The 2010 NFL Mid-Season Playoff Push Debate… Charge!

November 11, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Optimist Prime.

With last night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons, the second half of the NFL season began in full swing and teams could legitimately start looking at whether or not they had a realistic chance at making the playoffs. Looking at the NFL standings, it’s easy to see that some teams have already established themselves as Super Bowl contenders (Steelers, Giants, etc.) while other teams (Bills, Cowboys, etc.) have already buried any chance of playing any meaningful game in January.

However, there are quite a few teams who are stuck in the middle who have a chance to make a run during the second half of the season. It’s called parity, folks, and it’s one of the things that makes the NFL so great! There’s one team out there that I think is primed for a run during the second half of the season and I think it’s the much maligned San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers started out the season horribly, as has been the case in recent seasons. They were 2-5 over the first seven games of the season. This was despite the best efforts of quarterback Philip Rivers, who is somewhat quietly in the midst of an outstanding season. Drowned by all of the MVP surrounding the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady – who are also having great seasons – Rivers has quietly thrown for 2,944 yards and has a quarterback rating of 102.9, which is currently good enough for third in the NFL. Now, with two consecutive wins, they are 4-5. In my mind, that is right back in the thick of things.

Head coach Norv Turner seemingly has been on the hot seat at some point in all four years of his coaching tenure in San Diego. Yet, you look at his record there and you see he has three division titles in three seasons. Looking at his team and looking at the schedule, I think he has a decent shot at getting that fourth title. Over the last seven games of the season the Chargers have two games against the struggling Broncos, the Bengals, the 49ers, and a game apiece against both teams ahead of them in the standings, the Chiefs and the Raiders. The opportunity is certainly there.

Keep in mind who the Chargers will be getting back soon, also. That’s right, Vincent Jackson is coming. He FINALLY signed his contract tender in late October, and he is eligible to play beginning November 28th. That’s going to be a big pickup for the Charger offense. The offense has been doing fine without him, which is amazing considering Antonio Gates has been battling a toe injury and actually still easily leads the team in catches despite sitting out the last game.

The Chargers have a bye this week, which comes at the perfect time. It gives Gates more time to heal and gives this team more time to regroup for the stretch run. The Chargers are in a surprising position. Review the statistics and you may notice that the Chargers are first in total offense and fifth in total defense. But the Turner-led Chargers have been down this road before. This isn’t their first rodeo. And they are in prime position to do what they’ve done in the past… make a charge towards the post-season.

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The Most Damaging Player Suspension Debate… Taking the Charge Out of the Passing Game

July 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Last season the San Diego Chargers made the decision to commit to an offense featuring its passing game.

After many seasons with success on the ground behind future Hall of Fame running back LaDanian Tomlinson, the Chargers felt it was time to put the ball in the air more. To support that initiative, the Chargers signed quarterback Philip Rivers to a six year contract extension that was worth $92M.

Over the course of the season, the Chargers found a great deal of success in the new aerial commitment, finishing the season with the fifth best passing offense in the league. And the biggest reason for that success, other than the arm of Philip Rivers, was the work of two other offensive standouts, tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Gates and Jackson last season combined for more than 2,300 receiving yards (nearly half of the team’s entire production), and 17 touchdowns, earning them both Pro Bowl invitations.

The results were so positive that the Chargers in the off-season made the decision to release Tomlinson.

After that decision became action, there was no turning back. While Darren Sproles and rookie Ryan Matthews should prove to be worthwhile replacements on the ground, the results earned in the air last season was enough to warrant a full commitment to the passing game. With Rivers (a two-time Pro Bowl selection himself) behind center, and two Pro-Bowl targets for him to throw the ball to, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ve got three letters for you: D.U.I.

Six months ago, Vincent Jackson pleaded guilty to a 2009 DUI charge (his second incident), and was consequently suspended for the first three games of the 2010 NFL season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Now the “Super Charged” passing game that was supposed to feature a Pro Bowl quarterback, Pro Bowl wide receiver, and Pro Bowl tight end, will only feature two of those to kick off the first three weeks of the regular season (two of which are games against AFC West rivals Kansas City and Denver).

Without Jackson on the field the Chargers will have to rely almost entirely on Gates. The problem is that opponents know that and will be able to focus on Gates much more without worrying about covering Jackson. As far as other wide receivers are concerned, it will fall to Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee to carry the bulk of the receiving load during this season’s opening weeks. Both players are a far cry from the Pro Bowl abilities of Vincent Jackson. Floyd did catch 776 yards last season, but that was due to the fact that defenses had to key on both Jackson and Gates, which allowed Floyd more opportunities to get open. As for Naanee, he was good for only 242 receiving yards.

This loss of a primary receiving target comes at the worst possible time for the Chargers. They already sent Tomlinson packing, who even in a statistically bad year found the end zone twelve times, and now are forced to go without a 1,000 yard receiver for the first three games of the season.

In a division where each of the teams (yes, even the Oakland Raiders) made very solid improvements during the off-season, the Chargers can ill-afford to give up any ground if they hope to successfully defend the division crown. But rather than enter the season with one of the league’s most dangerous passing games, the team will have to find a way to survive without the man who is the balance on offense and a key weapon.

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The 2009 Easiest Path to the Super Bowl Debate – Colts Have the Path of Least Resistance

January 4, 2010

Read the argument from Loyal Homer about which team will have the easiest path to the Super Bowl.

Plenty of sports commentary websites will take up a bunch of space with writers making uneducated and unqualified predications about which team will win the Super Bowl. We here at The Sports Debates find that stupid. Rather, we are taking up your mind space today with a debate about which team has the easiest path to the Super Bowl, and why. These are not predictions, instead we offer just an analysis of a team’s path.

No team this season has a more clearly defined, straightforward path to the Super Bowl than the Indianapolis Colts.

As if the Colts need any additional rest, the team played so well in the regular season that they have earned the first week off. It is true that some will argue the Colts will receive too much rest. For a team based on rhythm offense it can be difficult to retain momentum after so much downtime. However, the Colts have already been in the position before – and still managed to win the Super Bowl in 2007. The team is comprised of professionals who understand the professional game and how to remain loose and ready to play. Yes, the team will be ready when the first playoff game rolls around… they will also be healthy with the time off afforded to the team that earns it. The Colts earned it.

Just two games, two wins, and the Colts are in the Super Bowl. It is not difficult to conceive the Colts playing in the Super Bowl, and when looking at the potential opponents, the matchups favor the Colts.

In the first game, after a nice, long, winter rest, the Colts will take on the winner of the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets. The Jets, a team that basically backed into the playoffs, looked great against a Bengals team that was clearly not trying very hard. The Bengals started the season hot, but have delivered increasingly inconsistent running performances, and offensive turnovers have created a negative momentum for the team as it heads into the playoffs. As good as the Bengals defense has been, Manning and the Colts are always better. Regarding the Jets, the Colts were able to play them without playing many starters in week 16 and without revealing complex game plans. The Jets, on the other hand, were playing for playoff life, so very little was held back, putting the Colts in the strategic catbird seat – a seat Manning always keeps warm.

The second game for the Colts – the AFC Championship game – will most likely feature the New England Patriots or the San Diego Chargers. New England, a team that both lost its most reliable receiver in Wes Welker and, according to Charlie Casserly’s appearance on CBS’ pregame show on Sunday, has a quarterback who is playing with three broken ribs, will likely not be the once vaunted Patriots many expect. As good as the Chargers have played this 2009 season, the team is one-dimensional on offense and relies heavily on quarterback Phillip Rivers. The Colts do not have a shutdown defense, but they are good enough to stop a one-dimensional attack enough. As good as the Colts are on offense – and the team is excellent and balanced on offense – one of the more underrated but important stats is the Colts’ ability to sustain long drives thanks to veteran quarterback presence. In short, Manning’s presence allows the offense to play keep away from good offenses and keep the defense rested (as if it needs more).

Sure, the Colts lost a couple of games heading into the postseason. But, the starters were held out of the games that could have helped the 2009 Colts achieve immortality with a shot at an undefeated season. I will write what we all know – if the Colts’ starters play the entire length of every game this season they probably win each game. Instead of being regarded as a potentially legendary team headed into the playoffs, they are simply a good team that still has something to prove.

The Colts are solid in every aspect of the game. The team has excellent kickers, good returners, strong defense, and the league’s best passing offense with the most diverse set of weapons. While other teams in the NFC and AFC have entered the playoffs on a downswing with troubles (see New Orleans, Cincinnati, Minnesota, etc.), the Colts are best positioned to make a return to the Super Bowl. After the team gets to Miami, however, who knows what will happen!

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The Best Game of THIS Week(end) Debate – Playoff Preview in San Diego

December 18, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument and Loyal Homer’s argument about which will be the best game of this coming week(end).

Sunday’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers was already going to be very exciting. It is a late-season matchup between two of the best teams in the AFC, featuring the probable division champions in the AFC North and AFC West. It is likely a playoff preview, with the winner assuming control of the remaining AFC bye during the first round of the playoffs (Indianapolis has already claimed one of them).

Yesterday, though, the buildup to the game took an entirely different direction after Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry died as a result of injuries suffered in an accident earlier this week. Although Henry had not been active on the Bengals roster since suffering a broken arm in early November, he was nonetheless a member of the Bengals family, and his tragic death will certainly impact the teams as it plays out the remainder of the 2009 season.

This is the second time that death has cast a pall over the Bengals during a season that should be full of celebration and excitement. When defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife suddenly passed away earlier in the year, the Bengals showed their support by rallying around Zimmer (who returned to coach the Bengals in a game only three days after her death), and played to a very inspiring win over the division rivals Baltimore Ravens.

Once more, the Bengals will take the field on Sunday in honor of a lost member of the family. Whether this loss will serve as motivation or a distraction for the Bengals has yet to be seen, but the importance of this game cannot be overlooked. If the Bengals succeed in defeating San Diego, they will clinch the AFC North and hold the tiebreak over San Diego, securing control of the second AFC bye.

As sorry as San Diego may be for the passing of Chris Henry, though, the team is not about to just hand the Bengals the game with a sympathy card attached. There is just as much at stake this weekend for the San Diego Super-Chargers, a team that is trying to lock up a bid for the postseason in front of the hometown fans on Sunday afternoon.

If you were paying very close attention last weekend, you may have heard this obscure fact: Did you know that Philip Rivers is undefeated as a starter when playing games in the month of December?! I didn’t know that until Terry Bradshaw, Jimmie Johnson, Howie Long, Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Keith Olberman, Chris Berman, and just about every other NFL analyst harped incessantly on the fact as if they had just uncovered some ground-breaking discovery… but, I digress. The point is that Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers are playing some of the best football in the league right now, and have won each of the last eight games.

San Diego, a team that had been overshadowed by Denver’s surprise start this season, has assumed control of the AFC West, as most preseason projections indicated. Like Cincinnati, the Chargers can clinch the division with a win and would tighten the grip on the second seed in the AFC playoffs (or possibly clinch it with a little extra help from around the league).

This Sunday, while our hearts are with the Cincinnati Bengals, our eyes will be on Qualcomm Stadium for this game between two of the AFC’s best!

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The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate – Chargers Must Cowboy Up

December 11, 2009

Read the arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan about which games they believe are the best of the upcoming weekend.

Welcome to December, that magical time in the NFL season that separates the good teams from the okay teams, and the okay teams from the bad teams. And, apparently the same time of year that separates the former Super Bowl champs from logic. One game, more than any other, features two teams with a great deal to prove. When the San Diego Chargers visit the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon both teams are under pressure to perform and prove they belong among the elite teams building momentum into January and playoff time.

Here is a fun fact… that is not particularly fun for Tony Romo. Did you know that Tony Romo’s non-December/January record in the NFL is 31-8? Did you further know that his December/January record (including playoffs) as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys is 5-11?

Now the Cowboys are coming off a tough interdivision loss to the New York Giants last Sunday. For once, this team failure cannot be laid at the feet of Tony Romo. Romo led a furious comeback on the road completing 41 passes for 392 yards, three touchdowns – and no turnovers. While Romo’s arm and decision making appear to be locked in during the first part of December, the running game and defense are not stepping up. The Cowboys ran for a mere 45 yards last weekend and lost a fumble, forcing Romo to shoulder the majority of the team’s offensive production.

The Cowboys defense is also struggling, giving up several big plays to what was an out of sync Giants offense. Eli Manning threw one long touchdown pass – a 74 yard pass to Brandon Jacobs – and the special teams gave up a crucial 79 yard punt return for a touchdown to Domenik Hixon.

The problem with the 2009 Cowboys is that every aspect of the team does not show up for every game. One game Romo plays well, the next he doesn’t. One week the defense is a top tier defense, the next week it isn’t. And, there is no team in the NFL more opposite of the Cowboys than the Chargers. The Chargers are in sync weekly and making continuous improvement.

While the Chargers are a decent middle of the pack group on defense giving up 20 points a game, the offense has NO problem scoring more than 20. The Chargers have the third best defense in the NFL averaging nearly 29 points per game. One reason the Chargers perform so well on offense? The team does not cause self-inflicted wounds. The Chargers are the fourth least penalized team in the NFL, having been called for just 61 penalties. Also, those penalties are not killers, as they have been penalized the LEAST amount of yards in the NFL this season. This achievement is in stark contrast to Sunday’s opponent. The Cowboys are the fifth most penalized team in the league. Is this the game where the Cowboys turn the corner and stop making unforced errors? It must be, or the separation between the playoff-ready Chargers and the fledgling Cowboys will never be more stark.

Because the Chargers continue to get better, and the Cowboys continue to perplex, the Cowboys need to win this game to prove to the fans, the management – and each other in the locker room – that the team is able to compete in high pressure situations as the weather becomes colder.

Cowboys must prove they are an elite team worthy of a playoff appearance. They are constantly fighting the well-earned reputation of a good team out of the gates, but a terrible team at closing. For the franchise to return to post-season prominence it MUST establish itself as a strong team in December, and a strong team against other good teams. Make no mistake – this is a statement game for the Cowboys. It is a must win.

But, that must-win for the Cowboys could not come against a more difficult opponent than the San Diego Chargers. Man, are these Chargers good. As a result, this game promises to be outstanding. Expectations are through the roof for both teams, and it is a must win for both teams – making it the best game of THIS weekend.

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The NFL Most Deceiving Record Debate – Andy Reid Uses Misdirection, Fools Fans, League

September 30, 2009

Read Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan’s arguments about which team they believe has the most deceiving record in the NFL.

The headline fits. Andy Reid is putting together one heckuva a coaching job so far in the 2009 season. He signed quarterback he did not need in Michael Vick, he unexpectedly lost a quarterback he DID need with Donavan McNabb’s injury, and he is getting much more of a quarterback he was not sure he even wanted in Kevin Kolb.

After a 1-3 preseason (like THAT matters), the Philadelphia Eagles have looked quite solid with a 2-1 record as the team enters its bye week. The Eagles are currently second in the NFC East behind the New York Giants. The team has overcome the potential distraction of Michael Vick’s presence as McNabb seems to remain the team’s leader despite his injury.

Everything seems to point to a great season for the Eagles, right? Wrong. The Philadelphia Eagles have the league’s most deceiving win-loss record.

After the team returns from the bye week it will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that is thanking its lucky stars the Cleveland Browns are so bad. Then the Eagles hit the road to face the 1-2 Oakland Raiders and the 1-2 Washington Redskins – you know, the team that just lost to the DETROIT LIONS. It is hard to imagine an easier schedule in the entire league. It is very possible that the team ends up 5-1 after the first two months of the season are in the books.

But, that is when the wheels will fall off the Eagles’ first class train ride to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

When the calendar turns to November, the season becomes more difficult and the team’s true nature will be revealed. The Eagles play five games in November, starting by hosting the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys before hitting the road to face the San Diego Chargers and the Chicago Bears. The final game of the month is at home against the struggling Redskins. November may change the Eagles 5-1 fortunes as they play much tougher defenses and offenses that will test the team’s limits.

The season does not get any easier in December, either. The Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta – think they will boo Michael Vick? – then the Giants in New York before hosting a resurgent San Francisco 49ers and the league’s best defense to date, the Denver Broncos. Then they play at Dallas to end the season.

A strong start is vital if the team believes it has any chance to make the playoffs. The Eagles must bank early victories against subpar teams to ready itself when the schedule becomes more difficult when the weather turns colder.

The Eagles also struggle with injuries year in, year out. Running back Brian Westbrook has never avoided injured reserve for an entire season. McNabb has been injured more often in recent years, too. The Eagles have already lost four players for the entire season are playing with a depleted linebacking corps and secondary.

The Eagles also play in a very difficult division where the Cowboys and Giants are two of the elite teams in the entire league. The Wild Card spots are more uncertain than ever before, too, considering the emergence of the NFC North as a decent division and the strength of the Falcons and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. For the Eagles to have a shot at returning to playoff glory, early wins must be combined with the capacity to survive the season physically and emotionally.

With a depleted, injury-riddled team and an increasingly difficult schedule on the horizon, the Philadelphia Eagles have the most deceiving record in the NFL.

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The Overcoming Team Obstacles Debate – Plan Ahead… “It Wasn’t Raining When Noah Built The Ark”

September 25, 2009

Read the debate intro, Sports Geek’s argument and Loyal Homer’s argument about which is the easier obstacle for a team in the NFL to overcome, a week one injury to the star player, or the slow decline in performance by the team’s veteran leader.

Which brand of life’s lemons is easier to make lemonade from?

It is difficult to gauge which is the worst of two different situations, because each presents a unique set of complications that must be addressed. In the case of this debate, the choice was to discuss which is the lesser of two evils – to lose your star player to injury, or to deal with the decline if performance of a once-productive veteran.

When a player is lost to injury, the coach’s “choice” of whom to play is already made for them. Thanks to the injury that was sustained, the coach is forced to look towards the backup player, who is expected to step in and fill the hole vacated. This may help eliminate some second-guessing on the part of the head coach, but the level of talent that is placed on the field is markedly less than before the injury took place.

As Sports Geek points out, coaches prefer black-and-white issues. When a coach has to decide how to utilize a now less-reliable veteran, it creates many complicated questions that can be difficult to answer. With those questions comes scrutiny and the potential for conflict within the organization, especially if the coach is perceived to have made the wrong choice.

Loyal Homer brings up the fact, though, that the sudden loss of a star player creates problems because a team must redesign their entire gameplan to accommodate that loss. Using Loyal Homer’s example of Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears had built their defensive gameplan around the expectation that Urlacher would be on the field. Urlacher, as noted by Sports Geek, has been one of the best defensive players in the NFL for nearly a decade. When Urlacher went out with a wrist injury during week one of the season, Bears head coach Lovie Smith was forced to redesign his entire strategy at a moment’s notice to compensate.

Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer made very strong arguments, but I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer.

There were key example raised by Loyal Homer that ultimately won the debate was regarding the San Diego Chargers. Since 2001, the Chargers offensive gameplan has been simple – feature running back LaDainian Tomlinson and force the opposing defenses to stop him. Tomlinson was such a powerful presence on offense that he single-handedly carried the Chargers to FOUR AFC West Division Championships. During that same time, the Chargers only had two losing seasons, in 2001 (Tomlinson’s rookie year) and 2003.

2008, as mentioned by Loyal Homer, was a different type of season for the Chargers, though. As Tomlinson’s performance began to decline, the Chargers were forced to look to the other players on their team, such as quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, and backup running back Darren Sproles, to help pick up the slack. The reason that the Chargers have been successful in doing this is because they had time to prepare and develop their players. A smart coach doesn’t “put all his eggs in one basket”. Instead, he relies very heavily on the stars of today while planning for and developing the stars of tomorrow. In the case where a star player is injured while in his prime, the coach doesn’t have the luxury of that preparation. Instead, the coach must start a player who may not yet be fully prepared for full-time competition in the NFL.

When you consider the example that Sports Geek raised about the New England Patriots, who still managed to win 11 games without quarterback Tom Brady, you cannot ignore the fact that they still missed the playoffs, which Loyal Homer pointed out. If Brady were healthy and could have earned the Patriots just ONE more win, they would have reached the postseason. They did not reach the playoffs, though, essentially making their 11-5 record worth the exact same value as the Detroit Lions’ 0-16 record. At the end of the year, neither team won enough games to extend their season, so both failed in what they had tried to accomplish.

Neither is an ideal situation. What makes the injury to a star player a more damaging loss is simply the fact that there is no planning or preparation for it. A good coach with the foresight to read the writing on the wall can plan for the eventual phasing out of a star player whose time is simply running out in the NFL, and can begin to phase in the next generation of star talent.

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