The NFL is enjoying a year of unparalleled parity, on the heels of the success of teams such as the Chiefs, Raiders and Buccaneers. But at the same time, several teams picked to shape the landscape of the playoffs have faltered. The Cowboys and Vikings, two teams that enjoyed deep playoff runs in 2009, and the 49ers, who finished 8-8 in the weak NFC West, were considered lead pipe locks to make the playoffs. As we hit Week 10, those three teams are a combined 6-18, with popular Super Bowl pick Dallas floundering at 1-7 and coming off their coach being fired. Let’s take a look at what’s gone wrong for these three teams, and if they have any chance of turning it around.
A couple weeks ago, ESPN.com launched its’ “Heat Index”, an entire section of their website devoted entirely to the Miami Heat. ESPN has already shown their love of everything LeBron, as they hosted the ridiculously over-the-top “The Decision” special this summer, but this new development may show a more disturbing trend. The network has often pushed the envelope with their coverage of individual players, such as James and Brett Favre, but the Heat Index makes it appear as though they are actively rooting for the Heat to succeed.
As a news organization, ESPN should be adhering to a practice of journalistic neutrality. How are fans of other teams, especially other favorites, supposed to feel now that their team is simply taking the backseat to the Heat? Can we watch sports on this network and know that both sides are receiving fair coverage? ESPN is obviously doing this due to the high interest in the story, but sometimes making money should be secondary to retaining credibility.
Dallas Cowboys’ rookie WR Dez Bryant has shown promise on the field this year, catching for at least 50 yards in all three of Dallas’ games this year. Bryant, taken 24th overall in the draft this year, was a superstar at Oklahoma State, whose only controversy was a misguided conversation with former NFL star Deion Sanders which unfortunately landed him a season long suspension.
As the popularity of soccer is soaring in America following the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Americans are increasingly opening up to sports other than the “Big 4”. Although soccer, by far the world’s most popular sport, is finally finding an American audience, several complaints about the game remain. Americans still seem to find soccer somewhat boring due to its low scoring, and apparent lack of toughness. In America, where we have basketball scores in the hundreds, and football hits that end players’ careers, some find soccer too “European” and foreign. It is for these reasons that another import sport, Australian rules football, could potentially overtake soccer in America if marketed correctly.
Australian rules football is an extremely fast paced game that would be best described to American sports fans as a mixture between basketball, soccer and American football. The game has existed in its modern form since the 1850s, longer than soccer or baseball. A match consists of four 20 minute quarters, with stoppage time added to the end of each quarter, and is played on a large oval shaped field with four goal posts on each end of the ground. If the ball is kicked through the center posts, a goal worth six points is scored, and if it passes through the outer two posts, a behind worth one point is scored. Players are allowed to kick or tap the ball with a closed fist or open hand to teammates, but cannot pass the ball. Players are allowed to run with the ball, but must dribble it at least once every 50 feet.
Aussie rules is easy to pick up, as positions are fluid, and players roam the entire field, unlike soccer, where attacks by defenders are rare. The game moves fast, and because there are no goalkeepers, goals are abundant, with scores often approaching and broaching the hundred point threshold. Aussie rules also is extremely physical, with bone jarring hits a common sight welcomed by fans and coaches alike. There is constant movement with little stoppage between plays. The game requires great endurance, athleticism and unique skill sets such as good hands and solid footwork. The skills often transfer over to American football, as players such as Darren Bennett and Sav Rocca have carved out successful NFL punting careers following their AFL retirements.
Although to date, Australian rules football has been largely confined to the island continent where it was conceived, it has begun to spread internationally. ESPN airs several matches live on Saturday nights, and also shows matches on their broadcasting website, ESPN360.com. There is also a professional American league, the USAFL, and many college clubs.
As Americans open up to new sports, and with the ability to expand coverage thanks to the internet and satellite television, Australian rules football is sure to receive a bump in popularity in America. And when it does, you can say that you heard about it here first.
YouTube clip: Big Bumps of the AFL
But here’s why each team in the NFL WON’T win the Super Bowl this year.
Buffalo Bills: There are NCAA teams that could beat the Bills. They don’t have a QB and their defense couldn’t stop offenses if they knew what play was coming. At least they have decent running back depth. Too bad their offensive line can’t block for them.
Miami Dolphins: Even with the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins still don’t have a proven passing game. Chad Henne is the guy who helmed the Michigan Wolverines against Appalachian State.
New England Patriots: Age is beginning to catch up with Patriots.Tom Brady didn’t look quite the same after a knee injury. Laurence Maroney just might be the worst starting running back in the league.They aren’t allowed to film other team’s plays anymore.
New York Jets: The Jets are the trendy preseason pick. That’s never a good sign. They cut their starting running back and replaced him with a way over the hill LaDainian Tomlinson. Mark Sanchez led the conference in interceptions last year. Who knows if Rex Ryan will be the same when he’s hungry.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco no longer has any excuses to not produce at a high level. The Ravens defense qualifies for the AARP.
Cincinnati Bengals: Since when have the Bengals been known to repeat a successful performance? Can Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco’s egos fit in the same room until February? Can Carson Palmer stay healthy?
Cleveland Browns: Why won’t the Browns win the Super Bowl? Is that a serious question?
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall is a decent but not great running back. Ben Roethlisberger will spend the toughest part of the Steelers’ schedule on the bench for “indiscretions”. Their defense is no longer good enough to carry them.
Houston Texans: They were below average in pass coverage last year and lost their best corner. You have to do better than 8-8 to win the Super Bowl.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning is a great player but he’s not known for postseason heroics. Their defense is also pretty terrible.
Jacksonville Jaguars: When people are talking more about the chances your team will move to London than how they will do this year, you’re probably not headed for a very successful season.
Tennessee Titans: Because you have to have something resembling a passing game to win in the playoffs. And a running back coming off a 350 carry season generally sees a drop in production.
Denver Broncos: In the past two offseasons, the Broncos have: fired their best coach ever, traded their best quarterback since John Elway, traded a wide receiver coming off a third consecutive 100 catch 1000 yard season, and drafted a quarterback best known for loving Jesus.
Kansas City Chiefs: There’s always a chance the Chiefs could win it this year. There’s always a chance that Shakira will divorce her husband for me, as well.
Oakland Raiders: If you need me to tell you why the Raiders won’t win the Super Bowl, you’re beyond help.
San Diego Chargers: I’ll take teams known for choking in the playoffs for 500, Alex.
Dallas Cowboys: This is the Cowboys year, seriously! (We were just kidding in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009)
New York Giants: The Giants have a decent team. But you don’t win Super Bowls with decent teams, you win it with great ones.
Philadelphia Eagles: Who knows, the Eagles could finally win it this year. Donovan McNabb is bound to win it even- what’s that? They traded him? To a division rival? And they’re going to start a completely unproven player in his place? What the…
Washington Redskins: Because if Donovan McNabb gets hurt (and you know it’s going to happen at some point with that offensive line) their quarterback is Rex Grossman.
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler doesn’t always throw interceptions, but when he does, he prefers to throw them in the red zone.
Detroit Lions: The Lions won’t win the Super Bowl this year because pigs still can’t fly.
Green Bay Packers: Who knows how great of a quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be if his offensive line gave him time to throw the ball.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings may make the Super Bowl, but they won’t win it. It’s karma for Brett Favre.
Atlanta Falcons: If the Falcons’ defense steps up and improves this year they have a chance at making the playoffs. That’s a long way from winning the Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers: They have a great running game, and… absolutely no passing game to speak of. This team will miss Julius Peppers more than you think.
New Orleans Saints: I’ll believe the days of the Aints are over when I see it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This team’s offense has more power outages than Enron.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals will have to choose between Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart as their quarterback. Is there a neither option?
St. Louis Rams: lol
San Francisco 49ers: Their quarterback is Alex Smith, and if you think a team from the NFC West will win the Super Bowl, I’ve got some lovely riverside property in Brooklyn to sell you.
Seattle Seahawks: Now that all of his players are getting paid instead of just the best ones, will Pete Carroll be able to have the same success?
In recent years, the NFL Scouting Combine has become one of the biggest offseason events outside of the draft itself, with live coverage on NFL Network, and extensive analysis on ESPN. College players from BCS conferences, powerhouse Division 1-AA schools and Division III afterthoughts alike come together to showcase their athletic ability for scouts from all 32 teams. Teams look for 40 yard dash speedsters, bench press studs and broad jump surprises. Inevitably, every year a player wows everyone with a standout performance, jumping their stock from mid-round pick to can’t miss first rounder.
But is this really the best way to evaluate draft prospects? After all, athleticism is only one aspect of the game. A wide receiver may be able to run a 4.2 40, but not be able to catch the ball or run a route (Darrius Heyward-Bey, I’m looking at you). A quarterback may be able to fire a ball 70 yards, but that doesn’t mean he can throw it on target from 15 yards (cough, JaWalrus Russell, cough). A defensive end may put up 35 bench reps and still have no clue how to get to the quarterback (Vernon Gholston was unavailable for a comment).
Even the position specific drills intended to get some sense of on-field abilities have shown to be unreliable. There is a difference between being able to hit a receiver without pads or a defense and being able to hit a receiver in stride in a game.
Modern players also spend hours upon hours prepping for the combine. And why not? If a mediocre college player can bump their stock just by putting in a few months training to improve a few athleticism tests, why waste your time on more difficult things like learning how to read NFL defenses?
So why do football’s greatest minds appear to put so much stock into an apparently worthless exercise? The answer comes down to a single word, one that elicits different responses from all sports fans: potential. The combine allows executives to justify their seemingly questionable picks by slapping the label of potential stars onto their newest players. Yeah, he’s going to sit on the bench and not contribute for a few years, but he could potentially be great in a few years! Just look at his bench press!
But if the draft combine isn’t the best way to evaluate players before you invest millions in them, what is? Simple: executives have increasingly moved beyond watching film. That’s right: the best way to tell if a player has talent is to watch him play football! What a revelation, huh?
Scouts will tell you how undersized, unathletic players can dominate against college competition but won’t be able to handle the NFL.They’ll tell you how players are bigger, better and stronger. But what they fail to realize is that there is no test for the most important intangible in football: heart. You can’t use a stopwatch to measure it.It’s only visible in game tapes. Players like Elvis Dumervil, Drew Brees and T.J. Houshmandzadeh lack prototypical NFL size and/or athleticism, but they make up for it with their work ethic and desire to be the best players on the field. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something you just can’t put a number on.