Behind the Mic: The NFL-AFC

The first weekend of the 2016 NFL season begins Thursday night, September 8, when the Broncos host the Panthers and it ends on Monday night with the Redskins welcoming the Steelers.  The other teams all play on Sunday.  So that can only mean one thing – it is time for my season outlook.  This week, I will analyze the AFC and do the NFC next week.  Remember everyone is 0-0 at the moment and the aspirations of the fans are running high.  If I dampen your spirit with my thoughts, just remember I don’t know any more than you do and, quite possibly, even less.

AFC EAST 

  1. New EnglandTom Brady will miss four games and Jimmy Garoppolo will take over. It probably will not matter.  Brady comes back stronger and fresher than ever; Garoppolo makes his case to get a big contract and start somewhere else; and, surprise, surprise the Patriots win the division.
  2. Buffalo They had a great draft; will get New England without Brady in one game; and have a good shot at making the playoffs.
  3. Jets Ryan Fitzpatrick has settled his differences and the back-up situation seems muddled at best with three other QB The schedule is murderous at the beginning and they get Brady for both games.
  4. Miami Adam Gase is the new head coach and the Dolphins have had a good preseason. The Dolphins just seem to underachieve.  If Gase can change that mindset, perhaps they can move ahead of the Jets.

AFC NORTH 

  1. Pittsburgh Their offense is virtually unstoppable as long as they stay healthy and avoid any more suspension problems (Le’Veon Bell). They need to improve in the secondary, but if the defense gets even a little better, the Steelers will not only win the division, but could have a shot at another Super Bowl ring.
  2. BaltimoreThey were really banged up last season placing 20 players on the injured reserve list. Since they finish the season with the Patriots, and the Steelers, their final game with the Bengals could be for the playoff spot.
  3. Cincinnati –They are better than the Ravens and they have reached the playoffs for five consecutive years, but something always seems to go wrong here. Their final game with the Ravens could move them up to #2.
  4. Cleveland – It’s Cleveland!

AFC SOUTH 

  1. Jacksonville – This team is solid – QB Blake Bortles is really good. If they can beat out the Texans, they could do well in the playoffs.
  2. Houston – This team could be VERY good. Only playing with a new QB and a new RB could cause some early problems as well as the absence of JJ Watt until his back heals.
  3. Indianapolis Andrew Luck makes them competitive; their defense does not.
  4. Tennessee – A tough schedule and an overall improved division keeps them at the bottom.

AFC WEST 

  1. Kansas City Jamaal Charles is back and he may be just enough to push them over the top. Andy Reid has a winner here.
  2. Denver – Plenty of lost personnel here starting with Peyton Manning, but my gut says they will not miss an offensive beat; defense was hurt more by free agency and the division got tougher.
  3. Oakland – The Raiders have an easier schedule than most, especially at the start. If they get confidence and momentum, they could crack the playoffs.
  4. San Diego – If you can run the ball and stop the run, you can win. The Chargers can’t do either; ergo, they won’t win.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
AFC Playoffs
Championship Game – Steelers vs Patriots
AFC Champions – The Pittsburgh Steelers

My Week One NFL predictions are coming next week.

Behind the Mic: Who Wins 50?

So the two #1 seeds in their respective conferences will ACTUALLY meet in the 50th Super Bowl championship.  One team (Carolina) scored more points than any other this year and the other (Denver) got up the least amount of yardage.  As I write this, Carolina is favored by 4.5 points.  I will attempt to analyze the two teams and pick a winner.

DEFENSE
“You win championships with defense.”  How many times have we heard analysts tell us that?  If, indeed, that is the case, it would still be very hard to choose a winner based on that adage.  Both teams have outstanding defenses (maybe that’s why they are in the Super Bowl).  Carolina’s defense has been particularly tough on quarterbacks.  They are the best team in the NFL for creating the lowest opponent passer rating.  They certainly made life miserable for Cardinals’ quarterback, Carson Palmer.  And linebacker David Newton, who broke his arm in the Cardinals’ game, is expected to play after having surgery this past Monday.

The Denver defense, however, has stopped almost every team and had little trouble stopping Tom Brady and the PatriotsVon Miller is an awesome player.  The Broncos were first in the league in total yards allowed and had 20 quarterback hits last week.  I would think that the diversity of the Carolina offensive attack would be a bigger challenge than Denver faced against the Patriots.

ADVANTAGE:  CAROLINA

OFFENSE
QB’s – Cam Newton (Carolina) vs. Peyton Manning (Denver) – wow!  Talk about contrasting styles.  Newton never seems to feel the pressure of the moment and always looks like he is just having fun.  Manning, on the other hand, is like a scientist in his lab studying and dissecting.  Newton has the stronger arm; Manning has won this game, has the experience and the knowledge of many years in the league.

Receivers – Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn, Jr. (Carolina) vs. Damaryius Thomas and Emanuel Sanders (Denver).  I like Carolina here because of their defensive secondary and Greg Olsen is not unlike the Patriot’s Rob Gonkowski.

Running Backs – Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert (Carolina) vs. C J Anderson and Ronnie Hillman.  Both teams give up very little rushing yardage, but with Cam Newton as a running weapon, Carolina should be a bit harder to defend.  Both teams, however, give up @ 80 yards per game on the ground.  Running the ball (except by Newton) might be a non-factor.

ADVANTAGE:  CAROLINA

INTANGIBLES

  • Peyton’s last game?  This would certainly give the emotional edge to Denver.
  • Turnovers?  Carolina has a +20 turnover differential compared to Denver’s -4.
  • Carolina’s cockiness? This could serve them well on such a big stage or derail them if things do not go well early in the game.
  • Extra points ARE important – Just ask the Patriots; they chased that one point the whole game.

ADVANTAGE – DENVER

THE PICK
This is a really tough choice (as it should be).  On paper I like the Carolina Panthers; but I do think the emotional edge goes to Denver.

THE WINNER OF SUPER BOWL 50:
CAROLINA PANTHERS  24 – 17

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME SUPER BOWL  MUSINGS)

        1. If Carolina wins, Cam Newton would become the only player to win the Heisman, a national NCAA championship, NFL MVP and a Super Bowl.
        2. If Denver wins, Peyton Manning would be the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two teams. He won at Indianapolis.
        3. The Browns, Lions, Jaguars and Texans are the only teams that have not played in a Super Bowl.
        4. A 30-second ad this year will cost $5 million, 11% higher than last year. 4 million people tuned in last year.
        5. If you like to gamble, the odds before the season started that the Broncos would face the Panthers in the Super Bowl were 184-1!

NFL PICKS LAST WEEK – 10-6; OVERALL 160-96 (63%)
NFL PICKS (WILD CARD) – 3-1
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS – 3-1; PLAYOFFS (6-2)
NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS – 1-1; PLAYOFFS (7-3)

Behind the Mic: The NFL – AFC Spoiler Alert!

I really do not want to ruin the NFL season for you. The regular season begins on Thursday, September 4, when Green Bay visits Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion. The final regular season games will be played on Sunday, December 28. And I do think you should watch as many games as you possibly can. AND, if you have no favorite team playing on a given Sunday, then by all means, tune in to the NFL Red Zone and you can pretty much follow EVERY game. You can order it at 1-800-RING RCN (I thought I would put a commercial in here – it makes our marketing people happy when I do that).

With that said, I am going to tell you (some say predict) how the regular season will turn out in terms of AFC Division winners. I would go further – you know, playoffs and AFC champion plus the Super Bowl winner, but I do not wish to spoil all your fun. That will come later, anyway. So – SPOILER ALERT! – Do not read this if you want to enjoy the AFC regular season. The following is how the AFC will end up (this year’s projected record is in parentheses):

AFC SOUTH
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – They beat Kansas City in the playoffs last year and lost to New England. They are not really better this year, but will win their division.
2. Houston Texans (7-9) – The Texans were 2-14 last year, so I obviously think they will be closer to the team that won their division in 2012. Quarterback is a problem.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) – They, too, are better than last year, just not “better” enough (did I used to teach English?)
4. Tennessee Titans (4-12) – They were 7-9 last year; lost some key players; are just a mediocre team.

AFC EAST
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – They are in a weak division so their record will improve, primarily because their defense has improved.
2. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – They will not match last year’s record, so they will miss the playoffs again.
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10) – Did very little in the off-season to make a fan believe they will be better than their 6-10 record last year. Recent Hall of Fame inductee, Andre Reed, will be their hero, but he no longer plays.
4. New York Jets (6-10) – No media circus this year (remember the Tebow year and the Sanchez year?). But there is no offense either.

AFC NORTH
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – The Bengals finished 11-5 last year and lost in the first round of playoffs. Head Coach Marvin Lewis got a one-year extension on his contract. He has never won a playoff game. The Bengals should make the playoffs. Lewis needs to win a playoff game or he will go. They are capable of saving his job.
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – Their season looks like it needs some kind of boost – WR Steve Smith may be the boost; defense looks solid; Ray Rice should add even more spark upon his return.
3. Cleveland Browns (8-8) – The Browns have a new coach (again), new management (again), and a new QB (again) which has created new excitement for the fans (again). It has been seven years since they last won more than 5 games. This could be the year.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – Even I can’t believe I am picking the Steelers last in their division and worse than the Browns. They’re getting old and, for now, the glory days are over.

AFC WEST
1. Denver Broncos (13-3) – Seattle embarrassed them in the Super Bowl. Denver only improved in the off-season and they will play better competition this year in the regular season. This could be a special year for Mile High.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – 9-0 start for Andy Reid’s team certainly opened many eyes. But they finished the year 2-5 and lost to the Colts in the Wild Card round of playoffs. If they can diversify their offense, they could be better.
3. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – They have a great offense (thanks to Philip Rivers), but no defense. If defense wins championships (right, Seattle?). The Chargers’ defense is awful. Ergo – no championship (I learned this way of proving things in Philosophy class).
4. Oakland Raiders (6-10) – They were very busy in the off-season spending lots of money. The Raiders will be better (they almost have to be – 4-12 last year).

The NFC season standings will come your way next week. Remember, these thoughts are for amusement only and do not represent the opinion of management (most of them are Redskin and Eagles fans, anyway).

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The PGA Championship last week produced the highest golf TV ratings in five years. It was the “perfect storm” for CBS – great golf, four big-name players tied or in the lead on the back nine, a rain delay that threw the finish well into prime time (60 Minutes viewers may have tuned in by accident), and darkness falling to add to the suspense. A network’s dream.

2. Speaking of golf, I am glad Tom Watson did not have to decide if he should pick Tiger Woods for the Ryder Cup team. Had he picked him or not picked him and the US lost, he would have been criticized. I respect Tiger Woods for taking that decision away from Watson.

3. I am wrapped up in the Little League World Series when the Taney Dragons are playing. Their comeback win on Sunday was great TV and with Mo’Ne Davis pitching to get to the championship final this week, the drama only increases. Go, Dragons!

4. Congratulations to the Northampton Giants of the Blue Mountain League for winning their first championship since 1994. Manager Ed Wandler has been with the BML since 1977 (37 years), and the team gave him all the credit for the championship run. It was a great season!

5. All of us associated with Lehigh Valley sports were shocked when we heard that former Allen and current Moravian Academy coach John Donmoyer died on Saturday morning at St. Luke’s Hospital. I last saw John at the VIA Hall of Fame ceremony (he was a member) and had a very nice conversation with him. I was unaware, as I think most people were, that he was ill. John coached 1,047 varsity games winning 624 of them, both Lehigh Valley records. Last December, Allen named their basketball floor for Coach Donmoyer. He took his teams to the PIAA state championship finals in 1979 and 1980. I never heard a harsh word said about John by anyone and, amazingly, that included fans. His players always stressed the life lessons that John espoused while winning games and titles year after year. He was a giant in Lehigh Valley sports. May he rest in peace.

 

Behind the Mic: What’s in a Name?

 

The US Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration. They did it because they considered the name “disparaging to Native Americans.” This would mean that the team would NOT have exclusive rights to the trademark, thus allowing others to sell merchandise using the Redskins’ logo – possibly a PR and financial disaster. Owner Dan Snyder has vowed never to change the name and has appealed the decision of the Patent Office.

There are other examples of teams dealing with similar controversy. In 1997, the Washington Bullets looked to change their name because of the rise of gun violence across the country. They became the Washington Wizards. Not the best choice since Washington is predominantly African-American and a “wizard” is the name for someone highly ranked in the Ku Klux Klan. This was a true case of “out of the pan, into the fire.”

The Kansas City Chiefs have faced attacks similar to the Redskins, but they have fought any attempt to change their name. So, too, have the Atlanta Braves. They have discontinued use of their “screaming Indian” logo, but continue to come under fire by Native Americans. Other teams of note are the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks (considered a derogatory term for Canadians), the Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Indians, even the Boston Celtics (their pot-bellied, pipe-smoking Irish leprechaun has been considered offensive by some).

Perhaps the worst choice came when an Ontario professional baseball team called themselves the London Rippers named after Jack the Ripper and their logo featured the image of Jack holding a baseball and a bat in a very menacing way. Fortunately, the team suffered financial problems and lasted only one season.

So, what’s in a name? Well, there once were more than 3,000 American Indian mascots and names used in athletic programs across K-12 programs in the US. More than two-thirds of those have been changed. So, amid all the controversy, it does appear that eventually all teams will have to consider what underlying meanings their nicknames and logos contain and whether tradition wins out over real and/or perceived insult.

Watching the appeal process by the Washington Redskins versus the US Patent and Trademark Office will be very interesting. I believe, since the trademark was first registered over 40 years ago, the Redskins will win their appeal. Whether they win in the court of public opinion, however, is a completely different story. Here, I suspect they will lose. There are just too many groups, ironically, “circling the wagons.”

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Now that baseball is past the mid-season, are Phillies’ announcers Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs improving? They certainly had plenty of room to get better and generated a great deal of negative criticism when the season began. My feeling is they are getting a wee bit better. Stairs still has trouble with mumbling and completing sentences. Moyer’s is more interesting, but his delivery is just plain boring. From the reports I have read, Comcast sees them as works in progress. They believe they are getting better and have confidence in their ability to stay long-term. I do not see the Philly fans being so patient.

2. The Phillies started the season at 15:1 odds to win their division. That has now dropped to 100:1 and even that seems too high. The Cubs, by the way, are 1000:1 to win their division and the Astros are 5000:1. Right now it looks like the Dodgers against the Angels in the World Series.

3. With football camps now beginning their workouts, you might be interested in the Las Vegas odds for the 2015 season. The Seattle Seahawks are favored to win the NFC Championship and the Denver Broncos are favored to win the AFC title (sound familiar?). Seattle beat Denver 43-8 in the Super Bowl last year. The Broncos are 6:1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Most fans felt the same way last year. The Eagles are 15:1 to win the NFC and 28:1 to win the Super Bowl, listed as the 10th best team in the NFL.

4. Speaking of last year’s Super Bowl, it was the most watched television program in history with 111.5 million viewers. The halftime show which featured Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had 115.3 million viewers. I guess many of the wives just wanted to watch the concert.

5. A final note concerning the Blue Mountain League. The teams are in the playoffs now with the semifinals and finals on the horizon. If the playoff games are as competitive as the regular season, get out and watch a game. It is good baseball.

 

Behind the Mic: Eating Crow at a Super Bowl Party

 

When I invite people over for a Super Bowl party, my wife and I usually serve some pretty good food. But this past Sunday all I ate was “crow”. If you read last week’s blog, you know why. If you did not read it, let me review my predictions:

10. Prediction: Seattle is not at home. The 12th man may be part of the crowd at MetLife Stadium, but will anyone be able to hear them? “Omaha, Omaha” will be easily heard and communicated at the line of scrimmage by Manning.
Reality: The crowd was very loud and seemed to be behind the Seahawks. I did not hear “Omaha” once!

9. Prediction: New England never came close to Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship. The Seattle defense is outstanding and the front four had 44 sacks, but, first and foremost, the Denver offensive line knows they must protect their franchise player.
Reality: Manning was rushed all day. The pass rush directly led to the two interceptions.

8. Prediction: Even though the Seahawks had 28 interceptions and forced 17 fumbles during the regular season, they are not likely to do that against the veteran receiving corps of Denver and the arm of Manning. Denver only had 24 turnovers all year.
Reality: Denver turned the ball over four times!! FOUR times!!

7. Prediction: The Denver defense may not keep Marshawn Lynch in check at running back, but they should be able to keep Russell Wilson in check. Even though he is a great athlete, it is his first Super Bowl. That has to account for a mistake here or there.
Reality: I couldn’t even get this one right. Denver DID keep Marshawn Lynch in check, but Russell Wilson was outstanding.

6. Prediction: Matt Prater, the Denver kicker, converted 25 of 26 field goal attempts this season, one an NFL record of 64 yards. He can get the nod from almost anywhere on the Denver side of the 50-yard line. By the way, Steve Hauschka of Seattle was outstanding, also. He made 33 of 35 attempts and every one beyond 50-yards (3). Prater should get more opportunities.
Reality: Hauschka – two field goals. Who is Matt Prater (no field goal attempts; his “on-side” kick was awful)?

5. Prediction: The Seattle receiving group is not as good as the Denver group.
Reality: Denver receivers are REALLY good three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Seattle actually throws the ball downfield.

4. Prediction: All defenses have trouble covering a tight end. Manning has made a star of Julius Thomas. He had 12 touchdowns and 788 yards during the regular season and Manning knows when the tight end should be open.
Reality: I couldn’t even pick the right “Thomas”. Demaryius had 13 catches (a record); Julius just four, but I don’t remember ANY of them.

3. Prediction: Efficiency should beat passion. I don’t think there is an NFL coach better than Pete Carroll in emotionally getting a team ready to play. However, John Fox is great at “x-ing and o-ing”. Strategy, not emotion, should win the game.
Reality: Pete Carroll is better at both.

2. Prediction: The Seahawks cannot outscore the Broncos (and I think that’s the object of the game).
Reality: How smug and how wrong was this prediction? 43-8!!

And the Number 1 reason the Broncos will win – Peyton Manning!
Reality: Just shut up!!

I cannot go on; I have a black feather caught in my throat!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The best line of the day came from Hillary Clinton – “It’s so much fun to watch FOX when it’s someone else being blitzed and sacked!”
2. Both of Seattle’s scores at the beginning of each half occurred 12 seconds into the period. By the way, the first score (a safety) was the earliest score in Super Bowl history.
3. Thank goodness for Bruno Mars! It kept the people at my house from eating and drinking for about 15 minutes.
4. My favorite commercial: Audi’s Doberman-Chihuahua hybrid dog.
5. I thought the Bud Light two-part commercial with a llama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Cheadle, etc. took a long time for a weak punchline.

I DID NOT ENJOY THE GAME!!

NFL PICKS FINAL RECORD
174-92- 1 – 65%

 

Behind the Mic: “Have I Got a Deal for You…”

The teams are set for Super Bowl XLVIII – Denver vs. Seattle.

I would not think there is a tremendous number of people here on the East Coast who are passionate fans of either of these two teams. However, I would think there are a number of fans who put attending a Super Bowl on their “bucket list”. And with the game being played on the “right” coast this year at MetLife Stadium, wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to check this one off your agenda?

Before you jump at the chance, there is one very important item you need to consider: THE COST! The cheapest seat (and probably the worst) costs $500. About 39% of the 77,500 tickets will be priced under $1,000 at face value (try to find those). By comparison, the first Super Bowl ticket cost $6; in 2001 the ticket cost $325. And, to be honest, you will probably not be able to get any of these tickets anyway. The NFL controls 25% of the tickets. These end up in the hands of their corporate sponsors. 35% of the tickets go to each of the participating teams.

And making the remaining 5% of tickets available to fans may be a myth. Josh Finkelman of New Jersey believes the NFL only makes @1% of the tickets available for purchase at face value. He feels so strongly that the NFL is gouging the average fan that he has sued them in court. He complains that about 99% of the tickets must be purchased through a middleman. He is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Even if you get a ticket, you also must consider the price of parking. That should be a little less than staying in a New York hotel. The absence of tailgating (forbidden this year) means you should be prepared to pay a week’s wages just to eat and drink inside the venue.

So, if you are still interested and really want a ticket, you can get a $2,600 ducat for the club level and this, too, will give you access to the indoor restaurants. There are $1,500 tickets that do not give you the restaurant access (so see above for additional food costs).

If this all sounds like a hassle and you are reconsidering your “bucket list”, you might want to just literally “go for broke” and consider a VIP Package. Allow me to entice you:

• (4) Upper Level Corner End Zone Super Bowl Tickets
• (4) VIP Pregame NFL Players Party Tickets which includes Hand- Passed Appetizers; Five Gourmet Food Stations prepared by a Legendary Super Chef; Multiple Top-Shelf Open Bars staged throughout the Event; Over 20 Current NFL Players introduced by our Event MC, ESPN Sports Center Anchor Lindsay Czarniak, for Sunday Chalk Talk with our Guests; and VIP Round trip Transportation to Metlife Stadium on Game day!
All-Inclusive Price for Four Guests: $14,500

If you’re like me, you have decided to invite a few friends over for some good food, good drink, and good conversation. Sit back, turn on the TV, enjoy the commercials, the game, go to bed at a decent hour, and sleep knowing you might need to revise your “bucket list” in the morning.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. I do not think the high price of a seat has anything to do with it, but Commissioner Roger Goodall will not be sitting in a luxury box for the Super Bowl. His seat will be outside in the stands. By the way, the coldest Super Bowl in history was 39 degrees for Super Bowl VI at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. That record will be broken this year.

2. With one NFL game left to pick (you’ll have to wait until next week), I finished the season guessing 66% of the games correctly. The last four weeks, I have gone 23-3 and have picked the winner the last six games. It was a good year.

3. “Omaha! Omaha!” Am I the only fan who finds Peyton Manning’s skills to be so good that they are boring? He rarely gets sacked, rarely runs, rarely throws an incomplete pass, rarely looks like he is confused by a defense, rarely throws for less than 350 yards, rarely has fewer than three TD passes, and rarely loses. He’s so consistent; it takes all the fun out of the game.

4. In contrast, I thoroughly enjoy watching Colin Kaepernick play quarterback for the 49’ers. He runs like a running back, avoids sacks like a magician, and sometimes loses. If I was a general manager, I’d rather have Peyton.

5. Ironically, the NFL Network is looking to give up its own Thursday night game broadcasts. They say their viewing audience wasn’t large enough. So ESPN, NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC and Turner Sports are expected to bid @ $800 million for the eight games.

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK
(Last week – 2-0) (174-91-1 66%)

SUPER BOWL PICK COMING NEXT WEEK!