The Most Surprising NFL Division Debate – Who Expected The NFC South To Go South?

December 23, 2009

Read the arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

With two weeks left to go in the NFL’s regular season, there is still quite a bit to be determined. Three division races are still up for grabs and three of the four wild card spots have yet to be claimed. Today, The Sports Debates is exploring which division is the most surprising. Taking a quick look at the divisions, there is one division that really surprises me, and it is not one of those good surprises. Good surprises will happen to all of us hopefully two days from now. This is a bad surprise… the disappointing play in the NFC South.

First, the one bright spot in the NFC South is the New Orleans Saints. I thought they would make a run at a playoff spot, and I am a big fan of Drew Brees. But never ever did I expect the Saints to be 13-1 at this point in the season. That is certainly a good thing.

Now, on we go to the bad!

The Atlanta Falcons were a sexy preseason pick to make a run in the playoffs, and possibly even win the Super Bowl. Folks, that just is not happening as the Falcons were already eliminated from playoff consideration before this past Sunday. Running back Michael Turner got off to a mediocre start (ask Sports Geek about that) and that led to more pressure on Matt Ryan, who struggled at times. Then, once Turner and Ryan went down with injuries, the Falcons were doomed. That is because the undermanned Falcons defense has been downright horrible at times. I have been a vocal critic of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, but in reality, he has very little to work with on defense. I mean, look at this defensive depth chart. Yikes!!!

The Carolina Panthers, last year’s division winner, has been a favorite target of The Sports Debates. First, Sports Geek stuck a fork in the team back in early October. Then, we actually did an entire debate on the future of John Fox. The bottom line is that at 6-8, the Panthers have been a complete disappointment. In actuality, the writing was written on the wall in INK when the Panthers front office had a complete brain fart and decided to give Jake Delhomme a contract extension (which takes the cake of the year’s worst contract in ANY sport… by far!). Not sure what they were smoking then, but I hope they have stopped by now. That constitutes a violation of the NFL’s drug policy! Whether or not this season costs John Fox his job remains to be seen, but either way, it has been a disappointing season.

I think we all saw the Tampa Bay Bucs taking a dive but yikes! This bad? How in the world did they beat Green Bay earlier in the season? I know the Bucs play in the NFL , and, theoretically, every team has a chance to win every week. As Dennis Green would say, “That’s why we took the [expletive deleted] field.” But come on! A record of 2-12? Fairly or unfairly, head coach Raheem Morris is already under fire partly due to the fact that he has essentially fired both his offensive coordinator and his defensive coordinator this season. Wait a minute! He fired his offensive coordinator ten days before the season. Why didn’t we see the signs then? And, are there signs of improvement? Not really!

It is the time of year to celebrate good surprises. But I am lamenting a bad surprise. The NFC South went south this year!

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The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate – A Playoff Atmosphere Returns To The Bay

October 9, 2009

Read Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan’s argument about which game they believe is the best of the weekend.

After recently pronouncing the San Francisco 49ers visit to the Minnesota Vikings as the best game of a weekend, the 49ers find themselves in another important, sure to be well-contested game – the best game of THIS weekend.

The 49ers have shown tremendous promise this season under flourishing head coach Mike Singletary. If not for last minute heroics from the resurgent Brett Favre in Minnesota, the 49ers would be sitting at 4-0. As of right now, they are completely in control in a weak NFC West. They have already defeated every other team in their conference, and the only thing standing between the team and a 4-1 record heading into the bye week is the Atlanta Falcons.

Both teams share some similar traits. For example, both are struggling to run the football on offense. The 49ers would be fine running the football if not for an injury to star running back Frank Gore. Rookie Glen Coffee has been adequate in a week of service as Gore’s replacement, but the team needs to run the ball better to play the style of football Singletary believes will succeed and results in a playoff appearance – play great defense and run the ball to own the clock. The Falcons have had changes up front to the offensive line and the result is less running room for last season’s break out player, running back Michael Turner. The Falcons average just over 92 yards per game, well off their pace from a year ago.

Another common trait is that both teams also boast stingy defenses. The Falcons are eighth in the league in total defense allowing 17.7 points per game while the 49ers are second allowing just 6.5 points per game. Excellent defense.

The teams also share difficult stretches in their respective schedules. The Falcons are coming out of a bye week off of a stinging 26-10 by the New England Patriots. Now Atlanta travels to San Francisco before returning home to face a tough Chicago Bears team before a two game road trip where the team plays Dallas and New Orleans in back to back weeks. The 49ers will enter the bye week after this weekend’s match up with Atlanta, and emerge on the other side to travel to Houston then Indianapolis, host Tennessee, host Chicago, and then travel to Green Bay.

Each team also has a great deal to prove. Both teams must prove they are effective in the running game, that they can perform consistently week to week, and that they can finish games.

The Falcons may have slightly more to prove in the game, however. Matt Ryan has yet to put up the numbers he did a year ago. Turner is struggling to run the ball, and the defense is still trying to find their identity after losing long time leader linebacker Keith Brooking to free agency. The Falcons must prove they are a contender not only for the playoffs in general, but that they can challenge division favorites New Orleans.

The 49ers, despite the drama the organization could have spiraled into, has largely avoided distraction. Even the prolonged holdout from rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree did not result in a distraction to the team. The team has played well and competed hard in every game. The 49ers must also prove they can stand up and take a talented, good and desperate team’s best shot. For Singletary, the 49ers must prove they can function in a playoff type atmosphere as excitement returns to the Bay.

Both are talented, tough, well-coached teams – the ingredients necessary for excellent football. The Falcons must avoid .500 while the 49ers must prove they belong in the same category as the league’s better teams. No matter what the outcome is, this game is the cannot miss, must watch, best game of THIS weekend.

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The Michael Vick as a Spokesman Debate – Money Talks, Attitude W… is Irrelevant

October 7, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that Michael Vick should not be a spokesman for a major brand.

We all knew it would come to this, right? Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, has and seems able to continue to say and do the “right things” – finally. He is contrite. He is a team player. Heck, he is even articulate in discussing how his poor decision making has impacted his life and the lives of his family members. When listening to him speak to the media, I am not hearing a player with a sordid, despicable past in danger of rearing its ugly head again. I hear an athlete who has completely come to terms with mistakes and past transgressions with a demonstrated willingness to right the wrongs. So, it is easy to see why Nike – or any brand – is considering Mike Vick as a spokesperson.

Vick is now a rare combination. He is a super athlete with substance. He is no longer flash and fluff, he is a real human being. Why is that compelling to marketers? Emotion! Marketers are always striving to create situations where their brand makes emotional connections to consumers. That is the tail the marketing dog perpetually chases. How does that translate to sports? Simply, why do sports fans root for underdogs? Because they have developed an emotional connection.

The thing about people is that we have all made mistakes (like Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan do when they fail to choose my argument as the winner). When Mike Vick admitted his mistakes and acknowledged his poor decisions, he became the underdog – despite his once enormous talent. Vick transformed himself into someone fans WANT to see do well (take notes, A-Rod…).

The other funny thing about underdogs… people pay to watch them. They pay a lot. Whether fans are choosing to purchase tickets and attend games, gather at bars and parties to watch, or watch a game on television (complete with advertising breaks), fans eat up the underdog comeback story.

Advertisers love underdog stories because they inspire emotionally eliciting ads – whether the ad creative is shooting for joy, frustrating, anticipation, or any human emotion. Ad in an emotional element and they have a much better chance of doing well with an emotionally charged audience… i.e. the kind of audience that loves a good underdog story. And, the emotional investment keeps the fans talking the next day at the water cooler – and the brand in the emotional consumer’s minds the next time they open their collective wallets.

Vick is in many ways the ideal spokesperson. Once an athlete many admired – with moves few can replicate – Vick is now humbled, another human being just like the rest of us. It is just that we all know who he is, now. Fame, rightly or wrongly, has its advantages.

Nike – or any brand – is wise to take a chance on Vick. He is a household name. He is appealing to common fans and people. He still has the aura of a player with incredible athletic gifts (even if we have not yet seen them since his comeback commenced). He is in a major market. And, he is a regular on the speaking tour, preaching the perils of a life that leads to jail. Could Nike benefit if Vick is wearing their apparel during a speech, or a work out with local kids? Yes. Could Nike benefit if Vick dons a Nike Swoosh cap for a post game interview? Yes, since the media is falling all over itself to get more access to Vick.

Nike signing Vick is not poor taste, it is good business. Nike needs to sell stuff, and leveraging willing players with influence to help them sell stuff is good business. Vick is one of those players.

Does Mike Vick attract attention? Yes. Does attention equate to revenue in business? Yes (it is called brand awareness). Since the answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes, the answer to whether a brand should sign Vick as a spokesperson must also be yes.

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The NFL Fumbling the Playoffs Debate – The Pitiful Meow of the 2009 Carolina Panthers

October 5, 2009

Read Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan’s arguments for which NFL teams they believe have already squandered a chance at postseason glory, just four weeks into the 2009 regular season.

In order for a team to fumble its chances for the postseason – especially this early in the 2009 season – it must have started the season with some shot to actually make the playoffs. In others words, the Cleveland Browns do not really qualify for participation in this debate (lucky for them). This debate is about teams that actually had a shot and have already squandered their chance at the postseason.

Since the lousy usual suspects will not be included, there are just a handful of teams that should have played good football and earned a spot in the playoffs this season. For me, no team has already blown its opportunity at postseason glory quite as spectacularly as the Carolina Panthers.

How appropriate that the Carolina Panthers spent week four of the NFL season at home on a bye week. You know, “bye” as in good “bye” to the team’s postseason chances this season, despite the fact that the calendar still reads early October.

The Panthers are showing all of the signs of a team destined to miss the NFL playoffs after a preseason of hype and high expectations. Exhibit A – the win-loss record. The Panthers completed their preseason slate with a record of 0-4. Fans speculated the team was struggling in the preseason because of the quality teams the Panthers faced, losing at the New York Giants, at Miami, then at home against Baltimore and defending Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh. Tough losses, but it was preseason and not the end of the world.

The thing about losing all of the preseason games is that it creates a culture of losing throughout a team. The Panthers saw that losing culture in full force in week one as the team hosted Philadelphia, and were destroyed 38-10. The Panthers followed up that surprising loss with a trip to Atlanta to face a Falcons team with many weapons. The Panthers lost that game, too, and then traveled to Dallas and lost on Monday night, scoring a mere seven points.

While the offense has struggled, the normally excellent defense that is the hallmark of Panther teams has struggled as well. For some perspective on the poor play of the defense, consider that the Panthers have given up more points than EVERY team in the NFC, except the St. Louis Rams.

That Panthers have only outpaced the offensive prowess of two other teams in the NFL – the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Rams. Not the company a team wants to keep in the stat column this season.

So, the offense is bad and the defense is bad. All of the badness will make it difficult to come back and compete in a division that is tough. The Panthers have already lost to one division opponent – the Atlanta Falcons – and will have a challenge to beat them when the two teams play again. The New Orleans Saints lead the division and promise to continue giving Carolina’s defense fits. The Panthers even trail the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in tiebreakers, placing the presumed impressive Panthers squarely in the basement of the NFC South.

The team is also suffering from the slow decline of established veteran leadership and infighting – and the two issues are related. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has slowly changed into a leader with diminishing skills. In the opening game of the season the quarterback threw a whopping four interceptions before getting the hook from the head coach. He has now thrown seven interceptions in three games. His teammates are apparently frustrated. Star wide receiver Steve Smith, showing an uncanny ability for how to use the media, called in to a local sports talk show in Charlotte to announce that he “never liked” Delhomme as a quarterback. When the quarterback and star receiver are not getting along… well, that is not exactly a foundation for a winning team.

On top of all of these obvious issues, the team is now losing faith in its head coach, John Fox. If the coach’s seat was warming up on September 13 – before the season actually started – then it must be on fire now.

The simple fact is that all signs point to a continued collapse from the Panthers. The team does not appear to have the guts and leadership to pull itself up by the bootstraps and compete in the division and fight for a spot in the playoffs. After all of the preseason and training camp belief that the Carolina Panthers were a team destined for an appearance in the postseason, they are now the team most notorious for blowing their shot early in the season.

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The NFL Rookie Pay Scale Debate – Stop the Madness and Set the Salary

August 11, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument against implementing a rookie pay scale.

In these tough times, don’t you get tired of hearing about financial issues on the news? Not only is it bad on Wall Street but it is rough in sports, also. Franchises and organizations are cutting back on expenses and eliminating jobs. Attendance is down at sporting events, and revenue is down across the board.

Apparently, NFL rookies do not watch CNN or ESPN!!

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way. I am not in favor of holdouts period. Not by rookies, not by veterans. Just last week, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White held out for a week. Fortunately for the Falcons (and really for White) he agreed to a lucrative (and perhaps excessive) contract over the weekend. Veterans have their own reasons for holding out, and though I may not agree with the concept, I guess I can see their point of view.

But, what leg do rookies have to stand on when holding out? What good really comes out of it in the long haul? They miss a lot of training camp, get way behind in learning the playbook, and miss bonding with their new teammates. You know how it takes you awhile to get to know the new guy in the cubicle next to you at work? The same concept applies in football. It takes time for that work chemistry to work. Holding out endangers that whole process. I cannot imagine how a rookie holding out endears himself to his veteran teammates.

A set rookie salary scale will alleviate these problems. The contracts that Matthew Stafford signed this year, and that Matt Ryan signed last year, are just ridiculous. I am not the only one who thought Ryan’s contract was “disheartening.” To eliminate these contracts, the NFL needs to come up with a rookie salary scale, similar to what the NBA does. The league and the players union can negotiate to come up with an appropriate scale based on a variety of factors. The number one pick would have a predetermined salary. Michael Crabtree would have a set salary, so he would not be able to hold out for a better contract. This would be welcomed by most veterans of the league, many of whom believe in earning money before becoming one of the richest guys in a league. When the contract is up after three or four or however many years, then the player is eligible to sign a big extension. If a player is unable to reach an agreement with a team, then they are free to test the open market. The NBA has proven that this system can work. I think it could work in the NFL.

Do you think it is fair for Matthew Stafford to be making more than Albert Haynesworth at this point in Stafford’s career? Maybe Stafford plays incredibly well over the course of the contract and it ends up being a bargain contract. But you cannot say that at this point without him ever having taken a snap. The madness has to stop! Stop it now! Scale it down before it is too late! It is only going to get worse!

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The 2005 NFL Draft Resign Debate – Atlanta’s Roddy “White” Knight

July 17, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument that Aaron Rodgers is the best first round pick from the 2005 NFL Draft and Loyal Homer’s argument that is it DeMarcus Ware.

Do you remember the 2004 NFL Draft? I do…

To help refresh your memory, here are a couple names from that outstanding draft year:

  • Eli Manning (1)
  • Larry Fitzgerald (3)
  • Philip Rivers (4)
  • Sean Taylor (5)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (11)

This draft was SO loaded with talent that seven of the first ten picks have been named Pro Bowlers, with seven more coming in the remaining first round picks.

So, how is it that just ONE year later, we see one of the most lackluster first rounds in recent NFL draft memory?

In comparison to 2004, the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft has only produced seven total Pro Bowl players, and is highlighted by names like Alex Smith, Adam Jones, and who could forget Alex Barron?! Even the Pro Bowlers have been suspect, such as Braylon Edwards and Shawne Merriman.

But, that doesn’t mean that the first round of the draft was completely devoid of talent. There were still a few diamonds in the rough.

And while Sports Geek will argue for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Loyal Homer will argue for Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware, I look no further than Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White as THE diamond pick from 2005. At 6’0’’ the 27 year-old out of Alabama-Birmingham has emerged as one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the NFL.

Granted, his career got off to a slow start. In his first two seasons combined with the Atlanta Falcons White only grabbed 59 receptions for 952 yards and three touchdowns. Those are hardly stellar stats.

Itis important to keep something in mind, though, when you look at those numbers. White’s quarterback during those two seasons, one Mr. Ronald Mexico, was not known to be a “passing” quarterback. Instead, Michael Vick’s style was to be a rusher first and a passer second (in 2006, for example, Vick was a 1000 yard rusher, but threw the ball only 388 times). It should also be noted that Vick’s favorite target when he DID throw was his tight end, Alge Crumpler.

It wasn’t until Vick left the Falcons (whatever happened to him anyway?!) that White finally got his opportunity to showcase his tremendous talent.

To replace Vick, the Falcons brought in Joey Harrington at quarterback. Considering the upgrade in “passing” that Harrington brought to the Falcons, it was evident that the Falcon’s offensive game plan was going to be shifting – enter Roddy White.

In 2007, White turned in a season with totals that surpassed the combined results from his first two years with Vick. He caught 83 passes for 1202 yards and six touchdowns. His 1,202 yards was actually eighth in the NFL that season.

The 2008 season brought White a new head coach, Mike Smith, and a new quarterback, rookie sensation Matt Ryan out of Boston College. For White the 2008 NFL season was just another day at the office. Ryan and White were able to connect 88 different times for a total of 1,382 yards (the fourth highest total in the NFL) and seven touchdowns. White’s 2008 performance was so good that it even earned him a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster, and he helped the Falcons turn in an 11-5 record and a Wild Card berth in the NFC playoffs.

With a promising young quarterback in Matt Ryan and an explosive running game that features fellow 2008 Pro Bowler Michael Turner, it is very safe to assume that Roddy White’s performances are only going to get better.

If the Atlanta Falcons wish to continue their outstanding momentum which began in the 2008 season, they MUST consider Roddy White as an integral piece of their puzzle, and they MUST sign him to a new contract worthy of any other first round Pro Bowler in the NFL.

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