Monday, December 31, 2012

NFL Season Recap

I have not written about the NFL, much less anything else, in a long time, but today, a lot of talk on Twitter has caused me to express my thoughts and opinions on a much more robust medium. I have a few talking points to address as the end of the NFL regular season came upon us with yet another Cowboys loss.

1) The MVP Discussion
This one is tough, but I will try my best to put aside my bias for Peyton Manning. Adrian Peterson had an amazing year. I would say he would be MVP without question, but there are a few things you have to remember. First, Peterson did not score a TD in 7 out of 16 games. With an offense that leaned on Peterson as much as it did, he did not finish with a crazy number of scores. Granted, the Vikings had the same number of losses in games he did score a TD (6-3) than when he didn't (4-3) and his team only scored under 20 points once when he didn't score, but accounting for 12 touchdowns on the year, in a league of high-octane offenses, doesn't quite give him the advantage. But, you always have to look at the "rest of the story". Christian Ponder only passed for 2900 yards and 18 TDs. That is 30 TDs accounted for by Ponder and Peterson. Not quite 2 per game. Which is why the Vikings lost 6 games, 3 of them being where they scored 17 or fewer points. Minnesota finished 31st out of 32 teams in passing offense. The Jets were a better passing team. Peterson did work. 2,097 yards accounted for more than half of the Vikings 10 wins, especially the playoff-clinching performance against Green Bay in Week 17. Without Peterson's efforts, they would likely be the worst team in the NFL, right above Kansas City.

Peyton Manning, on the other hand, inherited a good team that had an unusual quarterback situation the season prior. Tim Tebow, who was not in the top 20 in yards, completion percentage, or touchdowns (while only starting 11 games), led the Broncos to an 8-8 record, AFC West title, and first-round playoff victory against Pittsburgh. Yet, people hold that up against Manning as a negative, although Manning has only led the Broncos to a 13-3 season, top seed in the playoffs, while on an 11 game winning streak in which they won by 7 or more points in each of those victories. And then, the strength-of-schedule is plastered on Manning and the Broncos, playing in a bad division and benefiting from an easy, end-of-season schedule. They are 28th in terms of opponents' winning percentage. The bottom five team in 2011 in terms of strength of schedule where Green Bay, Houston, New England, San Francisco, and New Orleans. All playoff teams, two conference championship game attendees, and one Super Bowl team. Baltimore (23rd), Pittsburgh/Cincinnati (tied for 19th) and New York/Denver (tied for 8th) round out the other playoff teams. SoS does nothing for playoffs. This is not college football or basketball where your opponents' records and quality wins matter. Yet, Manning cannot be the most valuable player because his team didn't have a tough schedule. Heisman voting, yes, it matter. MVP voting, no.

If I were to cast my vote, it would have to go to Peterson. Manning has more around him than Peterson does, and the Broncos are a more complete team than the Vikings are, and they are both in the playoffs, which spells well for the Vikings, who hope to make it the 3rd straight NFC wildcard team to win the Super Bowl. Manning would have blown the field away any other year, but this is surely Peterson's year.

2) Rookie of the Year - Offense

Andrew Luck. Robert Griffin III. Russell Wilson. All three are rookies, all three are in the playoffs. Griffin is the only one to win the division, thus hosting a playoff game against Wilson. Luck, who inherited a 2-14 team fresh off a turnover in personnel, coaching, and front office staff, muscled his way to a 11-5 record, capped off with an emotional win in Indy against the Houston Texans, shattering their hopes of a top seed. All three have the ability to win it. No one else is in the picture. I think you have to look at expected performance versus actual performance to get the real story.

Wilson was drafted in the third round, and not expected to be the opening day starter with newly signed Matt Flynn in that spot. Wilson beat out Flynn, and started Week 1, as well as the rest of the games. He posted outstanding home numbers (8-0, 17 TDs, 2 INT) and went 5-0 in December, and was helped out by the league's second best rusher in Marshawn Lynch, the league's best total defense, and, arguably, the best home field advantage. I almost have no qualms against Wilson, other than in the five losses, he threw 5 TDs and 6 INT. His completion percentage is pretty good, but threw 9 TDs and 8 INT on the road (3-5 record). But, that if nitpicking for sure. He is a legit candidate.

Griffin came into the NFL a very hot commodity. Heisman trophy, 2nd overall pick, Redskins traded a lot to get him, and he lived up to all the hype. His play on the field is very quick, decisive, and well ahead in terms of his maturity. But, his team was 3-6 after 10 weeks, and it was not a good outlook for the playoffs. After a 7 game winning streak, the Redskins won the NFC East. Griffin, along the way, missed the latter parts of an overtime win against the AFC North Champion Ravens, and the entire game against the Browns. Griffin was not the same player after the Ravens game either, throwing for 298 yards and 2 TDs against the Eagles and Cowboys combined, but still led his team. Jon Gruden thinks Griffin is the best QB prospect to ever walk the Earth, but the kid still has things to learn. He runs way too much, and took a few too many hits. He has a bright future but he does have a risk factor. The Redskins also benefited from Alfred Morris, a rookie running back who did wonders for Griffin when the defenses were zeroed in on Griffin. Washington, although a porous pass defense, was a top rush defense. Griffin is also a very legitimate candidate.

Luck, who was the top pick for the Colts to replace the cornerstone of the Indianapolis franchise post relocation, Peyton Manning, was highly regarded as one of the best prospects at quarterback since Manning. Luck inherited the worst team in the NFL in 2011, a turnover in coaching staff, general manager, and a good chunk of roster, put forth a solid effort in squeezing out 11 wins, when the prediction for most was 5 or 6. Comeback wins against Minnesota, Green Bay, and Detroit as well as an 9-1 record in games decided by one possession proved that Luck has the intangibles to thrive in the NFL. Luck led the Colts on 7 4th quarter comeback/game winning drives through 15 weeks and overcame his own mistakes (3 INT against Detroit and 2 against Tennessee) and managed to put his team in the win column. Luck's stats, other than passing yardage, are dim in comparison to Wilson and Griffin, but Luck definitely has less to work with on both sides of the ball. The Colts ran on a lot of heart, which made up for their lack of talent in most areas, and have a young team capable of great things. The Colts are the bottom rung in rushing offense and defense, something the Seahawks and Redskins have not been burdened with, and just like Peterson overcoming the second-worst passing offense in the Vikings, Luck has overcome a myriad of circumstances to march into the playoffs.

That said, Russell Wilson is your offensive rookie of the year.

3) Hot Coaching Jobs and Prospects

Jon Gruden. Bill Cowher. Chip Kelly. Nick Saban. Names that have been circulating the coaching market for quite some time, some more than others. With Black Monday under way, 8 NFL head coaching positions are open, with more to come. I won't try to play matchmaker with the coaches and where they should land, but I will try to explain why these names are the best options when it comes to leading an NFL team

Gruden is one of the most overrated persons I know. I highly dislike him on Monday Night Football, I highly dislike him as the Tampa Bay coach, although he won a Super Bowl with Coach Dungy's team, and I highly dislike his perception as a quarterback-centric coach. His perceived knowledge of quarterbacks is baffling. I never understood the love for Jon Gruden other than name recognition in the college football scene. In the NFL, I don't think his shtick will work anymore. He went through quarterbacks like underwear in his gasping breaths at Tampa:
Brian Griese
Chris Simms
Bruce Gradkowski
Tim Rattay
Jeff Garcia
Luke McCown

I think his eye for talent is off, and I think he is best served staying in the booth. If an NFL team agrees to a contract for him to be the head coach, I don't see why he would get more than two years if other teams are firing their coaches after two years. Sorry Jon. You may be a great guy, but I don't see you as a coach again.

Bill Cowher. I have always had the utmost respect for him, so I probably won't sound as harsh towards him as I was Gruden. But, yet another coach that I find a bit overrated. Two Super Bowl appearances and one win in 15 seasons as head coach of the Steelers, which is one more than Andy Reid has. Missed the playoffs 5 times in that span, and probably would have been without a Super Bowl if Ben Roethlisberger had not come around. Yet, I still think he can get a coaching job nearly anywhere he pleases, if he were to choose. I think this is another person, along with Tony Dungy, who is happy with post-coaching life. Television keeps him busy, and he adores his family. I would love to see him on the sidelines again, but I think too many teams would overpay for him, and too much expected out of him too soon.

Chip Kelly is an interesting person. 5 years ago, he would have never been mentioned as a coaching prospect. The league was still dominated by pro-style offense, solid running games, and good defense. Although Kelly has produced great results on the field in terms of quarterback play, rushing offense, and opportunistic defense, his style would not have worked. Now, I think it would be welcomed. but only if he finds the right personnel. In the NFL, beggars cannot be choosers. The talent pool in the NFL is much slimmer than what the nation's high schools are producing, and he will have to work more towards the players he inherits than what he recruits to Oregon. He would fit in well with a small market team, but for him to end up in Philly would not work out too well. Carolina seems like a good fit, considering they have the offensive talent already in place. If he doesn't bite on a job this year, it may be too much for him to handle when more teams are switching to a more high-octane offense.

And then there was Nick Saban. He has had a few coaching stints before, as a coordinator in Cleveland with Bellichick to the head coach in Miami, he has seen his share of NFL locker rooms and film sessions. I think he knew what he was doing when he left Miami to coach Alabama, and he wants to keep it that way. Saban is a control freak. The NCAA fits his coaching style better. His defensive schemes would work well in the NFL, as you see so many Alabama players on the defensive side of the ball transition rather seamlessly to the NFL, but his demeanor and character will not bode well when he is trying to be a micro manager to 30 year-old men like he was with 20 year-old men. Heck of a coach, but I think he is smart enough to know his place is in the college ranks.

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