WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 2.22 

Greetings sports fans. We’re still talking about football, but there are a couple of other topics thrown into the mix as well. I hope the sun is shining wherever you are and cooler temperatures are giving way to the delightful warmth of spring. 

Heavenly Father, bless Deshaun Watson, for he hath sinned. Now, I bet you think you know what I am referring to, but you’d probably be wrong. Don’t misunderstand…I am not looking past the allegations of sexual misconduct against Watson. However, a grand jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, so I am left with the impression that he is simply a single, wealthy horndog who enjoys a good massage a bit too much and expects favors many young ladies are not willing to grant. I believe he acted inappropriately, but to my knowledge no one was raped. Deshaun Watson may be creepy, but he’s not a criminal, and since I wasn’t exactly a saint when I was a 20-something I simply hope the young man learned his lesson, has been humbled, and will be better going forward. That being said, I cannot overlook the fact that Watson, who understandably wanted away from the dumpster fire that is the Houston Texans, ended up approving a trade to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns!! This dude could’ve gotten a new start in Carolina, Atlanta, or New Orleans…and he chose Cleveland!! Has he never heard of Tim Couch?? Colt McCoy?? Brady Quinn?? Brandon Weeden?? Hell, I could list two dozen more quarterbacks whose career died in The Factory of Sadness. I’ve been a big fan of Deshaun Watson since his days at Clemson, and I was counting on him to lead my dynasty fantasy team for the next decade, but I can’t cheer for the QB of the Browns, so I traded him for multiple draft picks. Thanks for nothing you moron. 

Baseball’s Opening Day has finally arrived. As a lifelong Pirates’ fan it is difficult for me to be as excited as some of y’all might be, but it is a cultural touchstone and an unofficial (late) welcome to spring, so I am happy to embrace the event in the spirit in which it is intended. Pirates games are soothing background noise while I read a book or mindlessly scroll on my phone, so atleast I have that going for me for the next six months, which is nice. 

I might have more thoughts on the NFL Draft before April 28, but for now let me offer one strong opinion. If my Pittsburgh Steelers mortgage the future to move up & select a quarterback who is far from certain to be a generational talent then the powers-that-be are absolute fools. I don’t think any quarterback in this draft is worthy of a first round pick, and I’m not sure any of them will be that successful in the NFL. I would prefer to see the Steelers address numerous other issues and ride with free agent signee Mitch Trubisky for a season (or two). If that means a couple of losing seasons before rebounding into perennial playoff contention for another long stretch then I’m okay with it. They’ve done a surprisingly good job of improving the offensive line this offseason, and I feel like they’re a wide receiver & perhaps some defensive depth away from being way better than anyone expects, but that isn’t a good enough reason to reach for a rookie quarterback in the draft. 

Congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks for winning the NCAA Basketball National Championship. To be honest this year’s March Madness wasn’t all that memorable or compelling, although there were some decent games & exciting moments. The tournament felt kind of like cotton candy though…tastes sweet for a few fleeting seconds then melts away into nothingness. After all the hype about Gonzaga and upsets by underdogs like St. Peter’s & Miami (FL) the title game came down to Kansas & North Carolina…two blue-bloods despite the Tar Heels’ misleading #8 seed. As a fan there simply wasn’t anything to keep my attention outside of Coach K’s retirement. The title game being on TBS was weird, and not even One Shining Moment felt like Must See TV. 

It looks like Tiger Woods, a little over a year after suffering career threatening injuries in a car accident, will play in The Masters. As a fan I am excited to see him in the field, although expectations are obviously minimized. No one expects him to contend or even make the cut. As a human being I am fascinated by his redemption & comeback story. The sins of Tiger Woods are well-documented, but I am certainly not inclined to throw stones. The fact is that Woods in The Masters is good for golf and good for sports. If only my man Phil Mickelson were playing in the tournament 🤦🏻‍♂️…but that’s a whole other story. 

Speaking of basketball, it is my understanding that the NBA Playoffs will begin soon. I have no idea who the odds on favorites are or which teams may or may not be in the field. I believe I heard or read that the Los Angeles Lakers will miss the playoffs altogether, which makes me chuckle. Lebron James can pucker up & kiss my crippled fat ass *lol*. 

I suppose I have to address the Tom Brady situation. God knows I’d rather not think about the dude, much less write about him. At any rate, first Adam Schefter broke the news that TB12 was retiring, then Brady’s Dad was like “not so fast”, then a few days later Brady did post a retirement announcement on Instagram, because I guess that’s how it’s done nowadays. But wait…there’s more!! Like Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert, Tom Brady spent 40 days in retirement before resurrecting his career. Much like Halloween‘s Michael Myers, the Clintons, and numerous rock bands who are my grandfather’s age, Brady just won’t go away. The only good to come out of this is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger won’t be forced into the background during the Hall of Fame festivities five years from now. 

WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 1.22

Our first edition of W&M in 2022 is football heavy as usual, but that’ll change in the not-too-distant future. For now it is time to bid farewell to goal posts & penalty flags and say so long to QB sacks & onside kicks. Enjoy. 

Kudos to the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. As a Steelers fan I wasn’t about to cheer for the Cincinnati Bengals, and I’m beginning to get a little uncomfortable with the sports media’s blatant attempts to position Cincy QB Joe Burrow as Tom Brady 2.0. The kid seems a bit too big for his britches (shout out to my late Grandma P.), so perhaps it’s best he was brought down a peg or two. Also, after wasting over a decade with the hapless Detroit Lions one can’t help but be happy for Rams’ QB Matthew Stafford (I bet Calvin Johnson wishes he would’ve gotten an opportunity to play football somewhere other than Detroit). The game itself was rather prosaic, although thankfully it wasn’t a blowout. I have no opinion about any of the commercials because I had company who is literally unable to STOP TALKING for longer than ten seconds at a time (it’s exhausting). I’m not going to crown the halftime show featuring nearly every old school rapper that hasn’t been shot yet as “the best EVER”, but it was sufficiently entertaining. That kind of music was never my jam back in the 90s, but if it was yours then you probably enjoyed the show way more than me. 

After an atrocious 1-7 record for each of us in the final week of the season, our Pigskin Picks of Profundity ended with yours truly scoring the season victory at 57-69, while Zach was 49-77 on the year. Although I wish we were more skilled prognosticators, as always it was so much fun doing these picks with my nephew, an annual tradition I’ve come to really appreciate.

In the wake of an ultra exciting weekend of playoff football a few weeks ago fans were calling the Chiefs-Bills clash that KC won in overtime one of the best football games they’d ever seen while lamenting the lame NFL OT rules that essentially allow a coin toss to decide the outcome. I don’t necessarily disagree with those sentiments, but I also have an alternative view. If I were in charge of the NFL overtime would follow the general idea of the current college football OT rules (more on that below), but let’s focus on defense. Y’all remember defense right?? We used to believe that “defense wins championships”, but that no longer seems to be true. Buffalo was up by three points in that game with thirteen seconds remaining. 13 seconds!! Yet they allowed Kansas City to get into field goal range with just a couple of long passes, which gave the home team an opportunity to execute the game tying field goal. While it is undeniably fun to watch great skill players & elite QBs throw haymaker after haymaker like what transpired between the Buffalo Bills & Kansas City Chiefs, let’s not get it twisted. The “Bills Mafia” can blame stupid overtime rules all they want, but the fact is that all their team had to do was stop the opposition from going 44 yards in 13 seconds and they failed. 

Congratulations to newly minted MLB Hall-of-Famer David Ortiz, who will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer. Big Papi won three World Series with the Boston Red Sox, was a ten time All-Star, and had a .286 career batting average with 541 home runs in 20 seasons. Sadly, Ortiz’s moment was overshadowed a bit by hand-wringing over Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens not being selected in their final year on the ballot. I find it interesting that so many will passionately defend known defrauders of the game like Bonds & Clemens, yet they’re perfectly fine with Curt Schilling being excluded from the Hall of Fame. Schilling’s alleged mediocrity…6 time All-Star, 3 time World Series Champion, 3000+ strikeouts…is a weak excuse since we all know the real reason the powers-that-be don’t like him is because of his very candid political opinions. 

Y’all, I didn’t even keep track of college football’s bowl season while it was happening, but I did go back & check the numbers. Zach edged me by a couple of games in our Bowl-a-Palooza picks, going 18-19 while I was 16-21. Five bowl games were canceled altogether, while two games were played with altered matchups so those results were tossed aside. Between COVID, the transfer portal, star players opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft, & the coaching carousel, bowl season didn’t seem like very much fun this year. When the playoff is expanded something is going to need to be done to make the other games matter for fans and apparently players & coaches.

Okay, so let’s talk overtime. The current college football OT rules allow each offense to have the ball starting on their opponent’s 25 yard line, meaning they’re essentially in field goal range already. No matter what Offense A does Offense B gets the ball (also on the opponent’s 25 yard line). The wildcard is what does Offense A do with the ball?? At worst they’ll have an opportunity to kick a 41 yard field goal (unless they turn the ball over). That’s not a chip shot, but it’s more than makable in most circumstances. At best they’ll score a touchdown & put the pressure on the opposing team’s offense. Now here’s where it gets weird. If both teams trade matching scores and there is a second overtime, any TD must be followed up with a 2 point conversion instead of an extra point. Then, if we make it to a third OT, the teams just alternate 2 point plays (that start on the three yard line), which is basically a football variation of penalty kicks in soccer. I despise the two point conversion rule for overtime. In contrast, the NFL does have a kickoff (after a coin toss, with the winner of that always choosing to receive…obviously), and if Offense A scores a touchdown the game is over. If they score a FG or don’t score at all Offense B gets an opportunity. If Offense B matches what Offense A did then it becomes sudden death, and if the teams are still tied at the end of 10 minutes the game ends in a tie. My proposal would be a hybrid of the two differing systems, and would ideally be implemented on both levels…college & pro. Give Offense A the ball on the 50 yard line. I’m not usually a proponent of minimizing special teams, but in this case I believe it works best. The offense isn’t already in field goal range and has some work to do, while the defense has a legit opportunity to do their job. No matter what happens Offense B will get a chance to possess the football. Unlike the current college system I would have a time clock, but, as opposed to current NFL rules, I’d bump the extra period back up to 15 minutes (I don’t like ties but can live with the theoretical yet unlikely possibility that it could happen). No team would ever be forced to attempt a two point conversion unless they choose to do so. 

I would be remiss not to mention the retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Thankfully it wasn’t a surprise, and it was time. I don’t know if all the blame belongs with offensive coordinator Matt Canada, or if Big Ben just didn’t have an arm anymore, but the offense had become painful to watch. I enjoy an occasional screen pass, and realize “bubble screens” specifically have become part of football, but I just don’t believe throwing the ball five yards or less downfield constantly is productive, especially when defenses are expecting it. To be clear, I am aware that the Steelers’ offensive line was abysmal this past season & needs a major overhaul. I’m not completely sold on the receiving corps either: Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, & JuJu Schuster aren’t nearly as great as they believe themselves to be. Aside from those issues though, an aging quarterback with zero mobility & a weakening arm simply doesn’t bode well, especially when the AFC boasts young guns who can move like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, & Joe Burrow. Roethlisberger was never fast, but he always had tremendous escapability that allowed him to scramble & extend plays. That escapability had noticeably diminished, and when combined with a poor offensive line & questionable play calls the Steelers offense was doomed. So, as the Steelers & all the fans prepare to move forward, right now I want to give one last shoutout to Ben Roethlisberger. It has been a joy to watch you, from the moment I gathered with co-workers at a local sports bar on that spring day 18 years ago & watched my Steelers draft you with the eleventh pick, thru two Super Bowl victories, all the way to a bitterly decisive playoff defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs last month. More importantly, it has been delightful to see you evolve from an impetuous young man into a mature & responsible husband, father, leader, & adult. People still like to bring up the past & criticize you for mistakes made 15 years ago, but I’d tell those people to clean their own house first. None of us are perfect, and you’ve gone thru your battles very publicly. From a football perspective I wish you’d have gotten atleast a couple more opportunities in the Super Bowl, but so many factors play into that. You got us two Lombardis & provided many other great memories. I don’t know if coaching or ownership or anything football related is in your future, but as a fan I sincerely hope to have you as part of the Steelers organization in some capacity down the road.

WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 3.21 

Y’all know that I try to keep the sports content to a minimum during the football season due to our weekly picks, but since a) we haven’t done WM since February, and b) there are other things besides football to discuss, I’m going to suspend my own rule. Rest assured there is plenty of other content in the hopper for those that don’t enjoy ball games & such as much as the rest of us. 

The baseball playoffs have begun. In the American League it’s the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, & Boston Red Sox, while the National League has the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants, & Los Angeles Dodgers. I had thought I’d watch a lot more baseball this season after the virus-shortened, empty stadium anomaly of 2020, but oddly enough I think I’ve watched even less. The Manoverse knows that I’m a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, which means I had absolutely no interest in or reason to watch many games this year. I try to find some level of enthusiasm for the playoffs and choose one or two teams to cheer for. I wasn’t sure that was going to be possible this year, but thankfully the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, so that’s something.

I haven’t really made a big deal out of my feelings about COVID related subjects like vaccines, masks, & mandates outside of the meme zone that is my Instagram because…well, just because. I have very strong opinions, but realize there are folks with polar opposite views. It is what it is and I see no reason to argue about it or negatively impact relationships I value. That being said, it has been announced that mandates in California & New York will require players and fans attending basketball games to be fully vaccinated. I assume hockey players & fans will be affected as well, especially since Canada has already become an outright fascist hellhole anyway. For the first time in my life I am not envious of people living in big cities with access to professional sports venues. I can’t wait to hear the spin when NBA & NHL players and vaccinated fans start testing positive like crazy for The Sickness. Oh sure, they are unlikely to end up dead or even hospitalized, but of course there is a 98% chance they wouldn’t have gotten that ill without the “vaccine”. Atleast I’ll be able to enjoy the games in the freedom & comfort of my own abode. 

Congratulations to Team USA for bringing home the Ryder Cup. I didn’t watch as much of the competition as I’d anticipated, and I think that had a lot to do with guys like Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, & Phil Mickelson being absent while newer players like Colin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, & Daniel Berger took center stage. I’m old enough to remember Ryder Cup teams featuring legendary golfers like Tom Kite, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, & Fuzzy Zoeller, so I just need to get used to these fresh faces. 

Okay okay, my intention was to stay away from football at this particular moment, but I don’t think I can. There is an elephant in the room that needs addressed, and that is my Pittsburgh Steelers. Hindsight is 20/20, and in an effort to think positive I had them as a playoff team in my season preview. Sadly I do not think that is going to happen. QB Ben Roethlisberger is getting most of the blame, which isn’t totally fair. Yes, he is showing his age. At 39 years old he has certainly declined and definitely isn’t performing at the same level as contemporaries like Drew Brees (who still looked pretty decent last season at 42 before retiring), 37 year old MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, who is apparently a 44 year old unicorn. That being said, it must be noted that the Steelers are starting a very young offensive line that hasn’t jelled into the cohesive unit one would prefer. Big Ben was never fleet of foot, but once upon a time he had a unique escapability that allowed him to keep a play alive long enough to make something happen, and that skill has diminished significantly. All of this has affected the perception of RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick. It doesn’t help that former starting tailback James Conner has amassed 172 yards & 4 touchdowns in four games while being the Arizona Cardinals’ backup compared to Harris’ 185 yards & one TD. Do I think drafting Harris was a mistake?? I’m not ready to go there just yet, but I understand the opinion of some that the team should’ve used that pick on an elite lineman. At any rate, whether one chooses to blame Roethlisberger, Harris, head coach Mike Tomlin, or GM Kevin Colbert the fact is that the Steelers are probably facing their first losing season since 2003. I don’t believe that backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph & Dwayne Haskins are the answer, so even if Roethlisberger retires and a quarterback is taken in the draft we’re probably looking at another tough season next year. At this point my hope is that 2023 will find the team with a young QB we can believe in, an experienced offensive line, the core of the defense intact (mainly linebacker TJ Watt & safety Minkah Fitzpatrick), Najee Harris at full throttle, and the receiving corps of JuJu Schuster, Chase Claypool, & Diontae Johnson still in Black & Gold. Perhaps then we’ll have something to cheer about. 

NASCAR is also in the midst of its “playoffs”, a system I’m still not sold on. There are 12 drivers left in the chase for the championship, and honestly I don’t have any feelings one way or another about most of them. I have paid a bit more attention to racing than baseball the past several months, but that is damning with faint praise. Not only is Dale Earnhardt dead & Tony Stewart retired, leaving me with no one I’m really invested in cheering for, but Jimmy Johnson & Jeff Gordon are also retired, so there is a lack of villains to dislike outside of Kyle Busch.  There are five races left, and I suppose I’ll check out bits & pieces of them, but mostly my eyes will be glued to NFL Redzone every Sunday. 

2021 NFL Preview & Prognostications

Just a few days ago I was pretty excited about the return of football with capacity crowds and business as usual, but now The Sickness has grabbed headlines again and it seems as though that sense of normalcy could be in jeopardy. At the moment no sweeping proclamations have been made, but stay tuned. In the meantime we shall proceed.

The biggest news outside of Covid related chaos is the NFL’s expansion to a 17 game regular season. To achieve that teams played one less pre-season game, so the only people really affected are the fringe players trying to make a team’s roster. There are always old faces in new places, teams with new coaches, and overhyped rookies looking to become the next Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Randy Moss, or Lawrence Taylor, and we’ll have a much better idea in a few months how all of that might shake out. For now it’s all guesswork, but atleast it’s fun, and I am glad that I feel encouraged enough to bring back this preview after a one year hiatus. As always the team’s record from the previous season is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. And remember…no wagering. I am not a professional and most of the time I’m not very good at this.

North

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) 10-7

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) 10-7

Cleveland Browns (11-5) 9-8

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) 8-9

I think Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow is the real deal, and he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The Browns might be a bit of a surprise too, but I don’t believe it will be in a good way. Everyone assuming they are the presumed division champs will likely be wrong. Am I undervaluing the Ravens?? Perhaps. But every team can’t have a winning record and make the playoffs, and in a highly competitive division my vibe is that Baltimore will run into some problems and fall short of expectations (actually those problems have already began with the loss of starting tailback JK Dobbins to a torn ACL).

East

Buffalo Bills (13-3) 11-6

New York Jets (2-14) 8-9

New England Patriots (7-9) 8-9

Miami Dolphins (10-6) 7-10

The Bills have to be considered amongst the favorites in the conference. To be honest I thought QB Josh Allen was a bad choice as the 7th overall pick in the draft a few years ago, but he’s doing a pretty good job of proving me wrong thus far. There’s no reason to believe Buffalo won’t dominate a division that is a mess otherwise. I think the Jets may have finally found a decent quarterback, and they also added some other pieces on both sides of the ball that make me think they won’t be the dumpster fire we’ve come to expect. The Patriots aren’t the same team without Tom Brady, and I’m not as confident in their rookie signal caller Mac Jones as I am in New York’s rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The Dolphins might take a step back this season, but I hope they aren’t dumb enough to give up on second year QB Tua Tagavailoa. I believe they are building a solid team around him and good things are ahead, but it might take another year to gel.

West

Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) 11-6

Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) 10-7

Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) 7-10

Denver Broncos (5-11) 7-10

No one has been talking about the Chargers this offseason, and that might be a good thing. I always prefer to sneak up on people rather than have the pressure of lofty expectations. QB Justin Herbert acquitted himself quite well in his rookie campaign and there’s no reason to expect anything less this year. The Raiders & Broncos aren’t going to be any better than they were a year ago. I expect both teams to utilize multiple quarterbacks and need their defense to lead them to some victories. The stunner here is the KC Chiefs. Most talking heads will consider them legit Super Bowl contenders, but I think they’ll lose a dogfight for the division, sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard, and be watching the Super Bowl at home like the rest of us.

South

Tennessee Titans (11-5) 12-5

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 11-6

Houston Texans (4-12) 5-12

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) 5-12

The Colts acquired QB Carson Wentz from Philly in the offseason, but will that do them any good?? Wentz can’t seem to stay healthy, and at the moment it’s a tossup as to whether he’ll be ready to go Week 1. That leaves the door open for Tennessee. RB Derrick Henry is a stud & receiver Julio Jones came over from Atlanta a few months ago. He’s 32 years old, but with AJ Brown in the lineup Jones won’t have the pressure of being the top wideout. Replacing tight end Jonnu Smith won’t be easy, and that may be the chink in the armor of the Titans’ offense. I’m not sure what to make of the Titans’ defense, although they did add former Steelers’ linebacker Bud Dupree. Watch time of possession in their games. I think they’ll dominate that and win a bunch of low scoring grinders. Everyone has heard more than enough about the Deshaun Watson situation in Houston and there are still a ton of questions. Will they trade him?? Will he be suspended for a big chunk of the season?? If Tyrod Taylor takes most of the snaps I think the Texans are in for a long season. I don’t have much faith in the Jags either, although I think new head coach Urban Meyer will build around rookie QB Trevor Lawrence and have his team in the playoff conversation a year or two from now, but losing first round draft pick Travis Etienne in the preseason doesn’t bode well for this season.

Playoff Teams: Bengals, Bills, Chargers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Steelers

AFC Champion: Tennessee Titans

 

East

Washington Redskins (7-9) 10-7

Dallas Cowboys (6-10) 9-8

New York Giants (6-10) 7-10

Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) 5-12

I’m still not buying the Cowboys as legit Super Bowl contenders, although I believe QB Dak Prescott will be just fine returning from the ankle injury that torpedoed his season last year. I suppose the Giants could surprise me and be much better than they were a season ago, but my vibe is that they are just kind of treading water. It blows my mind to see how far the Eagles have fallen since winning the Super Bowl less than five years ago. Can Jalen Hurts make the leap from excellent college quarterback to solid NFL starter?? I think Philadelphia has a bunch of very good players on both sides of the ball, but they have lacked cohesion the past few seasons and I’m not sure that’s going to change. That leaves Washington as the favorite. Is their enough FitzMagic left in the 38 year old signal caller now playing for his ninth NFL team?? Having an elite defense led by Chase Young, Montez Sweat, & Landon Collins will certainly help.

West

Arizona Cardinals (8-8) 11-6

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) 10-7

Seattle Seahawks (12-4) 9-8

San Francisco 49ers (6-10) 7-10

This race is going to be fun to watch. Arizona & the Rams both made moves this summer, and whether or not they work out well one has to give them credit for not standing pat. Los Angeles thinks they have a better chance of advancing in the playoffs with 33 year old veteran QB Matthew Stafford than with 2016 top overall pick Jared Goff, who they shipped to Detroit. I think it might be a positive chain of events (eventually) for both guys. The Rams lost starting RB Cam Akers to injury but traded for former Patriot Sony Michel so I don’t believe the team will be negatively affected all that much. The defense, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, should be stout. Having said that, I am giving a slight edge to the Cardinals, who added receivers DeAndre Hopkins & AJ Green and have a defensive unit featuring newly acquired defensive end JJ Watt, first round LB Zaven Collins, and a very talented secondary. Seattle has won 10+ games seven out of the past eight years and Russell Wilson is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but I feel like they’ll drop off just enough to miss the playoffs. ‘Frisco needs to decide on a quarterback, and once they do that I think they can get back on track, but that might be a couple of years from now.

North

Minnesota Vikings (7-9) 9-8

Green Bay Packers (13-3) 9-8

Chicago Bears (8-8) 6-11

Detroit Lions (5-11) 1-16

Or as ESPN’s Chris Berman used to call it, The Norris Division. I am sure I don’t have to rehash the Packers/Aaron Rodgers drama that has dominated offseason news, but I think it might be just enough of a distraction to cost them the division. The Lions have stunk most of my nearly five decades on the planet and I don’t think that will suddenly change in 2021. Much like the 49ers the Bears have a quarterback conundrum. Conventional wisdom says the smart thing to do is start either journeyman Andy Dalton or former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles under center, but we all know the pressure from fans & the media will lead to rookie Justin Fields being handed the keys to the kingdom. That decision will likely pay off down the road, but it creates chaos right now. So why am I so high on the Vikings?? I don’t know to be honest. Kirk Cousins isn’t spectacular, but he can be a very good quarterback at times and he has solid weapons at receiver & running back. The secondary could be one of the best in the NFL, and guys like Danielle Hunter & Anthony Barr should disrupt opposing offenses often. It won’t be pretty, but I think the Norris goes to the Vikes by a nose.


South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) 13-4

New Orleans Saints (12-4) 8-9

Atlanta Falcons (4-12) 6-11

Carolina Panthers (5-11) 5-12

I’ve stopped waiting for Tom Brady to fall of a cliff. That whole regimen of 25 glasses of water per day, fruit smoothies, fish, and lots of veggies apparently works because he proved a year ago that he deserves much more credit for the Patriots “dynasty” than Bill Belichick. I don’t expect much to change this season, and it helps that the rest of the division will probably struggle. New Orleans has named Jameis Winston as their new starting QB after the retirement of Drew Brees, and Winston is going to have to prove himself before I start to believe in him. I don’t anticipate much improvement by the Falcons or Panthers. Carolina must stop opposing defenses from stacking the box to stifle premier RB Christian McCaffery, and for that to happen former Jets first rounder Sam Darnold will need to finally live up to his potential. Atlanta got rid of receiver Julio Jones and I’m just not impressed by what remains.

Playoff Teams: Redskins, Cardinals, Vikings, Bucs, Cowboys, Rams, Packers

NFC Champion: Green Bay Packers

 

Tennessee Titans 24

Green Bay Packers 19

Top Five Picks in 2022 NFL Draft

1 Detroit Lions

2 Houston Texans

3 Jacksonville Jaguars

4 Carolina Panthers

5 Philadelphia Eagles

 

Winning & Musing…Volume 3.19

Wow…it’s been awhile citizens!! Several months since the last edition of W&M anyway. For some reason your Humble Potentate of Profundity just hasn’t been very productive for awhile. I was in the hospital for quite a few weeks in early summer, but if anything that provided me even more time to write than unusual…which didn’t happen. The malaise started before that all occurred anyway, and has continued since I got back home in July. However, football season has provided me a bit of an endorphin boost so perhaps we’ve turned a corner.

 

 

 

 

I’ll give credit where credit is due…the New England Patriots did the right thing by releasing receiver Antonio Brown less than two weeks after signing him. Admittedly I am among those who felt like Brown ending up with the Patriots was a fiendish plot cooked up by he & his slimeball agent Drew Rosenhaus. After  weaseling his way out of Pittsburgh Brown simply didn’t like that he ended up in Oakland where the Raiders aren’t going to be playoff contenders anytime soon, so he forced his way into “freedom” and the Patriots picked him up in a heartbeat. I assumed Brown would put the batshit crazy act to bed & conform quickly to “The Patriot Way”, but with sexual misconduct allegations swirling around the team quickly cut bait. The truth is they don’t need him and will likely do just fine in his absence. But y’all want to hear something funny?? If New England wins yet another Super Bowl (ugh) Antonio Brown would get a ring even though he only played in one game, and Dan Marino might be found curled up inthe fetal position somewhere weeping gently.  The NFL should seriously consider revising those rules.

 

 

If Pirates’ ownership doesn’t fire the manager, general manager, coaching staff, & anyone else they can get rid of as well as trade every player possible from their miserable team this offseason then the entire Pittsburgh fanbase should unite in filing a class action lawsuit for malfeasance.

 

 

 

 

One of the most unpredictable factors when prognosticating games or entire seasons is injuries, and there have been some doozies lately. It already looked like my Steelers were in for a rough year, but now it could get exponentially worse after a season ending elbow injury to QB Ben Roethlisberger. I like young Mason Rudolph well enough, but it would have been nice to see him get another year or two of experience before taking over the starting job. Guys like Rudolph are oftentimes referred to as “the quarterback of the future”; well, for Pittsburgh the future is now. Can they still be a playoff team?? I don’t know. I’m the sort of person who expects the worst case scenario and enjoys being pleasantly surprised, so we’ll see. The news isn’t quite as devastating in New Orleans, as QB Drew Brees will only miss about half the season with a thumb injury. That means that  Brees will be back for any kind of playoff push, but it’ll be interesting to see what position the team is in upon his return. Back in the pre-season I predicted great things for the Saints, but that idea is looking shaky at best right now. I didn’t have high expectations for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but losing QB Nick Foles to a broken collarbone for half the season limits the team’s potential even further, despite the early success of rookie signal caller Gardner Minshew. The Foles injury combined with Andrew Luck’s retirement seemingly makes the AFC South the Houston Texans’ for the taking if they perform up to their capabilities. Then there is Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton, who is currently out with a foot injury. He may only miss one game, but I kind of get the feeling that he might be in & out of the lineup all season long, which would undoubtedly have a negative impact on the team’s playoff hopes.

 

 

Speaking of MLB…..

I honestly haven’t paid much attention all season, for various reasons, but the playoffs will begin soon so I suppose I’ll watch some of those games.  I have zero interest in a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, although I’m sure the TV folks and a large portion of baseball fans would love it. I could root for any AL contender except the Yankees, while the NL field is much less appetizing.  A Twins-Nationals or Indians-Brewers World Series would probably be considered disastrous for television ratings, but I think I’d actually prefer such an unexpected matchup.

Winning & Musing…Farewell Football

You might think it is a bit weird that we are wrapping up the football season before The Super Bowl even kicks off, and perhaps it is, but that’s one of the things we’ll talk about, as well as tying up a few other loose ends in the inaugural 2019 edition of W&M. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

As a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan I feel obligated to chime in on this Antonio Brown brouhaha. A couple of years ago Brown went on Facebook live from the locker room during a playoff postgame speech by head coach Mike Tomlin, and that was the first indicator to me that there might be an issue with his ego & attitude. Then, several months ago, a friend of mine suggested I check out a show on Animal Planet called Tanked, on which AB was a guest who was having a custom fish tank made for him. During that program I got a little more exposure to his arrogance. No one seems to be talking about the details of Brown’s falling out with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and I was always taught that there are three sides to every story…one side, the other side, & somewhere in the middle is the truth. Big Ben probably isn’t blameless. He has his faults, as do we all. However, given the preponderance of the evidence and the fact that Brown essentially quit on his team in the midst of a must-win scenario before the final game of the season I will not be heartbroken if the Steelers pull the trigger on a trade. Having said that, I hope that they are smart enough not to give the guy away for anything less than a first round pick, and it would be smart to send him to an NFC team. The vindictive side of me would like to see him go to a terrible team like Arizona, Tampa Bay, or Detroit, but that might be asking for too much. I’d be remiss to ignore Tomlin’s part in all of this drama. It is my personal belief that the Steelers have severely underachieved with him at the helm. That may seem a bit harsh since he has led the team to two Super Bowls and one championship, but most Steelers fans agree that the team should have won two or three additional Lombardi Trophies in the past several years. The Antonio Brown controversy has reinforced the general impression that the team lacks discipline and that Tomlin doesn’t run a tight ship. However, those calling for him to be fired are wasting their energy because that’s just not how the Steelers do things. They haven’t fired a head coach in a half century.

 

 

Zach edged me out in our college football Bowl-a-Palooza picks. He went 25-13, while I was 22-13.  I limped to the finish in our Pigskin Picks of Profundity, going 1-4 in the final week to finish the season 51-56. Conversely, Zach ended on a strong note, going 4-1 in the final week to end the season 47-61.

 

 

Congratulations to the Clemson Tigers for winning their second national championship in three years. I must confess that I watched very little of the title game because the Alabama Crimson Tide began to bore me to tears quite awhile ago, so I’m not sad at all that Clemson beat the snot out of ‘Bama by four touchdowns.

 

 

I am cautiously optimistic about new West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown. After a few successful seasons at Troy (a 1-AA school that plays in the Sun Belt Conference) Brown comes to Morgantown after the sudden departure of former coach Dana Holgorsen. I can’t blame Holgorsen for bolting. Sure, Houston isn’t in a “Power 5” conference…but they will be, and probably sooner rather than later. Since the school is situated in the fourth largest city in America and the state of Texas is one of the top recruiting areas for elite athletes one must assume that the Cougars are a sleeping giant. There is also the fact that Holgorsen never seemed to feel totally comfortable in the Mountain State. He just never really fit in here, unlike beloved former coach Don Nehlen, who came to West Virginia in 1980 from Ohio and never left, even after he retired in 2000. Holgorsen will undoubtedly be happier in Houston and likely lead his team to great success. Meanwhile, Brown has made a good first impression and seems to quickly be fitting in just fine. Will that translate to winning on the field?? Who knows?? The truth is that no matter who the coach is the Mountaineers can probably expect to average 7 or 8 wins per season and play in a run-of-the-mill bowl game each December, but perhaps every once in awhile the stars will align, the dominos will all fall just right, and they could sneak into a Big 12 title game & maybe even the playoff. They’ve been that good maybe about a half dozen times in my 40+ years on the planet, so there’s always hope.

 

 

I’m not going to analyze my NFL Preview in detail. By now we all know I said a lot of crazy things that turned out to be completely wrong. In the NFC I only predicted 2 of the 6 playoff teams correctly, while I did a little better in the AFC, getting 4 out of 6 right. I placed way too much faith in my Steelers. Not only did they not get to The Super Bowl…they didn’t even make it to the playoffs. I nailed two of the Top 5 picks in this spring’s NFL Draft (Tampa & Arizona), and the 6-10 Denver Broncos & Cincinnati Bengals fell to 10th & 11th in the draft order only because so many other teams were even more inept, so I’m at peace with those choices. I had the Seattle Seahawks in that bottom five, but they actually went 10-6 and made the playoffs. I assume most pundits thought the San Francisco 49ers would be much better than 4-12 with the 2nd overall draft pick, but injuries destroyed their season. I really thought the Oakland Raiders & NY Jets would be rather decent this season, but they landed high draft choices as well.

 

 

As far as The Super Bowl goes, I just can’t get excited about it at all. I make no secret of my longstanding hatred of the New England Patriots, so cheering on the Los Angeles Rams would seem like a no-brainer. However, I’m not all that enthusiastic about the Rams because let’s be honest…they really shouldn’t be in the game. I don’t want to go off on a loquacious rant about officiating, but the blown call that cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to The Super Bowl was quite possibly one of the most egregious mistakes I’ve ever seen in any sport. It is inexcusable incompetence and the entire crew should be fired. The NFL needs to have some sort of mechanism in place to prevent or atleast correct such critical errors, even if it means almost total eradication of human judgment. Having said that, I suppose I will watch atleast some of “The Big Game” and pull for the Rams.

2016 NFL Preview & Prognostications

nflLooking back at last year’s preview I had no idea what the anger I was feeling at the time meant. Less than three months later I would find out, and I ended up spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year’s in the hospital. Thankfully I am feeling much better now and am very excited to see the dawn of a new football season. Much like the human body the NFL is a delicate ecosystem, wherein a coaching change, an important draft pick or two, suspensions, & injuries can completely alter the destiny of a team. As usual there have been plenty of those things occur in the offseason, and now we must sort thru all of it to calculate what may be in store in the coming months. Each team’s 2015 record is noted in parentheses, followed by what I am predicting they’ll do this season. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

AFC

East

New England Patriots

(12-4) 11-5

New York Jets

(10-6) 8-8

Miami Dolphins

(6-10) 7-9

Buffalo Bills

(8-8) 6-10

Can you believe a year later we are STILL talking about DeflateGate?? After putting up a valiant yet misguided fight Tom Brady’s four game New_England_Patriots_Helmetsuspension is finally going to happen, but will it have that much of a negative impact?? Sadly I don’t believe it will. The Jets surprised a lot of people with their success last season, but their QB situation is as muddy as ever. The Dolphins have a new head coach, and though the change may pay dividends in the future I don’t think we’ll see an immediate improvement. The Bills finally settled on Tyrod Taylor as their signal caller last year and he’s the man for the foreseeable future. I just don’t happen to think that is a good thing.

 

 

West

Kansas City Chiefs

(11-5) 10-6

Oakland Raiders

(7-9) 9-7

Denver Broncos

(12-4) 9-7

San Diego Chargers

(4-12) 5-11

I wonder if a defending Super Bowl Champion has ever before lost both their starting QB and the backup?? That is exactly what the Broncos are facing kc-chiefs-logowith Peyton Manning’s retirement and Brock Osweiler’s departure in free agency. For awhile it looked like Mark Sanchez would be the man to bridge the gap until 1st Round pick Paxton Lynch becomes acclimated to the NFL, but Sanchez is…well…he’s Mark Sanchez…so he lost the job to unheralded second year man Trevor Siemien. These events have opened the door for the solid yet unspectacular Chiefs and the up n’ coming Raiders to make a playoff run. The Broncos’ defense will still be great, enough to keep them in the post-season conversation until the bitter end. The hapless Chargers did absolutely zero to improve on last year’s catastrophe, which is a shame because Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback and deserves better.

 

 

North

Pittsburgh Steelers

(10-6) 11-5

Cincinnati Bengals

(12-4) 10-6

Baltimore Ravens

(5-11) 8-8

Cleveland Browns

(3-13) 5-11

I’m not nearly as sold as others on the Super Bowl worthiness of my Steelers, but I do believe they’ll win the division. We’ll see if their secondary…an diamond-steelersachille’s heel now for several years…can gel into something good. The Bengals are a solid playoff contender as long as QB Andy Dalton remains healthy. I expect the Ravens to bounce back a bit, but they’re not anywhere near the intimidating force they were a few years ago. The Browns keep trying to turn things arond but just can’t seem to get much right. Can RGIII experience a career renaissance in Cleveland?? Ehhhh…maybe…but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

 

South

Indianapolis Colts

(8-8) 10-6

Houston Texans

(9-7) 10-6

Jacksonville Jaguars

(5-11) 8-8

Tennessee Titans

(3-13) 7-9

I believe last season to be an anomaly that the Colts won’t repeat, assuming Andrew Luck remains healthy, which of course was the problem in 2015. I Indianapolis_Colts_Helmetlike the acquisitions of QB Brock Osweiler & RB Lamar Miller by the Texans. My only question is the health of all-world defensive end JJ Watt, who underwent offseason back surgery. He is allegedly on track to begin the season in the starting lineup, but who knows what may happen there. The Jags and Titans are improving slowly. As Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota enters his second season he has a solid running game to lean on, but his receiving corps isn’t going to scare anyone. Jacksonville is probably a year or two away from making the necessary leap, but they are showing positive signs.

 

 

Playoff Teams:        New England, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Houston, Cincinnati

AFC Championship:           Pittsburgh vs. Kansas City

 

 

 

NFC

East

Washington Redskins

(9-7) 9-7

Dallas Cowboys

(4-12) 8-8

New York Giants

(6-10) 8-8

Philadelphia Eagles

(7-9) 8-8

Tony Romo’s recent injury will likely cost the Cowboys a playoff spot, even if he is only out for half the season. I know everyone has fallen in deep like Washington_Redskins_logowith Dak Prescott, but he is still just a rookie. The Giants finally have a new head coach after Tom Coughlin limped to the finish line, but to me that isn’t as big of an issue as the fact that I just don’t care for QB Eli Manning or their running game. The Eagles also have a new head coach, and their quarterback situation is uninspiring at best, with injury prone Sam Bradford looking to hold off the challenge of rookie Carson Wentz. That leaves the Redskins, who have a solid quarterback surrounded by talented weapons and a decent offensive line. The defense is intriguing as well, with the addition of cornerback Josh Norman.

 

 

West

Arizona Cardinals

(13-3) 11-5

Seattle Seahawks

(10-6) 11-5

San Francisco 49ers

(5-11) 6-10

Los Angeles Rams

(7-9) 3-13

Hey, Chip Kelly is back!! Well okay…I suppose he never really left, he’s just coaching in a different place. I see no reason to expect the Cards or the nflarizonacardinalsSeahawks to decline at all. Oh sure RB Marshawn Lynch is retired, but Seattle still has a couple of good running backs and they drafted a couple of rookies who might show us something. It’ll be a committee approach, but that’s alright unless you’re a fantasy owner. The Rams have made the long awaited move back to Los Angeles, and they begin the new era with #1 overall pick Jared Goff under center. There will be growing pains, and I don’t expect the team to have much success right now, but watch out in a few years. Kelly is now the head coach for the 49ers, but he doesn’t have a great quarterback. Maybe next year.

 

 

North

Green Bay Packers

(10-6) 11-5

Minnesota Vikings

(11-5) 8-8

Chicago Bears

(6-10) 5-11

Detroit Lions

(7-9) 4-12

The Minnesota Vikings were my original choice to take the division, but a season ending knee injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater has changed Green_Bay_Packers_Helmeteverything. It looks like the Packers will be back in the familiar position of cruising into the playoffs. The Lions will have to adjust to life without receiver Calvin Johnson, and the Bears continue to pretend that Jay Cutler is a legitimate NFL quarterback. That spells doom for both teams.

 

 

South

Carolina Panthers

(15-1) 12-4

New Orleans Saints

(7-9) 9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(6-10) 8-8

Atlanta Falcons

(8-8) 6-10

I am far too lazy to do research and find statistics, but we all know that Super Bowl losers have a pattern of regressing the carolina_panthers_logo-14336following season. I don’t think that’ll happen to Carolina though. Drew Brees has got to be seeing the end of his tremendous career inching closer & closer. I think he’ll have his eye on trying to make the playoffs where anything can happen. I will begrudgingly admit that Jameis Winston had a solid rookie season, meaning the outlook is improving for the Bucs, but I don’t think they’re there just yet. The Falcons look good on paper, but only 18 wins in the past three seasons indicate that appearances can be deceiving.

 

 

Playoff Teams:        Washington, Arizona, Green Bay, Carolina, Seattle, New Orleans

NFC Championship:           Arizona vs. Carolina

 

 

SuperBowl51logo

Arizona Cardinals   38

Kansas City Chiefs 27

 

 

Top 5 Picks in 2017 Draft

1          Los Angeles Rams

2          Detroit Lions

3          Chicago Bears

4          San Diego Chargers

5          Cleveland Browns

Superfluous 7 – Ways To Fix The Pittsburgh Steelers

This weekend fans across the nation of teams like the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and five others will sit down in front of their big ol’ flat screen TVs or gather with friends & fellow fans at a local watering hole or wings eatery and cheer on their favorites as they compete in the conference semifinals of the NFL playoffs. As a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers I steelwill pay casual attention to the games but spend the vast majority of my time reading a book or watching movies. This is unacceptable. However, since I am a solutions oriented type of guy I have decided to offer a fan’s perspective on what the folks in the Steelers front office need to do so that this time next year…okay, maybe the year after next if I am being perfectly honest…I may once again enjoy the playoffs and look forward to my Steelers making a legitimate run at a 7th Vince Lombardi Trophy. Therefore, it is with all due respect to an organization that has dominated the NFL for most of the past four decades and won more Super Bowls than anyone else that I humbly present…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Latrobe, PA…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Ways To Fix The Pittsburgh Steelers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7       A Legit #1 RB

When people talk about the Steelers the conversation traditionally goes in one of two directions…the awesome defense or the strong running game. The Steelers have always been primarily a running team until the past few years. Even when Swann & Stallworth were catching balls from Bradshaw in the late 70’s & early 80’s there was still the specter of Franco Harris & Rocky Bleier, who combined for 1500 yards or so for several years. More recently there was The Bus Jerome Bettis, who ran for over Franco-Harris-reinstated-as-charity-chariman-TMME7L9-x-large1000 yards annually from 1996 to 2001 until injuries and time share situations decreased his role. There have also been a whole host of guys that maybe didn’t make a long term impact but were pretty darn good for a short time…Bam Morris, Frank Pollard, Willie Parker, Merrill Hoge, Barry Foster. Does current starting RB Rashard Mendenhall measure up to Franco, Rocky, & The Bus?? Hell no. Is he as good as those second tier guys?? Maybe, which is why I am not ranking this as a primary need…yet. But since BettisMendenhall was a 1st round draft pick there is a heightened level of expectation. Since beginning his NFL career in 2008 Mendenhall has only exceeded 1000 yards twice, and in 2012 was hampered by injuries. Backup Isaac Redman is exactly that…a backup, and it became clear this past season that he cannot be counted on to carry the load. I do not think the Steelers should jump thru hoops or make any crazy trades to snag a back, but if the opportunity presents itself I would not be heartbroken to see Mendenhall shown the door and someone new be given the chance to tote the rock.

 

 

6       Backup QB

It is not unusual to see an NFL team floundering like water deprived fish on a warm sidewalk when roethlisberger-out-browns-jkjpg-7dab2c5a751ea52b1their starting quarterback goes down. But most teams have gotten the message that in the modern NFL a decent backup QB is essential. The Steelers brass is far from clueless and until now have had the situation covered, but it has become obvious that this has evolved into an area of need. 38 year old Charlie Batch is believed to be retiring, and Byron Leftwich is an injury waiting to happen. And the elephant in the room is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is now 30 years old and, because of his freewheeling style of play and the fact that a porous & injury prone offensive line has left him hung out to dry far too much in the past few seasons, usually misses atleast a game or two every year due to injury. At the very least a reliable veteran backup is needed that might be able to lead the team to a couple of victories now & then, and it may not be a horrible idea to groom a youngster to take the helm in 3 or 4 years. Kirk Cousins anyone??

 

 

5       Faster Linebackers

Lawrence Timmons & Lamarr Woodley are both fairly young players, but the two had a total of just harrison-sack10 sacks between them in 2012. That has to improve. James Harrison & Larry Foote are both in their 30’s and have obviously lost a step, The jury is still out on Jason Worilds (although it doesn’t feel to me like he’ll ever become anything more than a complimentary player) as well as youngsters Stevenson Sylvester & Sean Spence. It seems likely that the team will need to add atleast one, maybe two linebackers. As a Steelers fan it is odd…and a little disconcerting…when a discussion of the best linebackers in the NFL includes names like Patrick Willis, Clay Matthews, Terrell Suggs, and DeMarcus Ware with nary a Steeler in sight. This must change. Would Jarvis Jones or Manti Te’o look good in black & gold?? Maybe.

 

 

4       Younger Defensive Line

Brett Keisel & Casey Hampton are in their mid-30’s and likely finished. Will Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, & Steve McClendon step up and become a new Steel Curtain for the 21st century?? It is possible. However, it is likely that one or two additional pieces are needed. Alameda Ta’amu was 91506_feature_mediumsupposed to be Hampton’s replacement, but he was cut then re-signed to the practice squad in the wake of a felony arrest for drunk driving, aggravated assault, & fleeing law enforcement last autumn. I suppose Ta’amu could potentially still evolve into the second coming of William “Refrigerator” Perry, but one can fairly assume that he is on a v-e-r-y tight leash and will have to work extremely hard to cajole himself into the lineup. The Steelers front office has always had the knack for knowing when to cut veterans loose who had nothing left in the tank while simultaneously having their replacements ready & able to step into the spotlight, but one has gotten the feeling over the past couple of years that they may have held onto a couple of these guys a bit too long and haven’t been as prudent as usual in laying out a succession plan.

 

 

3       Depth on the O-Line

I must give proper credit where it is due. Last year the Steelers drafted guard David DeCastro in the 1st round and tackle Mike Adams in the 2nd, so it isn’t as if they have not addressed the problem. And it is no one’s fault that a pre-season knee injury derailed most of DeCastro’s rookie campaign. Steelers-offensive-linemenHowever, there is still work to be done. Various injuries plagued the offensive line throughout 2012, exposing a few players as either injury prone or just not worth the effort. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made about who to keep around and who to cut loose. Obviously salary cap issues will play a significant part in these decisions as well. Since I am far too indolent to do the necessary research about such mundane issues as salaries & contracts, I’ll just go with the eye test. I’d jettison guards Willie Colon & Ramon Foster, as well as tackle Max Starks. That means drafting atleast one or two offensive linemen again as well as signing a couple in free agency. It might make for a rough 2013, but since that is probably going to occur anyway they may as well look ahead to having a solid line ready for the following season.

 

 

2       Offensive Coordinator

It was clear from the very beginning that Todd Haley and QB Ben Roethlisberger weren’t on the same page. And even though head coach Mike Tomlin did a fine job of keeping egos in check most of the season that discord never completely disappeared. At this stage of his career I think Big Ben has earned a certain amount of influence in the direction of the offense. I didn’t have a problem with Haley’s ideas about getting back to traditional Steelers smashmouth football, but the fact is that when you have a quarterback with the unique skill set of Roethlisberger, a group of pedestrian & injury hi-res-6587156_crop_exactprone running backs, an average at best & also injury prone offensive line, and a fine receiving corps like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, & TE Heath Miller you dance with the one who got you to the soiree. It is my understanding that Haley is being interviewed for some of the various head coaching & offensive coordinator positions available throughout the NFL, and I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he took off for greener pastures. Maybe Norv Turner would like to recapture some of his offensive coordinator mojo by working for a fine organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers & with another future Hall of Fame QB like Roetlisberger. And even if Turner is a pipe dream I still think there’s got to be a better answer than Todd Haley. Heck, I’d even welcome Mike Mularkey back into the fold.

 

 

1       A Shutdown Corner

I’ve been saying this for it seems like forever. I must again give due credit though. Kudos to both Keenan Lewis & Cortez Allen for stepping up in 2012 and being decent enough corners. Between them and Ike Taylor things weren’t horrible this past season, but they can & should significantly improve. The Steelers only forced 1.3 turnovers/game, which ranks near the bottom of the league. Theyaaa intercepted 14 balls…far less than 19-21 range where the league leaders reside. The defense accounted for 37 sacks, which puts them in the middle of the rankings for that category, not near the top where they should be. This obviously has more to do with not getting enough pressure on the opposing QB, but I also think it means that the pass coverage needs to be better. Look, I know that some people might look at this and say “Dude…the Steelers statistically had the top defense in the league in 2012…what are you complaining about??”. I get that. But one thing that no one seems to ever account for is the fact that the Steelers offense always ranks near the top in time of possession, which means that the defense is on the field less. I believe that helps to mask certain issues. Is it a bad defense?? Of course not. Are these cornerbacks that atrocious?? Not really. But if the opportunity arises to draft Dee Milliner from the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, or sign a free agent like Leodis McKelvin or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie then I think it would behoove the suits in The ‘Burgh to do so.

 

 

 

Super Bowl XLV (That’s 45 For Those In Mingo County)

What a weird Super Bowl it’s been so far. Strange. Odd. Peculiar.

And we’re still 2 days away from the actual game.

I am not a big fan of the two week build-up to the Super Bowl. The hype, the over analysis, the “human interest” stories to fill time…it’s just a bit too much, even for die hard football fans. However, I must admit to having found the past couple of weeks…shockingly…not all that obnoxious.

If you are looking for an objective examination of the world’s biggest football game you are in the wrong place. I have been a hardcore Pittsburgh Steelers partisan for over 30 years. Come this Sunday I will be sitting in front of a TV somewhere intently watching every snap of the ball. If the Steelers win I will be ecstatic, if they lose…not so much. But before we get to the final result or even kickoff it must be said that while the two weeks of hoopla hasn’t been as tedious as one might normally expect that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been objectionable in a way that was somewhat unexpected.

Let’s look at some facts & figures. Team A finished the season with a 12-4 record, won their division, had the #2 defense in football, won 2 out of the past 5 Super Bowls, has almost 30 players with Super Bowl experience, and dominated their opponent in the conference title game before letting up a little and allowing the final score to become closer than it should have been. Team B went 10-6, did not win their division, has the #5 ranked defense, barely won the conference championship game against an opponent forced to use a 3rd string quarterback, and has a grand total of two players who have played in a Super Bowl. Would it surprise any knowledgeable fan that Team B is favored to win the game?? It sure as hell shocked me.

Team A, of course, = the Steelers, while Team B is the Packers. Are the Packers a good football team?? Obviously. But why in the world are they the favorite?? And why are they getting so much love from an overwhelming majority of talking heads and media types?? The numbers simply don’t back up what The Hype Machine is trying to sell. So then the question becomes “What is the agenda??” Well, if I may borrow a phrase, I think what we have here is a little social concern. The media and the NFL are very desirous that a certain quarterback NOT do well.

I am not here to defend Ben Roethlisberger or excuse him from any past mistakes. However, I find it heinously offensive that there has been an obvious effort, one in which I believe the suits in the NFL office and their friends at ESPN and other outlets of sports “journalism” have both been complicit, to marginalize Roethlisberger specifically and to a lesser extent his team in general. I have never seen a recent two time Super Bowl champion treated with such disrespect in my life. Would the New England Patriots have been underdogs against Green Bay?? How about the New York Jets?? The Baltimore Ravens?? No, no, and no. But you know what those three teams have in common?? None of them are representing the AFC in the Super Bowl…the Pittsburgh Steelers are. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can’t stand it. Neither can ESPN or Fox because they don’t want to alienate the female or metrosexual demographic by saying positive things about Ben Roethisberger. The solution has been a hard sell in which fans have been duped into believing that the Green Bay Packers are some sort of combination of the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1972 Miami Dolphins with a little of the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf thrown in for good measure. Sadly it is a storyline that many are eating up. At first I was even a little concerned. The Steelers’ defensive backfield has needed an upgrade for years and it seems plausible that a pass oriented team could torch their average at best cornerbacks. On top of that their starting center will not play in the game leaving a backup to deal with Green Bay’s huge nose tackle. These things had me worried. But then I woke up.

One point of comparison that has been used for several days is a 2009 matchup between these same two teams in the regular season. It is difficult to rely on such evidence because so much changes in the NFL every year. Teams go from worst to first, from contenders to pretenders almost literally overnight. Coaches come and go. Free agents change teams, new players rise up, and once great players lose their mojo. However, Green Bay and Pittsburgh aren’t all that different than a year ago, so that game is interesting to examine. The Steelers defeated the Packers 37-36 in a shootout that likely made Vince Lombardi and Chuck Noll roll over in their graves (except for the fact that Coach Noll isn’t dead yet). But take a closer look. First of all, Pittsburgh was up 24-14 going into the 4th quarter before Green Bay exploded for 22 points. Secondly, Pittsburgh’s best player, safety Troy Polamalu did not play in that game. A safety isn’t normally much of a difference maker, but over the past two years the Steelers have won 80% of the games Polamalu has participated while losing 60% of the games in which he was on the sideline. Also, Green Bay will not have the services of tight end Jermichael Finley in the Super Bowl. Finley, who has been out for most of this season with a knee injury, had 9 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown in that game. A real effort has been made this week to put Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers on the same lofty pedestal as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the truth is that Big Ben outgunned Rodgers in that previous head to head tilt. I’ve even seen Rodgers referred to as “a football god”, which made me want to concurrently laugh and puke. Two weeks ago I really liked the Green Bay Packers, but I’ll be darned if all this unwarranted praise isn’t tempting me to loathe them on a Patriots/Cowboys/Ravens level.

The weather must be mentioned as well. While it will not factor into the game at all since the Cowboys’ billion dollar mega-stadium has a retractable roof that will be closed, it certainly adds to the weirdness factor. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has been besieged with snow and ice, and the temperatures this past week have been colder there than in Pittsburgh or Green Bay, poster cities for wintry weather. Algore blames global warming.

So, it seems that most are expecting another high scoring shootout in which neither team runs the ball effectively and Aaron Rodgers is anointed as the next Joe Montana in a ritualistic ceremony presided over by Jesus Christ, Dan Marino, Oprah, and Elvis while poor Ben Roethlisberger curls up in a fetal position at the 50 yard line cursing the day he ever boozed it up with college girls. But wait just a doggone minute. Not so fast my friends.

29 of the previous 44 Super Bowls have been won by 10 or more points. My vibe is that is where we are headed. Most are forecasting a tight game decided in the last minute or even in overtime by 3 or fewer points, but I disagree. I concur that neither team will mount much of a rushing attack and will not be surprised if neither runs for 100 yards, but I do look for time of possession to be important. I think there will be atleast 3 turnovers by the loser, with one of those being a Pick 6 for the defense. I believe special teams and field position will play a key role, but field goals won’t be a deciding factor. Aaron Rodgers is a very good quarterback but these media types need to get up off their knees and quit fellatiating him because President Obama is getting jealous. I am not at all excited about the halftime show featuring The Black-eyed Peas, but am hopeful that Christina Aguilera will do a nice job with the national anthem. Ample cleavage would be a bonus. I am sure there will be some amusing commercials but most of them will range from forgettable to horrendous, although I am excited to see the trailers for Captain America and Thor. At the end of the day this game is all about the X Factor, the intangibles, the undefinable je ne sais quoi. And while Green Bay has a little of that, at the end of the day the Pittsburgh Steelers have more of it. It will be a huge pleasure to see that assclown Commissioner Goodell be forced to hand Ben Roethlisberger the Super Bowl MVP award after the Steelers win the game 34-13. That’s my story, your mileage may vary.

 

 

 

The Deadly Sins of Tiger, Lebron, & Big Ben

For those who may not be familiar with the concept of The Seven Deadly Sins…or maybe you just need a quick refresher…they are pride, wrath, greed, envy, sloth, lust, and gluttony. My understanding is that Catholicism categorizes sin into venial (minor) sin and capital (mortal) sin. Needless to say The Seven Deadly Sins would be considered the latter, more serious variety. I myself am Methodist and believe that sin is sin, that there is no differentiation. However, my purpose here is not to dive into a lively debate on theology, but rather to use The Seven Deadly Sins as a jumping off point to discuss some subject matter in the world of sports that I have been avoiding for a significant period of time. I feel like the time is finally right to address these issues. I said from the very beginning in my introduction to this website that I did not particularly care for the police blotter aspect of sports in 21st Century America, something I call The O.J. Effect. However, I also said that I would not hesitate to write about such topics when they arose.

Three names have dominated our sports pages, websites, and talk shows for the past several months. It is not totally out of the ordinary that they would be in the headlines on ESPN or sports talk radio, but unfortunately everyone has been talking not about their elite skill level or successful endeavors within their respective sports, but focusing on the tabloid fodder that their personal lives have become. Now I have never been one to put athletes on a pedestal. I respect their talent and enjoy watching the games, but even as a rabid fan I feel like I have always been able to keep sports in proper perspective and not succumb to silly hero-worship. But there is no denying that professional athletes are in the spotlight, that children look up to them, and that their public personas do carry a certain influence. That is what has made the fall from grace of these three men so disappointing. The three individuals I am speaking of are, of course, Tiger Woods, Lebron James, and Ben Roethlisberger. I do not know exactly why I have waited until now to express my opinions on the storms they have so publicly battled, but the time has now arrived to do just that.

Tiger Woods has long been considered the best golfer in the world, and it has been thought a foregone conclusion that someday he will break the great Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. However, all of that began falling apart last November, as slowly but surely it began to be revealed that Tiger had cheated on his wife with over a dozen women. Obviously his number one vice is lust, with gluttony (because cheating on your wife with 14 women is undoubtedly excessive) not far behind. Why did he sleep with all those women?? Who knows really, but I assume there were several reasons, the foremost being simply that he could. He is rich, famous, and powerful. Women tend to throw themselves at such men. That’s just human nature. It was Tiger Woods’ responsibility to honor his marriage vows and be faithful to his wife. He chose to break those vows over and over and over again. Of course he will ultimately face judgment from the one true God, and that is something about which I cannot and will not make comment. But he is already paying for his lust in the here & now. His marriage is over. And while I am sure both he and his ex-wife will do their best to be good parents, there is no denying that their divorce will have a damaging effect on the children, especially someday when they are old enough to understand why Mom and Dad are no longer together. He has suffered professionally as well, having not come close to winning a tournament since returning from a brief hiatus. As an avid golf fan I always cheered for Tiger Woods. Though I almost always gravitate toward the underdog, for some reason I have enjoyed seeing Woods be the dominating force that he is, mowing down the competition without breaking a sweat. That is all over now. I am smart enough to know that many athletes are not great human beings and do a lot of things wrong, but golf is not a team sport, so the individual and his shortcomings are more exposed to the world. Tiger Woods is under a brighter spotlight than just about anyone else, so his fall from grace has been very public and quite sad. I know that there are many that were glad to see him return to the links and immediately began cheering for him to once again destroy any opponents standing between him and victory. But personally when I look at Tiger Woods now all I see is a man who couldn’t keep it in his pants, a man who cheated on his wife numerous times, and a man whose biggest regret is not that infidelity but the fact that he got caught.

Speaking of getting caught, let’s talk about Ben Roethlisberger, the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a tough one for me because I am a huge Steeler fan and have been for over 30 years. I am a team guy so I don’t really get into any one player over another, and on the rare occasion that I do develop a particular attachment it is usually to a lesser known, under the radar type whose contribution is really only appreciated by true fans who are paying attention and not the pretty boy media darlings. But Big Ben is the quarterback of my favorite team so of course I have always liked him. He has repeatedly shown poor judgment and a skosh of immaturity off the field, but on the field he has led the team to two Super Bowl victories in the past few years so it’s been all good. However, this past spring he was accused of raping a young lady in a bar in Georgia. It isn’t the first time he has been accused of sexual misconduct, and the situation was compounded by the seriousness of the charge. Also not helpful to Roethlisberger was that fact that this was a college bar and the alleged victim was an 18-year-old girl. He is a 27-year-old multimillionaire so of course folks are going to wonder why he’s hanging with the barely legal crowd. At first I was a Big Ben apologist. I figured that this was a greedy harlot with dollar signs in her eyes, seizing an opportunity to cash in by accusing one of the world’s most famous athletes…and a man who had been previously accused of nefarious actions by a woman…of one of the most heinous crimes in all of criminality. But as various sordid details began to emerge a different picture began to be drawn in my heart and mind. Very few people will ever know what really happened in that barroom lavatory and the authorities decided there was not enough solid evidence to pursue a conviction. However, I am a person who believes that where there is smoke there is fire. Did Ben Roethlisberger rape a woman?? Maybe, maybe not. But he is at the very least guilty of pride. He thought he could do whatever he wanted, have whoever and whatever he wanted, because he is famous, rich, and successful. He continues to pursue a life of debauchery long after most men have grown up and moved on. The fact that he purposely chose to engage in these activities at a place where the clientele is more apt to be impressionable and less inclined to have the wherewithal to stand up to him reeks of a sinister thought process that I cannot help but dislike immensely. I believe in freedom, and Big Ben can drink what he likes, go to whatever club he chooses, and spend his idle time in any way that tickles his fancy. But there is a line and it seems likely that he crossed it in some form or fashion. Will I continue to support my Steelers?? Sure. Will I cheer for Ben Roethlisberger?? Yes. But more than anything he will be in my prayers. He is a young man. Most of the mistakes he has made have been small ones that maturity should cure. The one huge mistake he was accused of is one that only he and his accuser know he either did or didn’t make. If he did commit that heinous act and was fortunate enough to get away with it I hope he learns from it, that he decides to embrace his many blessings and put away his childish ways and self-indulgent lifestyle.

And finally, self-indulgence seems like a good way to segue into a discussion of Lebron James. Basketball, specifically professional basketball, has always been far behind football and baseball in my own personal sports hierarchy. Unlike football, baseball, college basketball, and even hockey, Nascar, and golf, I have never had a particular rooting interest in the NBA. The league has long been one that markets individual stars at the expense of teams, so I grew up liking Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan while disliking tremendously, for no apparent reason, Larry Bird. Since the retirement of Jordan I haven’t really found anyone that really caught my attention. Lebron James had the potential to be that player, but not now. Has Lebron sexually assaulted anyone or committed adultery?? No, nothing that serious. But on some level, in a very odd way understandable only to die-hard sports fans, the crimes of Lebron James are worse. One can look at Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger and say that their private lives are their own business and that fans have no right to judge…and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But the recent events surrounding “King” James have everything to do with his sport on the court. In leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking his talents to South Beach” (aka the Miami Heat) he broke the hearts of an entire city and significantly altered the landscape of the entire league. Let me make one thing clear…Lebron James was a free agent and was completely within his rights to change teams and accept the best offer, both monetarily and in terms of the potential for success. The problem is not what he did, but how he did it. James is guilty of greed and envy. He was so greedy in his quest for championships and the need to “build his brand”, and he was so envious of what other players, like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and new teammate Dwayne Wade already had…rings on their finger…that he was willing to do anything to get a ring of his own, including stomping on the hearts of the fans in his hometown. I always liked Lebron. In a league full of semi-literate thugs he has always seemed even-tempered, well-mannered, and soft-spoken. But I am a firm believer in the fact that there is a way to handle your business and a way not to handle your business. You want to leave a job?? Fine…put in a two-week notice. You want to break up with your significant other?? Okay…but do it face to face and not with a letter, e-mail, or over the phone. Have your disagreements and arguments, but discuss your issues like an adult and if you are wrong apologize. I think Lebron James has known for months that he was leaving Cleveland. He wanted to go somewhere sexier, maximize his profit margin, and have the best opportunity to win a title. Everyone with a brain has always known that those things, while not impossible, are much more difficult to attain in Cleveland than in bigger cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, and Boston. I will always espouse the opinion that at the very least Lebron knew immediately after losing the last game of a playoff series to the Celtics that he was going elsewhere. The lasting image of that game for me is him walking down the tunnel toward the locker room, dejected, removing his Cavaliers jersey. No one can convince me that his mind was not made up at that very moment. Maybe he didn’t know exactly where he would land, but he knew he wasn’t returning to Cleveland. So why then did Lebron James engage the lapdog media in a months long dog & pony show in which he made team after team grovel and kiss his ass in an effort to get him to sign a contract?? Why were the Cleveland Cavaliers lead to believe that they had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning that battle royale?? Why did a decision that is usually made behind closed doors and then dutifully reported on ESPN or your local sportscast turn into an hour-long television special that was the height of self-aggrandizement?? It was ridiculous, a complete joke of colossal proportions. It says a lot that I will be cheering for Ben Roethlisberger this fall despite the crime he was accused of and the errant lifestyle he leads, that I may not cheer for Tiger Woods but that I will not actively cheer against him and may even crack a slight smile when he returns to form and wins his next major, but I will never…ever…ever cheer for the Miami Heat as long as Lebron James is on their roster and will actively and fervently hope that they lose each and every time they step on the court. And I’m not even a Cavaliers fan. Your mileage may vary.