NFL 2017: Half-time Musings & Mutterings

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Well, some fan bases anyway.

If you’re a football fan and you’re reading this right now, congratulations! You’ve made it to the halfway point of the regular season relatively, if not wholly, unscathed. Unless you’re a Browns or 49ers fan, in which case………….I’m sorry; and unless your name is DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck. It’s been a funny old first half of the season. TD celebrations returned, which I guess means the NFL is no longer the No Fun League, there’s been grotesque injuries, another court case hanging over the head of one the league’s bright lights (no, not Tom Brady) and protests, so many anthem protests (which will be addressed below). That’s not even the actual football being played. There were 4 games in London, all of which were a success- again. I didn’t go, again. The standing are not what we expected, which is an understatement, I’m sure, and the bookies officially have a new favourite to win the Super Bowl. Spoiler: it isn’t the Patriots. So without further preamble, I present my musings- read: blabbing- on the first half! (Okay, so some of the points mentioned happened AFTER the halfway point and this is being published a bit late, but…………let’s just go with it, ‘kay?)

STANDINGS

AFC EAST

New England Patriots   6-2

Buffalo Bills   5-3

Miami Dolphins   4-4

New York Jets   4-5

AFC NORTH

Pittsburgh Steelers  6-2

Baltimore Ravens   4-5

Cincinnati Bengals   3-5

Cleveland Browns   0-8

AFC SOUTH

Tennessee Titans  5-3

Jacksonville Jaguars  5-3

Hosuton Texans   3-5

Indianapolis Colts  3-6

AFC WEST

Kansas City Chiefs  6-3

Oakland Raiders  4-5

LA Chargers  3-5

Denver Broncos  3-5

NFC EAST

Philadelphia Eagles  8-1

Dallas Cowboys  5-3

Washington Redskins   4-4

New York Giants  1-7

NFC NORTH

Minnesota Vikings  6-2

Detroit Lions  4-4

Green Bay Packers   4-4

Chicago Bears  3-5

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints 6-2

Carolina Panthers  6-3

Atlanta Falcons  4-4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-6

NFC WEST

LA Rams  6-2

Seattle Seahawks  6-3

Arizona Cardinals  4-5

San Francisco 49ers  0-9

FLY LIKE AN EAGLE 🦅

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the first half of the season, the  you’ll know that the Philadelphia Eagles, yes, the Eagles are the owners of the best record in football. I’m just as surprised as you, believe me. Carson Wentz is lights-out at the moment and seems intent on heading for a Super Bowl berth come February. Whether the Eagles gaudy record is due to the talent on the field or some lucky scheduling is up for debate.

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Regardless, this is the position the NFC find themselves in. Comparatively, the rest of the NFC division leaders have more modest records. The Eagles division mates are more downtrodden than in previous years (looking at you, New York Giants!) and the Eagles have clearly made leaps and bounds talent and coaching wise since the disastrous Chip Kelly era. Acquiring Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins at the trade deadline is only going to pay more dividends down the road. A cautionary note however: the last time the Eagles started a season with an 8-1 record was in 2004/2005 season; they made the Super Bowl that year……….and this happened.

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WINNING! (OH WAIT….)

Let’s all take a moment to pity the poor folks of Cleveland who, once again, are living a pitiful existence with the Browns (not that the Cavaliers are much better, but that’s for another day.) The long-suffering fans in Cleveland remain loyal to their team season after losing season. 2017 is no different: for the second season in a row, the Browns are winless at the halfway mark of the season, despite gaining two blue-chip draft picks in Myles Garrett (hampered by injury for the first few weeks of the season) and DeShone Kizer. Most of the Browns’ problems are due in large part to the fact that they have no running game to speak of and Kizer has few viable targets to throw the ball to. Somehow the Browns manage to- just about- stay in every contest they’ve played; I’m thinking mostly of their game against the Bears where they took them to OT and lost. Losing OT Joe Thomas, the NFL’s record holder in consecutive snaps taken, was one more thing that’s gone wrong this season. Maybe they’ll win a game this season, maybe they won’t, but its sure to be another LONG season in Cleveland.

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The Brown’s are not alone in the winless column this season: welcome to the club San Francisco. If anything, the ‘9ers are the more unfortunate of the two, coming within spitting distance of wins in most of their games- including last Sunday’s game against Arizona, which they really should have won. They are quite clearly willing to give rookie QB C.J. Beathard a chance, how long it takes for them to start Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired from the Patriots, remains to be seen- maybe Jimmy G is the solution to the 49ers woes. Maybe.

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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE QBs

By now I don’t really need to tell you that being a QB in 2017 is more than a bit dangerous, ask any number of the ones who are currently out with season-ending injuries. It was unfortunate that the Texans’ DeShaun Watson fell victim to a torn ACL because he was making a strong case for ORoY and almost single-handedly putting the Texans in a playoff berth.  His connection with WR DeAndre Hopkins is a match made in Houston, and it was hoped that this year they ‘mighta been a contender.’ After the Astros remarkable World Series win, a Texans playoff run would have been icing on the cake. Sadly, however, they find themselves rapidly moving the wrong way down the AFC South rankings and with backup Tom Savage under center, it may very well get worse before it gets better. 2018 here we come!

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Another listing under ‘unfortunate injury’ is Aaron Rodgers (aka The Sole Reason the Packers Win Football Games) who suffered a broken collarbone. People may remember that this was the same injury that Tony Romo suffered- heralding the arrival of Dak Prescott and the end of Romo’s career.

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But never fear, Rodgers isn’t in any danger of losing his job, due in large part because his backup is Ryan Hundley who, unsurprisingly, is not really up to the task of helming the Packers offense. The Lambeau faithful have finally realised that they have taken Rodgers for granted a tad too much- and now it’s backfired as the Packers now look up at the Vikings who lead the NFC North.

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Andrew Luck clearly has no luck on the injury front as he finds himself once again on the list of walking wounded. The Colts have clearly learned from the no-backup-QB scenario they were in when Peyton Manning went down with his neck injury a few years ago; this time they went out and signed a viable backup/starter in Jacoby Brissett. Brissett will be a serviceable- read: decent- quarterback in Luck’s absence. But one has to wonder has Luck’s luck run out in Indy? Surely, if he’s going to be this injury-prone, Indy will eventually have to cut their losses.

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The most recent QB to hit the ranks of the injured is the Bucs’ Jameis Winston who suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s game- even worse, he is listed as out indefinitely for this week’s match-up.

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On the bright side, the Vikings have activated Teddy Bridgewater from IR, which must be a welcome relief for them as they’ve invested a lot in him as their ‘QB of the future.’ Thank God they had Sam Bradford in the meantime……………..oh wait. He’s injured too. There is no timeline for Bridgewater’s return to the gridiron, so watch this space!

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#QBsjustcantcatchabreak

NFL PLAYERS DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH?

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If someone had told me that the largest civil rights/black rights protest this side of the 1960’s would come from NFL players spearheaded by a QB who has now been effectively ostracized from pro football, I would have written an article about it earlier! Or maybe not. The NFL’s anthem protests became not just a peaceful protest about the way people- and athletes- of colour are treated in the American justice system, but also a war of words between the NFL and President Trump. The President’s backlash mainly involved taking to Twitter saying that any football player who knelt during the national anthem, should be fired; except he seemed to have forgotten that whether or not they play isn’t his decision. It’s not The Apprentice, Donald! You can’t just say, ‘You’re fired!’  Has Trump even read the US Constitution? Specifically the First Amendment: the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly? If Trump considers his biggest problem to be football players expressing their rights under the First Amendment, then maybe he needs to rethink his priorities.

The response of the NFL owners was to take a knee or stand in solidarity with their players. Even Roger Goodell, who’s all for discipline and justice, sided with his players over the President, effectively telling Trump to, well, stick it where the sun don’t shine. This ongoing row even made the headlines at the BBC, being reported on by both sport reporters and getting a mention on BBC Breakfast! It didn’t take long for some of the owners (looking at you, Jerry Jones) to recant on several of their previous statements and decide that maybe the players should be punished for protesting after all. That all sounds a bit two-faced and hypocritical, don’t you think?

The furore around this issue seems to have died down for now. Until the next time someone mentions it in the media. If Colin Kaepernick never plays another down of professional football, he will at least be remembered as the man who sparked the largest protest of this generation thus far. Maybe future generations will regard him as a civil rights hero in the same way that we regard Dr. King and Rosa Parks.

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DO ANGELENOS JUST HATE FOOTBALL?

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It’s hard to tell, really. The attendance at Rams and Chargers games has been shockingly bad this season. The Rams bring in more fans than the Chargers do, and they’re mostly road team supporters! The USC Trojans fill the Coliseum every time they play there, compared to the measly several thousand that trickle through the doors for the Rams. Which is a shame because the product on the field is actually really good this season. As mentioned above the Rams are currently first in the NFC West with a record of 6-2. They just put up 51 points on a very sub-par Giants team and Jared Goff seems to have re-established himself as one of the best young QBs in the league. Many things have been blamed on the miserable attendance, chief among them being the shocking state of Los Angeles traffic; and if you’ve ever been caught in traffic in LA then you know what I mean.

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While the traffic may be playing a small part in this, it might also be ticket prices and the lack of interest in the Rams. It also may be in large part to the Chargers sudden relocation (although their attendance is worse, so maybe not). I think the Rams will have to be patient. LA hasn’t had football since the late ’80s and most of the original fan base has probably changed allegiance to the 49ers or Raiders. It’s the old Field of Dreams adage: ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Expansion and relocation teams take time to rebuild their fan bases and attract new fans. There’s a positivity surrounding the Rams this season, who knows, maybe a playoff run will be enough to entice the citizens of LA back to the Coliseum, traffic be damned.

🏥 INJURY REPORT 🏥

Greg Olsen (Panthers)- foot

Ryan Kalil (panthers)- neck

Kyle Long (Bears)- finger

Zach Miller (Bears)- knee (toss-up between Miller and the Gordon Hayward for most gruesome injury of the year)

Jeremy Hill (Bengals)- ankle

Dez Bryant (Cowboys)- knee/ankle

Emanuel Sanders (Broncos)-

Menelik Watson (Broncos)- foot

Ziggy Ansah (Lion)- back

Bryan Bulaga (Packers)- torn ACL

Aaron Rodgers (Packers)- broken collarbone

DeShaun Watson (Texans)- torn ACL

T.Y. Hilton (Colts)- groin

Andrew Luck (Colts)-

Marqise Lee (Jaguars) – knee

Sam Bradford (Vikings)- knee

Martellus Bennett (Patriots)- shoulder  (Bennett is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game)

Danny Amendola (Patriots)-  knee

Chris Hogan (Patriots)- shoulder

Dont’a Hightower (Patriots)- chest

Julian Edelman (Patriots)- torn ACL

Matt Forte (Jets)- knee

Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets)- foot

James Harrison (Steelers)

Doug Baldwin (Seahawks)- groin

Richard Sherman (Seahawks)- ruptured Achilles

Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)- shoulder

Delanie Walker (Titans)- knee

 

PATRIOT GAMES- (pardon the self-indulgence)

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This was Patriots fans’ worst nightmare. Julian Edelman suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the pre-season. There were worries about the Pats offense: who would be Tom Brady’s go-to guy on the pass? Would the Pats struggle to score touchdowns without their dynamic WR, the executer of ‘The Catch’ in Super Bowl LI? Honestly, it was a bit touch-and-go the first 5 weeks of the season. The defense, still among the worst in the league, even now, was struggling to stop the opposition and to stop Brady from being sacked. There was the blowout loss to the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football to start the season, and a FG-loss to the Panthers. After 5 games, the Patriots found themselves in a way 3-way tie in the AFC East with the Bills and Jets. Not good. People started asking questions, well, more questions, really. At the time, they weren’t even in playoff contention. Were the Patriots finished? Was Tom Brady finished? Was this the end of the Pats chokehold on the division title.?

WAIT. JUST. A. HOT. MINUTE. 

Brady and Coach Belichick are not the type to roll over and give up (have they ever been?) The best response to this question was a Week 3 win over the Texans, where Brady did what he does best: a game-winning, Brady-esque drive with the winning TD to Gronkowski in the last two minutes of the game. There was a gut-check, defensive win against the Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football in Week 5 and a lucky win the following week against the Jets, thanks in large part to an Austin Sefarian-Jenkins TD being overturned.

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Week 7 was where the Pats announced that they were back to business as usual with a win in the Super Bowl LI rematch against the Falcons. Despite the fog in Foxboro, the Pats dominated Matt Ryan’s side on both sides of the ball. And no, the fog wasn’t fake as Julio Jones seems to think…..

DC Matt Patricia seems to have ironed out the kinks on defense, and despite Dont’a Hightower lost for the season, things are looking up. It also doesn’t hurt to have Rob Gronkowski healthy again and Gronk-spiking balls in the endzone. This week the Patriots brought an old friend back into the fold in TE Martellus Bennett. Bennett, nursing a shoulder injury, was put on waivers by the Packers on Tuesday and less than 24 hours later he was claimed by the Pats. Maybe this will make him reconsider his retirement at the end of the season. One thing is for certain, expect him to make an impact. He was one of Brady’s favourite targets last season and now with the TE trio of Bennett, Gronk and Chris Hogan, the Pats look set to make another Super Bowl run.

They play the Broncos this week, currently in a downward spiral and in last place in the AFC West after being blown out by the Eagles in Philly last week.  They’ve also made the QB swap from Trevor Seimian back to Brock Osweiler. While the Broncos defense isn’t as formidable as it once was, Von Miller is still a threat.

One thing, however, remains the same: never count Brady and Belichick out of a game. Or a season. You do so at your peril.

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That being said, enjoy the second half of the season!

 

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