Visit The Barber?

By: S. Davis

Funny how in the aftermath of the Michael Vick interview with Jason Whitlock people are now jumping behind a guy that was maligned for his play as a quarterback and the decisions he made on and off the field of play. So he’s the one to rally behind as it relates to Colin Kaepernick’s abilities under center? Oh the lines people draw….

Vick had to ingratiate himself to any and all who would listen. Furthermore he needed the vetting of Tony Dungy just to get the ball rolling on his NFL career when he was released from prison. His advice to Kaepernick was genuine and I feel that he was doing it for the greater good of the quarterback’s future – but you have to view it from Vick’s distinct point of view. There were steps to take; he had a list of objectives he needed to meet in order to earn his desired result: employment in the National Football League. His whole existence – as far as the NFL is concerned – is to redeem himself in the eyes of the power brokers. Even now, as a retired player, he’s still on the redemption tour when doing goodwill for his  youth camps and outreach for his commitments related to charities involving animals. These are the lenses in which he’s viewing Kaepernick – and the barriers he’s facing in resuming his career.

It is not even close to being in the same universe.

Football is my favorite sport but I personally may go without my favorite way to kill time – until Kaepernick is signed or he retires. So people who have taken lives, although not through convicted murder, can line up on Sundays. You can beat your wife and assault other human beings, drive drunk and kill animals but someone who happens to be African-American QUIETLY protests and that’s the line? That’s the transgression that the league deems as too extreme?

We can’t have that in our game!

How odd is that? Why don’t white people, by and large, understand that the American experience isn’t the same for everyone? It isn’t.

Hey, white people do you remember that tiny, secret, work-exchange program called slavery. It happened. No matter how much you want to forget it. Listen this isn’t a diatribe against white America but we all view this country based on our experiences. Your worldview is built upon those experiences – and the black experience is not remotely close to those who happen to be in the majority in America.

Why the hell are white people so sensitive about the truth of this country? This ridiculous stance the league is taking against Kaepernick is proof.

Vick needed a fresh start. He was convicted of a crime and went to jail. He needed to make things right and be redeemed. There was a legitimate stigma and baggage that followed him. He had a mandate to be presentable to the 32 owners and general managers in the league.

Kaepernick carries no such baggage and, no, he doesn’t need to visit the barber. He doesn’t need to apologize. He doesn’t need to seek redemption. He didn’t do anything wrong.

On the “Dan Patrick Show” yesterday Vick was thoughtful and apologetic. “I think it was taken out of context in regards to what I was trying to convey, but I only want to help Colin Kaepernick. I’m not a general manager, I’m not the guy who makes the decisions on getting him signed, and I’m truly sorry for what I said. I think I should have used a better choice of words. Obviously we all know his afro has nothing to do with him not being signed.”

Why isn’t he signed to a contract yet? It’s the end of July. There are not 32 quarterbacks in the league fit to start. Kaepernick was a handful of plays away from having a Super Bowl ring on his hand. He had 16 touchdowns against four interceptions last season when possessions/turnovers is the most important facet of football. There’s not a single job for him?

Outside of the game, he’s an activist donating time and money to the causes that inspire him. If Tom Brady led the exact silent protest I wonder how he would be viewed, covered and dissected. I know the answer, he’d have a church erected in his honor and the country would cite him as the coming of a new deity. People already worship him as if he is one.

If whites protest an issue that draws their attention they’re viewed as passionate and true Americans whereas any protest involving African-Americans (and other minorities) get labeled as malcontents, mobs, and breeding a dangerous element. It’s shameful and the media covers things in such a way where it’s normal for them to pass those adjectives out.

This country was started on a rebellion. Americans wanted freedom of expression, clear of tyranny and rule from Great Britain. America protested. America fought. American gained its independence and in that same vein mandated that its citizens do the same. Yet a quarterback staging a quiet and personal protest against the National Anthem – which was penned by a slave owner and anti-abolitionist – is wrong for exercising his right? What he’s doing couldn’t be more American in nature.

He doesn’t need to apologize. He doesn’t need to seek redemption. He didn’t do anything wrong.

Got An NFL Starter Here, Wait…

By: S. Davis

There are 32 starting quarterback jobs in the NFL. There are a few depth charts where the man taking the snaps is completely locked in at his position; New England, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Green Bay, New York (Giants), Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc. However there are not 32 starting caliber quarterbacks in the league (I’m counting rookies projected to start this upcoming season). I count 11-13 franchises that should take a deep look at the man tasked with being their leader, on the field.

Colin Kaepernick is still unsigned. It’s July.

Is it possible that an injury brings him into a camp in a few weeks? Yes. Possible, yet improbable as I’m sure a new, manufactured, reason would quickly sprout out of the blue to justify keeping him floating in free agency. The NFL – as a whole – has made a decision and it fills me with dread. I care more about the NFL than just about every other sport I consume, maybe combined. I love football. The chess match of offense versus defense, the coaching game plans, how a certain defense will strategize all the ways to limit the best offensive player – and vice versa. It’s such a layered game.

This space, here, covers a multitude of topics, genres, sports, etc. My passion for the NFL is a pillar of my website as I write about it more frequently than anything else. How the league has banded together, in unison, to exclude Kaepernick puts me in a corner – and I may focus more on MMA and the NBA. In the ongoing issue regarding his return to the field, I don’t think I’ll be able to write about football in the same way I’ve grown accustomed to. I may put my pen down for the whole season. This makes me want to stop writing about the game altogether.

I wasn’t a cheerleader of Kaepernick during his glory days but I’ve always respected his abilities. I respect what he felt he needed to do. Let’s not forget that he didn’t seek out cameras during his silent protest. There were two or three weeks where it wasn’t picked up by ANYONE…and then, well, we’re in July and he doesn’t have a job when he should be under center…today.

The stats don’t need to be drawn out here but he threw 16 TD/4 INT while completing 59.2% of his passes. He had the sixth lowest completion percentage of any quarterback in the league – which is nothing to disregard. He did have a record of 1-10 in the games in which he started last season and that means something. What about the coaching changes after Jim Harbaugh left town? Jim Tomsula? Gone. Chip Kelly? There’s the door, sir.

Shouldn’t stability speak for something? What about roster turnover? The San Francisco 49ers’ roster is comprised of spare parts that can be purchased in Spanish Harlem – and has been a revolving door in the last two seasons. Does none of that factor into the equation here? How about the fact that his receiving group led the league in drops; isn’t that substantial? That isn’t something he can control and yet the league is keeping him out.

It only matters that a man of color didn’t stand for the national anthem. Why is the NFL comfortable with a national anthem that was penned by a slave owner and an anti-abolitionist? Why is the country? That’s fine though. Why isn’t that disrespectful?

A starting caliber quarterback will sit on the sidelines – his career probably over – because the powerful NFL felt it was out of line for an African-American to highlight that the American experience isn’t the same for every citizen within its borders. By and large the masses are totally fine with their stance and it’s disgusting but not surprising at all in 2017. There are things about this country that will never change. It’s now being viewed through the lenses of the biggest sport in the United States.

NFL: The Game That Matters

By: S. Davis

sb-51

Is there a football game this weekend? All I know is I have a tray of honey barbecue wings, guacamole, salsa, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad and a night full of flatulence in my very near future. The paint-by-numbers analysis can be found elsewhere so I’m going to focus on a few key areas that I find important.

The confetti has to fall onto someone, right? Here goes:

1. New England’s Defense (and Special Teams) vs. Atlanta’s Offense: Throughout the season the Patriots’ defense has been overlooked – and I think that’s directly attributed to the fact that they don’t have that one, splashy, star name as the leader of the unit. Looking deeper though, the Patriots hold up splendidly by allowing just 15.6 points per game which sits at the top of the league; numero uno. They are the best defense in the league; I rate surrendered points over yards as MY measure for defensive ranking.

Most of the talking heads are out of breath trying to gush over the possibility of a shootout; I’m not sure the game materializes in that fashion over 60 minutes. Matt Ryan has led his offense by spreading the ball around to all of his options. Julio Jones will be a target of the defensive strategy but did you know that when he’s been held to under 60 yards receiving the Falcons are 5-0? (When held under the century mark for the day the Falcons boast a fantastic 7-1.) That’s a massive little nugget that could short-circuit the best plans of the Patriots. Ryan will hit Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, Justin Hardy, Devonta Freeman, Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper if his top target is covered by the Patriots’ cheerleaders and fan section.

One facet I like tremendously about the favorite here is their kicking unit. They aid their underrated defense by ensuring the opponent has to drive 85-90 yards on every offensive possession. As the number of plays that have to be run to get into scoring range increase so do the opportunities for the defense to directly hone in on tendencies. Additionally, longer drives produce more chances of a bad snap, a tipped pass, a fumble, an interception, etc. You get the idea. Starting field position isn’t a glossy statistic, term or topic worthy of much fanfare but I admire the way in which the Patriots use it as an integral element in their defensive approach.

The Patriots can be taken advantage of in the secondary and I fully believe that a competent quarterback taking snaps for the Houston Texans would’ve sent the Patriots home a few weeks ago. There isn’t a defense that can take away every weapon taking the field so where will the Patriots focus their defensive energy and where will Ryan look to attack in response?

2. Coleman and Freeman vs. Patriots’ Linebackers and Safeties: When Freeman is in open space – or any space to be honest – the advantage arrow will point to him. There’s no debating that. His ability to read on the run while remaining elusive and slippery has to be an area of concern for a Patriots unit that isn’t built with a tremendous athlete on the second and third levels. As a runner, Coleman is more punishing of the two but Freeman invites contact as well. Coleman runs with a burst and for some strange reason he’s viewed as a bruiser when his game is a mix of both styles.

Bill Belichick is going to take something off the menu for the Falcons, a novice should be able to see that but there’s no defense that can limit everything. The Patriots are going to have to take proper angles and use group tacking techniques in the hopes they can cause a few fumbles. Coach Hoodie can possibly take both backs away in the rushing game but both are adept receivers, either out of the backfield or in the slot as traditional receivers. Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler can’t cover both backs while also worrying about the Falcons’ corps of pass catchers. An offensive strategy that floods Patrick Chung’s perimeter with routes could yield dividends for the birds.

3. Patriots’ Offensive Line vs. Falcons’ Defensive Line: To have a high level of success against any quarterback, you have to decide how to produce pressure. Do you manufacture a passing threat from the edges? What about up the middle; directly through the A and B gaps? Do you collapse the pocket with the front four and drop all the linebackers into coverage surrendering precious real estate for eager receivers? Do you mix in the zone blitz where the point is to hide your rusher until the last possible moment?

What to do?

Decades of footage prove that cooking up pressure with the defensive line – and only the defensive line is the best way to upset any quarterback and stall his offense. The Patriots can teach a master class about that after their two losses to the New York Giants – and their endless line of fast, elite and powerful linemen. Can the Falcons copy/paste that performance on Sunday?

Unless they have one of those unexpected Super Bowl flash-type games, they’re not constructed in that fashion upfront. What works in their favor is that the protectors of Tom Brady have had bouts of inconsistency all season. They’ve been great over the last half of the regular season but if the Falcons can stay in their faces and rotate athletes to dominate line-play, they can make it interesting for Brady in the pocket.

If the Falcons’ playbook is full of five and six-man blitzes, just mail the trophy to Robert Kraft’s hotel suite on Saturday evening.

I don’t like the Patriots. I don’t and I won’t hide that. I do respect the team and their accomplishments. Their fans are insufferable and seem to have forgotten how much of a diarrhea sandwich the franchise used to be. The Patriots are probably going to win this game and definitely turn me off to the NFL until Brady retires and Belichick becomes the 45th man to govern in the White House. Whatever…

Pick: Falcons over Patriots, 29-23.  

Conference Title Week: 1-1
Playoffs: 7-3
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Super Bowl Appetizers, Please!

By: S. Davis
stpats

Green Bay @ Atlanta

He who possesses the ball last shall bathe in the jubilant euphoria of victory!

There are a number of ways to analyze the routes this game can take – and that’s obvious. It’s a football game, a playoff one at that, and so I’ll throw out the recycled football talk. Last week I predicted the Packers would lose; I even picked the Giants to knock them off two weekends back. For as great as Aaron Rodgers happens to be I do believe there is too much of his team’s fate that he controls. To put it simply, of the four quarterbacks starting this weekend Rodgers is the ONE that can’t afford to play anything less than an A-minus game for his team to book their tickets to Houston in two weeks.

As I’ve felt all year, the defensive side of the ball doesn’t make enough plays. The move to have Clay Matthews play inside for the past three years, in my personal opinion, was ill-fated, never made much sense and I think it has stunted his progression (and secretly I think he’s regressing now that he’s back, primarily, as their primary pass rusher). In open space once again he seems much slower and he doesn’t look to be as dynamic as he used to be. From there, the secondary – which at one point was a factory of stellar players – is struggling in coverage, tackling and taking the right angles against opposing pass catchers. Julius Peppers, Matthews and the front four have a large task ahead of them this weekend which brings us to….

Has there been an offense so prolific that’s been so overlooked at the very same time? Matt Ryan has been spreading the ball across every target in the same jersey colors. Of course most the of the attention centers around Julio Jones but Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Gabriel are just as involved within the scheme – and rate second and third respectively in terms of catches. As a unit they spark the scoreboard to the tune of 33.8 ppg, they’re third in passing yards at 295.5 and they rush the ball to the tune of 120.5. Are you wowed by any of the flashy statistics? You should be and it should send fire alarms to Dom Capers as he tries to limit Ryan inside the Georgia Dome. I don’t like it.

The Packers’ receivers are also limping into the game and I doubt Jordy Nelson dresses with broken ribs. Rodgers is spectacular but Ryan can match his play – while having more support if he isn’t his best.

Pick: Falcons over Packers, 38-34.

Pittsburgh @ New England

Let me get this out of the clear early: I picked the Steelers to win it all!

Done?

So am I blinded by that? No. Thinking about last week, the Texans would’ve beaten the Patriots if Brock Osweiler played slightly better. I don’t mean “game of his life” either. Had he produced a B-level performance he’s playing this weekend – and the Patriots would be packing for their vacations. Tom Brady looked human in the second half of that game and I point that out because there are times I watch his team and they aren’t this majestic world-beater; they can be defeated. All that aside, I came away impressed with how Dion Lewis scored his touchdowns and how versatile a weapon he is.

With the flu taking on clusters of Steelers at once earlier in the week, will they be sapped of energy in the second half of what looks to be a tight contest? Expect LaGarrette Blount to test their limits as the game winds down. Lewis will line up in a myriad of positions, according to the formation and I fully expect him to exploit the Steelers’ secondary in open space. Where will James Harrison make an impact? Defensive pressure through the middle is the best way to rattle a quarterback that isn’t fleet of foot and if the Steelers can attack Brady without sending a fifth (or sixth) defender…there’s a path that can get them to Houston.

New England’s defense isn’t great but they are better than they look on television; the main reason for that is the special teams unit. Bill Belichick ensures the opposition has to drive 80+ yards on every position just to sniff the end zone. The kicking game pins teams deep in their territory and puts the pressure on the offense to be perfect every single time they possess the ball.

What do we make of Ben Roethlisberger? If he had a different name, this season, he’d get very little credit for his play. It’s been odd how he’s been good at home and bad on the road; average play at best. That hasn’t been his brand of football since his first two seasons in the league. It’s like a game of Jekyll and Hyde with Big Ben; which version makes a difference on Sunday?

Can the defensive scheme of Belichick keep Le’Veon Bell from making an impact? Will Antonio Brown find himself smothered in the secondary? Can Roethlisberger play up to his usual standard? Does Brady lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl?

Pick: Steelers over Patriots, 30-24.  

Last Week: 3-1
Playoffs: 6-2
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Wild Card Week 2

By: S. Davis

kelce

The NFL “Divisional Playoff” has always sounded stupid so I’m over calling it that. Moving on…

Saturday

Seattle @ Atlanta

Will the Seahawks be able to score enough if the Falcons get up 10-14 points out of the starting gate? They can. Their defense is good enough to hold the fort and hand Russell Wilson a few extra possessions to close the gap just based on will. Yet I feel the Falcons will move the ball along the sidelines and exploit the middle of the field. Why? Earl Thomas is a weapon that won’t be able to play – and he’s great at limiting open seams and space in all areas of the playing field.

The Falcons have been the league’s top offense because of underrated line play, Matt Ryan spreading the ball to all targets and that guy named Julio Jones. Along with Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson (when healthy), I like Jones against ANY defensive back; I don’t care what name is on the back of their jersey. Period. His speed, strength, route running and hands are among the best at this position. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are among the elite defenders on the planet and they aren’t enough to limit Jones (and his other receivers) without Thomas.

The Seahawks have been the best team in the NFC for the last three years but they fall this weekend.

Pick: Falcons over Seahawks, 30-21.

Houston @ New England

Unless Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have the game of their lives – and Tom Brady somehow throws 37 straight interceptions this contest will end in an avalanche of points for the Patriots. Brock Osweiler needs to get his team to, at least, 28 points to keep the game from being over after the opening kickoff.

Dion Lewis is going to blow them up on a wheel route – or four.

Pick: Patriots over Texans, 36-19.  

Sunday

Green Bay @ Dallas

The Cowboys’ kiddie corps are up against their biggest test to date. Dallas is the most complete team of the two; they are better on offense, defense and special teams but the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. You may have heard of the guy, no?

All season I’ve aired my concerns about the Packers’ defense – and how they fail to support the offense. I still feel that way and it was the main reason I went with the Giants last weekend. I don’t apologize for the pick at all. Rodgers can carry the team on his own but how much is too much? Julius Peppers is going to have to cause chaos in order to make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the defensive unit.

If the Cowboys play how they have all season, they take the Packers down.

Pick: Cowboys over Packers, 23-20. 

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City

All year, the offensive line of the Steelers has been stellar. They allow the extra time for Ben Roethlisberger to do Big Ben things and destroy teams covering his receivers for four seconds too long. I’m going to be on the look out for the short yardage situations when the Steelers hold the ball. Le’Veon Bell is set to have another masterpiece of a game but can the Chiefs’ defensive line make him wait too long for openings to develop in the run game?

If the Chiefs can execute long drives that end in touchdowns instead of field goals, they can put the pressure on the Steelers to force plays. Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league but his play this season has been uneven and he can be goaded into putting the ball in terrible spots.

Pick: It’s going to be a clooooose one but I’ll take the Steelers over the Chiefs, 24-20. 

Last Week: 3-1
Playoffs: 3-1
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Wild Card Weekend 2017

By: S. Davis

trophyl

Saturday

Oakland @ Houston

The game that doesn’t make me hate the idea that I have to work. It’s hard to analyze a game where the Raiders are without their quarterback – and legitimate MVP candidate – Derek Carr. The Raiders don’t look remotely close to a good team without him, which goes without saying, but still. On the other sideline the Texans have reluctantly given the ball back to their prized free-agent possession of last year, Brock Osweiler. At the end of the day Osweiler has big game experience and his team does defend.

Pick: Seriously? I feel awful that Carr – and NFL fans – have to watch this game. Texans over Raiders, 20-12.

Detroit @ Seattle

The Seahawks have been such a weird team this season. They hung 31 on the Patriots (in Foxborough) while scoring an impressive five against the Buccaneers. How will they come out against a team that limped into the playoffs? I think they get a jolt to their system; I don’t think this game is as big a slam dunk as everyone else. The Lions will hang around. I guess you’re starting to think I’m typing this with a concussion, right?

Matthew Stafford – one year post Calvin Johnson – has been at his best spreading the ball around to all his weapons. When the ball is moved all over the field instead of being forced to Megatron it forces the defense to account for every single skill player that Stafford has to choose from. The remnants of the Legion of Boom can’t shade coverage to one receiver or scheme for one key player (aside from Stafford).

The Seahawks’ offense has performed fantastic…and then sputtered. Good thing is the Lions have run out of gas…at the wrong time of the year.

Pick: Seahawks over Lions, 24-20.

Sunday

Miami @ Pittsburgh

Field position, a consistent rushing attack and timely conversions by Matt Moore can lead the Dolphins to a playoff win; it’s possible. If they can limit their exposure to the Steelers’ offense they can coax Ben Roethlisberger into too many throws into tight windows when he’s on the field.

Taking all that into account…

I picked the Steelers to win it all this year, so…

Pick: Steelers over Dolphins, 24-13.

NY Giants @ Green Bay

The secondary of the Packers is horrible while the Giants’ strength, offensively, is their receiving corps. See an issue there? That alone could the derail the play of Aaron Rodgers. For about three seasons, the Packers’ defense has stifled the team’s potential. Rodgers can generate points just by slipping on his game jersey but since his defense is prolific in allowing teams to stick around, how much of a burden is too much to carry?

Big Blue can defend on all three levels and with Eli Manning’s playoff history I do like the Giants in this one. It’s going to be typical, January, weather in Wisconsin and one facet of football that proves to travel is defense. Will Rodgers pass all game long or will the Packers attempt to mix in a carry…or 22 to keep the G-Men honest?

Pick: This will be decided by a late third down conversion and I’ll take the G-Men over the Packers, 19-16.

Last Week: 16-0
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Week 17

By: S. Davis

kubiak

The playoffs are a week away so all the intrigue is inching closer, day by day. What else can be said about the unfortunate events that saw both Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr suffer leg injuries that knocked them from their rosters? Two of the most promising players going down with broken legs on the same weekend of action? It’s tough to recover from, particularly for a Raiders team that was poised to make some real noise in the postseason; something the franchise hasn’t done since 2002.

What can we say about the coaching vacancies (thus far)? Jeff Fisher was kept around, let’s say, two years too long so that was justified. Rex Ryan? I don’t feel as confident about that decision. Make no mistake, I’m not a cheerleader for the guy by any means but TWO seasons is just not enough time for a head coach to turn around a program. I could see if he won a handful of games over two seasons but the Bills have been competitive under his leadership. Surprisingly, they’ve been pedestrian defensively – which is the side of the ball that Ryan has built his resume on – and that was alarming for a team that has to play perfect just to place second in the AFC East. I think he was worthy of another year at the helm but the Bills are such a successful franchise so they must have an answer somewhere.

Gary Kubiak is coaching his last game for the Denver Broncos due to health and that is a great opening for coaching candidates on the open market. Even though the defending champions will be watching the playoffs like the rest of us, they will be on the shortlist of contenders next year once they find stability at the quarterback position. Defensively, they are still elite; offensive balance will make them a terror once more.

Finding a good head coach is difficult but if management pulls the plug too soon how can they learn what they truly have? There’s a reason why bad teams are bad, instability and a musical chairs philosophy at head coach; all the dysfunctional teams have that common characteristic.

Week 17:

Baltimore 23 @ Cincinnati 26
Houston 14 @ Tennessee 16
Carolina 13 @ Tampa Bay 17
Jacksonville 20 @ Indianapolis 33
New England 40 @ Miami 24
Chicago 20 @ Minnesota 23
Buffalo 14 @ NY Jets 19
Dallas 17 @ Philadelphia 23
Cleveland 19 @ Pittsburgh 20
New Orleans 24 @ Atlanta 27
NY Giants 27 @ Washington 20
Arizona 24 @ Los Angeles 3
Oakland 14 @ Denver 27
Kansas City 24 @ San Diego 20
Seattle 35 @ San Francisco 21
Green Bay 35 @ Detroit 33

Last Week: 11-5
Season: 153-87