FROM THE DESK OF THE “FUGITIVE” COMMISSIONER
Hello Football Fans,
With only two games over the weekend (plus college "exhibition games), you'd think there wouldn't be much to talk about.
But I believe it's worth your while to read the Commish this week, which includes three quiz questions, a preview of the 2014 NFL Draft, and a few other tidbits.
We're headed for an outdoor, potentially bad weather Super Bowl on February 2nd.
The Fugitive Commissioner of the FFHL
CONFERENCE FINALS RESULTS
The Sunday winners of the NFL Conference title games are going to Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014, to be played outdoors in East Rutherford, NJ (not a brilliant idea). There are contingency plans to possibly postpone the game until Monday if the weather is really bad, which is not all that unlikely, considering it will be February in New Jersey (ain’t that right, Gary?!!?). Regardless, why should they play in sub-30 degree weather and subject the paying fans to suffering in the stands when there are so many other options?
But I digress.
There was quite a contrast between the two Conference title games.
Last Sunday was the first time since the merger of the AFL and NFL in 1971 that one conference title game had two of the top three defensive teams in the league this year, while the other conference had two of the top three offensive teams.
The over/under for total points in the AFC title game was about 55, whereas the over/under for the NFC title game was about 39.
The AFC title game had two starting QB’s whose combined age (74.3 years) was the largest in league history for a playoff game [Peyton Manning 37+, Tom Brady 36+]. In contrast, the NFC starting QB’s had a combined age of 51 [Kaepernick 26, Wilson 25].
The NFC title game QB’s had a combined 5 years of experience [Kaepernick 3, Wilson 2], whereas the AFC title game touts Manning (16) vs. Brady (14) with a combined 30 NFL seasons of experience.
Also, the NFC quarterbacks had a combined 1,063 rushing yards during the 2013 regular season, whereas the AFC quarterbacks had a combined negative 13 rushing yards.
[Wilson 539, Kaepernick 524, Brady 18, Manning -31].
Sunday, January 19th
#5 San Francisco +3h at #1 SEATTLE -3h
FINAL: SEA 23, SF 17; the game went “OVER” the total of 39 points.
The 49’ers got out to an early 10-0 lead, and still led 10-3 at halftime. The Seahawks tied it up early in the 3rd quarter, but San Fran answered right back to retake the lead 17-10 mid-3rd quarter. After that, it was all ‘Hawks on the scoreboard.
ATS: With Seattle ahead only 20-17, the Niners got the ball at their own 15 yard line with about 8 minutes remaining in the game; SF QB Colin Kaepernick threw an ugly interception on the 2nd play of the drive, setting up the home team for a successful 47-yard FG, and now the Seahawks were ahead 23-17 and covering ATS with only 3½ minutes on the clock. The Niners had one last chance, needed a TD but a toss into the end zone was intercepted with just 22 seconds left in the game.
The 49’ers had three turnovers in the game, two INT’s and a lost fumble by Kaepernick, all in the 4th quarter. But he kept his team in the game with his running – 11 carries for 130 yards. Seattle had just one turnover. Both teams generated 308 yards from scrimmage for the game.
[Not to make excuses for San Francisco, but the team appeared to run out of gas late in the game. The team had to travel five of the last six weeks (TB, AZ, GB, CAR, SEA), whereas Seattle’s players hadn’t left the State of Washington for a month, since its final road game of the regular season -- a December 15th game vs. the NY Giants at the Meadowlands in New Jersey (a “warmup” for the Super Bowl, which is also being played in the Meadowland’s MetLife Stadium)
One interesting comparison: Even with a loss at Seattle last Sunday, Colin Kaepernick has three road playoff wins in his short (so far) NFL career; Peyton Manning has only 2 road playoff wins in his 16-year NFL career (total of 7 road games).
One more: Kaepernick has a 3-1 record in road playoff games for the 49’ers, whereas Steve Young and Joe Montana combined for a 1-6 record in road playoff games for the Niners during their illustrious Hall of Fame careers.
If you watched the last quarter of this game, you saw that horrendous call made by the officials. Seattle faced third-and-goal from the 10-yard line, leading only 20-17 but hoping to extend the lead with only 8 minutes remaining in the game. The pass is completed… now he’s heading for the goal line, SF linebacker NaVorro Bowman strips the ball from the receiver at the 1-yard line and clearly secures the ball as he hits the ground – play over…SF thwarts the drive, no points scored…..but wait, not so fast, my friends…the officials ruled that it was a fumble recovered by Seattle (not San Francisco’s Bowman), and because of an ill-conceived NFL rule, this play could not be reviewed in the booth. Now it was Seattle’s ball, 4th and goal from the 1-yard line, giving the Seahawks a second chance to increase their lead to 10 points.
Let’s stop to reflect for a moment:
Remember not so long ago (2012) in Seattle that the replacement officials blew a touchdown call to give the Seahawks a win over Green Bay. Two days later, on September 26th, the officials’ labor dispute was settled and the regular officials were back. The replacement officials had been roundly criticized throughout their three weeks in temporary jobs – by fans, by the media, by anyone that paid attention. Is it really that much better now with the regular officials? These guys have had a tough year, with plenty of blown calls, but this latest one against San Francisco could easily have changed the outcome of a key playoff game.
[Editorial Comment: Don’t get me wrong; the officials have a very difficult job and cannot be right all of the time. NFL, please open up the “red flag” challenge to almost any play on the field, including PENALTY calls, and there will be a better chance of getting calls right. If a coach wants to use a challenge to dispute a pass interference call (e.g., catch a defensive back grabbing the wrist of a WR just before he is ready to reach up and catch the ball, a sneaky trick that the officials usually cannot see), then let him.
Back to the game – 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Seattle leading 20-17 facing 4th-and-goal from the San Francisco 1-yard line.
The Seahawks have trouble with the handoff/exchange between QB and RB – fumble, and the 49’ers recover at the 15-yard line, giving the visiting Niners a “second” chance and plenty of time to retake the lead.
The officials were off the hook on their bad call, and the league’s questionable challenge rule was at least temporarily forgiven. Hopefully, this incident will not be forgotten, and the rules will be cleaned up in the offseason. And I still say that the “red flag” challenge should be allowed for penalties and all plays, not just for specific types of play (e.g., SF-SEA game, “running into” vs. “roughing” the punter penalty helped Seattle, and may have been reversed with a review from the booth).
Sunday, January 19th
#2 NEW ENGLAND +5h at #1 DENVER -5h
FINAL: DEN 26, NE 16; and the game went “UNDER” big time with a betting total of 55 points.
Denver was dominating the game in the first half, with the Broncos’ offensive line performing flawlessly in pass protection for the aging QB Manning. New England’s defense did not look sharp. But Denver twice had to settle for field goals and was ahead only 13-3 at halftime. It was more of the same in the 2nd half, with the Patriots unable to unleash their running game (only 64 yards for the game). The Broncos kicked another FG with 12 minutes remaining in the game to make the score 23-3; New England continued to battle but could not make up the huge difference.
Neither team had a turnover in the game.
Denver generated 507 yards from scrimmage; New England totaled 320.
COACHING CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR
Vanderbilt lost its former HC James Franklin to Penn State, and his replacement will be Derek Mason, former DC for Stanford.
UNDERCLASSMEN DECLARING FOR NFL DRAFT
Last year a record 73 underclassmen declared for the 2013 NFL Draft (17 of them didn’t get selected in the draft). This year, 102 underclassmen declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, which obliterates the all-time record set last year (a 40% increase over last year). Many of these early entrants will go undrafted.
The NFL’s rookie wage scale backfired on college football by luring more young college players to the professional ranks so that they could start logging years toward their potentially more lucrative second NFL contracts. And it doesn’t help that a running back is considered “over the hill” when he reaches the age of 30.
2014 NFL EARLY MOCK DRAFTS
Let’s compare four different 1st Round mock drafts from pundits Mel Kiper, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network, Rob Rang of CBSSports.com, and Dan Hope of Bleacher Report. The players are listed in order of Kiper’s projections. The exact draft order has not been completed yet, but this is a good estimate for now. BAL and DAL will flip a coin for #16 and #17 picks overall, and picks #21 through #32 are determined by playoff results.
Mel Jeremiah Rang Hope
PLAYER/SCHOOL/POSITION KIPER NFL Net CBS Bleach
Johnny MANZIEL/TXAM/QB #1 HOU #4 CLE #5 OAK 4 Cle
Jake MATTHEWS/TXAM/OT #2 STL #11 TEN #6 ATL 2 StL
Jadeveon CLOWNEY/S.CAR/DE #3 JAX #1 HOU #2 STL 3 Jax
Blake BORTLES/UCF/QB #4 CLE #8 MIN #3 JAX 20 AZ
Sammy WATKINS/CLEM/WR #5 OAK #2 STL #7 TB 7 TB
Anthony BARR/UCLA/LB #6 ATL #3 JAX #8 MIN 5 Oak
Khalil MACK/Buffalo/OLB #7 TB #7 TB #9 BUF 11 Ten
Teddy BRIDGEWATER/LOU/QB #8 MIN #5 OAK #1 HOU 1 Hou
Greg ROBINSON/AUB/OT #9 BUF #6 ATL #4 CLE 6 Atl
Justin GILBERT/OKL.ST/CB #10 DET #12 NYG #28 CAR 12Nyg
Taylor LEWAN/MICH/OT #11 TEN #13 STL #12 NYG 28Car
C.J. MOSLEY/ALA/LB #12 NYG #9 BUF #11 TEN 9 Buf
Mike EVANS/TXAM/WR #13 STL #10 DET #16 BAL 16Bal
Timmy JERNIGAN/FSU/DT #14 CHI #14 CHI not 1st Rd
Louis NIX III/ND/DT #15 PIT #30 SF #15 PIT 14Chi
Eric EBRON/UNC/TE #16 BAL #18 NYJ #18 NYJ 18NYJ
Ha Ha CLINTON-DIX/ALA/CB #17 DAL #21 GB #14 CHI 13 StL
Marqise LEE/USC/WR #18 NYJ #16 BAL #23 KC 22 Phi
Cyrus KOUANDIJO/ALA/OT #19 MIA #20 AZ #13 STL 23 KC
Zack MARTIN/ND/OT #20 AZ #19 MIA #19 MIA
Calvin PRYOR/LOUIS/FS #21 GB #17 DAL not 1st Rd 21 GB
Kelvin BENJAMIN/FSU/WR #22 PHI #15 PIT not 1st Rd
Stephon TUITT/ND/DE #23 KC not 1st Rd #29 NE 15 Pit
Darqueze DENNARD/MI.ST/CB #24 CIN #22 PHI #10 DET 25 SD
Bradley ROBY/OH.ST/CB #25 SD not 1st Rd not 1st Rd 30Den
Carlos HYDE/OH.ST/RB #26 CLE #26 CLE not 1st Rd
Antonio RICHARDSON/TENN/OT #27 NOR not 1st Rd not 1st Rd
Brandin COOKS/OR.ST/WR #28 CAR not 1st Rd #30 SF
Jace AMARO/TX.TK/TE #29 NE #29 NE #20 AZ 31 NE
Odell BECKHAM JR./LSU/WR #30 SF not 1st Rd not 1st Rd 29 SF
Scott CRICHTON/OR.ST/DE #31 DEN not 1st Rd #22 PHI 27Nor
Allen ROBINSON/FSU/WR #32 SEA not 1st Rd not 1st Rd
Paul RICHARDSON/COL/WR not 1st Rd #23 KC not 1st Rd
Ra’Shede HAGEMAN/MINN/DT not 1st Rd #24 CIN #21 GB 17 Dal
Lamarcus JOYNER/FSU/CB not 1st Rd #25 SD not 1st Rd
Kony EALY/MIZZU/DE not 1st Rd #27 NOR #17 DAL 24CIN
Jarvis LANDRY/LSU/WR not 1st Rd #28 CAR not 1st Rd
Morgan MOSES/Virginia/OT not 1st Rd #31 DEN not 1st Rd
Davante ADAMS/Fresno/WR not 1st Rd #32 SEA not 1st Rd
Ryan SHAZIER/OH.ST/OLB not 1st Rd not 1st Rd #24 CIN
Marcus ROBERSON/FL/CB not 1st Rd not 1st Rd #25 SD
Derek CARR/Fresno/QB not 1st Rd not 1st Rd #26 CLE 8 MIN
Jason VARRETT/TCU/CB not 1st Rd not 1st Rd #27 NOR
Travis SWANSON/ARK/OC not 1st Rd not 1st Rd #31 DEN
Trent MURPHY/STAN/DE not 1st Rd not 1st Rd #32 SEA
Kyle VAN NOY/BYU/OLB not 1st Rd not 1st Rd not 1st Rd 10 Det
Billy TURNER/ND.St/OT not 1st Rd not 1st Rd not 1st Rd 19 Mia
David YANKEY/STAN/OG not 1st Rd not 1st Rd not 1st Rd 26CLE
Xavier Su’a-Filo/UCLA/OG not 1st Rd not 1st Rd not 1st Rd 32 Sea
As you can see, the first 13 players listed here are all projected to be 1st round selections by the four pundits (and 18 of the first 19). After that, there is significant doubt as to which players will be selected in the first round. Of course, this could all change prior to the draft to be held on May 8th through 10th (two weeks later this year than last year), again this year in New York City for all three days.
FFHL – WEEK EIGHTEEN (in progress)
Week #18 is our finals week of the FFHL playoffs. It started with the January 2nd bowl game and ends with the Super Bowl. We have only one more game from which to choose – the Super Bowl.
KID RUST vs. MIGHTY DUCK
So far in the Fantastic Bowl matchup, Kid Rust at 3-4 ATS leads Mighty Duck at 2-4 ATS. If Mighty Duck picks the winner of the Super Bowl (against the spread, of course), he will win the FFHL Championship; a tie ATS does him no good. If he loses, Kid Rust will capture his first FFHL title and University of Oregon student Shawn will get only 3rd place (not 2nd, since at 2-5 ATS he would not have beaten any team in the Consolation Bowl and therefore wouldn’t “validate”).
THE ROUNDERS have clinched a win in the Consolation Bowl with a 4-1-1 record ATS. Scott and Kenny will get at least 3rd place, but will get elevated to 2nd place if Mighty Duck loses on his Super Bowl pick (in which case The Duck wouldn’t “validate”). Hawkeye at 3-3 ATS has already wrapped up 4th place (even with a Super Bowl loss, he wins the tiebreaker), Tommy Boy at 3-4 ATS has clinched 5th place, and Yo Mama at 2-4-1 ATS gets 6th place.
Kraut is 4-2 ATS and has clinched the BFD Bowl victory. Moore Money finished at 3-3-1 ATS, and Wild Man is 2-3-1 ATS with a Super Bowl pick still to be made.
FFHL LOP-SIDED and CONTESTED PICKS AGAINST THE SPREAD (ATS)
Listed below is a breakdown of all of our picks for Week #18C – the two NFL Conference Title games over the weekend:
Team For-Against Result / Unsolicited comments
NE Pats +5h at Denver 4-2 LOSS, Broncos win 26-16 to cover by 4½
SF 49’ers +3h at Seattle 3-2 LOSS, Seahawks win 23-17 to cover by 2½
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
NFL – 20th week (Conference Finals Weekend)
FAVORITES 2-0-0 (100.0%) 2-0-0 (100.0%)
HOME TEAMS 2-0-0 (100.0%) 2-0-0 (100.0%)
Cumulative percentages through 20 weeks:
FAVORITES 128-126-9 (50.4%) 181-81-1 (69.0%)
HOME TEAMS 136-118-9 (53.4%) 157-105-1 (59.9%)
FINALS OF FFHL PLAYOFFS
FOOTBALL GAMES - FFHL WEEK #18 (through Super Bowl)
SUPER BOWL XLVIII (WEEK #18D)
Sunday, February 2nd
DENVER -2h vs. SEATTLE +2h
This game pits the AFC #1 seed against the NFC #1 seed.
The Broncos, the #1 offense in the NFL in both yards from scrimmage and scoring, match up against the Seahawks, the #1 defense in the NFL in both yards from scrimmage and scoring. The irresistible force meets up with the immovable object, if you will, to determine if the laws of physics apply to football.
Many of the oddsmakers had initially posted Seattle as a 1 or 2 point favorite, but the betting has caused a big change in the line. Right now, Denver is a 2½ point favorite to win the Super Bowl.
There have only been four Super Bowls in history that have gone to kickoff with less than a 3-point spread. The SF 49’ers in Super Bowl XVI and Miami in Super Bowl VII both won as 1-point favorites.
The Seahawks have never been Super Bowl favorites; they were a 4-point underdog to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL.
The Broncos have not been underdogs in a Super Bowl since the 1997 season, when the GB Packers were favored by 11 in Super Bowl XXXII. Denver won that game 31-24. The next year, Denver was a 7 ½ point favorite in Super Bowl XXXIII and beat Atlanta 34-19.
Obscure facts: Seattle is the first Super Bowl participant since the 1990 Buffalo Bills to have zero players on the active roster with Super Bowl experience.
Also: Denver’s CB Champ Bailey (age 35) is going to his 1st Super Bowl.
MINUTIA FOR FOOTBALL LOVERS
UPDATE ON COACHING CHANGES - NFL
I’m still trying to keep up with the latest.
[HC=head coach; GM=general manager; OC=offensive coordinator; DC=defensive coordinator]
MINNESOTA New HC is Mike Zimmer (age 57), most recently the DC for the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-2013), and before that DC Atlanta (2007) and DC Dallas (2000-2006). This is his first head-coaching position.
Joining him will be new OC Norv Turner (CLE OC 2013, SD HC 2007-2012, SF OC 2006, OAK HC 2004-2005, MIA OC 2002-2003, SD OC 2001, WSH HC 1994-2000, DAL OC 1991-1993; Wow!)
CLEVELAND Still no HC replacement has been hired.
The Browns may want to pluck one of coordinators from either Denver (OC Adam Gase) or Seattle (DC Dan Quinn), and may be waiting until after one or both of those teams are eliminated from the playoffs before making their final decision.
SAN DIEGO Hired Frank Reich to be OC, replacing the departed Ken Whisenhunt. Reich was the Chargers’ quarterback coach last year and worked well with Philip Rivers.
Reich is best known to football fans for his years as a backup quarterback to Jim Kelly in Buffalo. With Reich filling in for an injured Kelly, the Bills overcame a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers, the biggest playoff game comeback in NFL history (1992 season).
The Bolts recently re-signed DC John Pagano for the 2014 season. He has been with the Chargers 12 years, the last two as DC.
NY GIANTS New OC Ben McAdoo is filling the spot vacated when Kevin Gilbride “retired”. McAdoo had been an assistant coach with Green Bay since 2006, including quarterback coach the last two seasons. He is not related to Bob, the NBA star of yesteryear, age 62, currently an assistant coach for the Miami Heat.
WASHINGTON New OC Sean McVay (age 27) was promoted by the ‘Skins from tight ends’ coach. He has previously worked with new head coach Jay Gruden.
MIAMI New OC Bill Lazor will work under incumbent HC Joe Philbin. Lazor most recently had been the quarterback coach in Philadelphia, working with upstart Nick Foles and Eagles HC Chip Kelly.
TENNESSEE New DC Ray Horton, who was the DC in Cleveland last year, will join new HC Ken Whisenhunt with the Titans. Horton was Whisenhunt’s DC in Arizona during the 2011 & 2012 seasons.
DETROIT New HC Jim Caldwell has hired Joe Lombardi as his OC. Lombardi had been the NOR Saints quarterbacks coach since 2009. He is the grandson of some guy named Vince, who used to coach back in the old days.
FOOTBALL QUIZ QUESTION
QUESTION #1: The New England vs. Denver game marked the fourth playoff meeting between two veteran quarterbacks – Manning and Brady. This has happened only two other times in NFL history since the merger of the NFL and AFL. Name the two pairs of quarterbacks that played against each other four times in the playoffs.
QUESTION #2A: SF quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 130 yards from scrimmage against Seattle on Sunday, which was the 2nd highest rushing total for a QB in NFL playoff history. Who holds the all-time record?
HINT: The record was set last year.
Brett Favre and Steve Young (4 straight years – 1995 through 1998)
Terry Bradshaw and Kenny Stabler (4 straight years—1973 through 1976)
Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas played against each other in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, but the playoffs were abbreviated back then, so I don’t think they went head-to-head four times in what would have been considered a playoff game in those days (but if you picked this pair as one of your answers, give yourself credit anyway).
Unitas was the ultimate competitor, as this anecdote by Bubba Smith affectionately exemplifies:
“A guy broke through the line, hit him [Unitas], and pushed his head in the ground. He called the same play, let the guy come through and broke his nose with the football. I said, That's my hero!”
And Baltimore Colts’ teammate and tight end Raymond Berry explained:
“What made Unitas special was his uncanny instinct for calling the right play at the right time, his icy composure under fire, his fierce competitiveness, and his utter disregard for his own safety."
Back to 2013 and the quiz question: after Denver’s win on Sunday, Manning and Brady both have 2 victories when facing each other. Overall, Brady’s playoff record is now 18-8, while Manning bumped up his career playoff record to 11-11.
Kaepernick, who rushed for 181 yards against the GB Packers in a 2012 playoff game.
He has rushed for 95 yards or more in 3 of his 6 career playoff appearances. In the history of the NFL, only two other QB’s have rushed for 95 or more yards in a playoff game; they each did it once.
And how amazing is this? Kaepernick has rushed for 507 yards in his six playoff games, while former Detroit Lions’ Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders rushed for only 386 yards in his playoff career -- also six games.
Besides Kaepernick, who were the two QB’s that rushed for at least 95 yards in a playoff game? (answer below)
HINT: One QB is still active in the NFL; the other QB at one time played for the same team that the still-active QB now plays for.