Sunday, September 6, 2009

10 NFL Myths (and maybe a few predictions)

With the NFL Season about to kick off, you're going to start hearing "experts" give their cliche, unoriginal "analysis". All these season previews are getting more and more predictable: Constantly overhype the same teams every year, and don't forget to predict the Super Bowl Champions to suddenly regress to mediocrity. Never fear, because here at All Things Sports we are give you candid and refreshing (at the very least, different) insight. In general, my number one rule is to always go against the pulic sentiment. 90% of the public is cluless. With that, here are some myths that need to be shattered:

Myth Number 1: Brett Favre instantly makes the Vikings a title contender
Before I talk about Number Four, lets look at all the other reasons why the Vikings aren't going anywhere. We've all heard the conventional arguments: "Those Vikings, they got great offensive and defensive lines, a terrific running back tandem, they're built for December..." One problem: we kept hearing people say this for years until suddenly it stopped being true. Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, and Pat Williams, Minny's main cogs on their its two lines, are really getting up there in age. McKinnie and Kevin Williams weren't particularly productive last year. At the very least, that defensive line won't make up for the porous secondary, and the running game won't be good enough to overcome the quarterback problems.

That leads me to Favre. This experiment is destined to fail, for so many reasons. But before getting to juiciest ones, lets look at it from the football x's and o's perspective: In the past year Favre has gone from a good but overrated quarterback to the most overrated athlete in the history of sports. Didn't anyone watch him last year? In the last few games, none of which were against any teams that had defenses that were all that good, Favre produced some atrocious quarterback play. Anyone who thinks that he's even an average quarterback has probably been hypnotized by the infamous ESPN hype machine. He's a 40 year old quarterback with declining arm strength, several back and shoulder problems, and a horrendous ability to read defenses and make the right throws. Most of the players on the Jets were beyond delighted so see him leave, not only because he was such a selfish brat but because he cost them valuable wins in their last few games. As bad as Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels are, is Favre really that much of an upgrade?

Speaking of Brett being a spoiled brat, this is going to kill locker room chemistry. When he was with the Jets, he demanded his own private workspace and never made any effort to interact with any of the players. He didn't care about helping the team or any of the other players; He was only in it for himself, and all he cared about was showing the Packers that they made the wrong decision (After Aaron Rodgers's 4000 yard season, do you still feel the same way, Brett?). Well, we all know that Brett only came to the Vikings because he wanted to personally stick it to the Packers twice, so that selfish sentiment will probably be 10000 times as intense. When Minny plays Green Bay, what makes you think Favre won't go out of his way to pad his stats, even if that means making his characteristic throws into triple and quadruple coverage?

Of course it's possible that Favre will have absolutely no effect on the chemistry because Brad Childress already killed it when he signed Favre. Why should anyone on the Vikings respect Childress anymore (assuming they had any previous respect for the moron)? He has always preached integrity, honesty, and accountability, then he lied to every player's face about not courting Favre. He spent the summer telling the players that it was imperative that they show up to the grueling (to say the least) and exhausting mini-camps and training camp. He forced less heralded players to work their asses off in order to secure $500,000 contracts, then he goes out and pays Favre $12 million a year to play for the Vikings even though he produced a pathetic 2008 season and then spent the entire offseason sitting on his couch in Mississippi, playing catch with high schoolers, and (most importantly) skipping those offseason workouts that were so vital according to Childress. What kind of message does that send to your team? (And by the way, that contract is even more ridiculous than the $30 million that Isaiah Thomas gave to Jerome James. Favre desperately wanted to play for the Vikings and only the Vikings. And even if Favre wanted to play somewhere else, nobody wanted him. The Vikings had all the leverage, yet they still paid him $11 million more than they needed to and $80 million more than they should have.) I considered Childress to be a head coaching failure before this gaffe; now I can pretty much guarantee that in next April's draft, the Vikings will be picking in the top 10, and Brad Childress won't be part of that war room.

Myth Number 2: The Football Giants are not the best team in the NFL
Hmmm, they have a franchise quarterback, the best offensive line in the business, two excellent running backs, the best front seven in football (by far), and a secondary with terrific speed and depth. I mean, come on, they had the best defensive line before they added Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Osi Umenyiora (back from injury), and the Michael Boley signing solves a lot of the problems that they had when their linebackers had to play coverage. The Giants are catching a lot of flack for a lack of a dominant receiver, which makes no sense. First of all, their receivers aren't that bad; Mario Manningham will have a breakout sophomore season, Steve Smith is an above average second receiver, and Hakeem Nicks = Reggie Wayne 2.0. Besides, how many combined rings do Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Chad Ochocinco, Terell Owens, and Anquan Boldin have? Zero! Meanwhile guys like Deion Branch and David Givens won 3 super bowls as the two primary receivers during the patriots dynasty. You don't need a big time receiver to win if you're loaded everywhere else.

Myth Number 3: The Chargers are an Elite Team
They went 8-8 last year! Their coach is Norv Turner! Phillip Rivers can't beat a single good team besides the Colts! Their once great offensive line is a trainwreck! Their defensive savior is Shawne Merriman, a guy who wasn't even playing well prior to his injury and is starting to show some serious signs of breaking down that many steroid users show! What exactly am I missing? Don't expect more than 11 wins, and don't expect any playoff victories. On a side note, I just read about the Shawn Merrinam/Tila Tequila story. Any domestic violence story is pretty crazy, but I think the fact that Tila Tequila is involved brings it to a whole new level. I don't know what to make of the fact that the Chargers' supposed defensive star is dating Tila Tequila, let alone that he is choking her, but this probably isn't a good thing for San Diego.

Myth Number 4: Jay Cutler will lead Da Bears back to prominence
Cutler is one of those guys that everyone keeps saying is underrated, so much that he becomes wildly overrated. He's also one of those guys with jaw-dropping physical abilities that make people forget about his spotty production. He's kinda like the NFL's version of Amare Stoudemire. It sounds like the Windy City is celebrating the arrival of their savior. Congratulations Chicago: You got a whiny malcontent who has a 28-54 record as a starter in College and the NFL. As stupid as Josh McDaniels may be, let's not ignore Jay Cutler's immature antics. If Cutler thought a 17-20 record made him untradeable, does that mean he's going to demand a 999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 trillion dollar contract if he actually finishes with a winning record? What makes everyone so certain that Cutler will maintain the same production now that he's playing with a vastly inferior offensive line (an injury-prone and fossilized Orlando Pace does not constitute an upgrade) and receiving corps (How are Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis better than Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal)? Why does everyone think that Cutler will suddenly stop making so many boneheaded red zone interceptions, or that Chicago's aging defense will bail him out when (not if) he does so? Too many question marks for me to see them winning a playoff game.

Myth Number 5: The Patriots will approach their 2007 dominance
Don't get me wrong, the Patriots are an elite team that should be in the AFC championship game. But to suggest that New England will have another regular season cakewalk is absurd. The once dominant O-line has slipped, and the running game is nonexistent. The defense has some serious holes. For starters, today they traded Richard Seymour for a 2011 first rounder. I absolutely love this trade and would've done it in a cocaine heartbeat; the patriots ripped off the raiders, but there's no question that it hurts the patriots in the short term. The Patriots will really struggle to create a pass rush, which is essential to winning in the playoffs. Based on the way the media portrays the Derrick Burgess trade, you would think that the Patriots traded for a young Lawrence Taylor, but all I see is a guy who is 33 years of age and hasn't been healthy or productive since 2006. The secondary is very thin, especially at safety; Brandon Merriweather is a bust, and I'm willing to bet that Patrick Chung, who can't cover a dead snail, joins Merriweather as a bust. Again, don't buy into the ESPN hype machine for the patriots; there are holes.

Myth Number 6: The Steelers are a cut below the elite teams
Hello? They won the freaking Super Bowl!!!!!!! Didn't everyone make the same mistake with the Giants last year? Being the world champions is kind of a big deal, especially when you have a top four quarterback, two above average running backs, and what is clearly the best defense in football (only the Giants even come close). Seriously, the defense was historically good last year, there are absolutely no holes, and the depth is excellent after the team spent quite a few draft picks on that side of the ball (although it should be noted that as a Steelers fan I could not be less pleased with the Ziggy Hood pick. He's a decent, albeit somewhat overrated player, but he could not possibly be a worse fit for the 3-4. Max Unger, Darius Butler, or Ron Brace all would've been better picks). The Steelers won with a pathetic offensive line that would probably struggle to contain a high school pass rush and that wouldn't be able to open holes in the running game against a team of marshmallows. If the O-line play is anywhere close to average then the Steelers should once again be elite.

Myth Number 7: The Atlanta Falcons will build on last year's progress and become a top tier team.
I absolutely love what the Falcons are doing. I was an idiot to say that Matt Ryan was overrated coming out of College and that Michael Turner would struggle to live up to his contract. The Falcons have a franchise QB, a top ten running back, a franchise left tackle, good O-line play, and decent receivers. Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff know damn well what they're doing. But their record 11-5 record masked some serious defficiencies. Last year they had a horrendous defense that got exposed in the playoffs (and I'm sure that Dimitroff will use his draft picks wisely to shore up those holes), and they really snuck up on a lot of teams (after all who goes into a game expecting a Rookie to play like Matt Ryan did?). The Falcons should take a step back in 2009 as teams take them seriously and take advantage of their defense, but watch out for the Falcons in 2010.

Myth Number 8: The Houston Texans will finally break through and reach the playoffs
Like I said, more often than not it's best to go against the grain, and I haven't heard anyone who hasn't predicted that Houston will finally make the jump from average to very good. There have been many instances in the last few years of trendy sleeper picks falling flat on their faces after everyone hyped them up. In 2004, Buffalo made an impressive late season playoff push that just fell short. After an offseason of optimism, the Bills produced a forgettable 5-11 campaign. During that same season, the Dolphins won their final seven games under Nick Saban, then acquired Daunte Culpepper from the Vikings. Sports pundits ignored the meaningless nature of those games and Culpepper's poor play in 2005 (along with his completely dysfunctional knee), crowning the Dolphins as the team that would make a splash. Apparently that splash meant a 6-10 finish and Nick Saban holding a press conference to chastise the media for even suggesting that he might just maybe take more money to coach a Alabama (in related news, Nick Saban led the Crimson Tide to its first victory of the season yesterday against Virginia Tech). Meanwhile in 2006, the 49ers looked awfully impressive, winning several games after they had been eliminated from the playoffs, and after signing Nate Clements to the largest contract in the history of football (at least among defensive players), the 49ers became perhaps the most popular pick ever to rise from good to elite. After a 2-6 start, everyone started to realize just how wrong they were. You would think that people learn from mistakes, but instead those same pundits applied the same logic to the Cleveland Browns. After a magical 10-6 season that saw a 7th round stud quarterback out of Oregon State command a dynamite offense that almost carried the Browns to their first playoff appearance in five years, analysts ignored Cleveland's lack of any semblance of a defense and turned the Browns into the next big thing. Predictably, the 2008 Cleveland Browns wilted under such expectations and was picking in the top five in the 2009 draft. The moral of the story: every year there's at least one media darling (usually a team with a potentially explosive offense and a suspect defense), and you should never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever hop onto the bandwagon. The real sleeper team doesn't emerge until at least a fourth of the way through the season. Besides, there are some legitimate question marks about the Texans. Why should I be convinced that that defense won't replicate its terrible 2008 performance and that Matt Schaub will stay healthy?

Myth Number 9: The Wildcat is a gimmick that has no staying power
First off, quit calling it the wildcat; it's called the read-option, and it permeates the college game. Second, it's not a gimmick. It has invaded college football and will eventually become a widespread part of the NFL. Third, even if teams know it's coming, it doesn't matter. The zone-read play is all about execution. The quarterback has to read the defensive end's motions and quickly decide whether to hand it off, run with it or throw. Even if the defense know it's coming, if the offense executes perfectly then it can react to any defensive tactics. Just look at Pat White: In college everyone knew he'd run the zone-read every single time, yet he still ran (and threw) circles around the NCAA. He's more athletic than most NFL players and should continue to dazzle.

Myth Number 10: The St. Louis Rams are a mess and should end up in the NFC Cellar
On offense, the Rams aren't actually that bad. Marc Bulger is an above average quarterback when healthy. Steven Jackson is one of the few remaining 3-down, franchise tailbacks (and an Oregon State product, which is always meaningful in my book). Jason Smith looks like the left tackle of the future. And this is just a hunch, but I really like Steve Spagnoulo as a coach. Usually a new coach will come in and tear down the whole operation, alienating players from the old regime and installing a system that doesn't fit the talent at his disposal. Not Spagnoulo. He's committed to maximizing the current talent in place while methodically adding players to fit his system. He's adjusting his system to fit his talent while changing the culture and making sure the players eventually start playing at higher standards. In short, he really seems to know what he is doing. He's a keeper. Spagnoulo's specialty is the defensive line and linebackers, which is good because the Rams have had a very underachieving front seven that could use some better coaching. Spagnoulo will get more defensive production, especially out of recent first round draft choices Adam Carriker and Chris Long. 7-9 isn't out of the question (although I sure nobody in the gateway to the west would complain if St. Louis went 2-14 and won the Sam Bradford Sweepstakes).

Ok, I guess you've heard enough of my nonsensical and inane comments, I should probably give some predictions so that you have some material to shove back in my face when all these predictions turn out to be dead wrong.

NFC Playoff teams:

  1. New York Giants
  2. Green Bay Packers
  3. Seattle Seahawks
  4. New Orleans Saints
  5. Washington Redskins
  6. Chicago Bears (I only put 'em here by default; the Bears aren't all that good)

AFC Playoff Teams:

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Indianapolis Colts
  4. San Diego Chargers
  5. Tennessee Titans
  6. Oakland Raiders (that's right, I had the balls to pick the raiders. I think Russell, McFadden, and Hey-Bey are legit (Hey-Bey was drafted 10-15 spots too high, but he's still a damn good player), and this wouldn't be a very informative post if I didn't make at least one bold prediction)

Wild Card Playoffs

Seahawks 27, Bears 7 (shame on you if you actually thought that Jay Cutler would win a big game)

Colts 33, Raiders 14 (over by halftime)

Titans 20, Chargers 13 (watch Phillip Rivers unravel into a trash-talking mess when he doesn't have the luxury of playing against the Colts)

Redskins 34, Saints 28 (Jason Campbell shreds the Saints porous D, while Josh McDaniels drinks a bottle of poison when he remembers that he traded for Kyle Orton instead of Campbell)

Divisional Playoffs

Giants 35, Redskins 10 (over by 1st quarter)

Patriots 31, Colts 27 (most competitive playoff game in years)

Steelers 20, Titans 7 (For the Steelers this is nothing more than a tune up for the AFC Championship)

Packers 21, Seahawks 16 (Career day for Aaron Rodgers)

Championship Games:

Steelers 31, Patriots 23 (This will be a back and forth clash of Titans. I could absolutely see the Patriots winning, but for now I'll take Pittsburgh's defense over New England's offense)

Giants 27, Packers 10 (Giants are playing back-ups in the fourth quarter)

Super Bowl:

Giants 23, Steelers 10 (New York takes a page out of the playbook of Lombardi's packers, winning the game in a cold, efficient, and brutal manner, cementing itself as one of the 15 greatest teams of all time)