Monthly Archives: January 2009

OP: Super Bowl pick

OK, it’s time to make a Super Bowl pick. So far, we’re 7-3 in the playoffs against the spread and 6-4 straight up. (Some of those picks precede the blog, but trust me, we have documentation.)

This is a tricky game to pick, because the Cardinals are harder to judge than any team in the Super Bowl in recent memory. Are they like the Giants of ’07 – a team with talent that didn’t play at top level for the first three-quarters of the season but then got hot at the right time? Or are they a “fluke” Super Bowl team like the 1979 Rams or the 1986 Patriots that’s going to get thumped in the biggest game of all?

There’s no doubt that Arizona has talent. If all that talent plays well, they will be in this game. But what are the chances of that? It’s happened just once in the playoffs (against Carolina). In the other two playoff games, Arizona got somewhat uneven performances from the offense and defense but had enough offense to win?

Warner should have a big game, and Larry Fitzgerald just won’t be stopped. Those two predictions aren’t outlandish at all. If those two things are set, then it should be set for the Cardinals to score at least 17 points.

So then the question is what the Steelers can do offensively. This team is not a huge points producer anyway, so when we think the Cardinals will score 17 or more, we face a dilemma. The Steelers can score 20 or 21 and win. But can they cover a touchdown spread?

That’s why my first inclination is to pick the Steelers to win by 3 or 4 points. But the trend says that we shouldn’t pick a team to cover the spread unless we think they’ll win outright. In the playoffs, the favorites that won covered the spread, and the underdogs who covered the spread also won the game (including the Cardinals three times).

With all that in mind, here’s an extremely detailed outlandish prediction of what’s going to happen…

Steelers go up early by getting one long drive and one big passing play to Santonio Holmes. Meanwhile, the Steelers hold the Cardinals to field goals on two early drives. That’ll make it 14-6 in the second quarter.

An exchange of touchdowns (Arizona’s by Fitzgerald) makes it 21-13 in the middle of the third quarter. Then Arizona scores again and goes for 2 but fails, and it’s 21-19 in the mid-fourth quarter.

But Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger, who has been so much better late in games this season then he has in the first 3 1/2 quarters, put together a long, clock-killing drive that ends up in a short running touchdown to make it 28-19 with less than three minutes left.

Arizona starts flinging the ball around in a mad dash to get back, but there’s a turnover, and we have our final score…

Pittsburgh 28, Arizona 19.

Feel free to post your own predictions as comments.

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FR: Super Bowl prop bets

OK, a disclaimer first: This post is not pro-gambling. Gambling is hard. I had to pick every NFL game against the spread at PFW for three years, and I finished over .500 once – and only by a few games. I picked big games against a buddy this year for fun (not money, thankfully) and hovered around 40 percent.  So I’m not endorsing wagering, and I’m certainly not endorsing wagering based on these picks.

That said, some of the prop bets for the Super Bowl are pretty interesting. (If you’ve played ESPN’s Streak for the Cash, you get a feeling for some of the major prop bets that are out there.) So I thought it might be interesting to play relativity with 10 of the bets this year. We’ll use a 10-point scale, with 10 being most interesting and 1 being who cares?

10 – The line. This, of course, is the biggest bet. Pittsburgh is a 7-point favorite in the game. I went back in the post-dynasty era (basically the 12 Super Bowls since Dallas’ last win) to chart results of the lines. They are:
Favorites are 8-4 straight up but only 4-6-2 against the spread. (Pittsburgh won and covered a 4-point spread vs. Seattle three years ago.)
Favorites of 7 points or more are 6-3 straight up but only 2-5-2 against the spread. New England beat Philly and Carolina but failed to cover in those games; the Broncos +11 (over Packers), Patriots  +14 (over Rams), and Giants +12 (over Patriots) all won as double-digit underdogs; the Rams (-7 vs. Titans) and Packers (-14 vs. Patriots) won but tied the spread. Only the Broncos (-7.5 vs. Falcons) and Colts (-7 vs. Bears) covered a touchdown-plus spread.
Those numbers tell me 2 things: first of all, be very nervous about laying a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Second, if you’re going to pick the Cardinals to cover, you might as well pick them to win outright. These factors are making my Super Bowl pick (coming later this week) harder than usual.

9-  Over/under. The total for the game right now is 47 points. The trend here is that the total has been at least 46.5 points in each of the last 4 Super Bowls, and all four games have gone under the total. I kind of see a bit of a shootout in this game, but a shootout could be 28-20 and go under. Common sense and Super Bowl recent history both say take the under, but do you really want to go against Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner going nuts?
(The history for these 2 items is from this page, which has history of all Super Bowl spread and total results, if you’re interested.)

8- Kurt Warner passing yards. The over under on this is 265 1/2, and I’m thinking the over sounds good. Warner had 414 yards vs. the Titans and 365 vs. the Patriots even though his Rams lost that game. Those are the top 2 passing games in Super Bowl history. When you consider that Warner will have to have a big game for the Cardinals to win and that if the Cardinals are losing he’ll likely be flinging it around, the over seems like the good bet here.

7- Kurt Warner history. Warner needs 364 yards to pass Joe Montana for the all-time lead in Super Bowl passing yards. You can get about 3-1 odds on this, but it’s a stretch, despite Warner’s history.

6- MVP. Ben Roethlisberger and Warner are 2-1, Larry Fitzgerald is 5-1, Willie Parker is 6-1. Everyone else is 10-1 or more. The only individual I would endorse as a pick is Fitzgerald. The quarterbacks are more likely, but the odds you would get on that long-shot wager aren’t really worth it.

5- Larry Fitzgerald’s yards. The over/under for yards for Larry Fitzgerald is at 95 1/2. He’s been over 100 in all three playoff games and will most likely have to do it again if the Cardinals are going to have a chance. As with Warner, the fact that the Cardinals will be throwing a lot if they get behind gives you a little insurance on this pick. Throw in the fact that the Steelers’ cornerbacks aren’t world beaters, and the over looks like a good pick here.

4- The postgame interview. Here are the odds for who the MVP of the game will thank first: God: 1/1; Teammates: 2/1; Family: 4/1; Coach: 7/1; Doesn’t thank anyone: 3/1. Yes, you can bet on this. No, I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting for or against God in any prop-bet situation. Make your own peace with your maker here.

3- Madden/Michaels. There’s actually a line on how many times NBC announcers John Madden and Al Michaels refer to Ben Roethlisberger as “Big Ben.” The line is 7 1/2, and I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

2- The Dr. Z special. Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman (currently recovering from a series of strokes) is legendary for recording the length of national anthems. There’s actually an over-under on how long the anthem, sung this year by Jennifer Hudson, will last. The number is at 1 minute 54 seconds, which sounds low to me. The more diva-like the singer, the longer the anthem normally is, with the biggest divas going over 2 minutes. If you’re desperate, take the over in this one.

1- Coin Toss. This is a 50/50 proposition, of course, so why would you bet on it? (Yes, this is a real bet; in fact, people have tracked that tails has won 9 of the last 11 Super Bowls. I only know that because Google is good.) Listing this prop does give me a chance to tell one of my favorite stories. Jackie Slater, a Hall of Fame tackle for the Rams, once lost at least 12 straight coin tosses – he claims it was 17. He called heads every time he was the road team, and it came up tails every time.  Plus, he lost when the other team called in all road games. That’s an amazing streak.

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FR: Super Bowl storylines

To celebrate Super Bowl media day and all the craziness that goes with it, I thought we should play relativity in terms of Super Bowl storylines. These storylines will be rated on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the story that will get the most publicity and 1 being a story that completely flies under the radar. The comments will reflect whether a storyline should be as publicized as it is.

10 – Anquan Boldin’s unhappiness. It’s a fact that Boldin wanted out of Arizona before the season. He’s making about 60 percent of what Larry Fitzgerald is, and he’s much closer to Fitzgerald than that when it comes to performance. With that as a backdrop, Boldin’s sideline shouting match with offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the NFC championship game takes on more significance. Boldin will be absolutely bombarded with questions about his state of mind throughout the week, to the point where Boldin and the rest of us get sick of it. He’s already tried to make light of the situation, calling the coverage “hilarious.” But this will be the story of the first part of the week.
(P.S. As for why Boldin was out of the game, the best explanation came from Mike Lombardi on Bill Simmons’ podcast on 1/19/08. Take a listen if you want to hear the football-geek explanation of the strategy that left Boldin on the sideline.) 

9 – Kurt Warner’s legacy – There’s already been a lot of conversation about Warner and especially about his Hall of Fame credentials. The fact that Warner is only the second quarterback to start for two teams to the Super Bowl (the other, Craig Morton, lost the big game both with the Cowboys and the Broncos) is impressive. Plus, he has two MVP awards. So is he a Hall of Famer? That’ll be a big question on radio row all week long. (By the way, right here it says that Warner isn’t a Hall of Famer yet. A win in this game might be enough to put him over the top; 2 more big years will help even more in that they will mitigate the argument that his career wasn’t outstanding long enough.)

8 – Revenge of Whisenhunt and Grimm. Two years ago, the Steelers had Ken Whisenhunt (offensive coordinator) and Russ Grimm (asst. head coach/OL coach) on their staff when Bill Cowher retired. Both were considered for the job, but Whisenhunt read the tea leaves that he wasn’t going to get the job and pursued the Cardinals job. Grimm waited only to be passed over when the Steelers went outside the organization to hire Mike Tomlin. The coaches have to attend all the media sessions, so some media muckrakers will try to get Whisenhunt and Grimm to express bitterness about that situation. Chances are they won’t, but if someone says something (or something that can be misconstrued or edited in just the right way), the sour-grapes angle will explode.

7- Steelers history. With a win, the Steelers will take the all-time lead with 6 Super Bowl championships. Pundits are already asking if the Steelers are the best franchise of the Super Bowl era, which is a fun parlor game. In the end, it doesn’t mean a whole lot other than pride, but this question without a definitive answer will make for lots of talk-radio chatter all week long and even the week after the game.

6 – None listed.

5- Papa Fitzgerald. In case you haven’t heard yet, Larry Fitzgerald’s father, Larry Senior, is a sportswriter who will be covering the Super Bowl as a member of the media. So on the three media days (Tuesday on the field and then Wednesday and Thursday in the ballrooms), Larry Senior will be among the unwashed masses of reporters trying to get players – including his son – to talk. (Take it from me when I tell you these hordes of reporters are largely unwashed.) This story has already been noticed by PTI and Rick Reilly, and you’ll see Larry Sr. showing up several times this week. The story doesn’t matter when it comes to the game, but it will be a midweek novelty that you’ll be sick of by Thursday.

4- Whisenhunt’s challenge. Because the Cardinals were so bad down the stretch, most notably in a snowy 47-7 loss at New England, people will ask what turned things around. And players will point to a meeting that coach Ken Whisenthunt had with his team before the season finale against Seattle. This is the sportswriter’s best chance to use a cliched metaphor, such as “laid down the law” or “threw down the gauntlet” or something else. Was it important? Seems so. But this important? Probably not.

3- Cardinals history. While the Steelers have a strong history, the Cardinals have a history of futility. With only two championships — one in 1949 and the other a disputed one from 1925 – the Cardinals don’t have much to brag about. I haven’t heard much yet, but someone will bring up the Pottsville Maroons, who some believe had the ’25 title stolen from them. My guess is ESPN’s David Fleming, who wrote a book about the Maroons. This story will be an interesting midweek diversion for football history geeks like me.

2- Larry Fitzgerald, the college years. You will hear a few media, mostly from Big East country, pointing out that Fitzgerald played his college ball in Pittsburgh. Because Pittsburgh really cares about its football in a way more provincial than in other places, this story will seep out a time or two. It won’t be a big theme, nor should it be, but you’ll hear it in passing a time or two this week.

1- The Super Bowl city. Sportswriters always complain. They always sound like babies. Hometown people get offended. This story gets played up every Super Bowl, but it’s really played out. I’ll be skipping those links this week.

Any storylines I missed? Post a comment and we’ll play relativity.

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FR: Super Bowl potential playmakers

I was reading on and saw a headline in which Jeffri Chadiha wrote that Larry Fitzgerald was an 11 on a 10-point scale. First of all, he might be right; second of all; that means that we need to play relativity with Super Bowl 43’s best playmakers. Per Carl’s suggestion, we rated the skill-position players against their peers across the NFL as the Super Bowl gets closer, but for now we’re comparing only Steelers and Cardinals. As always, we’re on a 10-point scale (no Spinal Tap or Chadiha exceptions) where 10 points is, well, Fitzgeraldian and 1 point is someone who is a possible playmaker in a remote situation. We’ve left out offensive linemen, because it’s so hard to distinguish them individually because they are meant to function as a unit.

10- Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals – No player has polished his star more in the playoffs than Fitzgerald. He was the best player on the field by two country miles in the first half of the NFC championship game, and he was nearly as good in the first two rounds. If the Cardinals are going to win the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald will have to be the guy. And if Fitzgerald has another monster game (like his 152-yard, 3 TD showstopper vs. Philly or his 166-yard masterpiece vs. Carolina), the Cardinals have a shot. He’s the ultimate gamebreaker, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the ultimate game.

9 – Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona – Warner has been outstanding in the playoffs – 66 percent completions, 257 yards passing per game, and 8 TD vs. two interceptions. If he can hold onto the ball – and that means fumbles as well as interceptions – he’ll make his share of plays against Pittsburgh. He’ll have to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid the quick and deadly Steelers rush. But Warner has proven this year and especially this postseason that he’s capable. One more big game and he becomes the only quarterback to start and win Super Bowls with two different teams.

8 – Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh – Holmes is the guy who can take the Steelers offense from good to great. He’s made big-time plays in both of the first two playoff games (the punt return vs. San Diego and the 65-yard touchdown with 40 yards of run after the catch vs. Baltimore), and had one overturned by replay. In a game where Pittsburgh may need to score some points, Holmes is their best chance for a big play. 

8 (con’t) – Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh – Polamalu is the ultimate gambler on defense. He’s liable to give up a big play every once in a while, but far more often his instincts pay off. He’s tough, and he showed with his pick and score against Baltimore that he can make huge plays. The question is whether Polamalu’s swashbuckling style will pay off against the Cardinals’ high-flying offense. If the Cardinals play a lot of three-WR sets, then Polamalu will have to play a lot of coverage, and that’s not really his strength. It’ll be interested to watch and see if he can be disciplined enough to put his team in position to win.

7-  Lamarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh – Quick quiz: What Steeler has the most sacks in the postseason? It’s Woodley, who has had two sacks in each of the last 2 games. That’s no fluke – he had 11 1/2 in the regular season. With teams focusing more on defensive player of the year James Harrison, it opens a lane for someone, and Woodley has been the guy in that lane more often than not. If he gets two more sacks, it’s a sign that the Steelers are dominating defensively.

6- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh – It’s funny, but most of the time the Steelers can win without a big game from Roethlisberger. Even in their Super Bowl win three years ago, Big Ben wasn’t great (9-of-21, 123 yards, no TDs, 2 picks; 7 rushes for 25 yards and a touchdown). But Roethlisberger will be more important in this game, because it’s hard to see the Cardinals being held below three touchdowns. That means the Steelers will need a few big plays in the passing game to win. Roethlisberger will likely have to double his passing output in this Super Bowl if he’s going to get a second ring.

6 (con’t)- Adrian Wilson, S, Arizona – Wilson is an 8-year Cardinal and their emotional leader on defense. But even more, he’s a crushing force on D. He had two sacks vs. Philly, one of which forced a fumble. If you had to choose one guy on the Cards D to make a big play, Wilson’s the odds-on favorite.

5- Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh – Parker hasn’t had a great season because of assorted injuries, but Fast Willie still has some ability to change a game. (You might not remember, but he has the longest TD run in Super Bowl history, a 75-yarder against the Seahawks three years ago.) Parker ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers in the playoffs but couldn’t get going against the Ravens. Still, it wouldn’t be a shock if he broke free for a long run or two against the Cardinals.

5 (con’t) – Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona – Boldin’s sore hamstring pulls him down this list, but we saw against Atlanta how devastating he can be. He’s a dependable move-the-chains guy who has good run-after-the-catch ability. But  will the YAC come with his hamstring hurting? It’s hard to predict this. But the guy who came back from a broken face after just three weeks is impossible to count out. My hunch says he’ll be an important part of Arizona’s Super Bowl plan, hurting hammy or not.

5 (con’t) – James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh – Harrison earned defensive player of the year hardware with his 16-sack regular season, and he’s added one more in the postseason. Woodley has been the hotter linebacker lately, but in Dick LeBeau’s defense it’s more about your opportunities than about your totals. If Harrison gets free, then he’ll be  dangerous. But the guess here is that the Cardinals, who had a good plan against the Eagles’ blitz, will have a plan at least for Harrison in this game.

4- Edgerrin James, RB, Arizona – James got just 18 carries between weeks 8 and 16, but he has had at least 16 rushing attempts in all three playoff games. He’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has put a spark back in the Cardinals rushing game. If he gets 16 carries for 73 yards in the Super Bowl like he did against Atlanta and Philadelphia, it’ll mean the Cardinals are in the game. He’s more of a barometer in this game than a determinant, but if James can run effectively, it will be a huge boon for the Cardinals.

4 (con’t) – Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Arizona – The rookie from Tennessee State had four interceptions in the second half of the season, and he’s had two more in the playoffs. Plus, DRC is superfast and dangerous with the ball in his hands. If he can get his hands on the ball, he could change field position or even put points on the board for Arizona.

4 (con’t) – Darnell Dockett, DT, Arizona – Dockett is the most talented guy on Arizona’s front 7. If he can create havoc, the Steelers offense could sputter. Remember that Ravens DT Haloti Ngata tore up the interior of Pittsburgh’s line last week; that means Dockett has an opportunity. He’s not the force that Ngata is – at least not consistently – but if you hear Dockett’s name often, it’s a really good harbinger for the Cardinals.

3- Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona – Hightower started out his rookie season strongly, but his performance dropped off pretty significantly later in the season. (He had 35 rushing yards or less in the last 8 games of the regular season.) But he has picked it up in the playoffs, scoring three touchdowns, and his bull-rush touchdown at the end of the Eagles game was a play no one else on the Cardinals could have made. He might have one of those kinds of plays left in him for the Super Bowl.

3 (con’t) – Antonio Smith, DE, Arizona – Smith is the one guy on Arizona’s defense whose name I’ve had to learn this postseason. He’s had 2 sacks and seems to be, along with Darnell Dockett, the most consistent source of pressure. The Steelers’ offensive line isn’t that sturdy against the pass, so Smith is a guy to watch.

3 (con’t) – Aaron Smith, DE, Pittsburgh – Smith, along with NT Casey Hampton, is the anchor of Pittsburgh’s defense. If he can have a top-notch game, the Steelers can snuff out the Cardinals’ running game. And if that happens, the Steelers will be in good position to pin back their ears, blitz, and create havoc (and turnovers). Smith’s numbers won’t be huge, but he could play a huge role.

2- Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona – Dansby is the Cardinals’s leading tackler, but he’s not that likely to make a game-changing play. Still, with the Steelers’ rushing emphasis, Dansby will have to be filling the hole all game long if the Cardinals are to have the ball enough to have a chance.

1- Neil Rackers, PK, Arizona – He’s on here for one reason: He has a big leg. He had a long field goal of 54 yards this year and has made 16 from 50-plus over the last five years. If a long field goal is necessary, Rackers is far more likely to provide it than Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed.


Filed under Football Relativity, Super Bowl

FR: Super Bowl coaches

As an addendum to our post comparing the Super Bowl skill position players to their counterparts around the NFL, here’s a comparison of Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt to their fellow head coaches. We use a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best coach in the league (Belichick) and 1 being why-does-this-job have a job. We’re going to leave out new first-time coaches, because we’ve covered those hires in comparison to each other in ridiculous depth. We’ll include names across the board.

10- Bill Belichick – 3 rings plus this year’s changes make this no contest.

9- Jeff Fisher, Mike Tomlin. Fisher’s done more with less for more than a decade. Tomlin in two years has proven that he’s the truth, and if he wins the Super Bowl here, he’s set up for a legendary career.

8- Tom Coughlin. He’s building a resume that gets more impressive by the year. Don’t look now, but he’s on the edge of Hall of Fame consideration one day already.

7- Andy Reid. A consistent winner except in the two most important games.

6- John Fox, John Harbaugh, Mike Smith, Tony Sparano, Ken Whisenhunt. Fox has done a good but not great job for quite a while now. I’m putting Harbaugh, Mike Smith, and Sparano here for now because it’s still too soon to tell if they have staying power. All 3 will move up with good years next year. Whisenhunt’s regular season record is good, especially in Arizona. If he wins the Super Bowl, he moves up a level and begins to be seen in the light of the elite.

5 – Sean Payton, Norv Turner, Brad Childress. Payton’s offense is great, but his defense stinks, and his team was inconsistent this year. Turner is awful in the first half of the year, but his strong closes and playoff wins the last two years have elevated his status at least a bit. Childress’ belief in Tarvaris Jackson is to this point unjustified, but his quick move to Gus Frerotte this year helped the Vikings win the division. He’ll move up or down a level next year, depending on whether his team wins again or falls victim to its QB situation.

4- Mike McCarthy, Lovie Smith, Jack Del Rio, Gary Kubiak, Wade Phillips, Eric Mangini. Lovie Smith, Del Rio, and McCarthy have had success, but can they do it again? Kubiak’s team seems to be on the brink, but he hasn’t gotten them over yet. Phillips has mismanaged talent, but his team still has a winning record in his two years in Dallas, so we can’t completely rip him. Mangini didn’t get a chance to do it again in New York, but he deserved  his quick second chance.

3 – Dick Jauron, Jim Zorn, Jim Mora, Herman Edwards. Jauron’s teams play hard, but the results aren’t there at the end of the year. Zorn’s first year was up and down, but the arrow seemed pointed down at the end. Mora’s Atlanta record shows he has some ability, but it will be interesting to see if his energy translates second time around. Edwards has had success, but his team couldn’t get the wins this year. If he gets fired, he can’t complain, because his team should have had 2-3 more wins than it did last year.

2 – Marvin Lewis – Lewis had one good year in a place where it’s impossible to win consistently. Unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat next year, it’s hard to defend him staying around. 

1- None left after the head-coaching changes.


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FR: Super Bowl skill positions

It’s time to start the Super Bowl previews here on Football Relativity. Per Carl’s request, we’re going to play relativity with the skill-position players in the Super Bowl. In this post, we’ll rate them in relation to the whole league. We’ll compare them to other potential playmakers (skill positions or not) in this single game next week, and that scale will be different. 
At each position, we’ll list who in the league is the 10 so that you can glimpse these players relative to the rest of the league. 10 is the best score
10 = Peyton Manning (Tom Brady was also a 10 in ’07; omitted here because of injury)
7- Kurt Warner
6- Ben Roethlisberger
Comments: I’m a tough grader on quarterbacks. (I think Brees is a 9, Rivers was an 8 this year, McNabb a 7). Warner is hyperproductive and doesn’t throw interceptions. The biggest negative is that he fumbles the ball more often than most quarterbacks – only 2 this year but 7 last season. Roethlisberger is almost even with Warner, but he falls a rating below because of his poor performance in his previous Super Bowl. 
10=Adrian Peterson
5 – Willie Parker
4 – Edgerrin James
3 – Tim Hightower
Comments: Parker’s speed  is well above average, and he has been very productive in the past. This year, however, he was held down by injuries. James is near the end of his career, and you can tell, although he’s had a bit of a renaissance in the playoffs. Like Parker, James’ lack of work during the year actually is helping him in the postseason. Hightower is good in short yardage but really struggled when he was called on to carry the load this year.
10=Andre Johnson
10- Larry Fitzgerald
8 – Anquan Boldin
7 – Hines Ward
5 – Santonio Holmes
3 – Steve Breaston 
2 – Nate Washington
Comments: Fitzgerald, along with Johnson, is as good as he can possibly be. Boldin could be a No. 1 receiver for more than half the league. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he’s big and physical and runs well after the catch. Ward, though smaller, is a lot like Boldin, only without the breakaway YAC ability. Ward’s phenomenal blocking does keep him up the charts. Holmes is emerging as a big-play guy, but he hasn’t been consistent on a game-to-game basis yet. I see that coming soon though. Breaston stepped up big when Boldin was out this year, and he is developing into a strong receiver. Washington is often overlooked, but he made several big plays this year. Like Breaston, Washington is an above-average No. 3 option in relation to the rest of the league.
10 = Tony Gonzalez or Jason Witten
5 – Heath Miller
2 – Leonard Pope
Comments: Miller is an adequate tight end in any offense. He can match catches and gain some yards when healthy. Pope is a physical specimen but isn’t consistent at all. He had lost his job to Stephen Spach, but Spach was lost for the year against Carolina.


Filed under Football Relativity, Super Bowl

FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame

I only got to go to Super Bowl week once (budget killed my other trip), but my personal highlight was the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection ceremony. The year I went, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott headlined the class. And while I was at Pro Football Weekly, I got to interview a couple of electees. I interviewed Tommy McDonald, a former Eagles wide receiver who got in through the veterans’ committee process. I asked three questions in 45 minutes, and there wasn’t a moment of silence because he talked the rest of the time. He was an old player with great stories. It was quite the experience.

So I thought that during the bye  week, we’d play football relativity with this year’s 17 Hall of Fame finalists. We’ll see how close we get to hitting the actual election results, which are announced the day before the Super Bowl.  Between 4 and 6 of these 17 people will make it into the Hall this year:

Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles (repeat finalist)
Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Bob Hayes – Wide Receiver – 1965-1974 Dallas Cowboys, 1975 San Francisco 49ers (seniors candidate)
Claude Humphrey – Defensive End – 1968-1978 Atlanta Falcons, 1979-1981 Philadelphia Eagles (seniors candidate)
Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Bob Kuechenberg – Guard – 1970-1984 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Randall McDaniel – Guard – 1988-1999 Minnesota Vikings, 2000-01 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (repeat finalist)
John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks (first year eligible)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Bruce Smith – Defensive End – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000-03 Washington Redskins (first year eligible)
Paul Tagliabue – Commissioner – 1989-2006 National Football League (repeat finalist)
Derrick Thomas – Linebacker – 1989-1999 Kansas City Chiefs (repeat finalist)
Ralph Wilson – Team Founder/Owner – 1960-Present Buffalo Bills (repeat finalist)
Rod Woodson – Cornerback/Safety – 1987-1996 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers, 1998-2001 Baltimore Ravens, 2002-03 Oakland Raiders (first year eligible)

Let’s play relativity. 10 points will be an automatic yes vote, 1 point is someone who should not be a finalist again.
(By the way, all links to players are from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, which I wish I had discovered before. Consider this a recommendation.)

10- Bruce Smith — Holds the all-time sack record with 200, and was also a sturdy defensive end against the run. Along with Reggie White, Smith was the dominant defensive end of the late 80s and early 90s. If he doesn’t get in as a first-time eligible, it’s a crime.

10 (con’t)- Rod Woodson — He made the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, which says enough about him by itself. Played at cornerback for most of his career, then moved to safety at the end when he was a Raven and a Steeler. Finally won his Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in the 2000 season. Another guy who isn’t even a question.

9 – none

8 – Cris Carter – If you listen to Carter introduced on ESPN, his home network, you’d think Carter is a 10. He’s not, because I still don’t think he’s automatic. That said, he’s the best receiver eligible in this class. (Above Hayes, Reed, and Sharpe, who was a receiving tight end.) The electors will elect at least one receiver – if nothing else to eliminate the backlog – and Carter’s the most likely. He was very good for a long time and made the all-decade team of the 1990s. This should be his year.

7 – Claude Humphrey – Generally, when the seniors committee nominates someone, that person gets in. (One big exception is Bob Hayes, which is why he’s below Humphrey on the relativity list.) Humphrey was outstanding for the Falcons, and he went to a Super Bowl with the Eagles late in his career. A five-time all-pro (which means he was one of the top 2 DEs in the league that year.) But it’s harder to get a grasp on his impact because he’s from the era before sacks were an official statistic. There are a ton of defensive linemen in the class, so it would seem that at least one if not two have to get in. Humphrey will get one of those spots.

7 (con’t) – Shannon Sharpe — Sharpe is another first-time eligible, and a lot of talking heads have put Sharpe on the list of those who will get in. I don’t think that’s a guarantee — more like a 50-50 shot. Sharpe was the best receiving tight end of all time when he played (Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have arguments now), so he has that going for him. And he was a leader on three Super Bowl teams – he was key in Baltimore’s run, as well as Denver’s double. But Sharpe was not highly respected as a blocker, and tight end is a notoriously tough position for Hall of Fame election. The tiebreaker may be the fact that Sharpe’s on TV every week. That shouldn’t matter, but it has definitely helped recent candidates like Howie Long and John Madden. So figure Sharpe gets in first time around.

7 (con’t) Richard Dent – When I first did this list, I had Dent below Derrick Thomas. Then I looked at the numbers. Dent had more sacks than Thomas, and he also has the edge of having played on a superstar defense with the 1985 Bears. He was MVP of Super Bowl 20 as well. He would be the third Hall of Famer off that Bears defense, joining Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, and that could work against him. But the fact that Dent was third all-time in sacks when he retired should count for something. The guess here is that Dent joins Humphrey as the defensive ends making it in this year.

6 – Derrick Thomas – Now we’re squarely on the bubble. Thomas was a dominant pass rusher for 11 years, and his career was cut short by his death at age 33. But Thomas wasn’t all that much more than a pass rusher, and his sack total (126.5) doesn’t match up with either Richard Dent or John Randle (both of whom coincidentally finished with 137.5). So Thomas could get edged out by either of those players, or all three could get left out this year. But there is a backlog of quality candidates here, and I’m guessing one gets in (in addition to Humphrey). And if I had to pick the one, I’m guessing Dent.

6 (con’t) – Dermontti Dawson. It seemed like Dawson was the all-pro center forever. Turns out, it was six straight years (1993-98). It’s hard to separate offensive linemen, because there are no universally accepted statistics for them. Dawson was eligible for the Hall last year but didn’t even reach the finalist round, which doesn’t bode well for his chances.  I think that it will take a big class (6 or 7) for Dawson or any of these offensive linemen to have a chance. But if an offensive lineman gets in this year, I would take Dawson by a hair over Randall McDaniel and Bob Kuechenberg and by two hairs over Russ Grimm.

5 – Randall McDaniel – I felt like I had to distinguish between the offensive linemen, and so McDaniel falls a rung below Dawson. McDaniel made all-pro nine straight times, from 1990-1998. That means he was voted one of the top 2 guards in the league. But the end of that run happened when I was at Pro Football Weekly, and there was a little bit of a backlash against McDaniel at that point, saying he was getting recognition based more on reputation than performance at that point. He also played in a record 12 straight Pro Bowls. If voters look straight at numbers, McDaniel has a shot. But I would expect Dawson or even Kuechenberg (a long-time finalist) could get the nod instead.

5 (con’t) – John Randle – Even though Randle played defensive tackle, he was best known for his pass rush. (Well, that, and his legendary trash talk backed up by media-guide research.) He had great energy and got a lot of attention, even though the Vikings defenses he led weren’t spectacular. My guess is that, based on his game, Randle will be compared against other pass rushers in the class even though he played inside. It’s an accomplishment for him to make the final 17 in his first year of eligibility, but he’s a guy who will probably have to wait a few years before his chance for election really comes. Humprhey and Dent are above Randle in the pecking order.

5 (con’t) – Bob Hayes – This is the most curious guy on the board. He’s a second-time seniors committee nominee, which probably actually hurts his chances for election. Most of the time, the seniors candidate gets rubber-stamped by the voters, but Hayes didn’t get in. Maybe it’s because his stats pale in comparison to today’s wideouts. Whatever the case, it’s going to be hard for Hayes to surpass Carter and Sharpe to get in this year. If he doesn’t get in, it’ll probably never happen, which means his supporters will be very ardent, but I doubt it will be enough. But if he does get in, then Sharpe or even Carter will be shockingly disappointed.

4 – Andre Reed – For years, Art Monk was the cause celebre among Hall of Fame candidates. His backers said that his numbers didn’t tell the true story, that he deserved election for all he did for great teams. Now that Monk is in, I expect Reed to take over that mantle. But here’s the problem: Reed wasn’t the best receiver of his era — not even close. Jerry Rice was better. Michael Irvin was better. Cris Carter was better. Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison might well have been better. So Reed is a borderline candidate. He might get in eventually, but he’s the last receiver in line this year.

4 (con’t) – Bob Kuechenberg – I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read where Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated has railed about the fact that Kuechenberg isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Dr. Z won’t be in the election room this year because of health problems, which actually may help Kuechenberg’s chances. (Dr. Z’s impassioned and some would say long-winded defenses of his favorites can actually turn off electors instead of helping.) Kuechenberg has been eligible before, but his honors (only two all-pro nods) don’t help. It’s hard to see him getting in this year, unless electors simply decide he’s been waiting too long and overlook numbers to elect him. That may sound unlikely, but it’s much like what happened to Art Monk last year.

4 (con’t) Ralph Wilson – It’s always weird when owners are compared to players in the Hall of Fame process. If there was simply a contributors wing with one person elected each year, Wilson would deserve it. He was a founding father of the AFL who has been in pro football business for almost 50 years now. So Wilson could get in based on that. But is he more deserving than the players eligible? It’s just too hard to say. It would be ironic if the last spot came down to Reed or Wilson.

3 – Russ Grimm – Grimm was a member of the famous “Hogs” that led the Redskins during their heyday. He played on four Super Bowl teams (with three wins) and was all-pro four times. These are impressive numbers, but they don’t match Dawson or McDaniel. The one thing working in Grimm’s favor is that none of the Hogs have made the Hall. But should Grimm get in before Joe Jacoby? The fact that this question exists hurts Grimm’s chances. All in all, Grimm’s individual accomplishments just can’t match up to Dawson or McDaniel, and that means he’s not getting in this year.

3 (con’t) – Paul Tagliabue – It’s fair to say that every NFL commissioner will be at least nominated for the Hall of Fame, and any commissioner who serves for 18 years as Tagliabue did probably deserves to be a finalist. Tags probably deserves to get in one of these years — he did preside over the period in which the NFL once and for all passed baseball as America’s No. 1 sport. But my sense is that he’ll need to be on the list for another couple of years before he finally gets over the hump. The list of good candidates is too deep this year for him to deserve a spot.

2 – none

1 – Cortez Kennedy – This was the one name that really surprised me on the list of finalists. Kennedy was a very good run-stuffing defensive tackle for the Seahawks, and he was defensive player of the year in 1992. But he made just three all-pro teams, and his Seahawks defenses were never terrific. In my opinion, a different semifinalist such as Chris Doleman, Lester Hayes, or Ray Guy (another cause celebre) probably deserved the finalist spot. Kennedy was a good, sometimes even great, player, but not a Hall of Famer.

So where does that leave us? Here’s my prediction for the class: Smith, Woodson, Carter, Humphrey, Sharpe, and Dent.

If a sixth gets in, it’ll be Dawson over McDaniel. 

We’ll see how I do on the 31st.


Filed under Football Relativity, Pro Football Hall of Fame

Research project: More on Jim Caldwell

I wrote last week about how I’m uncomfortable with the Jim Caldwell move in Indianapolis. One of the reasons is that I didn’t remember a failed college coach becoming a top NFL coach. But remembering and research are 2 different things, so I went back to 1989 and tried to look at how former college head coaches did in the NFL. I’ll give the full list and then use it to make appropriate comparisons to Caldwell’s situation. The list is alphabetical. If I missed someone, leave a comment and I’ll add them in.

*Rich Brooks, St. Louis – Went 89-111-4 at Oregon before getting the chance to coach the Rams. Went 13-19 in two years, spent 4 more years in NFL as a defensive coordinator, and then went to Kentucky, where he is 32-41.
*Tom Cable, Oakland – 11-35 at Idaho, then 3 years as NFL assistant before becoming Raiders coach. 4-8 in 1 partial year at Oakland. (He still could get permanent job.)
*Cam Cameron, Miami – 18-37 at Indiana, then 5 years as NFL assistant before becoming Dolphins coach. 1-15 in 1 year at Miami, then fired. Now offensive coordinator with Ravens.
*Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville – Former Parcells assistant who went 21-13-1 at Boston College and then went straight to Jacksonville. Is 111-95 with Jaguars and Giants with one Super Bowl ring.
*Butch Davis, Cleveland – Went 51-20 at Miami before taking big money to coach the Browns. Went 24-35 in 4 seasons before being fired. Now at North Carolina, where he is 12-12 in 2 seasons.
*Chan Gailey, Dallas – 24-11 at Troy State and Samford, then 10 years as NFL assistant before becoming Cowboys coach. 18-14 in 2 years at Dallas, then fired. Went 67-41 at Georgia Tech; was offensive coordinator at Kansas City in ’08.
*Dennis Green, Minnesota – Went 10-45 at Northwestern, then spent 4 years as an NFL assistant, and then went 16-18 at Stanford before getting his shot with the Vikings. Totaled a 113-94 record with the Vikings and Cardinals during his career. Now a broadcaster.
*Al Groh, Jets – 26-40 at Wake Forest, then 12 years as an NFL assistant before becoming Jets coach. 9-7 in 1 year with Jets before leaving for the University of Virginia, where he is 56-41.
*Jimmy Johnson, Cowboys – Had a 82-34-2 record at Oklahoma State and Miami before moving up to the pro ranks with the Cowboys. Finished with an 80-64 record with Dallas and then Miami in the NFL. Now a broadcaster.
*Steve Mariucci, 49ers – After being offensive coordinator for Packers, went to Cal and went 6-6 in one year befoer going to San Francisco. Went 60-43 with the 49ers, then 15-28 with the Lions, for a total of 75-61. Now a broadcaster.
*Dick MacPherson, New England – Went 66-46-4 with Syracuse before getting a shot with the Patriots, but went just 8-24 in two seasons with the Patriots.
*Bobby Petrino, Atlanta – Former NFL coordinator went 41-9 at Louisville before going to Atlanta for big money. Went 3-10 and left midseason to go to Arkansas, where he was 5-7 in his first year.
*Mike Riley, San Diego – 8-14 at Oregon State, then straight to San Diego, where he went 14-34 with Chargers. After being fired, went back to Oregon State, where he’s 46-28.
*Bobby Ross, San Diego – Went 94-76-2 at The Citadel, Maryland, and Georgia Tech before getting a shot with San Diego. Went a total of 74-63 with San Diego and the Lions, then returned to college and went 9-25 before retiring.
*Nick Saban, Miami – Went 91-42-1 with Toledo, Michigan State, and LSU before getting big money to join Dolphins. Went 15-17 in 2 years before bolting for Alabama, where he is 19-8.
*Steve Spurrier, Washington – went 142-40-2 at Duke and (mostly) Florida before getting big money to join the Redskins. Went 12-20 in 2 years before leaving and has been 28-22 at South Carolina since.
*Barry Switzer, Dallas – Went 157-29-4 at Oklahoma but had been out of the game for a while before getting a shot with the Cowboys. Went 45-26 with Dallas, including 1 Super Bowl. Hasn’t coached since.
*Mike White, Oakland – went 87-71-4 at Cal and Illinois, then spent 9 years as an assistant before getting the Raiders job. Went 15-17 with the Raiders before getting fired.

That’s the list. So who is Caldwell most comparable to? You can’t put him in the class of elite college coaches, which would include national champions Saban, Spurrier, Switzer, Ross, and Johnson, along with hot prospects Davis and Petrino. You can’t even put him in the class of solid college coaches like Coughlin, MacPherson, and Brooks (who had a losing record but turned Oregon into a solid program).

And for the sake of fair comparison, I wouldn’t match him with Riley, who without much pedigree went straight from college to the pros, or with Mariucci, who was an NFL guy who spent just one year in the college ranks.

That leaves Caldwell in a class with six other coaches who:
*Had been college head coaches
*Had spent several years as NFL assistants
*Got their jobs more for their NFL track record than for their college accomplishments.

Let’s play relativity with these coaches. Remember that we’ve slotted Caldwell as a “3” hire relative to the other hires this offseason so far.

10 – None.

9 – None.

8 – Dennis Green: Green was a well regarded NFL prospect who probably took the Stanford job to get an opportunity that wasn’t prevalent for African-Americans at the time. But Green’s Bill Walsh pedigree was still the selling point. His career with the Vikings was quite good, as he made the Vikings a top-10 team. While the Vikings never made the Super Bowl (blowing their best chance in ’98), they were definitely contenders. For that, Green was a very good hire. Despite his less-than-stellar college coaching mark.

7- None.

6- None.

5- Chan Gailey. Gailey, who had won a D-2 national championship at Troy, got his shot with Dallas after serving as the offensive coordinator on a Steelers team that went to the Super Bowl. He had a 10-win season and then an 8-win season, but Jerry Jones didn’t like the trajectory of the team, and therefore pulled the plug. Gailey never got another NFL head-coaching shot, but he was not an abject failure in Dallas. He falls in the middle of the pack.

5 (con’t) – Al Groh. It’s hard to slot Groh, who had just one year as an NFL head coach. Remember that he got the job after Bill Parcells left the Jets and then Bill Belichick quit after 1 day to go to New England. Groh went 9-7, which isn’t a bad record, before deciding the NFL was not for him. Could Groh have had a Tom Coughlin type of run in the NFL? We can’t say, but you can’t rule it out. So we give Groh an incomplete and put him at coin-flip level for his single season.

4- None.

3- None.

2 – Mike White. White had been a somewhat successful college coach and a long-time NFL assistant when he got his shot with the Raiders. He started 8-2 but then collapsed to 8-8 in his first year. The second year was another losing season, and then he was gone. It’s not the worst Raiders coaching job we’ve seen over the last 15 years, but it was not good at all.

2 (con’t) – Tom Cable. If Cable gets the Raiders job full time, he becomes a comparison for Caldwell. Cable was awful at Idaho and had just 2 1/4 years as an NFL assistant before getting his shot as an interim. His 4-8 mark was an upgrade for the Raiders at the time, and the performance at the end of the season gave hope (at least when seen in light of where the Raiders have been lately). Cable would not be a dregs hire, but there have to be better options — even for the shipwreck that is the Raiders.

1- Cam Cameron. Cameron’s head coaching tenure couldn’t have been worse. One year, one win, and there’s the door. Cameron’s strong performance as San Diego’s offensive coordinator got him his shot, and he showed in 2008 with Baltimore that he is a great assistant coach. But a great coordinator doesn’t always make a great head coach. The college-ranks failure ended up being a strong predictor of Cameron’s NFL head coaching tenure. Unfortunately for the Colts, I get the feeling the same will be true for Caldwell.

One more thought: In researching this list, it’s amazing how many former college coaches lasted 2 years or less as NFL head coaches (Groh, Cameron, Gailey, Saban, Spurrier, Petrino, White, Brooks, MacPherson). That’s 9 of 18, or 50 percent. That percentage says it’s a coin flip that Caldwell will still be with the Colts in Sept. 2011. As harsh as it sounds, that timetable of failure almost sounds right to me.


Filed under NFL coaches, research project

Head coaching update: Rex Ryan to Jets

Another day, another hire. The Jets have named Rex Ryan as their new head coach. The former Ravens defensive coordinator has been a hot candidate the last couple of years. But where does he compare? Here’s his relativity entry, which has also been entered in the main head coaching hires post
4 (con’t) – Rex Ryan, Jets – Ryan is a qualified candidate, with a resume as good as first-time head coach can have. But there’s one troubling thing about him – his team for the last 10 years, the Ravens, passed him over last year. The Ravens’ brass is top notch, so that judgment weighs heavily. If they don’t want him, I’m not sure I do. With that in mind, I just can’t bring myself to say the Jets are better with Ryan than they would be with Mangini. You might believe in change for change’s sake, but I don’t. 

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Two outlandish predictions, two wins, and a bunch of thoughts

So I’m trying to think of what to say about the conference championship games – both of which we predicted correctly, just for the record, both straight-up and against the spread – and here are some postgame points. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

*That Pittsburgh D is serious. James Harrison may have won defensive player of the year honors, but Lamarr Woodley is almost as good, and when Troy Polamalu gets going, he’s a difference maker. Polamalu is a little more hit-and-miss than Ed Reed, but Polamalu definitely can change things. His interception return was a great, great play.
*Santonio Holmes is coming of age, and he gives the Pittsburgh offense a dimension it hasn’t had in a long time. Holmes had one big touchdown and should have had another, if not for an indecipherable replay review.
*Terrell Suggs was a man, playing with an injured shoulder and having two sacks.
*When Willis McGahee got hurt, I couldn’t help but think back to the national championship game in which he blew out his knee. That dude deserves better luck.
*Joe Flacco is going to be just fine. Yes, he had a below-average game Sunday. But the guy’s a rookie, and he’s a lot further along than anyone expected at this point. He got further than Roethlisberger did in his first playoff run. I think those two guys will end up being pretty good comparisons for each other by the end of their careers.
*Pittsburgh played a murderous schedule this year, and the fact that they put up the record they did and have now advanced to the Super Bowl shows that this was the best team in the league this year. They may not be the best team Feb. 1, but they have been the most consistent performer in the league.
*Mike Tomlin is the truth. He just had better be ready for revenge of Ken Whisenhunt stories for the next two weeks

 *The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. I had to say that out loud at least 5 times yesterday just to get it through my thick skull.
*Larry Fitzgerald is a superstar. He’ll be the guy who is the media darling this year. And he deserves it.
*Kurt Warner is a good quarterback and a better leader. Name me another quarterback who could have won the starting job in the last week of the preseason and taken this team through highs and lows like he has. I’m still not sure he’ll end up in the Hall of Fame, but he deserves to be remembered as a great one.
*Ken Whisenhunt is a really good coach. Arizona finally got that part of the equation right.
*The Cardinals defense isn’t consistent game to game or even quarter to quarter, but there is some serious talent there. I’d put Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the top of that list.
*Donovan McNabb is still really good. He bounced back from a pitiful first half to lead his team back to the lead. One of the great what-ifs of this decade will be what McNabb could have done if he had ever had top-level receivers. Imagine McNabb in Minnesota with Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Or in Arizona with Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Heck, even in Houston with Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter.  The Eagles haven’t served him well in that area.
*Speaking of that, picking a wide receiver third overall is a good thing. Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, and maybe Michael Crabtree this year. But that’s a research project for later.
*Good for Edgerrin James, who missed out when the Colts finally made the big game but now gets his shot. He’s earned it, too, with his play in the postseason.

We’ll start up Super Bowl coverage in the next few days. We have big ideas and big plans, so stay tuned.

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