakland’s divisional leading foe Denver last week. He will definitely be a focus of Green Bay’s protection schemes. Defensive end Mario Edwards is having a great rookie season. He sometimes moves inside on passing downs, and can cause some havoc rushing the passer from there. The secondary seems to be a weak spot being held together by all-time great and future potential first ballot Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.

Packers fans won’t need much of an introduction in this case, as Woodson spent the best and most productive 7 years of his long career in Green Bay. Let go by Green Bay with plenty more left in the tank, there’s no doubt the competitive veteran will have a little extra motivation when playing his old team this week. He as much as said so in interviews. I would expect nothing less in this case. Though he may go into the Hall of Fame as a Packer one day, right now he has business to take care of. Currently dealing with a shoulder injury, I still expect Woodson to be looking to make some big plays in this one. He has 5 interceptions this year so far, the most he’s had since donning green and gold. and he will be looking to get one off Aaron Rodgers in this one.

The Green Bay offense will have it’s opportunities to make some big plays this week, and it will come down to them taking advantage of those when they present themselves. I expect them to commit some extra resources to protecting Aaron Rodgers from the Oakland pass rush when they attempt to move it through the air. The best way to soften up a pass rush is with a powerful running game and cleverly designed and carefully called screen package. With the run game coming on strong and McCarthy’s advanced screen game I expect Green Bay to be able to move the ball on Oakland’s defense. Making sure they finish scoring drives with touchdowns instead of field goals will be key along with taking care of the ball and making sure Oakland’s pass rush doesn’t force Rodgers into making any uncharacteristic mistakes that Woodson and his teammates will be waiting to capitalize on.

This test on the road is a big one for the Pack. If they take care of business as they should, it will setup a great matchup in Arizona next week. Root for the Eagles to take down the Cardinals in Philly on Sunday. If Arizona loses 2 of the last 3 and the Packers win out, they can steal the elusive first round bye out from underneath the Cardinals. If the Packers don’t dispose of the Raiders this Sunday afternoon though, it won’t matter. Though the Pack is one game up for the division with the tiebreaker on Minnesota, just in case, you can also root for the Bears to beat the Vikings in Minnesota this weekend. I enjoy it when they play each other as it almost guarantees one of them will lose. I’d be fine with a tie as well.

Packer tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari have the biggest matchup of the day on the offensive side in keeping Mack, Edwards and the rest of the Raiders pass rush in check. They’ll certainly have help from tight ends and running backs in protection. On defense the secondary will have to slow down Oakland’s talented receivers and get pressure on Carr. I’d bet Woodson gets one pick off Rodgers in this one, but I think the Packers go out west and continue to heat up in December, beating a good and underrated Oakland team in their house 28-23.

Sometimes in sports it’s difficult to just do what you’re supposed to do and beat the teams you should beat. Green Bay began showing some real positive signs in last week’s win over Dallas. Continuing that momentum with a win in Oakland and setting up a monumental NFC showdown with Arizona is all this Packer fan could hope to get for Christmas. Hopefully all my fellow cheeseheads are on Santa’s nice list this year.

What Lies Ahead for the Green Bay Packers

As the NFL season turns for home in week 14, the Green Bay Packers (8-4) control their own destiny to win the NFC North and secure a home playoff game. To most teams and fans this would be an enviable position to be in, but with the way the Packers have been playing and half of the remaining games against Arizona (10-2) and division rival Minnesota (8-4), this week’s matchup with the Dallas Cowboys (4-8) in Green Bay suddenly becomes a very important game to win.

With Packers fans still coming down from the emotional high after a 61 yard walk-off hail mary win against the Lions (4-8) a week ago, reality begins to set in for what still lies ahead in the final stretch of the season. Unless you turned on the game just in time to see the final play last week (that would have been desirable), you are aware that the Packers have not yet fixed the same issues that have been plaguing their offensive efficiency for much of the season.

Dec 3, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers (82) catches a game winning touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers (not pictured) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Green Bay won 27-23. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

To think how much worse things would look after a loss to the Lions last week, sitting at 7-5, only ahead in the Wild Card race by 1 game, paints a much darker picture for the remainder of the season. That would leave even less room for error in these final four games, and serves to underscore how important getting a win this week will be to the Packers achieving what still lies before them:

  • Winning the NFC North for a fourth consecutive year
  • Hosting a home playoff game at Lambeau Field
  • Earning a 1st round playoff bye

All still attainable, the Pack currently lead for the first two with the tie-breaker over Minnesota. They are two games behind Arizona for the 1st round bye as of now. Pending what Arizona does in the same span, they’d have a chance to pull even with them and gain the tiebreaker with a win in the desert in week 16. To be honest I’m not entirely sure who Packers fans should be rooting for in the Minnesota @ Arizona game this weekend, but a case could be made for either. Of course, completely collapsing and missing the playoffs all together or having to go on the road in a wild card game is still mathematically possible as well. I don’t believe that will happen, but after far too many uninspiring performances this year, feeling confident about achieving any of the aforementioned goals is a stretch.

After this week’s games are complete, many of the playoff seeding scenarios will begin to be more clear. As much as I dislike typical football coach interview cliches such as “one game at a time”, it all starts with getting a win this week in what is most likely going to be the most winnable game on paper of the remaining contests. If Jerry Jones is high-fiving oil tycoon buddies in his suite overlooking the unseasonably warm tundra after this one, the rest of the schedule looks a whole lot more daunting with a tough but winnable game at Oakland next, prior to closing out the season with huge contests at Arizona and against Minnesota.

A win against Dallas at home would typically be expected with the hapless state of the Cowboys minus one Tony Romo at the helm. Unfortunately with how Green Bay has played this year nothing is guaranteed. Some comments from Dez Bryant (“I can’t wait, man”) lead me to believe that the Cowboys could be extra motivated to avenge last year’s playoff loss on a controversial call overturning Bryant’s impressive “catch”, ending the Cowboys’ season and sending the Packers on to the NFC Championship Game (which we will not be discussing).

The Cowboys come off a not quite as thrilling 19-16 win in the final seconds over Washington in last weekend’s Monday Night Football contest. Dan Bailey hit the 10th game-winning kick of his career to seal the deal in what was admittedly a pretty terrible game to watch if you don’t enjoy bad teams from a terrible division playing ugly football. That is, at least until there was 1:14 left in the 4th quarter. At that point the game was tied 9-9 on 6 field goals. I had regretted taking on that endeavor until this point when the game blew up with exciting big plays to finish it off. For anyone that hadn’t dozed off, it was an exciting end to the game, that almost made up for the previous 58:46 of game time, but not quite.

Containing the Cowboys’ run game, currently led by oft-injured Darren McFadden, as well as making sure Dez Bryant does not have a huge day will be the keys to victory on the defensive side of the ball. McFadden had 53 yards rushing on 14 carries against Washington. He also fumbled twice, and had a touchdown, which was his 2nd in the last 9 games. He was taken out and evaluated for a concussion, but returned. With backup QB Matt Cassel unable to take advantage of too much downfield, I expect Sam Shields to be tasked with shutting down Dez Bryant and outside of some safety help the rest of the defense can focus more on bottling up the run game. Cassel did win his first game in 5 starts last week, and going into that game he had completed 62.2% of his passes in the previous 4 contests, lost by a total of 18 points. Something could be said for him progressing and learning the offense while getting more comfortable, but I don’t think he’s a serious threat to shred the defense. Be concerned if he is hitting Dez early and often, as he inexplicably was not even targeting Bryant much until desperation 4th quarter attempts in last week’s game.

I am most excited to watch rookie Jake Ryan at middle linebacker to see how he is progressing. He ascended to starter-level snaps last week and seems to have displaced Nate Palmer to special teams duty outside of limited snaps in the dime package. I watched Ryan a lot at Michigan and he was an exciting player who made a lot of plays, and also made some mistakes. He played “with his hair on fire” and was easy to root for. He didn’t start playing middle linebacker until his final year of college, so i believe he has an even higher ceiling than some would think. Having he and Clay both be able to work from the inside and outside in the future is tantalizing.

I don’t believe a Romo-less Cowboy offense can score in bunches on the Packers’ defense, so outside of limiting big plays on special teams the most interesting remaining matchups to me will all take place when the Packers have the ball.

The Dallas defense ranks a respectable 5th overall in yards per game (326.5), 5th against the pass (222.4) and 15th against the run (104.1). In the same metrics on the offensive side, the Packers rank an unfamiliar 22nd in overall yards per game (341.4), a paltry 23rd in passing (229.8) and 15th in rushing (111.7). Yards per game is certainly not the only stat to measure team performance on, but this highlights the formidable Dallas defense against the struggling Packers offense.

Assuming the Cowboys will employ similar strategies to most other teams that have found a way to slow down the Pack this year, this game will come down to the Cowboys ability to execute that strategy vs. the Packers ability to find a solution to the offensive woes they’ve been unable to fix thus far. Defenses have been bumping receivers at the line to disrupt timing and closing down windows for Rodgers with linebackers and safeties who haven’t had to fear the run game, the slow tight ends, or the non-existent ability of the Packers to send anyone deep to take the top off the defense.

Thankfully for the Packers, recent results have been trending towards them finally figuring these things out, so we’ll have to see if they can make it count after an extended week to work out their issues:

· Eddie Lacy is “rejuvenated” according to coach Mike McCarthy in a recent press conference. I don’t know what that means, but if he’s running as hard on Sunday as he does to the buffet table in the offseason, then that’s a great start for stressing those safeties and linebackers with a serious run game. If this rejuvenation falls flat, they’ll be counting on James Starks to carry the load. Whoever is toting the rock for the Pack this week, it would greatly help their cause if they could hold on to the dang football and stop putting it on the ground, even if it is for fumbled touchdowns. Yet another reminder of how many good bounces were needed last week.

· Last week also saw the Packers send Jeff Janus, one of the fastest players in the league, on a deep fly route down the left sideline. Not only did they have the audacity to send him on this route, they also threw it to him! It fell incomplete, but simply threatening a defense with that occasionally makes them have to respect it. It was the most thrilled Packer Nation has been at an incompletion in a while. The Packers miss Jordy Nelson dearly, but it’s been 12 games now and he’s not walking through that door. The continued emergence and health of Wisonsin-favorite Jared Abbrederis, as well as the potential return of Ty Montgomery, could all help to boost the receiving corps’ production. Davante Adams not dropping passes and James Jones deciding this is a game he’ll score 3 touchdowns could also prove beneficial.

· Finally, Richard Rodgers emergence last week as the Packers’ leading receiving threat (even before the hail mary), and the other Rodgers’ confidence in him, as well as hopefully re-stoked hail-mary-induced confidence in himself, could all combine together to help the passing game open some recently closed lanes.

Two other potential factors could shift a closer-than-hoped-for game to a Packer win this Sunday:

· By the time gameday gets here on Sunday, Green Bay will have had 4 more days of preparation than Dallas for this game. Even more beneficial at this point in the season, 4 more days of rest to get healthy. Whoever puts the schedules together for this season did the Packers no favors by any means with their divisional stretch of games and Thursday contests, and this doesn’t come close to making up for it, but it could be very helpful for this game.

· The Packers under McCarthy have typically been a team that gets better as the season goes along. In the final 4 games of the last 5 seasons, the Packers are the 3rd most winning team (14-6) in closing out regular seasons in December. They are only behind Indianapolis (15-5) and New England (17-3) in that same span. The Packers typically finish very strong, and this season, they will need that to be true more than ever.

I think the Packers win this one 27-20 in an exciting game that is close throughout.

The NFC playoff picture is heavily centered around the Packers, Vikings and Cardinals, who all play each other over the final 4 weeks of the season. Every game is huge, and none more than the one in front of each of these teams right now. We will know a lot more next week at this time, but the nice thing about the Vikings and Cardinals playing each other this week, is one of them has to lose. Or maybe Packer fans should be rooting for a tie? None of it will matter as much if they don’t take care of their own business this Sunday and beat a team that they should handle in Green Bay.

Feast Week

Well readers, week 12 is upon us and a slight shake up has taken place in the top 4 spots in the playoff rankings.  Kudos to the playoff committee for actually having the gonads(politically correct for nuts, balls, etc.) to investigate to the best of their ability and take action where it seemed to fit.  Unlike our “Commander(Pretender) in Chief,” Mr. Obama, God save our souls, I am impressed they finally reached down, “grabbed em(imagine that sight from Condoleezza Rice, gross)” and said “this is the direction we are taking.”  Now, not so fast!  I am not saying I am all the way on board with the committee at this point but I do like the fact that they seem to really be looking at everything they claim they are when it comes to ranking the teams.

I am also feeling pretty good about my last publication and the fact that I came pretty close with the information that I gave.  Let me do a little recap:  Clemson covered by double digits over Wake, Alabama looked like National Champions against poor Charleston Southern, Michigan State did what they needed to do and upset #3 Ohio State, Baylor topped OSU as the pokes defense stayed in hiding and Baylor’s offense kept rolling, Iowa continued to play good balanced football and produced a commanding win over Purdue, Oklahoma(minus Baker Mayfield in the 2nd half) squeaked by TCU(minus Trevone Boykin).

To keep my Ego in check, I mentioned there was a time when Boston College gave Notre Dame fits.  I really didn’t think this was one of those years!  I stand to be corrected as the Irish pulled this one out 19-16 with the luck of the leprechaun.  This was much closer than I had imagined and probably had something to do with their drop from #4 to #6.

I mentioned the powder puff scheduling of the SEC last week but Florida Atlantic gave the Florida Gators all they could handle before losing 20-14 in OT.  Is this a sign of the “great strength of the monster conference?”  Give me a break! Double amazement is the fact that the committee seems to have actually taken this mere scrape by the Gators into account and dropped them from #8 to #12.  I found this big drop rather unusual as the Coaches Poll had them at #9 before the weekend and still have them at #9 for week 12.  For those that are not aware, four of the committee members are from the coaching profession.  Just a little food for thought but don’t chew on it for too long as 99 out of 100 dentists have said that taffy is horrible for the teeth.

Now that my Ego is in check, again very unlike our present President, let’s take a look at how the new playoff rankings look and what I think can be expected in the near future.

Clemson Tigers

#1 Clemson

Clemson goes to Columbia to face a 3-8 South Carolina team that has had more than their share of problems this year.  The great Steve Spurrier resigned from the program in October and the program has been in dire straits since.  That being said, as long as Clemson isn’t looking ahead to December 5th when they meet a very hot and talented UNC squad for the ACC Championship, they should be in okay shape this weekend.  I have mentioned Head Coach Dabo Swinney’s emphasis to his players of a “game at a time” and this is definitely a week that he will need to ‘instill and drill” it into to those young men’s hearts and minds.  Clemson finishes the regular season undefeated and goes into the ACC Championship #1.

Alabama Tide

#2 Alabama

After their practice session on Saturday against an FCS team, the Tide roll into Auburn to take on a 6-5 Tiger squad.  Auburn has really “smelled” up the field at times this year.  I really thought Auburn would be competing for something larger at this point of the season and the staff and fans were right there with me.  I am going out on a limb, not too far, just a little ways.  Many things come together on Saturday that have proven time and again that Auburn might make this a game.  First, Alabama is coming off a game in which they really didn’t have to perform to get the victory.  Second, if Auburn can keep it close their fans can be a huge boost at home.  Thirdly, with nothing left of their season, Coach Malzahn(very sound offensive minded coach) and Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp are going to throw the “kitchen sink, bathtub and toilet” at Alabama.  Why not, they have nothing to lose!  Fourth, it would be real easy for the young Alabama players to be thinking ahead to possibly Florida and the SEC Championship.  And Finally, it is ALABAMA vs AUBURN in the Iron Bowl!  An “in state” rivalry such as this one produces unknown emotions and character for all of these young men and strange things can happen.  We see it every year.  Yes folks I am of sober mind and body as I write this(only because I have to go to work early tomorrow) and feel this could be a ball game that nobody is expecting.  Talk about screwing up the selection committee! Go Tigers!!

Oklahoma Sooners

#3 Oklahoma

With a victory over then #18 TCU last week, 10-1 Oklahoma jumps up four spots to #3.  Oklahoma survived the loss of their quarterback for the second half and barely escaped 30-29.  I was rather shocked at such a large jump by the committee.  It must be the fact of their strength of schedule and the win, even with the loss of their quarterback.  Great news for Sooner fans, quarterback Baker Mayfield has passed all concussion tests and is expected to start on Saturday.  Bad news, they are playing a very pissed off #11Oklahoma State team, in Stillwater.  This is a huge “in state” rivalry(known as the Bedlam series) and should produce an excellent game.  With no Big 12 Championship game, a win should secure a spot in the top four for the Sooners.  I am just wondering what the mind set of Baker will be during this game.  His girlfriend goes to Oklahoma State, plays on their volleyball team and is an avid Pokes fan.  Nobody knows what she promised Baker(behind closed doors) should he make it possible that her team comes out on TOP!  Just sayin! And YES my mind was in the gutter(similar to my Longhorn’s season) on that one.

Iowa Hawkeyes

#4 Iowa

Here come the Hawkeyes!  Moving up one spot from the #5 spot last week, Iowa continues to show balance on both sides of the ball.  That being said, they are going to be very challenged on the road by a very good Nebraska offense.  Ranked 36th in total offense, Nebraska is going to be the second best offensive team(Indiana #24) that the Hawkeyes have faced.  We are going to see just what Iowa is made of and Hawkeye fans are sure hoping not to hear or see the words, “here come the Hawkeyes, there goes the Hawkeyes.”  I am going to throw this out there, with risk of eating “ego pie” instead of the chocolate pudding pie(that I so dearly love) left over from Thanksgiving. Nebraska upsets Iowa by 3!  Regardless, Iowa has earned a birth and will play in the Big 10 Championship. Who they will face will be determined this weekend when Michigan State plays Penn State and Michigan plays Ohio State.  Michigan State wins and they are in the championship.  If Michigan State loses, winner of the Wolverines and Buckeyes will be seeing Iowa in the championship.

Michigan State

#5 Michigan State

Great win for the Spartans, knocking off last week’s #3 ranked and undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes.  Michigan State was able to get the win without starting quarterback Conner Cook. Utilizing the tandem of backup Tyler O’Connor and Sophomore Damion Terry, Michigan State was able to keep it close and give themselves a chance at the end, winning on a Michael Geiger 41 yard field goal.  Geiger was 8-13 on the year when he probably ended Ohio State’s championship hopes and kept his Spartans alive in the race.  Michigan State travels to Penn State to take on a Nittany Lion team that just can’t seem to get it together.  As mentioned, a win puts State in the Big 10 Championship.  A loss puts their season as just a memory!  I have a very good feeling that Michigan State finishes strong and will face Iowa for the Big 10 Championship.  If Michigan State wins the Big 10 they will have a strong resume for belonging in the final four.  I really like this Michigan State team and truly respect Head Coach Mark Dantonio.  Don’t count them out yet!!

Notre Dame

#6 Notre Dame

As the weeks wind down so does the teams that will have an impact on the playoff rankings and the final four candidates.  With that, I too will dwindle down to the teams that I think still have a shot.  The Irish dropped two spots from last week to the #6 position.  I think that was a little drastic but at the same time I think the committee really contemplated just where the Irish fit in the scheme of things.  If deemed a member of the committee, I probably wouldn’t have been so harsh on the Dame for playing close to Boston College because I know that the Eagles usually give them fits.  The Irish are now on the outside looking in.  They travel to Stanford, California to face the #13 Cardinals(9-2).  This is going to be a great test for the Irish and their last chance to give the committee any possible reasoning to jump them back in the hunt.  Stanford is a very solid squad and will give the Irish all they can handle.  It is going to take a pot of gold and all the “luck of the Irish” to walk out of Stanford Stadium as victors on Saturday.  This will definitely be a game I will watch!

Tony Romo

As I await the great feast of Thanksgiving, my thoughts ponder on the things that I am grateful for at this point of my life.  My list reads:  my two grown children, my two beautiful grandchildren, my family, college football, Obama’s last term, college football!  Is there a need for any more?  Oh yes I almost forget, college football!! “Happy Thanksgiving” readers and remember if you don’t choke on that drumstick, dry it out and beat a local Isis supporter with it.  “Peace in the Middle East!”

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.

   [ + ]

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!

Thanksgiving Football is Tradition in Texas

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on everything that you are thankful for and spending time with your family. All of that is true in Texas as well, but there’s also some football involved.

Pretty much since the beginning of time, and whether you lived in Texas or not, you always knew that the Cowboys, Longhorns and Aggies were going to be on TV on Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, realignment in college football, along with hot heads in the administration departments, has squashed the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry. So does Thanksgiving football still have the same feeling?

Most Texans have grown up rooting for either the Longhorns or Aggies, but hardly ever both. However, there are a lot of divided households in that respect. Thanksgiving was always interesting when Texas and A&M played because of the unique rivalry. It was a time for about 3 hours when it was ok if you didn’t like a certain family member or friend. But once the game was over, everyone was back to normal. One side just enjoyed the evening a little more than the other.

The last time Texas and A&M played each other in football was on Thanksgiving Day in 2011, which ended in a dramatic 27-25 victory for the Longhorns in College Station. Since then, Thanksgiving just doesn’t feel the same.

Texas continues to play on Thanksgiving Day, but they rotate with playing against TCU and Texas Tech at home every year. A&M only plays LSU on Thanksgiving Day when they are the home team. It’s an awkward feeling in many ways.

First off, when the Longhorns and Aggies both play on Thanksgiving Day, and not against each other, you have to fight with your family for the remote. It’s inevitable that a second TV has to come into the equation.

Second off, does either fan base really get into the Thanksgiving Day game anymore? The Longhorns rotate playing against two other teams from Texas, but it’s clear that the game doesn’t have the same luster. The tradition was never having each school playing on Thanksgiving Day no matter what. The tradition was Texas and A&M playing against each other. Now that that doesn’t happen, it’s time to move on and not play on that day, or bring the game back for good.

It’s ridiculous that the administration at either school isn’t making a push to get the game back on. There’s plenty of room on the schedule for a non-conference game for each team at the end of November. There’s no rule that says that you can only play a conference opponent on the final weekend of the season.

Florida and Florida State play; Clemson and South Carolina play; Georgia and Georgia Tech play.

Each of those are non-conference games, but they are also in-state rivalries. I realize that there is money and a lot of other things involved when it comes to scheduling. But come on guys, let’s not schedule Rice or Western Carolina anymore to make room for this game to come back. Who here thinks that the Longhorns-Aggies rivalry would generate more money than A&M-Western Carolina in November? I must be missing something.

Until cooler heads prevail, it just doesn’t seem like we are anywhere near seeing these teams back on the same field again. The players want it back, the coaches want it back and the fans want it back. But until the higher ups at each school decide to quit acting like kids on the playground, it’s not going to happen.

In the meantime, we will continue to watch uninspired football on Thanksgiving Day and fight our families for the remote every other year. Instead of watching the game together, now we have to split the family up during game time. A&M fans don’t care about Tech or TCU and Texas fans don’t care about LSU.

To some point, they still want each other’s team to lose, but why? They have nothing to do with each other anymore from a competitive standpoint except for in recruiting. Most casual fans don’t even follow the magnitude that every game has with respect to recruiting. As a result, we have two traditionally passionate fan bases that are apathetic on Thanksgiving Day.

Maybe we should write a letter to each University and the conference offices saying that not having this game is tearing our families apart, because we don’t spend time with each other on Thanksgiving anymore. You think that would get them back on the field? Yeah, me either.

But at least we still can watch the Cowboys, right?

More Than a Friday: All About Cubs, and Some Other Stuff

There may have been nine other teams eligible for this 2015 post-season, and some great stories behind those teams’ run to get here, but the Chicago Cubs are the story. With the Yankees out of the picture, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only ones left standing with nowhere near three decades, if not all of eternity, between now and their last World Championship. And look, those Cardinals are the next obstacle in the way of the Cubs’ destiny.

It’s a different attitude on the north side of Chicago, this time around. We’re not blessing dugouts, exorcising goats, or doing whatever’s been done in the past to fuel the hysteria that comes with a fan-base that’s gone their entire lives without seeing their beloved baseball team compete for, let alone win, a World Championship. Okay, I concede there’s less than a what I would consider a chunk of Cubbie fans that are old enough to remember the Cubs falling to Detroit in 7 games in 1945, but no one has actually been waiting 107 years for what might happen next.

Give it up for the Ricketts family, for putting the right people in charge of the baseball side, and then getting the hell out of the way until it’s time to open the checkbook. There are only two ways to be a bad owner in sports; one is to meddle, and the other is to be cheap, and this family has done no such thing. They went out and got Theo Epstein to run the show, who in turn, brought in Jed Hoyer to be the General Manager, and eventually Joe Maddon was enlisted to manage the games. This group has done their diligence in serving the fans, by not giving a damn what they think. The first order of business was slamming the door shut on the dream of making Ryne Sandberg the skipper. Sure, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria never brought the Cubs anywhere near the promised land, but Ryno didn’t tear it up in his first go-around in the bigs, with the Phillies, either.

In addition to Sandberg not possessing the championship pedigree, if you think the fans were pissed he wasn’t considered, imagine the outrage when they had to fire him. The whole “we run the Cubs, not the fans” effect trickles down to the roster too. Cubs fans loved Tony Campana, and while this wasn’t exactly trading away Ernie Banks, Theo and Jed were able to ignore the groans heard when Campana was traded to Arizona for a couple of teenagers. Epstein wasn’t hired to dwell on the 103 years prior to his 2011 hire, but to make the next century of Cubs baseball great. He’s well on his way.

No matter how well you’re able to put the past away, if you have any rooting interest in the Cubs, and mine is tertiary, as I married into it, there’s always a little lack of confidence, if not paranoia, due to precedent. For many, the next hard groundball to first is still going through Leon Durham’s legs and the next 50/50 ball between the left fielder and the spectators represents a prelude to doom. Entering the snakepit that was a blacked-out PNC Park on Wednesday night, Maddon’s Cubs had to strike early and prevent the Pirates from reciprocating. Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber answered the call early and often. They were loose and unintimidated by Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, almost like someone forgot to tell them the Cubs hadn’t won a post-season game since 2003. Jake Arrieta took the ball, and despite not having his best stuff on the mound, he made sure Schwarber’s RBI single in the top of the first inning was enough. However, Schwarber put one in the Allegheny River and Fowler was a little more modest, instead going to the right-center field seats with his shot, to make the probably Cy Young Award winner comfortable with a 4-run lead. He was able to pitch out of several jams, thanks to several defensive gems behind him, but there is a sour note about Wednesday.

Aside from Schwarber and Fowler, not much offensive production from the Cubs. The probably Rookie of the Year, Kris Bryant looked so lost at the plate, you might have thought he missed the flight to Western Pennsylvania. You also have to take into account, the perils of playing that Wild Card game of the 1-game sort, you’ve exhausted your Ace and he won’t get two starts in the best-of-five division series. Those are bridges they’ll cross when they encounter them in the Gateway City, as they face that next obstacle in the Cardinals. The time to worry about that is today, but a nice little honeymoom was to be had all day Thursday. To paraphrase (What About) Bob(?) Wiley, Baby Steps towards a World Championship. It started in Pittsburgh, and may not have a happy ending for Bill Murray and the rest of Cubs Nation, but it’s a start.

Untitled-1_21

And, in other news…

Texas Rangers fans would probably prefer it, if I stop listening to their big games on the radio while driving down I-8 towards San Diego. For the second time in four years, the previous time being Game 6 of the World Series, my ears were privy to an epic Rangers collapse while en route to California for a Browns game. The last time, it was David Freese of the Cardinals, down to his final strike, who prevented the Rangers from closing out their first-ever World Championship with a double off the wall. The Boys of Arlington would get a shot at redemption in Game 7, but would have no luck in the deciding game. On Saturday, they took a 10-6 lead into the 9th, as I pulled into a Yuma gas station to re-fuel and call my wife. By the time, I got back in the car, the Angels led 11-10, and the assumption I’d had minutes earlier, that the Rangers were going to clinch the American League West had disintegrated. Unlike in 2011, the Rangers were able to take care of business the next day, and all was well in North Texas.

No one knows anything in College Football, a truth that reveals itself to the masses watching each week. On paper, Ohio State should have been able to exercise The Karate Kid III clause, and just waited for a worthy a opponent to take their title from them, in Glendale on January 11th, but they have to play the games. It hasn’t been pretty; you could argue they’re getting everyone’s best shot, but you could probably make a better argument that they’re a lot more flat than the team that impressed us in January. Imagine if it was TCU, and not the Buckeyes, that got to take that magical ride through the inaugural College Football Playoff. Would Ohio State be able to maintain its #1 spot with their play in 2015? If Utah and Florida can hold serve, this point is rendered moot, but how little do we know about the Pac-12 and SEC, and how confusing can the entire College Football Playoff picture be entering the month of December?

Toledo could finish the season undefeated, and there’s a strong possibility that they won’t get the “Group of 5” bid to the Access Bowls, given Boise State’s history and a committee’s tendency to forgive September losses. Rockets fans have to be hoping the stock on the win at Arkansas rises throughout SEC play.

The Browns found a new way to lose in San Diego on Sunday, and I was on hand for the agony. Having watched Josh Lambo’s first attempt sail wide, when my celebration was interrupted by news of the laundry on the field, I assumed someone in a brown jersey ran into the Chargers kicker, but the call was off-sides. I didn’t see off-sides, but the guy in the striped shirt on the field had a better vantage point. I went on with my day in Southern California, overhearing plenty of same ol’ Browns conversations. It was like Tuesday or Wednesday that I was retroactively angry at the linesman on Bill Vinovich’s crew, who guessed wrong and cost Cleveland a chance to take the game in overtime. The Lions are in the same boat with the bad luck of letting an official decide a game. It’s really no wonder, none at all, why neither of these teams have played in a Super Bowl or won a title since 1967.

18921717-mmmain

As a Browns fan, I’ve had faith in both Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, but now that I’m seeing them play in other jerseys, I almost have to slap myself. Difference being, I liked the potential of Weeden, and soon as he put on the orange helmet, he showed he couldn’t play at a high level. Hoyer, on the other hand, won games for the Browns, giving people like me false hope and dismissing poor play as a slump or fluke. It took seeing that punt-looking interception he threw to former Brown Mike Adams on Thursday night, to convince me of his true colors.

Sunday’s New England-Dallas game will get a lot of the headlines, but I’m going to learn a lot more about the landscape of the NFL from Seahawks-Bengals and Rams-Packers on Sunday. I know the Seahawks and Packers are good, but I still need some convincing on 4-0 Cincinnati and the 2-2 Rams.

I’m offering up a lot of chalk with my Division Series predictions in baseball, but I’m looking forward to a Blue Jays-Royals ALCS, and I’m putting the Cubs and Mets in the NLCS. Regarding those National League teams, once they start winning, they don’t stop.

Basketball and hockey, we’ll get to you next week.

Have a great weekend.

Adrian Peterson’s Future in Minnesota, or Somewhere Else

I still remember where I was when I first caught wind of the marks Adrian Peterson put on his child. It was Friday, the last day of an awful week for the National Football League. A night after the Baltimore Ravens and their Ray Rice-loving fan base was showcased on CBS’s Thursday Night Football, the thought was that the worst was behind us. With all respect due Rice as a pretty good football player, he is not and never was the superstar that Peterson was. With Peterson in this mess, sweeping off-field violence under the rug ceased to be an option for Roger Goodell. Since that Friday afternoon, neither Rice nor Peterson has played a down in the NFL, but that’s likely to change in 2015.

Rice, like some other also-rans in the league, was released and suspeneded indefinitely by the league because video surfaced of him striking his girlfriend in an Atlantic City elevator. He was later reinstated, but did not sign with anyone, an inaction you can almost probably attribute more to lack of interest in his football abilities, going forward, more than anything else. He’s clearly not the story, when you look ahead to 2015, not when compared to an all-time great like Peterson. Technically, Adrian Peterson remains a Minnesota Viking, though it’s fair to say, that’s subject to change before training camp.

For the next three seasons, through 2017, Minnesota controls Mr. All-Day, but none of the money is guaranteed. If he wasn’t Adrian Peterson, Vikings owner Mark Wilf would send the troubled star packing, no questions asked. However, there’s at least a conversation to be had, whether he’s the greatest Viking of all-time, though the floor would certainly listen to arguments for Fran Tarkenton and a few other names a die-hard Viking fan might throw out there. On March 21st, he’ll be 30 years old, and for many, that’s when you have to do the sniff test on NFL running backs, to determine if they’re expried or not. Again, with anyone else, that might be enough to cut bait, as if the wounds on his 4 year-old child weren’t enough, but we are talking about Adrian Peterson.

I know we went over all of this last fall, but in the context of the NFL sweeping its problems under the rug, it’s probably worth re-visiting exactly why Peterson wasn’t on the field for 15 of the Vikings’ 16 contests in 2014. On that Thursday, the infamous date of September 11th, a Montomery County (TX) grand jury indicted him on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Again, the is a 4 year-old we’re talking about, and pictures revealed welts and open wounds on the boy’s back, rear end, legs, ankles and other unmentionables. Our world class athlete used a tree branch to show his pre-schooler who the boss was.

The former Oklahoma running back swore he never intended to harm his son in such a way. Let’s keep in mind, it wasn’t that long ago that Peterson’s biological son was buried after the child’s mother’s boyfriend beat the 2 year-old to death. For most, that would put things in perspective, and not to kick Peterson while he’s down, but many believe that he was far too apathetic about losing his flesh and blood, though he learned of the young man’s existence and that flesh and blood connection just days before the child died. For what it’s worth, I am inclined to believe Peterson’s claim about not wanting to harm his son. The problem is, he did.

Child discipline gone too far, that’s often the claim when it comes to abuse. Though I don’t have children of my own, many who do have asserted that children that age can be a pain in the ass. I’m sure I was that same pain in the ass at that age, and what’s a parent to do when acceptable corporal punishment (if you can believe there is such a thing) meets resistance? If you’re attempting to strike a child in a safe place and they move, you could miss and strike an unsafe area. I honestly buy that, but that buys you the benefit of the doubt on one wound. After that, well, every mark you leave and each inkling of pain you cause a defenseless child is simply a road map to grand juries, public outrage, and Commissioner’s Exempt lists.

How he ended up on that list, that’s something of a focal point, at least from Peterson’s camp. Did Kevin Warren conspire with the NFL to make sure he landed there? Warren is the team’s Vice President of Legal Affairs, and at the time, an exemption was a better alternative than suspension for Peterson’s bankroll. He was initially deactivated for one game, and if this sound familiar, it might be because Goodell only suspended Rice for two games before the public outrage forced his hand into something indefinite (which was justice, but admittedly unfair to Rice). An arbitrator later ruled in the league’s favor to keep Peterson on the Exempt List for the entire season, rendering his 2014 season over.

Now, for avoiding the PR nightmare that would have ensued, had the Vikings and the NFL let this child abuser on the field in Week 3, just days after envoking their new Domestic Violence policy, there is tension between the Vikings and Peterson, at least from where Peterson sits. The Vikings want him back, despite the criminal activity and despite his upcoming 30th birthday, but the running back’s camp is trying to leverage a trade. The problem is, the Vikings hold all of the leverage cards.

We’re going to hear about the Cowboys and it makes sense, DeMarco Murray’s future in Dallas is far from stable and the Cowboys are much closer to the finish line than Minnesota promises to be for the remainder of Peterson’s prime. It would also be a return home to Texas, but he does himself few favors forcing Minnesota’s hand here, as it is up to them to get the right value to trade him, when they could simply ask him to report to camp and play out his contract. And how dare he create problems with the team, when they “have been staunchly loyal to Peterson, probably to a fault,” according to Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press in Minnesota.

They deactivated him for one game after the allegations surfaced but briefly attempted to bring him back the following week, despite the fact that the populace was ready to torch Winter Park. After formal charges were filed, they got him on the commissioner’s exempt list so he could continue to get paid his full salary for doing nothing.

While he was gone, they didn’t badmouth him. They never wavered publicly in their support for him and, often referred to his stellar character — a hard sell at the time.

And they always said they wanted him back. What else were they supposed to do, issue a statement saying that Peterson’s 4-year-old son got what he deserved?

The real question is, does anyone (aside from the Cowboys) want the headache? The shelf-life thing may not pinpoint to a running back’s 30th birthday, but it is real. We’ve seen it too many times to deny the precedent, is Adrian Peterson the exception to the rule? My take: if anyone can defy garden-variety limitations a human being is supposed to encounter, it’s him. So, once you’ve established that the 30 year-old Adrian Peterson is worth the while from a football standpoint, you have to really evaluate if you can handle him in the locker room? In Minnesota, those familiar with him might forgive the actions that put him in Texas courtrooms, but he’s clearly ready for a change of scenery, and if he’s in a new locker room, it will be a direct result of the damage he inflicted on the body of a 4 year-old. He’d be around men who probably don’t know him, men with young children, and men who won’t forgive what he did to that defenseless boy.

Sure, he can help the Jets, Dolphins, Ravens, Colts, Chargers, and some NFC teams the Vikings would see on a regular basis, but what would those teams be willing to part with, especially considering his future with his current employer is not tenable? He doesn’t have another 2000 yard season in him, and with the Vikings, he’s due almost $13 million in 2015 alone. Who wants to shell out that type of cash on a gamble. The gamble doesn’t seem to reside with Peterson staying out of trouble with the law, but maybe it does. If he’s upset with anyone other than himself through this entire ordeal, which took nearly a full season from a potentially record-shattering career, maybe he’s learned nothing at all. And as older players go, is he the one you want mentoring your younger players?

It’s possible he’s immune to all of this inside the cloak of Jerry Jones or whichever owner ponies up the ransom Wilf and GM Rick Spielman are going to demand to give Peterson his way, and really, it might work out. However, logic would dictate Peterson and his agent take a step back and realize just how healthy remaining in cold Minnesota might be for Peterson on the whole.

Larry Fitzgerald: Catching Feelings

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals, and more importantly, the teams front office can let out a giant sigh of relief. After agreeing to terms this week, on what amounts to a 2-year deal, Larry Fitzgerald is very likely not going to offer his services to a second NFL team. Of course, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim, the team’s president and general manager, can wear big smiles on their faces, as retaining Fitz is a win-win for the organization. Being able to re-work the future Hall-of-Famer’s $31 million saves the team about 13 mill in cap space and prevented them from having to make what they call a tough decision.

There was more to this than a simple matter of a satsifying sentiment. If there’s anyone that needs to be a Cardinal for life, it is Larry Fitzgerald, but if you can ignore the reduced role he asssumed in Bruce Arians’ offense in 2014, we’re still talking about a player that can help your offense. It’s true, the 2014 season was a rough ride for the former Pittsbugh star, in more ways than one. For the first time in his career, he did not appear in 16 games for the Birds, and the quarterback carousel in Glendale certainly did not help matters either. He barely matched his rookie numbers, but we’re talking about someone looking at throws coming from Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Logan Thomas, and then Ryan Lindley, just in time for the stretch run and their quick playoff exit.

All season long, Cardinals fans have been given reason to approach Larry Fitzgerald’s future with caution, and to brace themselves to be on the outside looking in at Fitz catching his 100th touchdown pass from Tom Brady or Tony Romo. Now, they can throw caution into the wind and know that he’ll always be their #11, right up until the moment he puts on the yellow jacket in Canton. As far as his reduced role is concerned, they just weren’t getting him the ball. He’s the numero uno for Arians, for Palmer, and for this team. You aren’t paying attention if you think Michael Floyd or either of the previously unknown Browns (John or Jaron) can step into the role. And, that’s the start of the problem with this whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something to be said for wearing one jersey your entire career and being part of this organization complete 180 degree turn from what they were in the dreadful days of Sun Devil Stadium, where Larry played his home games his rookie year. He’s been part of three playoff teams, and we’re not forgetting the role defenses have played in getting the Cardinals to the post-season in 2008, 2009, and 2014, but you need to go back to 1975 to trace the franchise’s three prior playoff berths. For a few minutes in Tampa, there was a reason to believe Fitz had caught the Super Bowl-winning touchdown, outrunning the Steelers secondary, but as we all know, it was not meant to be that time around.

That got me to thinking, when I factored in how 2014 went down and the shakiness the team faces at quarterback in 2015, is doing the right thing, being loyal, in the best interest of Larry Fitzgerald? He doesn’t have an Anquan Boldin on the other side of the field, keeping secondaries honest and giving him favorable match-ups. He doesn’t have a Kurt Warner, the good version anyway, spinning the football to him, and Carson Palmer should inspire anyone to stop looking for green pastures. Carson Palmer, at age 35, is Plan A; the rest of the depth chart at the position is a giant uknown at this point. The running game doesn’t promise to be spectacular, not that it ever has. This isn’t matrimony. It’s okay for Fitzgerald to start thinking his best chance at a ring may not be what the desert has to offer.

Despite all of that, the Cardinals are a good football team. Some might even say they’re a Top 5 organization, or that they’re at least run on the field by a Top 5 Head Coach (#2, behind Belichick if you’re asking me, which you’re not). At the end of the day, I think it’s that coach, the one that got the most out of Stanton and Lindley, made do with Charlie Batch when he had to, and found his way into the postseason with a Tim Couch/Kelly Holcomb platoon. Quarterback whisperer? Perhaps. Maybe not. You do have to consider what awful luck the Cardinals experienced, not only with the quarterbacks, but with Andre Ellington, not to mention how devastated they were on the defensive side of the ball with injury and suspension. They were still a good team.

If what happened to Palmer happens to Brady, Romo, Manning, or Rodgers, how confident are their receivers in the understudies? These are questions you tend to ask when you want to doubt the grass is greener on the other side. They are doing something right in Arizona, if they were able to plant the seed of doubt in Fitzgerald’s head, and I think they did just that. There’s definitely a logical approach on convincing the face of their franchise to never hit the open market, but there’s nothing wrong with a little ethos appeal. A brand that once saw star players like Simeon Rice and Anquan Boldin walk away unhappy has one of the game’s best of all-time catching feelings. Instead of wasting more time doubting whether Fitzgerald made the right call, I’m content to give the once-dysfunctional Cardinals a gold star for their work on this one.

Down By Contact: Sunday Postgame Week 16

Download | RSS (audio) | iTunes (audio)

Chris Green and Jeff Rich are back once again to wrap up all of the early week and Sunday afternoon action in the National Football League.  Before the sun rose on Sunday morning in the east, the Lions knew they were in and the Browns knew they were out.  The Saints, Falcons, and Panthers all knew what they needed to do in their pursuit of an NFC South division title, and Bears fans would need to embrace the end of the Jay Cutler Era in Chicago.

The Vikings game in Miami probably flew under the RADAR a little bit, but proved to be one of the more thrilling games of the week.  The Jets and Patriots are on opposite ends of the terrible/great spectrum, but that never seems to mean anything when they face off.  Joe Flacco did his best Derek Anderson impression.  The Steelers end their playoff drought, and our most promising game of the day in North Texas ended up being a dud for the casual fan, but a great day for Steelers fans.

The Players

Chris Green – @cgrn731
Jeff Rich – @byJeffRich