2010/11 Season kick-off
Week 1 - The Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson makes a leaping, acrobatic catch in the back of the endzone in the dying moments to take the lead from the Chicago Bears. Upon video review, the play, which in anybody's world besides the NFL's rulebook is a catch, is ruled incomplete and the Bears win 19-14. Leap, grab, two feet down, ass on the ground yet incomplete pass. Yeah, NFL. You suck ass. Oh surprise, the Lions went on to a 6-10 record while the Bears made it to the conference championship. On the positive side for the Lions, the day featured the debut of probable Defensive Rookie of the Year, Ndamukong Suh who had a dominant year. Now if only they can figure out a way to keep last year's #1 pick Matthew Stafford healthy. Many a pundit's (including me) pick to be the first team to play for the Super Bowl at home, the Dallas Cowboys, saw a glimpse of how wrong they could be as inexplicable play selection at the end of the first half led to Tashard Choice's fumble being picked up and returned for a touchdown by DeAngelo Hall. Redskins win 13-7.
Week 2 - A year and a half out of prison after serving 23 months for his part in financing and operating the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting ring, Michael Vick was the starting QB for the Philadelphia Eagles. After dealing 11-year starter Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins, the Eagles came into the year with Kevin Kolb as their #1 QB but he was knocked out of the first game of the season with a concussion. Thanks to new stricter rules implemented by the league forcing players to pass three distinct post-concussion tests, Kolb was unable to start against the hard luck Lions and Vick went on to enjoy his best season as a pro, be mentioned as an MVP candidate, get a little presidential praising and be the subject of endless debates over whether his contrition and time served merited forgiveness and a second chance. Prison cost him his Nike deal but now he's got Unequal Technologies and he even wants to own a dog again!
Week 3 - After three weeks, only three teams remained undefeated: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chicago Bears, all of whom went on to make the playoffs. In fact the Chiefs went on to win the AFC West as the favored San Diego Chargers couldn't muster a repeat of their 2009/10 stretch run. They did however earn my respect in their handling of WR Vincent Jackson's holdout, refusing to give in to the renegotiation demands of a player suspended for violating the leagues substance abuse policy! It seemed the Chargers would have to advertise for people off the street to catch the ball as in addition to missing Jackson their WRs were ravaged by injuries and even all-world tight end Antonio Gates missed time. Philip Rivers still managed to lead the league in passing yards with 4,710 which could earn him the Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Week 4 - While the Lions, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills sitting at 0-4 wasn't a surprise, the San Francisco Niners being winless along with the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys sitting with 1-3 records a quarter of the way into the schedule was; all three teams would wind up firing their head coach before the year was up. Mike Singletary's Niners, heavily favored to win the NFC West, never found a way to compensate for the general crappiness of starting QB Alex Smith so Jim Harbaugh will lead the team next year; Brad Childress started the year sending a few players down to Mississippi to bring back Brett Favre and wound up being replaced by Leslie Frazier; Jerry's world was loaded with the talent to take home field advantage in the Super Bowl this year so when it fell apart Jones was forced to replace Wade Phillips with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Unsurprisingly all six teams missed the playoffs
End of the first quarter weather break: Storm Clouds Threaten XLVI
voted unanimously (32-0) to opt out of the present agreement which they had voted near-unanimously (30-2) to extend just two years before. At the time, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the owners acted early "to get talks rolling...We are not in dire straits. We've never said that. But the agreement isn't working, and we're looking to get a more fair and equitable deal." More realistically, NFL union (NFLPA) head Gene Upshaw responded with, "What a surprise ... All this means is that we will have football now until 2010 and not until 2012 ... We will move ahead. This just starts the clock ticking. If we can't reach agreement by 2010, then we go to no man's land, which is 2011." And here we are just over a month away from no man's land about to jump into the abyss.
As is all too often the case, negotiation has been almost non-existent with both sides seemingly more intent on seeding the fog of war. The owners' tactic has been to flood the press with stories of a challenging economic climate combined with player greed creating an untenable financial system exacerbated by high labor costs, particularly skyrocketing rookie contracts and the league's inability, through the interpretation of the courts, to recoup bonuses of players who subsequently breach their contract or refuse to perform. They posit that the proportion of revenue allocated to players must come down, extra revenue is needed through the addition of two more regular season games, an NBA style rookie wage scale implemented and cases such as Michael Vick keeping his $16.5 million in bonus money despite pleading guilty to federal dogfighting charges and being sentenced to 23 months in federal prison must end. Meanwhile, the union has been playing defense in the press, pleading for the owners to open their financial books and litigating in the courts. They point to the owners' refusal to come clean as proof that tricky accounting is shrouding the true share of revenues going to salaries and the fact the NFL is the only major sport without guaranteed contracts.
The CBA extension agreed to in 2006 was hammered out by then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw, who served as the NFLPA’s executive director for a quarter-century. The owners would like to portray that agreement as a sweet deal that Upshaw managed to sneak past a commissioner who was overly anxious to seal his reputation through a legacy of labor peace before he retired after a 17-year stint as boss. Sadly, Upshaw died from pancreatic cancer just 3-months after the deal was stuck, leaving us with a couple of rookie negotiators desperate to establish their credentials. In preparation for a lockout, new commissioner Roger Goodell has renegotiated TV contracts to ensure the owners will be paid in the event of a lockout. When this is combined with a lock out reducing operating expenses by 50% (an estimated $4.4 billion) via the elimination of player salaries and benefits and the temporary layoffs or salary reductions of various other employees, this means the owners are ready, willing and able to live without a season next year.
like in 1987, would open up anti-trust lawsuits but is risky so instead the union has filed a legal complaint with the Special Master appointed to resolve CBA disputes that challenges the structuring of the television deals. They have also made a collusion claim which, in short, alleges that NFL owners improperly conspired to not sign restricted free agents during the 2010 offseason, as only one restricted free agent out of 216 was signed to offer sheets during the offseason.
Looks like the second quarter of the season is about to start, so just a quick summary of where we stand. The owners are threatening to lockout the players and risk losing next season and perhaps beyond if the players don't agree to the owners' demands. Feeling they need to add revenue as well as cut expenses, the owners have also made the addition of two more regular season games in exchange for cutting two preseason games another prerequisite. Imagine a world in which your boss can opt out of your contract and demand that you work an extra hour a day (adding one to an eight hour work day is equal to the 12.5% increase in games from 16 to 18) while paying you less money (about 15%, more on the reduced size of the pie left for the players at halftime). Oh, but in exchange he's cutting your training seminar requirements. Thank you sir, may I have another!
Week 5 - Entering the week it seemed mediocrity was creeping into the league with 21 of 32 teams sitting at or below .500. Change was in the air though as not only did the Patriots trade Randy Moss to the Vikings, the week saw the NFL welcome back Steeler QB Ben Rape, I mean, Roethlisberger (whose six-game suspension was reduced to four which really meant five as the Steelers had a week 5 bye), Houston Texan linebacker Brian Cushing and New York Jets' off-season acquisition Santonio Holmes from various offenses proving the league can forgive and forget everything from rape to drugs and dog fighting in between. The week ended without an undefeated team left in the league.
Week 6 - Averageness continued to define the NFC in particular as every team finished the week with at least two losses. The Panic Bowl featuring the Vikings and Cowboys saw Minnesota temporarily right the ship, while in the AFC, the Jets, Steelers and Patriots were asserting themselves as the class of either league, all with only one loss. The Jets were propelled by LaDainian Tomlinson finding enough gas left in the tank to give the Jets one good year to possibly cap a brilliant career and put himself in the running with Michael Vick for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Week 7 - Simmering for the first part of the season, the concussion issue seemed to boil over after a deluge of helmet-to-helmet hits, a flurry of league imposed fines and player outrage. James Harrison, who threatened to retire rather than tone down his aggression, along with Brandon Merriweather and Dunta Robinson received a total of $150,000 in fines. The NFL's new policy seemed as clear as mud but public relations required showing they were doing something, never mind that something was threatening to turn the game into the No Fun League. The league's new helmet to helmet policy was perhaps the biggest story of the year, a year that featured more concussions than ever. While some hits are egregiously vicious, they would be more effectively controlled with penalties and suspensions than the ridiculous policy of trying to impose fines for not following precise objective rules which are impossible to comply with when flying around a football field at full speed trying to hit a guy who is trying to avoid you or get his helmet lower than yours. The Cowboys lost Tony Romo for the season in their Monday night loss to the Giants to fall to 1-5 while the Cleveland Browns started rookie QB Colt McCoy for the first time as they beat the defending champ Saints 30-17. Even weirder, Oakland Raider RB Darren McFat, er, McFadden turned in a four touchdown, 165 rushing yard game in a 59-14 thrashing of the Denver Broncos.
Week 8 - Much of the league reached the halfway point in the season yet no team seemed capable of dominating the league. The Jets, coming off a bye with still the lone loss, hosted the Green Bay Packers and were beaten 9-0. If the season had ended that day, Clay Matthews would've been the shoe in for Defensive Player of the Year. It didn't and he faded a bit, so I'm taking Troy Polamalu. The Niners momentarily seemed to have found the answer with Troy Smith leading them to victory over the Broncos. Too bad for Mike Singletary they didn't get to play in London's Wembley Stadium every week. Mike Shannahan's entry for all-time lousy coaching decision came in Detroit with his Washington Redskins trailing the Lions 31-25 with the ball on their own 30-yard line and 1:48 left to play. The mystery of the Piri Reis map pales next to that of pulling QB Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman. Predictably, Grossman's first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble recovered by Ndamukong Suh and returned 17-yards for a touchdown to seal the deal.
Half Time show - The Stupid Bowl: Millionaires against Billionaires
the same stupidity now threatening football. The NFL had 18 of the 20 highest rated TV shows during the regular season and 27 of the highest 50 during the calendar year, including eight of the top ten. People are hurting all across the country and will likely be quick to use the dispute as a focal point of their anger and simply give up on the game. Sure, most fans will come back, but many will be lost to the UFL or altogether but these people are so greedy they don't notice that even NASCAR is losing its popularity. Illogically, yet unsurprisingly, the NFL owners have decided to try to use the economic situation to their advantage.
more expensive tickets, hot dogs and beer will only get harder as the top 1% continue to game the system being unsatisfied with more wealth than the bottom 90%, further concentrating wealth in the sky boxes leaving less and less for the ticket buy public. Sure, the tough economic times have hit the owners' bottom line, in fact the average value of NFL franchises declined for the first time since they began being tracked by Forbes in 1998, but the average franchise is still worth $1.02 billion. Every team made Forbes most recent list of the 50 most valuable sporting franchises, with valuations ranging from $725 million to $1.8 billion. Not bad considering that the Giants franchise originally cost $500.
From 494 players on 13 teams in 1960, the NFL has grown to 32 teams and 1,696 player with an average salary of $1.7 million a season. In an America where official unemployment hovers around 10% (reality being about double that), the fourth quarter saw businesses reap the highest profits logged in over 60 years of government record keeping. This bears repeating: amid an epidemic of joblessness that is undermining standards of living for working Americans, corporations just had their best quarter ever. ESPN and the NFL are closing in on a new deal that would extend the network's rights to "Monday Night Football" beyond 2020 and pay the league nearly $2 billion per season. In May of last year, Anheuser-Busch knocked Coors out as the Official Beer of the NFL in a six-year, $1.2 billion deal that begins in 2011. Fans can't help but be turned off a little game of football in such an environment when billionaires start squabbling over money with millionaires.
Demand number one of the owners is to shrink the size of the pie from which the players' share is determined. League revenues are calculated to have been $9.3 billion in 2009, a 9% increase over 2008 which in turn was about 30% higher than 2005. The previous agreement allowed the owners to skim off about $1 billion before determining the split with players and are now demanding this be increased to $2.4 billion. The war of numbers is always the best way to either confuse people or just get them to tune out. An example is the constant owner and media claim that the players' salaries under the old deal was 60% of the revenue pie. Kindly put, this is misleading, more honestly, a baldfaced lie as the owners took a billion or so dollars off the top, reducing the size of the pie before cutting the players a slice. When definition of 'revenue' is contentious, you know there's a problem as you learn when you compare the players' percentage take between what the old CBA defined as "Total" Revenue and the actual total of all the revenue:
|Year||"Total" Revenue||All Revenue|
Clearly there is a difference between reality and perception - Total revenue according to the CBA was all revenue minus owner expense deductions (a list can be found here). As the teams get ready to come back onto the field for the second half, the question that needs to be answered is how can we control the greed that seems to be driving some to kill the goose that laid the golden egg?
Week 9 - Peyton Hillis confirmed that Josh McDaniels was the worst coach in the NFL. See, the Bronco's McDaniels traded Hillis and a couple of draft picks to the Cleveland Browns prior to the season for a bag of nails. Hillis ran for 184 yards and 2 scores to lead his Browns past the Patriots who had the best record in the league coming into the week. The bag of nails turned out to be Brady Quinn who watched Kyle Orton and then Tim Tebow from the bench all year for the Broncos while Hillis turned into late draft round fantasy football gold, running for 11 touchdowns and 1,137 yards as well as making 61 grabs for 477 yards and a couple more TDs. Not surprisingly, McDaniels was another head coaching casualty by year's end. So much was still to change, heck, the best team in New York was the Giants.
Week 10 - The Randy Moss sideshow officially jumped the shark as the Vikings cut him loose and the only team in the league to put in a free agent claim was the Tennessee Titans. In eight weeks Moss had gone from super human touchdown freak to near-untouchable only to fall further into irrelevancy as he only hauled in six grabs in the final eight games of the season with the Titans; at $3.34 million, that's over half a million per catch (plus a $200,000 tax return). In Jacksonville, David Garrard's Hail Mary with no time remaining was corralled by David Thomas giving the Jaguars an upset victory over the Houston Texans who suffered through another disappointing year as the defense couldn't hold onto many wins for their high-powered offense. Fantasy pick of the year Arian Foster led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards and Matt Schaub stayed healthy enough to get the ball to the best receiver in the league Andre Johnson but the defense was atrocious. The Atlanta Falcons 27-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens served notice that the NFC wasn't dead yet while the Eagles' Michael Vick went rabid as Philadelphia trounced their former QB Donovan McNabb's new team, the Washington Redskins 59-28 in front of a nationwide audience on Monday Night Football. Just prior to kickoff the 'Skins had inked McNabb to an extension originally reported to guarantee $40 million only to turn out to be $3.6 million. The Buffalo Bills were the last team to come up with their first win, handing the hapless Lions a 14-6 loss in the game of the weak.
Week 11 - The standings finally started to come into focus as teams like the Bears and Jets kept winning ugly, the Eagles took care of the division rival Giants, Tom Brady beat Peyton Manning, and the Green Bay Packers 31-3 drubbing of the Minnesota Vikings was the final nail in the coffin for coach Childress. The ugliest game of the week however was played by the Cincinnati Bengals as they were beat by the suddenly two-win Buffalo Bills 49-31 after leading 31-14 at the half.
Week 12 - Turkey day brought football to Thursday as the Patriots destroyed the Lions and the Cowboys put up a good fight before falling to the Saints. Sunday brought more surprises from the Chiefs as WR Dwayne Bowe established himself as something more than a cool fantasy team monicker (Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe) hauling in three touchdown grabs, making 13 in seven weeks and a league leading total of 14. The Bears victory over the Eagles and the Falcons sneaking by the Packers went a long way toward them eventually locking up the top two spots in the NFC.
End of the third quarter - When Socialism Beats Capitalism
corporations into people with all the same rights, yet unbeknownst to most Americans, they sit on the couch watching more socialism every Sunday than Marx could have dreamed of. Seriously, the NFL is an Ayn Rand nightmare as it has built a socialist success story that began when several franchises collapsed during the Depression. As opposed to the measures adopted in the latest financial crisis that have seen an enormous transfer of wealth from the bottom up, back then the league mirrored the policies of the New Deal. A core group of owners stuck together and began adopting measures to ensure that the weakest teams would prosper so the league could succeed. In 1936, the owners equalized the distribution of players through a collegiate draft, allowing the team with the worst record to pick first and the best team last. To stabilize the finances of smaller market teams in 1947, when clubs depended on ticket sales for revenue, the league awarded visiting teams 40% of the gate to protect weaker teams at home and help them on the road. Easier schedules for the next season were also given to teams that finished poorly.
Ever since recognizing the players' union in 1957, the league has gradually conceded more to the players while maintaining a level playing field between teams. Salary caps and revenue sharing has resulted in a league where everyone's a winner and every team can compete. For 2009, the final capped season played under the expiring agreement, the ceiling was $128 million per team, the floor $112 million. Since 1961 teams have agreed to divide television revenue equally so teams such as the Packers from Green Bay with a tiny market have taken in as much as the Bears or Giants from Chicago and New York. The NFL has done the same with merchandising and corporate sponsorships in contrast with baseball where the bulk of television revenue is locally derived resulting in the year-to-year dominance of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. The league tried to take their socialist paradise one step too far last year by awarding a sole contract to Reebok to manufacture hats, T-shirts and other apparel bearing the logos of the leagues' teams. In a rare rational recent ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the NFL's bid for an exemption from the Sherman Antitrust Act meaning the 32 individual teams aren't considered to be a single entity. They had sought this consideration as a single company cannot be guilty of conspiring with itself to harm consumers.
The media plays the owners tune by pumping up stories of players putting on pinstripe suits to visit lawmakers in Washington in a scandalous attempt to influence Congress while we condone politicking when it is old fashioned bribery, as it was owners who ramped up their political contributions in the run up to this labor dispute. Now in its 10th decade, the NFL has a commissioner in Roger Goodell who is nothing but a paid lackey for the owners playing a role similar to Timothy Geithner in the financial world. Some owners, such as the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones aren't happy sharing their money with the rest. He's not only unhappy about being told what percentage of revenues to give to his players, he has to share with other owners as the 17 lowest earning teams are subsidized by the top 15. Jones shelled out a billion of his own cash to build a stadium and has to give some of his take to owners of the likes of the Cardinals and Bengals who have favorable stadium deals that call for little or no expenditures. Remember, not only do the Jerrys of the league have to pay interest on their stadium debts, their income is based on a revenue sharing deal, not profit, so it can easily turn out that teams losing money are writing checks to profitable teams. Now tell me, does this sound like a problem caused by the players salaries?
only ones we can see are those of the league's only publicly owned team, the Green Bay Packers, and their numbers support the owners' case as profits fell from $20.1 to $9.8 million last year. To get a picture of the rest of the league, our only choice is to examine Forbes.com numbers, the best approximation we have of league profitability. They show a drop from $1.0376 billion in 2004 to $568.4 in 2006 when the last CBA was signed and have since grown to $1.0688 billion, a near doubling. Sure, not all teams are making a profit but here again we can find arguments for increased sharing among teams. The Dolphins and Lions are the only two teams thought to be losing money $7.7 and $2.9 respectively. Looking at the Dolphins woes, while player costs increased from $123 to $134 million from '08 to '09, the real problem came from the activities on the business side. With help from our friends at Goldman Sachs the Dolphins refinanced stadium debt in a deal that contains a credit reserve that is significantly bigger than it otherwise would have been to account for the possibility of a work stoppage in 2011. Fans of parity, what's needed now is more sharing not less, the gap between the highest valued (Cowboys) and lowest valued (Jaguars) teams has passed a billion dollars.
The outcome won't be decided until the last play of the game. As we head into the fourth quarter it's clear that many of the owners have forgotten the same lessons as the country. The NFL outlasted the Depression, wars and rival leagues by building an enterprise based on collective interest over self-interest but is now in danger of giving into the greed of the few at the cost of the many.
Week 13 - Credit the league as the schedule had most teams playing three division rivals in the final five weeks meaning the playoffs started early for many. Little Danny Woodhead made Rex Ryan regret releasing him in the preseason as his new team beat his old as the Patriots thumped the Jets 45-3. McDaniels last game as Broncos head coach is a 10-6 loss to the Chiefs. Panic gripped Indianapolis as the Colts dropped their third straight, to the Cowboys no less, and Peyton Manning was looking very human in the process; worse, they fell to 6-6 and trailed the Jaguars in the playoff hunt. The San Diego Chargers loss to the Oakland Raiders was their first loss in December since 2005 and proved to be fatal to their playoff chances. The Packers victory over the woeful Niners was noteworthy as the league discovered rookie RB James Starks.
Week 14 - The Vikings and Giants were to play Sunday night until Minnesota's Metrodome collapsed just like the Vikings season, forcing the game to be played Monday night from Ford Field in Detroit. It was as if Mother Nature herself was trying to help extend Brett Favre's consecutive games started streak. Alas, the extra day wasn't enough to heal his 41-year old body so he watched his team from the bench for the first time in 19 years and 297 games. Yeah, Brett Favre managed to stay in the spotlight again right from the annual training camp saga of will he or won't he retire. Last year's un-retiring was almost worth it, as he played one his greatest seasons but this year he was awful on the field while stories of him being just as bad off the field surfaced from 2008. The Brett Favre Once Sent Me Cock Shots: Not a Love Story led to revelations he had sent text messages with dick pics to a Jet employee in some kind of bizarre new fangled flirting ritual unleashed upon the world by technology. Meanwhile Favre's original team, the Green Bay Packers, got a scare as Aaron Rogers was concussed resulting in them losing 7-3 to the Lions. It was Jay Feely day as the Arizona Cardinal kicker led his team over the Broncos. Not only did he score the first 22 points for his team on the way to 25, he also ran in a touchdown on a fake field goal. The Patriots were looking unstoppable as they pounded the Bears 36-7. In a glimpse of what the alternate reality season may have been, the Niners beat up on the Seahawks 40-21 while the Chargers shutout the Chiefs 31-0. Go figure.
Week 15 - About midway through the fourth quarter, the Giants were leading the Eagles 31-10 when suddenly went Michael Vick went dogsh#t in a good way and led a rabid comeback that brought his team back to even the score and apparently force overtime with 14 seconds remaining. Inexplicably, Giant punter Matt Dodge kicked to one of the leagues three fastest players (along with Mike Wallace and Chris Johnson), DeSean Jackson. As he curled up the goal line just before strutting into the endzone to finish a 65 yard return, the Giants path to the playoffs was suddenly in doubt. The Colts retook control of the AFC South beating the Jaguars 34-24, normally reliable kicker Dan Carpenter missed four field goals sealing the Miami Dolphins fate as they lost 17-14 to the Bills while the Arizona Cardinals, just two years removed from almost winning the Super Bowl lose the week's loser bowl 19-12 to the pathetically bad Carolina Panthers. What coach Ken Whisenhunt would have given for a QB that resembled retired Kurt Warner. Hell, he would've been satisfied if training camp starter Matt Leinhart had turned out to be Jake Plummer instead of being so bad he was released before the season even started. Other important games saw the Saints fall to the Ravens, the Jets get by the Steelers and the Lions beat the Bucs, significant as not only did Detroit put an end to the longest road losing streak in NFL history at 26 games but a Bucs win would've put them in the playoffs at the end of the year.
Week 16 - The Niners lost to the Rams meaning they couldn't make the playoffs and Singletary was out of a job. The Bears won in a shootout over the Jets assuring New York would only be a wildcard playoff team. The surprising Kansas City Chiefs clinched the AFC West with their win over the Titans combined with the Chargers proving that special teams do matter, falling to the lowly Bungles from Cincinnati. I haven't mentioned it yet, but Jamaal Charles is a beast. The Lions beat the Dolphins for their second road win in a row in Florida, the Ravens clinched a playoff birth and mother nature forced the postponement of another Vikings game when their Sunday night tilt against the Eagles was moved to Tuesday as snow storms in Philadelphia are now somehow a reason to not play football as we need to protect public safety, ha! More likely, it was a dirty trick played by the Eagles and Philly mayor to get a banged up Mike Vick another couple of days to heal. Or it was at NBC's request hoping to get a dog-killer against dong shot match-up on prime time TV as Favre got extra time to recover from a concussion. The bright side was that Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell said "We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything ... If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down ... It's an absolute joke. I was looking forward to this. It would have been a real experience. This is what football is all about. We're becoming a nation of wussies."
Week 17 - Seattle locks up the NFC West with a painfully boring victory over the probable Offensive Rookie of the Year QB Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams. They become the first team since realignment to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record at 7-9 while the Bucs and Giants, who both finished at 10-6, had to sit at home and watch the Seattle Seahawks secure a home field playoff game by winning the NFC West. Despite the disappointment of missing the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the most improved team in the league and are my early surprise pick for NFC representative in XLVI (Could they play the Chiefs, the most improved team in the AFC for 2010/11?). With rookies at both lead back and leading receiver along with a second year QB, the Bucs managed to finish with a 10-6 record, one would imagine in large part to my pick for NFL Coach of the Year Raheem Morris. Josh Freeman showed poise in the pocket guiding an offense helped by the breakout performances of LeGarrette Blount, high stepping, hurdling and twist leaping his way to 1,007 yards rushing in only seven starts (5.0 yards per carry) and the NFL leading rookie pass catcher Mike Williams, who just missed a grand with 964 yards receiving.
The Final Regular Season Whistle (maybe for awhile)
The owners and player's union haven't had a full meeting since November. The dysfunction of the American system will be encapsulated by the two sides failure to reach an agreement which will likely result in a lengthy lockout that could cost the entire 2011/12 season and even beyond. It's hard not to draw a parallel between the efforts of the owners to skew the balance that has proven so successful for the NFL and those of the corpocracy to mold public policy in their favor over the past 30-odd years in the pursuit of short term profits. The fact that the rent seeking parasites driven by reckless greed have managed to deflect any accountability and been allowed to move on to the next bubble has left the nation unable to accept the changed post-crash economic realities. The result is a public seething with pent up anger seeking a scapegoat to target their rage regardless of the facts which allows the spin doctors to manipulate many into blaming the unemployed instead of those who outsourced their jobs or in this case, the millionaires instead of the billionaires. The owners could hire scabs and play replacement games like they did in 1987 while many players will probably jump to the UFL, a league formed hoping to take advantage of just such a situation, so there will be football, but we will be cheated out of real football by the owners' avarice.
In order to decide who's right or wrong one needs to look at the facts, and since these are missing or being withheld in this case (those known and nasty unknown unknowns) we'll have to base our judgment on each sides' past actions. In this case it seems most of the available facts support the players side. Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, sadly not a part of the negotiating committee working on the new CBA, said "We play enough games. We have a system that works. Why add [games]?'' In an era when concussions and injuries make it obvious that more games will dilute the product, such an idea should be dismissed out of hand. However, we're talking about a league that for years covered up the long-term damage done to the brain by a lifetime of lining up and hitting another human being head first over and over.
concussions on long-term health. Big Brother would be proud of their pressuring Toyota to change their commercials asking - and of course getting - them to remove any head to head collisions in an ad trying to spotlight the car maker's help in concussion research. Worse, the NFL has its officiating department watch every game and, whether or not the play drew a flag, keep a log of every play that violated a safety-related rule. The league then sends the list to its own media entities, like NFL Films and NFL Network, as well as advertisers, with the understanding that those plays may not be used in commercials or other promotional materials. Too bad you can't explain this kind of censorship to someone who doesn't believe the powerful control the gates of information and therefore public opinion.
One of the owners biggest beefs is rookie pay. They are upset that salaries that they have agreed to pay have gotten out of hand!?! In a Marxist effort to generate middle/lower-class resentment against players who earn exorbitant salaries to play a mere game, the owners had former player and now Green Bay Packer president Mark Murphy pen an article for the Washington Post to trumpet the 50 highest-paid American athletes article published by Sports Illustrated last year. They huff and puff that five 2009 NFL rookies were on the list, averaging nearly $21 million in income for their rookie year while every other athlete on the list was a proven veteran. Do you suppose they just forgot to mention that the rookie share of the salary cap has actually fallen from 6.86% in 1994, the first year of the cap, to 3.71% last year? Or that they haven't noticed that no one ever held a gun to an NFL owner's head making him sign these contracts or that last year the owners cleared a profit of over $1 billion. Instead of facts the owners rely on misinformation, claiming they want a rookie cap to shift outrageous sums paid to rookies to proven veterans and retired players. Yet when the union proposed the "Proven Performance Plan" which would do just that, the owners rejected the proposal as none of the $200 million in savings came back to them.
stupidization through attention span deterioration. Curse the inculcation! While the American dream has been outsourced to Brazil and India, America has to bribe its rich in order to throw crumbs to its poor and is happily sustaining the vicious circle by forcing its future workers into a modern form of indentured servitude. In such a country, it will come as no surprise when the owners, with much of the public behind them, force through their demands. Even if a quick settlement is reached, with so many new head coaches and coordinators coming in, they will miss meetings, mincamps or training-camps necessary to install new systems on new teams, damaging the product. Just like the American economy, the billionaires may be able to squeeze out a few more good years but the rot will have set in. Guess Americans should just be happy that they play the other kind of football in Brazil.
Sure, unions have many pathologies and sometimes get in the way of market efficiency but that's what regulation used to be for. The rich and large corporations have their pathologies too and the only countervailing power left is what's left of unions thanks to deregulation and the world of Citizen United. A culture more averse to the financial risk of owner billionaires than the health risks to players without any job security and a future filled with health problems has lost its bearings and sadly deserve what they get. Well, even though they'll lose all their health benefits, at least those players who were on the NFL's drug testing program can smoke the peace pipe in peace until there's, well, labor peace.
2010/11 AFC divisional winners: New England Patriots in the east, Pittsburgh Steelers in the north, Indianapolis Colts in the south and Kansas City Chiefs in the west. Wildcards: New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens
2010/11 NFC divisional winners: Atlanta Falcons in the south, Chicago Bears in the north, Philadelphia Eagles in the east and Seattle Seahawks in the west. Wildcards: Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints
Thanks in large part to their home-field advantage and a bizarrely great game by Matt Hasselback, those Sh#thawks beat last year's Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints 41-36 making this was the fifth straight year the defending champ didn't win a playoff game the following year. The first weekend of playoff action also saw the Jets take out the other finalist from last year as Mark Sanchez beat Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts 17-16. Mike Vick showed the effects of a season of getting knocked around and was taken out of the quest for a ring as the Packers scored 21 to the Eagles 16. The Baltimore Ravens played another first round Super Bowl caliber game as they crushed the upstart Chiefs in Kansas City 30-7.
The next week's divisional games saw both #1 seeds fall as the Atlanta Falcons along with the New England Patriots came off their first round playoff byes only to lose to the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets respectively. The Packers simply dominated the Falcons who lost for only the second time at home under Matt Ryan in his first three years 48-21, while the Jets ignored the fact the Patriots were the hottest team in football riding an eight game winning streak, absorbed the opening shots by likely league MVP Tom Brady and then wore them down 28-21. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers came back to beat the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 and the scoreboard made the Seahawks look good in their 35-24 loss to the Bears.
Given that they had faced each other 181 times, it was surprising to learn that this year's NFC championship game was only the second time the Chicago Bears had faced the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. The first came way back on December 14th, 1941 at Wrigley Field, two weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, a game the Bears won handily 33-14 before going on to beat the Giants 37-9 for their second consecutive NFL Championship. This time they met at Soldier Field for the George S. Halas Trophy and a shot at the Vince Lombardi trophy. Aaron Rogers and the Packers came out quick to take a 14-0 lead and for awhile it looked like it might end that way. Jay Cutler was brutal until a knee injury forced an ineffective Todd Collins into action until he was pulled for Caleb Hanie, who provided a spark to at least make the game interesting despite the BJ Raji interception touchdown. In the end, the Packers held on to win 21-14 to become the first #6 seed to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Oh, they are also the 10th different team to represent the NFC in the past 10 years, a side benefit to that CBA inspired parity.
What the AFC championship at Heinz Field may have lacked in history, it made up for in hype as the New York media descended on Pittsburgh. The Jets were looking to complete the road trifecta by taking out Manning, Brady and Rape, er Roethlisberger, the winning QBs of 6 of the past 9 Super Bowls, in consecutive weeks on the road. But in the first half it was the Steelers running game that cut through Rex Ryan's defense like a hot knife through butter while the Steel Curtain smothered Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense. Appearing in their 15th championship game, Pittsburgh was dominant in building a 24-3 lead, moving up and down the field on offense and holding the Jets to 12 total yards until the final minute of the first half. You have to credit the Jets for not giving up as they tried to pull another miracle comeback out late but poor play calling at the goal line sealed their 24-19 loss. Seems they're still the same old Jets.
every year since 1920 but the way they've been decided has evolved over time. Until 1932, it was awarded to the team with the best win-loss record but a tie that year meant a playoff game was needed leading to the decision to hold an end of season championship game, a format that more or less held until 1966 when the league moved to an NFL-AFL showdown for the NFL championship which become known as the Super Bowl following the merger of the two leagues. In 1970 the Super Bowl trophy became known as the Vince Lombardi trophy in memory of the legendary Packers coach who led his team to the first two Super Bowl victories. Along with the various names that franchises have adopted over the years and movement between cities this creates a semantic nightmare in stating the number of championships teams have won over the years. Regardless, it's pretty safe to say these are two of the most storied teams in the NFL, the Packers have won 12 NFL championships while the Steelers have won the most Super Bowls in the modern era with six.
If the big game turns out anything like last time these two teams met at the end of the regular season last year, fans are in for a treat. The Steelers eked out a 37-36 thriller on a touchdown catch by Mike Wallace as time expired as Ben Rapelisberger set a franchise record with 503 passing yards. Packer QB Aaron Rodgers added 383 of his own for a combined 886 passing yards in four quarters. The Vegas bookmakers are betting on a close game as the opening line was the narrowest in 27 years, favoring the Packers by 2 1/2 points. Both teams endured a turbulent seasons as the Packers led all NFL teams this year with 15 players on injured reserve while the Steelers had to play four different quarterbacks and seven tackles thanks to suspension and injuries. These teams aren't the Colts and Saints of last year who were clearly the best teams in their conferences the entire season yet the ebbs turned to flows at the right time for both teams.
The two biggest question marks facing the Steelers are whether the high ankle sprain suffered early in the Jets game by first year Pro Bowl center Maukice Pouncey will heal in time for him to play and whether their cornerbacks, who were torched in the second half against the Jets, will be able to lock down possibly the league's best receiving corps. Pouncey's health could mean establishing the run with Rashard Mendenhaul who looked great against the Jets. Big Ben has targets to throw to as well, Hines Ward is as feisty as ever and Mike Wallace faster, but the key should be Heath Miller as the Pack has trouble covering tight ends or maybe one of the two rookies, Brown or Sanders. On defense the Steel Curtain is anchored by Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, the former getting help from two weeks for his ankle and Achilles to heal, the later from fellow linebackers James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in forming the best linebacking corps in football. Here's hoping defensive end Brett Keisel's beard gets a few close ups as well.
The Packers come in on a roll; they've basically won five playoff games in a row as they had to win the last two games of the regular season just to qualify for the playoffs. Yes, the Packers finally found a spark to ignite their running game in rookie James Starks after struggling to run the ball all year after losing starter Ryan Grant in the first game of the season. Though he leads the playoffs in rushing, his power running game should be contained by the Steelers. Their key to victory is Aaron Rogers; if he finds his touch early, Vegas oddsmakers will likely have correctly predicted 33 of 45 Super Bowls. Much of the talk in Texas will center on how a Rogers victory will lift him into the elite circle of quarterbacks and officially vindicate the Packers decision not to bring back Brett Favre in 2008. He's got the receivers to help him with Greg Jennings, the leading playoff receiver after being fourth in the regular season, along with the ageless Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. If tight end Jermichael Finley hadn't been injured in midseason, the aerial attack may have been unstoppable. Clay Matthews will get much of the media attention on the other side of the ball, but it's the play of the secondary that has put the Packers in the Super Bowl. The stellar play of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, with three and two playoff interceptions respectively has freed up Charles Woodson to become some kind of hybrid defensive back/linebacker/pass rusher in Dom Capers defensive scheme causing opponents all kinds of matchup problems.