Monday, January 19, 2015

Previewing Super Bowl 49

Seattle vs. New England.  Brady vs. Sherman.  Revis vs. Wilson. We now know who will face off in Super Bowl 49, so let's take a look at the matchups that will help shape this year's Big Game. 

The biggest question entering this year's Super Bowl is whether or not the Seahawks can rebound from a tough game. Of course, they had to win the NFC Championship to make the Super Bowl, but they also turned the ball over five times on Sunday (to Green Bay's two) and, for, say, three-and-a-half quarters, played bad offensively.  Russell Wilson and co. will have to move the ball through the air for the Seahawks to have a chance against the Patriots, who allowed just six rushing touchdowns this regular season (tied for second-fewest in the NFL).  

Two of Seattle's giveaways also gave Green Bay fantastic field position and helped the Packers take the ball to the Seahawks' one yard-line.  Seattle's defense eventually held the Packers to a field goal on both of those drives, effectively winning them the game. But will a defense always be able to hold in such short yardage situations, especially with power runner LeGarrette Blount on the other side for the Patriots?  My guess is no, and that's why Seattle needs to do a better job taking care of the ball when Super Bowl 49 kicks off in Glendale.  

On the other side, New England has to move the ball, which will be no small task against this Seattle defense.  They need to take advantage of whatever opportunities they get.  Seattle's defenders covered the pass very well in the NFC Championship, and the Patriots need to convert all opportunities come Super Sunday. That means no dropped passes and no bad routes for the Patriots against a team that doesn't make very many mistakes defensively. Of course, there is a caveat: Don't count out the intelligence of Bill Belichick. Seattle will have two weeks to prepare for Belichick's "Who in the world is eligible now?" formations, but I wouldn't be too surprised if the New England coach comes up with something we've never seen before in an attempt to create confusion among the Seahawks' defense.  

And, of course, there's a player you're likely to hear about a few thousand times in the coming weeks: Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski. Gronk matches up well against the Seahawks thanks to his incredible combination of size, speed, athleticism, and pass-catching abilities.  He'll need to use all those traits to help the Patriots move the ball, though he could also help create opportunities for his teammates by catching a few passes early and drawing extra attention from the defense.  

So it's all set.  In two weeks, the Seahawks and Patriots match up in what will hopefully be a Super Bowl for the ages.  Belichick vs. Carroll.  The Pats' run defense vs. Lynch.  Gronk vs. The Legion of Boom.  Super Bowl 49.  Let's see who emerges to lead his team to victory.

*Note: Statistics and play-by-play information used in this post came from

Friday, January 2, 2015

Opinion: The Big Ten East is on the Rise

I think there's a notion in sports that the Big Ten is a weak conference among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) leagues.  I somewhat disagree with that notion.  I believe the Big Ten, particularly the Big Ten East, is on the rise.

For starters, let's look at the Michigan Wolverines, now led by Jim Harbaugh.   Prior to spending the last four seasons at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh was the head football coach at Stanford University.  The Cardinal won just six games combined in the two years before Harbaugh arrived, including an abysmal 1-11 season in 2006.  But in 2010, Harbaugh's final year before leaving for the NFL, Stanford went 12-1 and notched an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.  Given his past performance as an FBS coach, I think Harbaugh will turn things around in Ann Arbor and make a contender out of a Michigan squad that managed just a 5-7 record this season.

Next, look to Happy Valley.  James Franklin and Penn State defeated Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl this season, a game that was significant in part because it was the Nittany Lions' first post-sanctions bowl appearance.  Now that Penn State is eligible for post-season play again, I think there will be more recruits who want to make Beaver Stadium their home stadium thanks to the tradition and spirit that live on in Happy Valley and in the minds of many a Penn Stater.

Rounding out the crop of the Big Ten East are Ohio State and Michigan State.  The Buckeyes are 13-1 entering the 2014-15 national championship game against Oregon, and have a head coach who so far has lost just three games in three years at Columbus.  I don't think Urban Meyer's going anywhere thanks to his track record as a Buckeye, and as long as he stays put, Ohio State will remain a power in the Big Ten East and the FBS.  

Mark Dantonio is rather impressive himself as the head man in East Lansing.  Save for a 7-6 season in 2012, the Spartans won at least 11 games every year from 2010 to 2014. So just like their counterparts in Ohio, Michigan State will likely remain competitive as long as Dantonio coaches and coaches the Spartans.

So the Big Ten East is on the rise, or at least that's what I believe. Look at the men who coach the schools in the division and the records they've put together during their years in the FBS.  Look, too, at Penn State and how just maybe, in my opinion, they could see some excellent players come to their campus and turn the Nittany Lions into a serious contender again. It might not be next year, and it might not even be the year after that, but someday, and someday soon, Big Ten East will be a force to be reckoned with.

*Note: All records used in this post came from either or

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Change I Think Should Be Made to the NFL Playoffs

The Carolina Panthers, who today finished the 2014 NFL regular season with a sub-.500 record, are NFC South champions, and will host a playoff game next weekend against the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals.  I'm not thrilled that Carolina will get to host a postseason game against a team that, despite its late-season struggles, managed to win three-and-a-half more games than the Panthers during the course of the year.  This is why I'm proposing a change to the current NFL playoff system.

Right now, the NFC playoff match-ups for next weekend look like this, with games scheduled to be played at the home stadiums of the higher seeds:

(6) Detroit Lions (11-5) vs. (3) Dallas Cowboys (12-4)

(5) Arizona Cardinals (11-5) vs. (4) Carolina Panthers (7-8-1).

It doesn't look right that a Carolina team which won just seven-and-a-half games on the year qualified for the postseason, but I can deal with that since they won their division.  I think division champions should qualify for the tournament regardless of their record.  

The match-ups for next weekend's playoff games, however, definitely look off.  How could a Dallas team that won 12 games this year get a home game against the 11-win Lions?  All while the 7-8-1 Panthers get to host a first-round playoff game?  Some reward for the Cowboys!

This is why I'm proposing that the NFL begin seeding the teams in each conference after the regular season ends.  Under this format, the worst team to qualify for the playoffs would receive the sixth seed, regardless of whether they were division champions or not, followed by the team with the second-worst playoff record at the fifth seed, and so on.  If this setup were implemented tonight, this year's NFC playoffs would be seeded as follows:

(1) Seattle Seahawks
(2) Green Bay Packers
(3) Dallas Cowboys
(4) Arizona Cardinals
(5) Detroit Lions
(6) Carolina Panthers.

This makes more sense for everyone.  The teams that had successful seasons are rewarded with home games.  The Cowboys would get to play at AT&T Stadium against the Panthers, which I think would be more of a reward for a 12-win squad.  This method also makes more sense than allowing the Panthers to host a game against the Cardinals, who, as noted above, won three-and-a-half more games than their wild-card foes this year.

One could argue that perhaps Carolina shouldn't be allowed to enter the postseason at all since Philadelphia (10 wins) and San Francisco (8 wins) each had a record better than that of the Panthers (I believe it was Daryl Johnston who mentioned on Fox today that some people think the sub-.500 NFC South winner doesn't deserve a playoff berth because of the Eagles' superior record). But I'm beginning to think of the NFL playoffs like March Madness: The conference (in this case, the division) champions automatically qualify for the dance, and then are seeded based upon their regular-season performance.  It would be a little strange, in my opinion, for an NFL team to simultaneously win a division title and miss out on the playoffs.  

But when a division champion has a worse record than its playoff counterparts, it should be given a lower seed.  It doesn't make sense to reward NFL teams with poor records by giving them home playoff games.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Argument: The Saints Will Win the NFC South

The NFC South is terrible.  The four teams that make up the division have a combined win percentage of .330 so far this season. The division champion will have, at best, an 8-8 record.  But someone has to win that division.  Someone has to.  And I think that someone will be the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints are the best team in this very bad division.  They're currently in first place with a won-loss record of 6-8, just a half-game ahead of the 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers.  But the Saints' remaining schedule is entirely winnable: A home game against Atlanta followed by an away game against Tampa Bay.  The Falcons and Bucs are 26th- and 25th-best, respectively, in stopping their opponent from scoring.  The Saints, meanwhile, have the ninth-best scoring offense in the NFL.

New Orleans also has a better simple rating system (SRS, a stat) than any of their NFC South counterparts, even though their SRS for the season is -2.1 (0.0 is average).  Again, they're the best team in a bad division.

The biggest threat to the Saints is the Atlanta Falcons.  Atlanta has the tenth-best scoring offense in the league, and also plays its remaining schedule against incredibly poor scoring defenses in New Orleans and Carolina (28th-best and 23rd-best in points allowed per game, respectively).  The Falcons also have the second-best SRS rating among NFC South teams and play the Saints head-to-head this week.  A victory would make up the one-game difference with their division rivals, though Carolina would move ahead of both teams if they were to beat Cleveland and Atlanta defeated New Orleans.

But if you measure the Saints' margins of victory against those of the Falcons, you'll find New Orleans' to be more impressive. Atlanta's biggest win was a 56-14 blowout over Tampa Bay, a 42-point victory.  If you remove those 42 points from Atlanta's total margin of victory from their five wins, you'll find the Falcons other four triumphs this season came by an average of just 6.5 points per win. By contrast, the Saints beat Green Bay by three touchdowns, but still defeated Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Chicago by an average margin of 10.8 points per game.  

So here's my prediction for the NFC South this season: The Saints are the best of the worst, and will retain that title long enough to add another division championship to their resume.

**Note:  All stats and records used in this post came from, except for SRS ratings, which came from  Margins of victory for the Saints and Falcons were calculated by me using scores from Total win percentage for the NFC South was also calculated by me using records from

Monday, December 8, 2014

Three Minor Bowl Games You Should Watch

The Football Bowl Subdivision's December-January schedule is now set, and I'm sure that every big college football fan is now looking forward to the "New Year's Six."  But it's not just the College Football Playoff (CFP) semifinal games that you should be paying attention to if you're going to tune in to this year's postseason. Consider these three games this holiday season in addition to the biggest match-ups:

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl - Arkansas (6-6) vs. Texas (6-6)
This game might not jump out at you, but there is at least one intriguing plot line: How will Arkansas perform?  They were 4-5 before shutting out SEC West opponents LSU and Ole Miss. They also lost to Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Alabama by seven points, seven points, and one point, respectively.  The Razorbacks have a lot of freshmen and sophomores on their roster, so maybe there's a chance they'll play well against the Longhorns and turn things around next season.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3)
The Wildcats (11th in the College Football Playoff rankings) and Bruins (14th) are two of the three highest-ranked teams that didn't get picked for a New Year's Six bowl.  Personally, I'd be angry that Boise State (20th in the CFP rankings) made a New Year's Six bowl ahead of me, but the quality of the two teams involved in this one makes it a good match-up regardless.

National University Holiday Bowl - Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4)
Can the Trojans (24th in CFP rankings) put up another offensive performance like they did against Notre Dame?  That's my biggest question for Nebraska and USC's match-up on December 27th. The Trojans will face a Cornhuskers defense that gave up 24.8 points per game this season, tied for 49th-best of all Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Praise of the NFL's 2014 Thanksgiving Day Schedule

The NFL will hold three regular-season games on Thanksgiving Day this year, as it has each season since 2006.  One week from today, Chicago plays in Detroit, Philadelphia heads to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, and Seattle will travel to San Francisco.  I think the NFL should be praised for creating a schedule this year that honors tradition and focuses on rivalries.  

It was November 29, 1934, when the Lions hosted the Chicago Bears and began a long-running tradition of playing home contests on Turkey Day.  The Dallas Cowboys joined the fun in 1966, when they defeated the Cleveland Browns by the final score of 26-14.  To the NFL's (and the teams' ?) credit, both Detroit and Dallas continue play on the fourth Thursday in November.  The Lions' have played nearly half of their 74 Thanksgiving Day contests against one of their two long-time rivals, the Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

Not as many of Dallas's Thanksgiving Day games have been against current division rivals.  This season's game against Philadelphia will be just the tenth Turkey Day game for the Cowboys against either the Eagles, Redskins, or Giants since Dallas began playing on the holiday.  You have to credit the schedule-makers, though, for adding a game between NFC East franchises to this year's docket, since the division itself is full of fierce and traditional rivalries.

The Seahawks and 49ers games are "new" rivals: The two teams have shared a division only since the last realignment, which took affect starting in 2002.*  But they've played some close games over the last few seasons, with four of their seven meetings since the start of the 2011 being decided by seven points or less.  It's good to have two combatants who've had some tightly-contested tilts in recent years scheduled to play Thanksgiving night.

So hats off again to whomever created this year's NFL Thanksgiving Day schedule.  You've put together a fantastic set of games that appeal to the tradition of NFL Thanksgiving football while also providing fans with great rivalries.

*Note-Actually, this sentence is not entirely correct.  San Francisco and Seattle actually played in the NFC West during the Seahawks' inaugural NFL season, in 1976.  Yeah, I was surprised too.  The Seahawks then moved to the AFC West for 1977 and didn't return to the NFC until 2002.

**Note 2-Sources for this post were,, and the following two pages on Thanksgiving Day football from Page 1 and page 2.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Many Factors Should Be Taken Into Account When Evaluating Great Running Back Performances

On Saturday, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon set a new Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) record for most rushing yards in a single game, with 408 running yards against Nebraska. Gordon's performance should be immediately inducted into the pantheon of great college football accomplishments, but what I'd like to discuss here is that a wide array of factors should be taken into account when deciding which FBS running back had the best-ever single-game performance.  

In addition to accumulating rushing yards, I think running for touchdowns can help a running back put together a day that's worth debating as the greatest ever.  For example, on November 17, 2012, Temple's Montel Harris rushed for 351 yards on 36 carries against Army, including seven touchdowns.  While Gordon had more yards than Harris on fewer carries, he still would have scored fewer than seven touchdowns if he'd played the entire game (based on the pace at which he scored touchdowns through the first three quarters of the game).  

Other types of yards can also help running backs put up single-game performances worth considering as the greatest ever.  On November 4, 2000, Utah State running back Emmett White racked up a whopping 578 all-purpose yards in a game against New Mexico State.  Well over 100 of those yards were on receptions. I think a good way to evaluate White's day would be to determine how many of his receiving yards came with him lined up in the backfield, because it would help reflect his performance as a running back.

There are potentially endless variables one could come up with when discussing which college running back had the best single-game performance ever.  Who had the best blocking?  Which player's opponent had the best rush defense?  What was the weather like for each player?  The list goes on and on.  So while a game such as the one Melvin Gordon played on Saturday is certainly great, don't make anybody's day the day until you've examined all the factors that make it so fantastic.  There are, after all, quite a few of them.  

**Note:  All statistics used in this post came from, except for the facts about Melvin Gordon breaking the single-game FBS record for most rushing yards and his playing only three quarters of Saturday's game.  I used a combination of this page and this article for those facts, and the facts also seem to be available in a variety of other sources.