Wildcard Weekend: Seattle Seahawks vs. Detroit Lions

Up in the Pacific Northwest the playoffs will be underway when the Lions enter Qwest Field as an underdog. After a 5 game winning streak against non playoff teams, Detroit fell to 3 straight teams who are in the postseason. In fact they went 0-4 against teams that made the playoffs so it begs the question… how will they win in Seattle??

Stafford's injured hand in a glove.

Stafford’s injured hand in a glove.

Interestingly Seattle isn’t exactly streaking into this match-up either. Not only did they finish 3-3 over the last 6 games but the vaunted defense gave up more than 30 points in the last two losses. Some may point to the loss of FS Earl Thomas who was lost for the season. Yet reality is setting in how plucked and depleted their defense has become over the last few years due to free agency.

Seattle comes in with the NFL’s 5th ranked defense however LB Bruce Irvin and Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith are playing in Oakland. CB Brandon Browner is out of football, DE Clemons is in Jacksonville just to name a few are missing from the XLVIII championship unit. Now Thomas injury adds to this mix although several holdovers remain.

Surprisingly 15 of the 37 sacks Detroit has allowed have come on the road. This tells us Matt Stafford will work the short passing game and keep the Seahawk pass rush at bay. The Lions haven’t won a game since Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand and their last game outdoors?? They only scored 6 points in New York. They have to  possess the ball and own time of possession.

russellwilsonRussell Wilson and the Seattle offense has struggled to establish an identity all season. Without his scrambling to aid the offense in getting 1st downs they have run by committee and have yet to be inconsistent. Ever since CJ Prosise injured his shoulder the team has shuttled in a series of backs. In fact the Seahawks leading rusher is Christine Michael (469 yds) who has been cut and plays for the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks are vulnerable but Wilson should make a few plays to bail his team out today. He has a penchant to start scrambling before realizing his injured ankle hampers him and taking big sacks. He can’t do that today. One fumble on his side of the field can give the Lions life.

Seattle should squeak by in this game 23-12. Having lost 3 of their last 6 along with 3 road games where they couldn’t score 10 points, they are vulnerable. They may have a 1 week reprieve with a win this week.

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2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

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Legends Of The Fall: Barry Sanders

As I watched Barry Sanders A Football Life, they began the episode with Sanders reading his retirement. The closure gained from it was immense. It wasn’t as though I was still sitting here thinking he was coming back after 15 years. We’ve already witnessed his induction into the Hall of Fame, but to hear his words publicly, laid to rest those feelings and emotions that lay dormant from the years immediately following his retirement. He was simply the greatest running back ever in the Chancellor of Football’s estimation.

Sanders with defenders left in his wake.

Sanders with defenders left in his wake.

To a prior generation of NFL historians, Jim Brown was the measuring stick yet when you think about it, he wouldn’t have been as effective against modern defenses. He played at a time when the NFL didn’t play black players at linebacker or safety. Brown was bigger and more imposing than the players he faced which wouldn’t have been the case had he played decades later. Brown was 230 lbs at the time when defensive linemen were 260 lbs themselves.

Sanders’ speed and elusiveness translated to any and every era in NFL history. He also did it against better defensive athletes. He played against Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, Derrick Thomas, the Kevin Greene’s, Chris Doleman’s, Keith Millard’s, and Howie Long’s of the more modern game. Terrorists who could swallow offensive linemen, split the double team and had the athleticism to catch a back from behind before he could get to the corner.

With teams now putting the best athletes on the defensive side of the field, Sanders used to terrify them with his start and stop jump cuts. No offensive player over the last 30 years put more fear in coordinators or defensive players. He could make a move and leave a defender embarrassed and grasping at air. Leave them with “broken ankles” as we used to say. Simply put he’s the greatest runner the NFL has ever seen.

In 1995 Sanders conceded his role as the sole focus in the Lions offense. Not only did they become the NFL’s #1 offense they became the first team in history to have 2 receivers amass 100 receptions in the same season. Scott Mitchell (346 of 583 4,338 yds 32TDs / 12 ints) and Brett Perriman (108 rec. 1,488 yds 9TDs) should have made the Pro Bowl. Herman Moore (123 rec 1,686 yds 14TDs) did make it to Hawaii. Moore set the NFL record for receptions in a single season while these 3 put up 4 other team records. Why is this being brought up when this article is about Barry Sanders?? In this crucible of talent he still amassed 1,500 yards 11 TDs while creating this book of highlights

Most will recall that season opener against Pittsburgh when Sanders shook fellow Hall of Famer Rod Woodson right out of his ACL with two quick moves. This following vignette covers Sanders’ last five seasons in the NFL

Did The Chancellor of Football say greatest ever runner in NFL history?? First consider the average running back’s career lasts 4 years. Then take into account the greatest runners had their highest rushing totals within those 4. Sanders ran for 2,053 in year NINE. It took Jim Brown 9 years to gain 12,312 yards rushing, where it took Sanders 10 to amass 15,269. Everyone forgets the near rushing titles to go along with the 4 he won.

In his rookie year he was 11 yards short of eclipsing Christian Okoye (1,480 to 1,470), yet told Coach Fontes to let his backup get some playing time. Okoye got his rushing title yet carried the football 90 more times than Sanders! Next case in point is the slanted description of Emmitt Smith missing the first 2 games of 1993, then coming back to win the rushing title. For every Cowboy fan that touts this, they casually omit Sanders missed the last 6 games of that season with a knee injury.

At the time of Sanders retiement, he was in striking distance of Payton to begin '99.

At the time of Sanders retiement, he was in striking distance of Payton to begin ’99.

Interesting… to think that Barry entered the NFL in ’89 and Emmitt in ’90, folks forget how big a lead Sanders had at the time of his retirement. Sanders was due to break Peyton’s record late 99, it took Emmitt another 3 1/2 years to break it. Paul Tagliabue should have got involved behind the scenes and facilitated a trade to keep Sanders playing. He blew it….

Sanders would have pushed the record to 20,000 guaranteed. As we alluded to earlier, most running backs have their greatest single season rushing total in the first 4 years of their career. Barry crossed 2,000 in year nine. Even in year 10 he wasn’t slowing down.

One of the greatest battles in NFL history in terms of effort, you need to check out the birth of the Baltimore Ravens as an elite defense in the final week of 98. Barry was trying to extend his streak of 1,500 yard seasons when late in the 4th quarter he had 1,495 yards. The next 6 or 7 carries the Ravens were determined to stop him and they fought tooth and nail. Barry didn’t make it to 1,500 but he made folks miss like no one’s business. Man I wore that tape out watching that.

We didn’t know what was happening at the time with Walter Payton’s health but the 1999 season we expected to see Sanders vault to the #1 all time rushing spot… instead we got this:

Thank goodness for the emergence of Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James because the beginning of the season didn’t feel right as Sanders’ abrupt retirement cast a pall over the start of ’99. It took years for the disappointment to go away and it was reawakened at the time Smith passed Payton.

One aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided those thrills in.

One aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided thrills in.

What was missing as a football fan and historian, I never had closure to his career. I can remember this Pro Football Almanac I purchased in the summer of 1990 and they foretold a fictitious story of Sanders crossing 15,000 yards in a decade. The Lions were supposed to be winning the Super Bowl over in Tokyo to conclude his tenth season also.

It was a very interesting take with half of it coming true. With all due respect to William Sanders, his son Barry was the greatest running back in NFL history.

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Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes

The saga that has been Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings is just heating up. Did the Minnesota Vikings do enough to show support while Peterson served his suspension??  It culminated in a shouting match at the scouting combine between team brass and Peterson’s agent. Clearly there is a disconnect and the best back in Viking history wants out.

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

The key is he said he will not take a pay cut nor will he renegotiate his contract in any fashion. So a sign and trade is out of the question. Will the Vikings be forced to cut him?? Now that he is reinstated it’s time to talk about possible destinations for the NFL’s best back. Sure his father has an idea where he wants to go but a lot can change when GMs move quickly.

1. The Arizona Cardinals – Please, please, please get the on air radio personalities out here to quit talking about Andre Ellington like he is an elite back. Never have I heard a more marginal talent talked about with such reverence. Peterson’s lifetime average of  5.0 per carry would be a serious boost here over Ellington’s paltry 3.3 yard average in 2014. If Arizona had a legitimate running game last year they may have had a deep run in the playoffs.

In all actuality, cutting DT/DE Darnell Dockett, Ted Ginn Jr, and restructuring Larry Fitzgerald’s contract has freed $15 million in cap space. The Cardinals can sell him on the weather, a stout defense, a returning Carson Palmer, and the fact the last 3 NFC representatives in the Super Bowl hail from the NFC West.  Peterson is 30 and if his intentions are to make it to a Super Bowl this is a legitimate landing spot.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

2. The Detroit Lions – This is a great landing spot for all the reasons mentioned with the Cardinals. Last year it was the Lions with the NFL’s #2 defense and only a controversial call kept Detroit from the divisional round of the playoffs. You want to talk about a big three?? Matthew Stafford, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and Adrian Peterson would be a sick combination. Keep in mind Peterson has at least 3 good years left and the Lions just cut Reggie Bush.

Another note to keep in mind is the high propensity for players to sign with a division rival to show their old team that they still have it. Emmitt Smith to the Cardinals, Thurman Thomas to the Dolphins, Lawyer Milloy & Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo, Brett Favre to the Vikings, then last year with Julius Peppers going to Green Bay and Jared Allen going to Chicago.  What better way to get back at Minnesota than to go for 200 on them??? Detroit is on the rise folks and Peterson is that missing piece.

3. New England Patriots – Now here is where folks will think The Chancellor of Football has lost it. Until I remind you when the 2003 defending champion Patriots acquired Corey Dillon…remember that??  Again Peterson is 30 with a few prime years left and just like Dillon never had a great team around him. Well in 2009 the Vikings with Favre did make it to the NFC Championship but the balance of his career has been spent with very average talent.

Peterson may be willing to take a little less for the chance to play for the game’s ultimate prize. Take a look at the long list of veterans who have signed with New England to play with Tom Brady. Look at last year alone in acquiring Darrell Revis, Brandon Browner, and Brandon LaFell.

It could even be on a 1 year proposition. Remember when Deion Sanders bypassed several 4 yr – $15-17 million contracts to sign with the 49ers for $1.1 million in ’94?? Of course the collective bargaining agreement would force the Pats to pay him a minimum around $4 million but you get the point. Bill Belichick always has an ace up his sleeve and to pull in a Peterson is within range.

4. Indianapolis Colts – After the Trent Richardson trade cost them this year’s #1 draft pick, the Colts would overpay to get Peterson. Everyone says you can get a quality running back in later rounds. Well not this team. The Colts haven’t had a running back pay off since they drafted Joseph Addai in 2007. That is 8 years ago!!

Signing Peterson would shift the balance of power in the AFC and Andrew Luck could have the weapon that would propel him to the Super Bowl. Luck has proven he can carry the organization but he needs help to topple New England. Painfully we have seen this for several years.

Adrian Peterson has a decision to make but one thing is certain, he will play with a serious chip on his shoulder this first year back. If the performance is anything like his 2012, he will get stronger by the game. He should have at least 3 prime years left as a work horse runner. That is his Super Bowl window.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Everyone, including Peterson is saying the Dallas Cowboys but lets give this some thought… Why would the Cowboys get a 30 year old runner over a 27 year old runner who just set the season record for rushing?? Why would you challenge the collective adhesiveness of the offensive line, running back, and huddle temperament with QB Tony Romo??

In reality, the Cowboys are taking a hard negotiating stance with Murray and Dez Bryant as they have with black players throughout the team’s history. Remember when Troy Aikman received a new contract for $50 million before his contract was up and Emmitt Smith had to hold out just to get $13.5 million?? Us old timers do and know several other stories…so Peterson beware. You’re just a bargaining chip to Dallas.

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Detroit Lions v Arizona Cardinals

Make no mistake about it this is a big game. It’s a proving ground where the winner will make themselves out to be an NFC heavyweight. The winner of this game will make it as far as the divisional round of the playoffs. The team that falls today will make the playoffs but will fall in the wildcard game.

NFL: SEP 13 Lions at SaintsWhile it’s endearing to think the roll of the Cardinals will continue, but without Carson Palmer this team can’t make it to the Super Bowl. Truth is Drew Stanton is a very capable backup who is 3-0 this year and was 2-1 for the Lions in 2010 in the same capacity. However right now he’s completing just 49.5% of his passes. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet but he is going to go against the #1 defense in the Lions.

This is the game Matthew Stafford and the Lions will prove their mettle with a tight win. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson has beat Patrick Peterson like a drum since they have played in the NFL. The Cardinals may try Antonio Cromartie on him some today. Detroit hasn’t been stellar on offense this year but if they didn’t have kicking woes, they would be the 8-1 team and not the Cardinals. Although 7-2 isn’t bad.

They will win today 23-14 and cement their legitimacy as an NFC favorite heading into the 2014 playoffs.

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The Soul Of The Game: Origin of The Black & Blue Division

Our Soul of the Game series is always about hitting and hitters when it comes to football. However today is a look back at NFL Films chronicling the birth of the NFC Central. An ode to the visceral side of football.

Minnesota’s Purple People Eater’s ruled the division winning it 5 times in the 7 years covered (1967-1973). The division produced two NFL champions in Lombardi’s last championship team in ’67, and the ’69 Vikings who went on to play the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. Some of the best defensive statistics in history came from these teams. Defense, cold weather and a ton of hitting.

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