Arizona Cardinals

Despite New Hall of Fame Status, Warner Still Criminally Underrated

When people debate the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history the same names always come up. Brady, Montana, Elway and Peyton Manning. The next series of names is usually led by Favre and Marino. Aaron Rodgers is starting to get thrown in there as well.

There is one name that does not come up nearly as much as it should, newly minted Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.

The mere fact that Hall of Famer now precedes his name means there are plenty of folks out there who think Warner was great. Even so, few people realize how great he was.

Context:

            The beginnings of Warner’s journey are well documented. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he went from grocery store stock boy to NFL and Super Bowl MVP in 1999 following a preseason injury to starter Trent Green.

Warner spearheaded a then St. Louis Rams offense that scored 30 points on a dozen separate occasions in 1999. The nickname “Greatest Show on Turf” was shockingly accurate. It is almost impossible to put in to words how good Warner and that offense as a whole were that year. Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the offense took their rightful place as one of the best in NFL history by notching the narrowest of victories in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kurt Warner

Photo: kurtwarner.org

After a close playoff loss to the Saints in 2000, Warner and the Rams returned to top form in 2001. Warner bagged another league MVP and the Rams returned to the Super Bowl. However, they fell victim to Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri and the rest of the Cinderella Patriots as time expired.

From 1999-2001, Warner threw for over 11,000 yards, 98 touchdowns and 53 interceptions while reaching two Super Bowls. Despite missing five games in 2000 due to injury, Warner tallied a regular season win loss record of 35-8 as a starter over this three year span. That is as good a three year stretch as any quarterback has ever had.

Injuries caused Warner’s career to bottom out from 2002-2004. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, won just five games as a starter and only appeared in 19. Following a 2004 campaign that saw the Giants bench him for Eli Manning, Warner’s career looked to be done.

The Cardinals took a flyer on Warner signing him to a one year deal in 2005. Warner always seemed to be in competition for the starting job in the land of the sun, but the Cardinals kept bringing him back. By 2008, Warner was healthy and firmly entrenched as the starter.

That season, Warner guided Arizona to a 9-7 record and a playoff spot. To say Warner and the Cards got hot would be a gross understatement. Behind Warner’s 112 passer rating, the Cardinals franchise won its first playoff game since 1947. In Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona lost by the length of Santonio Holmes’ toenail.

Santonio Holmes

Photo: ftiznews.com

Playoff Success and Place Among All Time Greats:

            Warner led two different franchises to the Super Bowl. He is one of just three quarterbacks to do that. Moreover, unless you count the Rams Los Angeles glory days, both franchises have struggled to spell Super Bowl before and after Warner, much less get there.

Warner ranks second all-time in postseason passer rating. At one point, Warner owned the top three performances in Super Bowl history in terms of passing yards.

Warner retired after leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs in 2009. It is reasonable to speculate that being a part of two narrow Super Bowl defeats keeps him from being mentioned with the usual suspects of all-time great quarterbacks. His mid-career nosedive does not help matters either.

Even with those two negatives on his résumé, Warner has far more postseason success than guys like Favre amd Marino. When one considers the franchises he led to the promised land, his career becomes all the more impressive. For all these reasons, Warner belongs in the single digits when it comes to the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

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Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

Cleveland Can’t Pass on Watson

Cleveland can’t pass on Deshaun Watson. It is that simple. We all know the sad story that is the current Cleveland Browns. Their history is littered with unfortunate events and bad decisions. Their biggest success came in 1964 when they won the NFL Championship. Since then, there has been little to cheer about in Cleveland.

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: http://www.ramweb.org)

Cleveland came close to glory twice in the 1980s. The first unfortunate event was later called “The Drive” that took place in the 1986 AFC Championship game. With just a little over five minutes left in the game, the Browns led the Denver Broncos 20-13.

The Broncos had the ball at their own two-yard line. John Elway proceeded to lead the Broncos on a 15-play 98-yard drive to tie the game at 20 with only 37 seconds remaining. The wind had been sucked out of Cleveland and the Broncos won in overtime 23-20.

The second unfortunate event is labeled “The Fumble” and took place the following year in a rematch with the Broncos in the AFC Championship game again. The Broncos jumped out on the Browns early with a 21-3 halftime lead.

Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar threw four second-half touchdowns, but the game was tied 31-31 in the third quarter. With six minutes remaining in the game, John Elway threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to give the Broncos a 38-31 lead.

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: http://www.elacommoncorelessonplans.com)

With only 1:12 remaining in the game, the Browns had driven down to the eight-yard line. Earnest Byner took a handoff and looked like he was about to tie the game when he was stripped at the 1-yard line and the Broncos took an intentional safety and won the game 38-33. For the second season in a row, the Browns were devastated in the game prior to the Super Bowl.

One of the last major unfortunate events for the Browns franchise was “The Move.” Browns owner Art Modell announced in 1995 that he was moving the franchise to Baltimore and thus, the Baltimore Ravens were born.

The history of the franchise would remain in Cleveland, but what hurt the most for the city is that the Ravens would go on to win the Super Bowl just five seasons later. Cleveland fans have always felt that that championship should have been theirs.

The Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 and have had 28 different starting quarterbacks. 28 is a ridiculous amount of quarterbacks in just an 18-year span. There has been zero stability at the position and they need a franchise quarterback badly.

The Franchise Savior

It is laughable that Deshaun Watson is getting such little respect in the draft. So-called experts say he lacks accuracy and good decision making for a quarterback. What tape or games are they watching of Watson?

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: http://www.bleedinggreennation.com)

Watson had a legendary college career. He was the first player in college football history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. He went 32-3 as a starter and led Clemson to two straight national championship games. Both were against Alabama and the legendary Nick Saban.

In his entire career at Clemson, Watson threw for 10,168 yards, 90 touchdowns and only 32 interceptions. Where people go wrong in analyzing Watson is saying he runs too much, or that he is a run-first quarterback. That is absolutely false. Yes, he did rush for 1,934 yards and 26 touchdowns in his career, but Watson only runs when he needs to. He keeps his eyes down field while extending plays.

One thing Watson must work on is his down field accuracy. At his young age, he has time to develop that aspect of his game. Where Watson excels most is when the game is on the line. If there are less than four minutes in the game and you need a touchdown, Deshaun Watson delivers.

Cleveland Can't Pass on Watson

(Photo Credit: https://me.me/t/deshaun-watson)

He is the most clutch quarterback in college football history. He has proven it time and time again and his latest example was against one of the greatest defenses in college football history on the biggest stage. This is one of the greatest traits a quarterback can have, and it can’t be taught.

For so long, the Browns have been stuck at the bottom of the barrel. Their franchise has made so many head-scratching moves. They have overthought decisions and jumped at quarterbacks that had no business leading a franchise. Cleveland has had a lot of bad luck in the process as well. They can end all that by getting a franchise quarterback.

This one is right in front of their face. Do not make the mistake that the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers made. Dabo Sweeny is absolutely correct, any team that passes on Deshaun Watson is passing on Michael Jordan.

 

 

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Terrell Davis

The Right Terrell is Going to Canton This Year

There is not much more that can be said about Super Bowl LI. For every epic comeback, there is an equally epic meltdown on the other side. Prior to the game itself, the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was a big source of debate. Lots of controversy has surrounded Terrell Owens being “snubbed” again, but there is a Terrell being enshrined this year, and it is the right one.

While there is certainly a case to be made that Owens is more worthy than Terrell Davis, if you look beyond raw numbers, the reverse of that argument is not the least bit crazy and here is why.

First, this was a crowded year for the Hall of Fame. With the maximum of five “modern era players” going in this year, three were stone cold lead pipe locks. Pass rusher Jason Taylor, quarterback Kurt Warner and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

That leaves two spots. As much as we all like to make fun of kickers, the most important thing in the NFL is scoring points, and Morten Andersen has done that more than anybody else. Thus, he is worthy of a spot after having to wait a few years. It is reasonable to speculate that many voters came down to Davis and Owens for the final spot.

Before making the majority of my argument, it was necessary to point out the strength of the class as a whole. You would be hard-pressed to take one of the other four inductees out to make room for both Owens and Davis in the same class.

 It is virtually impossible to overstate the impact of Terrell Davis on the Broncos organization. Prior to his arrival in the mid-90s, the Broncos were a slightly better version of what the Colts are now. They had a truly great quarterback who was not surrounded by much additional talent.

John Elway led Denver to three Super Bowl appearances in the 80s. The closest the Broncos got to winning one of those games was a 19 point defeat against the Giants. As Elway entered the twilight of his career, a Super Bowl ring looked like a pipe dream.

Denver Broncos

Photo Courtesy of Denver Post

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan plucked Davis from obscurity and made him the starting running back as a rookie in 1995. By 1997, Davis had posted consecutive seasons of well over 1000 yards rushing to start his career. However, the Broncos and their aging quarterback had not found postseason success.

Davis had another stellar year as Denver won the AFC West. In four playoff games that year, Davis rushed for over 100 yards in each and tallied eight touchdowns. The Broncos upset the Packers to win Super Bowl XXXII. Davis scored three touchdowns and was named Super Bowl MVP.

In 1998, Davis was again the centerpiece of the Broncos offense. He rushed for over 2000 yards. There have been only seven such seasons in NFL history. Davis was named league MVP as the Broncos coasted to a second straight Super Bowl victory. He rushed for a total 1049 yards in the 97 and 98 postseasons combined.

Starting in 1999, Davis was haunted by knee trouble that started when he attempted to make a tackle on an interception return against the Jets. He would appear in just 17 more games after 1998. He retired during the 2002 preseason.

His lack of longevity certainly hurt his Hall of Fame chances, he had to wait a decade. However, when he was at his best Davis was as good as the game has ever seen. The injuries prevented him from being near the top of numerous rushing record lists. Even so, fellow Hall of Famer and teammate Shannon Sharpe summed it up best in Davis’ A Football Life documentary on the NFL Network. He was quoted as saying “Without T.D. we don’t win Super Bowls”

Terrell Owens

Photo Courtesy of foxsports.com

Similarly, think about how differently John Elway’s career would be viewed if not for the two Super Bowl wins Davis spearheaded in the last two years of Elway’s career.

As for Terrell Owens, he ranks second all-time in receiving yards and third in touchdowns. On that alone, he is certainly Hall of Fame worthy. Unfortunately for Owens, players do not exist in a vacuum nor should they.

As productive as he was, Owens never made a team he was on better. The 49ers were perennial contenders before Owens arrived. Philadelphia was already on a string of runs to the NFC championship game.

In 2004, the Eagles finally reached the Super Bowl, but Owens was injured for the playoffs and did not return until the Super Bowl, which Philadelphia lost. He turned in an admirable performance despite not having fully recovered from a broken ankle.

The only thing having Owens on your team guaranteed was not winning many big games and him throwing whoever his quarterback was under the bus for not getting him the ball enough, despite those Hall of Fame numbers. This always led to more ridiculousness like him being sent home then holding press conferences and doing sit-ups in his driveway.

San Francisco 49ers

Photo Courtesy of si.com

Owens played for five franchises in his career. With his numbers, it is very telling that T.O. bounced around so much. In his first three stops, Owens eventually became a cancer to the team he was on. Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb have said as much, Tony Romo has always been more tight-lipped about the controversial wideout.

In his final two years in Buffalo and Cincinnati, Owens was simply irrelevant. Your reputation follows you everywhere. In the case of Owens, that includes the Hall of Fame ballot. He has no one to blame but himself. He will forever be more known for his dancing and politicking than his on field work. Any other player with those numbers have already taken their rightful place in Canton.

The good news for T.O. is that he will absolutely be inducted in the not too distant future. For now, there is no issue with a guy whose teams won Super Bowls because of him going in before a guy whose teams often imploded around him.

 

 

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Spectacular Super Bowl Blunders

The Super Bowl has many great plays throughout its history. James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return, John Elway’s helicopter run, and David Tyree’s helmet catch all spring to mind. There are several others, but this piece is not about those plays. Here are some of the most spectacular single play blunders in America’s biggest sporting event.

First, there is one blunder you will not see here. Even though it makes every other list like this, Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXV is not really a blunder by him. Shady clock management and play calling by the Bills down the stretch left Norwood facing a career long outdoor field goal attempt. How one could have expected Norwood to suddenly do something he had never done before on the biggest stage the sport has to offer has always baffled me. Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Rocket Screen- Super Bowl XVIII:

Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs and quarterback Joe Theismann did not expect to find themselves trailing the Los Angeles Raiders by 11 in the final seconds of the first half. The Redskins put up 541 points in the 1983 season, an NFL record at the time. Even so, the smart money was on the Redskins taking a knee deep in their own territory and heading to the half.

Instead, Gibbs called “rocket screen,” a play Washington had ran with great success when the two teams met in the regular season. This time, the result was disastrous. LA linebacker Jack Squirek picked off the pass and walked in to the end zone with 12 seconds left in the half. The play kicked a Raiders blowout into overdrive. You can watch the play below on the NFL’s YouTube channel.

Garo Yepremian- Super Bowl VII:

When kickers have to throw, bad things tend to happen. Here is the earliest evidence of that. Trying to finish off an undefeated season, the Dolphins sent out Garo Yepremian to attempt a field goal that would have made it a three possession game with just over two minutes to go. The kick was blocked.

After a subsequent comedy of errors, the Redskins ended up scoring a touchdown on the play to make it a 14-7 game. Fortunately for Yepremian, Miami held on to complete their perfect season. Fear not, the NFL’s YouTube channel has us covered on Yepremian’s misery.

Lewis Billups- Super Bowl XXIII:

This is a nod to the pain of my family and Bengals fans everywhere. It may not have directly decided the outcome of the game, but it sure was big. Leading Joe Montana’s 49ers early in the fourth quarter, Bengals defensive back Lewis Billups dropped an easy an interception a player could ever come across. The 49ers got the game-tying score on the next play and mounted another fourth quarter scoring drive to win the game and championship in come-from-behind fashion. This play is the ultimate sports “what if” in Cincinnati. See it below from Michael Schiefer on YouTube.

Leon Lett- Super Bowl XXVII:

Leon Lett was actually a borderline Hall of Fame player. Unfortunately for him, that is rarely remembered. What is remembered is Lett costing Dallas a Thanksgiving game in 1993 by gifting Miami another shot at a game winning field goal. However, this mishap from about a year earlier happened on the grandest stage of all.

Lett recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter of a Cowboys blowout and there was nothing but green grass between Lett and the dream of every defensive linemen. Bills wideout Don Beebe had other ideas while Lett rumbled and showboated down the sideline. The result is one of the most recognizable pieces of video in NFL history. See it below on the NFL YouTube channel. For the sake of the players involved, let’s hope nothing is added to this list in Super Bowl LI.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

 

LA Blues: The Sad State of the Rams and How to Fix It

The Rams put everyone involved out of their misery by firing Jeff Fisher earlier this week. A blowout loss to Atlanta at home sealed his fate. Believe it or not, Fisher was a really good coach in this league at one time. However, a 31-45-1 record in almost 5 full seasons in St. Louis/Los Angeles speaks for itself. That time is no longer now. His dismissal creates one of the most unique head-coaching openings in NFL history.

 

The Rams return to the crowded LA sports market has gotten off to a disastrous start. This is a city that has lost its fair share of NFL franchises in the past, but has never lacked big-time sports. Right now LA has the exciting and fun Clippers, the young and rebuilding Lakers, a resurgent USC football program and the star filled Dodgers and Angels. At best, the Rams are the sixth most relevant sports story in their own city, and the second most relevant in their own stadium. USC is infinitely more competitive in college football than the Rams are in the NFL at the moment. Forget the NFL as a whole, the Rams are irrelevant in their own city. That is a battle no other franchise has to fight.

 

There are a few other issues working against the Rams right now. All of which are their own doing. Rams ownership seems more concerned about building a new stadium and finding a second team to join them in LA than they do about the current state of the franchise. Also, the Rams sit at 4-9 with the worst offense in the league, averaging just 12 points a game. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff is quickly headed down the path of David Carr (not Derek) if they do not surround him with better talent quickly. Their drafts on offense have turned out to be comically bad in recent years. Following Sunday’s loss running back Todd Gurley said the Rams “look like a middle school offense.” Honestly, that is insulting to middle school offenses everywhere. Gurley is the one offensive draft pick the Rams have gotten right in recent years, even he has faded into obscurity in 2016. On Sunday, Atlanta’s defense scored as many points as the Los Angeles offense. That is not even taking into account the Rams botching the opening kickoff and setting up Atlanta at the LA 3 yard line. It was the kind of performance that leaves an organization no choice but to make changes immediately, even though Fisher had inexplicably just been given a contract extension. After the season, the rest of the current staff is probably gone as well.

 

Despite the many challenges facing whoever takes over the head-coaching gig in Los Angeles on a full-time basis, it is not all bad. It is LA after all. The fact that the Rams have somehow accumulated four wins speaks to how good the defense is and can be. Even so, the Rams cannot give this job to whoever the hot coordinator candidate winds up being. That is doomed to fail. There is too much going on with this franchise for it to be anyone’s first NFL head coaching job. One name already being floated around is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While McDaniels seems to have grown up a lot since failing miserably as a head coach in Denver, the Rams need someone with both star power and substance. McDaniels does not check either box.

 

This narrows the list considerably. Names like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll would certainly fit the bill, but both have said they are not interested. Additionally, I will eat my own left arm if either one of them leaves their current gig for such a massive undertaking like rebuilding the Rams in Los Angeles. There are two names that have been rumored that would be slam dunk hires. In fact, they may be the only realistic candidates that could be successful in such a chaotic environment. They are Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden.

 

It is not known if either one of them are on the Rams list. Everything that is out there right now is speculation. I know there are going to be some eye rolls at Shanahan’s name, but there should not be. Yes, his time with the Redskins was largely a failure , but dig deeper. He has been the only coach to get a good year out of Robert Griffin III. Griffin was rookie of the year and led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2012. No other coaching staff has figured out how to even keep him on the field, much less get any sort of production out of him. Shanahan also has two Super Bowl rings as the head coach Denver in the late-1990s. Often times, he gets no credit for that because those Denver teams were loaded. While true, realize that John Elway did not win a Super Bowl until Shanahan came along, then he won two.

 

Somehow, Shanahan has gotten the “washed up old hack” label by fans and media. Unlike Fisher, he does not deserve it. He did the best he could under the dysfunctional conditions of the Redskins at that time. Shanahan would likely bring his son Kyle on as his offensive coordinator. He is the coordinator behind the 2016 resurrection of Matt Ryan. Both Shanahans have proven they know how to build an offense and make it productive. This is exactly what the Rams need. Hiring the elder Shanahan would bring instant relevance and credibility to Los Angeles and may set the Rams up coaching wise in both the short and long-term.

photo from zambio.com

photo from zambio.com

 

If there ever was a situation for Jon Gruden to return to coaching, the Rams are it. Those close to Gruden have always said that he has not gone back to coaching because he likes the celebrity that comes with his role on Monday night football. In LA, he can coach and be a celebrity. The two franchises Gruden left (Tampa Bay and Oakland) are really just now starting to recover. His legendary reputation as a disciplinarian that loves to work with young quarterbacks would be perfect for the Rams. Come on, just look at the guy.

photo from deadhitsports.com

photo from deadhitsports.com

 

Both Shanahan and Gruden would require a lot of money, but they have jewelry on their fingers for a reason. Judging by artist renderings of the Rams future home in Inglewood, California, they must have some deep pockets. It would be great for the NFL to have a good franchise in LA again, but it is going to take a very special coach to turn the Rams into winners in a timely manner.

Sudden Change is a Huge Part of the NFL’s Charm

As I was looking at the NFL playoff picture earlier this week, the stories of two teams jumped out at me. Both are examples of another characteristic that differentiates the NFL from any other sport in America. We are barely a month into the NBA season and teams like the Mavericks and Nets are already pretty much done. Similarly, the Braves and Twins were toast before the calendar in the long baseball season even flipped to May. In college football, losing a single game is the end of national title hopes for many teams.

The NFL is a whole different ballgame though. There are two teams this year that are almost unrecognizable from the start of the season. Here is a look at each sudden turnaround.

Miami Dolphins

I was in attendance to watch this team struggle to break 200 yards of total offense in a Thursday night loss in Cincinnati. The loss dropped them to 1-3. At that point, I was not sure they would win another game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked lost and rookie head coach Adam Gase seemed to be in over his head.

A spark on the ground from little known running back Jay Ajayi completely changed this team’s fortunes. Ajayi was not even on the active roster when the season began. He rattled off a string of 100+ yard games and led them on a hot streak.

NFL

photo from washingtontimes.com

Even with last Sunday’s blowout loss at Baltimore, Miami still sits at 7-5, and just a game out of the final AFC wild-card spot. Tannehill is a more than adequate starting quarterback when he does not have to make plays all on his own. The ground game of Ajayi has helped control the clock and keep the defense fresh as well.

Whether they make the playoffs or not, Dolphins fans have gone from hopeless to hopeful in about two months. All it took was some very small changes in personnel and philosophy. Again, to see such a dramatic turnaround so quickly in any other sport is extremely rare, but in the NFL, the Dolphins are not the only great turnaround story this year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quite a few folks thought Tampa Bay may be a pleasant surprise heading into the season. Despite the optimism, a 1-3 start that included a home loss to the hapless Rams seemed to be a death nail for their season.

NFL

photo from news965.com

Unlike the Dolphins, it is difficult to pinpoint the roots of this turnaround, but somewhere along the line everything started to click. The play of young quarterback Jameis Winston stabilized under the guidance of rookie head coach Dirk Koetter. He committed just a few less turnovers and started to carry this team to a few wins, all while dealing with a revolving door of starters at running back.

However, the big story in Tampa Bay is the defense. Over the last three games, the Chiefs, Chargers, and Seahawks have all been held under 25 points. That is as impressive a three-game stretch as you will ever see from a defense, particularly when you consider that the Kansas City game was on the road.

The line backing and secondary groups have some of the most low-profile good football players in the entire NFL. I am talking about guys like Lavonte David and Bradley McDougald.

The Bucs are holding down the last NFC playoff spot. They are also very much alive in the NFC South division race. Much like in Miami, even if Tampa Bay does not make the playoffs, this season has to be considered a massive step in the right direction.

Falling Franchises

Turnarounds in the NFL can be just as quick and dramatic in the other direction. The Eagles and Vikings were surprise hot starters this year and are now sinking faster than the Titanic, but that sudden nature is part of what makes the NFL so fascinating. There are a few of these stories every year.

Reversals in NFL fortune can take place over the long haul too. Two years ago, the Raiders flirted with going winless. They are now legitimate Super Bowl contenders behind Derek Carr. The Broncos were 4-12 in 2010 before John Elway came back into the picture as an executive. They have not missed the playoffs since.

So, if you like where your team is at, enjoy the view while it lasts. If you are an unhappy fan, all it takes is a few good moves to get things going in a good direction. Even the Browns will be good someday… I promise.

 

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The NFL Ratings Drop Is Not a Big Deal…Yet

In case you have been living under a rock, NFL television ratings are down considerably. All primetime broadcast windows have seen a double-digit percentage decrease from last year. CBS’s Sunday afternoon ratings are down in similar fashion. The numbers at Fox have stayed the same or are only down slightly depending on the data source. Everyone within the NFL and those who cover it seem to be panicking. They should not be and here is why.

Prior to this year, record ratings were the norm- This is just simple logic. Everything peaks at some point. 19 of the 20 most watched television programs in American history are Super Bowls. Also, the top seven are all Super Bowls from this decade. The NFL may never be as popular as it was prior to this year again. That does not mean there is not still a massive market for it. However, whenever something is put up against record highs, the numbers are going to look bad. In a world where my friends and I struggle to agree on where to eat, it is difficult to get millions and millions of people to watch the same product every year.

 

We are living in a bizarre time- Some of this was already covered by my fellow writer Michael Sullivan in a well done recent article. Right now, we are all witnesses to the most unique (for lack of a better word) election anyone has ever seen. It is no secret that it is stealing viewers from football. The first presidential debate absolutely slaughtered the Monday night football game that was on at the same time.

 

There is also the Cubs. Those of us younger than 71 have never seen the wildly popular “lovable losers” have a legitimate chance at the World Series. Game one pulled in almost 20,000,000 viewers Tuesday night. Granted no NFL game was on at the same time. Even so, it has been a long time since baseball put up numbers comparable to those of the NFL. It will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up Sunday with both sports on at the same time. The good news for the NFL is that both the election and the Cubs are temporary. If there is not a significant ratings uptick for the NFL by the end of next month, I will be shocked.

photo from si.com

photo from si.com

 

The NFL is in a transition period- Like any other television show, the NFL is star driven. The stars are the quarterbacks. It has been a rough year for the established stars at that position. Peyton Manning retired and guys like Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Ben Roethlisberger have missed or are missing extended periods of time for various reasons. Also, the signal callers that most thought would be the next generation of stars like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are underperforming. Thus, we have had some underwhelming quarterback matchups this year. I love football and will always watch whenever it is on. However, I can certainly see some casual fans not being eager to tune in to a Brock Osweiler vs. Jacoby Brissett duel. The league went through a similar ratings dip when John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Dan Marino all retired in 1999-2000. New stars emerged then, and they will again, but it takes time.

photo from nydailynews.com

photo from                                              nydailynews.com

 

It is not like nobody is watching- So, the Seahawks/Cardinals game last Sunday ended tied at six and was mocked by media and fans the next day. As ugly and “boring” as it was 28.6 million people watched it. The NFL is doing just fine.

Declining ratings are never good, but if any other television show pulled in 28 million people with everything going on, we would be talking about how amazing it is. If the ratings are still sagging when the season ends, this can be revisited. Until then, stop finding solutions to problems that don’t exist and enjoy the football.

 

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings: Forgotten Greatness

The football world lost another great one last week with the passing of longtime former Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green. Green passed of a heart attack at 67 years of age. While his infamous “they are who we thought they were” postgame rant is what he will be remembered for most, the world of football lost so much more than the creator of a humorous soundbite on Friday. Green’s greatest team, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, deserve to be talked about.

Green was 113-94 in 13 seasons in NFL head coach. Also, his place as just the second African-American head coach in league history should not be overlooked. He also had to head-coaching stints in the college ranks at Northwestern and Stanford. However, as far as on-field accolades go though, he will best be remembered as a key part of one of the greatest near misses in football history.

randy moss

photo from espn.go.com

Green’s 1998 Vikings were absolutely spectacular. They featured a high-powered offense led by veteran castoffs in quarterback Randall Cunningham and wide receiver Cris Carter. Two guys nobody else wanted. Throw in a freakishly talented rookie problem child wide receiver named Randy Moss and you really had something special. Moss shattered every rookie receiving record imaginable and Carter, an eventual Hall of Famer, caught everything thrown near him. The ’98 Vikings were not all flash.

They had a few solid, smart, and effective players as well, former Ohio State standout running back Robert Smith and defensive lineman John Randle immediately jump to mind.

The Vikings absolutely dominated the rest of the league. They had a 15-1 regular-season record. The team scored a then NFL record 556 points. They would never score below 24 points in any game that season. Quite frankly, words do not do this team justice, particularly on offense. The video below from the NFL’s YouTube channel will give you a better flavor. At times, it was simply unfair. It looked like they were playing street football.

The storylines wrote themselves. Broncos vs. Vikings in the Super Bowl. The Broncos were in the midst of their own all-time great season. They started 14-0. Denver did their part in racing through the AFC playoffs, but a funny thing happened in Minnesota.

With under three minutes left in the NFC championship game, the Vikings led an upstart Falcons team by seven. They were lining up to kick a 38 yard field goal that would give them a 10 point lead. They were in a dome. Their placekicker, Gary Anderson had not missed a field goal or extra point in two years. At the time, he was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. You may have figured out where I am going with this.

As captured in the video below on the Dan Zinski YouTube channel, the unthinkable happened. Anderson missed the field goal. The Falcons promptly drove down and sent the game into overtime with a touchdown. Falcons’ kicker Morten Andersen did not miss his chance to put the game away in overtime. This NFC championship game is the first game I remember watching from start to finish as a kid. I was rooting for the Falcons because I knew Minnesota had a good shot at spoiling John Elway’s grand farewell in the Super Bowl.

Looking back on it now though, I am not sure there has ever been game that has so drastically effected the legacies of all involved. It was as close as Dennis Green ever got to a title as a head coach. Randall Cunningham and Cris Carter would never get to a Super Bowl. Randy Moss got to the Super Bowl with New England following the 2007 season, but lost in another spectacular upset.

Honestly, I have no clue whether or not the Vikings would have gone on to be that loaded ’98 Broncos squad, but boy it sure would have been fun to find out. If not for the 2007 Patriots, we would call the ’98 Vikings the best team ever not to win a Super Bowl. Green’s legacy goes so much deeper than one season, but he will always be remembered as the man who roamed the sidelines for one the NFL’s underappreciated great teams. Sports can be so cruel at times.

Despite Miller Megadeal, Broncos Remain Setup for Long Term Success

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller cashed in huge Friday and avoided the franchise tag dilemma. The six year $114 million deal with $70 million in guarantees makes Miller the highest paid non quarterback in league history.

von miller

Photo from foxsports.com

As a Broncos fan, I agree with a lot of the conventional wisdom that has emerged. Yes, this is way too much money for a linebacker. However, John Elway and the rest of Broncos brass had no choice.

Miller bet on himself by not signing a long term deal prior to last season and hit the jackpot. 11 sacks in the regular season. Also, Tom Brady and Cam Newton are likely still seeing Miller in their nightmares after what he did to them during the playoffs.

Had Miller sat out the 2016 season and eventually ended up playing elsewhere, it would have been impossible to replace him. He is a once in a generation type of talent. The Broncos were in a tough spot here. This was the best possible outcome for all involved. I have no issue at all here with Miller. Any player must get what they can while they can. Good for him.

Contrary to popular belief, Miller’s megadeal does not hurt Denver’s ability to pay other players at all, at least not right now. The Broncos have some good young talent still playing on rookie deals. Also, while playing financial chicken for the better part of a year with Miller, Elway got long term deals done with two other key defensive pieces, linebacker Brandon Marshall and defensive end Derek Wolfe. As much as most media outlets want you to believe Denver’s roster is not set up for the long term, you have to dig deeper. Let’s take a look.

    • Running back C.J. Anderson- 25 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Wide Receiver Demaryus Thomas- 28 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Linebacker Von Miller- 27 years old, under contract until 2022
    • Linebacker Brandon Marshall- 26 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Defensive end Derek Wolfe- 26 years old, under contract until 2020
    • Cornerback Bradley Roby- 24 years old, under contract until 2018
    • Cornerback Chris Harris- 27 years old, under contract until 2021
    • Safety T.J. Ward- 29 years old, under contract until 2018
    • Cornerback Aquib Talib- 30 years old, under contract until 2020

 

photo from broncos planetbroncos.com

photo from broncos planetbroncos.com

No other team in the league has that kind of proven talent locked up in the long term. Assuming everyone stays healthy, Denver will continue to compete for titles for at least another five years. They need serviceable quarterback play from Mark Sanchez in the short term, and franchise level quarterback play from Paxton Lynch in the long term. The organization has put both in the best possible position to deliver. There is also optimism that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will get a long term deal done to stay with the reigning world champions. The speedster is entering the final year of his deal.

John Elway continues to find ways to stretch a dollar better than any executive in sports. At this rate, he may be remembered as a better executive for the Broncos than he was a quarterback, and that is really saying something.

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NFL Myths Busted

Everyone thinks they know everything about the NFL, myself included, but that is just not the case. There are a few ridiculous myths/theories out there that have always made me belly laugh. Time for me to rip them apart.

Tony Romo isn’t any good- Yes, his career is marked by playoff failures, but no quarterback alone is to blame. Undrafted out of Eastern Illinois, Romo became the Cowboys starter midway through the 2006 season. Since then, Dallas has not had a losing record in any season where Romo has started at least ten games. Romo has thrown for over 34,000 yards and posted a passer rating of over 95. Yet, fans, media, and more recently ownership, who flirted with Paxton Lynch during the draft, seem to try and tear Romo down at every turn. The 2-4 postseason mark and frequent late season collapses make me understand why, but the Cowboys are always in contention with Romo, despite never coming through. This is better than going 4-12 every year like the Browns. Romo’s value was never more obvious than last year. He only played in five games due to injury. Dallas literally could not win a game without him. The inconvenient truth is that Romo’s 78-49 career record as a starter and his stats make him a borderline Hall of Famer. Also, he is one great playoff run away from deleting the borderline from that statement.

photo from insidethestar.com

The running game is not important in the modern era- Believe it or not, 4000 yards used to be an incredible season for an NFL quarterback. John Elway only had one such season in his illustrious career. However, given the offensive friendly rules of today. It is much easier to rip off big chunks of yards through the air. 4000 yards is now commonplace. 12 quarterbacks broke the barrier last year. All this has in theory decreased the importance of running the ball effectively. Quarterbacks throw 50 times a game like it is nothing today. Also, it is rare to see running backs drafted in the first round anymore. So, most think running the ball is not necessary for big time success today. The truth is to win a championship you have to be at least capable at moving the ball on the ground. The Broncos were in the middle of the pack in rushing last year, but C.J. Anderson had 234 postseason rushing yards during Denver’s Super Bowl run. Seattle had Marshawn Lynch for both trips to the Super Bowl. Even the Packers, who were last in the league in rushing in 2010 had multiple 100+ yard rushing games from James Starks in the playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl title. Do not believe the chatter. There is absolutely still a place for “smash mouth” football.

Photo from ghettyimages.com

Photo from ghettyimages.com

God helped Tim Tebow and the Broncos win in 2011- Okay maybe I can’t totally debunk this one, but while the Tebow was leading the Broncos to miracle wins in 2011, this actually became a real thing. I get a kick out of it to this day. Faith is such a huge part of the Tebow package, but this was ridiculous. It was never Tebow’s fault. Look, I believe in God. That being said, I think he has bigger fish to fry than who wins the AFC West.

photo from bleacherreport.com

photo from bleacherreport.com

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