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.

2016 GREEN BAY PACKERS PLAYOFF SCENARIOS – WEEK 16

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-2-54-26-am

On Sunday the Packers won while the Bears, Lions and Vikings all lost as Aaron Rodgers added to his legend. It was a good day, and vastly improves Green Bay’s chances to qualify for postseason.

Colin Cowherd now endures another week without digging dirt from ex-teammates about Rodgers. The Packers now ‘control their own destiny’ for the NFC North crown should they beat the Vikings and Lions over the next fortnight and finish 10-6. Green Bay would likely finish as a four seed and host the New York Giants in a first round playoff game.

The Packers could finish as high as a number two seed and earn a first round bye. Green Bay would have to win out coupled with two Seattle losses, two Atlanta losses and possibly one Tampa Bay loss. That is asking a lot.

Should Green Bay defeat the plummeting Vikings at home on Saturday, look for the Week 17 game in Detroit to air on Sunday Night Football.

CAN GREEN BAY WIN THE DIVISION AT 9-7?

A home loss to Minnesota does not necessarily doom the Pack, provided the Lions lose at Dallas next Monday night. Then Week 17 still decides the division. The Vikings can finish 9-7, but are eliminated from division title consideration. Should the three teams finish at 9-7 the Packers would prevail due to a 4-2 divisional record. In head-to-head play, the Vikings would have swept the Packers who swept the Lions who swept the Vikings.

Minnesota needs monumental help on multiple fronts to get a wild card spot, which includes two Packers losses.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-2-53-28-am

CAN GREEN BAY GET A WILD CARD AT 9-7?

If the Packers beat Minnesota but lose in Detroit, the waters become much murkier with Washington and Tampa Bay in the mix.

Starting with Monday night’s home game v. Carolina, Washington would have to lose two of their last three contests to finish 8-7-1. The Dan Snyder-owned team will also be slightly favored in Chicago and against a Giants team likely be locked into the number five seed.

The Packers would also need Tampa Bay to lose at least once. Should Green Bay and the Buccaneers finish tied at 9-7 the scenario becomes complex as both teams finished 3-2 against common opponents and would be 7-5 in conference.

The next criteria involves ‘strength of victory’ and currently too close to call. Should Carolina beat Washington, both the Pack and Bucs would have 49 1/2 wins over the eight teams they have beaten. Should strength of victory end tied, strength of schedule would be the next determining factor, Green Bay holds a slight edge there (115 wins of their 16 opponents v. Tampa’s 111).

Combined conference rankings (or league rankings if necessary) for net points scored and allowed would be the tie-breaker after strength of schedule . The criteria of net points was deemphasized by the league following the 1999 season when the Packers and Carolina Panthers ran up the score in their respective season finales played simultaneously.

However, it is highly unlikely much math will be needed to determine the Packers ultimate playoff fate.

THE 2017 NFL ‘BOWL SEASON’

dak_prescott_cowboys

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.

CHANGES NEEDED IN GREEN BAY

packers_vs_titans

For Green Bay fans who just tuned in…

No, you have not had a bad dream.

You have not done the ultimate mannequin challenge only to find yourself in the depths of Hell, or worse, Minneapolis.

This is the world you now live in, the Packers 2016 season has officially become a disaster, most recently outmatched by the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, teams not confused with the NFL’s elite.

Let us start at the top. Mike McCarthy defended himself this week, he referred to himself as ‘a highly successful coach‘. The resume shows support with a 108-60-1 record and one Super Bowl title in 10 1/2 seasons.

It should have been two Super Bowl appearances except for Brandon Bostick cementing his status of Green Bay’s version of Steve Bartman.

The fact that McCarthy has been the Packers coach since 2006 may be part of the current problem. Mike Holmgren is recognized as the coach who helped turn Green Bay fortunes around. By the time of his seventh season in 1998, Holmgren seeked his next challenge and soon headed for Seattle.

Even the legendary Vince Lombardi stayed in Green Bay just nine years. He resurfaced as a NFL coach in Washington in 1969 and would likely had stayed there long-term had he not died a year later.

Only one player has been in Green Bay for the entirety of McCarthy’s tenure, but friction between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers has bubbled to the surface in recent weeks.

If the Rodgers/McCarthy relationship is indeed on shaky ground as reported by one media outlet, someone leaves and that person is unlikely to be number 12.

Rodgers has taken criticism as well, and the question on whether he has the staying power of Brett Favre or Tom Brady is legitimate. Rodgers also remains on pace to throw for 4,000 yards with 22 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, in line with previous years. But Rodgers’ quarterback rating of 93.9 ranks 16th in the league and his personal lowest since the 2008 season.

Much fault falls on general manager Ted Thompson. Injuries remain a fact of NFL life, but the offense has been forced to navigate the season with zero depth at the running back. Injuries have also ravaged the defense, the team survived an epidemic of injuries six years ago, but most years losing top-line talent such as Clay Matthews and Sam Shields proves fatal.

With a 4-5 record, the only positive news pertains to the Packers location in the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings have played equally bad football over the last month and the Detroit Lions share the division lead at 5-4. With divisional opponents comprising the final three games of the schedule, the Packers could still claim the division title and then peak  come playoff time.

Barring that scenario, McCarthy and possibly Ted Thompson could see walking papers not long after Jan. 2. The 21-0 deficit the team dug this past Sunday represented the first such early deficit since the dark ages of Forrest Gregg in 1986.

As was the case with Mike Sherman 11 years ago, the time has come for changes in Green Bay so the rest of Aaron Rodgers career is not wasted.

2003 NFL SIMULATION: CLINTON ADMINISTRATION

Cllinton_Portis_Belt

Throughout Mike Shanahan’s reign as Denver Broncos head coach the team featured an elite run game. It started with Terrell Davis in the late 1990s, and the zone blocking scheme became a staple no matter who carried the rock. Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell all excelled as Denver running backs throughout the first half of the 2000s.

Clinton Portis was drafted in the second round in 2002 and spent two years as Denver’s featured back, exceeding more than 1,500 rushing yards both years before his assets were flipped to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey in a rare player-for-player swap of elite players.

In simulation, Portis regular season highlight involved a historic 295-yard rushing day (320 yards overall) and five touchdowns in a 52-26 win over Kansas City.

Portis, along with quarterback Jake Plummer proved large in the simulation. The Broncos went 15-1 in the regular season before navigating a star-studded playoff field.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 6.22.31 AM

Simulations have not been kind to the Green Bay Packers over 38 years, they did not appear in either of the first two Super Bowls, the lone appearance in the big game being a Super Bowl IX fart in the wind.

In real life, the Packers played their best ball of the season towards the end of the 2003 season, but it appeared they would miss the postseason until a Minnesota Vikings meltdown in the final minutes at Arizona provided Green Bay’s lifeline to the playoffs.

The Packers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in dramatic fashion and all but sealed a divisional round win in Philadelphia until coach Mike Sherman elected not to go for it on fourth and about three inches followed by Freddie Mitchell’s infamous fourth and 26 catch.

If not for that, many believed the Packers would had advanced to Super Bowl XXXVIII. By this time Brett Favre had completed his 12th year as starting quarterback and both Coach Mike Holmgren and Reggie White had left Green Bay without a Super Bowl appearance in this alternative reality.

Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan met in simulation for the first time in the playoffs in the divisional round. The Broncos scored the home win in dramatic fashion as Jake Plummer found Rod Smith for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:23 remaining.

At 14-2, the Baltimore Ravens were the Broncos equal for most of the season as Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards in the actual season. In the sim Baltimore defeated the Tennessee Titans in the division round to set up a dream AFC Championship matchup between the Ravens and Broncos. The game was won by Denver 26-10, sending Shanahan and the Broncos to their fourth Super Bowl in eight years.

In the NFC the Packers did not sweat out a playoff berth with a NFC North title and 13-3 record. Green Bay also handed the Broncos their lone loss in the regular season finale. The Packers memorable Wild Card game against the Seahawks at Lambeau Field was replicated in the divisional round.

Matt Hasselbeck did not win the opening coin toss, and Seattle did not score as the Packers recorded a 30-0 shutout. A week later Green Bay traveled to Carolina and easily defeated the top-seeded Panthers 23-3 behind Ahman Green’s 155 yards rushing.

The Packers and Broncos met in Houston six years after their actual Super Bowl XXXII matchup. This showdown proved one-sided as Portis rushed for 157 yards with three scores and Rod Smith added two TD receptions as Plummer out-gunslinged Favre in a 45-20 rout, giving Denver their second world championship.

Other brief notes on the 2003 season.

  • The sim likes the Buffalo Bills, who won the AFC East at 12-4 and swept the New England Patriots.
  • In real-life the Indianapolis Colts had established itself as contenders with a 12-4 record, but finished 6-10 in the simulation.
  • Jamal Lewis season highlights included 209 yards and two TD’s v. Arizona and 179 yards and three TD v. Jacksonville. Ahman Green put up video game numbers with240 yards and five touchdowns against St. Louis while Portis rushed for 216 yards in a 48-10 win over Minnesota and also eclipsed 200 against Indianapolis. Cincinnati’s Rudi Johnson had 240 yards in a game while Atlanta’s Warrick Dunn rushed for a 206-yard day.

1996 NFL SIMULATION: FLIP THE SCRIPT

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 8.53.28 AM

1996 proved to be a fascinating NFL season. The 49ers and Cowboys were still considered the class of the NFC, with the Green Bay Packers quickly closing the gap as Brett Favre’s career peaked. The Packers goal was to finish with the conferences best record and get the 49ers and Cowboys at Lambeau in Januaray. Then there was the second-year Carolina Panthers, who did not get the memo that they weren’t supposed to compete with pro football’s upper echelon so fast.

Behind John Elway, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe, the Denver Broncos had passed the eyeball test and graduated from merely a good team capable of winning the AFC to a squad capable of winning it all. Then there was the second year Jacksonville Jaguars coached by Tom Coughlin, a team that jelled late in the ’96 season and suddenly proved a squad not afraid to play anyone, anywhere.

In the actual season the Packers took advantage of winning the NFC’s number one seed and ultimately won Super Bowl XXXI while the Broncos were derailed by the Jaguars in a divisional playoff. In what ways would a random simulation play different?

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 9.16.54 AM

  • The sim produced not one, but two undefeated teams in the regular season. The Packers appeared to have exorcised their last demons with a Monday night win in Dallas and also defeated the Broncos in December. The Bills also ran the table, which seemed more puzzling. Pro-Football-Reference had an expected win total of 9.7 for the Bills, compared to 13.8 for Green Bay.
  • The AFC Central became ultra-competitve, with the Steelers crowned division champs via a three-team tie-breaker with the re-branded Baltimore Ravens at 8-8. Unlike real life, the Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7 season did not earn a playoff spot.
  • In their second year in their new venue, the St. Louis Rams crashed the NFC playoff party with an 8-8 record while the Detroit Lions qualified at 10-6 behind 2,074 rushing yards by Barry Sanders.

The top seeds prevailed in the AFC divisional round, the Broncos defeated the Steelers 33-12 behind a 48-yard Terrell Davis touchdown run and 68-yard Ed McCaffrey touchdown catch. The NFC divisional playoffs featured the same teams as real life. The San Francisco 49ers visited Green Bay while the Carolina Panthers played the Cowboys, only in Dallas instead of Charlotte.

Steve Young tried to play hurt in the actual 49ers/Packers clash, taking numerous injections for what had been reported as bruised ribs that were actually broken. Desmond Howard broke two punt returns early in the game and the Packers cruised to a muddy 35-14 victory. In the sim Steve Young is healthy and throws an early TD pass to Brent Jones – field conditions then deteriorate and Brett Favre throws three devastating picks in a 16-6 loss. The Panthers/Cowboys result also flipped from real life, as home field was good enough to give Dallas a 14-6 win.

Not surprisingly, the Bills bid for a 19-0 season went by the boards in the AFC Championship. Steve Atwater scored on a first quarter pick six, Terrell Davis rushed for 138 yards and the Broncos finally earn their first ever simulation Super Bowl berth with an easy 37-3 win. For the second consecutive year the 49ers and Cowboys clashed for the NFC crown to the joy of television executives. Deion Sanders had joined the Cowboys by this juncture of his career while San Francisco had a young receiver named Terrell Owens whose talent and volatility would also make an impact on both franchises over the next decade.  The game lived up to all expectations, as Troy Aikman rallied Dallas from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with a 62-yard TD pass to Kevin Williams and a Chris Boniol FG with 34 seconds left. However that gave Steve Young just enough time to put his team into position for Jeff Wilkins to hit a 58-yard bomb to send the Niners to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year and fifth overall, and the Cowboys to their 10th consecutive conference championship loss.

Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans would be a reprise of the actual Super Bowl XXIV between Denver and San Francisco. The Broncos defense kept the game close for three quarters, but the 49ers pull way in the fourth quarter to give the 49ers their third Super Bowl crown as Coach George Seifert and Defensive Coordinator Pete Carroll rode off to their next career endeavors while Steve Young got his elusive first title as quarterback.

With Denver finally making an appearance 19 years after their actual Super Bowl XII debut, the Oilers, Buccaneers and Falcons remain the lone teams not to play in the Super Bowl along with the newbie Jaguars, Ravens and Panthers.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 2.55.29 PM