Expert Opinion: Coach Lombardi Weighs In On Super Bowl XLVII

There’s no shortage of Super Bowl predictions out there this week – everyone from Boomer Esiason to Andray Blatche to Nate Silver to Frankie the Saki Monkey has provided a succinct and salient reason why either the 49ers or the Ravens will win this coming Sunday. And you know what? They’ve all got an approximately 50% chance of being correct. But we here at Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron had bigger ideas. “Who knows more about what it takes to win the Lombardi Trophy than the GUY THE TROPHY IS NAMED AFTER?” we said to ourselves. So after calling up Browns VP of Player Personnel Mike Lombardi and learning that he was not the namesake of the Super Bowl Champion’s trophy, we dug a little deeper in our Rolodex and found someone even better: former Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Read his thoughts below and get prepared to learn…and be inspired…

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON OUT HERE? I’m looking at a bunch of clowns on tape here that wouldn’t know the intricacies of the toss sweep play if it hit ’em in the head with a baseball bat and asked for their wallet and identification. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said a hundred thousand times: you need A SEAL HERE, A SEAL HERE, and RAM IT UP THE ALLEY. That motto has helped me in whatever walk of life I have encountered: whether we’re talking about my time with the Packers or the deck and patio staining job I had back in Brooklyn in my teenage years or the legendary bowling competitions I would undertake with Charlie Conerly during my years as the offensive coordinator for the Giants. You can only be successful at something if you’ve done it thousands and thousands of times, building up so many repetitions that it makes the useless part of your brain – the portion that is weak, fearful, and cries out to Mama at the slightest hint of turmoil – sit in complete and obedient silence. And I’m not seeing that type of DEDICATION TO PERFECTION when I throw on the tape of these teams that are playing today. Of course, the rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement may have something to do with that, too; you can’t practice your players for twelve hours a day (or longer if they haven’t gotten the first 5,000 repetitions of the toss play correct) under the current rules. Sometimes I think it was easier to coach back in the old days. The players make too much money now. But I digress.

I always said that the difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. You look on any NFL roster today and you can find enough talent to to field a winning team – except Jacksonville. That’s a lost cause. But every other team in the league could be turned into a winning ballclub if they had the heart and desire to work harder than everyone else and make winning their only objective in their profession. The sad truth, however, is that few men actually do whatever it takes to be successful – they hang to a few bad vices, watch only 11 hours of film a day instead of 23, and settle for “great” instead of “GREATNESS IS FOR WEAKLINGS, I WANT TO BE FREAKING IMMORTAL.” To reach that last stage, that hardest stage to attain, everything in your life must revolve around your profession.

And I mean everything. Look at me, I’m a Lombardi! I grew up the son of Italian immigrants in Brooklyn! You think my mother didn’t make the greatest spaghetti and meatballs human taste buds have ever savored? YOU’RE WRONG. YOU’RE DEAD WRONG. I loved my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs more than anything other than football, but it came with a terrible side effect. Approximately two hours and thirty minutes after consumption, the meatballs would march on through my digestive system as reliably as Paul Hornung would womanize until all hours of the morning and cause me great gastrointestinal distress for roughly thirty minutes, sometimes as long as forty. During an especially long reign on the can during my time as assistant coach at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, I determined that this wasted time was an unacceptable detriment to my professional aspirations. Right then and there, I swore off Mama’s spaghetti and meatballs forever and vowed only to eat tuna fish sandwiches every day until the day I died. And for the next thirty-one years, I kept that vow – the tuna fish provided acceptable sustenance to ease my hunger, my bowels no longer howled out in distress like a banshee haunting the spirit of King James I of Scotland, and my COMPLETE attention could now be directed toward perfecting the Packer Sweep (even though I wouldn’t become the coach of the Packers for another twenty years).

THAT is the type of dedication that is necessary to become a true winner – you must be willing to forsake even your dear mother’s cooking for the sake of the greater goal. Have Jim and John Harbaugh done the same thing? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS WE MUST BE ASKING DURING MEDIA DAY AND NOT SOME INANE RIFF-RAFF ON WHETHER THEY LIKE BARBECUE OR NOT! They’re grown American men, of course they like barbecue! The bigger question is: are they willing to submit to the desire of WINNING even over the desire of delicious barbecued ribs? Why didn’t any of you jokers ask THAT question Tuesday afternoon, huh? Ah, you’re all a bunch of birdbrains. We’ll deal with this later.

I must say, however, that when all is said and done, football is still football. And even if the two teams playing on Sunday – the 49ers and the replacement Colts whose name I can’t remember at the moment – are a pale imitation of the sport at its highest peak, there are still players I’m looking forward to watching Sunday. Joe Flacco – what an bazooka for an arm and what a delightfully ethnic schnozz! He reminds me of Norm Snead before poor Norm had his confidence irrecoverably shaken from playing for the Eagles too many years. And the man who’s starting against him – the Kaepernick fellow – he can throw it just as hard AND run like a deer! My God! I loved Bart Starr to death, but if I’d been fortunate enough to get my hands on that fellow early in my career, we would have won ten championships in a row! And this Patrick Willis plays with a real mean streak to him – he doesn’t like to hear himself talk as much as that Ray Lewis, but he hits just as hard as that guy ever did. By golly, whenever I see or that Bowman fellow crunch a tight end going over the middle, it makes me want to throw my pads back on and smack the bejeezus out of some poor shmuck running an in route. YOU’VE NEVER FELT ADEQUATELY ALIVE UNTIL YOU’VE HIT A LAD SO HARD, HIS SNOT WINDS UP IN THE BACK OF YOUR NOSE! As far as I’m concerned, that’s real heaven on earth. None of this televangelist mumbo-jumbo that promises you lifelong happiness if you send them a check for $50 every week. SOME OF US NEED TO SAVE OUR MONEY FOR UPGRADING OUR FILM PROJECTERS, MISTER OSTEEN!

In summary: any of my ’60s Packers teams would beat either of the two teams playing on Sunday by approximately two touchdowns and thus this game is meaningless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tuna fish sandwich that’s calling my name and 6,000 more repetitions of the toss sweep play to get through before sundown. IT’S JANUARY, WE LOSE ALL SEMBLANCE OF LIGHT BY 5:30! Ah, the time I waste writing these things…

The ESPN Super Pick ‘Em Extravaganza

Apparently not satisfied with his hard-earned victory in the Pigskin Pick ‘Em challenge during the regular season, Lucas invited me this week to participate in the Confessions of a Sportscaster Super Pick’Em challenge on ESPN.com. Eager for a chance at redemption, I accepted that invitation and spent minutes of thought on the following Super Bowl prop bets. Please note that Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron does not condone ACTUALLY betting on these items – unless you’re pretty sure they’re going to be correct, that is (and is actually legal for you to do so in your region and so on and so forth). For the sake of banging out a fast and fun column, let’s take a look at my personal choices (noted in bold) for the Super Pick ‘Em challenge below…

1. Which team will win the game – Baltimore (6 points) or San Francisco (4 points)?

Whoops, letting the prediction for my super-ultra-mega-jumbo Super Bowl preview later this week out of the bag early. Just pretend to be surprised when you see it on Friday, okay? Thank you!

2. What will be the length of the National anthem sung by Alicia Keys – 113 seconds or fewer (4 points) or 114 seconds or more (6 points)?

I find it hard to believe that anyone other than Bleeding Gums Murphy would be able to stretch “The Star-Spangled Banner” to two minutes or more. Even Christina Aguilera couldn’t go longer than 1:53 two years ago – and that was with horribly butchering the song in the process. I don’t doubt Ms. Keys’ dedication to embellishing the song beyond all normal recognition, but c’mon. Two minutes is insane.

3. What will be the result of the coin toss – Heads (5 points) or Tails (5 points)?

I’d just like to repeat my admonition from above that if you are actually betting on this particular proposition, YOU HAVE A MASSIVE GAMBLING PROBLEM AND NEED TO SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP FOR YOUR ADDICTION. Although…now that you mention it, 50/50 odds ain’t so bad…

4. Which team will receive the opening kickoff – Baltimore Ravens (7 points) or San Francisco 49ers (3 points)?

This seems like a nice calculated gamble to me. You’d assume whichever team wins the coin toss would just defer to the second half, right? Well, then why aren’t the point totals for this prop just 5 and 5 again? Does ESPN know something that we don’t? Or is there a tendency on the 49ers’ part to elect to receive the opening kickoff if they win the toss that I haven’t adequately researched because I’m lazy? TOO LATE TO CHANGE NOW, ON TO THE NEXT PROP…

5. Will either team have a double digit lead in the 1st Quarter– Yes: Either has a double digit lead in 1st Qtr (7 points) or No: Neither has a double digit lead in 1st Qtr (3 points)?

Double-digit leads that early on in a game are relatively rare, particularly for a game that seems like it will be fairly close. I now look forward to the 35-0 lead the Ravens will jump out to in the first ten minutes.

6. Will both Ray Rice (BAL) and Frank Gore (SF) rush for 50+ Yards in the 1st Half – Yes: Both rush for 50+ 1st Half Yards (8 points) or No: Either doesn’t rush for 50+ 1st Half Yards (2 points)?

Ray Rice has been having trouble getting to 50 yards TOTAL in the playoffs so far – plus, it’s not like the 49ers’ run defense is one of the best in the league or anything. And with Ray Lewis back at inside linebacker, the Ravens’ run defense has been much improved during the postseason, meaning Frank Gore’s going to have a rough go of it, too. I’m rooting for both these guys to make it because the game would be more exciting that way, but I have to choose the sure points.

7. Will a Touchdown be scored in every Quarter – Yes: 1+ TDs in every Qtr (7 points) or No: Any Other Result (3 points)?

If you figure that an average NFL game has around five or six touchdowns, that equals out to more than one a quarter, right? Taking another calculated risk here because the odds aren’t horrendous and the downside isn’t particularly steep.

8. Which side will record a higher total – Total Points Scored (4 points) or Jersey Number of the first TD Scorer or Tie (6 points)?

Essentially by choosing the jersey number option, I am guessing that the first touchdown comes on a pass to a wide receiver or a tight end (please, Lord, don’t let it be Michael Crabtree or Jacoby Jones!). But even if a running back scores the first touchdown, there’s always the possibility this could turn into a 13-7 defensive slugfest and my prop wins anyway. Can I get a what-what for making risky choices without any benefit of research?!

9. Will Beyonce perform the song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” during the Halftime show – Yes (3 points) or No (7 points)?

I don’t know that I’ve ever listened to a Beyonce song all the way through in my life and even I know she’s going to play that song Sunday night. Thanks for the free points, ESPN!

10. Which player will score the first TD of the Super Bowl – Torrey Smith, Ray Rice or Frank Gore (6 points) or Any Other Player (4 points)?

In general, if your potential answers for a question are “Player A, Player B, Player C, or the Field”…well, you take the field. Particularly when you have 87 other options to choose from (yes, it’s possible that Mike Iupati could score a touchdown. Don’t take that possibility away from him!).

11. What will be the result of the first coach’s challenge – Upheld (4 points) or Overturned or No Challenge (6 points)?

I’d like to think that the HarBros are both smart enough to avoid the Mike Tomlin School of Challenging and will use their red flags in an intelligent and judicious manner. The wild-card here, of course, is Jerome Boger; he’s grossly incompetent and yet he’ll be refereeing the Super Bowl. NOTHING SHADY HERE. At this point, Jerome could look at a forward progress replay and determine that there needs to be a free kick on the next play and it wouldn’t surprise me. So this is a clear STAY AWAY for all you real gamblers out there.

12. Which player will be named Super Bowl MVP – Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick (3 points) or Any Other Player (7 points)?

See Question #10. Although the winning quarterback, admittedly, IS usually the one who ends up winning the award. Meh, we’ll keep our options open and laugh with glee when Pernell McPhee is hoisting that trophy after the game.

13. Which QB will record more Touchdowns in the game – Joe Flacco (BAL) (6 points) or Colin Kaepernick (SF) or Tie (4 points)?

My assumption is Dean Pees is smart enough to not try the Dom Capers defense against Kaepernick, but since I’m picking San Francisco overall, I might as well stick with Kaepernick in this category. Because throwing all your eggs in one basket is never a bad idea.

14. Will WR Randy Moss (SF) score a Touchdown in the game – Yes: Moss scores 1+ TDs (8 points) or No: Moss doesn’t score a TD (2 points)?

I will predict, however, that Jerry Rice snickers with glee at least three times during the course of the game.

15. How many points will be scored in the game – 47 Points or Fewer (5 points) or 48 Points or More (5 points)?

One of the toughest props on the table because San Francisco was one of the most deliberate teams in the league during the regular season – Seattle was the only team that played at a slower pace – but during the playoffs they’ve played two high-scoring games. I’ll stick to the lower point total for now, but I don’t feel good about it.

16. Which side will record a higher total in the game – Joe Flacco (BAL): Completions or Tie (6 points) or 49ers: Points Scored (4 points)?

Flacco’s averaged 19.37 completions per game this season (including playoffs); I think the 49ers will score at least 20 points. This one’s pretty straightforward!

17. Will there be a lead change in the 2nd Half – Yes: 1+ lead changes in the 2nd Half (6 points) or No: No lead change in the 2nd Half (4 points)?

Since, as stated previously, I believe the game will be a close one, this is a decent calculated risk, particularly since the 49ers are the superior team but will likely be behind at some point due to their laborious style of play. I now look forward to the 49ers’ 56-3 halftime lead.

18. What will be the length of the longest TD play in the game – 49 Yards or Fewer or No TD (3 points) or 50 Yards or More (7 points)?

Look, there are a lot of players on both sides who are capable of producing LONG touchdowns: Kaepernick, Torrey Smith, Vernon Davis, Jacoby Jones, etc. With that said, though…50 yards is a really long way away! And you’d think that both teams are well-coached enough to not give up back-breaking 80-yard plays in the biggest game of their lives, right? This is another one I hope I get wrong for entertainment’s sake, but I’ve gotta go under, captain.

19. Will there be a Defensive or Special teams TD scored in the game – Yes: 1+ Defensive or Special teams TD (7 points) or No: No Defensive or Special teams TD (3 points)?

10.7% of the touchdowns scored during the regular season came on either defense or special teams. So if the average game will have around five or six touchdowns, then we could reasonably expect .5 or .6 non-offensive touchdowns per game. Factor in two defenses with some of the greatest playmakers in the league today and two electric kick returners in Jones and Ted Ginn Jr. and I would have to think that the non-offensive touchdown expectation for THIS game would have to be higher than the above figure. So I’m going to toss this out as a low-risk, high-reward gamble and proceed to cry profuse tears of anger if Ed Reed gets tackled on the one-yard-line on an interception return.

20. Will any points be scored in the last 2 minutes of 4th quarter – Yes (5 points) or No (5 points)?

Finally, we end on another prop where the scoring distribution seems to be way out of whack. Are you suggesting, ESPN.com, that there’s a 50-50 shot of any points being scored in the final two minutes of the game when the average game this season only had 8.45 scoring events total? Surely you can’t be serious! But I’ll take it.

Evolution of Opinion: The Story of the 2012 49ers and Ravens

There’s going to be plenty of time later in the week to delve into the key Super Bowl matchups with the proper amount of depth (get psyched for our 10,000 word preview of the long snappers on Thursday!), but today we’re going to take a look back at how the 49ers and Ravens got to this point, one game away from fondling the Lombardi Trophy with their sweaty, mangled hands. Each NFL season begins with a set of preconceived notions we harbor for every team based on their previous season’s performance, the moves they made in the offseason, and the unintentional comedy potential they possess. As the season progresses, however, those preconceived notions change virtually by a week-to-week basis. When a team wins one week, they’re unstoppable and can’t be beaten! (See: the Cowboys after their opening-night win over the Giants). When they lost the next week, they’re unspeakably awful and it’s time to blow up the franchise (See: the Ravens after their blowout loss to Houston).

With that in mind, I thought it would be entertaining to revisit some of the things I wrote about both the 49ers and Ravens to see how my views of each team changed over the course of the season. To start out with, I was slightly wrong on both team’s playoff chances in the preseason – I picked both teams to finish 3rd in their respective divisions (that Steelers-Eagles Super Bowl prediction’s looking pretty good right now, am I right?) and didn’t expect either team to crack nine wins. Once the season started, however, I was a relatively early adopter to the 49ers-for-the-Super-Bowl bandwagon; on the other hand, I remained bearish on the Ravens’ championship hopes all the way through the AFC Championship Game. Hindsight is so accurate, isn’t it? Let’s use it as a fun tool for examining these past posts of mine:

San Francisco 49ers

August 22, 2012 (preseason preview) “[The 49ers’] success last season was completely built around unsustainably favorable turnover differential and unsustainably excellent special teams. Move the turnover margin around to about average and downgrade the special teams from great to merely good and you see a team with a good but not great defense and an offense that is wholly dependent on receiving great field position from the other phases of the team. ‘Regression to the mean’ was a term created with the 2012 49ers in mind.”

September 10, 2012 (Week 1: beat Green Bay 30-22)“Everyone looking to slow down Green Bay’s offense: the blueprint has officially been provided. The 49ers copied the Giants’ defensive game plan from the NFC Divisional Round last year, focusing most of their efforts on preventing the likes of Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, and James Jones from beating them deep and instead forcing Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball underneath the drop-prone Jermichael Finley and fourth receiver Randall Cobb…Massive credit has to go to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, however: they joined the Cowboys as owners of the most impressive victories of Week 1.”

September 17, 2012 (Week 2: beat Detroit 27-19)“The best part of San Francisco’s 2-0 start this year has been the efficiency with which they’ve moved the ball offensively thus far. Their outstanding turnover luck from last season that has continued in the first two games of 2012 will not last and eventually the 49ers will have suffer through some three-turnover stinkbombs this year. But so far through two games, the San Francisco offense is averaging 5.9 yards per play, a mark that would have tied for tenth in the league last year. If the Niners continue to move the ball at something approaching that rate the rest of the season, they will once again win the NFC West by several games.”

September 24, 2012 (Week 3: lose to Minnesota 24-13)“Naturally, the one week I cave in and pick the Niners against the spread, they finally decide to throw some turnover regression to the mean into their gameplan and turn Christian Ponder into Fran Tarkenton. I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT FOOTBALL.”

October 3, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“San Francisco has fought off the regression alert we were forecasting for them and actually looks better this year; their offense can actually move the ball and their defense is pretty close to dominant…Expect San Francisco to eventually pull away with this thing.”

October 8, 2012 (Week 5: beat Buffalo 45-3) The 49ers are on as dominant a two-game stretch as you will ever find in the NFL. Against the Jets and Bills, they racked up 1130 Adjusted Yards and allowed 59. This is insane. Jim Harbaugh deserves to win Coach of the Year again.”

October 10, 2012 (Preview of Week 6 game vs. NY Giants)“Let’s put it this way: the only team in the last FIFTY YEARS to outgain their opponents at the same pace as this 49ers team over a full season was the 2001 Rams. Subpar play in the Super Bowl aside, that’s a pretty good team to be compared to…Houston and Atlanta are still unbeaten, yes, but there’s no doubt who the most impressive team in football has been so far. And it’s the one with Alex Smith at quarterback. Just as we all would have suspected eighteen months ago…

October 15, 2012 (Week 6: lost to NY Giants 26-3) As is its wont, the NFL season absolutely refuses all requests to be figured out. The 49ers were coming off utterly dominant victories – and ”utterly dominant” might be selling it short – against the Jets and Bills and responded in a vengeance game against the team that cost them their shot at last year’s Super Bowl with…a complete dud. Maybe Jim Harbaugh let the pep-talking fan in the Visa ad do the gameplanning for this one, too? The blame for this loss can be spread equally amongst all phases of San Francisco’s team, but the common thread between both this week and the Niners’ Week 3 loss to Minnesota is Alex Smith’s ineffectiveness throwing the ball when the defense KNEW he had to throw. Jumping out to a double-digit lead and thereby forcing Smith into predictable passing situations isn’t exactly the easiest blueprint to carry out against the Niners, but Smith will have to carry a comeback on his arm at some point this season for San Francisco to win the Super Bowl.”

October 19, 2012 (Week 7: beat Seattle 13-6)“Man, that 49ers running game is a thing of beauty. The NFL is a passing league now and I’m all for that because, honestly, it’s more exciting to watch a 38-34 crapfest than a 10-6 crapfest. But there’s something intrinsically beautiful/demoralizing (depending on your rooting interest) about seeing a team just ram the ball down another’s throat like the 49ers were doing to the Seahawks in the second half last night. And the Seahawks came in only giving up 3.3 yards per carry! Incredible. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the newest inductee into the Great Backdoor Covers Hall of Fame: Jim Harbaugh’s refusal of the 4th-down holding penalty in the end zone for a safety, instead choosing to just take the ball and kneel out the rest of the clock. And as someone who may or may not have had Seattle +7.5 points, let me just say that I think it was a smart strategical move!”

October 30, 2012 (Week 8: beat Arizona 24-3)“Maybe the bigger takeway from last night’s game is Michael Crabtree might not be a phenomenal bust? I mean, that first touchdown catch at the goalline when [Patrick] Peterson was doing everything short of sodomy in an attempt to knock the ball out of his hands…well, that was a pretty good catch. Megatron himself got the very same type of pass knocked out of his hands last week (then again, Peanut Tillman is a ball-punching god). Is Michael Crabtree a better wide receiver than Megatron? CAN’T RULE IT OUT.”

November 12, 2012 (Week 10: tied St. Louis 24-24) A tie! A tie! A tie! After David Akers missed his field goal attempt midway through the overtime period, I knew it was a possibility, but you never really think that it’s actually going to happen until Sam Bradford throws a fiften-yard out eighty yards away from the end zone on the final play of the game. So unfulfilling. So inconclusive. What a rush these ties are!”

November 20, 2012 (Week 11: beat Chicago 32-7)“I’m sure all of you are aware of this already after watching him play last night and hearing Jon Gruden hyperventilate over him, but holy crap was Colin Kaepernick impressive. He was showing touch on deep throws, great arm strength on stick throws, the great athleticism we already knew he had…I mean, the Bears pass defense in the first nine games of this season was virtually inpenetrable and he went over ten Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt against it. Just phenomenal. Other than the one game a month they seem to take off, the 49ers have looked like the clear best team in the league and if Kaepernick can approximate that level of performance for the rest of the season…oh crap.”

November 26, 2012 (Week 12: beat New Orleans 31-21)“The biggest difference between Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith thus far? In his two starts, Kaepernick has been sacked twice in 50 dropbacks for a sack rate of 4.0%. Smith has been sacked 24 times in 241 dropbacks for a sack rate of 10.0%. The 49ers offensive line is nothing short of phenomenal in run blocking, but honestly they look pretty bad against a pass rush. Kaepernick repeatedly dodged and scrambled his way out of pressure against a below-average Saints front four; Smith likely would have been sacked at least three or four times. I think that’s the biggest reason Kaepernick’s taken over the job; Smith can make and has made 95% of the throws Kaepernick’s completed over the past two games. Kaepernick just gives himself more chances for completions.”

December 3, 2012 (Week 13: lost to St. Louis 16-13 [OT])“How hilarious would it have been if Legatron had missed that field goal with 26 seconds left in OT? The thought of the same two teams playing to a tie TWICE in the same season would have been enough to make Donovan McNabb’s head explode…A measure of respect is due for the 49ers and Rams for trying to accomplish the impossible. Their attempt to make the tie fashionable again is something that we can all attempt to avoid in our own lives.”

December 6, 2012 (Preview of Week 14 game vs. Miami)“[The 49ers are] the only team I really feel good about picking even when they’re giving double-digit points.”

December 10, 2012 (Week 14: beat Miami 24-10)“Anybody else take an, ahem, active interest in how Colin Kaepernick’s last fourth-quarter run turned out? Given that I had picked the 49ers at -10.5, I was obviously standing up at the dinner table while clenching my fork with white knuckles and repeatedly shouting, ‘DON’T STOP AT THE ONE! DON’T STOP AT THE ONE!’ And he didn’t! Would it have technically been a smarter play to stop at the one, so that your team could just kneel out the rest of the clock and not worry about further injury to your players in meaningless action? Of course. But on behalf of all people who picked the Niners yesterday, I’d like to stand and salute Colin Kaepernick for his selfish decision to score the touchdown. Godspeed, buddy.”

December 14, 2012 (Preview of Week 15 game vs. New England)“Jim Harbaugh may be this decade’s great coach, following in the footsteps of [Bill] Belichick, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Vince Lombardi, and Paul Brown before him. Under his direction, 49ers players have rarely if ever looked flummoxed. They maintain outstanding discipline and almost never try to do something they’re incapable of. Like Belichick in the first half of last decade, Harbaugh has been excellent at drawing up novel concepts to play to his players’ strengths and putting them in a position where they can succeed.”

December 17, 2012 (Week 15: beat New England 41-34)“In a span of fourteen game minutes and sixteen seconds (and seemingly five minutes of actual time), New England turned a 31-3 deficit into a 31-31 tie and had ALL THE MOMENTUM IN THE WORLD and obviously Kaepernick was going to throw a pick and Brady would milk the clock down and score one last touchdown and the Patriots would have their greatest win of the- oh wait, LaMichael James just took that kickoff back sixty yards. Oh wait, Kaepernick just hit Michael Crabtree on a thirty-eight yard touchdown pass. Huh. San Francisco won anyway. WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE, GUYS? WHAT ABOUT THE NARRATIVE????”

December 24, 2012 (Week 16: lost to Seattle 42-13)“Much like it seemed EVERYTHING bounced the 49ers’ way during the first 35 minutes of last week’s game at New England, virtually everything seemed to go against them last night, most notably on David Akers’ blocked field goal that bounced RIGHT TO Richard Sherman streaking in the opposite direction. In summary: let’s neither exalt the Seahawks too highly or bury the 49ers too emphatically in the next week or so, okay?”

January 2, 2013 (Postseason Preview)“On paper, this is as close to a bulletproof team as you’re going to find. You’ve known about Frank Gore for about five or six years now and you know that Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navorro Bowman are utterly terrifying and it’s nothing short of obscenity that they all play on the same defense. Now it looks like they’ve got a real quarterback – an inexperienced one, yes, but a real quarterback nonetheless…From where we are right now, the San Francisco 49ers look like the favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII.”

January 14, 2013 (Divisional Round: beat Green Bay 45-31)“Before we go any further, we must acknowledge that, yes, HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK. However, we must also acknowledge that HOLY CRAP COLIN KAEPERNICK doesn’t happen if Dom Capers remotely trains his players against the possibility of the quarterback running. Now Dom’s a very good defensive coordinator, he has been for decades, he’s led the Packers to an above-average defense 3 out of the 4 years he’s been there – firing him over one game probably is an overreaction. But the fact that it’s even a question? Oh, man. It’s like the Packers just re-watched the game film from their Week 1 game against the Niners, got their blitzes all dialed in for Alex Smith, and tossed out the play at the end of the first half where Kaepernick gained 17 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. ‘Who? Kaeperdinck? Don’t think they’re gonna run that surprise play again, let’s just delete that play off the hard drive.'”

January 21, 2013 (NFC Championship: beat Atlanta 28-24): “It took me a long while to get on the 49ers’ bandwagon this year – you may remember a certain 6.9 win projection coming out from these parts around August that started looking ridiculous around late September – but it became clear around the midway point of the season that this was clearly the best team in the league if you disregarded the quarterback position. And given how well Alex Smith was playing before he got Wally Pipped by Colin Kaepernick in November, maybe they would have still made the Super Bowl without making the switch around Thanksgiving. But Kaepernick definitely lifts this team up a level with not only his speed (which is well-celebrated at this point) but also his ability to make strong throws into tight coverage. He made several such throws yesterday over the middle for critical first downs, throws that Smith was not often eager to make.”

Baltimore Ravens

July 24, 2012 (preseason preview): “The projection [of 7.7 wins] for the Ravens is probably a bit too pessimistic, but I can’t shake the feeling that last year was their big opportunity and they came up just a little short. They were finally able to get past the Steelers for the division title, taking advantage of an easier-than-average schedule, had a genuine chance at winning the Super Bowl in a year where there were no truly great teams (no, not even the Packers), and basically played the Patriots to a draw in a great AFC Championship game. Unfortunately, the Ravens were the team that had to lose. And now Terrell Suggs will largely be lost from a defense that has slipped from great to very good in the past few years and will likely slide down another level this year. Couple that with one of the toughest schedules in the league and improved teams in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and 2012 shapes up to be a year where Baltimore will truly have to earn its way back to the postseason.”

September 11, 2012 (Week 1: beat Cincinnati 44-13): “The Ravens’ plan to move towards a up-tempo, no-huddle attack offensively seemed fairly laughable in the preseason; after marching through Cincinnati’s defense with little resistance last night, however, no one’s laughing now. Hat tip, in particular, to Joe Flacco for making some phenomenal throws – in particular, the one in which he threaded the needle to Anquan Boldin 34 yards down the field while Boldin was sandwiched between two defenders.”

September 17, 2012 (Week 2: lost to Philadelphia 24-23)“As for the Ravens, it turns out you can probably shelve those Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly comparisons for their offense. Facing what looks to be a considerably better defense this week than the Bengals’ unit they faced last Monday night, Joe Flacco and Co. largely reverted to the form they’ve shown in years past: streaky periods of success mixed in with prolonged dry spells. The reason Sunday was the lack of success throwing to Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin: Rice only got 53 yards on ten targets (37 of which came on one play) and Boldin only picked seven yards on four targets. The Ravens struggled on third down as a result.”

September 20, 2012 (preview of Week 3 game against New England)“The normally mild-mannered Flacco had some scathing remarks for the officials following the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the Eagles. In particular, Joe took issue with the iffy Offensive Pass Interference call on Jacoby Jones in the fourth quarter that took a Ravens touchdown off the board. So if another bad call goes against the Ravens Sunday night, will Flacco try picking off the replacements one-by-one with his cannon? I was about to toss out the question of which quarterback in the NFL would be the best at murdering mass amounts of people simply by throwing a football at them. But, as it is with most quarterback discussions these days, the correct answer to that question is Aaron Rodgers and there’s not really any debate about it. Still, here’s hoping that Joe gets even slightly unhinged Sunday night!”

September 24, 2012 (Week 3: beat New England 31-30):  I’d like to start off by saying that Baltimore should be playing a marquee team on Sunday nights every week; when I eventually oust Roger Goodell, that will be the first change I make to the schedule. The following statement is one made with no research and may not actually be true, but I’ll say it anyway: no other franchise over the past five years has played more consistently entertaining games than the Edgar Allan Poes. They’re the perfect foil for any great team: they’re always ready to play, always prepared, always give max effort, and they’re good enough on both sides of the ball to hang around against any style of team but not dominant to the point where they can actually pull away. The result the past couple of weeks has been a couple of highly entertaining games involving the Ravens: a one-point loss to the Eagles and last night’s one-point win over the Patriots…Consider this a heartfelt thank-you, Baltimore, for always delivering in big games.”

October 3, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Joe Flacco has had the best start of his career and the Ravens’ offense is actually looking pretty high-powered for the first time since Vinny Testaverde was slinging passes around to the other Michael Jackson in 1996.”

October 8, 2012 (Week 5: beat Kansas City 9-6)“What an inspiring football game this was! Well done, guys. I don’t think Chiefs fans really understood what they were getting into when they cheered Matt Cassel’s concussion. IT’S BRADY QUINN COMING OFF THE BENCH. That’s no victory at all. Baltimore should be ashamed of themselves for only winning by three.”

October 18, 2012 (preview of Week 7 game vs. Houston)“You may have heard Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were both lost for the season this week due to injuries they suffered in last week’s victory over the Cowboys. You could make a strong case that Lewis is the greatest middle/inside linebacker of all-time, but his physical skills have diminished this season to the point where he was nothing more than an above-average player. Webb, on the other hand, had turned into a legitimate #1 corner this year and his presence on the field will be much harder to replace.”

October 22, 2012 (Week 7: lost to Houston 43-13)“One of the search engine terms that led some poor sap to this blog yesterday was the following question: “are the ravens teh (sic) same team houston played last year.” And what I think yesterday’s game proved rather emphatically, dear anonymous internet reader, is that no, they are not. At least, not on the road. The Ravens are now 1-2 away from home this season and the one win was an ugly-as-sin 9-6 squeaker over Kansas City that inspired the Arrowhead Stadium faithful to cheer Matt Cassel’s concussion. Joe Flacco and Co. are scoring 32.25 points per game at home so far and 15 on the road. If you want to widen the sample size and include last year’s road performance, remember that the Ravens tossed in some road stinkbombs last year as well in Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle, and San Diego. Given their defense’s grave injury troubles and mediocre play even before the injuries set in, I’d say there’s some cause for concern here.”

November 7, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Baltimore mirrored their 3-1 record from the first quarter of the season, but looked considerably less impressive doing so; close wins over Kansas City, Dallas, and Cleveland were glossed over in the wake of an ugly blowout loss at Houston…As usual, however, the [AFC North] will ultimately be decided by the two Ravens-Steelers games coming up Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.”

November 16, 2012 (Preview of Week 11 game vs. Pittsburgh)“Like the Saints last year, the Ravens have been playing like Super Bowl contenders at home and a below-.500 team on the road. This is almost 100% the offense’s doing. At home, they’re averaging 36.8 points per game and an outstanding 6.77 yards per play (league average is 5.5). On the other hand, when they go on the road those averages dip to 17.5 points per game and 4.49 yards per play. That’s basically the equivalent of being the 2000 Rams at home and the 2011 Jaguars on the road.”

November 19, 2012 (Week 11: defeated Pittsburgh 13-10)“Meanwhile, Baltimore proved that scoring offensive touchdowns is highly overrated, as they rode Jacoby Jones’ punt return touchdown and two Justin Tucker field goals to victory. It was Jones’ third kick return touchdown of the season, an achievement that will make his eventual two muffed punts in the playoffs all the more painful. Is it possible that Baltimore may eventually have to find a way to score points offensively on the road in order to win in the playoffs? Perhaps. Is it more possible that they’ll poison Houston’s pre-game meal in the divisional round so that the Texans will be too, ahem, ‘occupied’ to focus on their actual opponent and the Ravens will never have to leave M&T Bank Stadium? I SAY YES.”

November 26, 2012 (Week 12: defeated San Diego 16-13 [OT])“RAY RICE!!! First of all, what on earth was Flacco thinking throwing a three-yard dumpoff on 4th-and-29? More importantly, what was going through Ray’s head at that point? ‘Oh, don’t you throw that ball to me, you know what crap I’m gonna have to pull to get that first down? Aw crap, Joe, you ARE going to stick me with this, aren’t you? Well, you’re not going to make me the scapegoat, you big Frankenstein. I’m gonna get this first down and then the pressure’ll be back on you, Flaccid Face.’ You heard it here first: Ray Rice converted that 4th-and-29 out of pure spite.”

December 5, 2012 (Quarterly Report)“Baltimore kicked off the third quarter of the season with a 35-point blowout win over the Raiders, then played three-point games the rest of the way and relied on Ray Rice converting 4th-and-29s a bit too much for this reporter’s liking…the Ravens have the second-hardest remaining schedule in the league and will have no chance at a bye if they lose to Denver on Dec. 16.”

December 6, 2012 (Preview of Week 14 game vs. Redskins)“Joe Flacco is actually pretty mobile for a man his size but for all the world, whenever he runs, it never seems that way. Sometimes he’s able to make Drew Bledsoe retroactively look like Darren Sproles.”

December 10, 2012 (Week 14: lost to Washington 31-28 [OT])“Baltimore, on the other hand, is the master of playing almost EXACTLY to their opponents’ capabilities. This isn’t a particularly useful skill when you should be blowing out Kansas City and are instead needing a dubious roughing-the-passer penalty to get out of Arrowhead with a three-point win. But it IS useful when your next three games are against the Broncos, Giants, and Bengals. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh’s losses yesterday basically assure the AFC North title will go to Baltimore, which in turn likely assures us all that the Ravens will win one playoff game and then lose a heartbreaker in the second round.”

December 24, 2012 (Week 16: beat NY Giants 33-14)“The Ravens illustrated a truth about the Giants defense that has been apparent all season but rarely seen in practice: if you don’t turn the ball over against the Giants, you’ll be able to move the ball at will.”

January 2, 2013 (Postseason Preview)“The Ravens are the masters of winning a playoff game and then bowing out gracefully. Short of a climactic final scene getting added to the eventual #Chuckstrong movie Sunday, that once again seems to be the path Baltimore will venture on. Like Houston, they’re decent in everything, great in nothing (except special teams, so if there was any time for you to start returning two kickoffs for touchdowns a game, Jacoby Jones, THIS WOULD BE IT). Their chances are slightly better than the Texans simply because they’re more likely to win their Wild-Card game. After that? No bueno.”

January 7, 2013 (Wild-Card Round: beat Indianapolis 24-9): “Even though the Ravens were moving the ball at will against them yesterday, it always seemed like the Colts were going to pull one out again. Ray Rice was fumbling, Andrew Luck was hitting receivers five yards short of the marker but the receivers would run around like chickens with their heads cut off until they got the first down – it had all the hallmarks of a classic Colts win, really. I’m still shocked Baltimore won, I really am.”

January 10, 2013 (Preview of Divisional Round game against Denver)“You can never outright dismiss the Ravens – they’re one of the most well-coached and competitive teams in the league. But this year’s team isn’t one of their strongest – they have great special teams and ‘only’ above-average everywhere else. Against a Broncos team that looks like they’ve got things pretty well figured out, merely above-average probably isn’t going to cut it.”

January 14, 2013 (Divisional Round: beat Denver 38-35 [2OT])“Outside of a period in the second quarter where he went cold, Joe Flacco was outstanding. The below-zero wind chills clearly affected his arm far less than Peyton [Manning’s], who was off on virtually every throw outside the numbers all night. For Joe, on the other hand, it could probably be seventy below zero and he’d still probably be able to chuck it seventy yards. And if he was ever asked about the cold, he would probably just shrug his shoulders and reply with no hint of emotion on his face, ‘Huh. Yeah, I suppose it is.’ He’s a live wire, that Joe Flacco! Played really well on Saturday, though.”

January 18, 2013 (Preview of AFC Championship Game vs. New England)“The Ravens absolutely can win this game and, frankly, I’ll be rooting for them to do so – all this continued excellence and greatness out of New England gets really boring after a while. However, after being on the field for 87 plays from scrimmage against both the Colts and Broncos, I have to wonder how much gas the Baltimore defense will have left in the second half Sunday night… While on the one hand you get the sense that the Ravens can’t wind up being stuck as the AFC bridesmaid EVERY year…on the other, you can’t find enough good reasons to think that they won’t.”

January 21, 2013 (AFC Championship: beat New England 28-13): “How unlikely did the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances look three weeks ago? They’re not exactly the 2007 Giants, but there wasn’t too much statistical evidence supporting a theory that a 10-6 team that had lost four out of their last five games heading into the playoffs and were hovering right around league average on both sides of the ball would turn into the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. The eye test, unreliable as it can be on occasion, didn’t do the Ravens any favors, either. Outside of their opening week victory against the Bengals, Baltimore never played a game in which they truly looked like one of the best teams in the league and their disastrous performance in Houston in October seemed to indicate that the only way they’d ever make the Super Bowl would be if they somehow got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the beginning of the postseason, I gave Baltimore a 10% chance of making the Super Bowl and said they had the same shot at winning it all as a normal person does of developing hemorrhoids. I like to think that was what inspired them to upset Denver and New England and not anything Ray Lewis said or did.”

Pro Bowl Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl (stop groaning)…

NFC 62, AFC 35
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.34 – NFC, 3.00 – AFC
AY/P Projected Point Totals: NFC 38.80, AFC 14.36
Quick Thoughts:
1. Call me crazy or, more likely, desperate for meaningful football, but I thought most players involved with the Pro Bowl last night gave a portion of a crap and that’s all you can really ask for. Of the four major professional sports in America, football is clearly the worst-suited for the entire concept of an all-star game. For starters, it’s the sport with the greatest emphasis on team unity, so throwing together 45 or so guys together to play a game on one week’s notice is going to make The Room seem meticulously planned and well thought out by comparison. You may have also heard that football is very violent. Those rumors are true and the likelihood of the players involved going full speed and risking serious harm to their careers in an exhibition game is about as high as the likelihood of Seth MacFarlane getting asked to host the Oscars again after the trainwreck that’s forthcoming in February. And when you dial back the intensity level a thousand notches from a sport that depends on that intensity for its very basic sense of excitement, you typically get a substandard product. The MLB All-Star Game is essentially a normal baseball game, only with way more pitching changes (excluding Tony La Russa-managed games, of course) and the wide-open natures of the NBA and NHL all-star games at least encourage more showmanship and dazzling athletics displays out of their sport’s greatest stars, which is the only real point of having an All-Star game in the first place. The poor Pro Bowl is forced to rely on Tweet stations and trick kickoffs from Phil Dawson to manufacture that showmanship. Not quite the same as LeBron going airborne for a dunk, if you were to ask me.
2. So we’ve established a fact. The NFL is the greatest sport in America currently yet somehow owns the worst all-star game in America, by far. What an incredible contradiction – a contradiction that would require thousands and thousands of words for proper analysis if the Pro Bowl were really a subject worth poring thousands and thousands of words out over. It of course isn’t, so I’ll just say that despite all my misgivings about the game, I did in fact watch most of it last night and was actually moderately entertained. Much of that entertainment was supplied by Al Michaels, who spent much of the evening passively-aggressively jabbing the sheer absurdity of the whole event without ever actually saying, “The Pro Bowl is a piece of crap.” Wait a minute, he actually did say that at the end of the game. My mistake.
3. As stated at the beginning of the post, however, the players involved took Peyton Manning’s impassioned plea from earlier in the week to heart (“Look, you guys. I love Hawaii, but I’m too cheap to pay for my own vacations. If Goodell pulls the plug on this game because some of you weren’t running your Levels routes at game speed, I swear to God, I will hunt you down and I will kill you. Even you, Demariyus.”) and played a game that at least resembled the sport we all know and love. We were all treated to a series of wonderful Manning Faces from Eli, who seemed utterly stoned whenever he was on camera. Matt Schaub reminded Texans fans why they’re so enamored of him with an interception to the Falcons’ William Moore. Fellow Texan J.J. Watt bloodied up his finger real good under orders from Peyton as proof for the world that, hey, we really do care about this, guys! And for his part, Andrew Luck engaged Peyton in some of the most painfully awkward small talk ever captured on tape (for the record, Peyton believes Cooper’s children are 9, 7, and 5 years old, respectively). The magic of the Pro Bowl,everyone.
4. If you’re looking for interesting subplots to watch for during the game – and Lord knows you have to make some up to get all the way through this facsimile of a game – one reliable one is noticing how the veterans react to the youngsters making their first appearance in the game. If nothing else, you can sometimes figure out the attitudes and feelings the old guard harbor for the next generation. Last year, for example, the AFC defense couldn’t be bothered to move more than three feet at a time for most of the game, but suddenly found the energy to crank out a playoff-level pass rush once Cam  Newton entered the game. The lesson: veterans don’t like Cam Newton. This year, I thought it was interesting how often Drew Brees and Eli Manning targeted Kyle Rudolph, a guy who averaged 5.3 Yards per Target this year and looked to my eyes like an enormous stiff for most of the year. Now after seeing Rudolph get 122 yards and a touchdown on five catches yesterday, I’m wondering how much that stiff-like appearance was due simply to the odious nature of one Christian Ponder. Seems to just lend more credence to the theory that quarterbacks make receivers way more often than the other way around. Either that or I’m reading way too much into action that occurred during the Pro Bowl. Probably both.
5. J.J. Watt at wide receiver turned out to be a bit of bust – Peanut Tillman knocked the ball out of his hands on the opening series (a delightful play for my sanity’s sake, even if it’s just a meaningless exhibition) and Jason Pierre-Paul made his first impact play in three months when he outjumped Watt for an Andrew Luck lob at the end of the game. With all of that said, however, seeing J.J. on offense yesterday gave you some ideas for next season, Gary Kubiak. As Herm Edwards might say, “NO BETTER CURE FOR RED ZONE ISSUES THAN PLAYING A 6’6” DEFENSIVE LINEMAN ON OFFENSE.”
6. And, finally: yes, I will start previewing the Super Bowl tomorrow. This game can’t come fast enough.

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death: The Greatest of All Time (AFC)

Following up on yesterday’s post, this is the second half of the introduction to the WhatIfSports Greatest of All Time simulated season. As a reminder, I’m picking the best edition of each NFL team and will run them all through a full-length season to determine once and for all which team in NFL history truly was the greatest. Because nothing solves arguments like hypothetical games run through an internet simulation engine! Yesterday, we ran through my choices for each NFC team; today, the AFC teams are unveiled.

Again, some basic guidelines I kinda, sorta followed when making my selections:

  • No teams prior to the NFL/AAFC merger in 1950. The game was just too different prior to that point to be able to make any cross-generational comparisons. Sorry, 1949 Eagles!
  • No one-year wonders. Each representative team should be a part of a larger run of success in that franchise’s history and ideally would come from the “signature” period of their franchise’s history, though that is not always possible.
  • Super Bowl winners get prioritized over all other teams, with one big exception we’ll get to tomorrow. For franchises that have never won a Super Bowl…well, it doesn’t really matter since they’re probably going to get pummeled in these simulations, so my choices for those teams were quite a bit more willy-nilly.
  • If I had trouble deciding between two teams, I erred on the side of which squad had higher profile players. Sorry, 1969 Vikings and 1984 49ers!
  • Finally, rather than choose either this year’s or last year’s edition of the Houston Texans, I decided to pick a version of the old Houston Oilers in their stead. Technically, the Oilers ARE a part of Tennessee’s franchise history at this point…but I don’t really care. Same logic applies with my choice of a Baltimore Colts team instead of a Baltimore Ravens team – really, I just want Johnny U. to be involved in this thing. Sorry, Ray Lewis!

Okay, if you’re still awake after that, let’s crack into this thing.

AFC West

Record: 14-2 (won AFC West)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Atlanta
Coach: Mike Shanahan
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 47-17 (1995-1998)
Notable Players: QB John Elway, RB Terrell Davis, TE Shannon Sharpe, S Steve Atwater, LB Bill Romanowski, C Tom Nalen

Comment: Pro Football Reference seems to be of the opinion that the ’97 Super Bowl Champions were slightly better, but we’ll go with the squad that repeated because of Terrell Davis going over 2,000 yards and the vast amount of tail they kicked in the postseason. Honestly, it’s tough to find a more balanced offense that was this terrifying – they’d be able to go into any era and score 30 points a game. Or will they…

Record: 11-3 (Wild-Card Recipient)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Minnesota
Coach: Hank Stram
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 43-12-1 (1966-1969)
Notable Players: QB Len Dawson, LB Willie Lanier, LB Bobby Bell, DT Buck Buchanan, S Johnny Robinson, CB Emmitt Thomas

Comment: Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys!

Record: 13-1 (won AFC West)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Minnesota
Coach: John Madden
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 47-9 (1974-1977)
Notable Players: WR Fred Biletnikoff, WR Cliff Branch, TE Dave Casper, QB Ken Stabler, LB Ted Hendricks, T Art Shell, G Gene Upshaw

Comment: “When you’re talking about tough guys at the quarterback position, er, BRETT FAVRE is absolutely the number one player on the list. But, er, Kenny Stabler isn’t too far behind him. I used to ask Kenny to reach his hand inside my Thanksgiving Turducken and BOOM! There’d be a big surprise waiting for him. Er, usually just a old glove or something.”

Record: 12-4 (won AFC West)
Playoffs: lost AFC Divisional to Houston
Coach: Don Coryell
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 39-18 (1979-1982)
Notable Players: QB Dan Fouts, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Charlie Joiner, DE Fred Dean, WR John Jefferson, DT Gary Johnson

Comment: Technically, the 2004-07 Chargers had the best run in team history and the ’06 Chargers should probably be the San Diego representative in this pool. But when you first think of the Chargers, doesn’t your mind immediately go to Air Coryell and Dan Fouts winging the ball down the field willy-nilly? Or does it automatically just go to Norv doing something stupid? Let’s err on the side of brazen downfield passing, shall we?

AFC South
Record: 11-5 (won AFC Central)
Playoffs: lost AFC Divisonal to Denver
Coach: Jack Pardee
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 42-22 (1990-1993)
Notable Players: QB Warren Moon, C Bruce Matthews, WR Haywood Jeffires, CB Cris Dishman, DE Sean Jones, WR Drew Hill

Comment: Look, the ceiling of the 2012 Texans in this league would be 6-10 or 7-9, so let’s all hop on back to a simpler time – where the hair and sweaters were bigger and the Run ‘n Shoot was still considered a viable every-down offense. Keep throwing until your arm falls off, Warren!

Record: 12-4 (won AFC South)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Chicago
Coach: Tony Dungy
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 51-13 (2005-2008)
Notable Players: QB Peyton Manning, WR Marvin Harrison, DE Dwight Freeney, WR Reggie Wayne, T Tarik Glenn, S Bob Sanders

Comment: The regular season version of this team was actually one of the worst of the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis – they ended up winning the Super Bowl. Go figure. We’ll see how early Bob Sanders gets injured in these simulated games. I’m putting the over/under at Week 2 and taking the under.

Record: 14-2 (won AFC Central)
Playoffs: lost AFC Championship to Tennessee
Coach: Tom Coughlin
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-19 (1996-1999)
Notable Players: QB Mark Brunell, RB Fred Taylor, WR Jimmy Smith, S Carnell Lake, DE Tony Brackens, T Tony Boselli

Comment: As usual, there are few if any entertaining anecdotes regarding the Jaguars. This has to be the most anonymous 14-2 team in NFL history, doesn’t it? That’s probably the motivational tactic simulated Tom Coughlin will take during his weekly meetings with the team. If you’re only 45 minutes early, you’re late.

Record: 13-3 (won AFC Central)
Playoffs: lost AFC Divisional to Baltimore
Coach: Jeff Fisher
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 44-20 (1999-2002)
Notable Players: RB Eddie George, DE Jevon Kearse, QB Steve McNair, WR Derrick Mason, CB Samari Rolle, TE Frank Wycheck

Comment: I’m aware the ’99 Titans were the ones who came within a yard of tying up the Super Bowl, but this team was just better. That Gregg Williams sure knew how to put together a defense! One of the more random matchups that I’m looking forward to out of this whole thing is when the ’00 Titans play the ’09 Saints and Gregg Williams goes up against Gregg Williams. Will they just get frustrated after a while and run out on the field to kill their doppelganger’s head? “WE APPEAR TO BE EVENLY MATCHED.” “ME CONCUR.”

AFC North
Record: 9-3 (won NFL Western Division)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against NY Giants
Coach: Weeb Ewbank
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 31-17 (1957-1960)
Notable Players: QB Johnny Unitas, WR Raymond Berry, HB/WR Lenny Moore, DE Gino Marchetti, FB Alan Ameche, LT Jim Parker

Comment: Sure, we’re losing Ray Lewis and one of the greatest defenses of all-time by making this Colts-Ravens switch. On the other hand, we’re gaining Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore (a.k.a. Marshall Faulk before Marshall Faulk), and another enticing and totally random matchup when the ’58 Colts play the ’68 Jets. That’s right – it’s the Weeb Ewbank Bowl! Of all the possible people to coach two different teams in this exercise, it’s Weeb Ewbank. Go figure.

Record: 12-4 (won AFC Central)
Playoffs: lost Super Bowl to San Francisco
Coach: Forrest Gregg
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 34-23 (1981-1984)
Notable Players: T Anthony Munoz, QB Ken Anderson, WR Cris Collinsworth, FB Pete Johnson, TE Dan Ross

Comment: Tough choice, since choosing this squad deprives of both Paul Brown coaching AND Boomer Esiason being a blowhard and Ickey Woods doing whatever the hell went on in the Ickey Shuffle. On the plus side: Cris Collinsworth will get to comment on his playing self and say, “I hate to say it, but Cris Collinsworth just messed up that route COMPLETELY, I don’t know what he was looking at out there!”

Record: 10-3-1 (won NFL Eastern Division)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against Baltimore
Coach: Blanton Collier
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 40-15-1 (1963-1966)
Notable Players: RB Jim Brown, WR Paul Warfield, WR Gary Collins, DE Bill Glass, LB Jim Houston, T Dick Schafrath

Comment: It just feels wrong to have a Browns team without Paul Brown as head coach, right? On the other hand, JIM BROWN JIM BROWN JIM BROWN JIM BROWN. And this was the only year the Browns won a championship while he was on the team. And Blanton Collier was a pretty good coach, too, right? Right? Don’t judge me.

Record: 12-2 (won AFC Central)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Dallas
Coach: Chuck Noll
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-13 (1975-1978)
Notable Players: DT Joe Greene, LB Jack Lambert, QB Terry Bradshaw, RB Franco Harris, LB Jack Ham, CB Mel Blount, WR Lynn Swann

Comment: Really, you could pick the ’78 or ’79 Steelers and have your choice be every bit as correct as this one was. Heck, the ’76 team didn’t win the Super Bowl and they might have been the best team out of the whole bunch – I mean, they won their last nine games by a combined score of 234-28. They gave up TWO touchdowns in that span. NOT BAD. The point is, those Steelers teams were pretty good.

AFC East
Record: 13-3 (won AFC East)
Playoffs: lost Super Bowl to NY Giants
Coach: Marv Levy
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 49-15 (1990-1993)
Notable Players: DE Bruce Smith, RB Thurman Thomas, QB Jim Kelly, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, LB Cornelius Bennett

Comment: How hilarious would it be if the simulated Bills sprung an upset and somehow made it to the simulated Super Bowl, only to lose there again? I’ll leave you to grieve, upstate New York.

Record: 14-0 (won AFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Washington
Coach: Don Shula
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 47-8-1 (1971-1974)
Notable Players: FB Larry Csonka, WR Paul Warfield, LB Nick Buoniconti, G Larry Little, QB Earl Morrall, QB Bob Griese

Comment: The ’73 team may have been even better, but I can’t ignore the only team to go undefeated and untied in both the regular season and playoffs any more than I can ignore that box of white macadamia nut cookies that’s taunting me from the counter ten feet away. So chewy, so delectable…but I’ve already had three today. WHY MUST YOU TEMPT ME SO, OH DELICIOUS COOKIE?

Record: 16-0 (won AFC East)
Playoffs: lost Super Bowl to NY Giants
Coach: Bill Belichick
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 52-12 (2004-2007)
Notable Players: QB Tom Brady, WR Randy Moss, WR Wes Welker, LB Mike Vrabel, CB Asante Samuel, LB Junior Seau

Comment: Yeah, yeah, they choked the Super Bowl, whatever. You look me straight in the eye and tell any of the three Super Bowl winners from earlier the decade were better than this team. You can’t – mostly because you’re just reading my words that I’m typing into this post and cannot actually SEE my eye, but still. This was the most dominant regular season team I’ve ever seen and the Pro Football Reference SRS agrees with me. Also, those Super Bowl champions were extremely lucky and I hate their guts. So there.

1968 New York Jets
Record: 11-3 (won AFL East Division)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Baltimore
Coach: Weeb Ewbank
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 35-18-3 (1966-1969)
Notable Players: QB Joe Namath, WR Don Maynard, WR George Sauer, DE Gerry Philbin, HB Emerson Boozer, LB Al Atkinson

Comment: Let’s put it this way: if simulated Broadway Joe can guarantee a .500 record against the onslaught the Jets are about to go up against, then he’ll have earned all the Beautymist panty hose his heart desires.

Alright! We made it! And thanks to the trusty schedule generator provided by justissports.net, we’ve got a full schedule, too, made up in the blink of an eye. Study the matchups for each week below and we’ll get started with the first week’s action once the Super Bowl is over. GET PSYCHED.


WEEK 1
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1991 Washington Redskins @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
1968 New York Jets @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 2007 New England Patriots
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1986 New York Giants @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
WEEK 2
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1986 New York Giants
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
1991 Houston Oilers @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1968 New York Jets
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1952 Detroit Lions
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1985 Chicago Bears
2007 New England Patriots @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 1991 Washington Redskins
WEEK 3
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1991 Washington Redskins
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
1991 Houston Oilers @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1968 New York Jets @ 2007 New England Patriots
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1998 Denver Broncos
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
1986 New York Giants @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1985 Chicago Bears
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
WEEK 4
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 1968 New York Jets
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1952 Detroit Lions
2007 New England Patriots @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
1991 Washington Redskins @ 1986 New York Giants
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
WEEK 5
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 1998 Denver Broncos
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
2007 New England Patriots @ 1986 New York Giants
1968 New York Jets @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
WEEK 6
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1998 Denver Broncos
1991 Washington Redskins @ 2007 New England Patriots
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1968 New York Jets @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1985 Chicago Bears
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
1986 New York Giants @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
WEEK 7
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 1952 Detroit Lions
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1968 New York Jets
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 1986 New York Giants
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
2007 New England Patriots @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1991 Washington Redskins
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1991 Houston Oilers @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
WEEK 8
1991 Houston Oilers @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
1986 New York Giants @ 1968 New York Jets
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1985 Chicago Bears
1991 Washington Redskins @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 2007 New England Patriots
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
WEEK 9
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 2007 New England Patriots
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1952 Detroit Lions
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1998 Denver Broncos
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1991 Washington Redskins
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
WEEK 10
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1991 Washington Redskins @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1998 Denver Broncos
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1968 New York Jets
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1986 New York Giants
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1952 Detroit Lions @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1991 Houston Oilers @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
WEEK 11
1968 New York Jets @ 1991 Washington Redskins
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1991 Houston Oilers
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 2007 New England Patriots
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
1986 New York Giants @ 1952 Detroit Lions
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
WEEK 12
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1952 Detroit Lions
2007 New England Patriots @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1991 Houston Oilers @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1985 Chicago Bears
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 1998 Denver Broncos
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1986 New York Giants
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
1991 Washington Redskins @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
1968 New York Jets @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
WEEK 13
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 1991 Washington Redskins
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1998 Denver Broncos
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
2007 New England Patriots @ 1968 New York Jets
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1986 New York Giants @ 1985 Chicago Bears
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
WEEK 14
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
1986 New York Giants @ 1991 Washington Redskins
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1952 Detroit Lions
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
1968 New York Jets @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 2007 New England Patriots
1991 Houston Oilers @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
WEEK 15
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
2007 New England Patriots @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 1998 Denver Broncos
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
2008 Arizona Cardinals @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1968 New York Jets
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 1964 Cleveland Browns
1991 Houston Oilers @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1991 Washington Redskins @ 1992 Dallas Cowboys
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 1986 New York Giants
1985 Chicago Bears @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
WEEK 16
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 1989 San Francisco 49ers
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1991 Washington Redskins @ 2009 New Orleans Saints
1986 New York Giants @ 1990 Buffalo Bills
1960 Philadelphia Eagles @ 1973 Minnesota Vikings
1998 Denver Broncos @ 1952 Detroit Lions
1981 Cincinnati Bengals @ 1958 Baltimore Colts
1962 Green Bay Packers @ 1985 Chicago Bears
1968 New York Jets @ 1972 Miami Dolphins
1999 Jacksonville Jaguars @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1979 San Diego Chargers @ 2000 Tennessee Titans
2012 Atlanta Falcons @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
2007 New England Patriots @ 2006 Indianapolis Colts
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers @ 1999 St. Louis Rams
2005 Carolina Panthers @ 2005 Seattle Seahawks
1969 Kansas City Chiefs @ 1976 Oakland Raiders
WEEK 17
1972 Miami Dolphins @ 1986 New York Giants
1958 Baltimore Colts @ 1968 New York Jets
1999 St. Louis Rams @ 2012 Atlanta Falcons
2009 New Orleans Saints @ 1985 Chicago Bears
1990 Buffalo Bills @ 1991 Washington Redskins
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ 2005 Carolina Panthers
1992 Dallas Cowboys @ 1960 Philadelphia Eagles
2006 Indianapolis Colts @ 1991 Houston Oilers
1952 Detroit Lions @ 1962 Green Bay Packers
1964 Cleveland Browns @ 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers
2005 Seattle Seahawks @ 1981 Cincinnati Bengals
2000 Tennessee Titans @ 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
1989 San Francisco 49ers @ 2008 Arizona Cardinals
1973 Minnesota Vikings @ 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
1976 Oakland Raiders @ 1979 San Diego Chargers
1998 Denver Broncos @ 2007 New England Patriots

WhatIfSports Duel to the Death: The Greatest of All Time (NFC)

In keeping with my vow from yesterday to ignore unnecessary Super Bowl hype until at least next week, today’s post introduces a concept first suggested by Lucas, who has wound up running a simulated NCAA football playoff through WhatIfSports each of the past two years. Lucas’ suggestion to myself was simple: why not run a similar tournament involving the best edition of each of the NFL’s 32 teams? As a fellow lover of hypothetical games that could never actually happen in real life, I found this idea to be stupendous but decided that a mere single-elimination tournament was setting the bar too low.

That’s right: we’re going to simulate an entire season of the greatest NFL teams of all time going head-to-head and, if we don’t come to the realization that this was a horrible and not-well-thought-out-at-all plan by Week 8, will continue all the way through the most super of all Super Bowls. Today, I’ll start by introducing my choices as each NFC team’s representative; the AFC teams will follow tomorrow.

Some basic guidelines I kinda, sorta followed when making my selections:

  • No teams prior to the NFL/AAFC merger in 1950. The game was just too different prior to that point to be able to make any cross-generational comparisons. Sorry, 1949 Eagles!
  • No one-year wonders. Each representative team should be a part of a larger run of success in that franchise’s history and ideally would come from the “signature” period of their franchise’s history, though that is not always possible.
  • Super Bowl winners get prioritized over all other teams, with one big exception we’ll get to tomorrow. For franchises that have never won a Super Bowl…well, it doesn’t really matter since they’re probably going to get pummeled in these simulations, so my choices for those teams were quite a bit more willy-nilly.
  • Finally, if I had trouble deciding between two teams, I erred on the side of which squad had higher profile players. Sorry, 1969 Vikings and 1984 49ers!

Alright, let’s light this candle…

NFC West

Record: 9-7 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: lost in Super Bowl to Pittsburgh
Coach: Ken Whisenhunt
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 32-32 (2006-2009)
Notable Players: QB Kurt Warner, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Anquan Boldin, S Adrian Wilson

Comment: Blech. Who do you pick as the “greatest” team from the most ignominous franchise in the league? Their last championship team isn’t even eligible for this exercise, since they won in 1948. The greatest string of success they enjoyed was probably the mid-’70s period where Don Coryell was their coach and Jim Hart was their quarterback and they won a few division titles but no playoff games. In other words, whoever winds up representing this franchise is going to wind up getting killed. So why not choose the 2008 Cardinals as the proverbial lamb being led out to the slaughter? If they’re going to finish 3-13, at least they’ll get to have Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald while doing it!

Record: 14-2 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Denver
Coach: George Seifert
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 52-12 (1989-1992)
Notable Players: QB Joe Montana, WR Jerry Rice, S Ronnie Lott, RB Roger Craig, LB Charles Haley, WR John Taylor

Comment: There’s a pretty fierce debate about which of the ’80 49ers teams were best: the ’84 team or the ’89 team. Statistically, they’re pretty even, but I’ll choose the ’89 team for the following reasons. First, Jerry Rice. Second, Joe Montana had probably his best season and if he got hurt in a simulated game, Steve Young’s always there to back him up. And third, Jerry Rice again.

Record: 13-3 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: Lost Super Bowl to Pittsburgh
Coach: Mike Holmgren
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 41-23 (2003-2006)
Notable Players: RB Shaun Alexander, T Walter Jones, QB Matt Hasselbeck, LB Lofa Tatupu

Comment: The Chuck Knox-coached Seahawks of the mid-’80s had some entertaining teams with Dave Krieg at quarterback, Curt Warner at running back, and Kenny Easley at safety. Ultimately, though, the Holmgren-led teams of the mid-2000s enjoyed the greatest string of success in club history. And given the edition of the Rams I’m picking, I don’t think we would be able to handle a division with three different K(C)urt Warners.

Record: 13-3 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Tennessee
Coach: Dick Vermeil
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 44-20 (1999-2002)
Notable Players: RB Marshall Faulk, QB Kurt Warner, WR Isaac Bruce, WR Torry Holt, T Orlando Pace, DE Kevin Carter

Comment: The 2001 team was probably a little better even if they gagged the Super Bowl and there’s a whole slew of L.A. Rams teams from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s who probably deserve inclusion as well. On the other hand, screw ’em: this was one of the most entertaining teams of all time and Mike Martz’s craziness was at least slightly tempered by Dick Vermeil’s penchant for crying. The ’89 49ers are obviously the favorites for this division, but the Rams have a puncher’s chance.

NFC South

Record: 13-3 (won NFC South)
Playoffs: lost NFC Championship to San Francisco
Coach: Mike Smith
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-19 (2009-2012)
Notable Players: QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, DE John Abraham, CB Asante Samuel, WR Julio Jones

Comment: Are you aware that the Falcons are currently in the midst of their greatest period of sustained success in team history? It’s kinda sad yet true! The ’98 team that went to the Super Bowl is almost certainly the best single-season team in franchise history, but went 16-32 in the three years sandwiching around that. They were a bigger fluke than Mark Fidyrich in 1976. So, I’m left no choice but to go with…Matt Ryan?!?! GAHHH THEY NEVER TELL YOU THE CHOICES WILL BE SO HARD!

Record: 11-5 (Wild-Card Recipient)
Playoffs: lost NFC Championship to Seattle
Coach: John Fox
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 38-26 (2005-2008)
Notable Players: WR Steve Smith, DE Julius Peppers, QB Jake Delhomme

Comment: The 2003 team made the Super Bowl and nearly beat the Patriots but were wholly unremarkable during the regular season. The 2008 team was probably the best in franchise history during the regular season, but then the Cardinals game and six Jake Delhomme turnovers happened. So almost by default, we’re left with the 2005 team that had Steve Smith terrorizing defensive backs all around the league, a young Julius Peppers doing young Julius Peppers things, and not a whole lot else. STRONG CONTENDER RIGHT HERE.

Record: 13-3 (won NFC South)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Indianapolis
Coach: Sean Payton
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-19 (2008-2011)
Notable Players: QB Drew Brees, G Jahri Evans, S Darren Sharper, WR Marques Colston, G Carl Nicks

Comment: Probably the easiest choice on the board. No word on whether simulated Gregg Williams will put out bounties on Joe Montana or not.

Record: 12-4 (won NFC South)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Oakland
Coach: Jon Gruden
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 42-22 (1999-2002)
Notable Players: DT Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, CB Ronde Barber, DE Simeon Rice, S John Lynch, WR Keyshawn Johnson

Comment: Another obvious choice that gets even better if you imagine 2013 Jon Gruden announcing some of their games. “This 2002 Jon Gruden, I call him 2004 Lindsay Lohan because he had all the talent in the world but had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead and was completely out of the game in seven years. *raises right hand slightly* I like ‘im.”

NFC North

Record: 15-1 (won NFC Central)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against New England
Coach: Mike Ditka
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 50-13 (1984-1987)
Notable Players: RB Walter Payton, LB Mike Singletary, DE/DT Dan Hampton, DE Richard Dent, DT Steve McMichael, LB Wilber Marshall, LB Otis Wilson

Comment: HOLY CRAP IS THIS DIVISION LOADED. The NFC West was pretty rugged this year, but it looks like the Western Athletic Conference by comparison to this monster. This is arguably the greatest single-season team of all-time…and they’re no sure bet to make the playoffs. Calling this the deadliest division right now.

Record: 9-3 (won NFL National Division)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against Cleveland
Coach: Buddy Parker
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 35-11-2 (1951-1954)
Notable Players: QB Bobby Layne, HB Bob Hoernschemeyer, HB Doak Walker, S Jack Christiansen, CB Yale Lary

Comment: Thank God for the Lions’ sake I didn’t make the cutoff date 1960. They might have been forced to trot out a team with Scott Mitchell as their quarterback.

Record: 13-1 (won NFL Western Division)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against NY Giants
Coach: Vince Lombardi
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 43-10-1 (1960-1963)
Notable Players: QB Bart Starr, RB Jim Taylor, RB Paul Hornung, CB Herb Adderley, DT Henry Jordan, DE Willie Davis, S Willie Wood, LB Ray Nitschke

Comment: No offense to John Madden (“Where’s BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE? BRETT FAVRE.”), but the ’60s Packers were the quintessential dynasty in league history and the ’62 team was the best of all of them. My personal choice for greatest team of all time.

Record: 12-2 (won NFC Central Division)
Playoffs: lost Super Bowl to Miami
Coach: Bud Grant
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-10-1 (1973-1976)
Notable Players: DT Alan Page, QB Fran Tarkenton, DE Carl Eller, S Paul Krause, DE Jim Marshall, RB Chuck Foreman

Comment: I am fairly confident the 1969 version of the Vikings was the best of all time (seriously, DAT DEFENSE), but having a Vikings participant in this simulation without Fran Tarkenton at quarterback just feels dirty and wrong. So instead of having a team with average offense and HOLY FREAKING CRAP I AM CRAPPING MY PANTS RIGHT NOW defense, we’ll just choose a team that has a very good offense and a very good defense. Seems much more reasonable.

NFC East

Record: 13-3 (won NFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Buffalo
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 49-15 (1992-1995)
Notable Players: RB Emmitt Smith, WR Michael Irvin, QB Troy Aikman, DE Charles Haley, G Nate Newton, TE Jay Novacek

Comment: really wanted to choose one of the Landry-Staubach teams from the ’70s, but the Cowboys’ unquestioned best four year-stretch was 1992-1995. On the bright side, I’m sure simulation Jerry Jones picks his nose and adjusts his junk on camera just as often as real-life Jerry Jones does.

Record: 14-2 (won NFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Denver
Coach: Bill Parcells
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 42-21 (1986-1989)
Notable Players: LB Lawrence Taylor, LB Harry Carson, DE Leonard Marshall, RB Joe Morris, TE Mark Bavaro, DT Jim Burt

Comment: Interesting question for the simulation: will opposing offensive linemen from teams that competed pre-1980 take one look at LT lining up across from them and scream OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT???? and then run away and cower with fear? We can only hope.

Record: 10-2 (won NFL East)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against Green Bay
Coach: Buck Shaw
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 30-21-1 (1946-1949)
Notable Players: QB Norm Van Brocklin, WR Tommy McDonald, C/LB Chuck Bednarik, WR Pete Retzlaff, CB Tom Brookshier, DE Marion Campbell

Comment: Tough, tough choice. Because, if we’re being honest, the best run in modern Eagles history was probably 2001-04, but who wants Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb going up against the ’92 Cowboys and ’86 Giants? The Vermeil-led Eagles of the late ’70 and early ’80s also would make a fine choice, but they didn’t win a Super Bowl. So we’re going to choose a compromise candidate and watch as Philly fans proceed to boo Norm Van Brocklin and tell him about the unfavorable odor his mother emits.

Record: 14-2 (won NFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Buffalo
Coach: Joe Gibbs
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 43-21 (1989-1992)
Notable Players: CB Darrell Green, WR Art Monk, T Joe Jacoby, T Jeff Lachey, DE Charles Mann, WR Gary Clark, QB Mark Rypien

Comment: Okay, this was kind of a fluke team – I mean, Mark Rypien was the highest rated quarterback in the league, for crying out loud – but holy crap were they a great fluke team. Their two losses came by a combined five points and they won their three postseason games by a combined score of 102-41. NOT BAD.

Tomorrow, the AFC participants…

The NFL Coaching Carousel, 2013: Are You Going To Cry About It? Or Are You Going To Take The Other Piece of Pizza?

Why is there a two-week break in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl? Is there anyone out there reading this with the suitable credentials to answer that question? I’m sure if league spokesman Greg Aiello were here with us, he would say the extra week is necessary to make travel plans smoother for the participating teams and that it also gives both squads a chance to rest and nurse injuries and that Roger has looked into the studies for this and he’s determined that this is the safest option for all parties involved because the only thing Roger cares about is player safety and not rolling around naked in Jerry Jones’ hot tub with a wad of hundred dollar bills.

Astute as those perceptions may be, there are countless other pieces of evidence that suggest the extra week off, in fact, blows huge chunks. Namely, the week off with no meaningful football wastes much of the buzz and excitement that the conference championships create and begins to lead people into a death spiral of depression, anxiety and Big Ten basketball viewing. If one or both of the participating teams in the Super Bowl already had a bye in the first round of the postseason – like the 49ers this year – then this week of just players bumming around their team facility, picking their noses and waiting for Bill Callahan to install a gameplan that will be abandoned at the last second is their second such week of inactivity in a month, after having just one bye in the first seventeen weeks of the season. You can’t just monkey around with the timing and routine of these privileged millionaires in such a manner! And, finally and perhaps most importantly…the Pro Bowl is terrible and any reason to delay it by another week is fine by my watch.

Alas, despite all my protestations, the wait for Super Bowl XLVII remains at eleven days. And as exciting as the news that the Harbaugh brothers will probably only just text each other over the next few weeks has been, it may be good for everyone’s sanity to avoid those storylines for the time being. So here’s a quick primer on all the coaching changes that went on while RGIII tore up his knee and Rahim Moore forgot how to play safety. Because more than enough time has passed and my position as an unpaid blogger naturally makes me eminently qualified to do so, I’ll also be handing out grades for each team’s hire, an educated guess at when each coach will be fired, and a direct quote that I feel best sums up each coach’s football philosophy. Let’s begin.

Arizona Cardinals
Out: Ken Whisenhunt (2007-2012)
In: Bruce Arians (Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Solid. Whisenhunt proved himself to be more than capable when Kurt Warner fell into his lap and the NFC West was the equivalent of the Sun Belt Conference. But since then, he somehow thought that he could win games with Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Richard Bartel, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and an often-concussed Kevin Kolb as his quarterbacks. No dice. Arians at least has a good track record: he was Peyton Manning’s first quarterbacks coach, he was the Browns’ offensive coordinator the only year they made the playoffs since returning to the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck love him, and he’s going to win Coach of the Year for what he did with the Colts while Chuck Pagano was treated for leukemia. Problem is, every other team in the NFC West now looks like they’ll be young and tough squads for the foreseeable future. Also, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer are currently his quarterbacks. Good luck, Bruce!
Hiring Grade: B+

Year He Will Be Fired: 2016

Buffalo Bills
Out: Chan Gailey (2010-2012)
In: Doug Marrone (head coach, Syracuse University)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Poor. The Bills were a laughingstock three years ago for hiring the approximately 140-year-old Gailey, but given the talent on the roster, didn’t it seem like Gailey did a pretty good job? He completely tailored his offense around the only area of strength they had (running backs) and made everyone believe that Ryan Fitzpatrick was a viable NFL starter for a while. That’s no small feat. Marrone comes with the endorsement of Sean Payton, which means something, but the fact of the matter is he went 25-25 at Syracuse in his four years there. If the point of the search was to get a mediocre college coach who also was a coordinator for the Saints at one point, maybe they should have gone for Ron Zook? I hear he’s available. Also, Doug Marrone sounds like someone who’d play a long-lost cousin of Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond, so we have to include some demerits for that.
Hiring Grade: D

Year He Will Be Fired: 2014

Chicago Bears
Out: Lovie Smith (2004-2012)
In: Marc Trestman (head coach, Montreal Alouettes)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Not great. That’s more because, for all his faults and “We Like Our Team” memes, Lovie was actually a reliably above-average coach. Well, when he wasn’t sticking his horribly unqualified buddies at defensive coordinator, anyway. Trestman appears to be Lovie’s exact opposite: very gifted offensively, nearly clueless defensively. Urlacher, Tillman, Peppers, and Briggs and Co. will be able to hear Lovie’s words in their sleep until they die, but once they move on will the Bears’ vaunted defense begin to slide into oblivion? That’s a question only Trestman’s maple syrup flask can answer.
Trestman’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: I can’t wait to get my hands on (Jay Cutler).”
Hiring Grade: C+

Year He Will Be Fired: 2016

Cleveland Browns
Out: Pat Shurmur (2011-2012)
In: Rob Chudzinski (offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: OUTSTANDING. It would have been tough to find someone worse than Shurmur, whose main claim to fame as an offensive genius was leading the Browns to 302 points last season (that’s almost 19 a game!) and having much the same trouble that his mentor, Andy Reid, had in Philadelphia. He will not be missed. Chudzinski is the guy principally responsible for bringing the read option to the NFL as a way of making the most of Cam Newton’s talents and was also the offensive coordinator of the Browns the year Derek Anderson made the Pro Bowl. In other words, this guy might know how to coach! Let’s all just hope that naming Norv as his offensive coordinator doesn’t bring any residual bad luck along with it.
Hiring Grade: A-

Year He Will Be Fired: 2019

Jacksonville Jaguars
Out: Mike Mularkey (2012)
In: Gus Bradley (defensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Decent. Mularkey obviously got a raw deal for only being given one year to turn around a sinking ship with Blaine Gabbert as his captain (when you describe it in those terms, doesn’t that sound like the greatest TV show or movie of all-time? “Jaguars of the Caribbean: The Ship Gets Raided by a Rowboat”). On the other hand, with a name like Mularkey, you’re probably never headed for true greatness. Bradley gets bonus points for helping Pete Carroll turn the Seahawks’ defense into one of the most fearsome in the league AND for being one of the greatest North Dakota State Bison of all time. He’ll probably need more than a year to turn this operation into a winner, though.
Bradley’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: I love coaching football!”
Hiring Grade: A-

Year He Will Be Fired: 2019

Kansas City Chiefs
Out: Romeo Crennel (2011-2012)
In: Andy Reid (former head coach, Philadelphia Eagles)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Astronomical. This is the one known quantity out of an otherwise quixotic group of hires. Andy Reid is excellent at drawing up gameplans, developing quarterbacks, building organizations, eating cheesesteaks (he may have to switch to barbecue now), and growing walrus mustaches. He is not so excellent at red zone offense, clock management, or knowing when he should challenge a play. However, compared to Romeo Crennel, who is excellent at coordinating a defense and not so excellent at every other function of head coaching, Reid’s Vince Lombardi. Who else is excited for the Chiefs-Eagles game in Philadelphia next year?
Reid’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: I need to find the next Len Dawson.”
Hiring Grade: B+

Year He Will Be Fired: 2017

Philadelphia Eagles
Out: Andy Reid (1999-2012)
In: Chip Kelly (head coach, University of Oregon)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Questionable. Because, again, as we explained above, Reid is ultimately still a very good coach despite his faults and it’s going to be close to impossible for Kelly or anyone for that matter to replicate the success Reid had in Philadelphia in the first decade of his tenure. With that said, THIS is the college coach you should have wanted to hire, Buffalo. Kelly’s well-known for thinking outside the box while retaining classic, sound football principles and there’s every chance he could wind up being the next Bill Belichick. Of course, there’s also every chance he could wind up being the next Steve Spurrier. But let’s just leave that cheery thought for another day, shall we?
Hiring Grade: A

Year He Will Be Fired: 2016

San Diego Chargers
Out: Norv Turner (2007-2012)
In: Mike McCoy (offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos)
Chances He Will Suck Less Than Previous Coach: Um, he’s replacing Norv, do we really need to answer that question? McCoy’s gotten a lot of credit around the league for making Kyle Orton look like an above-average quarterback, Tim Tebow like something resembling a functional quarterback, and Peyton Manning like Peyton Manning. Is it true that the Broncos’ offense really only took off this year once they abandoned McCoy’s passing ideas and started running Peyton’s old Colts routes exclusively? Perhaps! But grabbing a coordinator from a division rival is never a bad idea and whenever you get a chance to grab someone from the Josh McDaniels coaching tree, you just do it. No questions asked.
McCoy’s Personal Coaching Philosophy: Hey, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t listen to (Peyton Manning).”
Hiring Grade: B-

Year He Will Be Fired: 2015

Conference Championship Power Rankings: There Are Other Harbaughs Too, You Know!

Welcome to the Conference Championship edition of Someone Still Loves You Alberto Riveron’s weekly NFL power rankings. To help us make sense of what happened during this last batch of NFL action, we’ve asked  former astronaut and current CEO of the Sigma Chi Foundation, Gregory Harbaugh, to share his thoughts with us below. Please enjoy.

Well, isn’t this POSITIVELY DELIGHTFUL? What an uplifting story to warm the COCKLES OF THE NATION’S COLLECTIVE HEART. Have you heard the great news, everybody? Have you heard it? The coaches of the two teams in the Super Bowl this year are BROTHERS. As in, they came from the same womb. Grew up together. In the same house and everything. Ate together, went to school together, and learned the intricacies of football together. WHO WOULD EVER BELIEVE BROTHERS WOULD HAVE THE SAME INTERESTS? And have I told you the best part of this news? These brothers both have the last name of HARBAUGH. Jim HARBAUGH and John HARBAUGH. They learned how to coach from their football coach dad, Jack HARBAUGH. And now these HARBAUGHS will be coaching against each other in the largest, most-watched entertainment event of the year. TREMENDOUS. Absolutely tremendous. I can’t hardly think of better bearers of the Harbaugh name to get hundreds of hours of free, around-the-clock publicity than two hyper-competitive control freaks who get paid millions of dollars to watch their team play a game. THIS IS EVERYTHING THAT IS RIGHT ABOUT AMERICA.

By now, I hope you realize that my tone to this point has been completely sarcastic and I do not actually mean anything I wrote in the previous paragraph. I am disgusted to my very core by the antics of these two UTTER DISGRACES to the Harbaugh name. A Ravens-49ers Super Bowl may be a boon to everyone who’s related to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh (What the heck? Who marries someone with that similar a first name? IDIOTS), but it’s just one big, old stinkfinger raised to everyone else who’s accomplished something in life under this last name. Like myself, for example. Does anyone give half a turd about what I’ve done in my life? Of course not! Because graduating from Purdue with a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, earning a commercial pilot’s license (with over 1600 hours of total flying time!), working at the Johnson Space Center for a decade, training to be an astronaut and flying into FREAKING OUTER SPACE to work on the Space Shuttle IN ADDITION to balancing all that with a wife and three kids and constructive hobbies like running and snow skiing are all CLEARLY things we should not be encouraging our children to emulate. That’s right. I’m the screw-up here.

Look, I get it. I understand football’s a fun escape for a lot of people. It’s easier to understand why a quarterback threw a pass or a receiver caught a ball than it is to understand how two new spectrometers were installed in the Hubble Space Telescope over a ten-day mission. That’s fine. But please. Don’t be foisting up your little physical activity time as the pinnacle of Western civilization just because you spend twenty hours a day trying to learn how to defend a screen pass. Just look at this quote John Harbaugh gave the other day:

I can’t even get my arms around it. My dad said something to me — my mom’s and dad’s parents are immigrants, salt-of-the-earth people. They treasure America; it’s meant everything to them, being here. I hope people can see what an incredible moment this is for our country. This is America, how hard work can get you to a moment like this. This is the greatness of America.

ABSOLUTELY, John. This right here? This little brother-against-brother matchup you’ve got going in your glorified YMCA event in a couple weeks? Yes, THIS is the greatest example we have ever seen of America’s true excellence at work. Everything the Founding Fathers did back in the 1700s? WORTHLESS. The work Abraham Lincoln put in to end slavery and piece a fractured country back together? I HEARD HE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY RUN A ZONE BLITZ. And, of course, all of my personal accomplishments don’t mean squat because, again, I ONLY WENT INTO FREAKING SPACE AS A FREAKING NASA ASTRONAUT AND SAW THE EARTH FROM A VANTAGE POINT ONLY .0000001% OF ALL HUMANS HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED. Nope, you and your little brother – who foams at the mouth whenever an official momentarily messes up a down-by-contact ruling – you two are the country’s best role models going forward. Unbelievable.

I’m telling you guys, there is no justice in the world. I mean, just type in my name into Google and see what comes up. That’s right – I don’t even get my own name all to myself! I have to share it with an estate planning and administration lawyer from Pittsburgh who, I’m sure, is a great guy and a fine lawyer but HOLY CRAP I’M GONNA PUNCH SOMEBODY IF HIS SITES DON’T GET OFF THE FIRST PAGE OF GOOGLE HITS. And look at this! I can’t even get the first freaking result when you type in my name on LinkedIn. Does Greg Harbaugh, president of FSK Consulting Group in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, seem even REMOTELY CAPABLE of leading the first docking mission with the Russian Space Station Mir? You look at that face and tell me there’s a snowball’s chance in hell! And gah! That lawyer from Pittsburgh’s ahead of me there, too! Un-freaking-believable. This day just keeps getting better and better.

So, obviously, the choice is clear, American parents: raising your son or daughter to be a hard-working, intelligent, space-walking lover of knowledge who grows up to be the president of a well-known non-profit foundation is NOT an acceptable outcome to the parenting process. No, what you want your kids to be are two homicidally competitive freaks who spend every waking moment of their lives focused on playing a kid’s game and making incoherent comments about gobbling turkeys. John and Jim Harbaugh are obviously the well-rounded, Renaissance men our society needs in order to stave off eventual invasion from the Chinese. BOW DOWN BEFORE THE HARBAUGHS AND THEIR IN-DEPTH KNOWLEDGE OF THE WEST COAST OFFENSE! They’re your rulers now. And they’re not going to stop until every man, woman and child in this country properly knows how to call an audible and read their pre-snap keys! THIS IS YOUR FUTURE, AMERICA. You’re all screwed. You hear me? SCREWED!!!!!

(Also, if someone out there wants to teach me about search engine optimization techniques, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m tired of seeing the Greg Harbaugh from Pittsburgh ahead of me on LinkedIn. Thank you.)

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Rather than post the numbers for all playoff teams and make the strikethrough function absolutely crazy with power, I’ll just post the figures for the four teams that played last weekend for kicks and giggles. Baltimore has obviously experienced the largest jump to their ratings during the postseason; their Adjusted Yards per Play Differential has jumped from 0.82 at the end of the regular season to 1.16 just three playoff games later. They’ve experienced a similar rise in Predictive Yards per Play efficiency as well, jumping from approximately 1.20 to 1.43. And the improvement has occurred on both sides of the ball, as well: their offensive rating was approximately 2.96 at the end of the regular season, it’s now 3.10 three games later. And once you factor in the lower variance inherent in the defensive PY/P rating, the Ravens’ defensive improvement has been almost as impressive (1.75 after Week 17 to 1.67 currently). As you can see from the rankings below, they will still be considered underdogs to the 49ers twelve days from now, but it’s clear that they’ll be going into that game trending firmly upward.

Adjusted Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.00): a descriptive metric that is designed to give an accurate representation of how each team has played thus far.

  1. San Francisco2.05 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. New England1.35 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  3. Baltimore1.16 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  4. Atlanta0.61 (Final regular season ranking: 10)

Offensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 5.00)

  1. San Francisco6.29 (Final regular season ranking: 4)
  2. New England6.08 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  3. Atlanta5.91 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  4. Baltimore5.65 (Final regular season ranking: 12)

Defensive Adjusted Yards per Play (league average: 5.00)

  1. San Francisco4.24 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  2. Baltimore4.49 (Final regular season ranking: 11)
  3. New England4.73 (Final regular season ranking: 9)
  4. Atlanta5.31 (Final regular season ranking: 18)

Predictive Yards per Play Differential (league average: 0.995419): a metric which doesn’t give as large a penalty or bonus to turnovers or touchdowns, will also take into account strength of schedule and will (theoretically) better able to predict future performance. This metric uses probabilities drawn from research Brian Burke did back in 2008 in trying to determine which stats best correlated with future play. For example, because offensive performance is much more consistent from week-to-week than defensive performance, offensive play is more highly prioritized in these rankings.

  1. San Francisco1.980884 (Final regular season ranking: 1)
  2. New England1.440214 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  3. Baltimore1.433378 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  4. Atlanta1.221527 (Final regular season ranking: 17)

Offensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 2.851036)

  1. San Francisco: 3.475387 (Final regular season ranking: 3)
  2. New England: 3.347754 (Final regular season ranking: 5)
  3. Atlanta: 3.255194 (Final regular season ranking: 13)
  4. Baltimore: 3.099683 (Final regular season ranking: 14)

Defensive Predictive Yards per Play (league average: 1.855616)

  1. San Francisco1.494502 (Final regular season ranking: 2)
  2. Baltimore1.666305 (Final regular season ranking: 12)
  3. New England1.907539 (Final regular season ranking: 20)
  4. Atlanta2.033668 (Final regular season ranking: 24)

Conference Championship Quick Thoughts

Scattered stats and thoughts regarding the 2012-13 NFL Conference Championships…

San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24
Adjusted Yards per Play: 7.90 – San Francisco, 6.70 – Atlanta
AY/P Projected Point Totals: San Francisco 28.78, Atlanta 31.59
Quick Thoughts:
1. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for Matt Ryan yesterday. The result ended up being a San Francisco victory after Atlanta scored the first 17 points of the game, thereby becoming the greatest comeback in NFC Championship history and likely further tainting the Falcons’ already-poisoned postseason image for the considerable future. And as someone who has hated the Falcons’ guts in the past and will likely hate their guts in the future, I will admit to being more than amenable to yesterday’s outcome. The problem is, as the face of the franchise, Ryan will likely bear much of the blame for the loss, particularly from the Atlanta fans who have never quite forgiven him for not being as exciting as Michael Vick. This would be an acceptable scapegoat election if Ryan hadn’t played the best game of his life or something close to it yesterday, but he did. His one major mistake was dropping the perfect shotgun snap from his center and subsequently getting out-wrestled for the ball by Aldon Smith when Atlanta was driving in San Francisco territory in the third quarter. Rex Grossman was snickering at that.
2. Outside of that play, however, Ryan carved up one of the two or three best defenses in the league to the tune of 396 yards, 9.21 Net Yards per Attempt, three touchdowns and one interception that occurred when Roddy White fell down. Julio Jones’ second touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone required some amazing leaping and body control, but he would never have had a chance to make that great catch if Ryan hadn’t thrown him open. The Falcons ultimately came up short on their last real drive of the game, but they would never have gotten close if Ryan hadn’t made several tight, contested throws for first downs. San Francisco just played phenomenal pass defense.
3. The bigger issue was that, because Ryan had fumbled that snap away in the third quarter, the Falcons needed more than a field goal to win. And as we covered in the NFC Championship preview Thursday, if you had to bet your life on one home team coming through with a game-winning field goal on the last drive of the game, it would be the Falcons. I’m positive that 70% of their practice time during the week is devoted just to those situations. So if Ryan holds onto that snap like a normal person, Atlanta probably gets at least a field goal out of the drive and thus would only need a field goal at the end of the game. That’s shooting fish in a barrel for them. But a four-point deficit? HOLD UP NOW WE GOT SOME REAL ISSUES HERE.
4. And, of course, the biggest reason the Falcons lost was because they couldn’t remotely slow down the 49ers after their first two possessions. The jerseys and helmets may have looked different, but the outcome was largely the same for Atlanta’s defense as it was last week against the Seahawks. Seven days after Marshawn Lynch ran through gaping holes in the Falcons interior and Russell Wilson tore up their secondary on corner routes to his tight end (Zach Miller), so too did Frank Gore run through gaping holes in the Falcons interior and Colin Kaepernick tear up their secondary on corner routes to his tight end (Vernon Davis). Moral victory for the Falcons: they held Kaepernick to 159 fewer rushing yards than what he gained against the Packers. And moral victories always count for so much once you reach the NFC Championship.

5. It took me a long while to get on the 49ers’ bandwagon this year – you may remember a certain 6.9 win projection coming out from these parts around August that started looking ridiculous around late September – but it became clear around the midway point of the season that this was clearly the best team in the league if you disregarded the quarterback position. And given how well Alex Smith was playing before he got Wally Pipped by Colin Kaepernick in November, maybe they would have still made the Super Bowl without making the switch around Thanksgiving. But Kaepernick definitely lifts this team up a level with not only his speed (which is well-celebrated at this point) but also his ability to make strong throws into tight coverage. He made several such throws yesterday over the middle for critical first downs, throws that Smith was not often eager to make. To win the Super Bowl, you have to consistently complete passes over the middle. Ryan’s last incompletion to Roddy White in the fourth quarter illustrated that truth in a heartbreaking way for Atlanta.

Baltimore 28, New England 13
Adjusted Yards per Play: 6.14 – Baltimore, 3.76 – New England
AY/P Projected Point Totals: Baltimore 31.14, New England 22.02
Quick Thoughts:
1. The AFC Championship preview on Friday made a big deal about how Baltimore seems to be the only team in the AFC that can beat New England without receiving a lot of help from the Patriots along the way. Well, there’s no question that Baltimore earned its way to the Super Bowl yesterday – Anquan Boldin made everybody remember why he’s one of the greatest receivers who has never, EVER created separation on a route in the history of the league and the Ravens’ defense was prepared from the start for the Pats’ lightning-fast no-huddle offense. There’s also no question that they received a lot of help from the Patriots as well. The Ravens’ shocking blowout win over the Pats in January of 2010 was obviously a worse performance overall, but I can’t remember another time where New England just flat out bungled so many game management situations. Why did they punt TWICE from inside the Ravens’ 35-yard line? Yes, 4th-and-7 and 4th-and-8 are tough first downs to pick up, but they’re the freaking Patriots. If any team in the league should feel that they can pick up eight yards on command, it should be them. Sending out Zoltan Mesko from the 35-yard line is a Mike Tomlin move, Bill! YOU OF ALL PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN THAT!!
2. Game Management Bungling, Part Two: what exactly was Tom Brady thinking at the end of the first half when he had approximately sixteen seconds and one timeout left? Wouldn’t an experienced field general such as himself find it useful to take that last timeout and throw a couple heaves into the end zone just for the heck of it, rather than half-heartedly bringing his team up to the line and standing around idly for three seconds? Just because the Seahawks got burned last week by taking their last timeout doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you! Even Phil Simms was calling Brady out for that. That’s like Ed McMahon testifying against Johnny Carson at a murder trial (sorry, couldn’t come up with a less dated reference).
3. Okay, enough of the Patriots. They made things considerably harder on themselves by dropping passes and missing wide-open receivers, but the Ravens ended up putting together one of the best defensive performances New England had faced all year. Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd wound up with 153 receiving yards combined, but it took 28 pass attempts for the two of them to get there. Before the Curse of Bernard Karmell Pollard struck in the fourth quarter, Stevan Ridley and the rest of his running mates were running at a decent clip and wound up with over 100 yards at approximately four yards per carry, but no Patriot running back had a longer run than nine yards. Outside of the Wes Welker 36-yard catch in the fourth quarter, the longest play the Pats had from scrimmage was 17 yards. The Ravens were outstanding at keeping everything in front of them and not getting burned by big plays, thus proving that conservative yet fundamentally sound defenses can be effective even against the best ball-control offenses in the NFL.
4. How unlikely did the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances look three weeks ago? They’re not exactly the 2007 Giants, but there wasn’t too much statistical evidence supporting a theory that a 10-6 team that had lost four out of their last five games heading into the playoffs and were hovering right around league average on both sides of the ball would turn into the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. The eye test, unreliable as it can be on occasion, didn’t do the Ravens any favors, either. Outside of their opening week victory against the Bengals, Baltimore never played a game in which they truly looked like one of the best teams in the league and their disastrous performance in Houston in October seemed to indicate that the only way they’d ever make the Super Bowl would be if they somehow got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. At the beginning of the postseason, I gave Baltimore a 10% chance of making the Super Bowl and said they had the same shot at winning it all as a normal person does of developing hemorrhoids. I like to think that was what inspired them to upset Denver and New England and not anything Ray Lewis said or did.
5. And, finally…get ready for approximately 356,000,000,000,000,000 HarBowl references over the next two weeks.

2013 AFC Championship Preview: Ravens at Patriots

314  #4 Baltimore Ravens (AFC North Champion)

  • 2012 Record: 12-6 (defeated Indianapolis 24-9 in Wild-Card Round and Denver 38-35 in 2OT in Divisional Round)
  • Regular Season Point Differential: +54 (11th)
  • Strength of Schedule-0.5 PPG (17th)
  • Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.07 (12th)
  • Defensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 1.71 (8th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 6.3 (15th)
  • Yards per Carry: 4.3 (12th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.1 (16th)
  • Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.0 (8th)
  • Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 1 (Haloti Ngata)
  • Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium

#2 New England Patriots (AFC East Champion)

nfl-patriots-logo

  • 2012 Record: 13-4 (defeated Houston 41-28 in Divisional Round)
  • Regular Season Point Differential: +226 (1st)
  • Strength of Schedule-1.4 PPG (26th)
  • Offensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 3.37 (4th)
  • Defensive PY/P Rating (including playoffs): 1.89 (19th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt: 7.0 (6th)
  • Yards per Carry: 4.2 (17th)
  • Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 6.9 (27th)
  • Yards per Carry Allowed: 3.9 (6th)
  • Number of Bona Fide Superstars: 3 (Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins)
  • Unintentional Comedy Potential: Medium

5:30 P.M. Sunday, January 20th, CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Steve Tasker, Solomon Wilcots)

Now that Peyton Manning’s no longer in Indianapolis and the Jets have self-destructed offensively the past two years, doesn’t it feel like the Ravens are the only AFC team right now who can really beat the Patriots? Obviously, this is currently true in a literal sense: they’re the only other team in the conference that hasn’t been eliminated from the playoffs yet. And if Rahim Moore hadn’t completely lost all sense of time and space last weekend, I would probably be talking myself into Denver as a slight, very slight favorite over New England for the AFC Championship. But that would have been based almost solely on my analysis of the numbers, not on how I’ve seen each team play with my own eyes. Even though it’s been eight years since the Pats won a Super Bowl, it still seems like there’s an aura of invincibility surrounding them at all times. Whenever they lose, it always feels the cause was more related to wounds they inflicted upon themselves – Tom Brady strangely throwing four interceptions in Buffalo, Zoltan Mesko horrifically crapping the bed against the Cardinals, the whole team forgetting that Cleveland does in fact still have a franchise – than damage sprung on them by the opposition. Currently, fourteen out of the other fifteen teams in the AFC are no real bother to the Patriots: if they perform up to their capabilities or even just close to them, they will win the game. Period.

For whatever reason, the Ravens are the exception. It’s not even to say that they have the Patriots’ number: they’re still only 2-4 against them over the past six years. But going back to that memorable 2007 Monday Night game in Baltimore, all of those losses have been incredibly close games that the Ravens were able to turn into virtual tossups, which is a feat in and of itself against Darth Hoodie and Mr. Bundchen and Co. In that 2007 game, the Ravens were only 4-7 going in yet still led most of the game until some highly dubious defensive penalties helped the Patriots keep their undefeated regular season alive. In their 2009 regular season meeting in Foxborough, the Ravens lost by six when Mark Clayton dropped a sure first down throw from Joe Flacco inside the Patriots’ ten-yard line with 32 seconds left. They led by ten in the fourth quarter in their 2010 contest, only to see the Patriots come back to tie the game in regulation and kick a game-winning field goal with two minutes left in overtime. And of course, you may remember them being a competent Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff away from respectively winning/tying the AFC Championship last year.

They finally broke the string of rotten luck against the Pats earlier this year in one of the most entertaining regular season games in recent memory. And it’s worth noting that the only blowout in the series since John Harbaugh became Baltimore’s head coach in 2008 was the Ravens’ 33-14 shellacking of the Pats in Foxborough in the 2009 playoffs in a game whose first quarter may have been the most shocking I have ever seen. Ray Rice ran untouched for an 83-yard touchdown on the game’s first play, Tom Brady committed three turnovers deep in New England’s end of the field, and by the time fifteen minutes had past Gillette Stadium was doing its best to make a library seem raucous by comparison. The Ravens led 24-0 at the end of the first quarter and were never seriously threatened the rest of the way despite only 34 passing yards from Flacco. It remains Brady’s worst playoff performance by a wide margin: he went 23-of-42 for only 154 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a lost fumble.

What is it about the Ravens that gives the Patriots such trouble? They’ve obviously had an excellent defense over the past five years, but it’s never quite resembled the fearsome monster it was in 2000, 2004, and 2006. Joe Flacco is reliably above-average and Ray Rice is possibly the best all-around running back in the league (note that I’m not saying “best OVERALL back,” Adrian!), but…well, I mean, THOSE are the two guys you’re going to rely on to outscore Tom Brady? On paper, there’s not a whole lot of reason to think that Baltimore should be consistently able to play the Patriots to virtual tie games. So the only logical conclusion I’m left with, then, is that John Harbaugh must be one heck of a coach. I know he’s highly regarded as it is, but consider that the Ravens have won at least one playoff game in each of his five seasons as head coach and that he’s repeatedly gone up against Bill Belichick with inferior talent and consistently turned the contest into a draw. That tells me he has to be considered one of the best game-planning head coaches in the league, right? God bless his brother for what he’s done in San Francisco, but John deserves every bit the amount of credit that Jim does.

And that’s why, even though they’ll once again go into Foxborough as the less talented club, the Ravens will likely make this a close game. And they have a real shot to win because Joe Flacco has been outstanding in the playoffs thus far and, in a development only less slightly less miraculous than the Lakers’ joyous decline this season, Bryant McKinnie has been dusted off after an entire season on the shelf and performed impeccably in his first action all year at left tackle. I can’t emphasize enough how crazy this is. The go-to punchline for fat and out-of-shape offensive linemen is now holding Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil sackless in regulation football games? The Harbaughs are miracle workers. Anyway, McKinnie’s work protecting Flacco’s blind side has shifted Michael Oher back to the position he’s more suited for (no matter what Michael Lewis says), right tackle. Combine that with getting Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda back from injury and suddenly the Ravens have gashing huge holes in the defenses of the Colts (not terribly impressive, but still commendable) and the Broncos (MUCH, MUCH MORE IMPRESSIVE). Will the offensive line be able to do the same thing against Vince Wilfork and the stout Patriots’ run defense? The crucial time of possession battle will largely hinge on the answer to that question.

For the most part this season, Flacco has been terrible on the road, which is what made his performance against the excellent Broncos defense last week even more impressive. Not only was he hitting Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on deep bomb plays (that’s always been his forte), but he was also make accurate throws into tight windows in the middle of the field. That’ll be the most important aspect of the Ravens’ offense again on Sunday against the Patriots. They’ll likely hit a few big plays over the top over the course of the game, but Flacco needs to sustain that accuracy on intermediate routes in order to sustain drives and score touchdowns, not field goals. Three points isn’t a great deal of help when the opponent is a serious threat to get seven every time they touch the ball.

The Ravens absolutely can win this game and, frankly, I’ll be rooting for them to do so – all this continued excellence and greatness out of New England gets really boring after a while. However, after being on the field for 87 plays from scrimmage against both the Colts and Broncos, I have to wonder how much gas the Baltimore defense will have left in the second half Sunday night. Even with an extra day off to recover, the combined effect of such a heavy back-to-back workload – with one of those games coming at mile-high altitude – has to have some sort of effect. And the Patriots only possess the single worst possible matchup for a tired defense. When he senses blood in the water, Tom Brady orchestrates the Patriots’ offense so quickly and efficiently that Stevan Ridley or Aaron Hernandez or Shane Vereen or whoever is usually running into the end zone standing up before the defense can figure out what’s happening.

Given the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots scoring less than 30 points on Sunday – okay, it’s tough imagining them scoring fewer than 30 points in any given game, but even more so with this one. As we saw last week, Joe Flacco IS capable of leading his team to 30+ points on the road. Is it particularly likely to occur in back-to-back weeks, however? The unfortunate answer for Ravens fans is probably not. If the past meetings between these two teams are any indication, we’re likely in for a classic game Sunday night. And while on the one hand you get the sense that the Ravens can’t wind up being stuck as the AFC bridesmaid EVERY year…on the other, you can’t find enough good reasons to think that they won’t.

Projected Final Score: New England Patriots 31, Baltimore Ravens 24

Team to Bet On If Gambling Were Legal: Ravens (+8)