The Super Bowl looks to be a good game with two very talented teams, New England and Atlanta, capable of scoring points as fast as the scoreboard can keep up. I am sticking with my original prediction that New England will win by three points, 27 to 24 after both teams’ defenses prove they deserve credit for getting their teams to Houston. However, based on the high number of clunker games fans have been forced to watch all season, it would seem fitting this game turn out to be one as well. The only way that happens is if one team turns the ball over a lot while the other doesn’t. Otherwise, look for a great game.
However, there is more than the Super Bowl to ponder so I have taken it upon myself to provide you with my super thoughts on the game of football. I figured it was better to beat Roger Goodell to the punch since he will be issuing his state of the league address later this week.
The NFL’s Two P’s: The only thing you need to keep in mind about what the NFL cares about are the two P’s: profits and perception. The league is swimming in money thanks to wonderful TV deals, merchandising agreements, and the fans’ willingness to pay any price to keep their season tickets. While ratings took a dip earlier in the season, thanks to an unusually exciting election season, the financial state of the league is great, which means we can expect to see Roger Goodell remain on the job. He works for the owners and as long as they like their bank accounts, he will continue to remain an incredibly well paid commissioner no matter what he screws up.
Profits are what drove the Rams back to Los Angeles and the Chargers to leave San Diego. By doing so, both teams went from the lower quarter in team value to being worth multi billions of dollars. They may have to compete for an enormously fickle fan base, but their moves will be richly profitable for Stan Kroneke and the Spanos family.
Even though reports have filtered out that NFL owners were not happy with the Chargers move, as the Chargers profit, so do the rest of the owners. Gone are the days of Al Davis suing the league and costing owners millions of dollars in litigation. Now, if a team wants to move, they’re gone. They have far more leverage over cities when they ask for funds to build new stadiums.
Next up will be the Oakland, soon to be Las Vegas, Raiders. You can bet NFL owners would love nothing more than for them to remain in Oakland where they are a part of the fabric of the local culture. However, money talks and owners are no longer going to resist their packing up and leaving town for more wealth.
Along with profits, the league also values perception. This is why they work so hard to create the idea they care about things like player safety, drug cheaters, wife beaters, and players who are jerks in general. The league has taken a page from the old Andre Agassi commercials of the early nineties where he said, “Image is everything.” Nothing could be truer in the NFL. And yet, Goodell and the league have not been able to keep from shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to their image.
Did the league drag its feet with the on going Ezekial Elliot investigation because they knew a Super Bowl with the Cowboys in it would be far more profitable than one without? Goodell would say flat out no, but how does he explain why the league allowed Elliott to continue to play while it investigated claims of his physical abuse of a woman? They take longer than the police to decide matters when it comes to marquee players while having no problem with lesser known guys being cut on the spot over the slightest whiff of abuse allegations.
Goodell may publicly state he wants to make sure the league gets everything right, but the truth is, he stands to profit as much as the owners from a Super Bowl that features Dallas. Goodell is paid to spin stories and take hits from the media by owners who prefer to hide behind closed office doors while they count their profits.
It’s why we don’t see much of any discipline handed out toward the end of the season on teams that are playoff bound. Suddenly, there is an absence of failed drug tests, arrests, suspensions, or much of anything other than fines for those horrific violations of the league’s uniform code. Oh, but I am a cynic who is out to get the NFL and not support it, right, Roger?
A Safer Game: Here is a big perception Roger will sell to us. He will state the number of concussions decreased this year from 275 to 244, or from about 8.6 per team per season to 7.6. Seriously? Are we to believe while players continue to get bigger and faster the number of concussions have dropped because they have improved tackling techniques and made helmets better? I’d like to see the science behind this.
But good old Roger says this is based on team doctors reporting fewer concussions being diagnosed. We all know these team docs have the best interest of players at hand. It’s why they have no problem dishing out pain meds like Halloween candy or injecting guys before, during, and after games just so that high ankle sprain, torn MCL, or busted rib doesn’t get in the way of a team’s success.
Roger is even going to say there has been an increase in the number of players who self report concussions. Perhaps because players know they cannot be punished for having a concussion by losing their job, they are more apt to report one. Then again, self-reporting may now be viewed as when a team doctor asks a player if they know what day it is and he replies, “Disneyland,” they check off self reported.
Players avoid self-reporting anything because their contracts are not guaranteed and they know the philosophy of “Next Man Up” could result in them losing their job, paycheck, and career, so they prefer to swallow pills and be poked with needles. To report an injury is akin to swimming off the coast of Australia and deliberately cutting yourself. The sharks will smell the blood and you will soon be a thing of the past.
Instant Replay: I hate all of it in its current form. It has slowed down the pace of the game and even worse, it removes the human aspect of officiating. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see officials make the right call. However, I think replay needs one major change. Instead of slowing down the film to where the replay official can see something frame by frame, I believe it needs to be sped up to game speed. The replay official should have to see things as they unfolded. Slowing down a possible fumble to a frame-by-frame mode makes the field officials look like they blew a call. Could you stand by the side of a busy road and count how many cars went by in each direction or break them down by the number of red, black, white, and gray cars?
Players make mistakes and so do officials. It’s part of sports. If you are going to overturn what a guy in stripes saw, you should see it from multiple angles, but not at multiple speeds.
Romo, Garopolo, and Manziel: Three quarterbacks with different degrees of talent and history are available to any team for the right price. Who is worth the most? Who is worth the least?
First a team needs to know what its needs are and what is available to them in the draft or via trade. This is not considered a great year for franchise quarterbacks so any team in need of one to build or win with needs to think long and hard about what to do and who to go after. Are you a bottom dweller who is years away from the playoffs or do you see yourselves as a team who just needs the right quarterback to get over the hump?
In either case, Johnny Manziel is not the answer. However, if you are seeking a low risk investment, I might try to sign him to a league minimum contract and see if he is willing to sit on the bench, learn your system, and serve as a back up to an entrenched quarterback. Otherwise, he is not worth the headache.
Tony Romo is a different case. He is a great guy and still has a great arm. However, at 37 and coming off two years of injuries, he is a high injury risk. It’s tempting for a team like Denver or Houston to go after him thinking he is all they need to be a Super Bowl contender. However, with the type of injuries he has had, there is no guarantee he can make it through training camp, let alone an entire season. I wouldn’t trade a number one or number two like Jerry Jones will want — too much risk.
As for Jerry Jones, he should keep Romo on the roster at least through training camp, maybe even until the trade deadline. Now this is all based on Jerry not being offered the ransom he will ask for Romo. I do not think teams will part with what Jerry wants. Keeping Romo gives him a solid back up in case something happens to Dak Prescott or should he just regress while the rest of the league catches up to him.
Again, Romo won’t remain upright for 16 games. However, he can come off the bench and provide little to no drop off should Prescott go down with an injury.
Of the three, Jimmy Garopolo has the greatest upside, but he also carries the risk of being just another Brock Osweiler. Again, I just do not see Bill Belichick parting with him unless he lands a number one pick. It is possible if the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan and if he sees Jimmy as a better option than anyone coming out of college, they offer up the number two pick. However, if San Francisco is not thrilled with the young quarterbacks in the draft, they would be better served to trade the pick for more picks and grab a quarterback later.
Bill Is A Lifer: If the Patriots win, there are people out there who think Bill Belichick will walk away from coaching. I don’t see it. This is a person who spent his childhood breaking down game film for his father before moving on to scouting other teams. Just as Picasso grew up knowing he was meant to paint, Belichik grew up knowing he was meant to coach. He will remain with the Patriots, I believe, long after Brady retires. When the day comes Bill decides to stop being the Pats’ head coach, he will continue with the game.
I could see him going to Navy, a school he feels very close to, and coaching there, maybe even as an assistant. He is a coaching lifer and as long as there is film to break down and players to scout, he will remain close to the game. In fact, I predict he will die in his study with a yellow legal pad at his side with player and film notes scribbled on it and game film up on his computer.
Injury Reports: Seattle was recently busted for failing to report Richard Sherman’s knee injury. This is a bigger deal than Deflategate because this did not involve a one game cover up. It went on the last half of the regular season and into the post season.
If New England was guilty of a cover up over a fraction of an infraction regarding ball inflation, what should the penalty be for hiding an injury from ten opponents? The Seahawks will say this is much ado about nothing, but the league has very specific rules in place about reporting injuries.
Do you think the odds makers in Vegas feel like this was a lesser infraction than football air pressure? What about the teams that reported player injuries, you know, the ones that according to Goodell were on the decrease this year?
It looks like Seattle will see the 5th round pick they were docked for a previous rules violation be bumped up to a second round lost draft pick. I don’t believe that’s enough. Seattle has a history of bending or breaking the rules and if they did not learn when they already were informed of the loss of a fifth round pick, I say either dock them their first round selection or make it both the second and fifth round picks.
Atlanta’s Future: Hard to imagine this team going backwards next year, not with the loaded offense and young defense they have. However, people said the same thing about both Carolina and Denver last year and look at what their seasons turned out like?
Until an organization has established a culture of winning like New England has and to a lesser degree Seattle, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh, I will withhold anointing the Falcons as America’s next great team. It will not surprise me to see them struggle to make the playoffs next year.
They have a young up and coming Tampa Bay team that made huge progress this year, a Panther squad that has to be embarrassed about what they called football this year, and a Saints team that looks to make any move necessary to squeeze out one more Super Bowl run before parting ways with Drew Brees and Sean Peyton. Atlanta has their work cut out next season.
New England’s Future: Until they prove otherwise, they will be a Super Bowl threat next year. One reason they tend not to burn out from playing long into the post season each year is because Bill Belichick will turn over his team every off season. He has a knack of knowing who to part ways with and how that person can be replaced with someone younger and hungrier. The Patriot way is about players never getting too comfortable with themselves because they know their coach is open to making just about any deal.
The stability on the coaching side, the support of his non-meddling owner, and depth at quarterback means this team will be playing football well into January next year. They may tire from the grind and get beat by a fresher and hungrier team like Oakland, but the path to the Super Bowl in the AFC next year means getting past the Patriots. It’s almost as sure as death, taxes, and the NFL remaining the most popular sport in the country.
Enjoy the game!
Top photo: NRG Stadium, site of Super Bowl LI (HouSuperBowl Instagram)