2018 NFC Predictions

Although we made it through week 1 of the NFL season we still have to get in our selections for the NFC. The majority of the offseason centered around the Los Angeles Rams amassing a defensive arsenal equal to what they deploy on offense. However we have seen this in the past not play out as it does on paper. Do the Rams have the mettle to make it to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII??

3d illustration of an NFL logo behind a transparent silver American football over a metallic silk background

Another team which looks to make a move are the San Francisco 49ers now that QB Jimmy Garopplo is fully entrenched. Can they build off the 5 straight wins to conclude the 2017 season?? We watched the Chicago Bears tilt the field with the trade for Khalil Mack and the terrorizing affect he had against Green Bay in week 1. Do you realize there are no Pro Bowl Tackles in that division?? What does that mean to Minnesota??

2018 Predictions:

NFC North: Minnesota Vikings 12-4*

NFC West: Los Angeles Rams 12-4

NFC South: Carolina Panthers 11-5

NFC East: New York Giants 10-6

Wildcard: Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Wildcard: Atlanta Falcons 10-6

NFC Champion: New York Giants

This is a season starting with tremendous parity where many teams face unbelievable stretches in their schedule. One team that will have a stretch kill their season is Green Bay. They should finish 4-2 going into their bye week. Then they play 4 of 5 on the road against the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, and rubber match to today’s game in Minnesota. Honestly ask yourself in which of these 4 games would they be favored?? An Aaron Rodgers 20 point come from behind miracle was needed just to make it to 1-0. Its realistic the Pack could be 5-6 going into the stretch run of the season.

Talib and the Rams defense is star studded.

As for the 49ers and Rams in the NFC West, Los Angeles is a legitimate threat with All World DT Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh (when he starts playing), and the best corner tandem in Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters fortifying that defense. However by week 6 the NFL will have an 18 game sample size to study Coach Sean McVay and QB Jared Goff dating back to last year. In week 4 they play Minnesota (#1 defense in 2017) and Denver (#3 defense in 2017) out in Mile High where they could stumble.

Jared Goff was 0-2 against Minnesota and the World Champion Eagles last year and those two played for the NFC Championship. Will this team grow in stature to leapfrog these two teams?? Or can a chemistry issue show up and derail a championship team on paper like the ’94 Miami Dolphins & ’00 Washington Redskins?? Will Jared Goff and Coach McVay make adjustments to offset defensive coordinators taking away what they do best?? Its a long time until January.

The 49ers will make a move next year. Teams will scheme Jimmy Garoppolo and expose him as a second tier quarterback. Keep your eye on what happened to him in Minnesota in week 1. They’re not ready yet and Jimmy G is reading his press clippings.

The Eagles have to navigate uncharted waters as a defending champion with a backup QB a Super Bowl hero. Not only are they going to get everyone’s best shot, Nick Foles isn’t playing well to begin the season. We still may not see QB Carson Wentz until we get out to week 6 or 7. This will short circuit their ability to establish an offensive rhythm before the end of the season. Their defense will keep them in every game, however there will be a few balls that will bounce other teams way this season.

In New York the Giants have a home run hitter in RB Saquon Barkley to team with WR Odell Beckham. This may be the NFC version of the Steelers LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown. However the signing of New England’s LT Nick Solder allowed Erick Flowers to be moved to RT where he should be more effective. Then you add massive rookie G Will Hernandez and this line is improved to a strength where they were a liability last year.

Now who do you take away first?? Do you commit to the run and leave Odell Beckham one on one in the back end?? If you have your defense focused on the pass where does that leave Barkley running the ball or catching out of the backfield?? Those same linebackers watching for Barkley out of the backfield will leave TE Evan Engram open. This weaponry will lead to Eli Manning’s rebirth. They will catch stride somewhere at the midpoint of the season as Head Coach Pat Shurmur has the chance to learn what they do best and their best element of attack.

By season’s end watch out as Eli could be heading to that 3rd championship we suggested a few years back. Experience and firepower might be too much for the leaders in the conference to hold off.

That is what the crystal ball of The Chancellor of Football shows.

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2018 AFC Predictions

It seems that we have been predicting the demise of the New England Patriots unsuccessfully for the last 7 years. This season the Patriots will miss this player or this player. Yet here we are again with the 2 time defending AFC Champions ready to battle off conference contenders who appeared to have closed the gap.

3d illustration of an NFL logo behind a transparent silver American football on top of a green football field

Yet here we are with a great number of marquee players returning from serious injury. How quickly can DeShaun Watson, Andrew Luck, and JJ Watt return to form?? Can the Steelers offense find a rhythm once they get LeVeon Bell to report to the team??

There is this team out in Los Angeles no one wants. Not only do they return with the NFL’s 4th ranked offense featuring Melvin Gordon (1,105 yds 8 TDs rushing / 58 rec. 476 yds 4 TDs) & Phillip Rivers (4,515 yds 28 TDs and only 10 ints) on a team that went 9-3 to finish the season.  It took the Chargers 4 weeks to get used to Coach Anthony Lynn’s staff and a new home as they started 0-4.

2018 AFC Predictions:

AFC Wast Champs: LA Chargers 12-4*

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 11-5

AFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 9-7

Wild Card: New York Jets 10-6

Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

AFC Champions: LA Chargers

Yes the city of Los Angeles will have a team in Super Bowl LIII but not the team that everyone is anointing.

The Chargers best pass rush since the mid 80’s.

Keep in mind the Chargers defense was middle of the road ranked 15th and should improve as Joey Bosa returns from a foot injury. However a closer look shows this team gave up 319 yards per game in the last 8 games. Good enough to make the top ten. Fellow DE Melvin Engram III came on with 10.5 sacks to combine with Bosa’s 12.5 which anchored the NFL’s 3rd ranked defense against the pass. This team is ready to make a move.

A lot of pundits want to anoint Andrew Luck as back however The Chancellor sees nothing but rust, rust, rust. He hasn’t played football in over 600 days and Colts fans will wince everytime he hits the ground. Keep in mind he has 4 games against Sacksonville (55 sacks) and Tennessee (43 sacks) which finished in the top 5 in QB take downs. Oh…and 3 time NFL Defensive Player of the year JJ Watt also returns. Sorry Calvin Ladd the Colts will be losing a lot of games. Did you just see that Redzone interception??

Can Forunette stay healthy this season? Has a tendency to get nicked up.

The AFC South will have 3 even teams beating up on each other as no one will take command until the final week. The Titans and Jaguars play several close to the vest affairs. One bounce of the ball one way or the other spells win or loss in at least 6 of their games. Its going to come down to which QB can make plays beyond the X’s and O’s and DeShaun Watson edges Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles in that regard.

The Steelers and Patriots rule the AFC North and East respectively largely on Hall of Fame QBs. The underappreciated Ben Roethlisberger (4,251 yds 28TDs 14 ints) will have to keep the offense going in Bell’s absence. Pittsburgh is still the class of their division although this could be the last year on that perch. This situation with LeVeon Bell will linger all season. The back and forth between Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey could prove disruptive to team chemistry once Bell joins the team.

This is how The Chancellor of Football’s crystal ball shapes up for 2018. It will be the L.A. Chargers traveling to Atlanta to play for this trophy:

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Armchair Coordinator – What To Do with Khalil Mack in Week 1 v. Green Bay

For those of you new to Taylor Blitz Times we usually offer a parallel to current events with an episode from a generation or so ago. When the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to Chicago The Chancellor of Football dubbed it “The dumbest trade of a defensive player in 30 years!” To what am I referring to and what significance does it have now?

Khalil Mack tilts the field in the NFC North

Well in 1981 the San Diego Chargers were at an impasse with Pro Bowl Defensive End Fred Dean. Yes over contract issues and Dean held out and Charger Owner Gene Klein decided to trade Dean to an NFC “have not” in the San Francisco 49ers/ At that point a team that had not made the playoffs in 9 years and had never appeared in a Super Bowl. It was an attempt to punish Dean that backfired badly.

Well right before the 5th week of the NFL season in 1981 the trade was consummated and Dean was a 49er. Without any chance to prepare Dallas OT Pat Donavan was across from a defensive terrorist. Dean wound up with 3 sacks and several hurries, one of which a Ronnie Lott interception in a 45-14 win. Not bad for a team that had lost 4 straight to Dallas including a 59-14 loss just 2 seasons before. An also ran whose last chance in a championship game had been thwarted by their bully had now turned the tables.

The field tilted because of a pass rusher added late their opponents weren’t prepared for. It worked for those ’81 49ers who went on to Super Bowl XVI and Charles Haley and the ’92 Cowboys who went on to Super Bowl XXVII. Now am I saying the Bears are off to win the Super Bowl?? Time will tell and I have seen this happen beyond these two examples.

All of a sudden the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year & NFL Defensive Player of the Year lands in an NFC North without a Pro Bowl Tackle and you don’t think it will be an issue??

Well since the 2010 NFC Championship Game when the Packers won 23-10 in Soldier Field, Chicago is 2-12 against “The Pack” and QB Jay Cutler was laughed out of the division. All of that humiliation has to fuel this journey into Soldier Field. They’re going to have to play a conservative game and it’s imperative they steal a few possessions in this game.

Not only do they have to find a way to get 1st round draft pick Roquan Smith on the field, they have to play their wildcard in Khalil Mack.

Mack after sacking Brady last year.

In this game its best to keep Mack from thinking and send him nearly every play after Aaron Rodgers. To ensure the Packers can’t slide the line to him, run combo blitzes from the strong side into the face of Rodgers.

One adjustment is to slide TE Jimmy Graham to chip Mack. If Graham was a good blocker he would still be in Seattle. Rodgers needs him downfield where he creates mismatches. If they keep him in it slows Green Bay’s passing game.

However in “Nickle” and “Dime” situations I would intermittently flip flop him as a pass rushing end and run those same combo blitzes. Why?? If you have watched Raider games he has rushed from both the strong and weak side.

In one of his greatest games, Mack’s Raiders gave the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers the loss that knocked them out of the playoffs. All plays from the strong side where the 2nd best Tackle is normally platooned. First a 6 yard interception for a TD to put the Raiders up 24-7. Then later when clinging to a 35-32 lead had this sack and forced fumble from the strong side to close the game out:

At some point the Bears have to get tired of being sick and tired. Its time to go attack with your new weapon. You have tilted the field and have a great pass rusher to possibly turn this game.

Many Packer fans will claim “Well Rodgers practices against Clay Matthews and this game is in Lambeau.” Yet you forget the 2015 Denver Broncos won Super Bowl L and in week 14 hosted the Oakland Raiders and guess what happened? Mack starred in a 15-12 loss when he garnered 5 sacks and kept Oakland close. A bravura performance that set him up for the accolades he received in 2016. First…with Taylor Blitz Times….then the national media who were late to the party.

Is Mack a Hall of Famer like Charles Haley and Fred Dean to whom he has been compared in this article? He is well on his way….and remember when it comes to 3-4 OLBs…. the original in Robert Brazile and Kevin Greene with the most sacks, The Chancellor has advocated and saw their inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when few thought they would.

Hall of Famer Fred Dean w/ The Chancellor in 2018.

No one gets to lay a greater claim. No one…so don’t even attempt it. However I did run into one Hall of Fame pass rusher last month in Canton.

Chicago… your mission …should you choose to accept it:

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Legend of The Fall: Max McGee

One of the most interesting arguments that persists are how many of the Green Bay Packers from the ’60s can make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? Now if you ask Packer fans they believe they all should go. This belies the truth of the matter except when you look at the accolades many of them earned during their careers.

Max McGee only made one Pro Bowl although he played on 5 world championship teams.  Yet even when you take a look at Packer greats you would consider on the bubble, they still stack up with the contemporaries of their time.

  • Max McGee- 345 rec. 6,346 yards 50 TDs *1 Pro Bowl
  • Gary Collins – 331 rec. 5,299 yards 70 TDs *2 Pro Bowls **3 All Pros
  • Del Shofner – 349 rec. 6,470 yards 51 TD *5 Pro Bowls **5 All Pros
  • Raymond Berry – 631 rec. 9,275 yards 68 TDs *6 Pro Bowls **3 All Pros

Of course these are only his fellow NFL receivers yet look at his numbers compared to former Giant Shofner. He went over 1,000 yards on 4 occasions where Max never did. Yet over his last 4 seasons he caught 54 passes and fell off dramatically. McGee did as well with only 48 receptions his final 4 years yet career wise statistically stayed with him with a steadier career.

Now McGee didn’t score as often as Gary Collins yet he had a much higher per catch avg (18.5 yds – 16 yds) over their careers. As you can see he finished with 1,047 yards more than Collins. These men all played more than 10 seasons and played for the league or Super Bowl championship 3 times, well 2 in Collins case.

Berry’s numbers are out there and he is the only Pro Football Hall of Fame member of this group. Yet he along with Shofner played in the most pass conscience offenses of their day.  Johnny Unitas, who threw to Berry, was the 1st 3,000 yard QB and threw for a league record 32 TDs in 1962. Shofner was catching passes from Y.A. Tittle who broke Unitas touchdown record with 36 in 1963.

McGee played in a run heavy offense as the Packers swept to league titles in ’61 and ’62 yet the film coming up makes it seem as though he only had Super Bowl I. His best season was the ’61 campaign when he caught 51 passes for 883 and 7 scores. Its possible he could have made it to 1,000 yards had he played all 14 games.

When looking back on his career it was a lot more than his performance in Super Bowl I. He did catch a 35 yard bomb which was the key play in the 3rd quarter scoring drive that put Super Bowl II out of reach.

McGee had a steady career not a spectacular one. If falls short of the Pro Football Hall of Fame but he definitely had an incredible football journey.

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Legendary Days: Clint Longley Saves Dallas On Thanksgiving

Within every team there are players harboring Walter Mitty fantasies about answering the call and stepping off the bench and having a great game in the absence of a star player. Yet rarely does it happen and even less so in an important game. Enter Clint Longley…

Clint Longley lets one rip.

In 1974 the Dallas Cowboys were a team in transition. This was the twilight as the stars faded from the team known as “Next Year’s Champions” and developing shooting stars which would see the Cowboys be anointed “America’s Team.” Running backs Calvin Hill & Walt Garrison, Hall of Fame DT and 1st draft pick in team history Bob Lilly, SS Cornell Green were all in their final season in Dallas. Even former starting QB Craig Morton who had been embattled in competing for the starting job for years with Roger Staubach had been dealt away in week 6.

The football gods would have Morton and Dallas meet again in an upcoming Super Bowl …*ahem* but that is another story for another time.

Yet this aging team staggered into their annual Turkey Day Bowl where they would face NFC East nemesis Washington. George Allen’s “Over The Hill Gang” was 4-3 with Tom Landry’s group dating back the last 3 years. One of which Dallas was Super Bowl VI champions and they split with the Redskins then. Where was the 1 win lead by Washington gained?? Knocking off the defending champion Cowboys in the 1972 NFC Championship Game 26-3.

So this team had Dallas number and they knew each other inside and out. In fact the Redskins had beaten Staubach and company 2 weeks before this fateful match-up.

When you look back this could have been the most important game in Cowboys history. Having leaned on a rookie that was one of Gil Brandt and the Cowboys’ brass “finds”, did it lend to a more relaxed attitude toward younger players?? Remember it was the next season in 1975 where they threw caution to the wind and they went into the season with 12 rookies on the roster. “The Dirty Dozen” and they made it all the way to Super Bowl X. This was when names like “Too Tall” Jones, Henderson, Randy White and Harvey Martin stepped to the fore leading to 3 Super Bowls in a 4  year period where they became known as “America’s Team.”

Another reason this game was so important in Cowboys history, the very next year Dallas found themselves in a hopeless situation in the ’75 playoffs in Minnesota. After converting a 4th and 17 to the 50 yard line with :44 left. Staubach hit Drew Pearson with “The Hail Mary” to win that game 17-14. Why are we mentioning this here?? Well Staubach asked Pearson to adjust the “16 route” to the same “in and up” referring to this famous touchdown the year before between Longley and Pearson. With this 2nd miraculous playoff finish (1st the comeback in 72 against San Fran) Staubach was now known for them and ascending to legendary status.

Upon further review, another of Gil Brandt’s finds came across this where you can see Longley must have been a special player at Abilene Christian. He was on the AP Little All America 2nd team right next to Walter Payton

Notice all the future Cowboys that came off this All America team from small schools.

Yet for one brief moment when America was watching, Clint Longley had one of the most improbable rags to riches individual Cinderella games in NFL history.

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Robert Brazile Should Be in The Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Dr. DoomOriginally Published 2, March 2011 w/ Postscript 21, August 2018 

There are many former NFL players swept into the dustbin of history who aren’t given their due. There are those that are victims of where they play as much as who they lost to that defined how they are remembered historically by the sporting press.

Enter Robert Brazille.  During the late 1970s the Houston Oilers were overshadowed by the perennial champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the players that comprised those teams that bested them in the ’78 and ’79 AFC Championship games.

Whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the greatest strong side outside linebackers in Jack Ham in a 4-3 defense, the Houston Oilers fielded the epitome of the weakside linebacker in Robert Brazile for the 3-4 defense.  Yet we must go back to NFL rule changes earlier in the decade that necessitated changes that had repercussions for years to come.

The 1974 NFL season saw several rule changes, kickoffs were moved back to the 35 yard line, goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone and the hash marks were narrowed on the field.  This brought the necessity for more speed to cover additional field at outside linebacker, where a new type of player was needed.  Enter the thought process of deciding if it was best to go after the passer or cover the flank from the outside linebacker position.

Several teams adopted the “53 defense” that the perennial champion  Miami Dolphins instituted part time which saw DT Bill Heinz replaced with LB Bob Matheson, who wore #53, and could rush the passer as well as drop back into coverage. This change from 3 linebackers to 4 linebackers clogged the underneath passing routes.  Many teams that were desperate for a winner went for this new tactical defensive adaptation of the old’50’s  “Oklahoma” Bud Wilkinson defense full time.  The 3-4 was just the old “Wilkinson 5-2” which had the two ends take their hand off the ground and become trackers.

Robert Brazile was the first truly great outside linebacker that was based out of the 3-4 alignment and was the start of a new breed of linebacker.  He was the 1975 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and broke the mold for what was expected from the outside linebacker position. He took home 5 defensive and rookie of the year honors. Before him, the Jack Ham 6’1 215 lbs outside LB, was the prototypical build, Brazile was the breaking of that mold weighing in at 6 ft 3 inches and 235 lbs. More like Bobby Bell and David Robinson from the 1960s.

He was strong enough to take on offensive tackles and tight ends at the point of attack, speed to chase down ball carriers from behind and power to rush the passer.  Brazile was the only player to make All-Pro from 1976-1980 at any position and was the player that the late George Young envisioned when he drafted North Carolina’s Lawrence Taylor.

This talent, who was a collegiate teammate of Walter Payton, played at a time where sacks weren’t recorded as a statistic. It wasn’t until 1982 when sacks became official stats. Had this happened earlier, Brazile could have gained more acclaim as the best outside linebacker of his era.  In fact do you realize Robert Brazile is a member of the all decade team of the 1970s as voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? In fact he’s on their 2nd all decade team right next to Jack Lambert who is inducted, and remains the only linebacker within that group, not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An injustice that needs to be corrected.

Again Robert Brazile was the prototype to the heavier more athletic linebacker, in a 3-4 defense, bred to cover a wider field circa 1974 to the present, that played with an intensity that Lawrence Taylor,  Andre Tippett, Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, and E.J. Junior carried into 1980’s stardom.  Yet that notoriety started because Lawrence Taylor landed in New York and the sporting press lauded him as the greatest defensive player ever.  Rightfully so… If that’s the case, what do you call or gauge the 7 time Pro Bowl, member of the All Decade team of the 70’s, 5 consecutive year All Pro linebacker selection he replaced and was patterned after??

Brazile,Robert4The biggest difference is the Oilers didn’t realize what they had and should have sent him crashing off the corner more. He should have been blitzing 40 – 50% of the time. Even though statistics on sacks weren’t kept until 1982, he finished that year with 6.5 sacks when the strike shortened the year to 9 games. It was the last of his 7 straight trips to Hawaii.

Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile, an all time great that should not be swept into the dustbin of history because he played in Houston and not Dallas.  The fact that the sporting press has failed to stand up for a great player who didn’t play for a great team or self promoted gives way to why we see those players who do.

Understand this, the next time you see Clay Matthews Jr., James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley blitz off the corner from a 3-4 linebacker spot, you’re watching what started with Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazile in 1975 and not Lawrence Taylor and 1981.  For the Hall of Fame, I present Robert Brazile… an all time classic.

Postscript August 21, 2018: Just a few weeks removed from a glorious trip to Canton. He was presented by his father and Brazile let us know how he had lost the love of football and now the game was showing him it loved him back.

my.spot.brazile.inductionIt was great to hear Lawrence Taylor share the phrase “He was LT before LT” …now where had we heard that before?? Even Black College Football Hall of Fame LB Thomas Henderson was in the house for Brazile’s induction and The Chancellor got to catch up to him.

brazile.chancellorIts an honor for me that Brazile was the very 1st player written about in this series of all players who belonged in Canton who had yet to make it. Keep in mind when Brazile went into The Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in 2016 the words of this article before this postscript was read to introduce him on that June night. It was great to catch up to him late in the evening after The Gold Jacket Dinner at the hotel and again at the airport as we were all leaving Canton.

brazile.lockerCongratulations on your induction and I told you I’d be there. You’re forever in the Pro Football Hall of Fame now.

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