Buffalo Bills Week 2 Primer

The Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday in what will be the biggest home opener in Western New York in years.  It will be an emotionally charged day in Orchard Park as the Bills face their biggest rival, the Miami Dolphins.  Both teams are coming off of big opening weeks wins.  The Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots in Miami by a score of 33-20 and the Bills defeated the Chicago Bears at Soldier’s Field in overtime by a score of 23-20.  A win on Sunday will be huge for either team as they will jump ahead of the division with a 2-0 record.  The Dolphins had perhaps a more impressive victory last week but the Bills will be the ones with the home field advantage on Sundays.  Here is a look at what to watch for in this Week 2 match-up:

Bills QB E.J. Manuel

Bills QB E.J. Manuel

When the Bills have the ball:  The Bills slowed it down last week opposite the high-powered Bears offense but look for a quicker pace on Sunday.  The Dolphins suffered several key injuries in week 1 on defense and the Bills will try to exploit that by keeping the Dolphins on their toes.  The Patriots had some success against the Dolphins on the edges last week so look for the Bills to get creative with Sammy Watkins.  They’ll also try to pound the ball with the running backs to try and control the clock.  The Bills’ offensive line held their own last week against Chicago but will have a tough task with Cameron Wake and company on Sunday.  E.J. Manuel bucked his rookie year trend by passing for a 7.9 yards per pass average in week 1, over a yard better than the 6.4 yard average that he had during his rookie season.  Look for Manuel to take more shots down field with Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin.  If the Bills can protect Manuel they should be able to find success on offense against a depleted a Dolphins defense.

When the Dolphins have the ball:  The Dolphins got a big game out of former Broncos’ running back Knowshon Moreno on opening day.  They tired the Patriots’ defense out last week in the Miami heat and humidity but they won’t have the same opportunity this weekend in the cozy September Western New York atmosphere.  They’ll need to come up with a different game plan in Buffalo.  They are going to have to protect Ryan Tannehill like they did last week.  The Dolphins’ O-Line looked great against New England but will be facing 3 Pro Bowlers in Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus on Sunday.  If Tannehill is under heavy pressure all day it will force him into mistakes and give the Bills opportunities to score points off of turnovers.  Tannehill does not have a stellar track record away from Sun Life Stadium so if he wants to show that last Sunday wasn’t a red herring he’s going to have to show up big eventually in a tough road environment.  Sunday will be a perfect opportunity to do just that.  We’ll see if he can get it done on Sunday.

X-Factor for the Bills:  QB E.J. Manuel - Manuel could probably go one of three ways on Sunday.  He can exploit the injuries on the Miami defense and ride the emotional highs to a big time performance, he can lay an absolute egg and hurt the Bills’ chances of winning or he can be an effective game manager and do just enough that the defense and running game can take over the game.  He hasn’t had too many of the first type of games but if there ever was an opportunity for one in his young career it will be this Sunday. It could be the perfect storm for Manuel to have a break out game.  However if the Dolphins come to play on offense game manager Manuel will probably serve the Bills best.  How the game plays out early will dictate how many chances that they let Manuel take.  If the Dolphins struggle on offense early and the Bills’ defense can force some turnovers then Manuel may take some early shots to try and get in a rhythm.  If Manuel can get his confidence up early he can make a huge impact for the Bills and both this game and beyond.

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake

X-Factor for the Dolphins:  DE Cameron Wake - Wake can literally take over a game – just ask Tom Brady.  Wake was in Brady’s back pocket all day long last Sunday and severely hampered Brady’s production late in the game.  Expect Wake to spend most of the game at left defensive end opposite Bills’ rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson.  It’s a match-up that Wake can exploit and is a much better draw than Henderson’s counterpart, the severely underrated Cordy Glenn.  If Wake can get in Manuel’s back pocket all day like he did to Brady he could single-handedly force Manuel to lay the aforementioned egg.  If Wake is neutralized by the Bills’ offensive line then it could be a long game for an injured Miami defense.  Wake is that star of that defense and needs to set the pace.

Final Thoughts:  It’s going to be very tough for the Dolphins to take the Buffalo crowd out of the game.  It has all of the makings of an epic crowd this a Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The RD lot was already full on Saturday afternoon.  Ryan Tannehill will have to battle the crowd noise along with a stout Buffalo front line.  Both teams have a good amount of momentum heading into the game but this is just too good a set-up for a happy ending of the Bills’ story book week.  Maybe Ryan Tannehill puts it together but I don’t think it happens this week.  The Bills ride a week of momentum with a complete team victory and get to 2-0.

Final Score Prediction:  Buffalo Bills 31, Miami Dolphins 23

There Were Once Great Men…

Wilson_Ralph_04_630We’ve heard all week about the saga involving Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and the Baltimore Ravens.  It seems to have put the game of football as a whole at a cross roads.  Goodell has dug in while many have called for his resignation.  He’s ordered an internal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller but to many it isn’t enough.  There has been talk of repercussions, sponsors dropping the league, maybe even a boycott.  Maybe we just need a reminder that there were great men that brought it this sport and maybe there could be more great men who can help lead it into the future.

This Sunday will mark the first game in Buffalo Bills history that it’s founder Ralph C. Wilson won’t be around for.  He died this past March 25th at the age of 95 after 54 years of owning one of the city of Buffalo’s two major sports franchise.  Wilson originally wanted to get into the AFL in the late 50’s with the new franchise in South Florida but when the Miami team went to someone else he told AFL founder Lamar Hunt to “count me in with Buffalo”.  Over 50 years later when someone mentions the city of Buffalo football is surely brought to mind.  The passion for their football team is ingrained as a way of life in Western New York.  Wilson birthed that way of life when he founded the Bills in late 1959.

For almost 20 years the vultures have been circling around the Buffalo Bills franchise.  As far back as the early 90’s, in the middle of the Bills’ heyday as 4-time AFC Champions, there were rumors that the team would be moved to Los Angeles.  By the end of the Bills’ 4-year Super Bowl run Wilson was already 75 years old and the line of succession had already been set – Ralph Wilson’s family would sell the team upon it’s death.  Big wigs from Los Angeles, Toronto and other large metropolises sniffed around the Bills for 20 years but Ralph stand firm on his plan to hold onto the team, in Buffalo, until his death.  After his death this past March his hand-picked trust set out to carry out his plan to sell off the Bills with one very specific instruction – that the franchise does not, under any circumstance, leave Western New York.  That’s how earlier this week it came to pass that Ralph C. Wilson’s $25,000 investment in 1959 turned into a $1.4 billion entity and it did so with the team’s long term security in Buffalo as strong as it’s ever been.

wilson-ralph-kelly-jimAnd so for the first time in two decades fans of the Buffalo Bills will be going to the stadium this Sunday with the knowledge that their children will be able to come to the games and watch their home town Bills when they are their age with kids of their own.  If that’s no reason to love this game than I don’t know what is.  It’s important to remember that for every Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and Jerry Jones there is a Bob Kalsu, a Pete Rozelle, a Ralph Wilson.  Guys like Wilson literally gave the NFL to us fans over his many years of service.  Hell, we don’t need to boycott the NFL.  We just need to take it back.

Erik Venskus

EJ Manuel And Other Draft Day 1 Thoughts

The Buffalo Bills surprised the football world last night when they selected EJ Manuel with the 16th pick in the NFL draft, making him the first and only quarterback drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.  While Manuel wasn’t the #1 quarterback on most people’s draft boards (although he was on top guru Mike Mayock’s board) it does make a lot more sense when you step back and think about it.

New Bills QB EJ Manuel

New Bills QB EJ Manuel

For starters Manuel is the most comparable to the big quarterbacks taken in the past few drafts.  Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Colin Kapernick, Russell Wilson, even Andrew Luck are more comparable to Manuel than to Nassib or Barkley.  There were also arm strength questions with Barkley and Nassib and that’s is an issue for a quarterback who needs to play home games in Buffalo in November and December and, God-willing, January.  Manuel has good arm strength.  He also has great accuracy on short, quick routes which is what you’ll likely see a lot of from the Bills this coming season.  Also I think some of the shock from the national media was born out of sheer laziness.  Earlier in the week I heard Mel kiper Jr. cite Ryan Nassib as the most over-valued potential first round pick.  Nassib of course wasn’t picked in the first round but it was almost as if Kiper was resigned to the fact that Doug Marrone was simply going to stay put and take his college QB.  Not that the media needs to spend a lot of time thinking about what the Bills are going to do but the spitefulness of being so far off is a bit silly.

Manuel built a solid resume at Florida State

Manuel built a solid resume at Florida State

As for my own opinion of the Manuel pick I am cautiously optimistic.  Over the course of watching the NCAA over the past few seasons I have to say that Manuel was the most impressive guy to me in my very unprofessional opinion from watching NCAA football games over the last few years.  I like that he played at a big program down in FLA (just like the Bills’ last franchise QB) and I like that he’s 4-0 in bowl games.  After seeing all of the interviews and press conferences since the pick you’ve also got to be impressed with how this kid handles himself.  He seems like he should have a good handle on the locker room and the huddle.

As for other picks that I liked in the first round – I liked the Steelers grabbing Jarvis Jones at 17, The Colts taking German pass rusher Bjorn Werner at 23 and the Ravens replacing Ed Reed with Matt Elam at #32.  Then of course there was another one of those grand larceny trades made by Bill Belichick and the Pats.  Tonight it will be interesting to see where some of the big names leftover go.  As far as the Bills go I would look for WR, MLB and TE.

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Marathon Monday

Almost exactly one week ago I did the same thing that I had done every 3rd Monday of April for 5 of the past 6 years.  I woke up bright and early, got ready, left the house before 9:00 AM and hopped on a train at Packard’s Corner in Allston to head down to the Hynes Convention Center station.  From there I walked up to LIR on 903 Boylston Street and took a seat at the bar to watch the marathon and the Red Sox game just as I have in each of those years before.

The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon

I wasn’t close to the blasts when they went off.  I was likely walking towards Commonwealth Avenue on Hereford Street when it happened.  I did not hear or feel the blasts (my level of intoxication at the time likely contributed to that) but as soon as I turned onto Comm. Ave. police cars and motorcycles were already racing to the scene.  I walked down to Kenmore and before crossing the street to go into Bertucci’s, and after a barrage of text messages made me wise to what had happened, I had to stop for the ambulances that were already starting transporting victims of the attack, not 10 minutes since the attack had taken place.

Unfortunately the perpetrators of the attack took the lives of 3 people and the livelihood of many more who will be forced to live the rest of their lives with debilitating injuries caused by the attack.  But what they did last Monday was not just an attack on our people or even on our freedom.  It was an attack on our tradition.  Every 3rd Monday in April.  That day has become more than just a marathon to the people of Boston.  Since 1968 the Red Sox have played a home game at Fenway Park at 11 AM every year to coincide with when the bulk of the marathon is being run outside Fenway Park.  It’s not just a drinking day, it’s a celebration.  It’s a day to spend with your friends and your family.  Many times you will see people that you haven’t seen for the entire year, by design or otherwise, down on Boylston Street drinking a beer or cheering on a friend from the sidewalk.  It’s a day to be a Bostonian.  The Patriot’s Day experience – the marathon, the Sox game, the celebration, the tradition – is as Bostonian as apple pie is American.

The events of the past week will stay with me forever.  I will never forget sitting in Bertucci’s watching the reports of the attack on that day, barely more than a mile from where it had taken place.  I will never forget being glued to the news watching as the investigation slowly unfolded for 3 days.  I will never forget hearing the sirens early Friday morning as policemen rushed to the aid the officers under attack in Watertown.  I will never forget the “internet manhunt” over two sleepless days led by El Presidente.  I will never forget being locked down in my home for the better part of a day and then leaving to go to the store after the lock down ended and finding half of the people of Allston out on the street.  I will never forget trying to have a peaceful beer on my porch after the lock down had ended until being interrupted by another cavalcade of sirens in the distance heading toward the final moments of the saga.  I will never forget the police guarded ambulance passing behind my house.  I will never forget the President’s speech, the Governor’s speech or Big Papi’s speech.  All of these events of the past week will both haunt and inspire me for the rest of my days.

There will be one moment when I will forget all of this though.  It will be in about a year, the 3rd Monday in April of 2014.  That day I will wake up bright and early, get ready, leave the house before 9 AM and get to that bar stool at LIR in time for the start of the marathon and the Red Sox game.  Thousands will join me in continuing their Patriots Day traditions.  Some will run, some will watch, some will sit in a bar stool and enjoy the celebration.  That’s the great thing about tradition – you can attack it but you can never really truly take it away.  And on the 3rd Monday of April next year the City of Boston will show the world that our traditions can not be broken.

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Quick Thoughts on Red Sox Game #1

The good news is that for the first time since 2010 the Red Sox started 1-0.  The better news is that for the first time since 2010 that the Red Sox will not be swept in the first series of the season.  The new look Red Sox offense put a ton of pressure on Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Jon Lester got his first opening day victory in three tries for the Red Sox.  Here are some quick, very premature thoughts on the first game of the season.

  • Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Lester was sharp in all but 1 inning

    Jon Lester looked sharp in all but 1 inning but that 1 inning is a killer.  Last year the guy would just lose himself at times and that is what led to his downfall.  It happened again in the 4th inning but luckily he got it back in the 5th to finish out the start and get the win.  Lester needs to eliminate that problem inning because the bottom line is he’s piling up too many damn pitches early in the game.  He can’t rely on the bullpen all season long to clean up his messes.

  • All that being said above the Red Sox bullpen did a hell of a job cleaning up his mess.  It was an interesting strategy by Farrell to use virtually everyone but it worked out today.  Andrew Miller showed how maddening he can be by walking the first two and striking out the next two.  Bailey and Hanrahan both had some extra juice on their fastballs today, they may have been saving that stuff for the regular season.  If the guys in the back end pitch like they did today this team will be tough to beat with a lead late in games.
  • Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 7th

    Jonny Gomes celebrate his hustle run in the 9th

    The Red Sox offense did work without Napoli or Middlebrooks doing anything.  Crazy as it sounds I’m not rushing Papi back because Jonny Gomes is a gamer.  That was a great hustle play to score on Ellsbury’s infield single in the 9th.

  • It was nice to see the Red Sox get back to basics overall.  There was no half-assing on the base paths.  Iglesias did what he had to do to get on base with a bunt single and two infield hits.  Bradley walked 3 times, which is as many times as Crawford walked ALL SEASON last year.  They worked Sabathia early and drove up the pitch count and he only lasted 5 innings.  This is the kind of thing that you saw night in and night out during the Francona years and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come this season.
  • I can’t believe I saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk 3 times in the same baseball game.  I’ll wait and see if it was just an aberration or if he has finally learned how to take pitches.
  • Jackass

    Jackass

    It was a great start for the Red Sox no doubt but there is one thing that can’t be denied – the Yankees lineup sucks.  Every time they started a rally they’d have a scrub like Lyle Overbay or Jayson Nix come up (or is it Lance Nix?  I’m not even sure which one it was.)  Guys like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, even Ichiro, these guys haven’t been any good in years and they are relying on them in key spots.  You could see that Youk strike out against Bailey in the 7th coming from a mile away.  Like we haven’t had that scouting report on him for a decade.  And he’s their clean-up hitter right now.

  • Joba Chamberlain looks like a jackass with his porn stache.
  • The thing that I hate about opening day is they play the first game and you are all pumped up for baseball to be back and then they don’t play again for another day and a half.  We’ll see if the Red Sox can make it 2 for 2 Wednesday night in the Bronx.

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Super Bowl XLVII Preview And Prediction

Super Bowl XVLII - Ray Ray's last ride

Super Bowl XLVII – Ray Ray’s last ride

Super Bowl XLVII.  Brother vrs. Brother.  Ray Lewis’ last game.  The 49ers’ drive for 6.  There are plenty of sub-plots to this Super Bowl.  One thing you can most definitely expect between these two teams is a smash-mouth football game.  Both of these teams pride themselves on their physicality.  The Ravens defense might be a bit older and not as fast as they once were but they will still get their money’s worth when they lay a hit on their opponents.  The 49ers play a physical brand of football themselves, led by their All-World middle linebacker Patrick Willis.  The two quarterbacks matching up in this game, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, couldn’t be any more different.  Flacco is a traditional pocket passer.  Kaepernick represents the new generation of running QBs’, guys like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick.  Here is how the teams match up:

When the 49ers have the ball

Kaepernick has broken out for the 49ers in 2012

Kaepernick has broken out for the 49ers in 2012

The challenge that the 49ers offense brings is their three-pronged rushing attack with 3 different looks.  Frank Gore, at 217 pounds, is the bruiser of the bunch.  5’9″, 195 lb. rookie LaMichael James comes in as the speed guy.  Then there is Kaepernick, standing at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 230 lbs.  What makes things trickier is the effectiveness of the read-option.  Kaepernick can either hand the ball off to one of the running backs or keep it himself and the defense will need to be ready for either player.  Key in the defense of the read option is the play of the middle linebackers so Ray Lewis is going to have to be ready to defend that play.  Does he still have the speed to track down either the running back or quarterback out there?  We are going to see early and often tonight.  Kaepernick has a laser arm to go with his legs but the Ravens’ secondary, and Ed Reed in particular, have done a great job of keeping the passing plays in front of them all post-season long.  They held both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady without a completion in the air of more than 25 yards.  The 49ers have an awful lot of weapons to get down the field – Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss.  It is tough to defend all of those guys in the open field.  The 49ers love to use their tight ends down the middle of the field.  It will be up to the old men – Lewis and Reed – to try and keep Vernon Davis and Delaney Walker at bay.  There has been a lot of talk about Lewis in the weeks leading up to the game and be prepared for the spotlight to be on him when the game starts as well because he really will be one of the focal points of the Ravens’ defense.

When the Ravens have the ball

The oft-criticized Flacco will look to silence his critics with a Super Bowl victory

The oft-criticized Flacco will look to silence his critics with a Super Bowl victory

Ray Rice is going to get hit in this game and he is going to get hit hard.  The 49ers may have one of the most physical front sevens in the NFL.  Aldon Smith has been quiet in the post-season and seems poised for a break-out game but the Ravens offensive line has played exceptionally well since they inserted veteran Bryant McKinnie into the starting lineup.  Expect to see a lot of Bernard Pierce, a bigger and more physical back than Rice, in the lineup as the Ravens try to match strength for strength.  Fullback Vonta Leach will also play a big role.  In the passing game we all know that Joe Flacco likes to sling it.  The 49ers have a decent secondary with Carlos Rogers and DaShon Goldson but they are susceptible down the field.  Expect Flacco to target speedster Torrey Smith early and often and tight end Dennis Pitta might be a mis-match for the incredibly overrated strong safety Donte Whitner.  The Ravens love to use Ray Rice in the passing game as well but the 49ers linebackers are very fast.  When Flacco gains confidence he is very good so the key for the 49ers defense will be to pressure him early and make him miss on his throws.  Aldon Smith NEEDS to get involved for the 49ers to have early success against Flacco and the Ravens offense.

Prediction

This is a tough one to predict.  I think that there will be a lot of defense in this game but I still think both teams can hit on big plays.  The most interesting storyline to me is that Lewis will be so important to that Ravens defense but at the same time he could be a liability out there with the speed of the 49ers offense.  You always talk about destiny and what was meant to be and all that and Ray Lewis is going to leave it all on the field and his teammates will do the same for Ray Ray’s last game.  On the flip side the 49ers are the prototypical new-age NFL team.  Fast and physical.  Clearly, at least on paper, the 49ers are the better team.  The final score will come down to what trumps all – emotion or talent.  Today I have to go with the talent.  The Ravens defense will be just a step slow to keep up with the 49ers offense.  The Niners take their 6th Super Bowl in as many tries.

Final Score Prediction: San Fransisco 49ers 28, Baltimore Ravens 24

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The Super Bowl By The Numbers

Super Bowl XLVII is Sunday.  I did this last year and am updating again with some more facts from this year’s game:

  • CBS will broadcast their 18th Super Bowl this Sunday.  That is more than any other network.  NBC is in 2nd place with 17 Super Bowl broadcasts.
  • Today will be Super Bowl #8 at the Superdome

    Today will be Super Bowl #8 at the Superdome

    This year’s Super Bowl will be the 8th at the Louisiana Superdome.  The city of New Orleans has now hosted 11 Super Bowls, pulling one ahead of the city of Miami for the most all-time.  Miami has hosted 5 at the Orange Bowl and 5 at Sun Life Stadium.  New Orleans hosted 3 at Tulane Stadium in addition to the 8 at the Superdome.

  • Pat Summerall has announced the most Super Bowls with 11.  Al Michaels and Dick Enberg are tied for 2nd all-time 2nd all-time when he announces his 8th Super Bowl.  John Madden has the most appearances as colour-man with 11 games.
  • Sunday’s game will be the 3rd Super Bowl that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have called together.  This will be Simms’ 5th Super Bowl broadcast having previously called 2 with Greg Gumbel.
  • Jack Buck announced 16 Super Bowls on the radio, most all-time.
  • The Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers each have 8 Super Bowl appearances, tied for the most all-time.
  • The Steelers has 6 Super Bowl victories, which is the most all-time.  The 49ers look to match them this year.
  • There have been 6 re-matches in Super Bowl history.  The Cowboys and the Steelers are the only two teams to play each other in the Super Bowl 3 times.
  • Former Cowboy and 49er Charles Haley 5 Super Bowl rings - more than any other player

    Former Cowboy and 49er Charles Haley 5 Super Bowl rings – more than any other player

    Defensive End Charles Haley has the most Super Bowl victories with 5.  He won 2 with the San Fransisco 49ers and 3 with the Dallas Cowboys

  • One player has played in 6 Super Bowls.  Defensive lineman Mike Lodish played in 4 with the Buffalo Bills and 2 with the Denver Broncos.  Wide receiver Don Beebe played in 4 with the Buffalo Bills and 1 with the Green Bay Packers but was on injured reserve in 1997 when the Packers went to their 2nd straight Super Bowl.
  • The longest pass play in Super Bowl history was a 85 yard touchdown pass from Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme to WR Muhsin Muhammad in Super Bowl XXXVIII.  The longest running play was a 75 yard touchdown run by Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker in Super Bowl XL.
  • The longest interception return was a 100 yard TD return by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison in Super Bowl XLIII.  That was also the longest play in Super Bowl history.  The longest fumble return in Super Bowl history was Dallas Cowboys’ defensive tackle Leon Lett’s infamous 64 yard fumble return in Super Bowl XXVII.  Lett fumbled the ball back to the Bills right before he reached the end zone when wide receiver Don Beebe came from behind to knock the ball loose.
  • The longest field goal in Super Bowl history is a 54 yard field goal from Buffalo Bills kicker Steve Christie in Super Bowl XXVIII.  The longest punt in Super Bowl history was a 63 yarder by Cincinnati Bengals punter Lee Johnson in Super Bowl XXIII.
  • The longest kickoff return in Super Bowl history was a 99 yard TD return by Green Bay Packers receiver Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI.  The longest punt return in Super Bowl history was a 45 yard return by San Fransisco 49ers receiver John Taylor in Super Bowl XXIII.  No punt has ever been returned for a TD in the Super Bowl.
  • The highest scoring Super Bowl of all-time was Super Bowl XXIX in which the San Fransisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 49-26.  There were 75 total points scored in the game.
  • MIA K Garo Yepremian's botch lead to the Redskins' only TD in the 1972 game

    MIA K Garo Yepremian’s botch lead to the Redskins’ only TD in the 1972 game

    The lowest scoring Super Bowl in history was Super Bowl VII in which the Miami Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 14-7.  21 total points were scored in that one.

  • The largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history was Super Bowl XXIV in which the San Fransisco 49ers defeated the Denver Broncos by a score of 55-10.
  • The smallest margin of victory in Super Bowl history was Super Bowl XXV in which the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills by a score of 20-19.
  • Don Shula has coached the most games in Super Bowl history with 6.  He coached 1 for the Baltimore Colts and 5 for the Miami Dolphins.  Chuck Noll has won the most Super Bowls as a head coach, winning 4 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • The oldest coach ever to win a Super Bowl was St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil in Super Bowl XXXIV.  He was 63 years and 92 days old when he won that game.  The youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl was Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin in Super Bowl XLIII.  He was 36 years and 341 days when he won it.
  • No head coach has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams.
  • Obviously this year’s game will be the first time that the two head coaches in the Super Bowl – Jim Harbaugh of the San Fransisco 49ers and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens – are brothers
  • The Super Bowl has never gone into overtime.
  • The 49ers are 5-0 all-time in the Super Bowl.  They are looking for their 6th Super Bowl win which would tie them for the most all-time.  The Steelers are 6-2 in the Super Bowl all-time.
  • The Ravens are 1-0 in the Super Bowl.  Their only appearance came back after the 2000 season when they defeated the New York Giants 34-7.  Ray Lewis was the MVP of that Super Bowl.
  • Joe Montana has won Super Bowl MVP 3 times, more than anyone in Super Bowl history.  Colin Kaepernick will try to join Montana and Steve Young as a Super Bowl MVP starting quarterback for the 49ers.  In all but one of the 5 previous Super Bowl wins for the 49ers has the starting quarterback won the game’s MVP.

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NFL Championship Sunday Playoff Picks

Championship Sunday is here and 3 of the 4 teams playing today were playing on Championship Sunday last year.  The Patriots, Ravens, and 49ers are all making their second trip in a row to their Conference’s respective championship game.  The Falcons are the new team in the equation, replacing last year’s eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.  The Harbaugh brothers were swept out of a chance to make the Super Bowl last year.  Will it happen again this season?

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

NFC Championship Game – San Fransisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons, 3:00 PM on FOX – The Falcons are 4-point underdogs at home to the Niners and most people don’t have much faith in the home-team.  While the Falcons got their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith era last week they were practically begging the Seahawks to steal the game from them before putting it away on a last second field goal.  There was some question as to how 2nd year Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick would acclimate himself in the playoffs and he answered those questions resoundingly last week when he passed for 263 yards, ran for 181 and scored two touchdowns each through the air and on the ground.  I’m not sure if Kaepernick will match the success of his first career playoff start but the Falcons defense will need all hands on deck to stop him.  Veteran defensive end John Abraham missed the second half of last week’s game but should be good to go for this week.  Falcons cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson will try to slow down the Niners weapons on offense.  The bottom line is that while the 49ers offense can beat you the strength of their team really lies on the defensive side of the ball.  Good defense is sometimes forgotten during the post-season when guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are flinging around the rock.  The Niners have the best defense left in the tournament and it’s not really that close.  I’m going to predict that Matt Ryan and company will have a long day dealing with that San Fransisco front 7.  Michael Turner will have trouble as well.  The game will rest on the shoulders of Matt Ryan and I just don’t see him making enough big plays to win this game.  The Falcons defense won’t do enough to overcome this and the 49ers will head to their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.

Final Score Prediction – San Fransisco 49ers 30, Atlanta Falcons 17

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

AFC Championship Game – Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots, 6:30 PM on CBS – They’ll be a lot of cliches used to describe this game – a battle, a bar fight, a bloodbath.  I expect a great game and a close one as well.  No matter what people say about either side anytime these two teams come together they usually play it close.  The Pats are always up for big games like this and you don’t have to ask if the Ravens are going to be ready as it could be Ray Lewis’ last game.  Anyone looking for a blowout in Foxboro should go looking somewhere else.  This is going to be a close game.  I envision more points being scored in this one than last year’s 23-20 AFC final.  The Ravens are a year older on defense and aren’t the juggernaut that they have been in the past.  Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis are both hobbled but I’m guessing Lewis just gets through this one on adrenaline alone.  Ed Reed is the key.  He was quiet last week but he didn’t let Peyton Manning get anything behind him.  He’ll try to do the same with Tom Brady this week.  Defensively the Pats are better than they were last year but I still don’t see a championship caliber defense (not to say that they can’t win a championship, just not on defense alone).  There are some match-up problems for them.  Torrey Smith may be a handful like he was earlier in the season.  If the Pats play the long ball it should open up opportunities for Dennis Pitta and Ray Rice in the middle of the field.  I’ve criticized Joe Flacco a lot but he has come to play during this post-season.  I think he has another strong game today but Tom Brady will be a little bit stronger.  I think the Pats use the home-field to pull this one out but it will be by the most razor-thin of margins (no pun intended).

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 31, Baltimore Ravens 30

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The “Rooney Rule” Is Starting To Look Like A Sham

The “Rooney Rule” was implemented by the NFL in 2003.  Named after it’s benefactor, Steelers owner and chairman if the NFL diversity committee, it requires NFL teams to interview at least 1 minority candidate whenever they fill a head coach or general manager position.  Some saw it as a token act of affirmative action.  Others saw it as a trailblazing move by the NFL to promote diversity in business.

Marvin Lewis was the first minority head coach hired under the "Rooney Rule"

Marvin Lewis was the first minority head coach hired under the “Rooney Rule”

The Rooney Rule seemed like a success in the early going.  In the first 7 years – between 2003 and 2009 – 9 African-American head coaches were hired.  Prior to the Rooney Rule there had only been 7 head coaches in NFL history dating back to 1921.  Additionally there were 3 new African-American candidates to be hired as General Managers, joining the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome and the Cardinals’ Rod Graves who were the only African-American GMs in NFL history at the time that the Rooney Rule was implemented.  For some reason things curtailed badly after the 2009 season.  Since then only 4 minority head coaches were hired and of the three two of them, Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and former Raiders coach Hue Jackson, have already been fired and another, Panthers coach Ron Rivera, was on the fence until the decision was made to retain him a week after New Year’s Day this year.  Only one minority, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, has been hired to a General Manager position since 2009.

So what is the problem?  Is it a lack of success?  There have been 13 minority coaches hired since the Rooney Rule have been implemented.  6 of them – Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith, Herman Edwards, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, and Leslie Frazier – have made it to the playoffs.  That is exactly 50% when you consider that Crennel is counted twice (12 minority coaches for 13 opportunities).  Additionally one of the minority coaches hired during the Rooney Rule era, Dennis Green in Arizona, had previous head coaching playoff experience with the Vikings.  Tomlin won a Super Bowl in 2008 with the Steelers and made another one in 2010.  Caldwell made the Super Bowl in 2009 with the Colts.  Lewis, Smith, Tomlin and Caldwell all qualified for the playoffs multiple times in their coaching careers.  After the firing of Crennel and Smith on “Black Monday” on New Year’s Eve last month only 4 minority head coaches remain – Lewis, Tomlin, Frazier and Rivera.  Two of those (Lewis and Frazier) were in the playoffs this season.  Tomlin’s Steelers failed to qualify for the playoffs for only the 2nd time in his 6 year tenure in Pittsburgh.  Despite being on the chopping block Rivera’s Panthers wound up finishing 7-9 and in 2nd place in the NFC South.

Cards DC Ray Horton had 3 interviews but no offers this off-season

Cards DC Ray Horton had 3 interviews but no offers this off-season

Despite there being 8 head coaching vacancies, precisely a quarter of the league, during this off-season none of the vacancies have gone to a minority candidate.  With Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians being named the new Cardinals coach this evening minority candidates have officially been shut out.  Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton landed 3 interviews – with the Cardinals, Bills and Browns – but was shut out by even his own team.  Lovie Smith, who was 16 games over .500 during his tenure in Chicago, interviewed in Buffalo, Philadelphia and San Diego but was shut out as well.  Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interviewed for the head coaching job of his own team for the 2nd year in a row but was passed over again.  Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong interviewed the Bears and Chiefs but was passed over as well.  All of these interviews satisfied the Rooney Rule but none of them produced a minority head coach.

Of the 8 head coaches hired this off-season 2 were NCAA head coaches, 1 an NFL head coach fired earlier in the off-season, 1 a CFL head coach, 3 were NFL offensive coordinators and 1 an NFL defensive coordinator.  There are 6 African-American assistant coaches who have previously been interim NFL head coaches – Falcons WR coach Terry Robiskie who had interim stints with both the Browns and Redskins, Falcons secondary coach Emmitt Thomas who was interim coach of the Falcons in 2007, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell who served as Bills interim head coach in 2009, Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville who served as interim Broncos head coach in 2010, Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who led the Dolphins on an interim basis in 2011 and the Jaguars Tucker.  Of the 6 only Tucker got any interviews for a head coaching vacancy this season.  3 of the other 5 interim coaches – Robiskie, Thomas, and Studesville – were coaching in the playoffs this post-season.  Another – Fewell – won the Super Bowl as defensive coordinator of the Giants last season.  Somehow none of these men warranted interviews.

Newsome was seen as a trailblazer but only 5 minority GMs have followed him in a decade

Newsome was seen as a trailblazer but only 5 minority GMs have followed him in a decade

The general manager picture is a whole different story.  Newsome was named the 1st African-American GM in NFL history in 2002.  The Ravens have qualified for the playoffs in 7 of the 10 years that Newsome has been at the helm.  The Cardinals Rod Graves was the 2nd African-American GM, elevated a year after Newsome.  His Cardinals made the playoffs twice, in 2008 and 2009, and were the first ever Cardinals team to make a Super Bowl in ’08.  The first three minority GMs hired since the advent of the Rooney Rule – The Texans’ Rick Smith, the Giants’ Jerry Reese and the Lions’ Martin Mayhew, have all run teams that have qualified for the playoffs.  Reese’s Giants won the Super Bowl last season.  The only minority general manager to never have a team qualify for the playoffs is current Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie who was just hired by the club last off-season.  Despite all of the success there hasn’t been a minority hired in any of the 5 GM vacancies and with Seahawks assistant GM John Idzik poised to be the Jets new GM only the Cleveland post will remain.

What has changed in the NFL that is preventing minorities from getting high profile jobs?  Is it a lack of candidates?  Lovie Smith brings a veteran edge and has a winning track record and he will no doubt be back on the sidelines next season but why didn’t any of the other 7 clubs not see him as a fit this year?  Horton and Armstrong were hot names with multiple interviews but both went unhired.  Many of the other high profile minority coordinators including Caldwell, Fewell, Bowles, and Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams weren’t even on anyone’s radar.  There doesn’t seem to be a specific reason for the slow down in minority hires but the trend is certainly disturbing.  Of 15 new head coaches hired since last off-season only one, Romeo Crennel, has been a minority and he has already been fired.

Luckily for the NFL the 1st executive hire of the new league year will likely be a minority when Bills general manager Buddy Nix steps down some time between the NFL draft and the start of training camp.  His replacement will be assistant GM Doug Whaley, an African-American.  Judging by the frequency of minority hirings in the NFL these days it might be a long wait for the next one.

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Sunday NFL Playoff Picks

So I didn’t do so well yesterday going 0-2.  I guess it serves me right for going against both Harbaugh brothers.  I’m still 4-2 on the post-season so hopefully I can get back on the winning track today.  Here are the picks:

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (1:00 PM, FOX) – I love Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.  Pete Carroll not so much though.  The Seahawks have been an incredible story, coming out of nowhere to win 11 games and then winning on the road against RG III and the Redskins last week.  The Seahawks have a great defense but they will be tested today in the dome against Atlanta’s high-powered offense.  The match-up between Seattle CB’s Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman facing off against Atlanta WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White will be a fun one to watch.  I’m not too sure who will get the upper hand in that one.  The Falcons are OK on defense.  Hopefully they were watching how Green Bay handled the read option last night against San Fransisco and do the opposite of what they did.  Seattle uses the read option to feast on opposing defenses and if they get that going it could be a long day for the Atlanta defense.  A lot of people have pointed out this week that rookie Russell Wilson already has more playoff wins than Matt Ryan.  Despite being the NFC’s #1 seed people aren’t expecting much from the Falcons.  I think Matty Ice finally gets it done today as the travel will become too much for the Seahawks.  If the Seahawks had home-field advantage I would ride them all the way to the Super Bowl but they don’t.  I think Ryan does just enough to get his first playoff win and put Atlanta into the NFC Championship game.

Final Score Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 27, Seattle Seahawks 24

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Houston Texans at New England Patriots (4:30, CBS) – I’m thinking that this game will be much closer than the one in Foxboro last month.  Matt Schaub has struggled in the last few weeks but he can wake up today against a below average Pats secondary.  On defense J.J. Watt has to show up more than he did in New England.  The key for Houston is to slow down the Pats offense just enough to keep it close.  Another factor for the Texans will be to limit the mistakes on offense.  On the Pats side obviously they have a lot of playoff experience and the best playoff coach in the game in Bill Belichick.  The Pats will try and do their thing on offense and they should move the ball with everyone healthy.  Stevan Ridley will be key as they will need him to move the ball without fumbling it.  The team who plays mistake-free ball will be the one who advances.  I expect to see a more efficient Matt Schaub this time around against the New England defense but his one mistake will be the difference in the game.  The Pats will take advantage and go into a re-match of last year’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 34, Houston Texans 24

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