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: The “Super” Match-up

The Super Bowl is here – Seattle vs. New England. And it is certainly an intriguing one. Seattle is going for their second straight title and that hasn’t happened in 10 years when, you guessed it, New England was able to repeat as champions. New England is seeking a fourth Super Bowl victory which would tie the record for the most by any team (Steelers and 49’ers).

There certainly have been plenty of distractions during the first week of the two weeks of preparation. Who is not talking about deflated footballs? Is Richard Sherman going to be healthy enough to play for Seattle (he certainly has been healthy enough to talk this week)? Marshawn Lynch continues to be fined for obscene gestures and for not talking to the press and when he does, his answers are senseless. Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick only got asked about the weight of footballs, not the game, all week. But now it is time to play a football game.

Putting all of the distractions aside, here are my keys for each team to win the game:

Seattle:
5. Jermaine Kearse (WR) – He needs to catch the ball, not tip the ball (two tips led to two interceptions in the Packers game); his catch won the game. Catching is much better.
4. Russell Wilson (QB) – He needs to look to run more and throw less. When he runs, throwing to receivers becomes easier.
3. Kam Chancellor (S) needs to be matched up with Rob Gronkowski (TE). He has the size and the speed to deal with Gronk.
2. Marshawn Lynch (RB) – He, as he ALWAYS does, lets his performance do the talking. He should be able to run against the Patriots. Let the Beast loose.
1.  Defense – Get pressure on Brady and combine that with great cornerback play.

New England:
5. Julius Edelman – He needs to step up as both a return specialist and a receiver, especially if Seattle successfully defends against Gronkowski.
4. Derelle Revis (CB) and Brandon Browner (CB) – Both play their positions defending the run and the pass as well as anyone. Browner played for Seattle last year and may possess some inside information.
3. Offensive line – Open holes and protect. It’s that simple, yet it’s very difficult.
2.  LaGarrette Blount (RB) – I don’t like why he is a Patriot after what he did to his Pittsburgh team and I do not want him to do well. But… Packers ran on Seattle and he must also!
1. Tom Brady (QB) – He’s the best and can join both Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as a four-time Super Bowl winner.

Coaches:
Pete Carroll – He appears to be the most energetic of the NFL coaches and his players seem to love to play for him. If that’s the case, they might want to exact some revenge for their coach since New England fired him in 1999 and hired Belichick.

Bill Belichick – Stoicism and preparation are hallmarks of him and his teams. Distractions aside, no one will be better prepared.

It sounds like the perfect match-up for a great, great game. Enjoy!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

 SUPER BOWL TRIVIA QUESTIONS:

1.   The Packers won the first Super Bowl. What team did they beat?
2.  We all know the Jets were the first Super Bowl American Football League Champions (Joe Namath). Which AFL team was the second to win the title?
3.  What Roman numerals will signify next year’s game?
4.  What three teams have appeared in eight Super Bowls?
5.  55-10 is the most lopsided Super Bowl score. Name one of the two teams in that game.

    Gary's Picks

(Last week – 2-0) (179-84-1 overall – 68%)            

AND THE WINNER WILL BE:
            SEATTLE – 27-23

  
ANSWERS:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Kansas City Chiefs
  3. L
  4. Pittsburgh, New England, Dallas
  5. San Francisco over Buffalo (1990)            

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.

 

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!