Category:NFL
Posted on: December 20, 2012 12:18 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-16

Pey-Dirt vs. All-Day

And then there were two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MVP (Most Valuable Pigeon)

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

Back-up to the Future

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

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

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

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

Tip o’ the Cap, Mr. Sanchez

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

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

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

Cherry Picks Week 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-15

All Process That is Due

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

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

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

Fall of the North

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

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

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

Kick-off Krazy

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

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

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

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

Cherry Picks Week 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: December 6, 2012 11:04 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-14

Remains of the Season

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna’ get (F. Gump)”

Winston Groom’s simple sage could’ve been talking about NFL 2012. Expect the unexpected. That’s the title on this season’s marquee.

Given that state, gauging the remaining match-ups might seem a pointless endeavor, as in, the winners are anybody’s guess. But as unpredictable as 2012 has been I’d still thrill to find the likes of Eagles & Jaguars (as opposed to Patriots & Packers) on my team’s 4-game slate.

In ranking the remainder I exclude sub-.500 clubs, though Seattle slipped into the PS at 7-9 in 2010 (a format foible the NFL has ignored) and proceeded to bump the defending champion Saints. Get that ticket punched and anything can happen.

Favorable: Broncos, Seahawks, Steelers, Redskins, Buccaneers, Bengals 
Sweet & Sour: Saints, Texans, Colts, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Dolphins, Cowboys, Giants
Yikes: Lions, Vikings, Ravens, Falcons, Bears

And if you’re a playoff aspirant, don’t forget what the butler and the pretty housekeeper taught us in that British flick from a few years back (Remains of the Day): when opportunity knocks, you better answer ‘cause it may not knock again.

Playoff Teams You Wanta’ See

Denver Broncos: Ridin’ a mile high again, but this time around with a healthy Peyton Manning.

Patriots vs Giants III?: Reincarnation of the 70s Cowboys / Steelers Super rivalry.

Seattle Seahawks: Rookies Wagner (MLB) & Wilson (QB) display abilities usually found only in seasoned pros, making themselves key cogs in the Hawks’ drive to contend.

Washington Redskins: Like Michael, Tim & Cam, Rob Griffin disdains pocket-presence (642 yds) but very few players today (healthy Percy Harvin or pre-‘12 Devin Hester) electrify the field quite like DC’s fledgling QB-RB.

Indianapolis Colts: Not exactly Tebowmania but there’s an effort afoot in Indy that goes beyond Xs & Os, compelling this team to play with gusto and pull rabbits outta’ the hat.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1st-yr. guru Gregg Schiano got off on the wrong foot in play-calling a sucker-punch on one of NFL’s class-acts (Eli) but has clearly nudged TB into relevancy.

Atlanta Falcons: The egg & bottle-tossing types excluded, the rest of Atlanta, players & coaches of this long frustrated organization deserve a shot at the title and now have a team capable of taking good aim. Throwback helmets a nice touch.

Minnesota Vikings: These guys never really did have it in 2012 but it’d be a holiday treat just to watch Adrian Peterson & Chad Greenway (OLB) ply their trades in the PS.

Cherry Picks Week 14

Baltimore Ravens (9-3) @ Washington Redskins (6-6) (12-9 / CBS 1:00)

Beltway battle in new hot-bed of sporting fare (Orioles / Nats). Ravens falter vs Ben-less Pitt and media freaks. D-cline is real in crab-cake country but it’s lackluster offense that vexes: poor 1st-dwn ratio & TOP. No time for doubters as Flacco's confidence is key. DC seeks mandate after big home win vs NYG but they’d met before.  Washington needs it, but Baltimore wants it more (See; slate) and decipher RG3 riddle. This ain’t college. Ravens win.

Chicago Bears (8-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (6-6) (Fox 1:00)

Wk-12 meet exposed Vikes as pretenders (10-28), then winner proves toothless vs Seattle (L17-23). NFC North looking sad. Urlacher exit (ham) may be bad omen, while G3-LT unplugs electric Harvin. Bears’ Forte only fair last four (2.9) but Cutler solid and protected in comeback (2TD / 1S). Ponder regressing w/out top-target Percy (62) while Peterson and defense carry the load. Though former Bear knows D, Coach Frazier's scoring scheme punchless but Allen & purple people put pressure (29S) and Vikings forge a win.

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) (Fox 1:00)

Nobody’s topic of conversation, Boys 3-1 last four. Ugly losses (SEA / CHI) were in early campaign. Tony proves critics right when forcing the issue (16-15) but, excepting Wk-13, gets little help in under-used run-game. Bengals are streakers and now run with glee (4-0). Balance on both ends impresses and Dalton’s ratio (24-13) shows matriculatory skill. Should be a dandy as both clubs rising and motivated to show PS-mettle but Bengals more polished and press (39S) the win at home.

Houston Texans (11-1) @ New England Patriots (9-3) (12-10 / ESPN 8:30)

Favorites enter marquee match-up on win-a-thons (6), both losing last in Wk-6 (GB / SEA). But quality trumps quantity. Who ya’ beat matters and these guys have feasted on nolo-contenders & pretenders. Now test time and both bucking for dean’s list with fine team-ranks but fair (HOU) to poor (NE-29) pass-D. Tom gets edge in stats & résumé but Matt’s shown 4Q-mettle in '12. Both run (Arian / Steve), gun, guard (15 / 19S) and Texans bring it (36S). Pats' C. Jones (6S) ankled but Mayo (118T) covers and New England wins nigh pick‘em.

Note: Life can turn on a dime. Those directly affected by tragedy try to find a grounding, the rest of us move on because life moves on. The speed & manner by which that happens in sport has been fodder for debate since ‘63 (JFK) and was no different this weekend. Sympathy goes out to family & friends of victim Kas Perkins and murderer-suicide Jovan Belcher in Kansas City on Saturday, and then also to those near to basketball coach Rick Majerus who died in Los Angeles later that same day after losing his battle with heart disease.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 29, 2012 1:08 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-13

They Made Me a Criminal

“Illegal.” It’s a word that was popping up with odd frequency this past weekend in major media descriptions of Detroit Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz and his now infamous challenge-flag faux pas on Thanksgiving Day. I’m no legal expert but am not aware of the existence of any State of Michigan or federal criminal, regulatory or like provision that such an on-field miscue would violate.

No harm, no foul? Sure, why not. But c’mon production people, get on the ball and give these guys a break.

But there is something that happened in Detroit, a misdeed I hope lawmakers address soon and pass legislation making its occurrence punishable by fine, community service and required viewings of the ‘97 version of the movie “Titanic:” the ‘prevent defense.’

Lions didn’t lose on turkey day because Schwartz’ impulsive flag toss, nor did they lose because place-kicker J. Hanson boinked a late 47-yarder off the cross-bar. They lost because they permitted the Houston Texans to run-off 15 plays and drive 97 yards for the game-tying TD by employing what seemed to be that time-honored concession to fear & doubt, the dreaded PD.

“I do not choose to run”

Those words stunned a nation in 1927 when America’s popular laissez faire President Calvin Coolidge announced he’d not seek a 2nd full-term as Chief Executive. Cal didn’t exactly brim over with personality, nor was he what you might call an economic visionary (the Depression), but his famous statement is surprisingly apropos when the subject of discussion is Redskins’ rookie QB sensation Robert Griffin.

Bob’s put together a couple of gems his last two games against woeful division rivals Philly & Dallas, tossing four TDs in both walkover wins. In a conference (and League) where top teams are in short supply in 2012, the Skins are still players for the post-season at 5-6.

With today’s flash-QB, run-attempts are a key stat. In Dallas Bob kept it down to six. If he stays around that number week in, week out, win or lose, he’ll make it in this League because it means he can take the hits while learning to read defense and find receivers. Mike Vick never got the message, or if he did, couldn’t make the adjustment.

Run-QB is the biggest thing to hit football since the 300-yard passer made RBs just so much icing on the cake. They’re reminiscent of a by-gone era when the single-wing tail-back was expected to do pretty much everything (pass, run, block) but load-up the bus.

Run-Johnny-run is all the rage on college campus where Coach knows the next Cam or Timbo is his ticket to glory. Just make sure you have a back-up plan when he goes pro (Chizik). But for now anyway, the sit-tite, stand-tall pocket passer rules the NFL roost and he has the hardware & blindside bruises to prove it.

So when you feel your mobility turning into flight, best heed Cal’s words Bob and take your lumps. It’s called the long-view, something Mr. Coolidge ($) couldn’t see.

Cherry Picks Week 13

New Orleans Saints (5-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (10-1) (11-29 / NFLN 8:20)

A must win for Falcons? Already a lock for PS, a win here goes a long way exercising demons of doubt from recent playoff flame-outs and earlier loss to their regional nemesis (11-11). On other side, still a flicker of hope for Saints as Vikes & Hawks fade fast while RG3’s got Skins believing. Kaep Krusader & the Niners gave NO a dose of reality and banged-up A-birds will hammer home the point but with “more feeling.” Atlanta wins.

Minnesota Vikings (6-5) @ Green Bay Packers (7-4) (12-2 / Fox 1:00)

There is history (Bears / GB), and there is rivalry. The later, that’s this, the Midwest’s biggest grudge match. Makes Yanks / Red Sox feud seem kinda’ quaint. And it would have been a barn-burner this year ‘cept Vikes lost their way. MIN didn’t just get beat in their two mettle games (TB / CHI), they barely showed up, Mr. Frazier. And if GB can’t protect Rodgers (37S), they won’t beat Titans WK16, but Pack beats purple pretenders.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) @ Denver Broncos (8-3) (Fox 4:05)

Difference between a win & loss can be miniscule (v ATL) but TB takes comfort knowing they’re headed in the right direction (5-2). It’s telling, about the NFL, when you stuff the run (TB 1/ 82) and still rank 30th overall (D). WTW: Both O-lines stout (16S) but Denver brings it big (37S / TB-18S) and Josh will be tested. Martin runs big but can get stuffed (SD / ATL / DEN 8R), while Peyton likes the opportunity (TB 32P). Denver prevails.

New York Giants (7-4) @ Washington Redskins (5-6) (12-3 / ESPN 8:30)

In talking of GB’s woes this week, Hoge & Jaworski (ESPN) hit on this: QBs need time to work their “progression.” No matter the skill-set (Rodgers), if rushed, mistakes follow. Giants D (30S) plans same press on RG3. But as the young lad has no progression as yet, Rob’s make-it-up-on-the-go approach just might thwart the blitz. Better still, Skins have a real run game in Mr. Morris (4.7 / 982). Eli & Company are back in rhythm, having found that self-confidence that seems to energize late-season runs. Giants win at FedEx.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 22, 2012 1:10 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-12

Season of the Fall-Guy

Can you fire an entire roster? It’s a pretty crazy notion but one that wouldn’t meet with much protest if you’d polled locker-rooms of the Cardinals, Lions, Browns, Bolts, Jags and Panthers after their Week 11 meltdowns.

The embarrassment showed in player post-game interviews and shameful they should all feel, moving their coaches one-step closer to the figurative guru guillotine.

Did Norv Turner tell Phil Rivers to throw two picks and cough-up another vs Broncos? Nope. Did Lions’ Jim Schwartz whisper into Matt Stafford’s ear, ‘Hey, how bout turning it over thrice and stalling in the red-zone so I can get canned?’ Don’t think so. Did Packers Mike McCarthy brow-beat Mason Crosby into missing 2 of 3 (50 / 38) or Mike Smith taunt former-MVP candidate Matt Ryan into throwing five INTs (not all his fault) against the Cards? Nyet. And wasn’t every defender in the NFL instructed that ball-carriers must be tackled whenever possible? Yes on that one. Point being, coaches coach and players play, sometimes real bad and then at the worst possible times.

As a rule, today’s fan has closer affinity for players than the coaching set, Rex Ryan, Belichick, McCarthy, Lovie, Tomlin, Peyton & Pagano excepted. As such, today’s guru must be part strategist, motivator and, to the smallest degree possible, task-master, something even college imports J. Harbaugh and G. Schiano must grudgingly accept.

So when that blade of separation begins to fall on coaching tenures and shrill cheers rise from the tricoteuse of fans & media, remember this, it takes a team to win AND to lose.

San Francisco Treat

With starters Alex Smith and Jay Cutler still sidelined, 2nd-stringers took center stage as Colin Kaepernick filled-in nicely (16-23 / 243 / 2) in leading his 49ers crew to a lop-sided 32-7 win over Jason Campbell and the Bears in their Monday night contest. John Q. Public loves controversy and Jim Harbaugh rarely disappoints, responding with “We‘ll see“ when queried post-game on whether a healthy Smith would be his starting QB.

Unlike most professions, the business of sport is highly predicated on emotion and momentum. As such I’m not of that belief which holds a starter has some kind of entitlement to his pre-injury position. I favor the view that ‘if it’s working, don’t fix it.’

I’d hand the reigns back to a healthy Smith because he’s proven his worth in taking 49ers to the threshold of last season’s Super Bowl (46) and continued the trend in compiling a pretty nifty 6-2-1 tally pre-concussion. And as for tattoo parlor regular CK, Harbaugh should know that in football, offense & defense feed off each other and with Cutler out and Campbell acclimating, the normally stout Bears’ D was off-kilter, opening the door wide for a capable back-up to take advantage, a door that won‘t always be open.

Cherry Picks Week 12

Houston Texans (9-1) @ Detroit Lions (4-6) (11-22 / CBS 12:30)

Lions shouldn’t qualify for cherry pickin’ this week but Thanksgiving’s traditionally their time and I feel kinda’ bad for the dudes after last weeks el-foldo. More than sympathy, Detroit’s D stepped-up vs GB, run-game had a pulse, Stafford’s still healthy and as for that coaching staff rift, well, what doesn‘t tear us apart makes us stronger, right?. Texans building back post-GB (WK6) but 1-9 Jags proved work’s not over. Lions play 60, show mettle & win.

New England Patriots (7-3) @ New York Jets (4-6) (NBC 8:20)

This might’ve been a mettle-game for both squads 2-years ago, testing PS possibilities and resolve. In 2012, Jets are a sad story. Their gusty win versus improved Rams in St. Louis is hopeful sign but just first step. Long way to go to concoct chemistry and the Patriots are unsympathetic. Good stage to display Tebow at natural position (TE) but then Rex is oblivious. NE weak vs. pass (30P) but then it’s NYJ (29P). Patriots win.

Minnesota Vikings (6-4) @ Chicago Bears (7-3) (11-25 Fox 1:00)

Either NFL schedulers are closet GB fans or favor tough-love. Vikes’ quest for PS glory must go through roughest remaining slate in NFL and begins in Windy City. QBs will feel heavy heat as both bring it but Bears more leaky (34-S). Rosters quite clean, except key cogs Cutler & Harvin. Black & Blue battle royal with Bears in bad mood post Bay bloodbath, but Vikes rested off bye with deeper talent-well from stick (Allen / Greenway / Winfield / Brinkley) to kick (Walsh / Kluwe). Jay or Jason, Vikings win mettle-game.

Atlanta Falcons (9-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4) (Fox 1:00)

Second mettle game for each: Falcons a loss (NO), TB a win (MIN). No one’s pick yet for SB but Bucs of late playing as well as anyone (5-1) on so-so slate. Mark of a fine team (ATL) that commits 6-TOs and still prevails (ARI). A-birds get balance (R28 / P3) if feed RB Turner more ball (15+), while Tampa DBs (1R / 32P) might work on breaking-up passes over INTs (15 / 32P). Both squads near full strength, Martin will run (ATL 26R) and Ryan will pass (TB 32P). WTW: Turner vs TB run-D (1) & snug Freeman (14S) vs ATL press (24S / Abraham Q'able (9S)). Bucs run stops here, Falcons win.

San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1) @ New Orleans Saints (5-5) (Fox 4:25)

Two more teams playing like contenders and avoiding rash of injuries. QB Smith could sit again but Jim must avoid mid-season, dueling QBs. Waterfield / Van Brocklin (Rams ‘49-52) was a whole different animal. Saints enjoy home dome (3-0 Oct on) with Sproles PROB, while 49ers 3-1 on road. K’nick is still WBTE, but if he gets the nod, has a top D (6R / 2P), run game (1), fine targets (Crab / Davis / Mario) and even kickers that can help (Lee (24 IN20) / Ackers (63)). Alex or Colin, San Fran wins.

Green Bay Packers (7-3) @ New York Giants (6-4) (NBC 8:20)

Marquee match-up pits lead candidates for NFC party nomination. Swaggering GB is red hot (5-0) and should send NFL scheduler a holiday muffin basket. Packers’ run-game (R24) and O-line (32S) are trouble-spots but Rodgers rolls like nobody’s business (2619 / 27-6) and Pack pressure cooks (33S) even w/out the hair guy. Eli’s TD ratio (12-11) belies nice protection (13S) while Giants’ run-game can be an enigma. Numbers suggest GB but like Disraeli said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."  G-men seem to ramp-it-up lately versus this longtime rival. Giants fashion a win at MetLife.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 16, 2012 1:19 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-11

Protocol in Tackling

The storylines are all too familiar in this week’s NFL: concussions, Big Ben injury updates, Giants mid-season funk, dysfunction in Jetsland, Tebow talk, etcetera.

And when the topic is concussions, “protocol” is the buzz word that swarms the hive. Protocol, in health assessment, is a good thing. It means people are taking notice and then steps to try to prevent, or at least lessen a dangerous state.

Here’s another word to put in your cabeza when the talk is concussions: cheap-shot.

Cheap-shot practitioners have been around since the days of leather-helmets. But it was the Raiders Jack “Assassin” Tatum who popularized the dirty hit in the 70s (SB11 / White) and began the gradual amelioration of their negative perception by fans and players alike.

Some concusses are unavoidable, part of the inherent danger of the game. Cases in point: Mike Vick, Ryan Clark and Cliff Avril all concussed on routine plays in Wk-10. Others are of the cheap-shot variety, a product of choice, like the too-wicked hit laid on Bears’ QB Jay Cutler by Houston Texans’ linebacker and Tatum disciple Tim Dobbins in Sunday night‘s wet clash.

Dobbins sighted his victim and then, rather than lower his shoulder, aim at Cutler’s mid-region and knock the wind out of him, he aims high, leads with helmet and after laying Jay out, raises his hands in a weak-attempt to avoid criticism he knows is due. It’s a too-dangerous tactic too many defenders refuse to lose. Tim was flagged (UR) (fined 30T) and Cutler pulled himself up off the ground and stayed in until tossing an INT.

Funny how baseball players charge the field at the drop of a hat to defend a teammate’s honor, while footballers stand around their fallen brother, acting the models of good behavior. The League does what it can by way of instruction, fines & suspensions, but cheap-shots won’t wane until players take matters into their own hands and police the hit-parade. I’m not holding my breath.

Coaches, on the other hand, they can find shelter behind protocol.

Bears Coach Lovie Smith speaking after Texans game: “Symptoms (concussion) weren’t displayed right away (by Jay)…There’s a protocol we go through when a player has a concussion.” That’s cute, Lovie. Any lay-person who saw the too-heavy hit on Jay and the prone state it put him in, could easily discern that the QB was a serious candidate for a medical determination of concussion. But rather than take a pro-active approach by taking Jay out of the game and harm’s way, Smith (like others) bank on a standard that buys time and waits first for “symptoms” to manifest.

Because the League’s ham-strung (NFLPA / captured media), because players won’t institute their own tackling protocol, coaches, on-field and in the booth, become the last line of defense on concussion matters. If Lovie Smith can’t meet this reasonable duty, Halas Hall best find someone who can.

Veterans Day

A belated thank you to all military veterans, past and present, in air, land & sea, American and allied. I’d like to think my enjoyment of combat movies stems in part from my appreciation for the risks and sacrifices service people make. A favorite is Darryl Zanuck’s 1962 B&W, star-studded film “The Longest Day,” a multi-national work that chronicles D-Day, the Allied landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Top notch.

Cherry Picks Week 11

Green Bay Packers (6-3) @ Detroit Lions (4-5) (11-18 / Fox 1:00)

Best of Wk-11’s intriguing field general match-ups. Seems like oft-injured Stafford’s never made it this far into a season. Stats aren’t showy but Matt, along with capable D, keeps Lions viable, while low-priority run-game withers. Pack feels dangerous coming off bye and 4-gm win-streak, but like Lions, GB run-show under-whelms (2TD). Rodgers is sublime (25-5), just spare us the pantomime, okay Aaron? Foot facts: Vet Lions’ K’er Hanson PROB (L), GB P’er Masthay super IN-20 (24). Edge to hometown Lions.

New York Jets (3-6) @ St. Louis Rams (3-5-1) (CBS 1:00)

Both QBs having sub-par years and looking for break-out game. Bradford’s got the edge in YDS, COMP%, TD-ratio, AVG, Sanchez should get a medal for bearing the pressure. Mark’s decision-making must improve and up-tick run-game might help his focus. Side generals spice it up, Fisher gets time to build, Ryan feeling the heat. With injuries rising and effort being questioned, emotions running high and Gang green wins one for Rex.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) @ Carolina Panthers (2-7) (Fox 1:00)

This one’s got potential for fireworks. Bucs surging of late (4-1) while 4 of Cats last 5 losses (bar DEN) average by < 3 pts. Skills are there but Cam must embrace the pain, ride out storm and feast on TB pass-D (32). Carolina team-ranks decent (Kuechly 87T) but Rivera’s wrong allowing QB as top runner. Freeman solid (18-5) and RB Martin (862-7) making waves, though SD slowed the surge (68). WTW: Cat pressure (25-S) on guarded Josh (13-S) and Newton ability to sit-tite & spread the pass . Panthers get a W.

New Orleans Saints (4-5) @ Oakland Raiders (3-6) (Fox 4:05)

A return of all-purpose Sproles (PROB) adds dimension to Brees offense, though Ivory & Ingram picked-it-up vs Falcons. Gotta’ like Palmer’s production (15-9 / 2723 / 61%) with pedestrian run-game. Only thing worse than NO’s run-D (30) is their pass-D (31) so CP should work the air-lanes. But key Q’ables (Branch / H-Bey / Goodson / McFad’n / Myers / Janikowski / Seymour) make much needed home win that much harder. Saints keep marching & win.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) @ Denver Broncos (6-3) (CBS 4:25)

“Ac-cen-tuate the positive.“ That’s Norv Turner’s motto this week in prep for Denver re-match. First half of Wk-6 loss (35-24) was Chargers’ heaven, going up big. Whatever worked that half to stop the lordly one (Peyton), do it again. Fox does the same, using 2nd half battle plan to befuddle the mystery man (Rivers). David’s still got it (2203 / 7.3 / 68%) but presses at times (15-12). Risky going against Manning, McGahee & Woodyard at home but SD has balance, knows Denver and like Jets, are motivated. Upset Alert: Chargers win.

Indianapolis Colts (6-3) @ New England Patriots (6-3) (CBS 4:25)

If you're an advertiser, this is the time-slot you want. Luck v Brady is marketing gold. Both teams sizzle, winning 5 of 6, though most weren’t mettle-games. Andy looks the young pro most expected (58% / 2631 / 7.3) with growing pains (10-9), while Tom is the un-sung MVP aspirant (65% / 18-3 / 2645 / 7.4) beaming over run-game (Ridley / Bolden) and improved run-D (9). NE injuries mount but Belichick battle-plan red-lights Colts’ joy-ride in Foxsborough. Patriots win.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 9, 2012 3:48 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-10

All Incredible

His peers affectionately refer to him as “All Day.“ Watch Adrian Peterson’s tireless play on a football field and you’ll know why.

It was the day before Christmas last year when Peterson suffered what will often be a career-ending knee injury, sustaining ligament tears (ACL) and sending shockwaves throughout the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  But low & behold, AP healed-up and how!

After just nine games into NFL 2012, Peterson has nearly surpassed last year’s 12 game total (957 / 970) and is on pace to break his single-season high of 1760 yards set in his sophomore campaign (‘08) (Pro-football-reference.com).

Though his steady accumulation of big yardage totals, along with the prized single-game rushing mark (296 / SD / ‘07), have him on track for a bronze bust in Canton, it’s his electrifying run-style that’s always kept this writer in awe: the bruising power of a Larry Csonka coupled with open-field moves of the “Kansas Comet” Gale Sayers.

Ever since Sid Gillman (AFL) and Don Coryell (NFL) sold American football fans on the wonders of the forward-pass, non-QBs have had a devil of time trying to get voters to take them seriously for MVP accolades (20 of 55).

Today it’s a QB-League and everyone seems to like it that way. But not since the days of Earl Campbell has an running back bowled over defenders like Peterson, his signature scamper coming in ‘09 against the Cleveland Browns where he tossed aside would-be tacklers like so many rag-dolls.

The lines are getting long in early MVP voting and, as expected, exit polls show quarterbacks leading the count with Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and fellow come-backer Peyton Manning holding sway over voter opinion. Their mid-season records are persuasive. But if Adrian stays healthy, his miraculous 2012 story is just the stuff MVP bestowments should be made of.

Tim Tebow: The Anti-Story

The votes were cast, tabulated, some given the ol’ Diebold Switch-a-Roo and the results reported. Scott Pelley, capable anchor of CBS’ 2012 election coverage gets credited with the night’s best and worst metaphors. The best: “donnybrook,” and the worst, “carpet bombing,” used by Pelley to describe the flood of campaign ads reigned down upon Connecticut by unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon. Needn’t read everything the kids put in front ya,’ Scottie.

Tim Tebow gets this writer’s vote as the biggest anti-story for first half of NFL 2012. Though he works in America’s media mecca, last season’s hottest commodity has been about as big a news-item as a Wyoming Presidential tally. And like Mitt, both are second-guessing their campaign strategies, wondering what might’ve been (Jaguars).

But there’s still time for Timbo to leave his mark on the New York scene. It likely won’t come at QB (even if he gets the nod) or in a pointless wildcat deployment. That leaves Tim’s original high school slot, tight-end.

Jets have a bevy of T-ends in Cumberland, Keller and Rueland, but Tim’s got ball-hands, good speed, a nose for the end-zone and doesn’t just take a hit, he likes it. And as Tim loves the spotlight (and boss Woody loves the PR), he should know tight-end is a position not without its share of cachet (Gronk / Gonzalez / Witten). There’s your spark, Rex.

Quote of the Week

Rex Ryan on being named (by 35 players) “most over-rated coach in the NFL” in a Sporting News poll, the TMZ of sport media. “My first thought was I looked and saw who was second. Hey, I finally beat Belichick. I got him. I knew it would take time, but I finally got him (CBS / 11-7 / Jets’).”  A coach with a sense of humor.  Kudos, Mr. Ryan. 

Cherry Picks Week 10

Detroit Lions (4-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (5-4) (11-11 / Fox 1:00)

One of six intra-division battles on the slate, this pits two blue-state rivals, one feeling their oats, the other scuffling. Some terrific purple play (Greenway / Winfield / Brinkley / Walsh / AD) off-set by key downers (Ponder / Allen). Injuries come with the territory but gimpy catalyst Harvin (ankle) is nonpareil. Lions’ Suh not making news (+), Stafford’s healthy, Detroit run-game netting TDs (10) and nice 1st-down ratio. Teams going opposite directions and a Vikings’ loss will fuel Frazier debate. Lions avenge WK4 loss in triumph.

San Diego Chargers (4-4) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) (CBS 1:00)

San Diego’s a swing-team. Start 3-1, then drop three before topping KC in WK9. Big-arm Rivers slowly finding rhythm while run-trio contributes (4.5 AVG). Bucs feelin’ the love after two road wins (MIN / OAK). Timely D (13 INT), surging Martin (5 TDs WK8-9), stout O-line (12-S) and patient Freeman (16-5 ratio) key the rise. No fan of Schiano’s numbskull kneel-down no-no (WK2 @ NYG), but admit Greg’s got TB believing. WTW: SD run-D (4) v. Martin; TB pressure v. Rivers. Projected winner: Buccaneers.

Atlanta Falcons (8-0) @ New Orleans Saints (3-5) (Fox 1:00)

First of three mettle-games for ATL (NO 11-29 / NYG 12-16), more vital than running the table, Mr. White. Rivalry ranks with NFL best: Falcons 1st SB (‘99), Saints hoist it in ‘10. As such, road to respectability goes through Louisiana. Given the troubles in New Orleans and Dallas, this would seem Falcons' year to assume Southern throne. Write-off Saints first 3-Ls and start with tough loss @ GB, making ‘em 3-2. New Orleans' D-rank is rank (R31 / P28), but tackle corps sticks (Harper / Jenkins / Lofton), while Atlanta defense is not up to typical standard (R23 / P13). Ryan v. Brees will be an air-show.  Home Saints win.

Houston Texans (7-1) @ Chicago Bears (7-1) (NBC 8:20)

GOTW. But a Clash of Titans? “Maybe no (Furio),” as GB spanked both. QB Schaub is reliable (12-4 ratio) and RB Foster compliments. Both signal-callers face sack-attack (25 / 25) as Texans protect (10) while Bears O-line a sieve (28), hurting Cutler’s head and numbers (12-8). Forte needs more carries (5.0), Hester TDs (1) and Marshall Plan needs to spread the wealth (BM 59 REC / next 20 & 16). Though aches & pains are piling-up on Houston roster, they’ve got balance like 70s Olga Korbut. Texans win on the road.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 2, 2012 12:20 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-9

Last-Chance Grill & Gas

It’s the half-way marker on our long & winding road to Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans, so make a pit-stop, get your goodies, hop back in and “fasten your seat-belts (‘cause) it’s going to be a bumpy (ride) (B. Davis)” the rest of NFL 2012.

Eight weeks back the road was dark, sights unseen and too early to know what lay ahead along interstate NFL. Now we’ve seen the line-ups, gandered at the game-plans and have a pretty fair idea which teams got ‘zots under the hood’ and which are, how should I put it, in need of some serious lift-time.

National Cherry Coupés

1) New York Giants
1) Green Bay Packers
3) San Francisco 49ers

Where are the Falcons and Bears? When it comes to rules of the real roadway, I always use my turn-signal (me and about eight other people on the North American continent), but in sport analysis, rules be damned.

There seems an un-written rule that W-L records rule the ranking. But would you really pick Atlanta or Chicago to topple any of the three listed above? That’s right. At home, maybe the Birds & Bruins prevail, but on the road, not bloody likely.

Dates to circle on the calendar: Falcons, 11-11 & 11-29 (Saints), the Bears, 12-16 (Pack). These are the ‘mettle-games’ for both squads. Until they can knock-off their long-time nemeses, Atlanta & Chicago are just post-season pretenders. But if they do, watch out.

American Cherry Coupés

1) New England Patriots
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
3) Denver Broncos

Texans proved playoff-worthy last January but play in mediocre South, took a drubbing from GB (24-42), get back up at home vs. leaderless Ravens, beat an out-of-sync Denver WK3 and, like Baltimore (Lewis), will need more time to fill big shoes (Cushing).

College Notes

State of flux: that’s college football in the new millennium. But traditionalism still runs deep. As long as there’s a human element in the ranking, a program like Chip Kelly’s (Oregon) with its run-up-the-score 80s mentality (70-14 v. CO) and total deference to marketers (Nike), will always get passed-over by some voters when they're given any viable choice. 

Cherry Picks Week 9

Miami Dolphins (4-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (4-3) (11-4 / 1:00 CBS)

Land of Opportunity Bowl. Lesson #1: Wk-1 results (MIA 10-30 HOU / IND 21-41 CHI) mean about as much as a Fox News political panel. No mucho. Makes you wanta’ duct-tape alarmists in Lakers-land. But here they be, ‘Phins & Colts, lookin’ like players. October: Colts 3-1 (GB); Miami 3-0 (NYJ). Kind of an ‘immovable object vs irresistible force’ thing, in reverse, or something: Colts pass (9), stop pass (7), Dolphins can’t (27); Miami runs (11), stops runs (3), Indy can’t (27). QBs even-Steven. Colts win at Lucas Oil.

Chicago Bears (6-1) @ Tennessee Titans (3-5) (1:00 Fox)

It’s the Halas way: stout D, ground-grind. But ‘85 Bears don’t shine w/out McMahon. As ’12 defense is older than Ryan’s and run-game (Forte-Bush) not quite Payton-Suehy, Jay needs better distribution (BM (40%)), TD-ratio and line help (25-S). Veteran Hasselbeck spreads the ball while Johnson’s hitting stride at right time. Playing well of late (2-1), top tackle-corps of Ayers, Griffin & Babineaux keep it close. Home Titans take upset win.

Minnesota Vikings (5-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (4-4) (4:05 Fox)

No “Clash of the Titans” (2010 movie: I vote ‘81 Burgess-Bubo ticket), both teams are year off, built on defense (M-11 / S-5), serious run-game (7 (AD) / 8 (Lynch)), manager QBs and look for bounce after stumble of late (1-2). Young QBs Ponder & Wilson impress with suitable-stats, pocket progress and press-room maturity usually found in vets. Home turf helps Hawks after 2 tough road losses, while Vikes’ engine knocks (TB). Seahawks win.

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) @ New York Giants (6-2) (4:25 CBS)

Certified C.O.T, 4 of last 7 Super Bowl winners. No-Respect Bowl: Ben & Eli keep hoisting the hardware and all talk is about Tom, Tim, Peyton & RG3. Cliff-Notes: Steelers got balance (10-O / 2-D), G-men keep finding a way (4-O / 24-D). Quality wins, NYG (2): @ DAL and SF; Pitt (1) vs. NYJ (.5) and PHI (.5). Pitt’s well of RBs running dry (Dwyer / quad) but Giant Bradshaw hobbled too. Pass-proficiency will dictate as both QBs distribute like venders. Ben’s groovin’ (67 Comp% / 14-3 ratio) while Eli’s protected (6-S / 2300 yds). Pass Ds: Pitt’s stingy (1) but key cog Clark Q’able and Giants soft (26). Steelers win.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (7-0) (8:20 NBC)

Falcons are funny. Away they win convincingly (4), at home they eke out Ws vs. early-Broncos, Carolina & Oakland. Too good to lay an egg Sunday, Birds face Dallas team that’s talented and angry (BAL / NYG). Cowboy D works (4 / 3P), 1st-down ratio nice and pass-game clicks under Tony (3) who’s pressing (9-13 ratio). Bank on injury-news (Bryant-Murray-Jones) and you’ll suffer, so I won’t. Like NYG tussle, should be aerial-act as Falcons’ run-show (24) no bigger hit than Boys. Atlanta falls, Cowboys lasso a W.

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