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FR: New and moved announcers for 2011

Each year, we compare the national TV announcers that enter the NFL business or find new gigs. We will do this using our Football Relativty scale, with 10 being the moves we like best, and 1 being the move that matters least. We’ll add to this comparison as more moves are announced.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via blog.49ers.com

10 – Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football – Once again, the NFL Network revamped its announcing duo, but this time the network got it right. Mayock is NFLN’s franchise player as a draft analyst, and he proved his game analyst chops last year doing Notre Dame games on NBC. Mayock then went on to do one NFL game, the playoff game between the Saints and Seahawks, and his serious approach and insight into game strategy and trends was enlightening. He’ll be a massive improvement over ex-NFLN analysts Joe Theismann, who tends to be a blowhard and falls victim to a disturbing inattention to detail, and Matt Millen, a good analyst who tended to be brought down by Theismann’s act. Mayock works with Brad Nessler, a play-by-play vet who has done mostly college football for ESPN (among other sports) but has had a couple of NFL cameos on the opening-week Monday night doubleheaders. Nessler has a more authoritative voice than former play-by-play man Bob Papa, who merited staying over but won’t get the chance. Still, the Nessler/Mayock pairing feels like a big-time booth, which is something the NFLN has never hit on because of massive weak spots like Theismann or, before him, Bryant Gumbel.

9 – Kurt Warner, NFL Network – Warner, who called a few lower-level games for Fox last season, is moving to NFL Network full time to be a part of GameDay Morning each Sunday, as well as the network’s pre- and post-game for Thursday night games. That job fits Warner better than game analyst, because it will allow him to speak to macro issues and express his thoughtfulness. Plus, Warner adds a new dimension to a pre-game show that doesn’t have a quarterback on it right now. Warner should become a long-time fixture on NFLN, and he gives the network a fourth Hall of Fame caliber player with Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin (both already in) and Warren Sapp. It looks to be a great fit.

9 (con’t) – Bill Parcells, ESPN – Parcells has bounced between the NFL and broadcasting for nearly two decades now, and he’s proven that he’s an excellent analyst. Now he joins ESPN and jumps onto the Sunday NFL Countdown show. He’ll immediately become a key contributor, because his keen eye for talent and presentation makes him more valuable than fellow ex-coach Mike Ditka. Parcells will also get a draft confidential special and a Super Bowl confidential special, and he’s proven that such shows can be the equivalent of Jon Gruden’s QB camp in terms of insight. Parcells is a TV star, and he’ll be a huge asset to ESPN’s pregame show lineup.

8 – Marv Albert, CBS – Albert is best known for being the voice of the NBA for NBC, TNT, and also the Knicks and Nets, but he has a long legacy of calling NFL games. For nearly two decades, Albert was an NBC play-by-play announcer, spending most of them in the high-profile No. 2 position for the network. But his high-profile personal issues cost him that job in 1997. Albert returned to calling NFL games for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football and playoff radio broadcasts in 2002, and he has called 10 Super Bowls for that network. Now Albert returns to the NFL with CBS, whom he first worked for after the network teamed with TNT to broadcast the NCAA tournament this spring. Albert has a big-time and distinctive voice, and his long history calling games will immediately add depth to the CBS bench. The question is whether Albert will slip into the CBS lineup in Gus Johnson’s former No. 5 spot, or whether he’ll jump a younger voice like Kevin Harlan or Ian Eagle. Given how old CBS’s game-calling crews are as a whole, moving Albert up too high would be a mistake. CBS needs to develop and feature younger voices like Eagle and Spero Dedes more prominently. But if Albert  stays in a mid-tier role, he’s certainly as good as a replacement for Johnson as was available.

7 – none

6 – Chad Pennington, Fox – Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on Fox’s seventh team. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. Rosen’s old teammate, Tim Ryan, is now with Chris Myers on the No. 5 team as Fox shuffles its lineup.

6 (con’t) – Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, Fox – Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, filling in on eight-game weeks for Fox. On CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.

5 – Jerry Rice, ESPN – ESPn hired Rice, perhaps the greatest player ever, to serve as an analyst for NFL Live, SportsCenter, and the Thursday night Audibles show. It’s an interesting move. Rice is one of the best players ever, but can he translate his expertise into succinct analysis? Many have tried and failed. Still, it’s worth the gamble for ESPN to add someone with Rice’s pedigree. If he works out, it’s a coup; if he doesn’t, he’s still Jerry Rice, which counts for something for the viewer. And since ESPN is easing him in, Rice will have the best opportunity to succeed.

4 – Hugh Douglas, ESPN – Since his retirement in 2004, the former pass-rush specialist has been an engaging and sometimes controversial commentator in the Philadelphia market. Now he moves to the national scene, joining ESPN as a studio analyst who’ll be used on SportsCenter, NFL Live, First Take, ESPN News, and other platforms. It’s not ESPN’s glamour job, but Douglas should get plenty of air time in the role. He’ll definitely make an impression, and his willingness to call out players and coaches will make him memorable. Don’t be surprised if Douglas earns a promotion at ESPN before too long.

4 – Josina Anderson, ESPN – Anderson made a splash as a reporter for the Fox affiliate in Denver, consistently breaking national stories from a local beat. That’s not easy to do, and it led her to a correspondent role on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Now she moves to ESPN, where she’ll be an NFL reporter with chops. This is a deserved call-up to the national scene.

3 – Eric Mangini, ESPN – Mangini also joins the World Wide Leader as a studio analyst. He worked for ESPN during last year’s playoff run, bringing insight to the Jets/Patriots matchup since he is a Bill Belichick disciple and a former Jets head coach. We’re always all for hiring recently fired coaches, because they see the league in ways few others can. The question is whether Mangini can take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that fans understand and enjoy. Mangini won’t have the big personality of other former coaches turned broadcasters like Herman Edwards or Brian Billick, but like a Jim Mora, he should be able to make some keen insights. It’s a nice addition for ESPN.

3 (con’t) – Damien Woody, ESPN – Woody, who retired this offseason, also latches on with ESPN as an NFL studio analyst. The fact that Woody played all across the offensive line will add to his credibility, and being in the league up through last year helps as well. But Woody must establish his personality pretty quickly so that he’s not lost in the forest of ESPN’s uber-deep analyst roster (which did trim Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn).

3 (con’t) – Heath Evans, NFL Network – Evans retired during training camp and landed with NFL Network. He has experience playing for both the Saints and Patriots, which means he should bring good insight to two of this year’s contenders. He also has an outspoken personality that should help him make a mark. While he wasn’t a big name as a player, Evans has a nice future in television.

2 – Rodney Harrison, NFL Network – Harrison isn’t leaving his high-profile studio job at NBC; he’s merely adding midweek responsibilities with NFL Network. From our perspective, that’s a great thing – we always want to see more of Harrison.

1 – Michelle Tafoya, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – Tafoya has long been a fixture as a sideline reporter, most recently with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Now she moves to Sunday nights to work with the crew that she did MNF with back in 2004-05. Tafoya is a professional, and she adds good information on the sidelines without devolving into the prepackaged stories that so many other sideliners do. As MNF lessened the duties of its sideline reporters, it makes sense for Tafoya to find a more prominent role. It’s unclear at this point whether Tafoya is joining or replacing current SNF sideliner Andrea Kramer.

1 (con’t) – Alex Flanagan, NFL Network – Flanagan replaces Tafoya as the sideline reporter on NFL Network’s Thursday night games. Flanagan has proven to be a terrific sideliner doing NBC Notre Dame games, as well an NBC playoff game last year, and she’s also a NFL Network host. That makes her a perfect fit for an enhanced role.

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Torching Tiki

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Image by jacorbett70 via Flickr

Apparently, this is criticism week here on Football Relativity. After pounding Ryan Mallett yesterday, we have a new target – ex-Giants running back Tiki Barber, who announced Tuesday he was going to try to come out of retirement and return to the field at age 36.

Barber’s announcement sent me into a bit of a Twitter tirade that I wanted to bring back here to start the discussion:

If Tiki Barber is trying to make sure his announcement makes a splash, making it while no other transactions are allowed is the way to do it
Does Tiki Barber really have a chance to make it back to the #NFL? Let me put it this way: I think I’d rather bet on Maurice Clarett
(After retweeting this from Ross Tucker: 3 reasons to un-retire: 1)Love the game. 2)Need money. 3)Crave relevancy/the spotlight again. I’m going with 2 & 3 for Tiki.) … Love @RossTuckerNFL ‘s 3 reasons to unretire. Taking it further: Favre has 1&3 (& maybe 2; who knows). Carson Palmer may not have any of ’em
Heard someone call Tiki Barber a Hall of Famer- No way. He’ll settle for @espnsmitty ‘s Corridor of the Capable. Enjoy your Formica Tiki

I’ll explain the Hall of Fame comment below. But first, let’s think about why Tiki is trying a comeback, and whether he realistically has a shot. And suffice it to say, I’m skeptical on both counts. Most running backs hit the wall at age 30, so it’s foolhardy to think that Barber at age 36 will be anywhere close to his prime years. While he hasn’t taken a pounding on the field in four years, there’s no way he still has the quickness or the durability he did when he was four years younger. And yes, Tiki’s twin brother Ronde is still playing and playing well, which speaks well to Tiki’s genetics. But coming back from being away is far different than keeping the body in shape for one more run, and playing cornerback is a lot less physical than playing running back. We’ve seen several cornerbacks – Darrell Green, Deion Sanders, etc. – play into their late 30s, but finding a late-30s running back is like spotting a unicorn.

If Tiki’s return is such a longshot, why is he doing it? Tiki left the game early in large part because he was ready to start a TV career. He had a great opportunity with NBC not only to be on Football Night in America every Sunday night but also to be a contributor to the Today Show. In many ways, Tiki was being groomed for the morning-show landscape. But he proved to be bland on camera, and then personal issues turned his blandness into outright dislike. Now it appears network TV isn’t an option.

That truth makes this announcement – perfectly timed, as I tweeted – at the very least an attention grab. It may also be a money grab, based on his costly divorce. But either way, it’s impossible not to be skeptical of Tiki’s motives. Tiki developed a reputation as a clubhouse lawyer, and this seems to be a natural move for a guy who’s all about himself.

For those reasons, if I were a team I’d consider Tiki as not worth the hassle. The Giants have already decided as much, saying they’re going to cut him free as soon as it’s allowed. That isa big-time sign about Tiki’s reptuation and his chances.

Now that the playing question is settled, let’s address the Hall of Fame question. Actually, it’s not much of a question. Barber falls significantly short of that level. While he played 10 years, his peak was closer to five years. And while he was a threat both running and receiving, he wasn’t the player recent electee Marshall Faulk was. I’d say Barber was 70-80 percent of the player Faulk was. Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis, both running backs from Barber’s era, were left unelected this year, and I’d take both before electing Barber.

Instead, Barber belongs in the Corridor of the Capable. (That’s my term for Matt Smith’s idea of a Hall of the Very Good. It’s a place where the busts are made not of granite but of Formica and where, instead of getting a yellow blazer upon induction, you get a nice argyle tie. The induction dinner isn’t steak and lobster, just a perfectly acceptable chicken breast with some steamed vegetables.) So don’t hold your breath for Canton, Tiki. Instead, enjoy your Formica.

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Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2011

Pro Football Hall of Fame, at Canton, Ohio, Un...

Image via Wikipedia

Over the weekend, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its class of 2011. We predicted six of the seven inductees in our Football Relativity comparison, so we obviously support the class. Here are some other thoughts:

*Ed Sabol’s induction is well deserved. NFL Films gets a lot of credit for helping to build the league’s popularity and profile in the 1960s and 1970s, to the point that football is now America’s game. Like John Madden (the video game entrepeneur, not the coach), Sabol is one of the rare contributors whose legacy affects not only one franchise but generations of fans. He simply has to be included in any real Hall of Fame.
*Sabol’s induction cost a player a spot because of the Hall’s rules. The two seniors candidates – Les Richter and Chris Hanburger – get yes or no votes, while the other 15 finalists have just five spots. That’s why there gets to be such a backlog at certain positions. So only one pass rusher was going to get in – Richard Dent finally got that spot over Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy – and only one receiver – Shannon Sharpe over Cris Carter, Andre Reed, and Tim Brown.
*It was gratifying to see Dent and Sharpe get in after long waits. Both are completely deserving of induction.
*Carter is a cause celebre for fans who think he deserves induction. We agree, but Carter was in the first cut for the second straight year. Unless a bunch of Sharpe supporters swing to Carter, he could find himself behind Reed in the pecking order next year.
*The selectors chose the right running back in Marshall Faulk, and they rightly eliminated Jerome Bettis before Curtis Martin. Martin will be a curious case in coming years, because he’s right on the borderline of the Hall of Fame and the hall of the very good.
*Next year’s first-time eligibles are an interesting group. Of players, former Chiefs OG Will Shields is probably the best candidate (over Drew Bledsoe), but three prominent coaches – Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, and Bill Cowher – join the class. Cowher may get ignored because selectors believe he’ll return to the field – that’s the reason Parcells isn’t yet in. But if Parcells or Schottenheimer gets in, it’ll cost another player.
*With Shields coming on board, his former teammate William Roaf and ex-Steelers C Dermontti Dawson are facing an offensive line glut that only gets worse with Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden in 2013. Next year needs to be Dawson’s year, or else he’s going to be facing a long wait.
*I had an interesting Twitter exchange with a buddy after the selection. He lamented the fact that both the baseball and football Halls don’t put everyone in who’s a Hall of Famer. But the problem is different in the two sports. In baseball, voters often vote for less than the 10 they’re allowed to vote for – even leaving ballots blank in some cases – and as a result the classes are small with one, two, or three inductees. In football, writers put the maximum number of candidates in pretty much every year, but there’s such a backlog (in part because there are 22 starters per team, vs. 9 in baseball) that it’s exceedingly hard to get in.

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FR: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2011 Class

Deion Sanders (left) and Marshall Faulk should lead the class of 2011

Each year on FootballRelativity.com, we compare the 17 Hall of Fame finalists in terms of whom we think should be elected. So here’s a look at this year’s contenders for enshrinement in Canton. (Here are links to a comparison of last year’s finalists, and thoughts on the class that was elected.)

Jerome Bettis– Running Back – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (first year eligible)
Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (repeat finalist)
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Dermontti Dawson– Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (repeat finalist)
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles (repeat finalist)
Chris Doleman– Defensive End/Linebacker – 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Marshall Faulk – Running Back – 1994-98 Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005 St. Louis Rams (first time eligible)
Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys (repeat finalist)
Chris Hanburger– Linebacker – 1965-1978 Washington Redskins (seniors candidate)
Cortez Kennedy– Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (repeat finalist)
Curtis Martin – Running Back – 1995-97 New England Patriots, 1998-2005 New York Jets (first year eligible)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Les Richter – Linebacker – 1954-1962 Los Angeles Rams (seniors candidate)
Willie Roaf– Tackle – 1993-2001 New Orleans Saints, 2002-05 Kansas City Chiefs (first year eligible)
Ed Sabol– Founder/President/Chairman – 1964-1995 NFL Films (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Deion Sanders – Cornerback/Kick Returner/Punt Returner – 1989-1993 Atlanta Falcons, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1995-99 Dallas Cowboys, 2000 Washington Redskins, 2004-05 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (repeat finalist)

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 is home to an incredible trove of research. Consider this a recommendation.)

10 – Deion Sanders – Sanders wasn’t the most complete corner ever, but he may have been the best cover man of his or any era. Combine that with his electric returning ability, and you have a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Sanders’ career was a bit strange because he played both in the NFL and in Major League Baseball, and because of his prodigous ego and love of the spotlight he bounced around quite a bit. But there was plenty of substance beneath the flash. The accolades are there – a member of the all-1990s team, eight Pro Bowl appearances and six All-Pro nods, and two Super Bowl rings – but the fact that Sanders at his apex was the scariest player on the field is enough for us. Some voters might be put off by Sanders’ bombastic nature or his unwillingness to tackle, but even those issues won’t be enough to keep Sanders out of the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

9 – Marshall Faulk – Of the three running backs on the ballot for the first time this year, we believe Faulk is the clear-cut leader of the group for first-year enshrinement. Faulk was the ideal running back for the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis because he was just as deadly catching the ball out of the backfield as he was running the ball. He won league MVP honors in both 2000 and 2001 and was part of two Rams Super Bowl teams. And that St. Louis dominance came after an incredibly productive five-year stint with the Colts. Faulk played 13 years, and his rushing total of 12,279 place him 10th all time, below fellow nominees Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. But Faulk added another 6,875 receiving yards, which is the reason we put him ahead of those two nominees. In yards from scrimmage, Faulk is fourth all time, behind only Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, and Walter Payton. That elite company better reflects Faulk’s career. We believe Faulk deserves enshrinement right away, even if it comes at the expense of Martin and Bettis in 2011.

8 – Cris Carter – We don’t get it. For the last two years, we’ve endorsed Carter as a Hall of Famer. In our minds, he’s an easy choice over fellow finalists Andre Reed and Tim Brown at the position, as well as a narrow choice over receiving tight end Shannon Sharpe. But apparently that clump of receivers in the final 17 have kept Carter out. Instead, seniors candidate Bob Hayes and no-brainer Jerry Rice have been enshrined the last two years. Carter will still need to clear Brown and Reed, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Carter has 1,101 career catches to place third all-time. That’s seven more catches than Brown (despite playing one fewer season) and 150 more than Reed. And Carter was always on the list of the five best receivers in the league throughout the 1990s, as shown by his all-decade team accolades. At some point, voters will have to admit the next receiver, and Carter should be the guy.

7 – Ed Sabol – Sabol has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for many years, but he finally crossed into finalist territory this year. He’s become a cause celebre of Peter King and others for his role in creating NFL Films. For nearly 50 years, NFL Films has promoted and propagated the popularity of the NFL. Sabol started NFL Films and worked there until retiring in 1995. It’s hard to compare a contributor like Sabol to a class otherwise filled with players, but if ever a contributor deserved one of the seven Hall of Fame spots, it’s Sabol. Our hunch is that there’s enough momentum behind him that he’ll be inducted now that he has finally made it to finalist status.

7 (con’t) – Richard Dent – We’ve endorsed Dent for enshrinement the last two years, but he’s been passed over for Derrick Thomas in 2009 and John Randle last year. Dent was a dominant force for the classic Bears teams in the 1980s, and he won Super Bowl 20 MVP honors. He has 137.5 career sacks, which doesn’t live up to the total Chris Doleman posted but doesn’t reflect Dent’s dominance. Dent has been a finalist every year since 2005, and at some point he has to get over the hump. Given the defensive crop this year, it may be now or never for Dent. We believe it should be now.

7 (con’t) – Chris Hanburger – It’s never easy for us to evaluate the seniors candidates, but history indicates that most of them win election if they make it past the seniors committee. That bodes well for Hanburger, who started at linebacker for the Redskins for 14 years in the 1960s and 70s. With four All-Pro selections and nine Pro Bowl nods, Hanburger has the resume to merit election, and the fact that he started 135 straight games during the prime of his career is a good sign as well. He had a great career given the fact that he started out as an 18th-round draft pick, and it now appears that this career could well end up in the Hall of Fame.

6 – Shannon Sharpe – Tight end isn’t a prolific position in terms of producing Hall of Famers, and that plus the surplus of receivers have worked against Sharpe in his candidacy thus far. Like Dent, we have endorsed Sharpe the first two years of this post, and we’re doing so again. He merits inclusion, because he was the perfect West Coast offense tight end. He wasn’t an outstanding blocker, but he was effective, and he played a key role on three Super Bowl teams – two in Denver and one in Baltimore. But Sharpe is 250 catches (and counting) behind Tony Gonzalez, which isn’t helping his cause. But Sharpe’s high level of play for championship teams is something Gonzalez can’t rival. Sharpe deserves induction.

6 (con’t) – Les Richter – Richter, already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, played his entire nine-year career for the Rams, who had acquired him in an 11-for-1 deal. He debuted two years after being drafted, after serving in the military, and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight seasons as a linebacker. He also served as a placekicker and even played some center for the Rams. No wonder he was first- or second-team All-Pro in each of his first six seasons. Now that Richter has made it past the seniors committee, the late Richter should find his way into the Hall of Fame.

5 – Curtis Martin – Martin was rarely a great, but he was very good for a long time for the Patriots and Jets. As a result, his accumulated totals put him in the pantheon of the all-time greats. But Martin made just five Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons, and he was an All-Pro just twice and led the league in rushing just once. That makes his candidacy wobbly, despite the fact that he’s currently the fourth all-time rusher in the league. Martin’s going to be an interesting case, because he (like Bettis and future nominee Edgerrin James and Fred Taylor) have monstrous numbers but rare moments of dominance. That, to us, means that Martin doesn’t pass the smell test, at least in his first season. Faulk must go in ahead of Martin, and while Martin leads Bettis, we don’t see room for more than one running back in this year’s class. Maybe Martin will sneak in in the future, but this shouldn’t be his year.

5 (con’t) – Dermontti Dawson – We moved Dawson down a level from last year, because while we would still vote for him, we don’t have a good feeling about his chances. Dawson played 13 years and was a six-time All-Pro, which clearly established him as the best center of the 1990s. He had a long career and was dominant at his position. For Dwight Stephenson a decade before him, that meant induction. But Dawson needs to get in soon, before other linemen like Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, and Jonathan Ogden start hitting the ballot. Otherwise Dawson’s wait will be prolonged.

4- Charles Haley – Haley’s an interesting case, because he was such a big factor for two dynastic teams – the 49ers and the Cowboys. As a result, he has an unprecedented five Super Bowl rings. That’s the cornerstone of his Hall of Fame candidacy. He also played well both as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker, which is a credit to his ability. but his sack numbers – 100.5 – pale in comparison to Richard Dent and Chris Doleman, making it hard to justify choosing Haley over those players. It wouldn’t be a travesty to put Haley in the Hall of Fame, but there are more deserving guys in the group of finalists this year.

4 (con’t) – Cortez Kennedy – When Kennedy first showed up on the Hall of Fame radar, we wrote off his candidacy, but he seems to be a legitimate borderline candidate. He was a dominant defensive tackle for years, although the fact that he played in Seattle his entire career kept him under the radar to some degree. Still, he earned eight Pro Bowl berths and three All-Pro nods, made the 1990s All-Decade team, and won defensive player of the year honors in 1992. Kennedy’s position keeps him from having numbers to bolster his case, but he was a dominant force, and that may be enough to sneak him into a class as a compromise candidate.

4 (con’t) – Willie Roaf – Roaf played in a golden era of tackles, yet he still carved out a niche as an elite left tackle. He wasn’t quite the pass blocker that Walter Jones or Jonathan Ogden were, but like Orlando Pace he was a good pass blocker who also handled his business in the run game. The question is how many of those tackles will get into the Hall of Fame, because Roaf is probably third or fourth in that elite group. With six first-team and three second-team All-Pro nods,  Roaf clearly belongs among those four, and the former Saint and Chief also made the all-decade team for both the 1990s and the 2000s. And coming up for election before the other three guys could help him, since the ballot isn’t as crowded at this point. We could see Roaf getting in, but our sense is that he should probably wait until at least Jones and Ogden of his contemporaries get in first.

3 – Tim Brown – Brown was a terrific player for many years, and the former Heisman Trophy winner is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame based on his Notre Dame career. But we believe he falls just short of the level required to be a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Brown has 1,094 career catches, placing him fourth all-time. He was also a dynamic return man for much of his career. But Brown never was the dominant receiver of his era – while he was a nine-time Pro Bowler and a 1990s All-Decade player, he wasn’t ever a first-team all-pro. So to us, Brown doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer. We won’t start a riot if he gets in, but like Curtis Martin, Brown falls just below the standard to us.

2 – Jerome Bettis – Bettis is perhaps the trickiest of any of this year’s first-time nominees, because he had a strange career. Here’s the good of his candidacy: He is fifth all-time in rushing yards, thanks to eight 1,000-yard seasons with the Rams and Steelers. He’s also a unique player – the first big back to be a full-time runner instead of a short-yardage specialist. But Bettis made the transition to short-yardage specialist late in his career, and in his last eight years he averaged more than four yards a carry just once. He declined pretty quickly after age 30, and he also had two below-par years early in his career. So while Bettis had four great seasons and impressive career statistics, to us he is not a Hall of Fame back. He certainly falls below Marshall Faulk in the pecking order, and we’d prefer Curtis Martin as well. Bettis’ gregarious nature will help his chances, but ultimately he feels like a lost cause in terms of Canton.

2 (con’t) – Andre Reed – Reed was a great receiver for the Bills’ teams in the early 1990s, and his career total of 951 receptions for more than 13,000 yards is impressive. But he’s not a Hall of Famer. He was never an All-Pro – considered one of the top two receivers in the league in any given year. He was a second-team all-pro just twice. He did make seven Pro Bowls, and he was a key part of Buffalo’s AFC dynasty. But compared to other receivers like Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe, and even Tim Brown, he doesn’t measure up. That’s why we’ve moved Reed down our comparison vs. last year. Reed belongs in the Hall of the Very Good, not the Hall of Fame.

1 – Chris Doleman – Doleman has been eligible for several years, but he moved into the realm of the finalists for the first time this year. And his chances are tied almost solely to his sack total. He had 150.5 career sacks, good for fifth all-time, and parlayed his ability to get to the quarterback into three first-team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowl berths. We’d prefer Richard Dent to Doleman, but strange things have happened in the pass-rushing category in recent years, so we can’t write Doleman off completely. Still, for our tastes he was too much of a one-dimensional player to merit inclusion in Canton.

So who will make it in? We believe Sanders and Faulk are shoo-ins, and we also think Richter and Hanburger will get thumbs up. That leaves three spots. Sabol gets one of those spots, while the other two should go to Carter and Dent. We’ve been wrong on those last two for two years running, but we’ll assert once again that this should be their year.

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Divisional Round Sunday thoughts

Let’s look back at Sunday’s divisional-round games. (For Saturday game thoughts, click here.)

Greg Olsen beats Lawyer Milloy for a touchdown

Chicago 35, Seattle 24
*The hero of the game was Bears TE Greg Olsen, who beat Lawyer Milloy for a 58-yard touchdown on the first series of the game to get the Bears going. Olsen got deep, and Jay Cutler hit him with a beautiful deep throw that was more impressive given the snowy, windy conditions. Olsen added a 33-yard catch that helped to set up the Bears’ second score, and his 113-yard first half was a huge reason the Bears jumped out to a big lead.
*Cutler played pretty well, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more. But he got lucky in avoiding the kind of critical mistake that has kept him from becoming an elite quarterback. At the end of the first quarter, Cutler threw a ball in the red zone that Seattle S Jordan Babineaux had in his hands but dropped. Instead of a pick 6, Cutler got another chance, and after he converted a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1, Chester Taylor scored a touchdown to give the Bears a 14-0. That could have been a huge turning point but instead ended up being the point when the Bears really turned on the faucet in the rout.
*Julius Peppers didn’t have a sack as the Bears built a 21-0 halftime lead, but he did snuff out Seattle’s third drive by drawing a holding penalty by rookie Seahawks OLT Russell Okung. Peppers has been an impact player all season, and his presence has helped the Bears’ D move back toward the great level this season.
*Overall, the Bears defense did a terrific job of snuffing out the Seahawks’ running game and of keeping receivers in front of them. The Cover-2 defense has fallen out favor in the NFL, and that’s in part because it’s not that flashy and doesn’t create a ton of sacks or turnovers. But the Bears show that how, with the right personnel (like DEs Peppers and Israel Idonije and LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs), it can still be quite effective.
*Matt Hasselbeck completed only 10-of-20 passes in the first half, but it wasn’t all his fault. Cameron Morrah, Brandon Stokley, and Golden Tate all saw chances for big plays go off their hands, and Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman also made good plays on the ball to break up passes.
*Matt Forte had a real nice game for the Bears, keeping the chains moving both on the ground and through the air. Forte isn’t Marshall Faulk (who will feature heavily in our Hall of Fame post soon), but he is a threat both running and receiving, and that makes him a dovetail fit with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Forte is a nice asset for the Bears to have.
*Raheem Brock continued his strong play with a sack in the first half that forced a fumble. Brock had eight sacks over the Seahawks’ last seven games (including playoffs).
*Devin Hester continued his game-changing play on returns with a 26-yard punt return to help set up Chicago’s second touchdown. Hester is a game breaker, and that’s crucial for a team that doesn’t have elite explosiveness on offense.
*The Seahawks kicked a field goal with 1:52 left to cut a 28-0 lead to 25 points. It made no sense to kick there, given that they still trailed by four scores. I understand Pete Carroll not wanting his team to get shut out, but that was a gutless call. But that wasn’t the worst coaching call of the game – those honors go to the Bears’ decision to have Forte throw a pass in the fourth quarter. That led to an unnecessary Seahawks touchdown.
*We asked on Twitter and Facebook Saturday night whether a Bears/Packers NFC championship game would be the biggest matchup ever between the long-time rivals. We don’t have the historical chops to answer that question (which we assume will show up across all media this week), but it will be a ton of fun to watch that rivalry on the big stage. During the game, we also Tweeted about classic Seahawks tight end names and the Tony Siragusa experiment by Fox. Follow along on Twitter for Football Relativity updates and other assorted fun!

The Jets celebrate against the Patriots

N.Y. Jets 28, New England 21
*We were as surprised as anyone by the Jets’ ability to come out and stop the Patriots’ offense. The fact that David Harris picked off Tom Brady on a screen pass was a sign, given that Brady hadn’t thrown an interception in the second half of the season. New York continued to befuddle Brady through the game, and that was a big factor in allowing the Jets to build a lead that they never relinquished.
*One of the biggest reasons that the Patriots’ offense struggled was that the Jets were able to create pressure on Brady all day. Shaun Ellis led the charge with two sacks, but across the front Gang Green hit Brady time after time.
*There were heroes all over for the Jets, from Ellis to Santonio Holmes (who showed again that he loves to step up in the postseason). But you have to give Mark Sanchez credit for playing one of his best games of the year against a team that bedeviled him in the regular season. Sanchez threw three TD passes and hit perfect throws to Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery. If Sanchez can make 3-5 big-time throws a game, he gives the rest of a talented Jets roster a chance to do its job and win.
*The Jets continued to run the ball effectively in this game. That’s been an underrated reason for their playoff run.
*The Patriots have now lost three playoff games in a row, the last two at home. That’s going to lead to the question of whether something is missing in New England. The truth is that a young defense that played well in the regular season wasn’t able to step up to the challenge once the brightest lights were on. Plus, the fact that the Patriots hadn’t faced much adversity on the field over the second half of the season made it more difficult for the youngsters to rise to the occasion when trouble arrived in this game. Perhaps those issues can be resolved with experience, but it’s something that Bill Belichick must turn around if the Patriots are going to return to Super Bowl contention.
*It’s easy to why the Patriots took a shot on a fake punt late in the first half, but their inability to convert after Patrick Chung’s fumble was crucial. It sent the Jets into the locker room with a 14-3 lead, instead of the 7-3 lead they likely would have had if the Pats had simply punted. But the fact that the Pats couldn’t get anything going added a sense of desperation that caused them to a chance that they didn’t really have to take.
*Rex Ryan, meanwhile, has a team that isn’t always pretty in the regular season but that shows up in the playoffs. With four playoff wins (all on the road) in two seasons, Ryan has definitely given the Jets an attitude of refusing to give up or bend their knee to anyone. Ryan isn’t a conventional coach, and he isn’t a championship coach yet. But his unique style definitely is working for his squad.

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Jets/Bengals thoughts

Here are some thoughts on the AFC wild-card game in which the Jets beat the Bengals 24-14 in Cincinnati. We won’t do a post on each and every playoff game, but we have something to say about this one.

*Mark Sanchez had the perfect game for the Jets. He only threw 15 times, which was the amount the Jets needed him to throw to win. He hit two big throws to Dustin Keller on waggles, including the touchdown on which Keller tip-toed down the sideline. And one of Sanchez’ interceptions should have been a touchdown catch by Braylon Edwards. Sanchez got help, especially from Jerricho Cotchery and his Cris Carter-on-the-sidelines impersonation, but he played better than anyone expected the rookie to.
*Carson Palmer, on the other hand, struggled. His receivers kept getting hurt, and Chad Ochocinco couldn’t escape Revis Island. The Bengals needed two or three big plays from Palmer to win the game, and he couldn’t do it. That’s not good for a quarterback paid among the game’s elite.
*Cedric Benson, on the other hand, had a terrific game. He’s the reason this wasn’t a complete blowout. He’s a difference-making running back, and there just aren’t many of those in the league. Taking a chance on Benson last season has paid off handsomely for Cincy.
*Shonn Greene looked great for the Jets as well. The power he showed was impressive, and you could tell he had been rested well during the season because his runs had a ton of pop.
*Going forward, the Jets must stop the run better, although they won’t have to face a team in the AFC playoffs with as good of a running game as Cincinnati had. They should also be free to blitz a little more in the future because they won’t be facing such a good running attack, and that may lead them to more than 3 sacks. This was a good performance for Gang Green, but I’m still not convinced that they’ll come back next week and win again on the road. They’re simply not in the same class as either San Diego or Indy.

*I don’t normally do this in these posts, but I need to rant on just how bad NBC’s thrown-together announcing team of Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs, and Joe Theismann was. Hammond was consistently wrong on player identifications, and he flat missed several key plays – a short kickoff that gave the Jets the ball at the 40, penalties by Darrelle Revis, etc. Hammond is a storyline guy, but he has to be able to put the story away and focus on shifts in the game. He failed to do so. Gibbs and Theismann, meanwhile, seemed more interested in talking about what they heard from coaches in their meetings Thursday and Friday instead of actually focusing on the game. At one point, Gibbs was making a point about the Jets’ running game when the Jets were on defense. The whole thing seemed scripted, and as a result there was almost no game analysis. Instead, Theismann reverted to his normal hyperbole – which is the reason he doesn’t broadcast NFL games regularly anymore. Here’s a hint to NBC: Next year, either bring over the NFL Network’s crew (Bob Papa, Matt Miller, Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk, or a combination thereof) for your second team, or ask John Madden to do a single game. Go to some of the NFL radio announcers. Anything would be better than the epic booth full of fail they gave us early Saturday.

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