Posted on: October 8, 2011 11:08 am
Edited on: October 8, 2011 4:52 pm

With Davis gone, what's next for Raiders?

Now the question: Who succeeds Al Davis?

That's been a lingering question for years, or at least while Davis was in declining health. The obvious successor is his son, Marc, but there has always been a feeling that he's not interested. He and Davis' wife are the direct heirs.

So who is it? There are strong personalities within the organization, with CEO Amy Trask the most noteworthy. She represents the Raiders at league meetings and is bright, forceful and, most important, a confidante of the former owner.

But people who should know tell me there never has been a frontrunner -- that is, other than Davis' son. What's more, they said they can't be certain that Davis' majority share in the Raiders would not be sold when he was gone.

Well, now he is. So somebody has the uneviable task of stepping into the position once occupied by the most powerful owner in the NFL and one of the most powerful figures in pro sports. Al Davis cared passionately about his club, and he cared passionately about winning. He molded the Raiders, and, like or not, he's responsible for who they are today.

And who they are is a decorated franchise that dominated the NFL landscape, then fell into nothingness, before resurrecting itself last season.

Now, it seems, it's headed in the right direction -- only now that direction must be steered by someone other than Al Davis. For the time being, there is a void -- one that will last for some time. You don't simply step in for an Al Davis and become what he was to the Oakland Raiders and the NFL.

You don't. You can't. You won't.

I just wonder where the Oakland Raiders go from here. Because Davis' health had been an issue for years, I would be surprised if he didn't leave detailed instructions how he wanted the franchise run. What I don't know is if the Davis family retains the controlling interest -- basically, if it keeps it or if it sells.

No matter what happens, there is an emptiness and a loss that will not be filled ... or overcome ... for some time.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 6, 2011 10:52 am
Edited on: October 6, 2011 11:06 am

Williams pushed ESPN into acting

ESPN didn't fire Hank Williams Jr. Hank Williams Jr. fired himself.

The Worldwide Leader on Thursday announced it was canning Williams, saying "We appreciate his contributions over the years," before adding that "the success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games, and that will continue."

Geez, if the success has always been about the games then why wasn't this done sooner? Because ESPN wasn't provoked and because, frankly, there were people there who argued for continuing the Williams intro in the name of tradition.

Others, of course, believed it long outlived its usefulness, and I'll second that. But they couldn't carry the room. Now Hank Williams has.

Bad enough that he compared the President to Adolf Hitler during an appearance on Fox News Channel; worse that he didn't really apologize, first saying he was sorry "if he offended anyone" with his comments before later condemning news media characterizations of the Tea Party movement as extremist, saying he was trying to make a point.

If the anti-Williams faction needed dynamite to blow this thing up, it just got it.

Remember when Monday Night Football used to begin with helmets of the two teams crashing into each other before exploding into a million pieces? That was junked, too, and not because someone had a better idea, but because someone discovered that head injuries in football can be related to long-term brain trauma.

ESPN needed a reason to get rid of that intro, too, and it got one when physicians started connecting the dots ... just as it got another one now.

Now I'm ready for some football.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 4, 2011 12:07 pm

Lucky Losers: Take Four

I admit it. I was wrong. I thought St. Louis was nothing more than an overnight guest at the Lucky Hotel, home to those waiting on Stanford's Andrew Luck. Instead, it looks as if the Rams are here to stay. I watched them flattened by Washington last weekend, and two things struck me: 1) How bad their pass protection is, and 2) how well their wide receivers perform ... as volleyball players. Geez, I haven't seen that many rebounds since Chamberlain pulled down 55 vs. the Celtics.

Anyway, I look at the Rams' next three games, and it's clear they're more than overnight guests. Let's see, at New Orleans, at Green Bay and home to Dallas? Better put them down for the monthly rate.

Before we move on, let me congratulate Minnesota on reaching the season's one-quarter pole as the NFL's Luckiest Loser. The Vikings made it there with a difficult loss to Kansas City -- a club that never knew a lead until the Vikings showed up. Nice going, guys, and a big round of applause for the great state of Missouri, too. It has two NFL teams, and both are in the Bottom Five. The Show-Me State just did.

5. Kansas City. OK, so the Chiefs broke through. Great. But all is not lost. There is plenty of time to resume a losing streak -- starting this weekend in Indianapolis. Matt Cassel delivered his strongest performance of the season and, afterward, said it had something to do with that  heated sideline exchange he had with coach Todd Haley. I can only imagine what they were saying. "What in the name of Todd Blackledge are you trying to do? Blow the No. 1 pick?" "But, coach, I want to keep my job!" Or maybe not. Anyway, Kansas City might be floundering, but look at it like this, Chiefs' fans: You have the same record as Philadelphia, and it cost a lot less money to get there.

Next loss: Indianapolis. Welcome to the Andrew Luck Bowl, Part Deux, where the winless Colts are actually favored by 2-1/2. That says more about the Chiefs than I ever could.

4. Indianapolis. The more I see of Curtis Painter the smarter Reggie Wayne gets. OK, so Painter's not Peyton Manning. He might not even be Kerry Collins. But he doesn't look bad -- provided, of course, someone introduces him to a barber. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of his teammates. They play just well enough to lose, and that's what happens to bad teams. They find ways to lose. Indianapolis, of course, has an excuse, and if you didn't think Peyton Manning was underpaid before maybe you do now. I mean, one guy isn't supposed to make that much of a difference in football. This one guy does.

Next loss: Kansas City. Maybe not. The Colts are favored. If they win, I'm picking up breakfast at Shapiro's Monday.

3. Miami. I see where Steven Ross says Tony Sparano is "the right coach" for the Dolphins and that the players believe in him. Too bad the owner doesn't. He's the guy who flew across country in January to woo Jim Harbaugh, then at Stanford,  while "the right coach" was on the job back in Miami.  Now he delivers the dreaded vote of confidence to a guy who lost 11 of his last 12 at home, and hasta la vista, Tony. Ross just confirmed you're toast. The only question is: When? My guess: As soon as Ross finds someone as appealing to him as Harbaugh. Then, "the right coach" becomes the ex-coach.

Next loss: New York Jets.
Miami catches two breaks: 1) It meets these guys after they complete a brutal three-week road trip ih New England, and 2) it escapes the homefield disadvantage. That's right, the game's in New Jersey, and it's on Monday Night, a rare chance for the the country to discover why Dolphins aren't really fish at all; they're dead bait.

2. St. Louis.  
A month ago I thought the Rams were the best team in the NFC West. Then I saw their pass protection. And their wide receivers. And the exasperated look on their head coach's face. That noted NFL philosopher, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, was dead on when he told me in August to beware the Rams' first seven games. "That schedule is a killer," he said. That's a big 10-4, Larry. It's not only dashing the hopes of Rams' fans; it's getting poor Sam Bradford squashed. Don't ask me what's wrong with right tackle Jason Smith. I just know he makes a rotten speed bump. The Rams spent the second pick of the 2009 draft on him, but he's overmatched. They benched him two weeks ago and could've benched him last Sunday. Next stop is Clay Matthews, and get ready to shift into reverse, Jason.

Next loss: Green Bay.
The Rams have a bye, which means two weeks to swing into damage control. The over/under for this game should be somewhere around 50, and I'm talking sacks of Bradford.

1. Minnesota.  
Brett Favre is one smart man. I don't know if he wanted to play again, but he must have been aware what would happen if he did -- which is what is happening to Donovan McNabb. Those aren't cries of "Donnnnnnnnn" cascading down the aisles of the Metrodome; they're boos. The natives are restless, this time calling for rookie Christian Ponder, and talk about predictable. You never look better than when you're a backup who hasn't thrown a pass. I feel for Leslie Frazier but give him this: He's holding fast to what he said in August, which is that McNabb was not a waystation to Ponder. This is not a bad team; it's a bad second-half team, with opponents outscoring the Vikings 80-16 in the last two quarters. When you can't close, you can't win ... and please don't remind Philadelphia. Somewhere, Brad Childress doesn't feel so bad about being out of football.

Next loss: Arizona.  
Football should have a mercy rule, and it should be invoked here. Call it the Mercy on Minnesota rule, and it demands that at least one game with the Vikings be called at halftime -- thereby allowing disgruntled fans to experience the thrill of victory instead of the agony of defeat. Maybe, just maybe, this is that game. Arizona not only lost its last three, it blew second-half leads in all three -- including a 10-point margin in the last four minutes last weekend. Maybe that's why Minnesota is the second winless team to be favored this weekend. You can look it up. Arizona is a 2-1/2-point underdog. Someone alert the front desk at the Lucky Hotel. We may have a vacancy.  

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 2, 2011 11:51 pm

Wow, what a disaster in N.Y.

New York, you have a problem.

If the Jets' loss last weekend was "humiliating," as Joe Namath termed it, what does that make Sunday's beatdown in Baltimore? The Jets couldn't run, couldn't pass and couldn't win. But that's not the worst of it. Now they have to play New England ... in New England, no less.

if this is supposed to be the team to beat, as the Jets tell us each year, they better start acting like it.

The Jets of two years ago were the league's best running attack, but things have changed -- with the club entering Sunday's game ranked 25th in that department. The club is supposed to be able to rely on Mark Sanchez, but not if he played as he did Sunday -- with four fumbles, one interception and a slew of incompletions.

This isn't the team to beat; it's the team to beat down. For now, anyway.

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 28, 2011 9:52 pm

End of road for Sanders

So the Bob Sanders experiment is over. So, I suspect, is Bob Sanders' career.

The poor guy just can't stay healthy. The Chargers hoped this season might be different, that maybe, just maybe, they could squeeze more than just a couple of games out of him.

They were wrong.

I don't fault them for trying. It was a no-risk situation and worth a shot. In the end, though, Sanders was the player the Colts thought when they let him go -- another injury waiting to happen.

The sad truth is Sanders' body won't cooperate anymore. It rarely did. The former Defensive Player of the Year award winner only twice played in more than six games a season and, including playoffs, was in no more than 59 his entire career. What's more, over the past three seasons he played in five games.

Sanders' body has been trying to tell him something, and maybe he gets the message now. It's time to retire, Bob. You were good for the game, and you could have been one of the greats ... if your body would've cooperated. It didn't. Time to go.

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 27, 2011 11:13 am
Edited on: September 27, 2011 11:59 am

Lucky Losers: Take Three

Now that Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay says Peyton Manning is probably shut down for the season, people want to know what it means for the Colts. I'll tell you what: nothing. The Colts simply do what they've been doing, which is just lose, baby. With Manning down, Kerry Collins sidelined and the Colts staring at 0-3, the next move is clear: Play Curtis Painter. Forget this season, guys, and start working on 2012. I don't know if Painter can win in this league, but I know the Colts have a chance to find out. They have nothing to lose except another game, and guess what: The team that loses more than anyone gets to draft Andrew Luck. Welcome to the party.

5. St. Louis -- The Rams are just stopping by the Lucky Hotel, here for a short visit. I don't see them staying, but there are reasons they're here: Because a difficult schedule, injuries and underwhelming play conspired to make them 0-3. Quarterback Sam Bradford was supposed to rescue them, but he's dealing with his own issues. First of all, he has an injured toe that coach Steve Spagnuolo said he's hoping is "no big deal;" second, he could use a quality wide receiver. The first seven games this season were going to be tough. We knew that. So did the Rams. But when you're in the NFC West it's never over 'til it's over, if you know what I mean.

Next loss: Washington. This is one I think they can win. Remember, it was the Redskins who stopped Detroit's 19-game losing streak. OK, OK, so it was a different coach with different players. Still, they're working on a short week and just lost their first road game. Just saying.

4. Minnesota -- I swear, I'm not sure who wins first -- the Vikings or the Boston Red Sox. Both are in the midst of second-half spin cycles, with opponents outscoring the Vikes 67-6 in the second half this season. Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier insists he hasn't lost faith in quarterback Donovan McNabb, and good for him. But what about Adrian Peterson? He's the team's best playmaker, yet the Vikings inexplicably forgot about him in the second half of the loss to Detroit -- having him carry the ball five times and calling on Toby Gerhart, not Peterson, on a critical fourth-and-1. Somebody introduce Frazier to his running back, then make them promise to stay in touch during the second half.

Next loss: at Kansas City ... or maybe not. I see a "Get Out of Jail" card in Minnesota's future. Yeah, I know, the Chiefs won their first seven at home last season. They also lost their opener this year by 33 points. I don't know that the Vikings can blow a second-half lead here unless, of course, they start John Lackey ... or Jon Lester ... or Tim Wakefield ... or Josh Beckett ... I think you get the idea. Over and out.

3. Indianapolis -- That was a courageous effort against Pittsburgh but one that failed. Good thing, too. Otherwise, the Colts might have started thinking that maybe, just maybe, they can compete for another division title ... when, of course, they can't. Better to stay in the Lucky Hotel, play Painter and see what tomorrow offers. I know, this isn't a bad team, but it is when Peyton Manning isn't in the huddle. His absence simply underscores how valuable ... or invaluable ... the guy is to Indianapolis. I feel for Irsay. He fought to end the lockout. Now the rest of the league beats up on his football team. Someone asked me Monday if the season was over for the Colts. Are you kidding? It ended with Manning's second surgery.

Next loss: at Tampa Bay. The Bucs are hot, the Colts are not. Check, please.

2. Miami -- Great. Now coach Tony Sparano has the dreaded vote of confidence from an owner who thought so much of his head coach that he flew to California in January to interview Jim Harbaugh for the job that Sparano held ... and still holds, though barely. When owner Stephen Ross flirted with Harbaugh it should have told Sparano something, and that something was hasta la vista, baby. Miami lost 11 of its last 12 home games, its last six overall and can't do much of anything right. Ross promises no immediate changes, but the guy didn't have much conviction in Sparano in January. I can only imagine what it is now. That Oct. 9 bye might take on new meaning for the head coach.

Next loss: at San Diego. The Bolts were lucky to beat Kansas City, so there's hope, Miami. OK, maybe not. Miami went to San Diego the third week of the 2009 season, too, and got drilled -- and that was with a team that won the division championship the year before. Nevertheless, at least Miami has a pulse on the road, and so does its quarterback. Chad Henne is 9-6 there.

1. Kansas City  -- Bad things happen to bad teams, which is another way of explaining Kansas City's oh-so-close loss to San Diego last weekend. The Chiefs might have made it, were it not Matt Cassel throwing a last-minute pass to ... Eric Weddle? Not sure what happened there. But I am sure that's the stuff that goes on when you stink. The Chiefs hadn't committed a turnover that afternoon until then. They have 10 for the season, or four fewer than all of last year. But that was then, when nobody but New England committed fewer. This is now, when nobody has more. People always talk about balance in their football teams, and the Chiefs have it: They rank last in scoring offense and last in scoring defense. Welcome to the canteen.

Next loss: Minnesota. If the Chiefs stay within 10 at the half, they have a chance. That's because the Vikings are balanced, too: They don't show up for the second half at home, and they don't show up for the second half on the road. Look at it this way, Chiefs' fans: Now you have a reason to sit through the fourth quarter. 

See who the lucky losers will likely be taking: Our NFL Draft prospect rankings
Category: NFL
Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:43 am

Why would Manning return anyway?

The more I hear about Peyton Manning the more I'm convinced he won't play this season.

Colts' owner Jim Irsay on Monday said there's an "outside" chance Manning returns in December, and in football-speak that usually means no way on God's green earth.

Besides, what's the use? By then the season will be flushed, and the Colts jockeying for draft position. So why put Manning back on the field? There's no reason.

There is, however, reason to play Curtis Painter. You might as well find out now if there's something there. If Painter demonstrates he can play ... if he demonstrates he can win ... maybe quarterback is not the pressing concern it would seem to be. But you'll never find out playing Kerry Collins.

Collins is a one-year rental, anyway. Painter might have upside, but you never know unless you play him. So play him. What do you have to lose? Another game? Big deal. The Colts are going to lose a lot of games anyway. So start planning for next season by playing Painter this season.

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 25, 2011 3:59 pm

Loss least of Eagles' worries

The Philadelphia Eagles have bigger issues than another loss. Quarterback Michael Vick has a broken hand, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has a bad hamstring and Riley Cooper just sustained a concussion.


This is a Dream Team! Vince Young must have been dreaming.

The Eagles might have been OK if they could've found a way to gain a yard ... but they couldn't. They missed on three cracks from the 1, settling for a go-ahead field goal, then they missed on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.

I don't know if it was Eagles' the offensive line or the Giants' defense, but when the Eagles absolutely, positively had to make a play ... they couldn't.

Now, as I said, they have bigger issues. Injuries piled up Sunday as the Eagles were outgunned by a Giants team that wasn't supposed to have enough offense to beat them. But beat them they did. Offense. Defense. You name it. Suddenly, it's no longer a one-team race in the NFC East, people.

Category: NFL
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