Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Roger Goodell Made His Bed, And Now He May Have to Sleep In It

Many football fans, myself included, love watching a football game being played in winter weather.  There's something fitting about it, considering the sport is played in the fall months into the winter, and by the time December rolls around cold weather starts to affect how games are played in half the cities across the country.  There have even been a few notorious games played in heavy winter weather, most notably the Raiders/Patriots playoff game in January 2002.

The Super Bowl has perennially been played in either domed stadiums or warm weather cities since it's played in early February every year.  The NFL hasn't wanted winter weather to potentially impact the game, and with good reasons.  Snow and ice impact travel and mobility of fans coming to a host city, as well as the actual field conditions for the game itself.  Still, Goodell announced that Super Bowl 48 (I think Roman numerals just look stupid now) would be played in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the Giants and Jets play their home games.  When he had made the original announcement, he took the obvious risk of inviting Mother Nature to affect the game, but also claimed that fans had been clamoring for this kind of Super Bowl for years.

Despite my love of watching football being played in snow and winter weather, I never liked this idea at all.  Having the rest of the playoffs being played in potentially cold cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, or Denver is fine.  There isn't much that the NFL could do to avoid weather during January in cities such as those, and the home teams have a bit of an advantage in being used to the weather there.  The home fans are also used to what the weather is like, so they know what they're getting into if their team has to host a playoff game (or more) in January.  They can adequately prepare for cold and/or snow, and take an extra jacket or two if need be.

So what happens if a warm weather team has to play in Super Bowl 48?  Teams in cities like Miami, Tampa, Phoenix, or San Diego aren't used to playing in freezing temperatures, and Northern Jersey is typically below 32 degrees in early February.  Their play in cold weather could be affected negatively, and who would want to watch a sloppy Super Bowl?  I wouldn't like watching players slip and slide in the snow, especially if the players from that team rarely ever see snow in the first place.

Consider the fans in this equation as well.  Fans in those same warm weather cities aren't used to cold or snow either, so they don't know how to prepare properly either.  They sure wouldn't know how to drive in such conditions either, so unless they rely on taxis or other public transportation they would have to walk for the most part.  That would either get very expensive very quickly, or not be much fun at all.

Taking all those factors into account now, think about this latest potential development: The Farmers Almanac made its annual predictions of what winter 2014 will be like, and it ain't pretty.

"Pretty" may not be the right term.  A blanket of snow is actually very beautiful to admire....from the comfort and warmth of one's own house.  I happen to love watching the snow fall while sitting on my couch, sipping hot chocolate and watching a movie.  I don't mind shoveling snow from a driveway or sidewalk.  And who doesn't love a good ol' snowball fight?

The key here is that I'm talking about dealing with snow within the confines of where I live.  If I'm traveling to New York or Northern Jersey because my team is in the Super Bowl, I'd have to drive up there through a potentially awful snowstorm.  Then I'd have to find a place to park it in a hotel.  Then I'd have to walk around the snow when I want to sight see.  Then I'd have to avoid slipping on a patch of ice somewhere on the ground.

And that's before we even get to watching the game.

Oh, and don't forget - I'm used to brutal winter weather.  What if fans from cities like Atlanta or San Francisco come to New York for the Super Bowl?  They have no idea what they're in for.  Their flights could be affected, and by the time the game actually starts on Sunday night (when it's coldest, considering the sun won't even be out!) they may be more excited to go home than watch the game.

Plus, what about the halftime show?  If the snow is falling and it's 20 degrees outside, what will the NFL do with its performance at halftime?  I suppose the concert could be played from an alternate location, but that would only help the fans watching from home.  The fans in the stadium would be screwed.

What if the weather got to be so bad that fans would actually leave the stadium?  I realize that would only happen in the most dire of circumstances, but it's happened to plenty of football games in the past.  The NFL wouldn't like the idea of a half-empty stadium by the 4th quarter.  There's only so much a TV broadcast can cloak by concentrating on the action on the field.

My overall point here is that I think the idea of having the Super Bowl being played in a stadium where winter weather could impact the game is a terrible idea.  I thought it was a bad idea from the moment Goodell had first announced it, and if the Farmers Almanac was correct in its predictions, the worst possible outcome could happen.  Such a situation would make the debacle in Dallas a couple years ago look like a minor hiccup.

I know I sound like a Daniel Downer in talking about this, but I guess in my eyes the Super Bowl was never broken in the first place.  It certainly didn't need "fixing."  I realize this is just an experiment for the league, but it does want its #1 media market to enjoy the exposure of hosting the Super Bowl, especially when much smaller markets like Jacksonville and Detroit have hosted Super Bowls in the past.

I only hope this doesn't mean that Denver will one day host a Super Bowl.  Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013 NFL Season Predictions Sure To Go Wrong

We're getting close to my favorite time of the year, sports-wise.  The pennant chases in baseball are heating up, and football season is upon us.  Once again, for the fourth straight year, here are my 10 predictions for the upcoming NFL season....

1. The Philadelphia Eagles will win the NFC East.  Hear me out on this one.  I know their last two seasons have been dismal, particularly their 2012 season.  Andy Reid is gone, with University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly taking over.  But here's the kicker stat that I keep thinking about: Since 2003, there has been at least one team every season who finished last place in its division to win the division the following year.  That's not a fluky stat, and I think the Eagles stand the best chance at being this year's version of that team.  Plus, every team in the NFC East beats each other up all year long, so 9 wins could be enough to win it and host a playoff game.  The team has enough key pieces in Vick, McCoy, and Jackson on offense to put points on the board, and the defense can still play with the other offenses in the division.

2. The Miami Dolphins will make the playoffs somehow.  I honestly think the Dolphins have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC East, but even if they don't they will snag at least a Wild Card spot.  Ryan Tannehill looks like the real deal, and having Mike Wallace to throw to will give the Dolphins enough offensive boost to win a few key games (even though I think Wallace is overrated as a receiver).  I expect them to give the Patriots the first true competition in the division in years.

3. Tom Brady will throw for his fewest touchdown passes since 2009.  Speaking of the Patriots, I am way down on them this year, for obvious reasons that have affected their offense.  With Wes Welker departed for Denver and Aaron Hernandez facing all kinds of legal trouble, the key receiver is Rob Gronkowski, and there's no telling when he'll be healthy for the season.  Do the likes of Danny Amendola (an injury risk in his own right), Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, and/or Michael Jenkins really intimidate defensive backs across the league?  The Patriots will still likely win at least 10 games this season since two of the three other teams in their division are bottomfeeders of the league, but I expect them to struggle by their standards and also rely on their running game more since their receivers are much weaker than they have been in years.

4. The Baltimore Ravens will break the 1984 Chicago Bears' single season team sacks record.  One of the reasons why I've been looking forward to this season is for football talking heads to shut up about the turnover the Ravens had since January.  They kept talking about the Ravens losing the likes of Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Ed Reed on their defense, saying those players can't be replaced (Mind you, they also loved to rant over the last few years how Lewis and Reed were also shells of their former selves, which I would say contradicts the previous statement).  So the Ravens chose to revamp their front seven and added Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil, on top of drafting nose tackle Brandon Williams and linebacker Arthur Brown.  Haloti Ngata will now move back to his native position of nose tackle and rotate with Williams, and Terrell Suggs will rush opposing quarterbacks opposite Dumervil on the other side.  The 1984 Bears currently hold the record for most sacks in a single season with 74, and I think the Ravens will break that record with their revamped line this year.

5. The Oakland Raiders have a legitimate shot at going 0-16.  I made a similar prediction back in 2010 about the Browns after looking over their schedule for that season, and I came away with a similar feeling about the Raiders this year.  Their nondivisional opponents include the AFC South and NFC East, which means they'll face teams like the Texans, Colts, Titans, Eagles, Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys, and I wouldn't expect the Raiders to beat any of those teams.  In fact, their game in Week 2 is home against the Jaguars, and if they don't win that game I don't think they have another winnable game on their schedule until Week 14 against the Jets.  Even if they do manage to win a game or two this season, I expect them to wind up with the first overall pick in next year's draft.

6. The Indianapolis Colts will steal the AFC South away from the Houston Texans.  The Texans have been on the cusp the last couple seasons, but they haven't managed to win more than a single game in the playoffs at all.  They were in the driver's seat for the #1 seed in the playoffs with about three weeks to go in the regular season, and then they got sloppy by mid-December.  I think something similar will happen this year, only this time it will cost them the division and a home playoff game in January.  The Colts and Texans face off twice in the second half of the season, including a very important match up in Week 15 in Indianapolis.

7. Matt Ryan will be the league MVP.  I think Matt Ryan is going to have a career year, even after getting his big contract this offseason.  The NFC South is a pretty tough division, and while I don't think the Falcons win 13 games again like they did last year, they'll still come out on top.  I actually thought Ryan was fairly overrated for most of his career to date, but I've come to think of him as a really good quarterback in the league, and he'll get a whole lot more exposure throughout the season.

8. Larry Fitzgerald will be the Comeback Player of the Year.  This prediction sounds a bit weird since players on the comeback usually are recovering from injury, but Fitz hasn't had any significant injuries at any point during his career.  His issue has been a lack of a decent quarterback on his team since Kurt Warner retired a few years ago.  Now that he has (at the very least) a competent quarterback in Carson Palmer, he'll return to the kinds of numbers he was putting up during the hey days of his career, and be worth drafting in fantasy football again.

9. Adrian Peterson will be the first running back in history to rush for 2000 yards in back-to-back seasons.  Until somebody figures out how to stop Adrian Peterson, I see no reason why he'd slow down or step backwards from where he left off at the end of last season.  He's a special kind of running back and offensive threat, and the kind of player that almost any NFL fan would like to see win a championship before the end of his career.

10. The Baltimore Ravens will repeat as Super Bowl champs and defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 48.  I know, I know.  Such a stinking homer pick.  There is a bit of logic to my thinking though, so roll with me for a moment before dismissing my prediction.  I've already talked about how the Patriots are down.  In addition to the Patriots, the Steelers are down as well, the Bengals need Andy Dalton to beat the likes of Tom Brady and/or Peyton Manning, and the Texans need Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson to avoid getting hurt.  That leaves the Broncos in the AFC as the only real rivals to the Ravens, and Ravens have already shown they can beat the Broncos on the road in the playoffs last year.  I don't think the Ravens will steamroll through the regular season (I think they finish with 11 wins), but the team as a whole looks better than last year's Super Bowl champs.

Meanwhile over in the NFC, there are just as many contenders who look weaker than they were last year, namely the Packers and 49ers.  Seattle has Percy Harvin recovering from surgery and will have him back by December to make their playoff push.  I expect them to beat Atlanta in the NFC title game before traveling to New York to face the Ravens.

And there you have it.  If history is any indicator, I probably will only have 3 or 4 of these predictions come true.