Green Bay takes on Atlanta, Pittsburgh faces New England. Who do you think will win?
Green Bay Packer vs Atlanta Falcons
There is all this talk of Matt Ryan being the MVP this year but the Dirty Birds better not sleep on Aaron Rodgers. Hollywood is digging into Rodgers personal life, nevertheless that will not distract one the finest quarterbacks around. The family may air their dirty laundry to reporters but I would expect Rodgers and the Pack to be prepared for the Falcons.
The Falcons have all the pieces in place this year. The Falcons have home field, a good running game, good defense and the play calling of Kyle Shanahan for “Matty Ice”, going against the worst passing defense in the league. There is no way they can lose. Right?
Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots
Someone pulled the Steelers team hotel alarm at 3AM this morning. This is not the first time a rival of the Patriots has been the target of a false alarm. What now, ALARMGATE? Seems suspicious because it happened in Boston but I am sure Belichick had nothing to do with it…WINK! Steelers fans better hope that their offense can put up some points this week. Field goals are not going to get the job done. Tom Brady is mad. Deflategate just pissed him off and he wants vengeance. He is about to take it out on Ben Roethlisberger’s team. Even with the best running back and receiver in the league, I don’t see Pittsburgh beating the Patriots in Foxborough. I expect to see the Patriots win their 9th Lamar Hunt Trophy.
Today begins the NFL Playoffs. Even though this is the Wildcard Weekend, I still can’t wait to see how the games shake out. After all, this website is devoted to NFL football, so I only have a few precious weeks left to enjoy games.
First up is the Chiefs-Texans game. How did Houston get into the Playoffs? I remember watching HBO’s “Hard KNocks” this summer and thinking, “no way can this team get into the playoffs. Sure they have JJ Watt and Arian Foster, but it was only a matter of time before Foster got hurt (Alfred Blue is no Arian Foster). Watt can’t carry the team by himself. They surprised me though and made it in. Now they have to go against the hottest team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs, with Jeremy Maclin and Alex Smith. Good luck there!
The Steelers vs Bengals game is the one I am most excited to watch. No Andy Dalton? Maybe AJ McCarron looks to get Cincy off the schneid. Hopefully the cameras will pan to AJ’s smoking hot wife. Sorry, lost my train of thought. Can the Bengals beat the Steelers? Judging by Big Ben’s comments this week about Martavis Bryant, I doubt it. With the recent PSA from a local Cincinnati radio station claiming that “This is a severe Big Ben Roethlisberger update from 700WLW. The tri-state is currently under a severe Big Ben warning from now through early Sunday morning”, I would think that the Bengals need to be more worried than the local women of the area. Big Ben will be throwing to Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Marcus Wheaton, especially with DeAngelo Williams out. Even though McCarron has AJ Green and Tyler Eifert, he has never played in the NFL Playoffs. The Bengals have also lost 7 straight Post-Season games. Edge to the Steelers, in my opinion.
The Seahawks play the Vikings in Minneso-cold. Is Beastmode playing? What about Linval Joseph? Not sure but this game looks to have the excitement coming from Russell Wilson vs. Adrian Petersen. I think the edge will go to Russell Wilson, who reminds Minnesotans of Fran Tarkenton, but with a much better Super Bowl record (the last loss for Tarkenton was to the Raiders in Super Bowl XI). Tarkenton is in the Hall of Fame but I bet he would love to see the Minnesota Vikings as World Champs. May not happen the way Seattle has been playing
Last but not least, the Packers play the Redskins…in Washington! Who would have thought that Washington, would be hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Pack? Remember RG3? Neither do we. Kirk Cousins is the man in DC now. You like that?! You like that?! DeSean Jackson and Kirk Cousins lead the way for the Skins against a struggling Green Bay team. The reason I say struggling is due to their injury situation. Most teams are banged up right now but the Packers have been hit pretty hard, especially on the O-Line. Aaron Rodgers will try to carry the offense but with Kirk Cousins and the West Coast offense he is running this could be a shootout. Does Rodgers still have enough bullets to pull it out even with 18 players on their injured list? Normally I might say yes but Cousins and the Skins are tearing it up right now. I see the Redskins and DeSean Jackson’s “Chip” on his shoulder winning this one at home. See what I did their with the Chip Kelly reference.
After all the controversy, the investigation, the court cases, the endless speculation, the NFL season kicks off tonight on NBC. How many will be watching? Try at least 27 million, which eclipses — for proper context — the Fox GOP debate last month with three million to spare.
The game may feature two of the winningest franchises of this century in the form of the Steelers and the Patriots, but all eyes will be on one player:Thomas Edward Patrick Brady. And the Peacock certainly couldn’t be any happier with making him tonight’s protagonist/antagonist (depending on where you live), as just one week ago it looked as if the defending Super Bowl champs would have to take the field with the household name that is Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. But in what amounted to a Hail Mary in court, a judge found that the NFL went too far in its punishment of Brady given how scant the evidence was in directly linking him to the crime of deflating footballs before last year’s AFC Championship Game. And quiet frankly, the ruling couldn’t be any more correct.
This case was always the sports version of A Few Good Men. Was a crime committed? Yes. But did it come directly from the top of the food chain in command on the team (Brady)? That was always the assumption given who supposedly benefited (Brady actually played better when the balls were properly inflated in the second half of the Colts game and the Super Bowl), but assumption isn’t guilt.
Remember, a guy like Brady — like a mob boss — has all the power and therefore doesn’t have to get his hands dirty directly when carrying out a hit (or in this case, a hiss). He has proxies for that… those acting on this behalf. And perhaps here, there’s plenty of reason to believe Brady gave the order for the Code Red (to deflate the balls), but that order also could have come from a lower-level lackey (quarterbacks coach, receivers coach, offensive coordinator, etc) who believed they were doing what Brady preferred (softer balls), even if the QB didn’t specifically ask for the deed to be carried out. This isn’t to say Brady’s an angel here… it just means it’s hard to actually prove he ordered the NFL version of a Code Red directly. And so, I digress.
Back to the game and specifically the audience size, the question is how: As in… how has the NFL become the greatest, biggest, most dominant entertainment program in television history?
Is it the excitement of the game? Sure… it moves infinitely faster than baseball, is easier on the eyes to follow and absorb than hockey, and is less predictable than the NBA, where rarely a 1- or 2-seed in the NBA playoffs doesn’t win a championship. Americans love the violent ballet of athleticism and brutality that is the NFL, which only grows more compelling when conditions worsen as the season goes on. The league also markets itself exceptionally better than any sport by making every game–even those in early September–feel like an event. Pre-game concerts (Ellie Goulding and Train perform live before tonight’s game, for example) help bring in the passive or non-NFL fan. And on the field, there’s utter unpredictability thanks to the parody created by the salary cap and free agency. Note: The last time the NFL had a repeat champion? Over a decade ago.
All of those factors are real, but aren’t the whole equation. A huge variable in the attraction/addiction to the sport–as outlined in an AFP article today–is gambling. “Illegal sports betting is reaching new heights of popularity in America,” says Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association per a press release. “It’s clear that a federal ban on traditional sports betting outside of Nevada is failing.”
Overall, the AGA estimates that almost $93 billion in illegal bets will be taken on NFL and college football this season, while only about $2 billion will be legally wagered in Nevada. How much is $93 billion? Oh…only larger than the GDP of 124 countries. What’s amazing about this number is the fact that there’s a federal ban on sports betting in most states that has existed since 1992. But online betting via sites (allegedly) sitting in other countries is an avenue that exists with almost no oversight. And even the major sports leagues are contradicting themselves by publicly stating they oppose gambling because it could hurt the integrity of the sport, but then turn around and promptly sign sponsorship deals with daily fantasy sports companies (think DraftKings.com) which permit members to essentially bet on fictional teams they create with non-fictional players.
Overall, 30 million Americans will play fantasy football this season, including eight million women (including my wife again). And as a result, NBC, Fox, CBS, and ESPN will all get bumps in their ratings for any and every game–even the horrific ones–thanks to the interest fantasy/gambling creates.
NBC used to rule Thursday night with must-see-TV via Friends and Seinfeld. Now thanks to the annual Thursday night NFL opener, it will rule again as it has since 2002. 27 million — maybe even 30 million people given the Brady/Pats factor — will tune in tonight.
Is it to see if the Steelers can pull an upset? To see the Pats begin another chapter on the road to perhaps another championship? To see Brady literally taking a pin to footballs on the sideline?
Sure… all of that. But many will be there to see if New England can cover the 7-point spread. Others will watch with no interest on who wins or loses, but how many points are scored (current over/under 51.5). Millions more will be rooting for Ben Roethlisberger one minute and Rob Gronkowski the next despite them playing on opposite teams…all thanks to fantasy football.
But the real winner tonight won’t be anywhere near the field. Instead, it will be executives back in New York at 30 Rock (NBC) and 280 Park Avenue (NFL HQ). The cash cow gets milked again for the billions upon billions it will produce this season. The trifecta of controversy, gambling and the violent ballet that is professional football will prove once again to be the TV show fewer Americans can resist.
The NFL Players Association’s successful appeal of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension has opened the floodgates for current players who have bones to pick with the league. According toBill Phillips of WPXI in Pittsburgh, Steelers linebacker James Harrison is mulling a lawsuit against the NFL.
“I’m just wondering how far they can go with it with the other guys that he suspended or fined at his discretion,” Harrison said. “Hopefully there will be other guys that fight this and be able to fight them.”
This comes after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman threw outthe four-game ban the league levied against Brady for his suspected role in the Deflategate affair.
As ProFootballTalk’s Josh Alper noted, Berman took particular exception to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role as judge, jury and executioner and his penchant for uneven punishments for players:
While discussing reasons why a judge could overturn an arbitrator’s award under a collective bargaining agreement, Berman notes that an arbitrator “is not free to merely dispense his own brand of industrial justice.” He also notes that the “law of the shop” in the NFL is for players to be made aware of prohibited conduct and potential discipline, something that Berman finds the NFL did not do in regard to Brady.
According to Phillips, Harrison is planning on talking with the NFLPA as to whether he has legal grounds for a lawsuit against Goodell and the NFL, similar to Brady’s Deflategate suit.
Harrison has taken issue with fines Goodell has imposed on him in the past for so-called “dirty” hits. Here’s a snippet from an interview between Harrison and Paul Solotaroff in the August 2011 issue ofMen’s Journal in which the veteran linebacker explained his strong dislike for the commissioner:
When Harrison was summoned to league headquarters in November to meet with Goodell, NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson, and director of football operations Merton Hanks, he was made to watch a reel of his questionable hits plucked from four years as a starter. “They take 10 plays out of 4,000 snaps and want to know my thought process on each,” he says. “What I tried to explain to Goodell, but he was too stupid to understand, is that dudes crouch when you go to hit them. With Massaquoi, my target area was his waist and chest, but he lowered himself at the last possible second and I couldn’t adjust to his adjustment. But Goodell, who’s a devil, ain’t hearing that. Where’s the damn discretion, the common sense?”
With Judge Berman calling Goodell’s authority into question, you can understand why Harrison would want to explore whether he can receive monetary restitution for what may have been unfair fines.
The 37-year-old isn’t the first player after Brady to consider the idea. ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported in August that Dallas Cowboysdefensive end Greg Hardy was thinking of following in Brady’s footsteps and appealing his four-game suspension to start the 2015 season.
If Hardy or Harrison takes legal action against Goodell, it could embolden others to as well. And should that happen, Goodell’s position as commissioner may become untenable.