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COLD HARD OBSERVATIONS – WEEK 15 NFL

12 Dec

December 11, 2013

Bothell, WA

 

There is no doubt that the NFL is the most popular sport in this country.  Glory days have been over for Baseball for a long time.  A sport that refuses to evolve will result in a slow and painful decline and eventual oblivion.  Football on the other hand has been ahead of the curve since the AFL days.  There was a time when the NFL (without the AFL in its fold) was too rigid in terms of traditions, inclusion and change but pioneers like Al Davis and Lamar Hunt paved a way for thinking outside the box and understanding the pulse of the fans.  Fast forward 44 years and we have a nation obsessed with the sport.  However this obsession has also led to the rise of the closet pundits and analysts, a list that also includes yours truly.  With the evolution of social media and the Internet, there is a need to get your opinion out there right away, no matter if it is right or wrong.  I can understand the impulse on part of an armchair analyst like me but what I am seeing and reading, I think the bug has caught some of the more seasoned analysts and writers alike. 

 

Football is an unpredictable sport.  There is so much parity in the league and the difference in talent is much less than what people think it is.   So each week we will see upsets, close finishes and there is an occasional blowout as well.  Each week a team like Houston at 2-11 can play well and challenge the top teams in the league.  Just last week, the Browns rolled into Gillette Stadium expected to be rolled over by the High powered NE offense.  Barring a miracle drive and some bad calls, NE would have lost this game by double digits.  So anyone can win on any given Sunday and that is a fact.  But what I don’t understand is why people change their opinions from week to week.  Even in this unpredictable sport, there are some absolutes. It is just like the Stock market.  After years of collapses, the market is at an all-time high.  But are the fundamentals behind this resurgence really sound?   That is a debate for another day but let me highlight some thoughts that have changed from week to week in the NFL landscape and what I really think.  Again, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my thoughts but I want to assure you that I have seen the games, analyzed the progression of the teams and the players and made educated assessments.

 

COLD WEATHER DOES AFFECT PEYTON MANNING:        

Peyton Manning is having the best year any QB has had in a long time, if not ever.  He is putting ridiculous numbers week in and week out.  I cannot argue with consistency and the efficiency.  He is a cerebral QB whose physical abilities have diminished but he compensates for those losses with his accuracy and knowledge of defenses.  The fact is that his arm is not the same that it used to be.  He has struggled to throw perfect spirals all season long, even when the weather was good.  Since the weather has been has cooled down since Early November, his team has started slow in all the games.  Even the NE game, their offense did not do a whole lot.  The turnovers were a major factor is the score being 24-0.  He has struggled a little bit in the beginning of all the games.  What has transpired is that the defenses keep playing the same and give him the same looks that succeeded in the preceding part of the game.  Once he knows what you are and aren’t going to do, is when Peyton the cerebral master takes over and shreds the defenses.  They were down in each of their last two games at KC and against the Titans by double digits.  But in the second half he made adjustments at killed the opposing defenses.

 

In my opinion, the weather does affect Manning in a big way and he would rather face you in a controlled environment.  To beat him you need to adjust and come up with a game plan that is different in the first half and different in the second.  If you can confuse him in the cold weather, you will have an edge.  He is not comfortable when he has to wear a glove and his bones are cracking in the chill.  Play against his mind and the weather will help you.  If you are not prepared to do that, you have no chance even in the cold.

 

49ERS REUSRGENCE – Really??

49ers just won a hard fought 19-17 game at home against arguably the best team in the league in the Seahawks.  They lost two games by a combined margin of 4 points and if they win those games, they would be on a 10 game winning streak.  So what do the pundits do; they run with the same narrative.  Twice this season the 49ers have lost two in a row and each time the same pundits were dismissing them even as a serious playoff threat.  Seattle came in with a luxury of winning 2 of its last 4 games with 2 at home to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  49ers literally had to win to even remain in contention.  For most of the game Seattle wanted where it wanted to be but a lapse in defense opened the lane for Gore and he ran to victory.  Seattle still is a better team but if 49ers are truly elite and resurgent, they should have blown out the Hawks.  I am sure they are better than they were earlier this season but Kaepernick is still playing average and a physical team like Seattle will always get the best of them.  They are good but don’t be surprised if they are knocked off in the first round.  That is if they even make it there.  I think Cardinals are playing much better ball than the 49ers at this stage.

 

DALLAS COWBOYS ARE AN AVERAGE TEAM

Dallas Cowboys as a team is an epitome of average.  Their record is taught in schools as example of what is a mean record, in terms of averages.  Heck, Jerry Jones the shrewd businessman is trying to weasel out of the naming rights with AT&T and going to a famous creamer company and naming the stadium HALF and HALF FIELD.  Since 1998 their record stand at exactly 0.500.  They have put some talent on the field but they have never put a complete team around Romo to go to the next level.  Romo gets the blame most of the time but the biggest issue with their team is Jerry Jones and his decisions to interfere with everything.  He does not want coaches – He wants puppets that play out his fantasy.  Well I guess even in his dreams the team never makes the playoffs.  People and pundits always pick Dallas in the beginning of the season but their December meltdowns have now become normal and they just come back to being what they always have been and always will be – AVERAGE!!!!

 

SAINTS HAVE SOME MAJOR CHINKS IN THEIR ARMOR

Saints have been very good at home and below average on the road.  In Seattle they actually got smoked by a very dominant Seattle team.  They did respond very well at home against a very good Panthers team and beat them soundly.  And again the Pundits labeled them as the class of NFC South.  I am not sure they are.  They lost to the JETS on the road and I just can’t shake that off.  They barely beat the 49ers at home and if that bogus call would not have been made, they would have lost that game.  The way you beat Saints is to get physical with them from the beginning and get them down early.  The issue is that teams have not been able to score a couple of TDs to begin the game and then pressure Brees into making mistakes.  He jumps off to good leads and then Rob Ryan can be more aggressive with his calls.  Rob Ryan’s defense never plays well with a deficit and he tries to compensate his offense’s failures with some aggressive blitzes and rushes.  Result is always the same – He gets burned.  Russell Wilson had 9 men coming to him and he torched the secondary.  Even Geno Smith did that once they had a lead.  And when Brees is down, he makes really stupid throws, which he does not when he is in the lead.  So Saints can be beaten at home if you are a physical team and get the Saints down early.  I want to see another rematch of the Saints at the Dome against the Panthers and I believe Panthers beat them.  Saints are a good team but not great.

 

PATRIOTS CAN STILL WIN WITHOUT GRONKOWSKI

No doubt that the loss of Gronkowski is one of the biggest blows NE team could take.  It was evident in the play right after Gronk was carted off.  Brady held the ball a little bit longer and he was sacked and he fumbled the ball.  Gronk opens up the field, gets open quickly or block for someone and that gives Brady enough time to make his reads and throws.  Loss of Gronk according to the Pundits, is the death blow to Patriots chances of making it to the Superbowl.  My contention is that while it is significant, absence of Gronk can be overcome.  Brady and Belichick will now try to establish a more sound ground game with Vereen back in their folds.  They would not run a fast pace offense and try to control the clock and grind out wins.  That actually bodes well for the NE Patriots as games will be played in the cold weather.  In the last couple of seasons, Brady has not played well in December and January because he is trying to score often and quickly, which means more passing and chances for defenses to sack him.  He needs to play a 50-50 pass-run game which will keep the defenses honest and still give him ample opportunities to make the throws to his receivers.  I think the reports of NE’s demise are highly exaggerated and they will be there till the AFC Championship game. 

 

SNOW GAME IN A SUPERBOWL IS NO FUN

Week 14 saw the fun side of playing football in snow.  High scores, costly mistakes, funny visuals, bad officiating – all came to fore in Week 14 in games played with snow on the field.  But this was week 14.  I don’t mind a cold Superbowl but a SB with snow on the ground is always going to benefit one team more than the other.  Football is played by men.  So I don’t like them complaining about the weather and the chill.  But snow will alter the equation and you won’t see the best team winning on that day.  I am not sure why the owners and Goodell were so adamant about a Big Apple Superbowl.  I hope they have some contingency plans.  SB XLVIII might get very ugly!!!!

 

OFFICIATING IS AN ALL TIME LOW

Bad Calls are part of football.  Each week we can live with an occasional bad call but now we are seeing multiple bad calls in games which are essentially dictating the outcome of the game.  The issue is that judgment calls like Interference and roughing the passer are being called at the most inopportune times in games and one team is definitely benefiting than the other.  Not only the games are being decided with these calls, the whole playoff picture gets tossed up at this stage of the game.  If NE gets the call in Carolina and they score, they would now be the top seed in the AFC.  If NE does not get the call at home against the Browns and lose, they are looking at the 3rd seed and no bye as Bengals would pip them.  If Bengals don’t get a gift of a TD at 7-0 against the Colts, Colts might come back and win the game and Ravens get a sniff of winning their division.  I can understand that a particular crew calls a game differently than the other, but when the same crew calls the game differently in the first half as opposed to the second, it is a major problem.  The league and Dean Blandino needs to have an emergency meeting with the officials and stress quality and consistency.  Otherwise we will see more games affected by officials than players and that is never a good thing.

 

Hopefully the readers can agree with most, if not all the points I have made.  There is much more I would like to share.  May be in the latter columns.  Let us enjoy Week 15 and hope for some fun games.    

 

 

                

 

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