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Category:NFL
Posted on: October 25, 2012 1:22 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-8

A Thing of Beauty

One is a seasoned pro who collects hardware in the Lombardi line, forgoing the glitzy MVP variety. He is a standard by which others are measured and to which young players should aspire; the other is a rookie and budding star, athletic & energized, he still operates by the collegian concept that football is a one-man show and has the bruises to show it.

On Sunday both men took part in what may be the best short-sequence so far this NFL 2012 season, offensively speaking. The golden-age of the defensive-back, this is not.

With under two minutes in the game, Redskins’ rookie QB Rob Griffin lofted a perfect 30-yard rainbow to receiver Santana Moss who did his best imitation of a Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder-catch and hauled it in for what looked to be the game-winning TD vs NYG.

Never one to back down from a challenge (it's in the genes), on the Giants’ next series, the reigning Super Bowl champion QB Eli Manning responded quicker than you can say Jack Robinson by connecting with speedy Victor Cruz on a 20 yard strike turned nicely into a 77 yard TD scamper in what Vic described post-game as a play they both “practice.” Practice makes perfect and this was pretty near perfection.

Both hook-ups were a thing of beauty, Eli & Vic’s a bit more voluptuous than the Skins‘ version which was quite fetching, just the same. Kudos.

Greased Pig-skin

A football is a football is a football, right? Not when it’s the official NFL ball it ain’t. Next time you turn on the game, take a gander at the pigskin in play. That shiny spheroid, made by Wilson, a subsidiary of Amer-Sports (Finland), in Ada, Ohio, is slicker than a greased pig. But if you’re looking for a justification for the sissy-fication of football by way of “sticky-gloves,” there you have it. Cha-ching!

Health(ier) Choice

Enjoy watching the game but suffer through a plethora of TV commercials & announcers that bore you silly? Here’s a solution. When it gets unbearable, flip-over to the League‘s “NFL Game Center” (NFLN / 1:00-4 EST). The colorful, game-board display shows every on-going contest with up-to-the-minute scores, audible announcing and is chock-full of the numbers you crave. If you‘re a scoreboard watcher, this is the place to be.

Cherry Picks Wk-8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (5-2) (10-25 / NFLN / 8:20 EST)

If he doesn’t soon turn it down a notch or two, Tampa Coach Gregg Schiano is in danger of becoming Les Steckel II, ex-marine who steered Vikes to 3-13 record in ‘84 (and OC of ‘00 Bucs top offense). Tough talk won’t cut it if nobody’s listening. Upside, Bucs battle in every loss, QB Freeman’s rebounding while getting time (9-S) and specialist Barth can go long if close (57). But RB Blount is a rarity, top WR Jackson is ankled and run-stuff D (3d / 76 / David / Foster) will be tested by peaking Peterson (4.8). Vikings balanced defense (11R / 11P) tips the scale North in this slugfest of former division rivals.

Atlanta Falcons (6-0) @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) (10-28 / Fox / 1:00)

Count me among those feeling Falcons slightly more lucky than good. Atypical lack-luster defense supports the view. But Ryan’s distribution is impressive (3-30+ WR), TD / INT ratio solid and Turner’s run-game compliments. Home Eagles have better rank (7-O / 12-D) and with Vick looking threadbare I like him coming off the bye. Eagles win.

Washington Redskins (3-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) (Fox / 1:00)

ATL, MIN, NYG and now PIT: baptism by fire. Though I’m no fan of Mike’s run-QB attack-plan, I give Rob credit for battling big boys with gusto. Hope DC isn’t looking ahead to CAR / bye. Griffin's COMP % (70) and TD ratio (7-3) are good, while W-L (3-4) not bad for 1st-year. But when the QB is a top RB (7.3 / 468 / 6), trouble awaits in downfield pops and time lost in pocket-classroom. Skins can tackle (Fletcher / Riley / Wms / Hall) but deflect few passes (32). Troy is missed (calf) but Pitt still defends (2) while RB Dwyer has earned a start (if it works, don't fix). Ben’s like Brett, under-appreciated, takes a licking & keeps on ticking, a flair for dramatic and a nose for the end-zone. Steelers win.

New York Giants (5-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (3-3) (Fox / 4:25)

Raiders / Chiefs rivalry is regal (CBS / 4:05) but this is big bout in Wk-8. Cowboys made nice opening statement Wk-1 vs NYG (24-17) but very garbled since (SEA / CHI). Boys slip-by gloomy Cats while Giants ‘pull fat outta the fire’ vs DC. Where is the greatness? That would be the NBA (Heat / Lakers). Dallas run-attack doesn’t scare but Romo can still matriculate with cool WR corps and Giants’ D won’t say boo (24). Jerry wants this one bad, Garrett knows it and the Dallas defense should do its part (4). Cowboys win.

New Orleans Saints (2-4) @ Denver Broncos (3-3) (NBC / 8:20)

Resurrection Bowl. Saints have a ways to go (D-30/30; O-run (31)) but got their bounce back. Brees is breezy and tide may’ve turned vs TB. Gotta' like Manning’s progress (ratio (14-4) & distribution) while reliable RB McGahee (4.3) could use a backfield bud. Denver D (11) should hamper Drew enough (10-P) while protected Peyton (10-S) lights-up the night. Broncos win.

San Francisco 49ers (5-2) @ Arizona Cardinals (4-3) (ESPN / 8:30)

Giants loss lingers for 49ers but Seattle win cauterizes the wound. Notable road victories (GB / Jets) and top-flight D (1) make San Fran a player but AZ win bolster’s case. Smith is sound and run-game serious (177) but mounting sacks (20) a concern. Cards quandary: quality wins (SEA / NE / PHI), troubling losses (BUF / STL) with biggest being Kolb who was fitting-in. QB Skelton needs size (6-6 / 244) as Arizona O-line is sieve (35-S) which doesn’t help the run-game (26). But John likes home crowd (6-0) and solid Cards’ D keeps it close (Daryl Washington: 62 / 6-S). May come down to kickers who’ve been shaky as of late but can be rangy: (AZ) Feely 61 / (SF) Ackers 63. 49ers are good.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: October 18, 2012 7:01 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-7

Welcome to the Surge

A pendulum swinging back n’ forth. One team starts out like gang-busters, jumping to a huge, seemingly insurmountable lead, then, just when you’re about to stick a fork in ‘em the other guys start surging back and there's still half a‘ quarter left on the clock! Amazing…or maybe not.

What happened in last Monday night’s Broncos / Chargers game would’ve been a story for the ages ten years ago, but today, it’s just another wild weekend in the NFL. I’m not keeping records but the power-surge (front & back) seems as commonplace in the National as a failed PED test and a Drew Brees rant. And I’ll be damned if I can explain why.

Some clues: 1) turnovers will often trigger the rise & fall; 2) sticky-gloves and the unbelievable grabs they enable can feed the rush, and 3) as the rally builds, the team-in-disarray loses all its scoring punch until the final minutes when they sometimes tie it up and then win in OT.

Chargers, don't despair, you‘re in good company and it's growing.

‘Strange But True’ Department

He’s been one of the most fined defensive players in the NFL during his 10-year tenure, most levied for dangerous helmet hits. And when penalties are announced, rather than show the slightest concern for long-term, player-safety he’s used the occasion to rag on the League in a dismissive joviality.

The man’s name is James Harrison (Steelers) and he’s now joined the ranks of safety advocates, his own safety, to be exact. James spoke to the issues of concussions & helmets Tuesday (“After double-digit” / CBS / 10-16), sounding more like a spokesman for Unequal Technologies, developer of a new pad product line (CRT) Harrison is using and which UT hopes the NFL will soon incorporate into all its helmets. My comment: You’ve got a lot of nerve, James, a lot of nerve.

Cherry Picks Wk-7

Seattle Seahawks (4-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-2) (10-18 / NFLN / 8:20)

If I gambled and owned a farm I'd bet the homestead on this one. Your typical ‘exposed pretender’ (Seattle) and ‘rebound’ (49ers) game. Seahawks’ strengths: 1) when rookie QB Wilson hangs tight and fights urge to rabbit (5 / NE), he distributes well and the offense is capable; 2) Carroll built a defense along 49ers’ lines with maybe best inside tackle-corps in NFC (Chancellor / Wright / Wagner). But 49ers are no fluke, their top D will pressure the kid and profit in the secondary. 49ers bounce back and win.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3) @ Carolina Panthers (1-4) (10-20 / Fox / 1:00)

As usual in the Romo era, Boys are best losing team in football (6-O / 2-D). As both are eager for victory (rough stretch awaits Dallas (NYG / ATL / PHI) and frustrated Cats losing close contests), this is sleeper GOTW. A Dallas loss and Jerry starts ‘wheels in motion’ while Camster & Co. coming up short puts Rivera on warm-seat. Cowboys win.

Baltimore Ravens (5-1) @ Houston Texans (5-1) (CBS / 1:00)

Test game for both, coping without centerpiece players: Ravens’ Ray Lewis and Texans’ Brian Cushing. Near carbon-copies, both squads are balanced on both sides of ball, no flash and should adjust well enough. Besides WK1 (CIN), Ravens squeak by, but too much squeak and wheels fall off. Like Niners (NYG), Texans got shamed last week (GB) and are rip-roaring for bounce-back. Texans win.

New York Jets (3-3) @ New England Patriots (3-3) (CBS / 4:25)

It’s nice work if you can get it, playing in the AFC East. And for a team coming off the Super Bowl, Patriots' schedule looks a little tame (Jets too). They’ll take it. If Dallas is best losing-team, Pats are best .500-team with all three Ls coming as nail-bitters. Jets should feel good about trouncing a team they’re suppose to trounce (IND), that doesn’t mean they are good, yet. Patriots win.

Detroit Lions (2-3) @ Chicago Bears (4-1) (10-21 / ESPN / 8:30)

Black & Blue bout. Lions 2nd-best struggler (2-O / 9-D), all loses coming in close ones. Bit more balance in Detroit than Chicago (20-O / 3-D), both have run games as QBs work to find rhythm with as many picks as TD tosses (tipped-pass INTs gotta go, NFL statisticians). Road-wins are sweet (CHI 2-1), but Bears’ one loss was against the one team they must dominate to show growth and hoist the hardware: GB. Lions ride Philly high (26-23) with heavy hearts (Alex Karras) and pull off upset in Windy City.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: October 12, 2012 10:01 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-6

Stock Slide in Packerland

Life can turn on a dime. One day you’re on top a’ the world, feeling “eight-feet tall (J. Garfield)” the next day you’re flat on your back, staring-up & hoping someone got the license of the truck that just ran you over.

That’s how the Green Bay Packers must be feeling about now. This time last year they’re reigning champs, working on perfection and making mince-meat out of opponents. The dynasty word is being bantered about, their nemesis to the West is a mess and Favre’s ghost seems pretty well exercised. Then along come the Chiefs.

KC looked harmless enough on the schedule but when it was over, the stunned & beaten Packers were…different. First came the early playoff exit (Giants), then the stumble to start 2012 (49ers) and shockers in both Seattle & Indy. This isn’t just personnel & play-calling, though, another ball-carrier, pair of hands and some O-line help couldn’t hurt.

Packers lost something at Arrowhead that afternoon and haven’t gotten it back. They still own the Bears but, c‘mon. If you know what it is, give Mike a call. It’ll mean season-tickets for life. They’ll have to ‘remove’ somebody to get ‘em, but hey, gotta’ take one for the team, right? I jest, but maybe a good chuckle is just what these guys need.

Everyone gripes now & then but elite teams don’t whine (“I think the refs are out to get us this year” / anonymous Packer / MJSO / “Flags” / Nickel / 10-9). GB won’t get swagger back pouting on the referees. But not to worry Packer-backers, remember, this is the NFC North. Vikes are a year off, Bears tooth-long and the Lions are Mr. Suh’s team. Ouch. So buy Green Bay stock now as that next Packers’ win puts their ship back on course for a division they still own.

Luck Looking Pro, RG3 Not So

It’s been a wild & crazy NFL 2012 so far, with the referee thing, game-outcomes you might just as well use a dart-board to predict and no clear front-runner for MVP. As such, these two cats are still plenty topical.

If you took a poll today Rob would win going away. But polls are popularity contests. Casual fans, marketers & media just adore the ‘athletic’ or run-QB. He’s in vogue and RG3 rules the runway with run mechanics (42 / 241 yd / 4 RTD) and fine QB rating (101). Yawn. Like Andy, the Skins’ QB was thrown into the fire and gets big points for composure. Road wins (NO / TB) are no small matter, even in today’s wacky NFL.

But Luck’s clearly adapting quicker to his new surroundings, exhibiting more the mind-set needed to develop a comfort-level and management skills within the pocket (v GB), where the NFL QB directs the action. And now is exactly the time to take those on-field gambles and throw some caution to the wind in the maturation process, making Luck’s Comp % (54) and INTs (5) of low relevancy at this early stage in his NFL career.

Nothing I’ve seen so far indicates mentor Mike Shanahan has taken an active hand in molding RG3’s development and progression towards the changeover from college runner to pocket professional. Too bad for Rob, too bad for Mike and too bad for the Redskins.

Cherry Picks Wk-6

Dallas Cowboys (2-2) @ Baltimore Ravens (4-1) (10-14 / Fox 1:00)

Cowboys are rested and will get their 9-10 wins this season but none will come in Maryland. Ravens’ Joe Flacco & Ray Lewis were feeling superior until they watched the Browns' game film.  Gulp.  But they're not about to let Tony Romo rebound in crab-cake country. Baltimore wins.

Indianapolis Colts (2-2) @ New York Jets (2-3) ( CBS / 1:00)

“Surf’s Up.” Pacific players meet on the big stage, one feeling the heat with not much wiggle room, the other feeling love (this week) with room to spare. Jets nearly pull off the Wk-5 upset against everybody’s darling Houston, so they can‘t be that far off, right? Right. Ryan gets his boys up, Sanchez matriculates like a USC QB should and Tebow’s talent agencies (WME / CAA) keep turning the screws. Jets win.

Buffalo Bills (2-3) @ Arizona Cardinals (4-1) (CBS / 4:05)

Sleeper GOTW. Everyone’s bailing on AZ, having already bailed on Bills, but both have potential and a win here is big boost. Cards’ D still stout (11) but low O-production (31). Big mysteries: how Arizona managed this long with no run game as Kolb is more a manager than matriculator, and why Bills’ Spiller is ball-poor. Both QBs played it safe in Wk 5 (0 / 1 INT) and got a FG, so expect more risk-taking. Team who establishes run-game wins the day. That's the Bills.

New York Giants (3-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-1) (Fox / 4:25)

Juggernaut Central. Forget prior loses & better records (ATL), whoever comes out on top in this one is NFC’s top-dog. 49ers should be defending NFC Champs but you’ve gotta’ give the G-Men their props as they did their Conference proud. Both franchises operate on similar principle: measured & balanced attack with respect for the art of tackling, most DBs excepted. Who wins? It’s a coin-flipper. Wife’s hunch (and mine) is Giants. Guess it‘s NYG.

Green Bay Packers (2-3) @ Houston Texans (5-0) (8:20 / NBC)

The book likes Houston. Me too, before they nearly lost it to an off-kilter Jets team. GB is better than their record but needs a complimentary run game, less reliance on big-play D and better protection (OL) for Rodgers. Most data says pick Texans but I don’t see Green Bay going 2-4. Packers find a way to win, keeping things topsy AND turvy in NFL 2012.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: October 4, 2012 12:57 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-5

Now that the black hole that was ‘Replacement-Ref 2012’ has imploded and stopped devouring every sport-headline within its gravitational pull, we're back to the real business of the NFL: the hits, the blocks, the kicks, the passes and the runs.  Oh yeah, some flags too.

How ‘bout some cheese with that whine?

The referee roundabout had little effect on the good folk up in beer-land, or as it’s better know this season, whine & cheese country. The regulars returned to the not-yet-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for Sunday night’s Saints v Packers contest and, if the crowd reaction is any indication, the financially-fixed referees better “fasten (their) seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy-ride (B. Davis)” for the zebras this NFL 2012 season.

Patience is a Virtue

Football fans wonder if the JetsTim Tebow was swallowed-up by a black hole as he’s barely registered a blip on the NFL radar after turning the League on its head in 2011.

With Camp Romney trying to keep it close in Election 2012, Mitt’s fraternity of friends is doing its part. Jets’ owner Woody Johnson (“very important…Romney (become) President” / B-TV / 10-1), like John Elway (Romney “proven leader” / Huff-Post / 10-2), has no qualms about airing his political laundry. Maybe related, maybe not, but now the Tebow devotees (WJ) are growing more vocal in their push for Tim’s ascension to the Jets starting-QB job.

At just four games into the season (2-2) and with Sanchez’ experience, Jets’ coach Rex Ryan knows it’s premature to bail on Plan A. But it’s a QB-league and there may come a time soon enough when Mark pays a price, not only for his own debits, but for that of his teammates as well, specifically an erratic run-game, fumbleitis and porous run-defense.

Topsy-turvy NFC

While the AFC standings are no big surprise at Wk-5, the NFC has everyone crystal-ball gazing for answers. At this juncture, phrases like “this team is for real” and “their season is on the line” are about as meaningful as a NASA mission to Mars. Not very.

Cherry Picks Wk-5

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) (10-7 / 1:00 / Fox)

The Keystone contest. Eagles are flying, but like Pack, Pats, Jets, Giants, etc., they’re “a box of chocolates: (so far) you never know what you’re gonna’ get (Forrest Gump).” You always know what you’ll get from Big Ben Roethlisberger, the Timex® QB: “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Steelers are home, healthier, ready to play and win.

Atlanta Falcons (4-0) @ Washington Redskins (2-2) (1:00 / Fox)

Last week’s squeaker at home against a groping Carolina team makes me nervous about these perfect birds, but Mike Turner’s turned-it-on (103 / CAR) and Ryan’s been terrific. If Griffin can learn to take sacks, limit his runs (7 / TB) and get comfy in the pocket, he might turn into a title-taking pro-QB. Should be a shootout but Falcons stay unbeaten.

Denver Broncos (2-2) @ New England Patriots (2-2) (4:25 / CBS)

AFC game of the week. As both Brady & Manning are finding their footing, expect the Ds to be busy. Patriots double-fisted run-attack (Ridley / Bolden) evokes memories of old (Csonka & Morris / Taylor & Hornung) and spells trouble for foes, if it lasts, though Broncos have ground-game in McGahee (112 / Oak). Another shootout. Continentals win.

Buffalo Bills (2-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-1) (4:25 / CBS)

Candlestick is not where Buffalo wants to be this weekend. Oh well, what are ya’ gonna’ do? Limit turnovers, that’s what (6/ NE). Fitzpatrick (4 Int / NE) takes page outta’ Alex Smith’s playbook, playing it safe & smart. Bills RB Spiller needs the ball more while LB Nick Barnett will roam far & wide (38T). San Fran loves the breeze by the Bay and is feeling their oats after dismantling the Jets, though I’m puzzled as to why rare-target Randy Moss is still rostered (4-1-3-0 Rec). Niners hit pay-dirt.

Houston Texans (4-0) @ New York Jets (2-2) (10-8 / 8:30 / ESPN)

ESPN-Disney likes the Nielsens. Typically a ‘Snoozer-of-the-Week,’ MNF is on a roll lately with Wk-3’s surreal affair (Packers / Seahawks) and what should be a ratings-hog this Monday night. Unless Sanchez matriculates with regularity, the camera-men and sideline-gals will be obsessing with Tebow. Had Jets battled SF, or not needed OT to best Miami, I’d pick a Jersey upset. Texans need a bigger test before elite status. This NY drama club ain’t it, but expect a contest as Jets can surprise. Houston’s top D along with a ‘measured & balanced’ offense (SF) will rule the day. Texans triumph.

Dedication

This post remembers two artists who died recently and who had tremendous impact on America’s TV sport-scene during its greatest period of change. With an encyclopedic knowledge of everything racing and a grabbing voice, Chris Economaki (9/28) defined motoring for millions of viewers since the 1960s, while Steve Sabol (9/18) took father Ed’s visionary work in NFL filming and, with the cool sounds of Sam Spence, made it all masterful. Time passed them both by in this attention-deficit age of social-network media, but for those of us who reveled in their realms, they will be missed.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 28, 2012 1:55 pm
 

NFL Barometer Wk-4

Not So Fast, football America. The regular referees are back in business but there are grades to be handed out in wake of ‘Replacement-Ref Whine-fest 2012.’

Roger & The Regulars: B

Denying anyone who’s not employed in public safety the right to use all leverage in negotiating a contract (strike) would be un-American. Unfortunately, the regulars have now been vested with special status of indispensability by the same cry-babies who ragged on ‘em before their strike, bitched about the replacements during, and will piss & moan again in Wk-4.

When the firestorm over Monday night’s controversial “simultaneous catch” call flared-up this week, both the Commissioner and strikers contained the blaze by acting with due speed. And if you think the new referee deal was a result of poor job performance by the replacement referees, you need to pull your head out of…the sand. Most likely it was serious concern over the safety of the replacements that proved primary motivation for compelling both parties back to the bargaining table to hammer-out an agreement.

Fresh in their minds may’ve been recent tragic events in Libya and the Middle East, triggered by parties using YouTube to fuel the fires of ignorance & violence. With anger over the disputed Hail Mary call that ended the Packers v. Seahawks MNF contest rising rapidly during the week and becoming a national embarrassment, coupled with knowledge that more touchy-calls would result in Wk-4 games, those professionals in security who monitor such situations must’ve been speculating about dangerous acts that nut-jobs might undertake.

Replacement Referees: B+

These guys head home wondering why they ever took such a thankless job. It couldn‘t be the pay. Roger Goodell’s apology-in-appeasement notwithstanding, the replacements, as imperfect as they were, deserve commendations just for taking the field.

Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks: “The Man with the Golden Arm.” The left one, to be exact. It’s pretty well hidden from view in the film-replay of the infamous Hail Mary, but either his left arm and / or hand are initially on that football, simultaneously with Mr. Jennings (Packers), or it disappeared into the 4th dimension like “Tina” did in that classic Twilight Zone (“Little Girl Lost” / 1962). It’s one, or the other. Take your pick.

As for Mr. Tate shoving a Packers’ defender just before the ball arrived, don’t forget the first rule of end-game drama: never let a referee’s call decide the outcome. Before Thursday night’s Browns / Ravens contest, where the just-back regulars were extra cautious and playing-it-safe with Cleveland’s game-ending Hail Mary (flag), the regulars would’ve followed precedent on MNF, just like the replacements: no-call on the shove.

The precedent here is on point: Dallas Cowboys v. Minnesota Vikings, Metropolitan Stadium, 1975 NFC playoffs. This is the original game-winning Hail Mary. It came from Cowboys’ QB Roger Staubach and involved another decisive push-down by receiver Drew Pearson of a Vikings’ defender. Difference is, this one sent the winner to the Super Bowl and one of the referees to the hospital after getting hit in the head with a whiskey bottle thrown by an idiot in the stands. Roger & the regulars may remember.

NFL Players & Coaches: D+

The jocks and gurus must share blame for the hostility heaped upon the replacements. A few choice words, spoken at the right time could’ve quelled much of the outrage. Instead, the behavior of men like Bill Belichick (ref-grabber) and Aaron Rodgers’ (whine-pro) was typical. But in the Age of Enablement there are no grievances so small, so selfish, as to go unheard & un-redressed. I guess 'suck-it-up’ and ‘take the pain’ are old school.

The Ravens’ Anquan Boldin stated the prevailing view in post-game interview when pressed on the referee issue after Thursday night‘s Browns v. Ravens game: “I think the guys respect the regular referees.” And that was the crux of it, these past four weeks. Most of the players & coaches, it seemed, had no respect for the replacements.  A prejudice, you could say. When prejudice is the mind-set, rational thought cannot happen.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Had the players wanted to show solidarity with the regulars, the same guys they regularly berated on & off the field before their departure, they could’ve gone on strike with the zebras. But then nobody, not the owners, not the fans, not the players nor the media wanted the games cancelled, right? Right.

Sport Media & Entertainment: F

Lucky for these guys the NFL / referee contract was resolved when it was, otherwise all hell may’ve broken loose. I cringe to think.

ESPN, self-anointed “leader” in sport coverage, set a match to a highly-flammable situation. Normally neutral anchors freely weighed-in on the MNF controversy, making it clear to viewers that the field call (“simultaneous catch / Seattle TD) was pure buffoonery, while ex-jock analysts did their part to fan the flames of discontent. Post-game comments by Steve Young (“It’s an emergent situation and I pray that an emergent doesn‘t result”) and Trent Dilfer (“You get so frustrated with incompetence that it turns to anger“) are noteworthy in their poor judgment and apparent invite to fan-rage.

Because it’s unlikely ESPN acts in such manner solely on behalf of regulars refs, the best explanation might be the favored status of the Green Bay Packers’ organization. The same inexplicable hostility emerged shortly after Brett Favre’s jet hit the Twin Cities tarmac in 2009. The message here: When Packers’ fans get angry, ESPN listens.

And if ESPN’s bigwigs think “Sport Science” guy John Brenkus is a persuasive voice in photo-finish analysis, they’ll never graduate to the next grade. John’s head-spinning, sales-pitch is like that fast talking carnival barker. Before you can spot the con-job, he’s got you by the arm and going for your wallet. You could lose the smirk, too, JB.

But the regulars are back. And with the glowing comments I’ve read from players, coaches, fans and media, football America is pleased as punch. Maybe this signals a new beginning, a greater respect between players, coaches and the officials. Less on-field rage and fewer post-game crying-jags? Stranger things have happened. If this is a by-product, it’s another reason to thank the subs.

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 20, 2012 12:27 am
 

NFL Cherry Picks WK-3

False starts.  That's been the common thread so far running through analysis of NFL 2012.

Green Bay was suppose to be in trouble after their WK1 lose to the 49ers while da’ Bears were finally a burgeoning power. “Maybe no” to both, as "Furio Giunta" would say (The Sopranos).

The Patriots were suppose to be unbeatable, then the mighty Cardinals flew into town.

Peyton was suppose to be back in form after a nice start. That’s a work-in-progress.

Giants were suppose to be defending champs and then loose right outta’ the gate, at home, to a Dallas squad that in WK2 proceeds to get beat-up in, of all places, Seattle.

And some folks thought the wildcat would work wonders in Jetsland.  It's still early.

One common take that’s so far proving wise is the confidence many had in draft dandies Misters Luck and Griffin. But hedge your bets accordingly. While Andy’s schedule befits a team deep in rebuilding mode, Rob’s slate of games gets a tad wicked as the season matures.

Biggest win to date in NFL 2012

It’s the 49ers 30-22 take-down at Lambeau opening weekend. While they came in as slight underdogs after coming within a hair’s breadth of SB46, strong-arming the Pack in GB is always a feather in your cap. And with the Giants returning to their enigmatic, post-SB form, this win could set the tone for all 2012 with San Fran the team to beat in the NFC.

The NFL schedulers might know what they’re doing after all.

Biggest surprise through WK-2

Arizona Cardinals topping the lordly New England Patriots last Sunday in Foxborough, no less (20-18). The fact the game was decided by a late, missed field goal attempt by a normally reliable Steve Gostkowski doesn’t detract one iota from its significance as the Cards and Kev Kolb were in control most of the way.

Biggest bore in September

That would have to be all the cry-babies on the substitute referees. Once the regular zebras and NFL packed up their negotiation-tents and the replacement refs were signed-on, you knew the whining would come fast & furious. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I wanta’ know (Tony Soprano)!?"

Cherry Picks WK-3:

New York Giants (1-1) @ Carolina Panthers (1-1) (9-20 / NFLN / 8:20)

The G-men are defending NFL champs but you might not know it. Getting outplayed by equally enigmatic Dallas in WK1 and barely outlasting the lots-to-prove Buccaneers, the Giants like to keep us guessing. I’d guess victory in Charlotte as NYG defenders flush-out run-rabbit-run Cam Newton who’s back to his college-ways with double-digit scampers (13 v NO). Cam might be trying to carry the run-game that was as nowhere-to-be-found in Tampa as the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke (NC) in 1587. Giants win.

San Francisco 49ers (2-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-1) (9-23 / Fox / 1:00)

An early season test-game of Coach Leslie Frazier’s retention value. Niners come in with former Viking, Mr. Ipecac, Randy Moss, as NFL’s top-ranked club. It should provide slow-outta-the-gate Jared Allen reason to revive and Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf a good measure of his team’s progress. Are Vikes respectable rankings (O16 / D12) and QB numbers (Ponder / 76% / 2TD / 0-INT) sign they’ve turned the corner, or merely mirage of a program on the wrong track? 49ers win, exacting revenge for Favre & Lewis ‘09.

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) @ San Diego Chargers (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Ryan, Rivers & Romo: 3-Rs of quarterback frustration. All hat and no cattle, meaning, playoff busts. Cowboys & Tony took a step back in Seattle, but all three signal-callers are playing with high confidence and generally pleasing their fans. San Diego stuffs the run like nobody’s business (1 / 42 ypg). Without a balancing run-game (Turner was off kilter pre-DUI) to compliment Matt Ryan’s arm, Falcons strong-suit is a capable tackling corps of Weatherspoon, Moore and Nicholas. Home-team Chargers bolt to 3-0.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) @ Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Eagles are a mixed bag: nice passing-rank (2) with a QB (Vick) who rates low (67%) and throws picks like he needs glasses (6). Defense is stout (4) but with only Nate Allen in top 50 tackles (15). So much for stat-worship. Bird Bowl turns on QB pressure and who handles it best. Eagles’ D is good-to-fair (P4 / R15) while Cards can bring the bodies (Washington / Lenon / Campbell). Michael’s gonna’ like working in Arizona, whether they retract the roof or not (U of Phoenix Stadium). Eagles by a bird-beak.

Houston Texans (2-0) @ Denver Broncos (1-1) (CBS / 4:20)

Everyone and their grandma loves the Texans. Me, I’m no Sooner but more like a Missourian (Show Me). Houston’s got the troops: field general (Schaub); run-attack (Foster / Tate); hands (Johnson / Daniels) and team-spirit (O-10 / D-1), now they’ve gotta’ act like Romans (Empire) and grab the booty. Peyton Manning is a problem-solver. If it’s broke, he’ll fix it, fast. Expect cleaner play from PM, a featured McGahee (20+RA) and D-emphasis on run-stuff. Broncos win and slow the Houston love-train.

New England Patriots (1-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (NBC / 8:20)

Both teams look for bounce after close losses. If Pats are unsure of themselves they shouldn’t be, with Brady & Ridley (196). Like Ravens, they should be 2-0. Rank wise, Ravens are in new territory: top-10 O (8P / 10R), low-10 D (25P / 20R). Joe Flacco wants better distribution and comp-% (60), while Ray Rice is a workhorse (167 / 6.4) with nice hoofs / hands (9). When you’re good, home field’s a decided edge. Ravens are good and victorious.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 9, 2012 12:51 am
 

Saints Joy Won't Resonate

Congratulations go out to Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Not for winning a vacation from his season-long Bountygate suspension he was handed by the NFL earlier this year, but rather, for his choice of celebratory shout-out.

“Victory is mine!!!! -Stewie Griffin,” texted Mr. Vilma after he received the joyous news. Classy move, Jon. Had you quoted Bart Simpson instead I would’ve been seriously disappointed in you, dude.

As for the liberation of Vilma and his co-appellants: Because I have no good basis for doubting or supporting the soundness of the appellate panel’s legal ruling on Friday (9-7), meaning, I don’t have all the facts, I’ll leave the deep analysis to the talking heads.

It was a different story last spring in the case against Ryan Braun. When Braun’s PED suspension was vacated by MLB’s 3-person arbitration panel (2-1), the facts were fewer, more clear and I felt at ease in criticizing what still seems an erroneous decision.

But Bountygate’s a different kettle of fish.

There are questions of power (Goodell vs. arbitrator), standards (CBA articles 14 & 46), pay parameters (bounty-$ vs. NFL contracts & salary caps) and what constitutes an ‘intent to injure’ beyond game rules, that all require homework this writer didn‘t hand in.

Even so, I side with the NFL and Goodell in this Bountygate travesty. Why? Because I trust them. When the NFL Suits negotiate those billion dollar deals with networks & merchandisers, I know they‘re all greedmeisters to the core and wouldn’t trust ‘em as far as I could throw ‘em. Like I wrote, Bountygate’s different.

There are half a dozen reasons why Saints’ personnel might avoid the truth and claim innocence in the face of bounty evidence. But I can’t think of one good reason why the NFL would have anything but the good of the game in mind as cause for their Bountygate investigation. The Saints and Katrina-ravaged New Orleans had become a source of inspiration for all Americans. When the NFL got wind of something terribly wrong in the Saints’ playbook, they had to take action, as over-reaching as it may have proved.

'The road to hell is paved with (the NFL’s) good intentions?' Hardly the case here. More like, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’

And I have a feeling I’m not alone in my sentiments. Apart from Saintsland and the captured media who are talking compromise today, most fans voicing a view have been in agreement with the League’s strong action prior to the recent vacation of bounty bans. The evidence aired was plenty persuasive while much of the defense played in public has consisted of only indignant denials. So what’s new?

There’s one image connected to Bountygate that will resonate long and which no panel can overturn in the minds of football fans across the nation. That’s the sight of ironman Brett Favre crumpling like a crushed Dixie cup after that wicked, over-under tackle by Saints’ defenders in the 2009 NFC title game. Whether those particular players were acting on bounty is not important, as that play has come to symbolize the nasty scheme, one that culpable players could’ve rejected. And acting on (coaches) orders often proves a poor defense in such a circumstance as this.

What is important is that a precedent, of sorts, has been set. Besides the lesson given both the NFL and NFLPA in the art of CBA interpretation, the message that bounties are wrong and will not be permitted is still crystal clear.

How the New Orleans Saints would respond to effects of Bountygate was a big question entering NFL 2012. Before the appellate panel’s decision, many believed the suspensions would be a source of motivation, something New Orleans might rally around. Non-player suspensions still remain in place but things have changed a bit. Now the bigger question is, how will the rest of the League respond to the Saints new claim of vindication?

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 4, 2012 1:12 am
 

NFL Wish List 2012

Dear Santa Claus:

     I know it’s still summertime, the season when you and the Mrs. are just getting back from your annual Elf-Awareness Conference in Puerto Vallarta, but I have a big favor to ask.
     NFL 2012 is set to kick-off Wednesday night (Cowboys @ Giants) and I have a few early requests that I’m hoping you can accommodate. I haven’t exactly been good this year, but I haven’t been bad, either. That oughta’ count for something in these times of rampant greed and selfish rationalization (PEDs), right?
     And besides, Santa, you still owe me. Remember that Denmark golf outing I arraigned in 2010 for you and your “assistant” with TW and his putting instructor Heidi? ‘Nuff said.

Super Bowl Drift

It’s all about Super Sunday, or is it? NFL brass have already set the post-season schedule Santa, but see if you can get Roger & Company to shave a week off that mood-killing, two-week dull-fest that follows Conference title games. Football’s a business, sure, but this grant to greed is taking an edge off player games and starts us dreaming of baseball. Yuck! Just kidding, Bud.

NFL Rules, Stats & Plays that Need Eliminating

On-side kick: Gotta’ be the dumbest, most un-football-like play in the book. Walter Camp or whoever hatched this turkey must’ve been on a toot. The team that just had the ball, can get it twice-in-a-row, if the oblong-spheroid takes a funny bounce and at ten yards lands in one of the kicking-team’s cozy-covered hands. Competition at its lamest.

Icing the kicker:” Letting the defense call a TO seconds prior to a FG attempt in order to mess with the kicker’s head is bad playground etiquette. Strong kids wouldn't stoop so low.

Lambeau Leap: A routine that always was a bit too comfy, a tad too needy for my taste, has now become downright hackneyed. I’m thinking Curly, Vince & Ray would've agreed.

Senseless Stats: An INT that gets hung on a QB for a pass that’s tipped into a defender‘s hands; A fumble-stat given to a carrier who had a ball stripped / punched from his grasp.

New OT Rules: No one that matters (players & fans) was complaining when a field goal gave victory in sudden-death OT. Simple case of someone in a Suit validating a job and squeezing in more commercial time. “Tanks for nothing” (Maggs / Caddyshack).”

“Calling all (fashion police) cars”

It’s bad enough football’s become a fashion runway for Nike marketing and its revolving-door of dress (uniforms), but c’mon NFL, could your unis be anymore skin-tight? The trend is towards more material, not less, so loosen up, fellas. It’s embarrassing, Santa.

These Players

Cam Newton (CAR): Would like to see Cam develop into a SB caliber pocket-passer as he seems to have the skill-set, though I’m not holding my breath. Old (run) habits die hard.

Peyton Manning (DEN) & Adrian Peterson (MIN): The great natural abilities of these two stars of the gridiron are a joy to watch (AP’s thunderous run vs. Browns in ‘09 is unforgettable) and, as such, I’m driven to root for their successful comebacks.

Randy Moss (SF): A charter-member of the Moss fan-club, admiring his unique talent and believing his moodiness misunderstood, I cancelled my enrollment after he “vomited” (Childress) on a beleaguered Vikings' team in 2010 while sucking-up to a disinterested Patriots. It’s a shame he hooked-up with the San Francisco 49ers as I’d thought before his arrival their throwback-style (Giants / Ravens) made them a nice fit for SB47. Your call, Santa.

Mark Sanchez & Tim Tebow (NYJ): “Soon the world will divide itself into two camps: pro-Boray and anti-Boray.” That’s Joan Crawford describing the up & coming violinist John Garfield in their 1946 film Humoresque. Joan could’ve been foretelling Tebowmania, but in fact, it’s only a minority of cranks and disciples who’ve gone camping. Most, like me, see Tim as a college-style (run) QB with the same vanity you find in most athletes and Jesus proselytizers. My wish: Tim finds his natural position (TE), Mark finds the end-zone and Rex Ryan finds inner peace.

The Los Angeles…

LA is a big town with a big football pedigree. As such, the City of Angels’ absence from the NFL line-up this past decade has left a serious void. I’ve always felt the Rams oughta be back in California, Cardinals back in Missouri and then the Sun Devils (ASU Forks) resurrected pro-style to fill the vacancy in Phoenix. That scenario won’t happen but the new Los Angeles franchise is already in the works.

Time to Give Blood, DeMaurice Smith

If you grant just this one wish Santa, I’ll be a happy camper: NFL blood-tests, prior to, and during the season of play, as part of a broad PED prevention policy.

After signing-on to an HGH blood-test in last year’s CBA settlement, the NFLPA has since weaseled-out of its offer, leaving the issue in limbo. Though many in the media have been ardently defending dethroned friend Lance Armstrong, waving the white-flag on PEDs, most of America, including parents, coaches, doctors, clean players and kids not looking forward to a career of injections, are not so easily misguided.

The late football great and former director of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, had some fine qualities. Leadership on drug-testing was not one of them. Time to get crack’in, DeMaurice.

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