FALCONS DREAM SEASON NOT SEEN BY MANY

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons

Despite throttling both the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers en route to Super Bowl LI, the talent of the Atlanta Falcons remain unknown on a national level.

The reasons are obvious. Atlanta was not tabbed for a Sunday Night appearance and not even flexed into a late season game, as was the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For other late afternoon national broadcasts, FOX likes to roll with known brands such as the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks while CBS’s number one crew typically work  Broncos, Patriots and Steeler games. The two networks also make sure to get at least one interconference game that involve such teams.

That left Atlanta with a Week 3 Monday night game at New Orleans that drew alarmingly low ratings against a presidential debate, a Week 8 game v. Green Bay and a Thursday night game in Tampa for a national audience. Most other Falcons games were shown regionally.

Week 1 v. Tampa Bay – The season began with the Falcons in the shadow of the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, who opened on a Thursday night. With the New Orleans Saints also in action, the game aired in Georgia, the Tampa area and some other southern locations.

Week 2 at Oakland – This interconference game would normally air on FOX, but was flexed to CBS. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon called this game while Colts v. Broncos got the Jim Nantz/Phil Simms treatment.

Week 3 at New Orleans (MNF) – The aforementioned 45-32 Atlanta victory that drew low ratings against Trump v. Hillary.

Week 4 v. Carolina – With the Panthers in town, the Falcons 48-33 victory was shown in most homes in the south during the 1 p.m. Eastern window. A Seahawks v. Jets game aired everywhere west of Denver and in the northeast.

Week 5 at Denver – The Falcons took down the other Super Bowl 50 participant in a 4:05 Eastern start shown to most of the south and west while a Cowboys v. Bengals game aired in the 4:25 window on FOX

Week 6 at Seattle – The Falcons controversial loss in Seattle was shown regionally in Atlanta and the Pacific Northwest as the rest of the nation got Cowboys v. Packers in the 4:25 window.

Week 7 v. San Diego – Another 4:05 start only shown in the Chargers and Falcons markets, while Patriots/Steelers was shown to a national audience on CBS.

Week 8 v. Green Bay – The Falcons 33-32 marked Atlanta’s lone national 4:25 appearance, shown everywhere with the exception of Denver as the Broncos had a home game.

Week 9 at Tampa Bay (TNF) – The Falcons Thursday night appearance fell here, the first game done with the NBC crew and Al Michaels.

Week 10 at Philadelphia – Headlined FOX’s 1 p.m. slate and shown in many regions that included the West Coast and Texas.

Week 12 v. Arizona – This game again got FOX’s number two team of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch. The 1 p.m. start was only seen in Georgia, Arizona, the Carolina and other upper Midewest areas.

Week 13 v. Kansas City – CBS’s number two team handled this game which aired mainly to the Kansas City and Atlanta markets. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms worked Houston at Green Bay in the 1 p.m. window.

Week 14 at Los Angeles – By this point in the season it became obvious that the Rams did not make for good TV viewing. Dick Stockton called the one-sided contest aired to the Los Angeles and Atlanta markets.

Week 15 v. San Francisco – Another 4:05 local start against a subpar opponent aired regionally. CBS carried Patriots at Broncos in the 4:25 window.

Week 16 at Carolina – Christmas Eve game went out regionally as most of the nation received Vikings v. Packers in 1 p.m. window.

Week 17 v. New Orleans – Aired in the 4:25 window, the Falcons regular season finale played second fiddle to Giants/Washington in the same time slot.

Division playoff v. Seattle – The first true look to many of this team nationally, but got Burkhardt/Lynch as Joe Buck/Troy Aikman worked Packers/Cowboys.

NFC Championship v. Green Bay – Joe Buck finally got his first look at the Falcons, as he was on his World Series assignment during the previous Packers/Falcons meeting.

Talk about a lack of respect. But with a new stadium on the horizon coupled with this year’s success, the Falcons can look forward to infinitely more television exposure in 2017.

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WHO RUNS TABLE TO SUPER BOWL LI?

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Aaron Rodgers made good on his six-week promise to ‘run the table’ towards a division title, and it was nice.

A win over Philadelphia, followed by home wins over Houston and Seattle before the Packers swept through the remnants of the NFC North.

But will Rodgers and Green Bay double-down and run the table straight through January and first Sunday in February?

My heart roots for a Chiefs/Packers Super Bowl, 50 years after the original. But my gut say it is turn for someone else to run the table, a movie we have seen before.

Trust me, I deeply root for this to be dead wrong.

WILD CARD

  • Oakland (11-5) at Houston (9-7) – In a switch from last year, all four home teams on Wild Card Weekend actually come in favored. I congratulated the Texans back in October for earning their annual place on ESPN’s 4:40 p.m. Saturday telecast, the NFL’s version of March Madness’s First Four. At this point a Ravens/Broncos pairing holds more intrigue, in their current state the Raiders and Texans represent the two worst playoff participants. Who do you have, Connor Cook or Brock Osweiler? I take Khahil Mack. WINNER: Raiders
  • Detroit (9-7) at Seattle (10-5-1) – The Lions limp into Seattle as eight point underdogs, I say they cover. This will follow the script of most Seahawk home playoff/prime time games. Matthew Stafford has a huge night on a depleted Seattle secondary but Pete Carroll’s proxy army ultimately escapes with their patented psy-op/roller derby-like finish. WINNER: Seahawks
  • Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5) – The Dolphins also likely go into postseason with a backup quarterback, and anything beyond this stage would be a bonus. The Steelers have lost at home to lesser opponents in postseason in the past, but not this time. WINNER: Steelers
  • NY Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6) – Packers fans flooded Vegas and have bet Green Bay down to 8-1 to win the Super Bowl, yet only find themselves as 4 1/2 point home favorites against the Giants, who the bookies have at 20-1. This feels just like 2008 and 2012.Temperatures are expected to climb all the way to 12 degrees at Lambeau come game-time, that may be too warm for Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, who torch what’s left of the Packers secondary. WINNER: Giants

DIVISIONAL

  • Seattle at Atlanta (11-5) – The NFL stuck the Falcons in the early Saturday window, another franchise the league cannot see eliminated as possible. This one could go either way, but look for the Seahawks luck running out in the divisional round for a second straight year. WINNER: Falcons
  • Oakland at New England (14-2) – You know a 15th anniversary of the Tuck Rule game has to happen. And how do the Patriots get away with signing Michael Floyd straight off a DUI arrest? Anyone for Sheriff Joe as NFL commissioner? This will serve as a scrimmage on the Pats yellow-brick road to the AFC title game. WINNER: Patriots
  • Pittsburgh at Kansas City (12-4) – The teams met early in the season, with Al Michaels forced to dig into his blowout material early after the Steelers hung 36 points in the first half. And why does Mike Tomlin go for two? Because he cannot go for three. Tyreek Hill returns an early punt for a score, other than that I do not see too much that has changed. Add this to the list of Kansas City postseason disappointments. WINNER: Steelers
  • NY Giants at Dallas (13-3) – The league predictably puts the top-seeded Cowboys in the late afternoon window, as they have for more than 40 years. Here Jason Garrett, Dak Prescott and company meet their worst nightmare, the one team that has their number. Eli Manning also tore through Dallas in 2008 and left Terrell Owens in tears. Do not tell Skip Bayless, but history repeats. WINNER: Giants

CHAMPIONSHIP

  • NY Giants at Atlanta – Anyone think the Giants would tear through Green Bay and Dallas, only to lose in Atlanta? New York condemns the Georgia Dome and the Manning family qualifies for their sixth Super Bowl in 11 years. WINNER: Giants
  • Pittsburgh at New England – The Jim Nantz special sees the latest playoff scrum between the Steelers and Patriots. Tom Brady gets his vindication and punches his franchises seventh Super Bowl ticket in 16 years. WINNER: Patriots

SUPER BOWL LI

  • New England v. NY Giants – Fans have feared a Patriots/Cowboys Super Bowl all year, a.k.a the Skip Bayless Bowl. This would be worse, but who thinks Eli Manning rolls over and just be satisfied tied with his older brother with two Super Bowl rings. A late Patriots drive ends in controversial fashion, the final karma on Tom Brady and the team signing Michael Floyd. Eli gets another title and quickly returns to relative obscurity for another four years.

 

SUPER BOWL LI CHAMPIONS: New York Giants (run to the window now!)

WAKEYLEAKS COULD DOOM PETRINO FOR GOOD

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Coach Bobby Petrino’s resume as a football coach is impressive. In his first stint at Louisville he lead the program to a BCS bowl game and did the same at the University of Arkansas in 2010. Most recently he lead Louisville to a 9-3 and produced the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Petrino’s true signature moments are far less flattering. In 2007 he bolted from the Atlanta Falcons with a 3-10 record to accept the Arkansas position, leaving laminated notes on players lockers to inform them on his decision. In April 2012 he infamously showed up at a Razorbacks presser in a neck brace due to a motorcycle accident. The subsequent investigation revealed a former volleyball player on the bike who worked for the school and had a relationship (along with other perks) with Petrino, which led to the coach’s dismissal.

Petrino eventually got right (it seemed), coached Western Kentucky for a year and then returned to Louisville. With a trip to the Citrus Bowl on the horizon, Petrino should be a feel-good story of redemption.

‘Wakeyleaks’ may destroy all of that in the coming days.

The scandal started earlier this week with revelations that former Wake Forest quarterback and assistant coach turned radio analyst Tommy Elrod leaked game plans to Wake Forest’s ACC opponents as far back as 2014.

The bread crumbs led to a November game where Wake lost to Louisville 44-12. There is one coaching connection between the two programs, Louisville Offensive Coordinator Lonnie Galloway previously worked at Wake Forest alongside Elrod.

On Wednesday, embattled Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich acknowledged that Elrod indeed shared playbook information with Elrod prior the game.

This does not bode well and the dominoes may fall fast. The daytime FOX Sports  talk shows quickly jumped on the topic. Shannon Sharpe suggested on his daily duet with Skip Bayless that Petrino be terminated immediately if he indeed had firsthand knowledge of Wake Forest’s playbook. Later in the day Jason Whitlock chimed in that the ‘rest of the story’ has yet to surface, suggesting gambling as a motive for Elrod’s actions.

Jurich’s head is likely to roll as well, he is already in hot water over investigations of the men’s basketball program, which includes an assistant coach who allegedly hired prostitutes to cater to players and recruits on 15 occasions.

The Atlantic Coast Conference as called for an investigation involving Wake Forest opponents. The smart money says this gets very ugly, very fast for those involved. Wake Forest has its own questions to answer while Louisville now finds itself in scandals involved spying, prostitution and indirectly, gambling.

Do not be surprised if Louisville has an interim football coach for its bowl game while they seek a new AD to repair a damaged athletic program.

THE 2017 NFL ‘BOWL SEASON’

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As writers and college football executives clamor for an expanded College Football Playoff, someone has to wonder if it is actually the National Football League that must change course.

I feel the NFL product must ensure that their best products appear in the Super Bowl. Based on the standings, chances seem good for a Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks or Oakland Raiders to make an appearance in the big game.

That would be good, all four franchises bring either tons of recent success and/or huge fanbases. But a 12-team playoff can jeopardize that possibility. What if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dare crash the party?

That can be solved with a ‘Pro Football Playoff’ along with a bowl season. Four teams get a chance at the Lombardi trophy while nine other games give the majority of teams a taste of the postseason life and massive bowl playoffs paid by the television networks.

Through Week 13, 20 teams stand ‘bowl eligible with 6-6 records. That can be stretched into an 11-game bowl season over one weekend, perfect for the daily fantasy industry.

Here is the projected model:

Pro Football Playoff:

  • PlayStation Bowl: No. 2 New England Patriots (10-2) v. No. 3 Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1)
  • Chick-Fil-A Bowl: No. 1 Dallas Cowboys (11-1)  v. No. 4 Oakland Raiders (10-2)

The Patriots and Seahawks return to Phoenix for a sequel of their Super Bowl XLIX classic while two of the league’s flagship franchises square off in Atlanta. The winners square off in Super Bowl LI, which for the first time could feature two conference rivals.

Can their possibly be a better format!

‘Week After New Year’s Six’:

  • Rose Bowl: Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) v. Detroit Lions (8-4) – The Raiders/Chiefs Thursday night game in frigid Arrowhead Stadium already looms large. But imagine if a PFP spot was on the line? It would be the NFL version of Michigan v. Ohio State. Whatever the case the game and setting sells itself with its traditional ‘West Division’ v. ‘North Division’ matchup.
  • Sugar Bowl: Atlanta Falcons (7-5) v. New York Giants (8-4) – The Sugar Bowl committee gets its ‘SEC’ team in the Falcons while Odell Beckham makes his New Orleans homecoming.
  • Orange Bowl: Miami Dolphins (7-5) v. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) – The Orange Bowl often has problems selling tickets. That would be solved this year with the hometown Dolphins and the Steelers traveling fan base.
  • Cotton Bowl: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) v. Denver Broncos (8-4) – The Bucs late season surge lands Tampa into the Week After New Year’s Six while Cotton Bowl officials are overjoyed to see the Broncos still available.

Rest of the Bowls:

  • Citrus Bowl: Baltimore Ravens (7-5) v. Washington (6-5-1) – The newly sponsored B-Dubs bowl lands the two Beltway teams, not bad for the local hotel business.
  • Outback Bowl: Green Bay Packers (6-6) v. Tennessee Titans (6-6) – The Packers late-season surge earns them a postseason bid where they try to avenge a regular season humiliation at the hands of Marcus Mariota and the Titans.
  • Holiday Bowl: Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) v. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) – That tie against the Seahawks could come back to haunt the Cardinals although their APR score (least amount of suspensions and fines) should help Arizona get in at 7-8-1 if necessary.
  • Pinstripe Bowl: Minnesota Vikings (6-6) v. Buffalo Bills (6-6) – The Vikings really need to finish the season at 8-8 because the franchise usually does not do well on APR. Meanwhile Buffalo fans will be overjoyed to make the trip downstate for postseason action.
  • Independence Bowl: Houston Texans (6-6) v. New Orleans Saints (5-7) – In real life, the Texans could very well host an AFC Wild Card Game at 4:30 ET on Jan. 7. Here their 6-6 record only gets Brock Osweiler and company a short trip to Shreveport to take on New Orleans in a regional clash.

2004 NFL SIMULATION: CIRCLING THE WAGONS

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The 2004 NFL simulation throws a major surprise as the Buffalo Bills roll through a 15-1 regular season and throughout the postseason.

How could the Bills and their circa-2000s CFL outfits crash the party against the traditional 2000s powers of the AFC? It takes a closer look at the stats to answer the question.

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In the actual season, the Bills started 0-4 but then caught fire and were in position to claim a playoff berth in Week 17 with a home win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers rested most of their starters, but the game proved as the breakout of Fast Willie Parker. The Steelers won to knock Buffalo out of the postseason.

The Bills finished with an actual point differential of 111, good for fifth in the AFC and sixth for the entire NFL.

Per Wikipedia, a publication called Football Outsiders deemed the 2004 Bills as the best NFL team since 1990 to fail to make the playoffs according to their metrics. Pro-Football-Reference also scores the Bills with an expected W-L record of 11-5, two games better than their actual 9-7 campaign.

So the Bills faux Super Bowl XXXIX title does not come as a total fluke.

Other highlights of the ’04 season include the following:

  • Just two years after winning a faux Super Bowl XXXVII, the Miami Dolphins finish 0-16.
  • The other AFC playoff participants provided few surprises, the Steelers, Colts and Chargers won division titles while the Jets and Patriots earned Wild Card berths with 12-4 records.
  • The NFC proved much weaker, the actual NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles finished 13-3, three games ahead of other conference teams in the sim.
  • The Seattle Seahawks make ‘history’ with their NFC West championship with a 7-9 record, a feat they also recorded in real-life in 2010.
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their third faux NFC Championship in five years, but fell meekly to the Atlanta Falcons 10-0, with Brian Griese throwing four interceptions. The ATL also won in Philadelphia in the divisional round in a reprise of the actual 2004 NFC Championship.
  • In their loss to Buffalo in the AFC Championship, rookie Ben Roethlisberger went 6-22 for 47 yards and two interceptions.
  • The best rushing day of the season belonged to Kansas City’s Priest Holmes, who rushed for 285 yards in a game v. the Carolina Panthers.
  • The Bills appeared in their fifth title game in the sim, winning their second championship. The Falcons first-ever appearance leaves the Buccaneers, Jaguars, Titans and Texans as the lone teams not to make a sim Super Bowl.

1977 NFL SIM: SCRATCH MY BACK WITH A HACKSAW!

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The faux-1970s have come to resemble Ground Hog Day for the Dallas Cowboys. The real-life version of the team made its fourth Super Bowl and won a second championship with a dominating performance over the Denver Broncos.

The sim version? Well, they continue to run into the Los Angeles Rams.

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Season highlights include the following:

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing streak ended at 25 with a 21-7 home win over the Chicago Bears. The Bears backed into the NFC Central Championship despite losing their final three games.
  • The Seattle Seahawks did not improve on their inaugural season, again finishing 3-11. For the 1976-77 seasons the Buccaneers finished 1-25 and Seahawks 4-22 against established NFL teams.
  • For the Minnesota Vikings, the simulation proved especially harsh at 4-10 instead of the team’s actual 9-5 record and division championship.
  • Walter Payton rushed for 246 yards in a Week 2 game,  but the Bears lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 38-34. Later in the season Payton rushed for 241 yards and three scores in a win over Minnesota.
  • And then there is this bizarre scoreline from a Raiders-Browns game…

 

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That is not an NFL score. It is more like what the University of Nebraska did to the Minnesota Golden Gophers back in the day. Guess Cleveland finally got revenge for that Super Bowl II loss.

The Atlanta Falcons finished 12-2 in the sim against their 7-7 real-life record. Partially under the guidance of young assistant Jerry Glanville, the unit became known as the Gritz Blitz, code name for one of the best single-season defenses in league history with only 129 points conceded for the season. The defensive dominance was a one-year anomaly compared to previous and future Falcons seasons. Sadly for Atlanta, quarterback Steve Bartkowski missed much of the season, which rendered the offense as anemic and cancelled out the stellar defense.

The bad news for Los Angeles Rams is they did not win the NFC West. The good news was they went to Dallas as a wild card and eliminated the Cowboys at Texas Stadium for the fourth time in six years with a 34-13 win.

The Denver Broncos won their first division title in franchise history but lost in the divisional round to Cincinnati 17-9. The Bengals advanced to their second Super Bowl with a 23-10 win, handing the Steelers third home playoff loss in as many seasons.

A quick bio blast on Bengals coach Bill ‘Tiger’ Johnson. Son William R. Johnson would become president and CEO of the Heinz Corporation.

The Rams won in Atlanta to earn their fifth NFL/NFC Championship. The Rams then made history successfully defending their title In Super Bowl XII with a 33-0 shutout, a feat that did not occur in any of the first 50 real-life Super Bowls.

Rams Head Coach Chuck Knox resigned after the game to accept a similar position with the Buffalo Bills.