A few thoughts on the NFL playoffs and a Super Bowl pick

Like millions of other sports fans across the country, my focus during the last few weeks  have been on the NFL playoffs. I find the one and done format of the National Football League to be quite dramatic and interesting, no best of 7 series. Every game is like a game 7, lose and your season is over. Well anyways, the playoffs are behind us and there is one game ahead, that would be the Super Bowl. As someone who blogs about sports on occasion, I would like to offer a few takes on what I saw during the playoffs and give a very fearless Super Bowl pick.

1. Is the dynasty over? Many in the sports media are calling the dynasty of the New England Patriots over. Add to that is a lot of speculation over where quarterback Tom Brady will play next year, will he retire, return to New England or play for someone else? My opinion is he will return to New England. I cannot see him playing anywhere else. Hard to imagine a guy would just pack up and leave after playing what? 20 years? for the same team. He still can play, and if the Patriots get him some much needed receivers, Brady can still be very productive. Furthermore, the Patriots do not play in a very strong division so that funeral notice for the dynasty may be a bit premature. A few added pieces may put them back as contenders for a few more years. I just don’t buy that the Patriots are completely finished.

2. Old school football is back. I hear many people talk about how football is evolving into a passing sport. You see it a lot in the college game and the emphasis on the passing game seems to be taking shape at the professional level as well. However, there are a few coaches in the league who are sticklers for developing a strong running game. This blogger is a huge advocate for that style of football. We saw examples of how effective that can be in the playoffs. A team like the Tennessee Titans relied on a strong running game to produce a few upsets and an unlikely berth in the AFC championship game. The San Francisco 49ers only passed the ball 8 times in their rout over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game. Nothing breaks the heart and spirit of an opposing team more than the ability to run the ball down their throats.

3. Biggest surprise. Every post season has its share of surprises and teams coming from nowhere to shock the world. An obvious choice this year is the Tennessee Titans. A 6th seed who showed once again that old school physical football with a strong running game can win games. Just ask Baltimore.

4. MVP of the playoffs. There were some outstanding performances by a few running backs in the playoffs. Raheem Mostert had a career game and one of the best games ever by a running back in the 49ers win over the Packers. Derrick Henry of the Titans had a spectacular playoff run. But I have to give this title to the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes. His play and leadership in leading the Chiefs to a pair of come from behind victories was amazing. You might argue that this kid is the new quarterback king in the NFL.

5. A few regular season games can make a huge difference. I have often heard NFL pundits talk about how the 49ers were just a yard away from finishing down and ending up as a 5th seed. By stopping the Seattle Seahawks on that famous late play at the 1 yard line, the 49ers got a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Regardless, a healthy 49ers squad could have beaten any team at any location in the playoffs. One of the things that I love about the NFL is that the regular season games do really matter come playoff time and for seeding. An unexpected loss early in the season can really hurt a team’s seedings come playoff time.

Now for a Super Bowl prediction, this game is extremely a hard one to pick. How can you pick against a team as explosive as Kansas City. No lead is safe against this team. The 49ers however have the better overall team and I expect their defensive line to give Patrick Mahomes all kinds of problems. A few forced turnovers by the 49ers defense will make the difference in this very tight game. I like the 49ers to prevail 31-28. This is one Super Bowl that I am really looking forward to seeing. A couple of good young teams with plenty of talent. What more could you ask for?

A very dark day for the NFL

The NFL has certainly had their share of bad publicity in recent years. Certain events have taken place that have really shed a negative image on the league. Whether it be domestic assaults and off the field actions by certain players or just failing to stand for the national anthem, there always seems to be some controversy involved with the league. The latest occurred last Thursday night near the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers versus Cleveland Browns game. The game was reported to be very chippy throughout and ended with a very disturbing incident that could have been extremely tragic. A scuffle ended with a player from the Browns ripping off the helmet of the Steelers quarterback and hitting the quarterback over the head with the helmet. Luckily for everyone, there was no serious injury involved, but I hate to think about what could have happened. Yes, it could have resulted in a very serious injury or even death to a player.

I fully realize that scuffles and fights break out all the time in games. Being a participant in a highly emotional and physical sport like football is very difficult. You have to have a ton of discipline as a player to not cross the line. I am frankly amazed that more fights do not break out among players. It would be a scary thing for several big 300 lb guys to be involved in a huge brawl on the field. Just imagine that scenario! Well that scenario pretty much happened during the game and much worse. When a huge, strong 270 pound goes beyond using fists and uses a helmet as a weapon, then the brawl takes on a whole new level.

Just imagine for a second the damage that this player could have caused by hitting someone over the head with the helmet. The player could have generated so much force in his bout of anger that he could have caused a very serious lifetime injury to the quarterback, even a possible death. There is absolutely no place in football for that kind of conduct. Had he done this outside the playing field, he could have been charged with a crime and ended up in jail.

I don’t know what the fine should be or to what extent. But what I know is that something has to be done by the league to ensure that this type of behavior never happens again. Not only are player’s careers on the line when they take the field, their lives are as well. A helmet can be used as a weapon and a very dangerous one.

I am sure that the Browns player, Myles Garrett, is probably sorry and regrets his actions in this incident. Maybe this rather disturbing event will be a lesson for other players in future games. You must control your emotions and have strong discipline at all times during the game. It is part of being a good quality football player. This incident may have ruined a promising young player’s career because he could not control his emotions and temper. How sad is that.

A few thoughts on the NFL playoffs and a bold Super Bowl pick

The season started back in July when several teams reported for training camp with a fresh slate and hopes of playing in tomorrow’s ultimate game. For all but 2 teams, those hopes have been dashed. The Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots face off in the final game of the season. As just your run of the mill sports fan, I have a few thoughts on this season’s playoffs as well as a bold pick for the big tilt.

1. The best conference championship Sunday ever. They say that for a sports fan the day of the NFL conference championships is arguably the best day of the year. This year certainly did not disappoint. In all my years of watching the NFL, conference championship Sunday 2 weeks ago produced the best back to back games that I have ever seen. Both games went into overtime and were filled with much drama. I have to admit that I and probably many others were overly entertained.

2. MVP of the playoffs. I have to give it to the old man, Tom Brady, quarterback of the Patriots. This playoff run is only adding to his legacy of being one of the great athletes ever in any sport. There will always be a discussion on who is the best quarterback of all-time and maybe that discussion can stop and end with Brady. A strong performance in the Super Bowl tomorrow should cement his claim to be the GOAT. In the runner-up position, I give it to the Rams field goal kicker Greg Zuerlein. What he did against the New Orleans Saints was nothing short of remarkable. First he made a long field to tie the game at the end of regulation, then won it with a long 57 yarder in overtime. Both kicks were under intense pressure on the road. I tip my cap to him for a job very well done.

3. Biggest surprise. Actually the fact that they were very surprises in the playoffs was the biggest surprise. No team really flew under the radar this year. How often do you see top seeds from both divisions play for the conference championships?

4. Rule change discussion. The NFL really needs to take a look at the overtime rules during the off-season. I am of the belief that both teams deserve to have the ball in overtime with a chance to win the game. That is not the case with the current rules.

5. Last run for the Pats. This will be it for the Patriots. The multi-year run of the Patriots might go down as the best ever in sports but all good things have to come to an end and it will this year. Look out for the Indianapolis Colts. They will be the next NFL dynasty.

Now for a bold prediction on the Super Bowl. First of all, neither team can really stop the other team from scoring. It should be a very high scoring game similar to last year’s game. I am not going to break down all the matchups and tell you who has the advantage. I believe the Rams have the better overall team but the Patriots have a couple of factors working for them that makes them my favorite. First of all, they have a strong desire to avenge last year’s heart breaking lost. Do you really think that any team coached by Bill Belichick will lose 2 straight Super Bowls? I think not. Furthermore, the Patriots have the more experienced team and that will make a huge difference. I like the Patriots to win 38-35 in overtime. Enjoy the game everyone!



It is always the refs fault

If you are a fan of the New Orleans Saints of the NFL, you must be in a deep state of outrage. A golden opportunity to make a trip to the Super Bowl was taken away by a very poor call by one of the officials. Had that pass interference call been made late in last week’s NFC championship game, the Saints would have had the ball inside the Los Angeles Rams 5 yard line with a first and goal and 1:41 left. The Rams did not have any time outs left so the Saints could have run the clock down to the end, call a timeout, and kick a short field goal. The chances of them winning the game had the call been made were probably 99 percent. However, the call was missed, and although the Saints kicked the go ahead field goal, the Rams had plenty of time to march down the field and kick the tying field which they did at the end of regulation. A few Saints fans are even suing the league over this missed call. But lets settle down all you Saints fans and look at the big picture. Sure that call will go down as one of the worst ever in NFL playoff history, but there were plenty of other chances to win the game and not have to depend on the ref making a game deciding decision.

I find it rather interesting that a critical missed call just prior to the Saints final possession was not also heavily discussed. The Rams had the ball inside the Saints 10 yard line when a face masking personal foul was missed by an official. It was equally a puzzling missed call that would have given the Rams the ball at the Saints 2 yard line, first and goal and a great opportunity for go-ahead touchdown that would have put the Rams up by 4 late in the game. That was a huge missed call which really benefited the Saints.

After the go-ahead field that put the Saints up 23-20 with 1:41 left , why could the Saints defense not stop the Rams from marching down the field to kick the game tying field goal? Their defense did not do their job late in the game. The Saints won the coin toss at the start of overtime and immediately turned the ball over. They had plenty of golden opportunities to win the game after that blown call and failed to do so. If you are going to blame the refs, fine. But why not also blame your own team for not capitalizing on several missed opportunities. Maybe those fans who are suing the league over that blown call should also sue the team as well. They are just as responsible for the loss as the officials.

I can certainly understand why fans get upset with officials when a call is blown in such a big situation in a big game. I would be outraged as well. But let’s remember those referees are not machines out there who will always make the right call. The game is moving so fast that missed calls will happened. It is part of the game. A championship team should be able to withstand a blown call to win a game.

Unfortunately, it is always the refs fault. Never look at how your team missed several opportunities to lock the game up. If the Saints fans and players want to know the real reason why they lost the game, they should focus on their beloved team’s inept play rather than the men in officials uniforms.

A typical problem in Green Bay

The Green Bay Packers made big sports headlines this week when they fired long time head coach Mike McCarthy following an embarrassing home loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals. The loss basically knocked the Packers out of playoff contention in what was supposed to be a very promising year. Many had the Packers going to the Super Bowl this year. At the center of this firing seems to be what role star quarterback Aaron Rodgers had in it. Reports are that McCarthy and Rodgers did not always see eye to eye on the play calling. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that their turbulent relationship was no doubt a huge factor in McCarthy’s firing. This big mess in Green Bay is very typical of what hurts many professional sports franchises in a couple of ways.

First of all, let this be clear, professional sports teams are run by their star players, not the coaches. A coach who cannot get along with his star player is doomed and will probably get fired. Add in a lot of losing and that process is expedited. Don’t let anyone fool you, Aaron Rodgers runs the Packers. In the off-season, the Packers thought so highly of Rodgers that he became the highest paid player in the NFL by signing a huge contract. With the exception of a few years, McCarthy’s tenure at Green Bay was a very successful one. I thought he was definitely an above average NFL coach. Funny how a guy with that kind of track record along with a Super Bowl title can all of sudden be thought of as a bad coach. McCarthy, as with many coaches, become the scapegoat when things do not go well as they are in Green Bay. You cannot fire the players or heaven forbid, the great Aaron Rodgers. The Packers organization will not even come close to finding a new head coach who is even close to being as good as McCarthy. Many pro sports franchises rush to fire a coach without giving good thought about a possible quality replacement.

Second of all, huge contracts are very toxic in pro sports especially the NFL. How are the Packers going to bring in good players to support Rodgers in the future? Their pockets are only so deep and I do not see where they will have the cash to bring in big time free agents. This happens so often in professional sports. A team views a player as someone who they cannot lose and will pay that player handsomely. The problem is that you have many other players to pay as well. This becomes even a bigger problem when the team is struggling and needs free agent help. The Packers are very much in this situation. Furthermore, why would you pay some 34-35 year old quarterback that kind of money? Rodgers might be past his prime and seems to be more injury prone than ever.

I know Packer fans are among the most diehard fans in the world, but I think they should be prepared for some lean times coming up in the next few years. Who knows, maybe this intern coach will save the season and a miracle will happen. The Packers are in a mess right now and unfortunately a good head coach became the scapegoat. Mike McCarthy was only a small fraction of the problems that organization is having now and they are experiencing what many franchises deal with, an aging star play who is tough to coach and salary issues.

Thou shalt not hit a quarterback

In an effort to make the National Football League a lot safer, officials are cracking down on violent hits by players such as leading with the helmet when making a tackle. I can certainly understand the logic behind these new stricter enforcement of the rules. Head injuries suffered by players can be very serious and concussions can carry lifetime problems for many players. Another rule that is drawing some rather heated criticism from fans and players alike is the new enforcement of rules designed to protect quarterbacks after they release the ball. After a quarterback releases the ball, he is not to be tackled or hit. Doing so will result in a personal foul penalty to the defensive player. Are these stricter enforcement of rules really going to help the game and make players safer? In many ways, I say no.

Imagine for second that you are a big bruising linebacker. Your main task is to play defense and prevent the other team from marching down the field. A large part of playing good defense on the football field is putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. During a play in a crucial moment in the game, you see the quarterback in the pocket ready to launch the ball downfield. You run full force at the quarterback in an effort to intimidate him and possible sack him behind the line of scrimmage. Just seconds before you reach his area, he releases the ball and you run into him. It is a personal foul penalty on you and may end up costing your team the game. Forget about the fact that a 300 lb linemen running at full speed probably needs some time to slow down and might accidentally hit the quarterback. The only way you can prevent this from happening is to run at half speed towards the quarterback and hope he does not release the ball. Not exactly an effective way to play defense if you ask me!

There appears to be much confusion about these new rules in the early season. The Green Bay Packers paid an enormous price when Clay Matthews was whistled for roughing the passer late in last week’s game. It appeared that he made a perfectly clean play on the quarterback however the official saw it differently. I saw many players get penalized for other rules violations during preseason games. It is great that the league is very concerned about the safety of its players, but at the same time, aggressive and hard play is a huge part of the game. Where do you draw the line? I would not want to be an official in today’s NFL. I can just see some team losing a big game because some official made a questionable late hit call on a player. There are so many gray areas to be worked out.

As a fan of the game, I love to see good hard-hitting football. I just hope these new rules do not take the enjoyment of watching football. I have a fear that the NFL and quite frankly, football at every level will turn into flag football. The confusion over these new rules are not only frustrating to the players, but the fans as well. Can we still maintain good aggressive play while protecting the players? I would hope so!

Thoughts on the NFL playoffs and a bold Super Bowl prediction

The NFL crowned champions in both the AFC and NFC conferences last Sunday and now we are down to 2 teams playing in the Super Bowl next weekend in tropical Minneapolis. As a resident of the Twin Cities, I am thrilled to have the game in my backyard. It will be fun to watch some of the activities leading up to the big game. As far as attending the game goes, forget it! I do not have an extra 4k around to spend on a ticket! Regardless, I would like to mention some observations that I saw during the playoffs and make a prediction on the Super Bowl. Now granted, I am not one these highly paid sports writers who are probably much more knowledgeably than I am. I am just a fan with a few opinions and here are a few takes of mine on what went down during the playoffs.

1) Biggest Surprise. Prior to the playoffs starting, how many so-called experts had the Philadelphia Eagles going to the Super Bowl? The Eagles were in disarray at the end of the regular season. They lost their starting quarterback to a serious knee injury and looked terrible at the end of the regular season. Things did not even look good for them in the first half of their game against Atlanta. Suddenly, the Eagles got hot, came back to beat Atlanta and beat the Minnesota Vikings in rather surprisingly easy fashion with a back up quarterback.

2) Where is that vaunted defense? Along the lines of surprises, the collapses of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Vikings should be mentioned. If someone would have said to me that Jacksonville would have a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter of their AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, I would easily put money on them to win the game. They have one of the best defenses in the game and for them to give up two late touchdowns was rather surprising. Even more surprising was the way Nick Foles and the Eagles scored and moved the ball at will against the Vikings top rated defense.  Sometimes there is nothing a defense can do against a hot quarterback.

3) Most memorable moment. The walk-off touchdown catch by Stephan Diggs of the Vikings during the Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints game will go down as one of the most memorable plays in NFL history. It is easily the most memorable play of this year’s playoffs and that game was also the best game of the playoffs so far.

4) MVP of the playoffs. I know everyone will say that Tom Brady should be the MVP so far and I can’t disagree, but what about Nick Foles of the Eagles? I might just have to give him the nod. He has really stepped up his play during the playoffs. Will he continue his fine play during the Super Bowl remains to be seen.

5) Wait till next year. So which team that was eliminated during the playoffs have the best up side for the future? You say to yourself, wait until next year. I would have to say it would be the New Orleans Saints. A great young team on both sides of the ball with a good veteran quarterback. They will be serious Super Bowl contenders next year.

6) The Patriots last hurrah? One has to wonder how much longer Tom Brady will keep on playing, especially at his high level. How much does he have left in his tank? Is that great dynasty coming to an end? Will Bill Belichick come back to coach the Patriots next year? These are curious thoughts that I have about the Patriots.

Now for a prediction on the Super Bowl. It would not surprise me if the Eagles win. They are playing extremely well and their defensive line might give Tom Brady fits. I just cannot bet against Belechick, Brady and the Patriots. Their experience will help them win this game 27-17 and the dynasty continues.