2019 NFC North Previews & Predictions

Welcome to the 2019 NFL round robin version of “Be Careful What You Wish For?” No division has had its teams decide to go down a given path then have to ask themselves if they have bitten off more than they could chew. Over in Packerland Aaron Rodgers questioned the game planning of Mike McCarthy and became downright ambivalent. Now he’s already made grumblings about new caoach Matt LaFleur’s decision to hold joint practices. Not exactly the way to show unity with the new coaching regime establishing a new culture.

Then off to Chicago where the NFC North defending champions entered last year’s playoffs, and the fear The Chancellor had “Would Coach Nagy call too cutesy a game in blustery conditions and cost the Bears a playoff game?”

Then came this nonsense on a 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter of the Wild Card Game at home against the Eagles:

Wouldn’t you know that ill fated 2 point conversion is the difference between the NFL’s #3 ranked defense going to New Orleans in the divisional round. Why not run former RB Jordan Howard on the 2 pt conversion vs a shovel pass in frigid conditions?? Remember him?? The 6’0 224 lb running back nicknamed “Bulldozer?”

Shovel pass to a 165 lb WR Taylor Gabriel at the goal line?? That is too cutesy…

This was the difference between winning a playoff by 1 and losing by 1…17-16 well that and Cody Parkey’s missed field goal at the end of the game. Then turnaround and trade your power back to the NFC rival Eagles who just beat you in the playoffs?? Who does Chicago give the ball to for the tough yards. On that ill fated 2 point conversion that was Khalil Mack motioning out of the backfield. What did I say about cutesy play calling??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. Minn. Vikings 12-4** (Homefield)
  2. Chicago Bears 9-7
  3. Green Bay Packers 6-10
  4. Detroit Lions 5-11

Watching all this is the division’s best team in the Minnesota Vikings. The national press and pressure is off of QB Kirk Cousins who didn’t live up to expectations after signing a huge contract to come over from Washington. As a team they fell from grace after an NFC Championship visit in 2017.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the smoke Cousins completed 425 of 606 passes for 4,298 yards 30 TDs and 10 picks and has the best WR tandem in Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen. All Diggs (102 rec / 1,021 yds/ 9 TDs) and Thielen (113 rec / 1,373 yds/ 9 TDs) did was power the 13th best passing attack with room for improvement. There were 87 missed connections on passes that short circuited drives forcing punts and disrupted offensive rhythm in games. Cousins is a beta quarterback however this is the spot where he performs without expectations.

This is also the year Dalvin Cook has his break out year now that he is 2 years removed from a knee reconstruction. The same time frame Jamal Lewis ran for 2,000 and a year shorter than Adrian Peterson ran for his 2,000. Not to say Cook is going for 2K, just illustrating this is that explosive year post surgery and a 1,400 yard season is within reach.

Keep in mind the Vikings field the 4th best defense in all of football. This could vault to a number one status if Cook and the running game dominate time of possession. LBs Anthony Barr and Eddie Kendricks need to have great seasons against the run and covering speedy backs and crossing receivers.

Smith intercepting a pass in last year’s 17-16 wildcard loss to Philly.

Chicago is going to field an even better defense although their statistics will be skewed with an offense that won’t possess the football as it did last year. Not only is defending Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack going to be in game shape week 1, Roquan Smith is ready to leap into player of the year status himself. Wearing #58 is like watching Wilber Marshall reincarnated and making plays all over the field.

Smith will now have his first complete offseason to get ready for 2019. In a year he didn’t make the Pro Bowl, he led the Bears with 121 tackles with 5 sacks and 1 pick. In the Wildcard he took an interception 60 yards for a touchdown that was called back when he was ruled down by contact.

Danny Trevathan was second in tackles (102 / 2 sacks/ 2 ints) roam the intermediate passing lanes with Smith. Together they knocked down an additional 17 passes.

Mack is the only 2 time TBTDPoY and still lose in a division with no pro bowl tackles.

Keep in mind these hunters are behind Pro Bowl and All Pro Khalil Mack, Pro Bowl DT Akiem Hicks, and both Pro Bowl and All Pro S Eddie Jackson & CB Kyle Fuller had the same accolades. This bunch will play for a new coordinator in 2019 but expect the same results. This overall is an incarnation of the 85 & 86 Bears who endured a coordinator change and will have that type of impact.

The problem is this defense will be let down by the offense who traded their hammer (RB Jordan Howard) and accounts reporting Mitch Trubisky has been off in training camp. Can Tarik Cohen carry the load at RB?? Taylor Blitz doesn’t think so. Great change of pace guy but doesn’t have the rocks in his pockets to last the season. Quick and flashy but doesn’t run with body lean to get tough yards.

Chicago is much better starting Mike Davis #25, who is 30lbs heavier than Cohen, and ran for 514 yards on 114 carries last year. Without a prominent running game to rest this defense puts the ball in Trubisky’s hands. Opponents have to watch for constant “jet sweeps” and “bubble screens”.. trickery plays where the propensity for fumbles and issues will arise. Taking this team back to the pack.

Speaking of the Pack, for the first time we can say this team is in a rebuilding year in many a moon. Rodgers is still the staple at QB and has a younger team around him than in year’s past. Entering year 15 it seems like just yesterday this was the fresh faced QB with so many years to come… now he is where Brett Bavre had been.

In 2018 Rodgers enjoyed a season where he completed 372 of 597 passes for 4,442 yards and 25 TDs to just 2 picks. However he was short circuited by a defense ranked 22nd against the run and 18th overall. Despite his best efforts he was forced to come onto the field in deficit situations pointwise and momentum-wise.

How do we know this??  The Packers were 22nd when it came to time of possession. It’s a catch 22 where Green Bay wasn’t in position to work on their running game if they wanted to.

By the way did you see the last preseason game against the Ravens? They gave up 36 carries for 171 yards and 4.6 yards per carry. You can’t win football games that way as the defense was pushed off the ball all night. Yes it’s preseason but you can’t turn on and off the ability to knock your opponent back. A staple in football for more than 100 years. 2019 will look much the same way as this will be a rebuilding year and defensive leaders and playmakers need to emerge.

In 2019 it’s all Minnesota Vikings and they will go deep in the playoffs.

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On Any Given Sunday: The Lions Historic Upset of Green Bay in 1962

Unlike any other sport, football has an ebb and flow where a wild swing of momentum can feel like a psunami for the team the tide is against. When Bert Bell, former NFL Commissioner, announced in a call with the press “On any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other team.” he had to have this game in mind. Now of course he said this while he was the NFL’s head honcho in the 1950’s, he wouldn’t be around for this game in ’62 with his passing in ’59.

Well as the 1960’s beckoned change had come to the NFL. The league office moved from Philadelphia to New York after Bell’s passing with a new Commissioner in Pete Rozelle. The Colts, who had ruled the closing of the 50s with back to back championships had fallen from grace as the doormat Packers had emerged from the shadows.

Doormat?? In 1957 and 1958, which were the two years before Vince Lombardi was plucked from New York as coach, Green Bay finished 3-9 and 1-10-1 respectively. Then their  meteoric rise to a winning season in ’59 and appearance in the NFL Championship in 1960 with a 17-13 loss to the Eagles.

Lombardi’s team stormed to the ’61 title with a 37-0 win over the New York Giants establishing a new era where they became the league’s dominant team. As defending champions they stormed to a 10-0 record in the most powerful start to a season in NFL history to that point.

Considering they had outscored their opponents 309-74 which included 3 shutouts while holding 7 teams to 10 points or less. Lombardi’s men seemed destined to repeat as champion & traveled to claim their 11th consecutive victim 11 on Thanksgiving Day in the motor city.

What is lost to history is how great an era of football the Lions had enjoyed during the 1950’s. They had won back to back championships in 1952 & ’53 over the Cleveland Browns. Although they won just as many championships (3) in the decade it was the Browns who were known as the Team of the ’50’s.

Head Coach George Wilson was rebuilding the Lions after a losing season in 1959. He succeeded Buddy Parker and led the Lions to their last title in ’57 as a rookie coach yet had to start anew at quarterback. Hall of Famer Bobby Layne had been traded to Pittsburgh and bullpen ace Tobin Rote was out of football. Detroit then traded for QB Milt Plum who had been a 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Browns to lend stability to the offense in 1962.

Although they had lost earlier in the season at Lambeau 9-7, the Lions were riding a 4 game winning streak and were 8-2 heading into their annual Thanksgiving Day game which they had played in since 1934.

The 8-2 Lions hosting the 10-0 defending NFL Champion Packers in front of a national audience:

This 26-14 win by the Lions was the only blemish on what became the most powerful NFL championship season up to that time. Green Bay finished 13-1 and beat the NY Giants for a 2nd straight NFL title 16-7 in cold blustery Yankee Stadium. They had outscored their opponents 415-148 which was just short of the 144 points allowed which was the all time record defensively. They had scored the most points and given up the fewest for the season. Hall of Fame RB Jim Taylor had led the league in rushing with 1,474 yards and an NFL record 19TDs. Even the ’72 Dolphins can’t measure up to this type of dominance.

As for the ’62 Lions, they finished 11-3 with a roster featuring 6 Pro Bowl players and 4 Hall of Fame players in Dick “Night Train” Lane, MLB Joe Schmidt, FS Yale Lary, and Dick Lebeau off of the defense. Many feel DT Alex Karras and DT Roger Brown also deserve to be in Canton. This was one of the greatest defenses assembled whose legacy was derailed by Karras’ year long suspension for gambling in 1963. The Lions fell to 5-8-1 in that year and never threatened the Packers for supremacy in the NFL’s Western Conference the rest of the decade.

However on one Thanksgiving Day in front of a national audience this defense played a lights out game and derailed the Packer’s perfect season.

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Missing Rings: The 1995 Detroit Lions – Curse of Bobby Layne Extended

Okay, before we get started we have to share something with you…

While it’s widely known the Dallas Cowboys were the team of the 90’s, do you know who held a 3-1 record against them during the years 1991-1995??

When we use hyperbole in sports we always talk about a team as a sum greater than its parts. You find this to be true in all championship teams and in the near champions. When you look back its amazing how teams have seasons where all their stars have career years at the same time. Yet something happens to the psyche of a team when they come up short. All the parts are still there, things look the same, however they cant rekindle the feeling nor winning ways of that lost season.   Enter the 1995 Detroit Lions

Have you ever heard of “The Curse of Bobby Layne?” He was the last quarterback to lead the Lions to the NFL championship and he did it 3 times in the Fabulous ’50s. Once he was an aging & injured player, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On his way out, the embattled future Hall of Famer quipped “The Lions won’t win for 50 years!” Well that was 1958.

Over the next 4 decades the franchise mired in mediocrity due to the fact they fell short constantly at quarterback. Only once in 1971 did the Lions have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Greg Landry since Layne’s departure. From 1957-1990 Detroit didn’t muster a single playoff win. Their teams toiled in anonymity with very few players of distinction during many of those years.

However with the ’89 NFL draft the Lions drafted Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. The greatest running back in NFL history. With such a breathtaking runner dominating the marquee, the Lions could hand the ball off and let Sanders break ankles as he routinely rushed for 100 yard games. Great for highlights not so much for winning as Detroit began 2-9 in his rookie season. Then Sanders exploded for 28 car 145 yds and another 45 yds receiving in a 13-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Cleveland. At the time the Browns were a perennial playoff team in the middle of 3 trips to the AFC Championship Game in a 4 year period. Propelled by that performance the Lions finished 7-9 with a 5 game winning streak.

To capitalize on their remarkable runner they needed to improve on journeyman QB Bob Gagliano and improve the quality of the roster. In 1989, Rodney Peete was a rookie QB on the team yet the Lions inexplicably followed his selection by drafting another in Andre Ware the following year. Desperate to develop a quarterback they also brought in Erik Kramer in 1991. Coach Wayne Fontes never settled on a QB and played the hot hand at the time. This retarded the growth of all 3 as the Lions staggered through a 6-10 1990 and began 1991 with a 6-4 record.

Benny Blades, from The [[_]] was a defensive force

The team rallied through tragedy as they played on and dedicated the rest of the season to G Mike Utley who had been paralyzed against the Rams. Offering the same “thumbs up” as Utley gave when he was taken from the field on a gurney, the team rallied winning their last 6 to finish 12-4. Winners of the NFC Central, they hosted the Wildcard Dallas Cowboys and destroyed them 38-6.

They fell in the 1991 NFC Championship 41-10 to the eventual champion Washington Redskins. The reality was they had overachieved on emotion and were short on personnel. Aside from the incomparable Sanders, only T Lomas Brown on the offensive side of the ball, made the Pro Bowl in ’90 and ’91. The defense had 3 Pro Bowlers in SS Bennie Blades (The [[_]]), LB Chris Spielman, and NT Jerry Ball.

Over the next few years management grew increasingly frustrated with Coach Fontes inability to groom a quarterback. Especially with the emergence of Brett Favre with the division rival Packers. With the signing of DE Reggie White at the advent of Free Agency in ’92, they had become the preeminent team in the NFC Central. For good measure Favre started his playoff run as a face of the future with a ’93 wildcard win over Detroit 28-24.

Management blew up the 3 QB rotation of Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, and Andre Ware by releasing them. They signed Scott Mitchell to a 3 year $11 million contract after he had admirably filled in for an injured Dan Marino in Miami. He was tall (6’6) could see over the line and seemingly make all the throws… matched with emerging wideout Herman Moore and a reliable #2 in Brett Perriman with Sanders in the mix?? They could be something. All were under 30 and hitting their prime. They had some growing pains that first year with Mitchell however veteran backup Dave Krieg had been brought in and 94 saw another wildcard birth.

Detroit showed flashes as they began slowly (again) mustering a 3-6 record precipitating management issuing an ultimatum to Coach Fontes. Anything less than the playoffs was unacceptable. The underlying tone was Fontes would be fired if they didn’t make the posteason. Rather than turn the game to Sanders as they had in years past, they kept honing their new 3 receiver approach… As for Sanders:

The ink was already drying where most sportswriters mentioned Scott Mitchell on the list of biggest free agent busts: Not so fast guys!! In their 0-3 start, Detroit scored a total of 47 points. The team emerged from the ownership ultimatum a focused group that roared back winning their final 7 games. In doing so, the Lions averaged 32 points per game and finished with the league’s #1 offense. Had they kept that scoring rate up for the whole season they could have challenged the NFL record for points. They still made NFL history though.

Herman Moore and Brett Perriman became the first teammates in NFL history to record over 100 receptions in the same season. Moore broke the NFL all time receptions record in a season with 123 for 1,686 yards and 14 TDs. Perriman (the [[_]]) emerged with 108 grabs for 1,488 yards and 9 touchdowns. This was the only time in league history where 2 receivers from the same team went over 1,400 yards receiving in the same season. Even 3rd receiver Johnny Morton got into the act with 44 rec. 590 yards & 8 scores.

The video already let you know Sanders ran for 1,500 yards & 11 touchdowns on just 314 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry was tops in the league. Why the remarkable turn-around?? Scott Mitchell!!

In a career year Mitchell bound all this talent together with a 4,000 yard season & a team record 32 touchdowns and should have made the Pro Bowl. The only reason he didn’t make the Pro Bowl was he was Scott Mitchell and not Troy Aikman (who did in ’95)… all about reputation:

  • Scott Mitchell 346 of 583 4,338 yds 32 TDs 12 ints (2.6 TD to int. ratio)
  • Troy Aikman 280 of 342 3,342 yds 16 TDs 7 ints (2.2 TD to int.ratio)

What argument could be made?? Well Aikman and the Cowboys were a running team. Wait a minute…didn’t Barry run for 1,500?? This team was flying into the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Mitchell had become the quarterback the franchise had been looking for since Bobby Layne. The curse had been lifted!! They had their eyes on those Dallas Cowboys who they believed they could beat. In 94′ they handed the back to back champion their first loss of the season 20-17 where Sanders blistered the #1 defense for 194 yards in Texas Stadium.

All they had to do was get through Philadelphia on Wildcard Weekend and they would travel to Dallas for the divisional round. There they could prove they were among the league’s elite.

With their eyes fixed on the Cowboys they forgot to close their mouth about the Eagles. In this case T Lomas Brown, who guaranteed a win in the Detroit newspapers which changed the temperament and the tone of the game. Right then “The Curse of Bobby Layne” and the ghosts of Detroit Lions past arose.

A raucous crowd awaited them in Philadelphia as the Lions were booed and taunted from the moment they got off the plane. Once inside the friendly confines of Veteran’s Stadium a fired up Philly defense attacked Scott Mitchell mercilessly. He was hit twice in the first drive and sacked by Mike Mamula. The Eagles taunted him and he disintegrated under the pressure. The cool confidence shown all season vanished as he threw 4 interceptions and was benched midway through the 3rd quarter. By then the score had swelled to 51-7 as a nationwide audience watched in disbelief.

How was this happening with an Eagle team with 1995’s 25th ranked offense?? The 4th ranked Philly defense did swarm Sanders holding him to 40 yards rushing but it was the curse. How else could you explain a team winning 58-37 after it had been outscored (318 for / 330 against) all season?? Remember when they gave up on the 3 quarterbacks and let go of Rodney Peete?? Well he just so happened to be playing for the Eagles…his 3rd team in 3 years.

In ’95 he was a backup and came in after Randall Cunningham had been benched and threw for 8 TDs v 14 interceptions. This is what plagued his Lions career. Well in this game he channeled his inner Bobby Layne and played flawless football. Going 17 of 25 for 270 yards 3 TDs and no picks. In fact with :02 left in the 1st half up 31-7, he completed a Hail Mary 43 yard pass to Rob Carpenter 38-7 at the half…ball game!!

No NFC playoff game from 1970 to this day has seen that many points…58?? Scott Mitchell the free agent savior with the #1 offense fell apart with 6 total interceptions while the QB they got rid of had a career game for the opponent?? The laughter of Bobby Layne’s ghost could be heard off in the distance.

That game was the turning point in Mitchell’s career as he never recovered. A poor ’96 where he threw for 17 TDs to 17 ints led to a 5-11 season as the offense plummeted to 20th and Head Coach Wayne Fontes was fired. Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards in 96 but they couldn’t rekindle the magic of their run the season before. The ’95 season was the statistical best as Mitchell, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman all had the best year of their careers.

One month later they watched the Dallas Cowboys win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. In ’93 and ’94 they lost to Green Bay in the Wild Card just as they did to the Eagles in ’95. Each of those times they would have played Dallas in the playoffs and possibly altered football history. They had a 3-1 record over Dallas during those years and league wide respect beating them again in the playoffs was right there for the taking. However there is this curse lingering over this franchise…

By the way…still don’t believe in curses?? Guess what day present owner William Clay Ford’s bid was approved to buy the franchise?? Try November 22, 1963!! Folks I can’t make this stuff up!!

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

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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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