Posted on: February 5, 2013 1:18 am
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Aliens Behind SB47 Blackout?

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

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

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

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

Kaepermania Denied

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

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

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

Whine-Fest II

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

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

SB47 Winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl 47 Hunch Line

“Nobody can eat fifty eggs”

The biggest story leading-up to SB47?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Other Ray

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

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

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

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

My favorite Ray Lewis trait: honoring the line.

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

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

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

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

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

And Ray Lewis never crossed the line.

Super Bowl 47 Pick

Believe it, basketball can be entertaining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 21, 2013 2:14 pm
 

Te'o, Lance & Scrub a dub-dub

So you’re thinking about attending this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in February?

When you do, best just leave your ‘moral-compass’ back at the motel. Won’t need it.

If the Manti Te’o scrub-up is any indicator, the character-test won’t be given out at this year’s obstacle course, or any other NFL dress rehearsal, for that matter.

Since the Deadspin article on Te’o’s fake, leukemia-stricken girlfriend hit the fan early last week, handlers of the Notre Dame All-American have been running him and his reputation through a media wash & spin cycle.

Irish AD-VP Jack Swarbrick kicked things off Wednesday with an ‘I believe Manti’ press conference.

On Friday, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap interviewed the sequestered, fallen hero who fielded questions filtered through his attorney.

Now, Team Te’o has reportedly reserved time on the Katie Couric show this Thursday with his parents alongside as buffer. This Manti guy, he’s a real piece a’ work.

A clean-up job like this is rare, but the character kiss-off in the sport biz is nothing new.

Remember Larry Phillips (NEB / ‘96), the Cornhusker who dragged a woman down a stairwell and then Tom Osborne returned him to the roster just in time for the big game? The red-flags were flyin’ high on Larry but he still got the royal treatment on draft day (R1-P6 / STL). Now he’s resident of the California penal system. I wonder if Tom & Dick would’ve played social-worker had Larry not been a gridiron star? I’m thinking…no.

Te’o didn’t go caveman on anyone, he just played us all for Neanderthals.

Why don’t I believe Manti’s denial of any involvement in concocting the fake, fateful girlfriend? Because no man, I mean NO man, who is generally honest, would refer to an on-line friend whom he never met, neither in person or by video chat, even if believed to be real, as a “girlfriend” when speaking in public.  No man.

But an arrogant, ignorant man might fabricate an on-line “girlfriend" with a special purpose in mind: to cultivate attention & sympathy that will help to bring a Heisman contender the votes necessary to win the coveted award and the fame & fortune which accompanies its receipt. Every little bit helps when you play on that side of the ball which has never been primary workplace of a Heisman recipient.

A friend who purportedly dies of cancer is a sad tale to listeners. A “girlfriend” who dies is a memorable story to Heisman voters, especially when the word and its sad story are dropped into practically every interview you give.

The golden-domers had another Heisman hungry hero back in the day by the name of Joe Theismann (Theez-man). Some believe Joe changed the pronunciation of his last name to rhyme with the famous trophy in hopes of garnering votes. If true, it's goofy and kinda’ desperate, but harmless enough.

Te’o is claiming victim status, Swarbrick is firmly in his corner, a new MT girlfriend has appeared and a fabrication fall-guy has stepped forward (R. Tuiasosopo), a guy who‘s motive (Just for kicks?) will be as unbelievable as the Te’o denial. A weak explanation, to be sure, but it’s their story and they, along with most the media, are gonna’ stick to it.

The print media remains divided, skeptical of Manti Te’o, but Sportscenter is scrubbin’ like mad.

John Clayton on Te’o: “No character issue (1/17).”

Bill Polian: “No character issue.“

Schaap the Younger, assigned to Mr. Clean duty, conducted a closed-door interview with the beleaguered footballer on Friday (who looked like he’d just rolled out bed), ostensibly to get the true story but more likely to scrub-down the player’s image before his draft-value plummets and ND’s recruitment suffers. Jeremy on Te’o: “believable.” Bravo.

Earlier in the week, Oprah Winfrey Scrub & Shine provided the same service for Lance Armstrong Amalgamated. As Lancer’s record of deceit & skullduggery is major league in comparison to the young Te’o’s tally of tsk-tsks, he’ll need many more drives through the ‘character car wash’ before he’s presentable again, corporately speaking. But Lance is a savvy dude. He might still take PEDs mainstream, if the lawsuits don’t do him in.

When the media outlet that breaks the Manti Te’o hoax boasts its biggest claim to fame to be the Sterger / Favre item, it’s fair to say our 4th branch of government (the media) is not meeting its duty to the public interest. ‘Captured’ might be the relevant word here.

Like Mr. Phillips, Te’o will probably go 1st round in this April’s NFL Draft. And he will fare better, mentally speaking, than Larry did if he remains true to this one, simple rule. It’s called the Costanza Rule: “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.”

Steven Keys
Macro Sports
Posted on: January 16, 2013 2:29 pm
 

NFL '13 Conference Picks

Breaking All the Rules

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

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

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

Who ever said Michigan men are too conservative?

New Landscaping or Captured by the Moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absence of Good Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Conference Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail Caesar!

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

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

Divisional Round Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 7, 2013 11:59 am
 

NBA Feeling Lakers' Pain

“When America sneezes, the world catches cold.” That’s a variant of what Klemens von Metternich wrote about France during the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s.

In the same vane, when the Los Angeles Lakers are under-the-weather, all of basketball feels a tad queasy.

With his title in tow, LeBron James may be the contented face of the NBA and other clubs can surely pack a punch, but if there’s an America’s Team on the pro hardwood circuit it has to be the men in purple & gold of southern California.

Don’t like the Lakers as NBA standard-bearer? Tough noogies. Find another team that‘s done their fans as proud as have the Lakers over past sixty years and you can complain.

Celtics had a good run there but have fashioned just one title (‘08) since ‘86; the Knicks’ drought is so long it raises concerns over climate change; Bulls will milk the Jordan / Jackson legacy dry, content waiting on good fortune to land in their lap again; and only time will tell whether the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and the myriad of contender / pretenders that pop up every decade will make the long-term investment standard-bearing requires.

Whether it was the Yankees, Maple Leafs, Packers or Gophers football and their 6 national crowns that provided the template, I don’t know. What I do know is that when the NBA set-up shop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1947, the new ownership created a strategy for success that’s remained in place as long as any other franchise in all of sportdom.

From those early days when original superstar George Mikan carried the frozen Lakers on his back (‘49-50, ‘52-54), to the Baylor / West era, Wilt’s arrival and first golden title in ’72, Kareem‘s return, then the magical ride of Earvin Johnson & friends to the Jacksonian Era (Kobe), LA’s foray into the NBA has been great for its fans and good for the game.

As of this writing LAL’s record stands at 15-18. Not in full funk yet but starting to give a faint feeling of futility.

The numbers tell a tale.

Kobe Bryant’s putting up points like Michael Jordan was pre-Phil (30.5), bidding time while he and everyone around him tries to find their bearings.

Pau Gasol’s numbers are down (8.5 REB / 12) as he adjusts to the new arrivals and bears-up under the constant talk of trade.

Prize pre-season pick-up Dwight “Pip” Howard of the “Great Expectations” has seen his offensive boards ebbing low (3.7) but overall puts up respectable digits (12 REB / 17+).

The other half of Lakers surprise off-season haul, Steve Nash, is rounding into form (8.2 APG / 10.2) since returning from a leg injury that had him sidelined from tip-off. The challenge: Is there a power-sharing or does Nash take charge and direct the flow?

Team tallies: Lakers are fifth in scoring (102.8) but just four spots up on NBA worst Charlotte (103.8) in points allowed (100.5), in the top-half of FG% (45.3), near the rear in FT% (69) but just behind leader Golden State (46+) in all important RPG category (45.8).

Recent coaching changes have taken their toll on continuity, chemistry and confidence.

Mike Brown’s firing felt like panic, Kupchak & Buss’ flirtation with Phil Jackson smacked of a bad, discount chain, shoe-store interview in Green Bay and current mastermind Mike D’Antoni’s record is spotty: solid in Phoenix, so-so in NYC.

It’s too easy and a bit lame to blame their current malaise on “old” age (Bryant). A likely motivational move by their team-leader but not carefully crafted when it comes outta’ the mouth of one of the NBA’s aging war-horses (34).

Kobe may’ve signed-off on the D’Antoni hire to show Steve he’s team-minded and fully-vested in his addition to the Lakers’ roster. If yes, a classy move by KB but complicated when Jackson was also in the mix. Phil’s too savvy to demand the sun, moon and stars from Buss, though, certainly had every right to do so given his credentials and the State of Lakerland at the time, a state it’s not all together clear has improved much.

But the Lakers have ‘crossed the Rubicon’ with Mike D., for the rest of this season. There’s still plenty of time to turn this thing around and make the playoffs, where anything can happen and often does in today's wild & wacky sports world.

I see an intelligent, experienced Lakers’ team, deep in talent and guided by a skillful coach, all of whom, through some calculated trial & error, need time to make the proper adjustments. More specifically, better defense, fewer 3-pointers, more inside game, protect the ball (15.5 TOG) and concentration when at the charity stripe.

A season can take on a feel, a mood where either it keeps clicking or instead stays out of sync. This Lakers’ squad may need more than one season to gel, more time to flavor that broth that too many cooks can spoil if not of the same recipe. The new-fangled Miami Heat of a few years back had a better record to this point than Kobe’s crew but also needed their own time to find a cohesiveness and style for success.

Words to the wise: I’d get my licks in now when opposing these Lakers because when they do hit their stride, watch out NBA.

Steven Keys
The Solid State
Posted on: January 2, 2013 10:18 am
 

NFL '13 Wild Card Picks

The Whole Nine Yards

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

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

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

Rainy Days & Mondays

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

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

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

Cheese-flavored Karma

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

Applying for Membership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Card Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-17

Teaching Collegians How

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week

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

Charles in Charge

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

Pink Eye

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

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

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

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

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

Cherry Picks Week 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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