For those of you who are interested, I wrote a lengthy “preview” of sorts on today’s Cincinnati at Houston Wild Card matchup for The Sports Headquarters. I mainly discussed how the Bengals have just ended a long depression by posting their second consecutive winning season for the first time in 30 years, and what needs to happen for them to end a 21 year skid without a single playoff win. You can find the entire article right here. Just want picks? I’ll do that here. I went 10-6 in the final week of the regular season and wrapped up the regular season with a 161-94-1. Four games this weekend as eight teams try to keep hope alive:
Cincinnati at Houston – Bengals
Minnesota at Green Bay – Packers
Indianapolis at Baltimore – Ravens
Seattle at Washington – Redskins
I really wanted to write something positive, something full of hope, but all I could think of was “It’s finally over.” I am relieved that this ride in the misery machine is finally over. No more losses, no more deplorable coaching decisions, and no more hope smothered by the painful weight of reality. But even that feeling of relief is short lived and is being replaced by fear. A fear of who the Browns will bring in to be the head coach and general manager next season.
I am deeply frightful of the Browns bringing in Mike Lombardi. Mostly, because I remember reading Lombardi’s post draft grades, and how he ripped current Browns GM Tom Heckert for every selection. My only solace is there wasn’t a rumor, whisper, or even a hint that the Browns were going to hire Alec Scheiner as team president. The current regime of the Browns are seasoned businessmen and I doubt they would be so loose-lipped with hiring decisions, and that the Lombardi rumors are just that, rumors by media personalities playing connect the dots with Banner’s past relationships.
Even if the new GM isn’t Lombardi, I’m still guarding myself for disappointment. I think Tom Heckert has made the best draft selections for the Browns since they returned to Cleveland, but that isn’t saying much. I know there are other GM’s that can actually pick useful players in any round, but we haven’t seen too much of that in Cleveland.
I’ve actually lost my enthusiasm in getting rid of Pat Shurmur because I’m scared of who the next coach will be. My fear is seeded in going through “growing pains” with another head coach, or worse, a retread who cannot adapt to today’s NFL.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t fully trust the new Browns regime of Banner and Haslam, and this first coaching and GM hire will pretty much dictate the way I feel about them from now on. I’m cautiously open to almost all coaches, and I’m not particular about offensive or defensive systems or even having an offensive or defensive coach.
What I am particular about is another “five year rebuilding plan” that gets shut down after two or three losing seasons. I am particular about seeing the Browns play winning football for the first time in what seems like decades.
Also, Haslam should realize that no matter what “fan enhancements” he does to the Browns stadium or whatever uniform changes he makes, ultimately do not matter. Only winning matters. The Browns fans have shown up to the stadium in freezing temperatures, only to watch their team lose. And honestly, with the exception of sporting jerseys with “I (heart) Art Modell” on them, the uniforms don’t matter either. Only winning matters.
The only change that makes a difference to me anymore, is becoming a winner. I don’t think Shurmur was the coach to steer the Browns into the playoffs, and while I think Heckert has done an excellent job, it doesn’t matter to me that he’s been fired. All I care about is that the Browns finally become a winner.
Another NFL regular season is in the books (well, for the most part, depending on when you read this), which means it’s time to hand out some fake awards. Winners are given all of the false glory and artificial bragging rights associated with awards of this magnitude. Here are the winners of 2012…
Most Valuable Player: Adrian Peterson Minnesota – Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were phenomenal this season, and Aaron Rodgers was a deserving candidate as well. But Peterson carried the Vikings – a team that won three games last season – into the playoffs despite being his team’s only healthy offensive weapon. Peterson had his best season – finishing just nine yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing yardage record – even with defenses keying on him every week. On top of all that, he’s just one year removed from a torn ACL.
Offensive Player of the Year: Peterson – Again, many quarterbacks could qualify for this, but Peterson is head and shoulders and 500 or so rushing yards above every other running back in the league. He had one of the all time great rushing seasons in league history.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt – five-technique defensive ends aren’t supposed to have the kind of impact that Watt had in 2012. With 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and an incredible 16 batted passes, Watt was the Defensive Player of the year wire-to-wire.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Andrew Luck Indianapolis – Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have both been terrific, but Luck helped take the Colts from two wins, to 11 wins and a playoff berth in his first season. Luck gets bonus points for being part of the biggest jump in team win total.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Casey Hayward Green Bay – One of the most consistent rookie defenders in the league, Hayward proved to be an effective cover man, and led all rookies in interceptions and pass breakups.
Coach of the year: Bruce Arians Indianapolis – Arians’ first taste of NFL head coaching came about due to extremely unfortunate circumstances, and he helped lead the Colts to one of the best turnarounds in league history. As an interim, Arians took over a 1-1 team, went 9-3 and steered his players through choppy waters and into the playoffs.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan Washington – Shanahan used a potent running attack led by rookies Alfred Morris and Griffin to set up a lethal downfield, play-action passing attack. When Griffin missed a game with a concussion, Shanahan stayed consistent and didn’t alter his tactics for his other rookie QB, Kirk Cousins. It became clear that both quarterbacks had been well schooled in the offense and that the team could put itself in position to win either way.
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning Denver – This time last year, many people thought Manning would retire. At the very least, few expected him to be his old self after missing an entire season and having four neck surgeries. But as the season wore on, Manning was as good as ever, finishing with the second highest passing yardage and touchdown totals of his career, and helping Denver cruise to an AFC West title.
Most Improved Player: Cecil Shorts Jacksonville – Lots of great candidates here, including Watt, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. But since 2010, Shorts has gone from Division III Mount Union, to two receptions as a rookie, to nearly 1000 receiving yards, seven touchdowns and a 17.8-yards per catch average this season. He did all of that while catching passes from Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Add a consistent quarterback to the mix and Shorts might really take off.
Least Valuable Player: John Skelton/Ryan Lindley Arizona – This would be a good place to make a Tim Tebow joke, or take a shot at Mark Sanchez, but Arizona crumbled after Kevin Kolb went down for the season. Kolb threw eight touchdown passes and three interceptions, while Skelton and Lindley combined for two TDs and 16 INTs on the season, and limited All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald more than any defensive back ever could. Things eventually got so bad that the Cardinals turned to Brian Hoyer, a player they claimed off waivers three weeks ago, to start their final game.
Today brings the end of the NFL regular season, and within a couple of days the holiday season will be over, and we’ll be trying to remember that it’s 2013 every time we have to write out a date. Seems to me that’s not as big a problem now as it was when I was a kid. First off, how often do we really need to write out dates anymore? I don’t have homework. I barely ever have to write checks. And secondly, all of the technology we use constantly tells us what time and date it is. It’s pretty hard to lose track of now. Progress is usually a good thing.
Which brings me back to the holidays. Maybe I’m being selfish here, but we haven’t seen a lot of progress in this area recently. I’m sure when Thanksgiving was started, it seemed like a very good idea to have it on Thursday. Or to always have Christmas on a specific date. When you’re a kid, who cares? They give you the day after Thanksgiving off, and they give you two weeks off during Christmas time. It’s great. But then you get old and have to travel, and all of a sudden these middle of the week holidays are not so convenient. Look, I’m not trying to be Scrooge here, but what if we just moved these holidays to always fall on a Friday or a Monday? Nobody’s ever complained about a long weekend. You move Thanksgiving to a Friday, you call the last Monday of December “Christmas Day Observed”, the first Monday of January “New Year’s Day Observed” (Don’t worry, you can still start the calendar on January 1st), et cetera, et cetera. I realize this will not help everyone out, and there will always be folks who love the tradition of the current set up, but I’m sorry – Christmas on a Tuesday or Wednesday makes things complicated. How many people had to come off a weekend, work last Monday, and then had Tuesday off? How many people have to go back to work the Friday after Thanksgiving for one lousy day, before having the next two off. It doesn’t make sense, and those days have to be some of the least productive workdays of the year. Half of the building or office is probably taking the day off, and the other half is in a food coma or hungover or had to frantically squeeze in travel time and are just plain tired. Let’s get progressive here, people. Time to start new traditions for the 21st century. Every holiday should be moved to create a long weekend. No more of this mid-week stuff. Whoever is running for president in 2016 needs to make this part of his or her platform. Time for real change that matters!
Anyway, I went 11-5 on my picks last week. I’m 151-88-1 on the year. Week 17 is usually tricky because you just never know who’s going to show up to play, but there are still a few teams with something on the line this week. Here goes nothing…
Tampa Bay at Atlanta – Falcons
New York Jets at Buffalo – Jets
Jacksonville at Tennessee – Titans
Cleveland at Pittsburgh – Steelers
Philadelphia at New York Giants – Giants
Carolina at New Orleans – Panthers
Houston at Indianapolis – Texans
Chicago at Detroit – Bears
Baltimore at Cincinnati – Ravens
Miami at New England – Patriots
Green Bay at Minnesota – Packers
Arizona at San Francisco – 49ers
Oakland at San Diego – Chargers
Kansas City at Denver – Broncos
St. Louis at Seattle – Seahawks
Dallas at Washington – Cowboys
I went 8-8 on the Week 15 NFL picks, one of my worst week’s of the season. That dropped me to 140-83-1 on the season. But if you think my picks are bad, they’re still better than Adam Schefter’s have been. I’m quite certain I just jinxed myself, so follow the Week 16 picks at your own risk…
Atlanta at Detroit – Falcons
Washington at Philadelphia – Redskins
Minnesota at Houston – Texans
Indianapolis at Kansas City – Colts
Buffalo at Miami – Dolphins
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – Steelers
St. Louis at Tampa Bay – Rams
New Orleans at Dallas – Cowboys
Tennessee at Green Bay – Packers
New England at Jacksonville – Patriots
Oakland at Carolina – Panthers
San Diego at New York Jets – Jets
Cleveland at Denver – Broncos
New York Giants at Baltimore – Giants
Chicago at Arizona – Bears
San Francisco at Seattle – Seahawks
1. Now that the warm glow of a few wins against injured or bad opponents has faded into a cold reality, I think the fans should dispense with the “Save Shurmur” pleas. Sunday, we saw the Redskins tailor their offense to fit the talent available, and game plan around rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins’ flaws and inexperience for a win – something Pat Shurmur and the Browns still haven’t learned.
Other flaws I see in Shurmur are a lack of development of Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and a lack of quality planning in the playcalling. The Browns showed no commitment to the run. Shurmur seemed quite comfortable leaving Weeden to fend for himself, by calling pass play after pass play, on a day when Weeden was inaccurate, confused, and seemed hesitant. Shurmur does not know how to use the Browns top two first round draft picks successfully, or create plays tailored to their strengths.
Before anyone can decide if Weeden is or isn’t the future quarterback of the Browns, realize Weeden is asked to do more with less than many other rookie quarterbacks. What I mean by that statment is, he doesn’t have veteran receivers to support him and help him develop while learning the West Coast system. He is asked to throw the football an average of 36 times a game, with his main targets being a second year wide receiver who was converted from running back in Greg Little, and a supplemental draft pick who has just 21 games of college experience in Josh Gordon. That’s asking a lot from a guy who has to be putting himself under a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed because he’s a 29 year old rookie. My fear is that Shurmur will do to Weeden what he tried to do to Sam Bradford in St. Louis, by asking a rookie quarterback to throw as often as a ProBowl quarterback, and leave him shellshocked into mediocrity after he leaves.
Not only Weeden, but Shurmur cannot seem to find a successful way to use Trent Richardson effectively on a game to game basis. Opposing teams stuff the line and force the Browns to throw just about every game, and the Browns have completely failed in any attempt to make Richardson an effective key to this offense. I understand Richardson isn’t completely healthy, but maybe if they didn’t have Owen Marecic and a backup tight end as the options at fullback, they would have a healthier running back who is more effective.
2. I’ll leave Shurmur alone now and switch to Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron. The Redskins game is why I don’t want Jauron back next year. The defense is average, sometimes good, at best. This is not a great defense that can win games. Yes, they were on the field for most of the game, but the way to get off the field quickly is to create turnovers and sack the quarterback. Honestly, even during the win streak, I couldn’t see an identity to the Browns defense. I think the reason fans are confused into thinking this defense is good is because they haven’t seen an even average defense in years. Compared to defenses of the past, this is a great defense, but compared to the opponents offenses they face every week, it’s average.
3. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t want Shumur to win out, so he could get the Eric Mangini treatment and get another year to prove he is in over his head and doesn’t know what he’s doing.
I don’t want to change coaches for the sake of changing coaches, but Shurmur is not a great coach who’s getting a bum deal with a young team. His track record, or lack thereof, does not speak of grooming quarterbacks, and making winners. Former Browns coach Romeo Crennel proved, as have countless others, that you can be an assistant coach on a winning team without being a winning Head Coach. Being around success, and successful people, does not mean you will be successful. There is no success by association, just guilt; and Shurmur has probably set his coordinators on a path to be position or colleges coaches to prove themselves again, just because of their associations with him.
Bowl season is officially here. Two games took place last Saturday, and they start back up again on Thursday. There’s no tournament bracket to fill out, like with NCAA basketball, but college bowl games are great for office pools, or to pick against the spread (for entertainment purposes only, of course). For all of the games from December 15 – 29, I composed the Gambler’s Guide to the Bowls: Part I, and if you went with me so far, you’re 2-0 already. If you went against me, for shame. Then again, you might still be onto something. Either way, I promised a Part II last week, so here’s a look at the games that will take place from New Year’s Eve on into 2013. (Point spreads listed are as of 12/10, because that’s when I made these picks. If they’ve changed and you’d still like my advice, feel free to post questions in the comment section or on twitter (@afc2nfc) and I’ll be happy to help out)… Continue reading