In three months, the 2013-14 NFL season will kick off and thirty-one teams will be looking to dethrone the defending world champion Baltimore Ravens (which, given the headlines making their way from Ravens camp, doesn’t seem like it will be too difficult a job. In fact, we’ll get an idea come NFL Kickoff when the Ravens travel to Mile High to take on Manning, Welker, and the Denver Broncos). If you’ve been keeping track over this off-season, then the developing story lines for the upcoming season really look promising, which should make for am interesting five months of America’s most popular professional sport.
In today’s Zephyr Lounge entry, I’ll be dissecting several story lines I feel will have the biggest impact on the upcoming season. Some of them may actually not be what you think they are.
The 2013-14 Baltimore Ravens: Another Super Bowl?
I titled this section with a question that I already know the answer to. No. No, they won’t. Here’s why:
Joe Flacco just managed to real in a 6-year, $120.8 million deal (of which $52 million is guaranteed). This seriously came just seven months after the Ravens tried signing him to a much, much smaller deal before the start of the 2012-13 NFL Season. Flacco played out his contract, had the referee’s assist him in winning a Super Bowl, at which point those amounts from 2012 more than tripled. Not bad for the kid from Delaware with the bad eyebrows.
But, there are certain factors at work here. Anyone who knows jack about football knows that kind of money comes with some really high expectations, and league trends and time are definitely working against young Flacco this year. Firstly, Baltimore really made their playoff push on the heels of their emotional-as-hell middle linebacker, one Ray Lewis. He’s retired. Baltimore’s defense — their secondary, in particular — was anchored by the best defensive back this side of Ronnie Lott, on Ed Reed. He’s in Houston. Two of the most prolific defenders of the past fifteen years are now gone. What is Baltimore to do?
You can make the argument that the sketchy apprehension of Elvis Dumervil could assist the Ravens in maintaining their elite defensive status, but the fact remains that this guy — even playing alongside Terrell Suggs — cannot even begin to fill the shoes of Lewis. Michael Huff? Please. He’s no Ed Reed, by any stretch of the imagination.
Here’s the bottom line for Baltimore, and I’ve been saying this for years. The Ravens have been an above-average football team who’s successes have been more rooted in motivation and flair than actual gridiron prowess. With Ray Lewis’ departure, that motivation and flair have disappeared. Lewis was like Reggie White in that regard. He motivated his team. He always believed in his team. He bled with them, fought with them, cried with them, and celebrated with them. As insignificant as it may sound, Lewis’ departure will be hell on the Ravens, who could be spending the 2013-14 season a congregation without a preacher.
It should also be noted that since the Ravens won the Super Bowl, their next season should prove to be unstable anyway. After their first Super Bowl win, the Ravens limped into a 10-6 record and lost the AFC Divisional Round game against Pittsburgh by virtue of “Hound Dog” Elvis Grbac’s three interceptions. Winning back-to-back Super Bowls is an incredibly tough task. Hell, even getting there is really damn difficult, and usually the defending Super Bowl champions have a less-than-stellar campaign afterward. Barring the Patriots’ back-to-back’s in the early-00’s, here’s what the last 15 years has looked like for defending Super Bowl champions the year after they win it all.
- The 1999-2000 Denver Broncos went 6-10 and missed the playoffs.
- The 2000-01 St. Louis Rams went 10-6 and got bounced in the first round of the NFC playoffs by the New Orleans Saints, who finished 3-13 the season before.
- The 2001-02 Ravens (as stated above) got “Hound Dogged”.
- The 2002-03 New England Patriots went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. This is the only year during the Brady-Bilichick Era that the Patriots failed to play in the post-season.
- The 2003-04 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs.
- (Intermission — Patriots winning.)
- The 2005-06 New England Patriots won their division on a 10-6 record (coming off back-to-back 14-2 seasons, mind you) and were humiliated in the AFC Divisional Round by the Denver Broncos, who converted 24 of their 27 points off turnovers.
- The 2006-07 Pittsburgh Steelers finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs.
- The 2007-08 Indianapolis Colts went 13-3 and had the second-best record in the AFC (behind unbeaten New England), but were upset by Philip Rivers and the Chargers in the AFC Divisional Round.
- The 2008-09 New York Giants went 12-4 and secured the top-seed in a weak NFC, but were annihilated by division-rival and sixth-seed Philadelphia in the NFC Divisional Round.
- The 2009-10 Pittsburgh Steelers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
- The 2010-11 New Orleans Saints went 11-5 and made the playoffs, but were bounced out in the first round by the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks, who had no business being in the playoffs in the first place (ask me about my petition that year to give the NFC West’s playoff spot to the New York Giants).
- The 2011-12 Green Bay Packers had the league’s best record at 15-1, but were thoroughly defeated in the NFC Divisional Round by the New York Giants, who were resuming their second “underdog champion” post-season in the last four years.
- In 2012-13, the New York Giants missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
See, that’s bad. In the last 15 seasons, defending Super Bowl champions have made the post-season only 9 times, winning a grand total of four playoff games (counting the three that New England won during their second-consecutive Super Bowl year). And some people still think the Ravens have a shot at the Lombardi Trophy this year. ‘Tis to laugh.
49ers, Seahawks, and the NFC West
If you would have told me three years ago that the NFC West was the division to watch, I’d have slapped you in the face. However, given the events of the last two years, I think it’s safe to say that in 2013-14, we should keep an eye on them… especially since a possible Super Bowl champion could come from that division.
The 49ers are still feeling the sting of losing the first Super Bowl in team history. During the off-season, Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker defected, Randy Moss was released, and Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon. While these things may seem like a big deal — and in a sense, they are — the Niners have spent the off-season making sure these things don’t become detrimental by signing Nnamdi Asomugha and Anquan Boldin, as well as drafting LSU safety Eric Reed, Florida State defensive end “Tank” Carradine, Rice tight end Vance McDonald, and Louisiana Tech wideout Quinton Patton. Jim Harbaugh has a Bill Walsh-esque feel about the way he handles the team, which is a good thing, since Walsh had a knack for finding guys between the third and sixth rounds and made them All-Pro’s. I have a feeling Harbaugh is doing the same thing.
In Seattle, a similar storm is brewing. Like Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, the Seahawks are sporting a young, mobile quarterback by the name of Russell Wilson. He, too, has a deep core of wideouts (especially with the acquisition of Percy Harvin), a solid ground game, a decent line, and a good defense to help keep opposing teams off the field. Like San Francisco, the Seahawks struggled with defending the long ball, but put up gaudy statistics playing in the trenches. Pete Carroll, who I dismissed two years ago, has really turned the struggling post-Hasslebeck Seahawks around, so I guess it’s only fitting that they and the Niners have made similar roster adjustments over the past couple of months.
The St. Louis Rams were the only team last year that had an answer for Colin Kaepernick, but the rest of their campaign was really less than memorable. There wasn’t really anyone who made a dramatic impact and the Rams limped to 7-8-1 season. Things could have been much worse. Since then, Sam Bradford has gotten healthier and the addition of Jared Cook to replace Danny Amendola (now in New England) has helped bolster the Rams’ air attack. Their defense is still questionable and really won’t be in a position for me to dissect until closer to the pre-season. If 2012 is any indication, though, the Rams may be a third team in the mix for the NFC West title in 2013.
The Arizona Cardinals… where do I begin? In 2012, the Cardinals spent the first quarter of the season unbeaten, including an upset win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Then, they went 1-11, losing leads and blowing wins, not producing on either side of the ball, and plagued by injury after injury. Does 2013 look any better? Not really, but their potential middle-of-the-road finish shouldn’t be in the same fashion it was last year. The Cardinals have a lot of positions on the team that need to be addressed, so in reality, 2013 is looking like a rebuilding year, especially since Bruce Arians is having his first season in the desert.
I have to note that the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are 2013-14 candidates for “Philadelphia Syndrome”.
Tom Brady’s Legacy
As I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Tom Brady’s legacy is in real jeopardy this year. He’s getting old. His team is old. His coach is cranky. His favorite tight end’s back is falling apart. Things don’t look good for Tom. For more on the story, refer to the article.
As far as 2013 goes, this is the make-or-break year for Brady and Bilichick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy again.
The Denver Broncos: Poised and Ready
Last season, Peyton Manning made one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of sports, overcoming multiple neck surgeries and taking the Denver Broncos to a 13-3 record and spawning conspiracy theories about his play throughout the season, which prompted one of the most epic Stephen A. Smith facepalms in the history of Stephen A. Smith facepalms.
2013 sees Manning get a new target, one Wes Welker, who has been one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL over the last several years. Even if you’re one of those people who believe the “diminutive” wideout was only as good as Tom Brady allowed him to be, let’s take a look at who he has throwing to him now. Peyton-fucking-Manning, who is arguably (not really arguably) a much more formidable passer than Brady, in every statistic. Along with Welker, the Broncos have stacked their secondary with the additions of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer and bolstered their offensive line with Louis Vasquez. On top of that, they drafted North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who could potentially be starting at some point this season.
The Broncos look good. Damn good.
Of course, I must note that the 2013-14 Denver Broncos are also candidates for “Philadelphia Syndrome”.
Jerry Jones’ $108 million Man
Tony. Romo. Those two words incite such a polarizing debate here in Dallas. Some say, he’s a choke artist and Jerry Jones needs to bench him (or make him disappear, if you talk to the Italian population). Some say he’s totally efficient and the “best passer in Big D since Troy Aikman.” I believe both sides are right, except not exactly in the same manner as they do. First, let’s look at the contract.
Romo just signed a blockbuster deal, making him among the top paid NFL players in the league. This comes just days after Flacco’s deal. Of course, we’ve followed Tony Romo’s career, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but giving that kind of money to Tony Romo is the same as giving that kind of money to Bernie Madoff: you just got fucked on your investment. Hell, Cowboys fanboy Skip Bayless even thinks it’s a bad move. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the polarized Dallas populous to figure out if Tony Romo is worth the money Jones is giving him.
Some people down here think that Tony Romo needs to go. I agree. Six years ago, Tony Romo became the second guy in six years to unfairly bench Drew Bledsoe. Romo was instrumental in Dallas’ playoff resurgance in the mid-00’s, along with Terrell Owens, Bill Parcells, and a maverick passer by the name of Vinny Testeverde (who polished Romo’s skills, which was the only reason why Dallas signed the 20-year journeyman, who I believe is one of the more underrated passers of the last thirty years. Anyway, I digress.) While Romo has been statistically deserving of being rated the “9th best quarterback in the NFL“, his problems arise with injuries and games of consequence. Not to mention, Romo has only won a single playoff game, despite three playoff appearances. Even still, those three playoff appearances are the only real result of a team that has consistently been a playoff favorite since 2007. Even in today’s saturated NFL, players lose their positions with performances like these.
On the other hand, there are people in Dallas who support Romo, making sure the world knows that their quarterback is the best in Dallas since Aikman, who as we all know, won three Super Bowls. I also agree, but lets take a look at his “rigid” competition. Since Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys started the following quarterbacks before Tony Romo.
- A 37-year old Randall Cunningham in his 15th NFL Season (granted, he was Aikman’s backup during his final season, but damn, Aikman was non-existant in 2000 thanks to repetitive brain trauma.)
- Anthony Wright.
- Quincy Carter (who despite having more success in semi-pro football, had a decent campaign with Dallas in 2001. He was released out of nowhere, so in a sense, Carter was more of a “coaching decision” than someone who just plain sucked. He did, at one point, have a promising career.)
- Ryan Leaf. <—- enough said.
- Clint Stoerner.
- Chad Hutchinson.
- Vinny Testeverde.
- Drew Henson.
- Drew Bledsoe.
So, yes. Romo is the best quarterback in Dallas since Aikman. However, that’s not really much of an accomplishment.
RGIII, Luck, Russell, and Kaepernick vs. 2013 QB Class
Last season, four extremely young quarterbacks made a huge impact in the league. Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck, all rookies, defied expectations and played football in January, while Colin Kaepernick — in his second season — took the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 18 years. These guys set the bar high for the 2013-14 season, but given their prowess and the teams they have around them, I’m not thinking a decline is in the cards.
So, how does the 2013 quarterback class look in comparison?
Firstly, I have to note that the 2013 Draft’s first quarterback selection was by the Buffalo Bills at #16, making this draft the first time in 13 years that a quarterback has not been selected in the Top-3 (of course, we all know how that has turned out…).
- E.J. Manuel (#16 overall, Buffalo Bills) looks like he may be spearheading the offense this year, especially since his competition comes in the form of a grossly-overpaid and underachieving Ryan Fitzpatrick.
- Geno Smith (#39 overall, New York Jets), who was considered a Top-5 pick, slipped to the second round, and is coming into a situation where he, too, could win the starting job. Again, his competition is another grossly-overpaid and underachieving quarterback we all know as “Butt-fumble”.
- Ryan Nassib (#110 overall, New York Giants) will warm the bench, and assuming the New York Giants keep him, isn’t looking at any substantial playing time until Eli Manning either a.) gets hurt, or b.) retires, which could even be so much as seven or eight years from now.
- Tyler Wilson (#112, Oakland Raiders) will probably end up warming the bench behind Matt Flynn, but has a shot at playing this year because his competition is Matt Flynn. I really don’t think that Terrell Pryor and Matt McGloin will be an issue.
- Landry Jones (#115, Pittsburgh Steelers) is sitting behind Big Ben in Pittsburgh.
- Zac Dysert (#234, Denver Broncos) is in Denver behind a rejuvenated Peyton Manning.
- Tyler Bray, who was one of the names from last year I couldn’t stop hearing, went undrafted.
So, riddle me this. The 2013 quarterbacks, more or less, slumped into the fourth round. Last years quarterbacks (RGIII, Luck, and Wilson) went within the first 75 picks, with other quarterbacks selected between RGIII/Luck and Wilson. 2011’s quarterbacks, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and Christian Ponder, were selected in the Top-12, but have yet to really be noticed. Why did the 2013 class fall so badly?
It’s actually kind of simple. All you have to do is look at the last seven or eight drafts to really get it. There isn’t much stock in quarterbacks right now. Luck and RGIII are, really, the first Top-5 quarterback selections in the last three years or so that have made any difference for their teams. I mean, there was a time when Butt-fumble was a solid passer, and Matthew Stafford — who has a great arm, but has been a victim of Detroit’s office instability — has had injury problems, but been elite otherwise. Before them, we had the likes of Matt Leinart (flop), Vince Young (mega flop), Jay Cutler (still around, but sketchy, especially when his “diabetes causes him to lose games”), and JaMarcus Russell (ultra, mega, super-size Big Mac and chili cheese fries, Pillsbury-scarfing belly flop).
No one’s confident, and with good reason.
What’s In A Name?
Recently, the Washington Redskins have been in the news. Once again, there is a push for them to change their name. The difference is that this time, Congress has made a push for the change, personally sending a letter to owner Dan Snyder about the matter.
Firstly, I want to say that Congress probably has better things to do — you know, important government things — than get involved with yet another incarnation of the Washington Redskins Name Controversy. Secondly, this franchise has been associated with Native Americans since it’s inception as the Boston Braves in 1932.
Thirdly, while I understand the “R-word” is racist, you’re targeting only the Washington Redskins, when in reality, you should be targeting the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, Major Series Lacrosse’s Brooklin Redmen, the Elora Mohawks in the OLA Junior B Lacrosse League, the Florida State University Seminoles, and so on and so forth, since all of these organizations — and many others — at least use excessive amounts of Native American stereotypes. Hell, the Brooklin Redmen have the name REDMEN in their name, which from what I have been told, is another derogatory term toward Native Americans. And fourthly, why in the hell is Congress getting involved in this when they have better things to do?
Look, I understand that the name is offensive. I really do, and I am incredibly empathetic toward groups of people who are being targeted or falling victim to racist agendas, but carrying on about the Washington Redskins name, without calling attention to other names and stereotypes throughout sports kind of null and voids your argument.
However, on the other hand, Daniel Snyder has been incredibly jackass-like about the issue, which is very discouraging. Here, I’ll let Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless hash it out for you.
Mr. Smith goes to Kansas City
What do Joe Montana, Elvis Grbac, Steve Bono, Steve DeBerg, and Alex Smith all have in common? Give up? They were once 49ers quarterbacks who ended up in Kansas City. All made direct transitions to the Chiefs, except for DeBerg, who ended up in Kansas City after brief stops in Denver and Tampa Bay. On top of that, Montana, Grbac, and Bono — who, as I said, made a direct transition — played their hearts out in Kansas City, compiling some pretty decent numbers in the process. Let’s take a look.
- Joe Montana was traded to Kansas City in April of 1993, and over the next two seasons (which would be the final two of his career), he led the Chiefs to back-to-back playoff appearances. The 1993 season was the team’s most successful campaign in 22 years.
- After serving as Steve Young’s backup, Elvis Grbac was released and signed with the Chiefs, where he played from 1997-2000. During this time, Grbac played consistent football, with his best statistical season, career-wise, coming in 2000 when he passed for over 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns and boasted a passer rating of 89.9. He appeared in the Pro Bowl that year.
- Steve Bono was traded to Kansas City prior to the 1994 season and put up some decent play, just as Grbac would do after him. During the 1994 season, he was, once again, Joe Montana’s backup, but when Montana retired, Bono took over. During the 1995 season, Bono led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record and a division title. He was selected to the 1995 Pro Bowl. It’s also interesting to note that during that 1995 campaign, Bono — who was not the greatest runner in the world — had a 76-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals on October 1, 1995. That run stood as an NFL record for longest carry by a quarterback until it was broken by Kordell Stewart’s 80-yard run against the Carolina Panthers on December 22, 1996. Bono’s run was also tied last season by rookie Robert Griffin III. It’s still an impressive run, especially for a guy not known as mobile.
- Steve DeBerg, who groomed a young Joe Montana as the 49ers starting quarterback in the late-70’s, found his way to Kansas City in 1988. During his short tenure, DeBerg had the best years of his career, leading the team to two playoff berths and posting the best season of his career in 1990: 3,444 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 4 interceptions (with three coming in the same game), and a 96.3 quarterback rating.
So, what does this mean for Alex Smith? On one hand, he’s coming in to take the reigns and pick up the pieces left over from the Matt Cassel clusterfuck. On the other, he kind of has a legacy to live up to. All four of the other Niner-turned-Chiefs quarterbacks had success in Kansas City. Of course, the Alex Smith of the present isn’t hindered by such things. He broke through his detractors in San Francisco and has enough in Kansas City to at least make the team relatively competitive. Some of you may call him a “system quarterback”. Sure, but he has Andy Reid coaching him. Reid, as we all know, is descended from the same coaching tree as Bill Walsh and George Siefert. If I’m Alex Smith, as disappointed as I am to have been ousted from the Bay Area, I would be looking at Kansas City as a fresh start and a place where I can make an impact. The players before him did. Smith can too.
Incredibly Preemptive Season Summary
So, there are the story lines I’m looking at for the upcoming season. Of course, there will be more that develop and some that may taper off. Hence the nature of the game. So, what I’m going to do now is give an incredibly preemptive look at what the 2013 season could look like, from the standpoint of standings and playoff trees. Keep in mind, this is not my official pre-kickoff prediction. That comes in September.
Green Bay 11-5 (#3 seed)
Detroit 9-7 (#6 seed)
Atlanta 12-4 (#2 seed)
New Orleans 7-9
Tampa Bay 5-11
Washington 10-6 (#4 seed)
NY Giants 8-8
San Francisco 13-3 (#1 seed)
Seattle 11-5 (#5 seed)
St. Louis 9-7
Pittsburgh 11-5 (#4 seed)
Houston 13-3 (#2 seed)
Indianapolis 10-6 (#5 seed)
New England 12-4 (#3 seed)
NY Jets 3-13
Denver 13-3 (#1 seed)
Kansas City 10-6 (#6 seed)
San Diego 7-9
2014 Wild Card Playoffs
6 Detroit 30
3 Green Bay 27
5 Seattle 24
4 Washington 28
5 Indianapolis 27
4 Pittsburgh 20
6 Kansas City 24
3 New England 27
2014 Divisional Playoffs
6 Detroit 27
1 San Francisco 34
4 Washington 17
2 Atlanta 24
3 New England 20
2 Houston 30
5 Indianapolis 14
1 Denver 35
2014 Conference Championships
2 Atlanta 21
1 San Francisco 28
2 Houston 27
1 Denver 30
Super Bowl XLVIII
A1 Denver 20
N1 San Francisco 27