Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bringing Moderation to the Extreme



The epiphany scared me. It made me mad… then disturbed… and then, inspired.

As I watched Tom Brady’s interview with Mike Tirico prior to the start of Monday night’s “game” with the Houston Texans, I realized that Brady, the same man who has been at the helm of a cornucopia of my worst moments as a sports fan, no longer garnered even the slightest modicum of my disdain. I’ve always respected Brady—much in the same way I hope Red Sox fans feel about Derek Jeter—but this was something more than a begrudging acknowledgement of greatness. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where Did I Go?

It's be a while since I posted onto Late Night Thoughts.  The reason for that is that I've been spreading my writing efforts across two different websites recently, leaving no time to create original things here.

Still, I want to provide a way for my recent work to be accessed.  The two main places I am posting are (1) Bleacher Report and (2) Chalkpack Magazine.  If you maneuver around the cites you should have no problem finding my contributions.  

For Bleacher Report, I am listed as "Adam B. Weinberger" since apparently another "Adam Weinberger" has written for them and while I am sure this impostor is a wonderful person, he is certainly not as wonderful as am I.   

Hopefully I will have some original Late Night Thoughts content within the next week.

-AW

Sunday, July 1, 2012

NBA Draft's Most Exciting Selections

I recently got the opportunity to write for Bleacher Report.  As such, most of my work will cease to be posted here and instead put somewhere on their site.  The links for these articles will be provided here, as well as through my Twitter and FB accounts.  However, any non-sports related work will continue to appear in Late Night Thoughts.  Here is my first contribution to the cite:

NBA Draft's Most Exciting Selections: Davis, Waiters, Robinson Lead the Way

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What to Make of Jared Sullinger


Before he was a two time All-American, Jared Sullinger was a five star recruit with a rating of 100 by ESPN and depending on which scouting group you subscribe to, fell anywhere from five to two among all high school seniors.  He won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and took his talents to Columbus.    

And now, after averaging over 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game over the course of two years at Ohio State, Sullinger will be on the outside looking in at the NBA Draft.  This doesn’t mean he won’t be drafted; Sullinger will likely still fall somewhere in the first round, but only anticipated lottery picks get a draft day invitation. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The 21 Best Songs of Kanye West's Career


Kanye West is the greatest hip-hop artist of today.  Period.  Nobody is as musically gifted and nobody is as personally invested in the lyrics as is Kanye.  His producing abilities alone would place him among the field’s best.  He rarely makes bad songs (although Theraflu makes my head hurt, but I blame DJ Khaled) and all of West’s studio albums (yes, even 808’s) have been miles ahead of what any else is putting out in terms of complexity, substance, and overall listenability. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The New NFL Offseason (SECOND EDITION!!)


I know that the last several weeks have been hard on all my loyal readers.  Many nights were spent awake and on those few occasions where you did drift into a depressing, sports-deprived slumber, you awoke in a sweat-drenched panic.  But fret not, for I have returned. 

I am completely aware of the plentitude of rumors surrounding my unannounced disappearance.  There was that kidnapping story circulating the Internet, but those in the know reassured my concerned fan base that such claims were untrue.  Then there was the bank robbery rumor, but let me just put that one to rest once and for all: It was my twin brother Andy Weinberger who robbed the Bank of America at gunpoint.  I can’t even imagine the other stories you all conjured up.  In reality, I actually have been writing sports articles these past few weeks, just as a freelance writer for another company.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NCAA Title Game Reaction; In the Defense of John Calipari


Was there really any doubt?  Did anyone actually believe that Kentucky would fail to bring home the hardware this year?  Wasn’t selecting any other team to win the national championship basically just a shot at Calipari?

As Kansas stormed back in the waning moments of Monday night’s game, I wonder how many naysayers rose up from their seats, jacked up the television volume, and braced themselves for the vindicating I-told-you-he-can’t-get-it-done moment.  Kansas was about to become his New York Giants, the personification of the forces of good triumphing against the symbol of all that is wrong with college basketball. 

Except here’s the problem: Calipari hasn’t done anything wrong. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

NFL Rumblings; Part 2. What is Going on in New York?


I’ve been asked by a handful of people over the last few weeks as to why I am yet to write an article regarding the New York Jets’ strikingly unorthodox off season.  I don’t really have an answer to that aside from the fact that writing said article would inherently mean that I must seriously attempt to understand a collection of moves that have befuddled many New Yorkers and NFL fans across the country.  Do I include myself among the perplexed?  Well… uh…  I am confused – that I know for certain.  Any other feelings I hope to resolve by the time I sign off. 

In looking at the Jets’ offseason, the most relevant developments surround the quarterback position.  But, before I get into that, let’s look at some of the things the Jets have done well since their cross-hallway rivals took home the Lombardi Trophy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

NFL Rumblings; Part 1


I’ve been out of town the last two weeks, one of those being spent road tripping throughout the South.  Keeping tabs on the sports world was not an easy task, but the fact that everyone in the car had a smart phone made it at least a little more possible.  I did get to catch a majority of the first round of NCAA games, albeit only bits and pieces of each as we moved from one bar to another.  As we honed back in on the Mason-Dixon Line, I began to think about which college basketball team would be the focus of my first column in some time.  Then, in a matter of ESPN App iPhone reloads, our car was hit with a series of trumping NFL issues: Tim Tebow was to become a New York Jet and the New Orleans Saints (just three days after we left the city) officially committed the greatest mistake in NFL history.  When you throw in the now-stale Peyton Manning situation, it was clear that even in a month for college basketball, football still dominates the American sports universe.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trivia Answers

My father informed me that I failed to post the answer to the trivia questions.  The answers:


1. Who set the record for most intentional walks (44) by a right-handed hitter in 2009?  Difficulty: 1/10
--Albert Pujols

2. Who is the only player in MLB history to win both the all-star game MVP award and World Series MVP award in the same season? Difficulty: 2.5/10
--Derek Jeter

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Peyton Manning Saga Begins

The old adage “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” has become a shared viewpoint for all fans of professional football with regards to Peyton Manning.  The 2011 NFL season, while littered with parody and newfound success for some organizations, was certainly incomplete.  The league was without its most iconic player – it’s best player.

It didn’t take long for us to know Peyton Manning’s time in Indianapolis had reached the final chapter.  For some, myself included, the news that Manning would miss a chunk of regular season games all but notarized what would inevitably be a horribly disappointing season.  Once we learned he was done for the year, there was little doubt as to which team would be the frontrunner in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. 

I spent a good deal of time writing about how the financial burden of picking up Manning’s option and signing Luck with the first overall pick would be more than worth it.  Allowing Luck to develop would have created an even more seamless Favre-Rodgers-like transition.  But, I am not a professional sports team owner nor general manager and my view on the situation would have probably led to a similar situation as what the Miami Heat had in 2010-11; almost everyone else would be hovering around minimum salaries.  The Indi situation would have been even more precarious.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Attempting to Rationalize The Bounty System

"Whoever is snitching on the Saints D should be ashamed of themselves. No one was talking about the ‘bounty’ when they got paid. #shame.” – Ryan Clark. 

After a season in which the NFL endured a battery of safety allegations amid the ever prominent fiery opposition to rule changes, the league is now in the midst of a new and potentially colossal development.  The once exalted defensive mind, Gregg Williams, whose coaching was one of the most integral components of the 2009-10 Super Bowl season in New Orleans, is now the face of what many fear is a “Bounty” system that permeates throughout the league.  Williams has reportedly orchestrated a clandestine system with his defensive personnel through which players were offered cash prizes for injuring opposing offensive players. 

NFL players, coaches, correspondents, and seemingly everyone in the blogosphere have been weighing in on the matter.  There are the extremists.  New Orleans should be stripped of their Super Bowl.  Or, on the other side, this has been going on for as long as there has been football, no big deal.  Then there are those more akin to my take.  Do we really think a few tens of thousands of dollars is enough to get people making millions to do something they may be doing already?  Williams’ bounty system, which, at its highest point, was about 50 grand, existed to motivate his players to engage at an intense level.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Trivia, RGIII, and Duke; aka the three best things ever


So I had big plans to write a really detailed article today.  Then I did computer science homework for ¼ of an eternity.  Here are some quick thoughts on the NFL and college basketball and then some recent sports trivia.  

NFL
This just in, RGIII is really good.  Well, not Andre Luck good, but maybe Cam Newton good and probably better than Sam Bradford good.  With the second pick in the draft, the Rams are in a position that I fail to recall any other team having in recent history.  Assuming St. Louis chooses to hold onto their rookie-of-the-year-turned-bottom-five-quarterback, they will be in a position to offer 30 other teams in the league the rights to a player who may be the number one overall pick in most other drafts.  If you assume that Peyton Manning will be a free agent as well, which is not a given, the stage is set for a riveting pre-draft period.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meet Me at the Mall; It's Going Down: DUNK CONTEST 2012


There’s been a lot of talk lately about how the league can resolve its dunk contest problem.  What was long ago a conglomeration of the league’s most exciting players has become a gathering of it’s “rising stars” – that is to say, it is comprised of four players who are not yet above the banality of the event.  This year’s contestants, Paul George, Derrick Williams, Jeremy Evans, and Chase Budinger, are so unheard of that Arne Duncan, the 47-year-old US Secretary of Education fresh off a dazzling Celeb-Game, is seriously contemplating signing himself up as well.



Some have contended that it may be time to take a hiatus on the Dunk Contest.  After all, the 2000 Vincanity Dunk Contest came in the wake of a three year layoff and, perhaps because of a nation-wide longing for the event’s return, proved to be one of the greatest in history.  But if the questions is whether or not we should do the same now with the contest at perhaps an all-time low, the answer is a definitive no. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

LINSANITY!!!!!!!!!! (and other things)


From 1:00 in the afternoon to nearly midnight of yesterday, I parked my ass on the sofa and moved for only the real necessities of life: bladder developments, food, and to reposition onto another piece of furniture.  At 6:45 I got up to make dinner, moving quickly enough so as to be able to squeeze in the entire process prior to the start of the Denver-OKC matchup.  The day felt a whole lot like a Sunday in mid-October.

NBA fans around the league were treated to the best day of nationally covered basketball thus far in the lockout shorted, level-of-play-deflated 2012 season.  Over the three games between the Knicks and the Mavs, the Heat and the Magic, and the aforementioned Nuggets and Thunder, we got to watch three of the four best players in basketball (LeBron, Durant, Wade), six of the top ten (add Howard and Nowitzki -- who is finally playing as such), eight of the top fifteen to twenty (Westbrook, Bosh), and some guy named Jeremy Lin.  The typical trend when star-studded/playoff-caliber teams face off thus far has been disappointment, stemming from superstars “resting” on the bench (has anyone else noticed how painfully boring the Bulls are without Rose) or sloppy play in general.  All three of the games covered nation-wide proved to be riveting because teams were playing to their fullest potential. 

Here’s what I learned from this weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Assessing LeBron's Miami Heat


I will be stunned if the Miami Heat do not win the NBA finals this season.  They are by far the best team in basketball, blowing away opposition with about as much concentration and effort as it takes to play Words with Friends.  Many asked last year if “The Big Three” was an unjust epithet, claiming that Bosh really didn’t belong in the classification of the other two.  Bosh-rippers lump him into the cornucopia of disappointing players who, before signing with a big market, shined seemingly only because of the inadequacy of their prior small-market, supporting crew.  Since when is 18.7 and 8.3 per game from your power forward the reason a team fails to perform?  Bosh is a good player, but he could leave Miami tomorrow and they’d probably win just as many games as they would with him.    

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Making Sense of the West

Attention: Basketball columns will be coming in hot. 

Picking up my coverage of the NBA midway through the season is going to have an inevitably awkward opening paragraph.  Rather than bore with banal introduction and stage setting…

I guess this is my exposition, homie, this shit is basic, welcome to NB-ation (good morning).

Youth is being served out West, at least thus far.  Although traditional West Coast powers like the Spurs, Lakers, and Mavs continue to win games, it is the upstart (and rightfully so) Thunder and Clippers, along with their four all-stars (Paul, Griffin, Durant, Westbrook) and one should-be all-star (Harden) stealing the headlines.  Of all the sub-plots of the season thus far, the one that intrigues me that most is whether or not these two young, seemingly fearless teams are legitimate.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ranking the Top 100 Players in the NFL; 20 - 1


After two columns, I have released the top 20 players in the NFL.  

Penciled in All-Pros
20. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (NYG)
When the New York Giants used their first pick of the 2010 NFL draft on a defensive end despite having Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, some felt they were putting too much focus in one area.  Mind you, that area (pass rush) is what has won them their last two Super Bowls.  Others, myself included, loved the JPP pick and felt pretty confident, given their track record at the position (Strahan too), that Pierre-Paul would emerge as another talented pass rusher.  Nobody could have predicted how quickly that ascension would come.  It took him less than two seasons to surpass his all-pro mentors.  He has been in on a sack in all but seven games over his last twenty-two.  That’s only one more sack-less game than a certain soon-to-be named Cowboy.   
Seems pretty obvious Pierre-Paul was destined
for greatness.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Premier League Mid-Season Overview: Splash That Cash!

I know it's hard to believe, but there are sports in this world other than American Football (waiting... waiting... waiting...).  No, really, it's true.  Apparently there's this other game called soccer, which interestingly enough, is also called football.  Equally puzzling, there are people other than myself who have sports opinions and thoughts.  If you recall, one such person wrote a soccer (pronounced "soc-er") column last fall.  Well, he's back to tell us more about this riveting game.  The top 100 NFLers will conclude tomorrow.  Until then, let the below tickle your sports fancy.  I proudly present the second ever Late Night Thoughts article by Joe Dammann.  

      As the English Premier League enters the seventh month of its marathon season, the footballing cream has separated from the rest of the crop.  Only the two Manchester teams, City and United, have a real shot of winning the title, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other coveted prizes to play for.  Third and fourth place in the league are nearly as important as winning the whole thing, because those spots gain a team entry into the next year’s Champions League, the biggest revenue generator of all and how the “big” teams stay “big”.  Even in lean years, these last two Champion’s League spots are hotly contested.  And this is a year of plenty.  Never before have there been so many teams with ambition of greatness.  Along with the traditional “Big 4” (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal), three upstarts have upset the natural order of the Premier League.  Manchester City, borne aloft on the wings of petrodollars, has bought their way to the top of the league.  Tottenham, through some shrewd business and burgeoning stars, are sitting pretty in third place.  Newcastle is by far the surprise of the season, continually beating expectations and delighting the crowds with flowing, continental soccer.  These last four months of the season will be defining for a number of these clubs.  Missing out on the Champion’s League could well spell doom for a number of traditional powers.  The balance of the Premier League hangs in the balance.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ranking the Top 100 Players in the NFL; 65 - 21


We pick up the rankings with Gregggggggg Jennings.  After this article, there remains only the top 20.

Conceivably Trade-able

65. Greg Jennings, WR (GB)
64. Michael Turner, RB (ATL)
63. Dez Bryant, WR (DAL)
I love the way Dez Bryant plays.  There’s just no way you can convince me that he doesn’t have the physical talents to be the best wide out in football.  He’s too big, too fast, and utilizes contact better than any other receiver in the NFL.    

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ranking the Top 100 Players in the NFL; The first 35


With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it’s never too early to look ahead to next year.  In what will be a multi-column article, I have attempted to rank the NFL’s top 100 players heading into the 2012 season.  It is my hope that at the conclusion of this I will accept that football is over, at least for a few months, and that I will be ready to write about other sports.  But until then…

This is not a prediction of who will be the best player five years down the road from now nor is it meant as a list of the players with the 100 best careers thus far (Ray Lewis will not be in the top 10).  I’m not giving bonus points for previous Super Bowls and I’m not reducing the value of players on underachieving teams.  This list is not meant as a preview of which players will have the best statistical seasons as ranking by this method would make certain players rely heavily on others (a running back and his line, a wide out and his quarterback).  In other words, a player’s position on this list would not change if he were traded into a better or worse situation.  The list simply answer’s the question, who are the league’s 100 best players? 

In creating this hierarchy, I attempted to treat all positions equally.  However, there’s just no way a team would ever trade the number 100 player on the list for even the best kicker, punter, or long snapper in football. As such, no one from said positions made the cut, although Sebastian Janikowski and Andy Lee topped the kicker and punter positions respectively.  Fifty-seven offensive players made the final list.  There are 13 quarterbacks, 13 half backs, one full back, 14 wide receivers, five tight ends, and 11 offensive linemen.  Two of the offensive players who I selected were chosen, at least in part, for their special teams talents.  The 43 defensive players were composed of 16 linebackers, 15 defensive linemen, seven cornerbacks, and five safeties.    

Comparing players of different positions is nearly impossible.  I found the most challenging aspect of this process to be correctly placing the offensive linemen as well as the recent surge of defensive talent that has made its way into the league over the last two seasons.   

Creating this was as inexact as it was opinion.  Anything formulated under these two pretenses should be seen as a subject of debate.  So… let the debating begin.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl Recap; Is There a Blueprint?

In a decade that has featured a slew of exciting and intriguing Super Bowl conflicts, Acts I and II of the Giants-Patriots showdown are the defining sports moments for the lives of every sports fan under the age of 25.  The Giants and Patriots might not even qualify as rivals - they’ve played just five times over the last 11 years.  Yet, you can throw away every other “rivalry” if you want to find one that can match the intensity, quality of play, and overwhelming degree of mutual respect that is displayed in these iconic games. 

The greatest sports organization over the last 11 years has dominated every team except for one that people too often dismiss and underrate.  The New York Giants, a team whose seasons are defined not by gaudy statistics and blowouts, but, rather, scrutiny, head-scratchers, and a constantly criticized head coach, have proven once again that they should be unquestionably placed among the NFL’s supreme, classy, and most cherished organizations. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Super Bowl Preview; Part 3: My Actual Pick


I can only beat around the bush for so long.  Eventually I need to take a strong stance.  Damn.  I was so good at playing both sides. 

I don’t really understand how television program viewership numbers and ratings are calculated, but I feel like Super Bowl 46 has a decent shot to become the most watched Super Bowl ever.  There are big markets, a big rivalry, and big time players.

Using my last two columns as a guide for the ebbs of the game, here is how I see Super Bowl XLVI going down.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Super Bowl Preview; Part 2: Why the Patriots Will Win


Last week, I told you why the Giants would win the Super Bowl.  Here’s why New England will do it.

1. Vince Wilfork is the quickest 323-pound man I have ever seen.  I hate writing articles in which I regurgitate the fads that are simultaneously circulating all of the sports airwaves, but in the case of Wilfork, who’s coming off a game in which he left no debate as to who is the league’s best defensive tackle, I must join the conversation.  Were it not for Wilfork’s complete domination of the Ravens offensive line this past Sunday, Patriot fans would be asking themselves whether the style of their team is one that is fit to win a Super Bowl.  Yet, here we are on the complete other side of that question. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Super Bowl Preview; Part 1: Why the Giants Will Win


The two-week period between the conclusion of the conference championship game and the beginning of the Super Bowl is an abyss of redundancy, over analysis, and anticipation.  Fans must listen to writers and the football maidens break down every centimeter of the upcoming game to the point of irrelevance.  By the end of the first week, every “meaningful” plot element will be covered.  We will know all about the player matchups, the history of the two teams, and, of course, the response to the most banal of all questions, “What is coach so-and-so doing to get his players ready for the game?”  By the end of the second week, the punditry will expand to topics as extraneous as when the players decide to arrive in Indianapolis, where they sit on the plane, the typical consistency of a pregame meal, and how the softness of hotel beds impact Tom Brady’s accuracy.  I can assure you that the endless rambling will be assuaged only with bi-hourly mentioning of Tim Tebow.  The regression and sidestepping can turn the minds of an otherwise sports-savvy individual to gelatinous mush. 

How am I going to placate this seemingly inevitable situation?  Well, the moments during this two-week period for which reaction, banter, and predictions are pleasurable and interesting are at the beginning and end.  Therefore, much like I did leading up to conference championship weekend, the Super Bowl coverage will come in three parts, only in this case there will be a strict, weeklong moratorium separating the second and third article during which the words Super Bowl will not be written. 

In order to develop a way of accurately selecting a winner, I have decided that I will devote an entire article explaining why the Giants will be victorious and another article detailing precisely why New England will not allow a Super Bowl 42 repeat.  Both outcomes seem equally plausible now.  My hope is that I will be able to devise an accurate prediction once both columns are written.

The 2011 season for the Giants was perhaps the most up and down season a Super Bowl team has ever had.  New York started the campaign by winning five of their first seven games.  Despite the 5-2 record, many wondered if the Giants were a legitimate contender since their two loses came against Washington and Seattle, two of the worst NFC teams at that point of the season.  However, New York’s week 9 victory at New England sparked what at first glance seemed like a turning point for both teams – New York on the rise and New England looking the most dire it ever has with Tom Brady.  But, as is often the case when people sense a dramatic change in the fabric of a given season, the New York victory did the exact opposite.  The G-Men proceeded to lose their next four games while New England began a winning streak that has carried all the way to the Super Bowl.  New York wrapped up the season winning three of their final four, have a five game winning streak of their own, and will defeat the Patriots for these four big reasons. 

1. Even third string wide receiver Mario Manningham is too good for any of New England’s defensive backs.  The trio of Giants wide outs, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Manningham, are the best wide receiving core in football.  They’re athletic, clutch, have great hands, and are sensational after the catch.  We have seen impressive receiver duos (or trios) emerge over the last few seasons, but none have been less flashy than New York’s committee.  Even when Nicks and Cruz turn twenty yard passes into 60+ yard touchdowns, they somehow manage to do it without slap-you-in-the-face athletic fanfare.  What I mean by this is that there’s no unnecessary flip into the end zone, dramatic spin move, or running over of the defensive back.  They simply move to the open space on the field and make opposing defenses look completely befuddled and out of position. 

Previous great wide receiver groups often come with different roles for each member.  When the Giants and Patriots met in the Super Bowl four years ago, Moss and Welker spent all season being matchup nightmares for defenses.  However, opposing teams knew what role the two would be fulfilling.  They didn’t really need to be concerned with Moss going over the middle of the field much like they could almost ignore the possibility of Welker going deep down the sidelines.

This is simply not how things work in New York.  It is often the case that the specific style a wide receiver adopts can be linked to his physique.  The three Giants wide receivers play and look so similarly it’s almost impossible to know who made the catch without seeing the name on the back of the jersey.  Just one inch and 28 pounds separate Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham, which help to explain their high versatility. 
While other receivers might do more to dazzle, the NY wideouts are
as talented as they come
The talent disparity between New York’s elite receivers and the stumbling mannequins that New England calls their defensive backs is simply too vast for Belichick, or anyone else, to create an effective way to take more than one of them out of the game, let alone all three.  The teams that have had success against the Patriots have been the ones that take shots deep throughout the entire game.  Baltimore tried this a few times this past Sunday, one of which worked to perfection in the first quarter of the game in which Flacco rolled to his right before heaving the ball downfield for 42 yards to a wide-open Torrey Smith.  New England also struggled defending Anquan Boldin who went for over 100 yards.  Boldin plays a similar style as the New York receivers in terms of his ability to catch balls anywhere on the field.  The Giants should look to throw the ball deep often and early.   

Nicks, Cruz, and Manningham have all shown the ability to make big catches, especially while covered.  Manning just needs to give them a chance.


2. As Hannah Montana says, the New York Giants, “Get the best of both worlds [thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck].”  Everybody knows that the key to New York’s success in Super Bowl 42 was the pass rush.  Everybody knows that what the Giants were able to do became a blueprint for other teams to follow against the Patriots.  Of course, just because the Giants showed the rest of the football world how to slow down Tom Brady, it does not mean doing so is an easy feat.  In fact, there is still no other team in the league that can get to Brady like the New York Giants and the reason for this is their superb defensive line. 

Few, if any, teams can generate the pass rush of the Giants using just their front four.  Pierre-Paul emerged as the teams best defensive player this season, earning AP all-pro defensive end honors.  He is now the third defensive end on the team to receive such honors.  Osi was named first team all-pro in 2005, Tuck earned the award in 2008, and both were named to the second team AP all-pro list in 2010.  There is simply no other defensive unit that can compete with the pass rushers of the Giants. 
This is an image the Giants must see more of if they want to
repeat.
Aside from pressuring Brady, New York’s biggest task will be to devise a game plan that limits the New England tight ends.  As we have found out, and as I made perfectly clear as to why, this is a borderline impossible objective to fulfill, especially when you consider that the secondary is not the strong point of the Giants team.  However, since they rarely need to blitz to create pressure, they will be able to use all seven of their remaining defenders to achieve this goal.  Baltimore should be pleased with how well they contained Hernandez and Gronkowski in the AFC title game.  Do not expect the Giants to do quite as well, although if the two tight ends combine for less than 125 all purpose yards New York should feel they did about the best one could expect given the strengths and weaknesses of their defense.    

3. Eli Manning.  If Eli can play at a similar level as he has done the last three games, his 2011 postseason campaign could go down as one of the best ever.  He has thrown for 923 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception, good for a rating thus far of 103.1. 

There is really no reason why this type of high-level football should not continue into the Super Bowl.  The concept of pressure does not seem to be one by which Manning is negatively influenced.  His fourth quarter numbers this season are staggering.  He’s also throwing against one of the worst secondarys in football.  Perhaps it was too high of a finish, but I gave Eli my second place MVP vote at the conclusion of the season.  That doesn’t look so silly now.  Manning is playing consistently, confidently, and most importantly, gutsy.  You could have played a front 9 with all the grass shoved into his helmet this past Sunday.

Is it any coincidence that under Peyton Manning the Colts were able to produce a plethora of talented offensive threats like Harrison, Wayne, and Clark and now, with Eli doing all the good things he is doing, we have seen the same thing in New York?  Great quarterback play is the only way to develop young receivers. 

Say what you will about Brady, Rodgers, and Brees, but right now Eli Manning is the premier fourth quarter, clutch-situation quarterback in the league, bar none.  Ten quarterbacks have won multiple Super Bowls and, of those, Jim Plunkett is the only eligible one not to be in the Hall of Fame.  A second Super Bowl championship would at least put Manning into a HOF discussion although he has a long way to go make that legitimate.

4. The Giants are the ones who have the rematch.  Only seven players who played in Super Bowl 42 are still on New England’s roster. Seldom-used running back Kevin Faulk is one of them.  Wilfork is the only defensive player.  Compare that with the Giants who have 15 players who were a part of the first bout.

The Giants have veterans at major positions including running backs Jacobs and Bradshaw, defensive ends Umenyiora and Tuck, and cornerbacks Webster and Ross.  All those players participated in Super Bowl 42.  You could make an argument that if the Giants can win the battle at those three positions than they will come out on top.  I’ve always believed that past trends, “bulletin board material,” trash talking during the week, and pretty much everything other than the coaches’ game plan and players’ execution of it are all but irrelevant.  However, in a close game we cannot overlook the experience discrepancy of the two teams.

The Giants may not have made it to this Super Bowl were it not for the mistakes of an inexperienced team.  If the game goes down to the wire, which I am essentially assuming it will, you have to consider which team is more disastrous-mistake prone.  I don’t think it is the Giants.   

-AW

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Championship Round Predictions; I Officially Know Nothing


I’ve successfully managed to beat around the bush this past week, but I can no longer delay the inevitable fact that I have absolutely no clue as to how this postseason will conclude.  Although my predictive powers are not in tact at the moment, I can safely say I know what I want to happen.  And, really, why entertain the notion of something else?  As Tim Tebow knows, if you wholeheartedly want something to happen, people will give it to you. 

Certainly predicting winners has its self-satisfying, look-what-I-did moments, but how long does such a feeling really last?  No, really, how long does it last?  It feels like it’s been half a century since I’ve made a pick worthy enough for self-applause.  I would much rather spend my time talking about things I would like to happen as opposed to things that will ultimately make me look like an idiot.  With that in mind, here are my weekend picks. 

I want the rematch; I’m ready.  It needs to happen.  As we all look ahead to possible Super Bowl matchups, the notion that we may see it again is as enticing as something that is very enticing.  Even after all the elapsed time, people still talk about the game more than any other one in recent memory.  The first bout had everything you could need: an underdog, back and forth scoring, spectacular plays, and, ultimately, one team coming out on top because, on that day, they were simply better.  The victorious team outplayed the opposition, out coached the opposition, and captured victory because of their own superior play rather than a let down from the foe.  NFL fans around the world caught lightening in a bottle the first time.

You know the game I’m talking about.  You know the rematch I want to see.  Say it with me now, loud and hostile, “Harbaugh Bowl Part 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

To get pumped up for this potential affair, please allow me to entice you with the chop-licking statistics from the first battle between the San Francisco 49ers and their head coach, Jim Harbaugh, and the Baltimore Ravens and their head coach, John Harbaugh. 

People say it’s a passing league.  Well, people, you had better rethink that idea because H.B.I. (Harbaugh Bowl I) had a grand total of 257 passing yards!  Who doesn’t want to see that again?  And if you think the teams covered the passing gap in rushing yards, think again!  In the 16-6 game, the two teams combined for 166 yards on 56 carries.  That’s an average of 2.96 yards per carry!  So, it was a defensive game.  I mean, the quarterbacks are Joe Flacco and Alex Smith.  Even their teammates think they’re bad! There must have been a bunch of turnovers then, right?  False once more!  There was just one! 
Loud noises!
Fan’s today don’t know anything about good football.  We’re a bunch of amateurs in a fine winery rushing to the Manischewitz.  We don’t appreciate beauty even when it’s right before our eyes (or in the case of H.B.I., the eyes of the 15 people who get NFL Network).  There were more punts in the H.B.I. than points from touchdowns.  If that’s not the definition of grungy, old school, ├╝ber-exciting football than I don’t know what is!

I know it sounds boring, but believe me it won’t be.  Us fans just need to leave what has become a comfort zone of sorts.  Five hundred passing yards and 60 combined points are great and all, but I’m telling you (because the senior citizens at ESPN tell me), defensive, snore-inducing football is so much better… 

Then again, maybe we aren’t ready to leave the offensive comfort zone…

If at this point you haven’t been able to decipher the underlying sarcastic voice throughout this entire column, you are either (A) my mom or (B) some other person that knows nothing about football or verbal irony.  So, without further delay, I can say with full not sarcasm, I am rooting so, so freaking hard for this years’ big game to be a rematch of Super Bowl 42.

A San Francisco, Baltimore Super Bowl would actually be the worst thing that could happen for my predictive reputation.  I’ve contended these are both overrated teams for much of the season.  If they meet in two weeks, I am going to have some major questions to answer, mainly from myself.  But, at this point, my opinion is already entirely wrong.  You cannot make it this far based on anything but talent and coaching.  They are both very good teams. 

Everyone is ready for the Super Bowl 42 rematch.  Patriots fans need their redemption.  They’ve had to listen to Giants fans carry on and on about their superiority to New England for the last four years.  It only increased after the Giants beat the Patriots earlier this season.  These two factors mean that New England fans would probably enjoy this Super Bowl victory more than any of their previous ones.  Meanwhile, Giants supporters are already convulsing from the possibility that they can continue on their we-own-the-best-team-of-the-decade football rant for the foreseeable future.  As for the non-biased NFL fan, this type of animosity and arrogance within two fan bases has set the stage for a Facebook status and Twitter feed battle of epic proportions.
The responsibility of keeping Gronk in check will
fall on Ed Reed.
For the above reasons, and because I believe the Giants and Patriots are the two best remaining playoff teams, they are my picks to advance to the Super Bowl.  Of course, when a gem of a Super Bowl lingers, someone is going to crash the party.  Not to mention, it seems like the entire Western World is going with the Super Bowl 42 rematch as well. 

Tom Brady must look at Peyton’s situation and think to himself about how fortunate he is to be healthy and this close to another Super Bowl because, in the crazy game of football, every snap could be his last.  He may never get this close again and I don’t think he’s going to let them lose now.  As discussed extensively in my last column, Gronkowski and Hernandez are going to decide the success New England has against the good Ravens D.  Baltimore is probably the team most capable of defending the tight end within the current schemes.  Lewis is still one of the top linebackers, especially against the pass, and behind him is Ed Reed who may very well be the best coverage safety ever.  This means the Ravens will be using Lewis in man or short zone coverage with Reed lurking behind him.  The problem is that still won’t get it done against Gronk, especially when Baltimore must also deal with Hernandez.  New England’s defense has been better lately and they’re at home.  I want the Patriots to win (my pinky just incinerated from writing that) and that’s why I’m picking them. 
Official pick: Patriots 27, Ravens 17

The Giants and 49ers met earlier in the season and San Francisco was able to pull out a close victory.  I believe the Giants will win this game because of their front four on defense, a formula that won them Super Bowl 42.  As I was watching TV Friday afternoon, Steve Young said he believed that Alex Smith has the type of confidence that will serve him well in this postseason.  However, if this is the case he needs to be careful not to get too confident.  Harbaugh should keep his team in check and make sure they don’t abandon the running game and the safe, consistent offense that brought them this far.  If Coughlin doesn’t blow the game with an overly conservative first quarter game plan, the Giants will win. 
Official pick: Giants 24, 49ers 21   


So there you go.  I suppose those qualify as predictions.  At this point, it’s as good a way to do it as any. 

-AW

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Divisional Round Reaction, Part 2: From L.T. to Gronk and Jimmy


And just like that, the future direction of the NFL is more obvious than ever. 

The 1980’s introduced a new era of football strategy and personnel.  Lawrence Taylor terrorized offenses thanks to his unparalleled and never-before-seen ability to take down opposing quarterbacks when rushing from his outside linebacker position.  A game against the Giants meant opposing offenses were going to spend all week planning against the original LT.  Unfortunately, such attempts rarely worked.  Taylor’s style of play revolutionized NFL offensive and defensive positions alike. 

As Sandra Bullock knows, offensive tackles, particularly at the left tackle position, needed to change in order to prevent this from being a regular occurrence.  You can define the NFL in two ways: before LT and after LT.  The magnitude of the widespread changes that came during and after his reign has not been seen since – that is, until now.  
Maybe Bullock should consider joining the football
maidens of CBS.
We’ve seen a fair share of new offensive developments over the past five years.  The spread offense, the dual running back system, and the Wildcat/option have all grown into favor throughout the league.  Yet, it seems as though these changes were all done in response to existing trends rather than as a reaction to a dynamic player.  The spread offense was a consequence of antiquated rushing attacks and the overuse of the I-formation.  As the emphasis on a passing game has increased, so has the demand for a running back that can rush as well as receive.  When you couple this with the overall wear and tear on an every-down tailback, it becomes obvious why using multiple running backs became favorable.  The wildcat, which has already begun to fall out of favor, was introduced as a gimmick by an inferior Dolphins team to pull a how-the-hell-could-we-have-prepared-for-that win over the Patriots.  There’s certainly nothing transcendent about one player who cannot pass handing the ball off to another player who cannot pass.

Finally, though, there is a development that will stand the test of time.  We are now entering a new age of football and with it will come a wide variety of strategic changes for teams in terms of offensive and defensive personal, play call, and draft targets.  Just as dynamic pass-rushing linebackers and agile offensive linemen have seamlessly wound themselves into the fabric of the NFL, so will the newest player progression. 

Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez made an official announcement during the Divisional Round: The tight end is the new centerpiece of the NFL offense.

There are three components to this column: the Divisional Round results, the statistical backing, and the defensive solution. 

Part 1: The Divisional Round Results
(Skip this section if you think talking about this past weekend would make me a “prisoner of the moment.”)

The four men listed above produced a whopping 544 total yards and eight touchdowns this past weekend.  If you take the top four offensive performers in any given weekend, you may not see such a staggering total. 

The numbers don’t even tell the whole story. 

Graham’s 103 receiving yards included a spectacular 66-yard go-ahead touchdown reception in the final minutes of Saturday’s game against the 49ers in which he caught the ball in the middle of the field like you’d expect a NBA power forward to bring in an alley-oop.  Brees simply lofted the ball towards his big target and let Graham do the rest, which consisted of spinning out of a poor tackle before running another 40 yards to the Baja.  Meanwhile, Davis, who already had a 37-yard game-changing reception prior to that of Graham, took over on the last drive, recording a 47-yard reception before squeezing onto an Alex Smith pass at the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.  Both Smith and Brees went to their tight ends in the clutch. 
For all the talk about Graham and Gronkowski, Vernon Davis is
probably the best athlete of them all
In the later game, New England tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, were the major reasons for the Patriots' demolition of the Broncos.  Gronkowski, as he had been all season, was Brady’s first option early in the game.  The two got in a rhythm, producing three first half touchdowns. Additionally, Belichick, who always seems to be involved in NFL phenomenons in some fashion, moved Hernandez to the backfield, which resulted in a 43-yard run.  By the start of the second half, the game was essentially finished.

The difference between this NFL-wide revolution and previous ones is that the changes are being brought about because of multiple players.  Graham and Gronkowski may be the poster boys for the domination of the tight end, but it seems as though most offenses are trying to establish their own superstar at the position. 

Slowly but surely, offenses are realizing that the tight end is the game changer.  Even the best wide receivers, running backs, and/or quarterbacks can have their impact minimized by a single defensive player who can match up talent wise.  But, there isn’t a safety, cornerback, or linebacker who has the size, speed, and man coverage abilities to run with the top tight ends. 

Part 2: The Statistical Backing
(Skip this section if you pretty much already believe everything I say and don’t need to hear about decade long trends)

To further understand the impact that tight ends have had around the league this season, I decided to see how many tight ends led their respective teams in receptions, receiving yards, and/or receiving touchdowns.  The results were telling.  Twelve teams this season had a tight end lead them in at least one of the three main categories.  Even more interesting is that only three of those teams were under .500.  Additionally, Washington tight end, Fred Davis, was the only tight end in the top-ten receiving yards for the position to be on a team with a losing record. 
Anytime someone with the number 24(a DB #)  is guarding a
tight end, something has already gone wrong
I then took my research a bit further and investigated the role of the tight end position for each of the teams to make the postseason.  The average regular season numbers for the starting tight end on a playoff roster are 62 receptions, 762 yards, and 6 touchdowns.  You might think these numbers are a bit skewed from Gronkowski and Graham (Hernandez was not included in the calculations as he is not the number one), but consider that the total numbers also include Broncos tight end, Daniel Fells, (good for just 19 receptions and 256 yards) and Jake Ballard (38 receptions, 604 yards).  To put the staggering yardage total in perspective, from 2001 to 2010, a tight end finished with greater than 762 receiving yards only 50 times.  The back third of the decade, from 2001-2003, contributed just seven to the 50.  Thirteen tight ends went beyond 762 yards in 2011 alone.

Some might argue that this is attributed to increased passing across the league.  That is simply incorrect.  Over the last three seasons, a wide receiver has surpassed 1,000 yards 53 times, 1,200 yards 22 times, and 1,400 yards six times.  From 2001-2003, receivers went over the 1,000 yard mark 59 times, the 1,200 mark 29 times, and the 1,400 yard total six times.  In other words, whereas the individual accumulation of statistics for tight ends has grown over the decade, the total for wide receivers has actually had a slight decrease.  If improved tight end play was solely because of amplified passing, you’d expect to see a similar increase for wide receivers. 

Part 3: The Defensive Solution
(Skip this section if you don’t care about the future of the NFL, in which case you have probably already wasted your time on this article)

Lawrence Taylor’s impact in the NFL would have been far less reaching were it not for the subsequent evolution, not just for teams defensively, but offensively as well.  If this tight end phenomenon is to have a lasting impact, defenses will need to adjust their entire approach to defending the position.  Actually, let me correct that statement.  If defensive coordinators have any objections to tight ends going for over 125 yards in every game, then defenses will need to adjust their entire approach to defending the position.    

Middle linebackers are not getting the job done against the tight end and the reason for this is simple; they have too much on their plate.  Inside linebackers need to be responsible for stopping the run once the running back makes it past the defensive line.  They are often forced, therefore, to add on additional weight, thereby sacrificing speed.  They’re also the defensive signal callers, which means not only are they watching the quarterback’s every move, he’s watching theirs.  If the linebacker moves over to guard the tight end in man-to-man coverage, good NFL quarterbacks will notice, at which point the best ones will attempt to exploit the mismatch.  Using the linebackers in a zone scheme is an option, except how often do teams devise only zones to shut down a wide receiver?  The best way to eliminate a wide out is to play tight man coverage with safety help, but this is something virtually impossible to do against the tight end with less shifty linebackers attempting to go man-to-man.

Defensive backs cannot match up against the elite tight ends either.  I certainly don’t need to explain what happens when a 6’ 1”, 200-pound individual gives up four inches and 50 pounds to the guy they’re supposed to be “covering.”  The results are comical.      

If you want proof of all of this, look no further than Graham’s 66-yard touchdown mentioned earlier.  The 49ers tried to do exactly what I am contending is virtually impossible against the elite tight ends.  Patrick Willis (who, mind you, is probably the fastest linebacker in all of football) was in man coverage with Graham with Donte Whitner playing safety over the top.  Graham was, essentially, covered.  But there is simply nothing defenses can do when all Brees needs to manage is an average throw in Graham’s general direction.  Willis wasn’t agile enough to turn around to the ball while in man coverage and Whitner was far too small to either (A) get in front of Graham, (B) knock the ball out once the catch was made, or (C) make the open-field tackle. 
This picture shows it all.  Even the NFL's best middle linebacker
is not yet qualified to play man-to-man against the tight end
At least in terms of shear athleticism, the most impressive and talented positions in the modern NFL are the tight end and pass rushing outside linebacker/defensive end.  I spoke a few weeks ago about the impact these defensive monsters are having in their ability to disrupt the passing game.  After all, it was LT who initiated this OLB transformation and, ironically, it is that same position that will need to evolve once again, except this time it is in response to the offense. 

It is not enough anymore to have guys like Terrell Suggs, Clay Matthews, DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Pierre-Paul employed almost exclusively to rush the passer and defend the run.  Just as offensive tackles needed to become quicker during and after the days of Taylor, so do the pass rushers of today.  They are the only ones that possess the physical talents to match up with tight ends, possessing similar size, speed, athleticism, and quickness.  However, much work needs to be done in their coverage abilities but such adaptation seems easily within the realm of reason.

Everybody reading this column knows all about the creative swim and spin moves of the modern pass rusher and these can be modified into an effective physical man coverage strategy.  Pass interference and defensive holding flags are thrown about like shirts blasted out of t-shirt guns at a basketball game, but you have to think that, even in today’s game, refs will allow some extra leeway between two very physical positions.  Pass rushers are already proficient at another skill that an occasionally blitzing middle linebacker may not have: shiftiness. They need to be able to quickly change direction once a run or screen is called.  This ability is at least related to maybe the most difficult part of man coverage: turning to play the ball. 

It’s not like pass rushers never play man coverage. However, what I am calling for is more than the occasional red-zone matchup.  They need commitment to improving their coverage abilities.  The dedication that pass rushers have for recording sacks needs to be at least as great as their efforts in man coverage against the tight end.  If the ends and outside linebackers can understand and accept that they might need to sacrifice four or five sacks per season in order to reduce the impact of the tight end, then defenses would certainly be heading in the right direction.  You run the risk of spreading a player two thin, but this is the skill set that must be developed in the offseason for teams to prevent showings like the ones we saw this past weekend.   

-AW

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Divisional Round Reaction, Part 1: The G-Men Triumph


And just like that, the season is over. 

After trouncing the opposition in a record-breaking fashion, the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers can add their name to the litany of teams who failed to repeat.  

Defending champs often shock their fan base in the season following their triumph.  Some limp into the postseason.  Others miss the playoffs all together.  Yet, despite the impressive regular season, this Green Bay underachievement may rank among the all time ex-champion let downs.  For 17 weeks, the superiority of Green Bay seemed unquestioned.  Even after their baffling loss to Kansas City, they were still the near unanimous best NFL squad in the mind of players and pundits.  Even when New Orleans built up the kind of momentum that would send a minivan filled with the Ryan family off the tarmac, few put Green Bay off the top spot.  Yet, for the third straight year, a number one overall seed will fail to win a postseason game. 

I can’t say the result surprised me.  A balls-ier, less hardheaded man in my position would have chosen the G-Men.  But I just couldn’t do it.  Green Bay was my team all along.  I predicted an undefeated season.  If I abandoned them heading into this past weekend’s game, what kind of statement would that say about me?  I’d be jumping ship on what was the world’s most beautifully constructed vessel, which would have been especially shocking when you look at the hurricane-endured boat in front of them. 

The Giants-Packers showdown offered a buffet of ways a game can be completely altered.  We had fumbles, dropped passes, poorly thrown balls, failed onside kicks (I actually loved the call) and, fresh off my Ranting and Raving article from last week, straight-up, heinous, shameful, downright fire-ably bad replay officiating.  But, even with all this and more, the game comes down to two plays that should have never happened.  The first, obviously, is the completed Hail Marry to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half.  Allowing something like that should be at the top of any blunder list (not to take credit away from Nicks.  Hail Marry’s should just never happen).  When it’s not, you know whatever took its place must be historically awful… and it was.

Success is measured by the ability to adapt to changes and unexpected situations.  This is something that goes beyond sports.  Flexibility and quick thinking is paramount to accomplish almost anything.  At the start of the second half, these traits appeared to have found their way into the Green Bay locker room.  The Giants had zero first downs in the third quarter.  Green Bay’s offense wasn’t exactly running wild, but the lead was cut to just a touchdown as the fourth quarter began. 
Nicks caught the ball just as NY Giants receivers are instructed to...
with the helmet.
Then the inexplicable happened.  With 13:00 minutes (thirteen full minutes!) left in the fourth quarter and at New York’s 39-yard line, the normally good, Mike McCarthy, called a play that we should see time and time again.  It should be at the top of the list on any NFL Films 50 Worst Coaching Decisions.  His decision to go for it on fourth and five makes Belichick’s 4th and 2 decision against Indianapolis in 2009 look about as commonplace and disturbing as road kill.    

There is no justification for what McCarthy did.  McCarthy’s decision was based on nothing one could even misconstrue as strategy.  Let me assure you, there is exactly zero hindsight bias when I say, it was, quite simply, the worst call I have ever, ever seen. It’s like McCarthy said, “You know what, I’m f-ing bored.  I’ve gotta make it home in time for the Napoleon Dynamite premier.”  Once Michael Boley dragged Rodgers down to the ground, the game was over.

It was the type of play you expect to find in the Beginner lounge of Madden 12.  Facing a clearly more prepared opponent, McCarthy believed that that fourth down play was as close as he could get to victory, a shocking notion when you consider the Green Bay quarterback.

One must be careful not to over blow the effects of a single play throughout the course of a game.  You can’t just say, “They should have gotten seven points here, which means the game would have been tied and they could have won in overtime.”  Every play impacts all the others that come after it.  But, in the case of McCarthy’s demise, a successful punt would have been game altering.    

Let me remind you that there were thirteen minutes left in the game.  Even if Green Bay punter, Tim Masthay, sent the ball into the end zone, netting just 18 yards, the Giants would have needed to produce a drive totaling over 40 yards to even think about taking a game-ending field goal.  If the defense could have limited New York to less than 40 yards, Rodgers would have had about five minutes to go roughly 80 yards.  Of course, that is a worst-case scenario. 

Masthay should have been able to pin New York inside their own ten, or at least fifteen.  Do you think Coughlin would have been aggressive with his team up by a touchdown, deep in their own territory, with nearly a full quarter remaining?  Of course not.  If the Packers could have stop what would have surely been two runs to open up the drive, they could have received the ball essentially just 25 yards deeper than when they decided to go for it on fourth down.

The more I dive into the colossal mishap, I cannot help but get even more frustrated.  Was McCarthy just impatient or was there something else at play?  Prior to the fourth down decision, the Packers suffered their biggest missed opportunity of the season.  Rodgers dropped back and missed a wide-open Jermichael Finley running across the middle of the field.  Both men seemed to indicate it was the other’s fault, but I have to think the blame falls on Rodgers.  Even if Finley made his cut a yard short of the intended route, there’s just no way that ball doesn’t get completed in Week 9.  Rodgers needed to put the ball right on his tight end’s hands.  Hubris must have been a driving factor behind the fourth down decision.  The Packers ran a perfect play to get the needed yardage on third down.  What was stopping them from doing it again? 

The future will judge where this Green Bay team ranks historically.  A Super Bowl run would have certainly cemented them among the all-time greats, especially since it would have be a repeat championship season.  But, now?  They are nothing special; a flavor of the week.  This 2011 Green Bay team will be nothing more than a vestige of a championship one that was able to ascend to the top of the rankings in a season certainly altered by a lingering lockout.  Rodgers’ efficiency will be remembered, but another Super Bowl ring would have already moved Rodgers’ into the top-10-all-time-quaterback discussion.

The next question facing this team is, where now?  Even with another Super Bowl ring, I do not know that Green Bay would have been the NFC favorite heading into next year.  Certainly the Giants have to be in the discussion, as they seem to improve every week and are still not healthy.  Among other contenders are San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, and maybe, maybe, maybe (probably not) Chicago so long as they have Forte. 

Brady and Roethlisberger achieved Super Bowl success early in their careers, but, especially in the case of Brady, these men have realized that as the seasons add up, health, among many other things, make returning to championship glory a difficult endeavor.  Am I suggesting Rodgers may never get to anther Super Bowl?  No, of course not.  There was talk all season of what it would mean for Rodgers to surpass Favre’s ring total.  He may still do it, but, at the moment, Rodgers is among the slew of 1-ring, on-the-cusp-of-legendary quarterbacks, a place he should be happy to sit but is certainly aching to exceed.            

The great tragedy of games like Sunday’s upset is that we talk about the losers first and even though Green Bay found new ways to lose at every junction of the game, all the credit goes to the G-men.  Performances like Green Bay’s don’t just spontaneously happen.  The Giants heckled, out hustled, and out played the Packers on every single ball all night long.  An inferior team would have failed to score after the Green Bay turnover on downs.  New York wrapped that drive up with a field goal and as they move on to the Conference Championship game, Green Bay is left to stew until September. 

-AW