Behind the Mic: Who’s #32?

This time of the year football fans’ cries and debates always center around “Who’s #1”?  Very rarely does anyone ask or care which team is the worst.  It is hard to determine in college football because there are just so many teams, so we are content to argue the merits of the Top 25.  But the NFL is much easier.  There are only 32 teams and by week 13, I think one could certainly stir things up by looking at which teams are the absolutely worst ones in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns are the obvious choice as the worst team in professional football.  With this week’s loss to Cincinnati, they have now lost 16 straight games (includes the final three from last year).  The Browns have been playing in the NFL since 1950 and they have never lost this many games without a win.  They are 1-23 in the past 24 games.  Just to pile on a bit, counting last year and this season, they are 3-26.  They have games at Buffalo, home against San Diego, and at Pittsburgh.  To be realistic, none of those games seem winnable.

Going back to 1960, there have only been four other teams to go winless and two of those teams played to a tie.  Only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in their debut season and the 2008 Detroit Lions were the only team in history to go 0-16 and the first non-expansion team to lose every game.  So, as you can see, the Browns are among some pretty elite company.

But is there an argument to be made that there are teams just as bad?  Well, the 49ers are 1-12.  The Jacksonville Jaguars are 2-11.  It’s hard to believe I am leaving the New York Jets out of the discussion, but they did just beat the 49ers this past Sunday in overtime so I will give them a pass.

Just to emphasize how bad these teams are: the 49ers two weeks ago had a TOTAL of six net passing yards and, this past week, they threw for 17 yards in the second half against the Jets.  As far as the Jaguars, let me throw this stat at you – QB Blake Bortles has thrown more interceptions for touchdowns than he has wins as a Jacksonville starter.

It does make one ponder whether these teams could beat Alabama, considered by most to be the best team in college football.  It would be men against boys for sure, but a terrific well-coached team against, well, the Browns.

San Francisco has the Giants and you could make the case they also have the Raiders, Athletics, Warriors and Sharks.  In Cleveland, thank goodness for the Indians and the Cavaliers.  Jacksonville only has the Jaguars.  Right now, none of them have a competitive NFL team.

So what’s your answer to “Who’s #32?”  Could it possibly be, “Who cares?”

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, signifying the best player in college football. It was the first Heisman ever for Louisville.  He is only 19 years old and a sophomore, the youngest ever to win the award.  For those of you who go way back, the great Johnny Unitas played at Louisville in the 1950s and went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.  Lamar has some big high-topped black shoes to fill (an analogy for just those who remember Unitas).
  2. This past weekend, Army defeated Navy for the first time in 14 years. It wasn’t easy.  After leading 14-0, Army lost the lead and trailed 17-14.  They fought back to win the game 21-17.  Emmaus’ Andy Davidson scored the first two Army touchdowns.  Both teams will play in a bowl game.
  3. CBS sports announcer Verne Lundquist did his final college football game as the play-by-play man for the Army-Navy game. He announced college football for 42 years.  Watch his goodbye:

http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2016/12/10/13909272/verne-lundquist-army-navy-goodbye

  1. Villanova, the defending national champion of college basketball, is off to a 10-0 start. They are #1 in the nation for the second straight week and may have the player of the year in Josh Hart.  Years ago, head coach Jay Wright sat in my office for about an hour and we talked basketball and coaching young men.  He was here to appear on an RCN interview show.  I have rooted for him ever since.
  2. More high school basketball next week with Emmaus-Parkland and Nazareth-Whitehall on Tuesday, December 20. We will have Whitehall-Parkland on December 22.

Gary's Picks

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 9-7; Overall – 128-79-2 – 62%)
Week Fifteen

SEATTLE
MIAMI
DALLAS
GIANTS
GREEN BAY
BALTIMORE
MINNESOTA
BUFFALO
KANSAS CITY
HOUSTON
ARIZONA
ATLANTA
NEW ENGLAND
OAKLAND
PITTSBURGH
WASHINGTON

Behind the Mic: The NFL-NFC

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 49’ers welcoming the Rams.  The other teams all play on Sunday.  So that can only mean one thing – it is time for my season outlook.  Last week, I looked at the AFC and this week it’s the NFC.  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.

NFC EAST 

  1. Washington RedskinsThey won the division last year so I will go with them again. Their offense can be explosive and the defense might just be good enough.  This division is wide open, but the Tony Romo injury helped everybody but the Cowboys.
  2. New York Giants They had to shore up their defense and they did with money and draft picks. The offense should be problematic for opponents under new head coach Bob McAdoo.  It would be no surprise if they win the East.
  3. Dallas All they needed to be favored in the East was to get their offense healthy again. Well, forget that with the injury to Romo and a defense that does not impress.  They needed to outscore opponents and now that will not happen.  But even with rookie Dak Prescott, they should win more games than the Eagles.
  4. Philadelphia I would have picked them third, with the injury to Romo. Then they went and traded Bradford. Their schedule includes some of the best of the AFC and the NFC North so there are no easy wins.  The offensive line is a real concern.  And now, they start a rookie quarterback.  So, back to last place.

NFC NORTH 

  1. Green Bay Who else could be favored here? Aaron Rodgers has his receivers back and the defense looks strong again.  They have a tough opener at Jacksonville, so don’t panic if they lose that one.
  2. Minnesota – Does this team EVER catch a break? They won the division last year and looked to be really good this season.  Then their starting quarterback goes down with a freak non-contact serious knee injury and is likely out for the year.  But they went out and got Sam Bradford.  Their defense is solid, and the offense if Bradford stays healthy should be pretty good now.
  3. ChicagoIf only their offense was better. The Bears will be as fierce as ever on defense and John Fox’s teams improve with him at the helm.  They may surprise.
  4. Detroit –They played exceptionally well after their horrendous start last year (1-7). Calvin Johnson has retired and that hurts.  With a tough division, they are still picked last.

NFC SOUTH 

  1. Carolina – This could be the NFL’s best offensive team with some added weapons. The defense is certainly good enough to compete for a Super Bowl.
  2. New Orleans – Drew Brees always makes them dangerous and Mark Ingram is back at running back. If defense wins games as they say, the Saints will fall short in that department.
  3. Atlanta – They have a very tough road schedule (Oakland, Denver, and Seattle) which could keep them from the playoffs. If Matt Ryan has an exceptional year, they could be a wild card.
  4. Tampa Bay – How good is Jameis Winston at quarterback after a year under his belt. I don’t think he’s good enough to overcome their other deficiencies.

NFC WEST 

  1. Arizona – This will be one of the very best teams in the NFL – the defense is strong and the offense is ridiculous. Could be a good Super Bowl pick.
  2. Seattle – The best defense and a solid offense. They will make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and are always a contender for the title.
  3. Los Angeles – They will probably start #1 draft pick, Jared Goff, at QB; travel to London for a game; and await a new stadium. Lots of distractions, not to mention their HBO Hard Knocks show.
  4. San Francisco – Chip Kelly tries his system in a MUCH tougher division than the NFC East where the Eagles sat. He will struggle this year, but gets to spend four weeks back on the East Coast.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
NFC Playoffs
Championship Game – Cardinals vs Carolina
NFC Champions – Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl Champions – Arizona Cardinals

Gary's Picks

NFL Picks – Week One
Carolina
Houston
Atlanta
Tennessee
Philadelphia
Cincinnati
Oakland
Kansas City
Baltimore
Green Bay
Seattle
Giants
Indianapolis
Arizona
Pittsburgh
Los Angeles
 

Behind the Mic: Sideline – For the Birds!

Up front, I want to say that Chip Kelly is a breath of fresh air as an NFL coach. He is innovative, plays an up-tempo game that the fans find interesting, and seems to win with unknowns and makes them “knowns”. He has reinvigorated professional football in Philadelphia. And by now, I am sure you are waiting for… but…

There are times when I watch a game (and I see plenty of games), I wonder what is the coach thinking? I felt that way watching the Eagles this past week against the 49’ers. The Eagles lost 26-21 but were in position to win at the end. They could have been in a better position to win the game, except, in my opinion, for some coaching decisions. Let me give you three examples:

1. All Eagles’ fans are aware that the Birds are playing with a much-depleted offensive line – center Jason Kelce is out with a hernia; guard Evan Mathis has a knee injury; and tackle Lane Johnson is suspended. That is three of five offensive line positions. I love the hurry-up offense, but with so many injuries up front, might one consider to use a “slow-it-down offense”? On Sunday, the Eagles could not sustain drives. Seven of their eleven possessions ended in less than two minutes and the reasons were that they could not block the 49’ers and they could not run the football. Sprinkle in an awful day by quarterback, Nick Foles, and the Eagles’ offense spent the majority of the time on the sidelines. Remember, all 21 points were scored by the defense and special teams. This, also, means the defense had to spend an inordinate amount of time ON the field. With the way things were going on Sunday, the big early lead, the offensive blocking woes, and the lack of any offense, might this have been a good time to slow down the hurry-up?

2. In the fourth quarter and the Eagles down by two, the 49’ers were stopped on a third-and-three. This created a field-goal try of 42 yards. The Niners, however, were called for an offensive pass interference penalty on the third down play. Decline the penalty, right? Let them kick the field goal – worst case scenario – down by five; best case – still down by two. Coach Kelly accepted the penalty and the 49’ers got a first down on the next play and eventually kicked a field goal which was eleven yards closer and allowed the continued possession to use three more minutes of precious game time.

3. Despite #1 and #2, the Eagles still had a chance to win the game. Two minutes were left in the game and the Eagles were on the 49’ers one-yard line. They have LeSean McCoy and they have Darren Sproles; one can move the pile and one can seemingly go under the pile. Instead, as Tony Dungy pointed out in a postgame show, the Eagles chose twice to throw the ball with the linebackers playing 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. At least run it once. As I am sure you have already guessed, both pass attempts were unsuccessful.

So there’s my beef. Let me repeat – I am not a coach, nor do I profess to be one. But, I did stay at a Holiday Inn once!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Has anyone had a classier exit from sports than Derek Jeter? There was walk-off drama in his last at-bat in Yankee Stadium and an RBI base hit in his final at-bat ever at Fenway Park. Jeter made a point of shaking every Red Sox players’ hand before the game and telling them how much he enjoyed competing against them. He even stopped at the mound to shake the pitcher’s hand because he did not get a chance to do that before the game. Jeter finished his career #6 all-time in hits, #7 in at-bats, and #9 in runs scored. And kudos to the Red Sox for honoring Jeter in a perfect way.

2. We are four weeks into the NFL season (one-quarter of the way) and there are only two undefeated teams left. Seattle and Denver, right? Uh, no. It’s Arizona and Cincinnati! This is going to be a strange, strange season. Those suicide pools, where you pick one guaranteed winner each week, but you can’t re-pick the same team again are probably done by now. This year, you could start one every four weeks.

3. The baseball playoffs started this week. If you’re a fan, expect very little sleep FOR the next three weeks or so. Night games start late, end late, and seem to take forever.

4. I watched Whitehall take apart Parkland on Friday night. Before the game, the “experts” were all picking Parkland to win and most thought rather easily. That didn’t happen. That’s why you play the game. The Zephyrs travel to Easton (both undefeated) this week. It’s on RCN-TV LIVE at 7:00 with Chris Michael and John Leone.

5. If you are interested in Lafayette football this week, show me some love on Friday night at 6:30. I will be in the Bronx to do an audio-cast of the Lafayette-Fordham Patriot League football game. The game will be televised by the CBS Sports Network (on the RCN dial), but Mike Joseph and I will be doing an audio broadcast on the internet at goleopards.com. Watch the game on TV, turn the sound down, and use the computer to hear our biased Lafayette broadcast. Just a thought.

Gary's Picks
(Last Week – 9-4; Seasonal Record – 34-27: 56%)

GREEN BAY
CAROLINA
CLEVELAND
PHILADELPHIA
GIANTS
NEW ORLEANS
DALLAS
DETROIT
INDIANAPOLIS
PITTSBUGH
DENVER
SAN FRANCISCO
SAN DIEGO
CINCINNATI
SEATTLE

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles’ September Recap

As pain of the tough loss to the 49ers begins to subside just a bit, it’s time to take a realistic look back at the first month of the Eagles‘ season. Yes, if the Birds could have reached the endzone from the one yard line in the waning minutes of the San Francisco game, a 4-0 start would look tremendous heading into October. But when you look at the schedule, the sluggish starts to their games, their inconsistent offense and defense, and all the injuries sustained the past four weeks, 3-1 is nothing sort of amazing. If fact, with games against the lowly Rams and then the Giants coming up, I think most Eagles fans will be thrilled if their team heads into the bye week with a 5-1 record.

Before we start looking ahead, let’s analyze the three biggest stories so far, and what needs to happen for their success to continue.

#1 Nick Foles, You Are The Man…I Think
Foles recovered from a dreadful start against Jacksonville to post a second half stat line of 5-for-21, 183 yards & 2 touchdowns, followed by successively improving performances against the Colts and the Redskins. Foles became just the eighth quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 320 yards in each of the first three games of the season. And, perhaps even more encouraging, after practically ignoring Foles in 2013, the national media teased last Sunday’s game as “Nick Foles and the Eagles…” as opposed to “LeSean McCoy and the Eagles…” or last year’s “DeShawn Jackson’s Eagles…” After a year-and-a-half of questions surrounding the team’s QB, it seemed like Foles had finally arrived as “the guy.” That was before Sunday, when he put up one of the worst quarterback ratings of his career. I know–it’s just one game, and Sunday could simply be a minor blip on the radar of his steadily climbing career.

If there was a sliver of optimism from the Eagles’ final, yet futile drive in San Francisco, it was that Head Coach Chip Kelly showed the utmost confidence in the third-year pro by putting the game’s outcome in Foles’ hands, as opposed to some combination of Jason Peters’ blocking/McCoy running, as what I would have done in that situation. Granted, the woeful play of the decimated offensive line played a huge role in the decision (and was repeated by Kelly in his “day-after interviews” multiple times). But Kelly has been making all the right moves so far (or at least most of the right moves) in his short tenure in Philadelphia, and his decision to allow the game’s outcome to be decided by his quarterback could provide Foles with a world of confidence that his head coach has his back.

At least for this season.

#2 The Injuries
Without three-fifths of the team’s offensive line and the services of the team’s best defender due to injuries, Eagles fans should just be happy the team even had a shot a winning the game in San Fran. I had a chance recently to chat with Eagles reporter Al Thompson (“Footballstories” Magazine) and he was optimist about the Birds’ ability to overcome the medical setbacks on the offensive line and at middle linebacker.

Clearly the Eagles will benefit from the return of Lane Johnson from his four-game suspension, which will also allow Todd Herremans to move back to his more comfortable guard position. Fans can also take comfort in the fact that Center Jason Kelce should be able to return from his sports hernia in time to shake off the rust and be back to full strength for the playoff push. The team should be in good shape on the health front in a few weeks provided they can stay away from another rash of O-line injuries and if Mychal Kendricks can recover from his calf injury.

#3 The Running Game
On the one hand, the addition of Darren Sproles to the backfield has looked like the steal of the season. If fact, a national broadcaster said that if the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year, the New Orleans Saints should get a chunk of the championship prize money for giving Sproles away for just a fifth-round pick. He’s one of just three NFL players to have two 50+ yard receptions, he was named Offensive Player of the Week after setting career highs in both receiving yards and total years again Indianapolis, and he’s helped change field position numerous times on special teams, including returning an 82-yard punt for a touchdown against the Niners.

McCoy, meanwhile, came into the San Francisco game averaging less than 3-yards per carry, and that number went DOWN this past Sunday (10 carries for just 17 yards). Against the 49ers, the entire Eagles backfield combined for just 22 total yards for the game. It is true that McCoy has been dinged-up in a couple of the games with injuries, and the dreadful offensive line the Eagles had on display in their last ball game no doubt was a major contribution for lack of a ground assault. However, McCoy and the Eagles’ rushing attack MUST improve if the team is to have any postseason success, no matter how much luck they have in-tow and have already used through the team’s first four games. The upstart Cowboys are also 3-1 and, of more concern for Birds fans, are having great success moving the ball on the ground, which allows Tony Romo the wiggle room he usually needs to overshadow his often inconsistent passing. It won’t matter how many regular season victories the Eagles enter the playoffs with–it won’t mean a thing if they don’t get to at least the second round of the playoffs (see the 2011 Phillies).

Feel free to email your comments and opinions on the Eagles’ 3-1 start to the season to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for our live show this Thursday from 6-7 pm. We’ll also be discussing the use of technology in football on this week’s program on RCN-TV.

 

Behind the Mic: The NFL-NFC – Another Spoiler Alert!

Last week, my blog focused on the NFL-AFC as I wanted to let everyone know how each division would finish. This is the sequel to that blog as I now will take you through a journey of the NFC and give you enough information so that you can start to make your playoff plans. Remember, for a true fan there is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to tune in to the NFL Red Zone which covers highlights of every game played that day. You can order it by calling 1-800-RING RCN (this IS an unmitigated “plug” for the Red Zone – it makes our marketing people even happier when I do this two weeks in a row).

With that said, I am now ready to tell you (some say predict) how the regular season will turn out in terms of the NFC Division winners. So, much like last week, – SPOILER ALERT! – Do not read this if you want to enjoy the NFC regular season. The following is how the NFC will end up (This year’s record is in parentheses):

NFC SOUTH
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5) – They lost to Super Bowl champion, Seattle, in the playoffs. Their defense is better (Champ Bailey, for instance). AND, they are in a rather weak division.
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) – What the heck happened last year (4-12)? One word – injuries. They should be healthier (have to be) and begin to look like the team that was outstanding in 2012.
3. Carolina Panthers (8-8) – Here the question will be, “What the heck happened this year?” The Panthers were 12-4 last year, but they lost their wide receiver collection from last year. Even though their offense is questionable, their defense will win some games for them.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) – They have the potential to be one of the most improved teams (4-12 last year), but their improvement in the standings could take awhile.

NFC NORTH
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – IF Aaron Rodgers stays healthy and Eddie Lacy runs wild, the Packers will win the North. Their defense is a bit of a question mark.
2. Chicago Bears (11-5) – As QB Jay Cutler goes, so go the Bears. They have faith in him (he is signed through 2020). This is a tough division and “survival of the fittest” usually wins out. The Bears could be one of the “fittest”.
3. Detroit Lions (9-7) – Why don’t the Lions get better? They appear solid everywhere, but in the secondary. Potentially, they could have a very good season, but don’t we say that every year?
4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) – They will not get better. Only dog in the division.

NFC WEST
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3) – Obviously, the Super Bowl champs were great last year (13-3) and with their youth and talent, there is every reason to believe they will be great again. Pete Carroll seems to have the perfect disposition to avoid the typical Super Bowl letdown. This is the toughest division in the NFL and Seattle is the best team in that division.
2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4) – The 49ers lost to Seattle in the NFC championship game and they continue to possess great talent and great coaching. It has been 20 years from their last championship and that may give them enough incentive to get it done.
3. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) – They won 10 regular season games last year and missed the playoffs. Winning 11 should get them in. They proved they could beat Seattle when the Seahawks are at home and that says something about their pedigree. Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald is a lethal combination.
4. St. Louis Rams (8-8) – The Rams need to find another division. They are not a bad team, just not better than the other three in the NFC West. And no quarterback of note at the moment.

NFC EAST
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) – They were about the only team that looked better throughout the “NFC Least” last year. There just doesn’t seem to be much negativity around Chip Kelly. Nick Foles has to be the real deal and Darren Sproles should add even more excitement to the up-tempo style.
2. New York Giants (9-7) – Eli Manning cannot be as bad as he was last year; the defense is pretty good; the offensive line is better. The Giants will, also, be better.
3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) – Another ho-hum year for America’s team (still?). DeMarcus Ware is gone so the defense can’t be better. There were no great offensive additions. A long-shot to make the playoffs.
4. Washington Redskins (7-9) – New coach usually warrants a new attitude. RG III is healed, but not playing well. Name has not been changed. Four more wins than last year, but not enough to make the playoffs.

There you have it. It all starts September 4. Enjoy the season!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Joe Torre’s #6 was retired Saturday and that leaves only #2 left as a single-digit Yankees uniform not retired. That distinction will end when Derek Jeter has #2 retired. The Yankees were the first team to put numbers on uniforms back in 1929. The numbers originally coincided with the player’s spot in the batting order. In case you do not remember the single-digit retired numbers: #1-Billy Martin; #2-Derek Jeter; #3- Babe Ruth; #4- Lou Gerhrig; #5- Joe Dimaggio; #6- Joe Torre; #7- Mickey Mantle; #8- Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra; #9-Roger Maris.

2. The Eagles looked very good last Thursday against the Steelers. Even the back-ups played well. The Steelers looked very disinterested.

3. The Rams lost their quarterback, Sam Bradford, for the season (ACL) and are now desperate for a starting quarterback. The obvious choice is Mark Sanchez of the Eagles, who ran offensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer’s offense in New York. This would create a very interesting decision for all concerned.

4. Have you noticed how awful RG III has been for Washington so far? He threw for 20 yards – 20 yards! – on Saturday night. Joe Theismann has come out and suggested Jay Gruden yank his star for Kirk Cousins. That won’t happen.

5. Speaking of Grudens, father Jon Gruden was at Lafayette this past Wednesday to watch his son, Deuce, scrimmage. Ross Scheurman, Lafayette’s All-League running back was kept out of the scrimmage. Deuce is second on the depth chart and saw quite a bit of action.