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Playoffs and Layoffs: Black Monday for the NFL

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but who gets the blame.” Blaine Nye

After 17 weeks, 256 games and 11,985 points scored the NFL regular season ended last night when Dallas Cowboys’ Quarterback Kyle Orton was intercepted by Brandon Boykin.  That pass ended the Cowboys playoff hopes and season and sent the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs as champions of the NFC East.

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It was an exciting end to the season. The season went down to the wire for the Eagles, the Green Bay Packers who came from behind to stun the Chicago Bears to take the NFC Central and the San Diego Chargers who swiped the last AFC Wild Card when Baltimore and Miami lost.

The playoffs are now set. The Wild Card round will feature the AFC South Champion Indianapolis Colts (11-5) play the number 5 Wild Card seed Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and the AFC Central Champion Cincinnati Bengals (11-5) face off against the number six seed San Diego Chargers (9-7). In the NFC the Eagles (10-6) will square off against the number six seed New Orleans Saints (11-5) while the NFC Central Champion Green Bay Packers (9-7) will face number five seed the San Francisco 49ers (12-4). The AFC West Champion Denver Broncos (13-3)  AFC East Champion New England Patriots, NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers (12-4) NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks have first round byes.

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Among the teams left out of the playoff picture from last season are last year’s Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.

As good as some teams were some were very bad and with badness went pink slips. As legendary coach John McKay said of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers years ago: “We stunk. We blocked bad; we were terrible on defense and our kicking game made up for it by being absolutely horrible. I saw nothing that delighted me, we ran on the field fairly well.”

Kansas City Chiefs vs Washington Redskins

But the bigger news today are the firings of coaches. Since Sunday night five coaches had been fired. The pink slips started Sunday night with the Cleveland Browns (4-12) who fired first year head coach Rob Chudzinski, that moved surprised many observers. The firings began in earnest this morning when the Minnesota Vikings (5-10) fired Leslie Frazier, the 7-9 Detroit Lions fired 5th year coach Jim Schwartz after a late season collapse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) fired their Head Coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominick. Lastly the controversy ridden Washington Redskins who finished a dismal season at 3-13 fired the highly paid Mike Shanahan despite still owing him another $7 million dollars. Washington owner Daniel Snyder will be looking for his 7th Head Coach since 1999.

Some player’s like Washington’s fullback Darrel Young blamed themselves for their coach’s demise. Young said “We failed a Hall of Fame coach. It was a lack of execution by the players this year.”

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Not counted among the Black Monday casualties was Houston Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak who was fired December 6th. The Texans who had made the playoffs last year finished the season 2-14, the worst record in the league. The Texans had lost 11 games in a row after winning their first two of the season and had been pre-season favorites to get to the Super Bowl.

The Redskins and Texans were both so bad this year that John McKay’s statement on when the Buccaneers had lost their record setting 26th straight game: “Three or four plane crashes and we’re in the playoffs.”

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Other coaches could still be fired, rumors are swirling about a number of others but one who seems to be safe is Cowboy’s Head Coach Jason Garrett who still has the public backing of GM and Owner Jerry Jones. However it is expected that several assistants will be let go. Likewise Rex Ryan of the Jets has survived. Oakland Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen could be gone soon, he has not been offered any contract extensions and finished with a 4-14 record in 2013. Rumors also swirl about Miami Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbon after a disappointing fish to the season.

So things will be interesting both on and off the field for the next month.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Blowout, a Trouncing, a Massacre and an Upset the NFL Divisional Playoffs and Picks for Next Week

Well the Divisional Playoffs are behind us, I went 3 for 4 in my picks only missing the Chargers and Jets.  This patently is rather good for a member of the Church of Baseball who has no dog in the NFL fight. The only really interesting thing to me as only the Chargers and Jets game was competitive.

So let’s go through the results and look to next week.

Saints Defense Swarming (Getty Images)

In game one the Cardinals travelled to New Orleans to meet the Saints. The Saints were the clear favorite in the game despite the play of the Cardinals against the Packers last week.  I figured that the Saints would win but gave the Cardinals a chance at stealing one from the Saints.  In my heart I wanted the Cardinals to take it because I like Kurt Warner.  The game was dominated by the Saints who took advantage of Cardinals turnovers to win convincingly 45-14.  The Saints used aggressive defense to shut down the Cardinals and their offense led by the passing of Drew Brees and stellar performance of Reggie Bush put on a show against the porous Cardinal defense which in two playoff games gave up a record 90 points.  Warner was crushed by a tackle in the 2nd quarter which could factor into his decision to continue playing or retire.  The Saints take home field advantage into the NFC Championship game against Brett Farve and the Vikings this week.

Peyton Manning Leads the Colts over the Ravens (Getty Images)

In the evening game the Colts shut down the Baltimore offense and though did not have a spectacular game offensively producing only 275 yards but got the job done effectively.  Payton Manning was the offense for the Colts who rushed for only 46 yards.  The Ravens gave up 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions one of the fumbles coming on a potentially game changing interception by Ed Reed who was stripped of the ball deep in Colts territory after a 38 yard interception return.  The Ravens go home and Indianapolis breaks the “bye week jinx” to advance to the AFC Championship game which will be played in Indy against the scrappy New York Jets.

Brett Farve Tipping His Hat (AP Photo)

On Sunday Brett Farve and his Vikings faced off against the Cowboys in the Hubert H Humphrey Metrosexual Dome’s final NFL game.  Farve who had never beaten the Cowboys in the playoffs was spectacular leading the Vikings to a 34-3 massacre of the Cowboys making the pokes look like they didn’t belong on the same field.  Farve threw for 234 yards, with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions with a 134.4 quarterback rating while the Cowboys managed as a team a mere 248 yards. Tony “the over-rated” Romo went back to traditional post season form going 22 of 35 for a mere 198 yards and an interception for a 66.1 quarterback rating.  He also fumbled twice and was sacked 6 times.  Cowboys fans considered a late touchdown pass by Farve at the end of the game to be not “classy” but ever since the departure of Saint Tom Landry there has been little to call classy about the Cowboys including the new Cowboys Stadium which puts the T in tacky with the scoreboard larger than Eritrea.  Despite this being a massacre which I normally would have changed channels rather than continue to watch I kept watching taking a perverse pleasure in the Cowboy’s collapse.

Rex Ryan is Making Believers (Getty Images)

The final game of the weekend featured the hot San Diego chargers against the surprising New York Jets. This was the only game that was not a blowout and certainly the only upset.  The Jets won 17-14 in the best game of the weekend.  Perhaps only Rex Ryan and the Jets believed that they could go on the road to San Diego and win this one and win they did. The Jets opportunistic and aggressive defense shut down the vaunted San Diego offense and Philip Rivers allowing only 14 points and keeping Rivers to just on passing TD with an interception.  The league leading Jets running game ground up the Chargers defense and Mark Sanchez did what was needed to win the game.  The Jets love their coach and he loves his team.  Every week that goes by one gets the feeling that Cinderella might get to go to the ball this year and her name is the “Jets.”

Next week in the AFC Championship I pick the Jets to upset the Colts in Indy and the Vikings to upset the Saints down in the Bayou.  The numbers say that the home teams which have better records and home field advantage should win but there is an sense of magic in the air as Brett Farve looks to further detract from his detractors and the Jets befuddle all of us.  I should be a great football weekend.

Peace,

Steve+

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A “Wild” Wild Card Weekend

Though I am not a member of the heretical Church of Football but rather a member of the one true Church, the Church of Baseball, I do pay attention to what happens in this aberrant sect.  This weekend was the “Wild Card Weekend” where the teams with the best records that did not win a division title faced off against each other and the division title winner in each conference with the worst of the divisional winners.

I do not have any dog in the fight except for whoever is playing the Cowboys.  I don’t consider me to be a “Cowboy hater” but I cannot be considered to be a Cowboy fan having suffered through Cowboy hubris living as a foreigner in the Republic of Texas, though serving as a sworn member and officer in that Land’s National Guard being a member of a unit with its heritage going back to the Texas Brigade of General John Bell Hood.

Rookie QB Mark Sanchez Leads the Jets over the Bengals (AP photo)

This weekend featured four games.  In the first game the New York Jets under coach Buddy Ryan defeated the Cincinnati 24-14 Bengals for the second straight week in Cincinnati after having shellacked the Bengals last week to secure a playoff berth.   This was not really a surprise to me because the Jets after an inauspicious start to the season where almost anyone with half a brain figured that they stood no chance of even having a winning season and that Ryan would be a former head coach by now turned things around and finished the season as one of the hottest teams in football.

Tony Romo and the Cowboys Broke their Playoff Drought against the Eagles (AP photo)

In the monstrosity known as Cowboy’s Stadium where the scoreboard is bigger than Eritrea the Cowboys clipped the Eagles wings for the second straight week.  In fact they made the Eagles who had entered the playoff never having lost an opening playoff game under Coach Andy Reid. The Cowboys won their first playoff game since 1996.  The Cowboys much like the Jets had been pronounced dead after losing to San Diego and heading into their traditional December depression. This time Tony Romo and Coach Wade Phillips led the Cowboys to a 34-14 win over the Eagles sending Donovan McNabb home to eat soup with mom.

Now neither of these games were a surprise to me after the previous week where both the Cowboys and the Jets had made the Bengals and Eagles look bad.  Now it is true that both the Bengals had nothing to gain in the final game of the season, but even so they were flat and the Eagles first lost the division last week and were booted from the playoffs Saturday.

Ray Rice had 159 Yards against the Patriots (AP Photo)

Today’s games were certainly entertaining, unless you are a Patriots fan.  In the first game today the Baltimore Ravens dominated the Patriots with a crushing rushing attack and devastating defense led by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis 33-14.  The Ravens made the Patriots who had one of their most uneven seasons of the past 10 years look bad.  Tom Brady, who was probably cursed by the Grand Master Pastor Reverend Marc of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church who had labeled Brady a sinner bound for hell on their website had a terrible day. He went 23 of 42 attempts for a mere 154 years with three interceptions. Baltimore Running Back Ray Rice rushed for more yards by himself than Brady passed for. So the Patriots pass into off season oblivion while Bill Belichick commented “All of us that participated in the game are accountable for our performance and I don’t think anybody felt very good about it, players, coaches, anybody.” The Patriots looked really bad like they did not even belong on the same field as the Ravens.

Kurt Warner and his Offense Celebrate against the Packers (AP Photo)

In the final game of the Wild Card Weekend we were treated to a truly “wild” game.  The Arizona Cardinals defeated the Green Bay Packers who had defeated the Cardinals in the last game of the regular season 33-7 by a score of 51-45 in overtime.  This was an offensive display seldom seen in the playoffs; the most points ever scored in an NFL playoff game and possibly was one of the most exciting playoff games ever played. Kurt Warner led the Cardinals attack and the game was decided in the first series of overtime when Cardinal Karlos Dansby returned a fumble by Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers 17 yards for a defensive touchdown. The teams combined for 1024 yards of offense and 96 points.   The Packers go home.

Next week the Cardinals will venture to the Bayous of Louisiana to play the Saints in the Superdome.  New Orleans is favored but I would not count out Warner and the Cardinals.  The Ravens stay on the road to venture into Indianapolis to play Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Colts are favored but have played very flat since resting their players in week 15 and giving up the chance at a perfect season while the Ravens have played like a team possessed.  Moving on to Sunday Dallas will venture to the northlands to play the Vikings in the nation’s loudest venue the Hubert H Humphrey Metrosexual Dome in what could be the last game of any kind played there unless the Vikings win and the Saints lose forcing Arizona to go north.  The Vikings stumbled into the playoffs while the Cowboys are hot.  The game could certainly go either way but I think that the Vikings home field advantage might with a strong offensive and defensive performance might be what the Vikings need to send the Cowboys home.  In the final game the Jets wing their way to the west coast to play the Chargers who have remained hot all year long.  While the Jets could pull an upset I will go with the Chargers to shoot down the Jets.

My picks for what they are worth.  I think that the Cardinals by 3 in a shootout in New Orleans and the Colts by 7 the over the Ravens despite a hope that the Ravens will pull the upset.  In the Sunday games I take Brett Farve and the Vikings over the Cowboys by 3 and the Chargers over the Jets by 7.

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Padre Steve’s Thoughts on the BCS and the NFL

The Crimson Tide “Rolled” over the Florida Gators to reach the BCS Championship

Well the long wait to see who will compete in the BCS Championship and it looks like we have the Alabama Crimson Tide up against the Texas Longhorns.  The Tide won their SEC championship in a walk over the overrated Florida Gators.  The Gators who have not been dominant this year and struggled in a good number of games despite being undefeated before yesterday didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Crimson Tide.  The Gators conference opponents excluding the championship game were a combined 44-40 and their division opponents were 30-30.  Exclude the three sacrificial lambs and this is not a dominant team.  The fact that as reigning National Champion they had Florida International University (FIU) of the Sunbelt Conference as their next to last game before the SEC Championship speaks volumes to me about the school as they ran up the score on the hapless FIU 63-3.  Schools from the PAC Ten, the Big 12 and even the Big 10 don’t put schools like that in their schedule that late in the season.  Sorry Florida has no class in picking three teams from either the Sunbelt or Big South on their Schedule.  They deserved to lose.

Boise State: The Team the Big Teams Won’t Play

Texas and Nebraska played one hell of a game, Nebraska came up big and I thought should have won the game.  I think that Texas has the better team but Nebraska played well enough to win. I have no dog in the fight between Texas and Alabama and I expect that it should be a great championship game. Alabama was definitely far more deserving of being in the BCS Championship Game than did Florida.

As far as the rest of the BCS games they are in a sense meaningless except to the teams involved because none can produce a National Champion.  I personally think that the NCAA needs a true playoff system the fact that so many people, the NCAA, the Polls and the Bowl sponsors and the schools themselves have so say due to the money involved that is unlikely that such would ever happen.  I think a 16 tourney would do wonders for the NCAA but what do I know.  As it stands now teams from the “middle” conferences will never get a true shot at an NCAA title despite having superior teams’ because the big conferences, big universities and their powerful backers in the media will never allow it to happen. That sucks for teams like Cincy, Boise State and TCU, all undefeated and regulated to playing in bowls that will not allow them to be considered for the national championship.  At least the NCAA Basketball tournament and the NCAA Baseball World Series give teams from other conference a fighting chance to compete.  Until then the current system promotes a fascist and undemocratic system where the true manta of “any given Saturday” will never be tested in a championship game.  Simply put the way the NCAA runs this show is pathetic.  Why not introduce a tournament? Simply put it is money and the vested interests of big conferences who due to financial remuneration will never allow their conferences to be really put to the test.  The big teams refuse to play teams like Boise State in the regular season because they could lose. Thus Florida plays Florida International, Charleston Southern and Troy rather than halfway competitive teams that might just beat them.  Florida played just 2 ranked teams the entire year and lost to one of them.  I did have cause for rejoicing this year as “Troy Tech” better known as the USC Trojans despite beating my Alma Mater UCLA finished 6th in the PAC 12.  They are such an arrogant school and I love to see them lose, unless they are playing Ohio State or another overrated Big 10 team in the Rose Bowl.  Hell I even root for Notre Dame against Troy Tech. Pete Carroll runs a dirty show and likes to run up the score when there is no cause to do so.  He has no honor and I hope that USC sinks to nothing. That may not happen anytime soon, but life isn’t fair and there is always hope.  I’m not a San Francisco Giants fan because I like what happens to my team.

The Immaculate Reception

Now time to skewer the NFL.  Most teams in the NFL would have to be terrible to even be good. I long for the days without replay.  Back in the old days there were plays that were historic because they were blown calls.  They helped build rivalries and actually motivate fans. My dad was a rabid Oakland Raiders fan back in the day. The Raiders of that time were no stranger to on the field controversy.  The “Immaculate Reception” of Franco Harris helped spur the Steelers to greatness.  At the same time it motivated the Raiders and the rivalry was historic.  The same is true with the “Immaculate Deception” of the Raiders against the Chargers.  Fans of other teams can probably recall similar instances in their team’s history.  Today I watched the Redskins lose to the Saints.  The Saints no doubt are the best or one of the best teams in football. However they got lucky today, a missed chip shot field goal and some creative timeouts that led to ungodly long replay delays doomed the Redskins.  I personally think that the NFL’s anal insistence on trying to get every call right hurts the game.  I think that replay reviews should be limited to 30 seconds and the reviewer only have access to full speed replays.  If they can’t figure it out then well humanity strikes again. The fact that there is an unlimited amount of time, extra views and the ability to go frame by frame if needed takes that away, it is artificial and unnatural. Vince Lombardi and the other greats would find it embarrassing. Once again I could have cared less who won the game because I don’t like either team.  I just think that the NFL is afraid of real controversy and has forgotten that life isn’t fair.  Human beings make mistakes and since referees are human they will make them too. It sucks if is your team that loses because of a blown call, but that is part of life.  It means that there is real motivation to go get the bastards next year.

See the video of the Immaculate Deception:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUuOqUIHBZc

Today in the NFL was cool because a bunch of the “bad” or underdog teams won.  In fact they beat the “good” read “overrated” teams.  I loved it that the Raiders beat the Steelers and that the Dolphins beat the Patriots and the “Fork stuck in them” Giants handed the Cowboys ass to them.  I love mayhem.  Since with the exception of the Colts, Saints and the Vikings who lost to a good and underrated Cardinals team, there really are no exceptional teams in the NFL.  At least in the NFL unlike the NCAA the “bad” teams get a crack at the “good” teams. Yes Cleveland will always be with us and Detroit too, but once in a great while they surprise someone.

However, all this said it is what it is. The big conferences, bowl sponsors and media will crown who they want as national champion and the NFL is hell bent on trying to make everything fair.  Yes there are some legitimately great players and some outstanding teams in college football and the NFL but the systems that they are part of are ruining the game.

Will people agree with me on this…maybe more than I think, but I know that if there are partisans of Troy Tech and Florida out there who read this post that I may get flame sprayed by them, however, I just say look at the facts.  Facts don’t lie.  Yes my teams all suck this year. Thankfully this is merely a game to fill time in the cold winter and not the one true religion of Baseball, the Church of Baseball of which I am a member in good standing at Harbor Park Parish.  Only 4 months and 2 days to opening day at Harbor Park.  Thanks be to God.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park- Opening Day Tomorrow


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The 1972 Oak Park Little League Rams sponsored by Alex Spanos. I am to the left of the coach in the back row.

“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” Yogi Berra

Baseball is back at Harbor Park tomorrow as the Norfolk Tides take on the Charlotte Knights in their home opener. Weather could make this one a bit sporty.  Rain and thunder during the day tapering off overnight.  Hopefully my prayer vigil will succeed in persuading the Deity Herself to intervene.  This has not always been the case, a few years back the opening day was in early April.  The weather was 38 degrees with winds gusting to 45 mph coming out of center field. This was a tough game even by my hearty standards.  I finally took my ever long suffering and nearly hypothermic wife home after the 7th inning stretch.  Since then she has been wary of opening days here in Hampton Roads.

This season is cool because I have a season ticket for the first time.  Section 102, Row B Seat 2.  Right behind home plate, field level.  It doesn’t get any better than this for me.

If you haven’t figured this out yet, baseball is a passion for me.  I was out in town at a Starbucks following a meeting and I had my Tides hat and warm-up jacket.  The barista asked if I worked for them.  I simply replied “No, I’m a Priest, and a proud member of the Church of Baseball.”  This elucidated a laugh from the charmingly polite girl who promptly gave me my non-fat mocha, sans whipped creme. I’m not sure if she understood the significance of what I said, but to quote George Will: “Baseball is Heaven’s gift to mortals.”

I’ve never played for a baseball team, or softball team that won it all.  I guess in some ways I can empathize with fans of the Cubs and Giants, who wait every year to once again be disappointed as their team finds a way to salvage defeat from the jaws of victory.  This years Tides, who are the AAA farm team of the Baltimore Orioles may be up to something good.  They are 6 and 4 and seem to be playing pretty well.  They have a 5 game win streak coming into the home opener.  The Tides have 3 of the International League’s top ten hitters at this early point of the season.  Their pitchers have a team 2.60 ERA which right now is second in the league.  This is a far better start then the last few years and hopefully it bodes well for the team. When I was a kid, I used to watch the Stockton Ports of the California League when they were an Orioles farm team in the early 1970s.

The closest thing I have been to a championship baseball team was back in 1972.  I was a member of the Stockton California, Oak Park Little League Rams, sponsored by non other than Alex Spanos, the current owner of the San Diego Chargers. We were probably his first team to almost win a championship.  It seems fitting.  We wore the same colors as the Chargers and lost in the championship series, losing by a run in the final game.

I think that Little League, if you can get parents who want to run their kids teams out of the picture, is great for developing virtues that help kids later in life.  At least it did for me.  We had a great coach.  A guy named Phil Deweese. At least that’s how I think that he spelled it.  He was a great coach for us and actually spent time teaching us how to do things like hit, pitch,field and run the bases.  I did better at fielding, was a less than stellar hitter and usually played 2nd Base though occasionally I would play 3rd, Center Field or Catcher. Phil was great with us.  He taught us to have fun while working ahrd at the basics. We did well, had a great season and came close to winning the championship.  I was able to drive in a run and score a run in our one win of that series. My hitting in the playoff series was better by far than at any time in the season.He added to the things that my dad had been teaching me patiently for years in our back yard.  Unfortunately dad was deployed to Vietnam and did not see us play.

I was kind of a utility player, something that in today’s game you seldom see.  Utility players were guys that could be plugged in either in the field or as a pinch hitter.  They were not the team all stars, but could be counted on to give a solid performance.  That was me.  I kind of continued this as an adult playing softball, but more often than not ended up at 2nd base, occasional 1st or 3rd base.  I caught one year and was run over at home plate by a really big guy as I was going in the air to catch the throw from the outfield.  I landed hard enough to break my throwing arm.  At the time I was having my best year ever hitting.  After cussing the guy out I was finally pulled when it became apparent that I could not throw the ball. What is amazing to me is that I endured the pain to play another inning and even hit, an infield single.

Anyway.  This game is in my blood, God speaks to me through baseball. The ballpark it is one of the few places, besides my ICUs and a small Episcopal Church that I worship at that I can feel safe in public, praise be to PTSD.  At least the Deity has helped me in this regard.  Anyway, as I go back to my rounds about the medical center tonight I also maintain my prayer vigil for tomorrow’s weather. I can’t wait.

Peace, Steve+


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