The 2013-14 NFL Regular Season is in the books. I can not believe the playoffs are already upon us, and Wild Card weekend is this weekend, January 4-5, 2014. Where has this season gone? With all the off the field (and some on the field) drama, great plays, and the alphabet network in Bristol, CT going crazy over every move Peyton Manning makes, this season pretty much flew by. In some ways, I am glad it’s over.
There has been so much drama, particularly off the field. I never seen so much drama before. No team was immune, either. There was drama and controversy concerning QBs feuding with the Head Coaches. A high profile Tight End is in jail for an alleged murder. A Line Backer serves a six game suspension for PEDs. A couple of team officials get busted for DWIs. To top it all off, there was “Black Monday,” on December 30, 2013, where six (so far) head coaches lost their jobs.
So, without further ado, here is my review of the 2013-14 Season and my brief Wild Card Picks for this weekend. I hope you will enjoy this blog.
I will start with my brief Wild Card Picks for this weekend. The four games are as follows: Saturday, January 4th, the Kansas City Chiefs(5) face the Indianapolis Colts(4) in Indianapolis, IN, followed by the New Orleans Saints (6) facing the Philadelphia Eagles (3). Sunday features the San Diego Chargers (6) going into Cincinnati to take on the Bengals (3). The last game of that day is the San Fransisco 49ers (5) going into the legendary, frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers.
For Saturday, I am going with the Colts at home. The Colts went into Kansas City this season, and just destroyed them. I think having home field advantage will help Andrew Luck and company. The Eagles should defeat the Saints. That Super Dome for the Saints reminds me of certain racehorses who absolutely need their Lasix to run well. I just don’t see them going into Philly and winning.
The Chargers struggled to defeat Kansas City’s BACKUPS in Week 17. The weather is going to be bone chilling, and as long as Bill Leavy is not going to be the referee (see Leavy’s crew’s failure to miss the Chargers’ illegal formation on that Succop Field Goal Attempt that helped the team win), I see the Bengals winning this game. Finally, Bengals QB Andy Dalton will win his first playoff game.
I know there’s usually an upset every weekend. I know Aaron Rodgers is back, and he had that great game against the Bears, despite some rough patches, to win the division for the Packers. I know ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith calls Rodgers a “bad man,” but I think the 49ers are clicking on all cylinders. I am think the 49ers will win this game.
To sum it all up, my picks for Wild Card weekend are: Colts, Eagles, Bengals, and 49ers.
Now to my 2013-14 Year in Review. I will be using my favorite literary device, the Good , the Bad, and the Ugly.
The New England Patriots show their resiliency, despite adversity: What does an elite team, that was just in the AFC Championship Game the previous season, do when the following happens? The team’s top flight TE is going to miss the first six weeks of the season due to recovery from injuries. Their other top flight TE winds up in jail for suspicion of murder, and is cut by the team. Your elite QB has to adjust to new receivers who are rookies, and who himself, suffers a minor hand injury. On top of this, the injured TE returns for a few weeks, only to wind up back on the IR, due to another serious injury.
Most teams would have folded, but not the New England Patriots. As QB Tom Brady said, they are “grinding them (games) out.” Sure, the so called “experts on NFL Network and ESPN were saying all season that the team were not going to make the playoffs, and they could not do anything without either Rob Gronkowski (the injured TE), or Aaron Hernandez (the TE in jail). The “experts,” also could not figure out how the team was winning.
Well, not only did the Patriots make the playoffs (got a #2 seed also), but they did win games (12-4). They did it, by not giving up. They kept fighting. They suffered major injuries to top players (Wilfork, Mayo, Kelly, etc.), but still kept going. Love them or hate them. The Patriots are a team that is showing so many ways they can win. They are creative with the passing game, and have a real good running game. QB Tom Brady is showing the NFL what a real MVP is, by leading this team through a rough season, to the playoffs, despite having a “down year” statistically.
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos set records: If you have read my NFL work, you know that I am not a Peyton Manning fan. I also have made it clear that I also hate the deification of him, particularly by ESPN. I am tired of the Papa John’s commercials. I am tired of the Master Card ads, and the deification of Archie Manning. I am tired of hearing about the entire Manning family.
That being said, I do respect his talent. I respect his knowledge and respect for the game. He had a great season, especially at age 37. Did I mention he had four neck surgeries also? This season, along with weapons like Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas, Manning set the Season TD record of 55 TDs. Manning also set the Season passing yards record. Manning will likely be the MVP of the league for the 5th time.
The Maturation of Panthers QB Cam Newton: When Auburn’s Cam Newton was picked #1 by the Carolina Panthers in 2011, many questioned his ability to be a professional QB. His doubters questioned his quarterbacking skills, and especially his maturity on and off the field. Speaking for myself, I was not one of them. I could not have cared less about that “scandal” at Auburn concerning his dad. I also could care less that he went to Auburn or Alabama. I honestly liked what I saw from Newton on the field in college.
In Newton’s first year, he was dynamic, both as a QB and as an NFL player. He would be throwing for several hundred yards a game. He would be making plays with both his arm and his feet. When he scored a TD, he’d perform his trademark “Superman” posture. He was a real exciting player to watch. Unfortunately, the team finished 6-10, but the very exciting Cam Newton was voted 2011 Rookie of the Year.
Problems with success emerged in Newton’s second season (known as Sophomore slump). The team wasn’t doing well, and Cam was taking the losses and his own mistakes personally. He got criticized heavily by fans and the media for his behavior. The team finished with a record of 7-9, and even head coach Ron Rivera was rumored to be on the “hot seat,” as far as his job was concerned.
Throughout this year, we saw a very different Cam Newton. He appeared to take the criticism to heart, and became more of a leader. He realized that he did not have to attempt to win the game by himself. He has matured off the field as well, as he sounds much more in control in press conferences. With the guidance of his head coach, Ron Rivera, Cam Newton has learned to not get overwhelmed when things are not going well (see Week 17 game against Falcons), and lead the team out of bad situations. He has now led the Panthers to not only a playoff game, but the 2nd seed in the NFC.
So Many Disappointing Teams: During his WrestleMania 27 feud in 2011 with Albert Del Rio, WWE World Champion Edge said in a very ironic promo, “Destiny can change in a blink of an eye.” The irony behind that was that even though at WrestleMania 27, Edge retained his title (for once), and interrupted Alberto Del Rio’s “destiny” of becoming World Champion, a week later, Edge’s destiny was that he’d be forced into (legit) retirement due to neck injuries from wrestling, and he’d surrender the belt.
As for the statement itself, as the saying goes, “Ain’t that the truth!” There were so many disappointing teams that were in the playoffs last year, and also were Super Bowl caliber teams that one would think would be destined to have similar seasons this year. Boy, does destiny change fast. Then again, NFL means, “Not for long.”
The first game of the season between the Denver Broncos and the defending champion Baltimore Ravens should have given Raven fans a clue. The Ravens had lost leaders on defense (Reed, Lewis), and play-makers on offense (Pitta (injured, but returned later), Boldin). To their credit, Ozzie Newsome, their GM, locked up QB Joe Flacco for 120 Million dollars. However, the team’s defense was just good, not great. Their offense was very uneven. They had a hard time scoring TDs near the very end of the season.
The Ravens won games that they shouldn’t have, particularly that Lions game on Monday Night. Had those Lions been more disciplined, they would have won. How do you lose a game to a team whose “offense” (if you want to call it that) is the KICKER? I mean, the Ravens beat the Lions (with all their talent) with FIELD GOALS. That is some offense. I still could not believe that all the ESPN “experts” picked the Ravens over the Patriots the following week. No way was Belichick and Brady going to lose to a team whose offense is the kicker. Ravens got pummeled by the Pats, and lost to Cincinnati, and are gone from the playoffs.
What happened to the Atlanta Falcons? Here they were last year, one game away from the Promised Land, and this year, they struggled to win a game. Everyone, from NFL Network to ESPN, heck, even I picked them to win the NFC South. What happened? Some will say injuries hurt them. Every team has injuries. Again, look at the Patriots. They’re decimated with injuries, and managed to make the playoffs.
Matt Ryan, who is a very good QB, did not have his targets for much of the season, who were injured. His O line was not much help either. However, if he’s the elite QB that the press says he is, he’s supposed to be able to work with what he has. The same also applies to the aforementioned Joe Flacco. Both guys are very good, but I wouldn’t call them elite.
The Texans, the Steelers, and the New York Giants were also just huge disappointments as well. I have never bought into Matt Schaub as a top QB. He is a decent QB, who had excellent weapons, such as Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and Owen Daniels. The Texans’ defense was top notch. What really killed the team was Matt Schaub’s Pick Sixes. I think what happened was that once he started throwing one or two, and the criticism started, the criticism got in his head. He then could not get out of the habit. The team was put in such a hole that they never could undo the damage. Gary Kubiak not only suffered a TIA, but was fired before the end of the season.
The Steelers never completely recovered from their 0-4 start. I think Mike Tomlin, the head coach, at times, never had that team ready to play. The relationship between QB Ben Roethlisberger and Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley has been in question. The offensive strategy and the aging defense had also hampered the team. The majority of the blame for the Steelers’ recent inability to make the playoffs the last two years falls on the front office.
How on earth in a league that is a passing league do you basically stay in the “dark ages,” and draft offensive line players that just run block, and are terrible at pass blocking? The team has 100 million dollar QB, and do not have an O line to protect him. The Steelers also need to not only depend on the draft. They need to go out into free agency, and get play-makers for Ben. They have very good receivers, but they need upgrades at the TE position. The Steelers must get younger at defense, and at defensive coordinator. Todd Haley must go.
The Giants are baffling. This is the team that twice defeated New England with two lucky plays, right? This is the team that has a Manning at QB, right? Of course, it is Eli Manning. The same Eli Manning who in 2011, said he was an “elite QB,” and went out and beat the Patriots, albeit with another lucky play. Well, not only did Eli lead the league in INTs, evidently, he and his receivers are not on the same page. Fortunately, Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride retired, so I hope there will be improvement in that area.
It also didn’t help that the offensive line was a mess, and rattled with injuries. On the last game of the season, Eli himself suffered a high ankle sprain, thanks to the mess of an O line. The Giants defense was also a mess. The Giants took forever to win a game. Poor Tom Coughlin, I would watch the game, and he looked like he was going to explode, the team played so badly. I was kind of surprised that Coughlin didn’t get fired. This team has a lot of housecleaning to do.
The Officiating: I don’t know which was worse this year, horse racing stewards (especially at Santa Anita Racetrack), or NFL officials. All over the NFL map, there was one or two games where the analysts did not talk about the game, but talked about the officials’ controversial call. For me, the referees should seen and not heard. Some of those calls that were made just blew my mind.
While I do not wear a tin foiled hat, and say “the NFL/referees are trying to screw “X team,” I just wonder why, in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s zeal to make the game “safer,” do referee crews constantly make inconsistent calls in similar situations. I mean, “offensive pass interference” in a Packers vs Lions game, should be “offensive pass interference” in a Ravens vs. Chargers game.
The call that really annoyed me this season took place in the Super Dome at the 49ers at the Saints Game. 49ers’ defender Ahmad Brooks sacked QB Drew Brees, causing a fumble, which the 49ers recovered. The ref threw the flag for “roughing the passer.” That cost the 49ers 15 yards, and the Saints wound up winning the game. Brooks was fined nearly $16,000, but even though the NFL claimed the call was “correct,” appeals officer Matt Birk approved Brooks’ appeal of his fine.
This call drove me nuts. It was a hard hitting play, and in my opinion, Drew Brees was selling that hit like a car salesman. I mean, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels could not have done a better sell job. Besides, it is not Brooks’ fault, he hit a QB that is 5′ 11.” Drew Brees is also one of the “Golden Children,” who get the star treatment (a defender coughs near them, the poor soul gets a flag). That also worked against Brooks. I mean, it was a big hit. This is football, not a garden party.
QBs vs. the Head Coaches. Wow. I know in the NBA, it’s a player’s league, and even in the NFL, many stars get preferential treatment. I am talking about guys like P. Manning, Brady, Brees, etc. Every team knows the top guys get breaks, especially the QBs. However, I never seen so much feuding between QBs and their head coaches like I saw here.
As we know, now former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano butted heads with then QB Josh Freeman. Schiano was thought to have undermined the team’s vote for captains, leaving Freeman without being named captain. Schiano also was accused of leaking damaging information concerning Freeman, such as his being late for meetings, and not being in the team photo. There were allegations that Schiano leaked information that Freeman was in the drug program. Eventually, Freeman was cut, and wound up with the Vikings.
RGIII and Shanahan clashed over whether RGIII would play during the pre-season, both privately and publicly. From the time RGIII got on the field in Week One against the Eagles, it was obvious that he wasn’t himself yet. As the season progressed, RGIII would be publicly throwing people under the bus, whether it is his own teammates, or the coaching staff. Things came to a head when Shanahan benched RGIII for the last 3 games “to keep him healthy.” I realize that RGIII was not playing well, and was getting hit a ton, but I just thought Shanahan was just trying to get fired, and that’s what happened at season’s end.
Well, that’s my blog. I hope you enjoyed it.
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/giopontifan
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