Tuesday Trends

The NFL is continuing to wind down and the playoffs are continuing to take shape…These were my five most important takeaways from this week’s action:

1. Everyone in reasonable NFC Wild Card contention lost this week.

That would be, in descending order of current seed, the Cowboys, Bears, Falcons, Lions, and Giants. Of those teams, the Cowboys and Bears have to be feeling the worst about their losses–the teams had almost surely penciled in wins against the Cardinals and Chiefs. The Bears especially had to have this game but could not generate any offense.

The Giants, meanwhile, played the best out of all of these teams, losing a last minute heartbreaker to the Packers 38-35. The last time the Giants lost 38-35? Week 17 against the Patriots in 2007.

Here are the remaining schedules for these teams:

Cowboys: Giants, @Buccaneers, Eagles, @Giants
Bears: @Broncos, Seahawks, @Packers, @Vikings
Falcons: @Panthers, Jaguars, @Saints, Buccaneers
Lions: Vikings, @Raiders, Chargers, @Packers
Giants: @Cowboys, Redskins, @Jets, Cowboys

Quick schedule thoughts:

  • The Falcons have the path of least resistance
  • Obviously, if either team wins both Giants-Cowboys match-ups, it should win the NFC East.
  • If the Bears had not lost to the Chiefs, they would have the inside track for the second wild card spot. I’m not sure if we can even trust them to beat bad teams right now.
For information on current seedings and tiebreakers, hit up the ESPN Playoff Standings page.

2. The funniest subplot in the NFL right now is when Tim Tebow does something good and the cameras point to John Elway.

It is visually obvious that Elway hates Tebow’s success more than anybody. Every time Tebow runs for a first down, miraculously completes a pass, or leads a game winning drive, we see Elway initially look disgusted before realizing that the cameras are on him and forcing a smile that looks much more like a grimace.

While Elway is aware that the cameras are on him, it’s unclear if he realizes what his body language implies. Elway clearly believes that Tebow’s success is not sustainable, wants to build the franchise around a conventional quarterback, but is paralyzed by what he perceives as fluky success. Only the Broncos keep winning which serves the dual purpose of making Tebow harder to unseat and giving the Broncos a worse draft slot, making it more difficult to pick an elite quarterback.

Elway refuses to give Tebow a vote of confidence as long-term starter. Unfortunately for him, it really doesn’t appear as if he’s going to have a choice.

3. Are the Chargers about to make another late-season playoff run?

I would say almost definitely not. They are two full games behind both the Broncos and Raiders with four games left to play. They will, however, probably beat the Bills this week and get everybody talking about it.

The Chargers’ biggest issue this season has come from their lack of depth and toughness on the offensive line. Losing Marcus McNeill and and Kris Dielman–and their replacements–changes everything that their offense can do. It impacts run blocking and pass protection. A half-second difference in pass protection dramatically changes how we perceive the quarterback. Extra time allows routes to develop, receivers to get separation, and a quarterback to scan the field to exploit mismatches. Losing Darren Sproles as Philip Rivers’s security blanket when nothing is open also has not helped but their most glaring deficiency has been on the offensive line.

4. If the Packers do not lose at home, only the Chiefs stand between them and headed into the Super Bowl 18-0.

Burying the lead? Perhaps. Let’s just say I do not not enjoy all of the positive coverage that this team is getting. I also love that they are embracing the bullseye on their backs and saying that they WANT the perfect season. Charles Woodson has been at it for weeks and now Clay Matthews is getting into the game: (note: I SWEAR I saw a Clay Matthews quote scroll on the ESPN ticker yesterday about wanting to go 19-0 but now my magical Google powers are letting me down. Anyone wanna throw me a link?).

I hear the argument that the Packers should rest their starters in Weeks 16 and 17 because if, God forbid, anything happened to Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, or Charles Woodson, it would make me sick to my stomach and cost the Packers dearly in their quest to repeat as champions. Still, though, I maintain that a team wins the Super Bowl every year. Only the Dolphins have gone undefeated for an entire season in the Super Bowl era and no team has done it since the schedule expanded to 16 regular season games. Winning the Super Bowl is a historical accomplishment but going undefeated guarantees immortality.

5. Chris Johnson is back just in time for the fantasy playoffs.

I am kicking myself for not making buy low bids a few weeks ago. The past two weeks he has 46 carries for 343 yards and two touchdowns and has been exhibiting the burst that has largely been lacking all season.

Skipping training camp almost certainly contributed to Johnson’s lack of production for much of the year. That being said, I do not begrudge running backs for holding out to get paid fair market value for their services. Johnson was a late-first round pick in the 2008 draft and grossly outperformed his contract for three seasons. Elite running backs have short shelf lives compared to other skill position players and can really only count on one blockbuster contract. Any play during this season could have jeopardized that from ever happening for Johnson so he utilized the only leverage he had: his services.

Many fans inexplicably take management’s sides in contract disputes, giving some variation of the “he gets to play a game for a living and make more than I could ever imagine doing it” gripe with professional athletes. While that is true, have these people never felt that they weren’t compensated in accordance with their performance?

Would their appropriate reaction be to just be happy with whatever their employers are paying them because they make so much more than human beings starving in Africa? Most people’s reactions when feeling undervalued would be to look for a job with a different employer, something that Chris Johnson was unable to do because he was bound by the draft to work for the Titans. He should not have had to continue to risk bodily harm, playing on a contract that was low for no other reason than the fact that 23 other front offices misjudged his ability to succeed in the NFL because his size was not that of a prototypical running back.

Also, have these management supporters seen what football players from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s look like now? Many, if not most, walk with a limp and are afflicted with post concussion syndrome. NFL players have a shamefully short window of opportunity to get paid for the entertainment they provide us with and pay for it the rest of their lives.

Matt Forte took a more diplomatic route to his contract negotiations than Chris Johnson and now he is out 2-6 weeks with a knee injury, still lacking the financial security that Johnson obtained by witholding his services.

None of this is to say that I think front offices should give running backs big, long-term contracts. As I have written before, they should not. But I have no qualms with NFL players, especially running backs, from maximizing their leverage to force front offices to pay them or hurt the short-term performance of their teams.

If I were a parent raising a kid who has the chance to be an elite football player, I would not want him to play running back. I would try to guide him toward cornerback or safety, positions that you can play with a similar body type and take less physical punishment.


One Response to Tuesday Trends

  1. I totally agree, an undefeated season is worth maybe 3 Super Bowls to me.

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