Super Bowl Prop Bets at Press Coverage: WIN SWAG

>> 2.04.2011

Press Coverage: take their Super Bowl prop bet challenge! Win free stuff!

You know all the silly Super Bowl prop bets—like over/under on rushing yards in the first quarter, whether or not the halftime act will play a certain song, etc? The boys over at Press Coverage (where I’ve been chipping in some guest articles lately) are holding an awesome contest: without laying a single penny, you can win prizes by outpicking them in the Super Bowl prop bets! Just go over there, put in your name and email, and tell ‘em if you think the Steelers will sarcastically ape Aaron Rodgers’s “championship belt” celebration or not.

The more people who do it, the better the prizes will be, so head over there!


Ndamukong Suh is the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year

>> 2.03.2011

NFL Rookie of the Year, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, bats down a pass thrown by Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne.

After the magnificent season Ndamukong Suh had, it’s not surprising that he was just named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year.  For those who thought Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford deserved the award, relax: he’ll almost certainly win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year—and the AP’s OROY and DROY have historically been the most coveted awards. Besides, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz thinks Suh deserved it, too:

I'm a Bradford honk, but I have to be objective about this, and Suh was a better player on the field than Bradford this season.

That’s what this is really about, too: the players on the field. These awards don’t retroactively certify or nullify what our eyes told us all season long. This award doesn’t make Suh any more or any less than what he is: a once-in-five-years player at his position; a ridiculous blend of size, strength, speed, maturity, toughness, and intelligence. Whether he’s a better defensive tackle than Sam Bradford is a quarterback is not only impossible to truly judge, it’s also irrelevant.

In that sense, this award may not truly for him, even though he earned it. In every interview, Ndamukong Suh makes it plain that he’s holding himself to his own standards—and if he even approaches them, awards like this will cling to him like matter to a Higgs boson. Suh likely envisions a not-too-distant future where he’s using these things as paperweights and furniture sliders. Of course, I’m sure Suh is greatly pleased by winning this award—and the Sporting News RoY, and likely the AP DRoY, and any/all applicable rookie trophies—but it likely means more to us fans.

0-16 teams don’t have the NFL Rookie of the Year anchoring their defensive line. 2-14 teams’ players aren’t reflected in gleaming silver trophies during Super Bowl week. Teams with no present, no future, and no hope don’t have players like Suh on their roster. Think about it: this means that Ndamukong Suh is the best rookie in the NFL. When was the last time anything about the Lions was the best in the NFL? Not just “above average,” or “top ten,” or “possibly one of the better . . .,” the BEST.

All offseason long, we’ll be able to point to Ndamukong Suh and say, “our best is better than your best,” and be right. We’ll be able to say we have the best nucleus of young talent in the NFL. We’ll be able to point to what Suh and the Lions achieved on the field in 2010, and know that it’s only getting better from here.


How to Fix the NFL Pro Bowl

>> 2.01.2011

How can we fix the NFL's Pro Bowl? This doctored picture of Aloha Stadium wants to know.

By the only standard the NFL uses to measure whether things are successful, television ratings, the 2011 Pro Bowl was one for the ages. Pulling an 8.6 rating, the equivalent 13.4 million pairs of eyeballs, means the NFL’s Pro Bowl game has never been more successful, thrilling entertainment.

. . . except, of course, that the game was a disaster. The NFC took a 42-0 lead in the second quarter, and two teams already mailing it in mailed it even further. You couldn’t get far on Twitter last night—or into the sports blogosphere this morning—without encountering gripes and groans over the appalling lack of intensity. The NFL’s website actually declared the Pro Bowl’s reputation “in tatters,” thanks to syndicated AP content.

Though folks at the NFL’s office are likely high-fiving over the, as PFT put it, boffo numbers, the game as it stands is a farce. It’s become football kabuki theatre, an elaborate-but-false reproduction. The demand for NFL football is insatiable anyway; the week between the incredible championship games and the Super Bowl that demand rises exponentially.  If we didn’t know before, we know now: in the middle of thirteen days of Super Bowl hype, putting NFL stars on the gridiron on TV will draw huge numbers, no how execrable the “football” being played.

So, how do we fix this?

Given that the question “How Do We Fix The All-Star Game?” gets asked ad nauseum by the media for every major professional team sport, it’s not just the Pro Bowl. Athletes are paid incredible sums these days; even the bonuses paid for the Pro Bowl doesn’t provide much incentive to play hard. Further, those salaries mean each player’s team has an investment to protect. The last thing any of these guys wants to do is get injured . . . unfortunately, of the major professional team sports, football is most reliant on physical play. Baseball All-Star squads can play at nine tenths, and not really risk any injury. Basketball and hockey players can go fast but not play defense, and the result is at least superficially similar to the real sport. But football without blocking or tackling?  It isn’t football. You can’t have NFL players playing half-speed football. It doesn’t work.

This brings us to The Ghost of Robert Edwards. Edwards, for you younger folks out there, was the Patriots’ first-round pick in 1998. After rushing for 1,115 yards and 9 touchdowns, Edwards participated in one of the NFL’s better spice-up-the-Pro-Bowl ideas, the year’s best rookies playing 4-on-4 beach football. I can’t find the YouTube clip, but Edwards landed awkwardly after jumping for a pass—and tore his ACL, MCL, PCL, strained his LCL, severed a major nerve, and popped an artery. The leg was nearly amputated, and the doctors told him he’d likely walk with a cane for the rest of his life.

Edwards, incredibly, made it back on to the NFL field four years later, if only for one season (both of his non-rookie touchdowns were scored, you guessed it, against the Lions in Week 1). However, one season of part-time duty was the totality of his post-injury NFL career. The specter of a standout rookie starter suffering a career-ending injury haunts the “Fix the Pro Bowl” process.

So, not-quite-football is out. If the football players are going to play football, it will have to be on a real field with real protective equipment and real referees and real rules.

There will have to be something at stake.  I really, really, really hated the MLB’s modification to their All-Star game. However, they successfully “made it count,” and that can’t be ignored.  Something about this game has to mean something—and unless you crank up the individual “victory bonus” from the low-to-meh five figures up to like a million, it can’t just be money.

I have seen it suggested elsewhere that the Pro Bowl simply become a vacation, media event, photo op and promo opportunity for everyone involved. That makes some amount of sense, except that everyone would go to Hawaii for a weekend of meaningless interviews and hype, then all the same NFL people and all the same media people would immediately fly to wherever the Super Bowl is and do it all over again. So, not playing at all only makes sense if you eliminate Super Bowl Hype Week.

If you eliminate the Pro Bowl football game completely, the Super Bowl’s Radio Row, ridiculous promotions, crazy story pitches, etc., could all be relocated to Hawaii--and the Super Bowl would be less of a carnival and more of a game. This sounds like a win-win; you get the same crazy week of interviews and hype, no preposterous Kabuki game, and the Super Bowl itself would taste great, and be less filling. Except . . .

. . . well, except the NFL would be eliminating the ticket sales and ad revenue from the Pro Bowl, and simultaneously diminishing the Super Bowl. I don’t think they’d be too keen. So, there has to be a Pro Bowl game, or at least something to televise.


Option 1: Make It More Real. Rework the voting system to take into account the entire season. Add a media vote and reduce the weighting (or remove) of the player and fan votes. Put it two weeks after the Super Bowl, so all the best players can go. As for something to motivate the players? In order to work, it should benefit them directly, and should relate to the game. Ideally, it would materially impact the season, if just a little. I’m thinking something to do with strength of schedule. Here’s an idea: flip home-field advantage for one interconference game a year (for every team). If the NFC wins, the next year each NFC team gets nine home games and each AFC team gets seven. You can split the gate for that game 50/50 so there's no financial inequity for the owners, but it’d be a decent incentive.

Option 2: Make It All Fake. No NFL players play any football. Make the Pro Bowl, instead a sort of non-football Olympics! I want a bowling tournament (the “Pro Bowl!”), a swim meet, a golf outing, darts, billiards, bocce, dice, whatever. Break teach conference into sub-groups of four or five and have them compete in a variety of non-football disciplines—all of which would make for good TV. Tally up the points from each event, declare a winner. It’d be fun, and the players—naturally competitive—would likely get into it.  I know that for a while, the Lions had locker room championship “belts” for little games like that.  . . . but if you have to have football, I have an idea: let each player nominate a fan to play in their stead. Teams could hold contests, charity auctions, even mock combines! Send them and a loved one to Hawaii for a week, let ‘em play in a game with their favorite player’s jersey on, have the players on the sidelines as coaches/moral support . . . it could be interesting.

For what it’s worth, I support option #1. Moving the Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl has pulled in eyeballs, but it’s pulled in eyeballs to an awful mock product that ruins the NFL brand. How can you market these players as superhuman conduits of awesomeness when they’re out on the field in uniform, plainly mailing it in? No, the league would be much better off to make this game a little less-watched, but a lot more enjoyed. Improve the voting process, so the honor means more. Include all the teams, so you know it’s the best of the best. Make the game mean something—just a little something—more than collecting a bonus check to these players, and maybe . . . just maybe . . . the Pro Bowl will become a delicious Hawaiian dessert to the postseason—rather than giving us a rotten taste in our mouth right before the Super Bowl.

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Tinderbox: Mo’ eBooks, Mo’ Begging

>> 1.31.2011

Last month, I asked you all to punch a chad for TLiW in the Blog of the Year award. This blog finished fifth, not too shabby of a showing—many thanks to all who voted. You all have been rewarded for your time by the BallHyped folks; they’re serving up 200+ pages of delicious sports blog content, free for the taking. The BallHyped Best Sports Blogs of 2010 eBook is out, and one of the posts I’m most proud of made the editorial cut. There’s lots more meat on that chicken wing—so if you’re starved for sportswriting, tuck in.

Now, there’s another web awards thing going down: the Reader’s Choice awards. Fellow Big Lead Sports site is making a big (deserved) push for the Best Fantasy Football Site category. I’ve been a regular there for something like thirteen years, and the head dude kindly suggested to Huddlers that they throw TLiW on the ballot for Best NFL Team Blog, as well. Since they’re scratching my back, I’ll asking y’all to scratch his. 2011 Reader's Choice Awards, Football category. Vote for in Best Fantasy Site, and for NFL Team Blog!

That link takes you right to the voting form for the Football category of the Reader’s Choice awards. If you don’t mind hooking The Huddle (and TLiW) up, I’d really appreciate it.


Three Cups Deep: Senior Bowl Recap & Results

>> 1.30.2011

For those of you who weren’t following my obsessive Tweeting on Saturday evening, but are interested in what went down during the Senior Bowl practices and game, I’ve got you covered. I put up a quick post earlier with some site names, but here are the links to the practice reports and game recaps you need:

  •’s Senior Bowl reports. This is a premium site, but I’ve been relying on the staff’s Senior Bowl stuff for years. Comprehensive and accurate, as always.
  • Michael Schottey, of the Bleacher Report, was at the Senior Bowl along with some of the rest of the B/R folk. Mr. Schottey isn’t just a football dude who was there, though—he’s very well versed in player evaluation. That link takes you B/R’s collective Senior Bowl articles, and there’s lots of good stuff there. 
  • Wes Bunting, of the National Football Post, is a trained scout and very good writer; his stuff is mandatory reading.
  • The guys from Sideline Scouting work their tails off, and it shows. I had their draft guide last year, and I was glad I did. Their Senior Bowl coverage didn’t disappoint, so go read it.
  • Fellow Big Lead Sports site DraftZoo was in Mobile as well, and their head dude Hunter Ansley put up some really excellent practice recaps.

My own impressions? The game was a textbook example of what the game of football is really about: line play. When you have subpar quarterback play, and no offensive chemistry or familiarity, the coaches’ bag of tricks is emptied. In an All-Star game like this, the coaches can’t hide their quarterbacks’ limitations, and they can’t manufacture pass rush with exotic schemes (typically forbidden). Both phases of the game become about talent and execution in the trenches. The North was dominated by the South on both sides of the line, especially in the first half.

At least on Saturday, at least to my eyes, the best lineman on the field was Alabama OT James Carpenter. At 6'-4 3/4", 313, Carpenter's pass protection gave the southern quarterbacks plenty of time to throw. I was hoping to see the bigger Northern DEs like Ryan Kerrigan flash speed to go with their size, but Carpenter easily handled them. He also showed power in the run game and good athleticism.

I was also hoping to see MSU linebacker Greg Jones make a big impact, but he didn’t. Part of it was the South’s reliance on delays and draws in the run game; there weren’t a lot of opportunities for Jones to simply flow to the ball carrier and make the tackle. Further, Jones played (as far as I saw) entirely in the middle; I don’t see him as an MLB in the pros.

Stanford safety Richard Sherman really caught my eye. He’s nearly 6’-3”, played the run with physicality, and made a great adjustment to picked off a deep ball (called back for defensive offsides). He looked to be playing with fire out there, and having fun in the process.

One guy you’re likely to hear your fellow Lions fans drooling over is UNC corner Kendric Burney.  He made a lot of plays in the game after impressing all week. Despite his size, he plays with a lot of toughness and shows good instincts. Unfortunately, due to his size (and his lack of blazing deep speed), Burney is unlikely to be an immediate #2 corner except in a Tampa 2. He definitely played his best when the ball was in front of him; he could be an excellent #3 guy. Actually, his combination of (small) size, physicality, instincts, playmaking, and limitations remind me a lot of Alphonso Smith. He’s a player, but I don’t see him as a fit for the Lions.

Finally, keep an eye on Cal DE Cameron Jordan. After hearing folks rave about his practices all week, saying how much he stood out and how much money he was making himself, Jordan was mostly invisible in the game. This reminded me a lot of B.J. Raji, who entered Mobile as a late first/early second guy with upside and character issues, and left Mobile as a lock for the top ten, even though he didn't make an impact in the game. As Gandalf said about Gollum, I think Cameron Jordan has some part to play yet, for good or for ill.


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