Twelve games of the 2015-16 NFL regular season have gone by. That’s three-quarters of the season gone, and the 32 teams are coming around the proverbial far turn, and coming to the top of the stretch, for the final push for the playoffs or the best positions for the 2016 NFL Draft. The NFL wants parity, and they definitely have it, as there are plenty of teams who have 6-5 records and worse, who could still make the playoffs, like the Houston Texans. Of course, there are teams like the Cleveland Browns, who are certain to get a high 2016 draft pick.
During the past 12 games, fans, and the press have been following the saga of the undefeated teams. Twelve weeks later, only one team stands, so Mercury Morris and the 1972 Dolphins need to hold off on their Champagne celebration, for now. There has been controversy over the officiating. Player safety has come to the forefront, thanks to the attention paid to concussions suffered by Rams QB Casey Keenum and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. A knee injury to Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski also has people talking about hits to ball carriers, as well. There’s the issue of moving a team to L.A. as well. In this blog, I will be discussing all the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the 2015-16 NFL regular season.
ONE UNDEFEATED TEAM STANDS
After 12 games played, the Carolina Panthers are the lone undefeated team, after the New England Patriots lost their first game to the Denver Broncos Congratulations to the Panthers organization for getting this far, especially QB Cam Newton. I am NOT a Carolina Panthers fan, by any means. I AM a huge fan of Cam Newton’s. I feel that this team is not getting respect. Are they putting up fancy numbers? Is Cam Newton a fantasy football player’s dream? The answer to both is, “No.” However, they’re playing with an excellent defense and a very good running game. Cam Newton hardly has any weapons all year and is winning with what he has. He’s led this team to critical wins, particularly against Seattle, at Seattle. Newton definitely deserves to be in the MVP discussion.
In speaking of Carolina’s amazing defense, LB Luke Kuechly has been lights-out. If you saw him pick off Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo on Thanksgiving, you saw how highly effective he is. That’s not all. Panthers CB Josh Norman has been having a Defensive Player of the Year like season. Norman so far, has 40 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 INTs. The Panthers defense has been key to the Panthers’ success, and also the entire coaching staff has been fantastic.
As most people know, Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer returned this year from a second ACL tear. To give you a little background, Carson Palmer first tore his ACL when he was the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals at home, against the Pittsburgh Steelers in January 2006, when then Steelers DT Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled into Palmer’s left knee after he threw a 62 yard TD pass. After a rough parting from the Bengals, Palmer spent a few injury filled seasons in Oakland . Last season, as QB for the Arizona Cardinals, Palmer re-tore the ACL.
There was a ton of doubt about Palmer’s effectiveness, as he is 35, and will turn 36 on December 27th. From the way he is playing, he’s proving his detractors wrong, as Palmer has come back to an MVP-like season. He has 27 TDs and 9 INTs. He has passed for 3,337 yards and has a 105.9 passer rating. It is a great thing to see Carson Palmer having the season he’s having, and being in the MVP discussion, along with Cam Newton and New England Patriots QB Tom Brady.
Even though he’s not one of my favorite quarterbacks, there’s no doubt that Broncos QB Peyton Manning is one of the greatest to ever to step on the gridiron. There’s no doubt about that. As much as we fans love our favorite athletes, we realize they can’t perform forever. Peyton Manning has been struggling physically and has been out of action due to a partially torn Plantar Fasciitis for the past 2 weeks. His backup, Brock Osweiler, has won the last 2 games for the Broncos.
There’s a ton of speculation about the quarterback situation in Denver when Peyton Manning recovers. Many feel that the team should stick with the “hot hand,” in Osweiler. Some feel the team should get rid of Peyton Manning, and give Osweiler the starting job. I say that all this talk is very disrespectful to Peyton Manning. We also need to pump the brakes on Brock Osweiler as well. What has Osweiler really accomplished to deserve all this praise? Osweiler won two games, against the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots. In both wins, Osweiler wasn’t lighting the world on fire, and in the Patriots game, there were several questionable calls that went the Broncos’ way, so let’s calm down a bit.
Even though I realize that Brock Osweiler likely fits Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak’s offense better, Peyton Manning should get the starting job back, as soon as he heals up. While a situation like the New York Giants’ Michael Strahan or the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Jerome Bettis, where the retiring athlete goes out on top is rare, and I am not trying to say that this is Peyton Manning’s last year, but I think that once he heals, Manning should be given a shot this year to at least try.. I realize that Peyton Manning’s play is in steep decline, and leads theNFL in interceptions. I realize that Manning is not what he was. I just think the man should at least have a shot to go out on his own terms.
THE DALLAS COWBOYS
The Dallas Cowboys have not been able to get out of their own way this season. I think team owner Jerry Jones brought some of it on himself when he signed DE Greg Hardy, who was facing an initial 10 game suspension by the NFL for a domestic violence incident, which was reduced to 4. Hardy, in his first game back against the visiting New England Patriots, made some creepy pre-game comments about Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s wife. Greg Hardy even made comments about Bundchen’s sister. Since then, Greg Hardy showed his true colors, by showing up late to meetings, fighting with coaches on the sidelines, and having disagreements with teammates. Even Jerry Jones, who defended Hardy earlier, calling Hardy a “team leader, ” is backing off, especially after the release of the photos of Hardy’s domestic violence victim caused an enormous amount of backlash. I’m still amazed that photos were needed to show folks to prove how serious domestic violence is.
What really hurt the Cowboys this year was QB Tony Romo’s clavicle injury in Week 2. They were 2-0, and with Romo out of the lineup, the team was helpless and hopeless. WR Dez Bryant’s foot injury hurt the team badly as well. Backups Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel could not get a win to save their lives. The rest of the team seemed lost. There were several games they could have, and should have won. The game that sticks in my mind is the Seattle Seahawks game. The final score was 13-12, Seattle. The Cowboys had every chance to win. The Cowboys should have swept the Giants also. On Thanksgiving, Romo re-injures the clavicle. What a mess.
INTEGRITY OF THE GAME: THE OFFICIATING
I cannot finish up this blog without a discussion of the horrendous officiating. I realize that the referees have a tough job in memorizing a thick rule book, and they have to make quick decisions in live action. On the other hand, I realize that the NFL players have to control what they can control by making plays, so the referees don’t have to be the ones “deciding the games,” so to speak. The Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino has admitted to mistakes by referees crews, and some have been demoted. However, Blandino has defended the refereeing overall.
The NFL has a serious problem with their referees. This season has seen a ton of high-profile mistakes by the referees. I realize that every game will have mistakes, and the better team will be able to outplay the bad calls. However, during just about every Monday Night Football game this season, there has been at least one screw up by the officials. At the end of Detroit Lions vs the Seattle Seahawks MNF game, the official failed to throw a flag on the Seahawks defender for intentionally knocking the ball out of the end zone, after Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson fumbled it. In the Baltimore Ravens vs Arizona Cardinals MNF game, the official incorrectly ruled Ravens guard John Urschel ineligible, because the referee was distracted.
These were just two. I could go on and on. The Baltimore Ravens were screwed out of a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars because the referees missed the Jaguars being offsides at the very end of the game, which would have triggered a ten second run-off. The New England Patriots vs the Denver Broncos Sunday Night Game was marred by several missed calls of holding, that should have gone against the Broncos. During one point in the game, Broncos LB Von Miller left his feet, and speared Tom Brady, and no flag was thrown. There was a ticky tack holding call on Patriots CB Patrick Chung. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has a total of 5 OPI calls, more than 30 teams. What does the NFL want him to do? It’s bad enough that the NFL is turning into the NBA, where a player grazes someone, it’s pass interference.
The NFL needs to make these referees full time. That would be a start. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business. The NFL can spend billions to move a team to L.A., bit they can’t pay for full-time referees? These referees time to learn these rules, and get them right. I also think streamlining the rulebook, and clarifying some of the rules would help as well. The definition of a “catch” is becoming murkier by the week. It is at the point where no one knows what a catch is. This should not be like figure skating, where there’s a specific definition of what a Triple Lutz is. Perhaps allowing more plays to be challenged, like pass interference, and allowing each team an extra challenge.
I am NOT trying to take the “human element” out of the game, or make each game 5 hours. This is about the integrity of the game. There will always be mistakes made by the officials, and the players ultimately decide the outcome. The officiating in the NFL needs to be improved drastically, to reduce mistakes. Fans pay tons of money for tickets, merchandise, etc. The least the NFL can do is have competent officiating, so fans don’t think they’re being taken for a ride. No fan wants to think that the NFL and the WWE are one and the same. Dean Blandino’s “Hear No Evil, See No Evil.” “Speak No Evil” act concerning the officiating has to go. Blandino can only ignore the problem for so long.
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