Super Bowl Tickets: Who do you Want To See Play?

Eight playoff teams remain, meaning the Super Bowl picture remains fuzzy at best. One 80-yard dash by Demaryius Thomas, another multi-pick game from Jabari Green, or a near perfect game by Eli Manning could drastically alter the picture. Yet, it is fun to take a look at the Divisional Playoff round, a round in which March Madness-like upsets still seem possible, and decide what would be the most entertaining Super Bowl matchup.

History has demonstrated that though the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 is the most important game of the 2011-2012 NFL season, it is guaranteed to be the most entertaining. Thus, in search of a fun topic in the face of frivolous analysis derived from the same three sources, let’s have a completely inane discussion for pure entertainment value.

The AFC and the NFC each have four teams remaining. The AFC has the Denver Broncos playing the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans visiting the Baltimore Ravens. This may be unnecessary, but the Patriots-Broncos game already has the most pre-game buzz. Tebow and Brady are quarterbacks of a remarkably different ilk. One was anointed Football Jesus before taking that first snap and sprinting for the first down marker. The other emerged as one of the most poignant starters in the league from the deep dark bottom of the draft. One team seemingly has religion on its side while the other has a coach closely associated with the Antichrist. One is an upstart and the other entered the season with fans saving for Super Bowl tickets.

The other game is the Texans versus the Ravens. An unseasoned quarterback versus a superb defense and an astonishing dull quarterback versus an underrated defense, this is bound to a dull exposition of the history of the running game in the NFL. For my money the most exciting team to emerge from this field is the Denver Broncos. The Patriots have been in the Super Bowl far too often in the 21st century to remain an interesting story. Really the only advantage to a Patriots appearance is the obligatory cutaways to Giselle Bundchen and her thoroughly confused, soccer loving family.

The NFC has the New York Giants traveling to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints heading west to play the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers-Giants game is the more appealing of the two. The Packers are in search of the first repeat Super Bowl victories since the Patriots. It is always fun to see a team trying to establish a dynasty. The Giants are just fun to root for because of that legendary Super Bowl XLII performance.

Meanwhile, the Saints-49ers game should be more entertaining. It is an explosive offense vs. a stingy defense. It is a classic battle, but is better suited for theoretical discussions than watching the real thing because the 49ers quarterback is Alex Smith. So, which of these four teams would be most fun to watch in the Super Bowl? Thought I was going to say the Packers? Wrong, and that is not just because I am a Bears fan. No, it is the Saints because a Saints-Broncos game would end in Tim Tebow’s demise and would set up a huge storyline next season, a battle royal between the Saints and Packers for the domination of the NFC. When thinking of the best possible game, always think of its place in history.

The Road to Super Bowl LXVI

The road to Super Bowl LXVI runs through Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on the AFC side of the playoffs and through the Georgia Dome on the NFC side, but the Super Bowl tickets will only be good for the game at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011.

The first round begins Saturday with two games, the No. 6 New York Jets vs. the No. 3 Indianapolis Colts at the Lucas Oil Stadium and the No. 5 New Orleans Saints vs. the No. 4 Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field. If the Colts are able to advance I have to assume it will be thanks to Manning’s will alone. If the Seahawks win it will be a not-so-small miracle.

Sunday, the No. 5 Baltimore Ravens travel to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Kansas City Chiefs and the No. 6 Green Bays Packers travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens should effectively mitigate the Chiefs primary offensive strength, the running back duo of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, thanks to the fifth best running defense. The Packers and the Eagles is almost impossible to predict since both teams have a hot-or-cold disposition on the field. I want the Philly-Green Bay game to be the most ridiculous, highest scoring game of the postseason, but am fully aware it could come down to a battle of the special teams if both sides display even a decent pass rush.

The winners of the first slate of NFC games will play the Chicago Bears or the Atlanta Falcons. Both the Falcons and the Bears are hardly unbeatable. The Falcons have faced few challenges toward the end of the season, barely beating the Buccaneers in Week 13 and losing to a desperate Saints team Week 16. The Bears offense can disappear, but the Chicago defense focuses so much on stopping the run a team with a decent passing attack and a good offensive line can disarm this Cover-2 based defense with precision thorws along the seams.

The survivor of the first round of AFC games will play either the New England Patriots or the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nobody wants to play the Patriots. The offense is simply functioning on such a high level right now any defeat would be as shocking as the Giants win in 2007. The Steelers are the NFL’s version of True Grit. Roethlisberger is apparently playing on one foot and with a broken nose. I would not be surprised to learn of a dislocated throwing shoulder, a slight brain hemorrhage, and a battle with cancer in his small intestines. Big Ben will soldier on and continue to cultivate his legacy as the toughest quarterback of his generation.

No matter who survives this difficult path, I look forward to one of the best postseasons in recent history.

NFL Week 13 Tuesday Commentary: Patriots Fans Should be Buying Super Bowl Tickets

For those looking ahead to February in Dallas, Week 13 in the NFL proved to be a revelation for the AFC and a confounding experience leaving a glut of potential Super Bowl suitors in the NFC. The New England Patriots set themselves apart as the best team in the AFC East and the team with the most momentum heading into the last few weeks of the NFL regular season. Meanwhile, the top six NFC teams all won, most struggling in the process.

Am I being dismissive of the resilience demonstrated by a 9-3 Pittsburgh Steelers team that beat a tough Ravens squad complete with great defense and Ben Roethlisberger playing on a broken foot? No. Am I being disrespectful of an 8-4 Kansas City Chiefs team that barely beat a Broncos franchise that fired its head coach after the game? Yes.

The Patriots 45-7 drubbing of the upstart New York Jets simply made it clear to a national audience (with basic cable) that New England will be unstoppable if they retain home field advantage. Coming into the game, the Patriots sought revenge for a loss in Week 2 over the football team that came into the Monday Night game tied for first in the division. They owned the Jets lauded defense, both through the air and on the ground. Tom Brady threw four touchdowns for the second week in a row and the Patriots defense feasted on the mistakes of a rookie quarterback folding in crunch time late in the season.

After watching this game, I have to conclude New England is bound for another division win and fans should be looking for Super Bowl tickets (really New England is being spoiled this week, first the addition of Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox and now this).

I can hardly say I have any clue who will win out in the NFC. The New York Giants let Ahmed Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs loose for 200 combined rushing yards and four touchdowns. However, despite the 31-7 win over the division-foe Redskins, I cannot help but hold this win in lesser esteem than the Patriots. The Redskins have become the forgotten team in the NFC East (despite being second from last place) whose weaknesses mirrored the Giants strength (poor run defense vs. great run offense).

Elsewhere, the Chicago Bears barely fended off the Detroit Lions, the Philadelphia Eagles had to come back from behind in the fourth quarter to beat a Texans team with no pass rush, the Green Bay Packers beat a team from the NFC West, the New Orleans Saints won on an encroachment penalty, and the Atlanta Falcons had to come back in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I am not saying come-from-behind victories are something at which to scoff. They do prove a team is never truly out of any game. But, none of these wins really made me do a double take. To be fair, none of these teams had a marquee game in which to prove themselves as the Patriots did. The only one I can identify on the Week 14 schedule is the Bears-Patriots game on Sunday afternoon. This game will finally decide whether the Bears are a great regular season team or a team with some playoff potential and show how the Patriots play a very good team on the road in the midst of their four game winning streak.

Does Sunday Nights Win Mean Super Bowl Tickets for the Philadelphia Eagles?

The Philadelphia Eagles are 7-3 and suddenly they are clearly the best team in the NFC East. They also may be the best team in the NFC. They certainly possess the best weapon in the NFL in Michael Vick. I know Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are enjoying early MVP buzz. I also know Aaron Rodgers continues to be a vastly overlooked quarterback. But, Vick can outrun and maybe out throw this competition, though he does lack the touch and the recognition these pocket passers possess.

He is as likely to run for more than 100 yards in a game (given Justin Tuck is not on the field) as eclipse 30 yards through the air. Vick also has the benefit of a big budget television movie storyline. Incredibly gifted athlete makes abhorrent choices off the field, serves time, and wins his starting spot back.

He has better weapons than he has every had at any other time in his nine-year NFL career and is playing for a city eternally desperate for a Super Bowl win. I bet these fans are desperately in search of Super Bowl tickets as I write this little ode to the resurrected hero.

There are still six games left in the season and the NFC East is notoriously unstable. Also, the Green Bay Packers are quietly 7-3 and have outscored opponents by more than 100 points, the only team in the NFL to do so as of Week 11. Then, consider that the Atlanta Falcons are 8-2, the best record in the NFC. What a game it would be if the Eagles were to play one of the most explosive offenses in football or if Vick is playing his former team?

Yes, at this juncture to pose any hypothetical questions about the NFC Championship is foolhardy, but I cannot contain myself after the Eagles proved they could beat a great defense when Vick was not changing fantasy football match ups across the country.

Potential Storyline for Super Bowl Tickets

The NFL is a little over the half way mark and as far as I can tell there 11 teams capable of reaching the Super Bowl, five from the NFC and six from the AFC. While I base this simple observation on records, the scoring differential, and not playing in the West division of either conference, I see these teams and get excited by the story lines FOX and ESPN will be busy creating a week’s worth of film around. I know it is silly. I should be thinking of offensive and defensive stats, but nobody buys Super Bowl tickets and gets excited by the yards allowed per carry no first defense allowed by their favorite team.

So, who will be canonized? Which team is going to buck history? Which team has the most sick kids to play for?

NFL Candidates:

New York Giants

The Giants are playing their first season in a new stadium, New Meadowlands Stadium, and they have to strike early to rename it Giants Stadium and once again shaft the loyal Jets fans. This would also be Eli Manning’s chance to surpass his brother in some regard. He is not the tactician as his older brother and is much more inconsistent (though an argument can be made that Eli is a more accurate playoff passer than Peyton), so another Super Bowl win and another potential MVP will give him some bragging rights come the next family reunion.

Philadelphia Eagles

The return of Michael Vick, a more mature individual finally ready to the most of his infinite talent. This will be the primary national story since the road to redemption is such an intoxicating narrative. The secondary story nationwide, but primary locally will be the Eagles chance to once again win their first Super Bowl. They have failed twice before and even traded away a former Pro Bowl quarterback to a division rival because of this consistent inability to finally win the big game.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers will finally replace Brett Favre in the cheese people’s hearts with a win. Rodgers is already a better quarterback, but he is far from a living legend. The mere mention of Favre forces Packers fans to flinch and doubt Rodgers capability the tiniest bit. To believe he does not know this and that this does not plague him in his night terrors is ridiculous. Nobody is that self-confident, for it is difficult to have more moxie than an old man still willing to send penis pics to a sideline reporter.

Atlanta Falcons

The Rise of the Dirty South. Part one young quarterback in Matt Ryan, one MVP-caliber receiver in Roddy White, part one one over achieving running back (Michael Turner), and one grizzled veteran (TE Tony Gonzalez)- this is a team difficult to root against. Add in a forgettable franchise history in a part of the country obsessed with college football, and this is a team all of America can love.

New Orleans Saints

The beginning of a dynasty for a franchise afflicted by such historical mediocrity. This could be the NFC version of the New England Patriots.

AFC Candidates

New York Jets

The perpetual underdog in the biggest city in America finally usurps the Football Giants and claims New Meadowlands Stadium as its own. This team already had to concede the inaugural game to the Giants and had to make due with a tarnished Monday night game broadcast on cable. This scheduling decision had to set the tone for the rest of the season. This team is ready to finally give lifelong Jets fans something else to talk about other than Joe Namath. The best match up for this team would be a chance to defeat the Giants in the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots

Proof that the Patriots’ heyday is not behind them, that Brady and Co. can still score in droves on any team, even with Randy Moss halfheartedly running route, and that this young defense has come of age. They also get to play the villain role, giving everyone outside of Boston a team to hate uniformly.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Adding a Super Bowl win to the list and reminding NFL fans that this is perhaps the most underrated football franchise in the league. Also, Ben Roethlisberger will get a chance to finally deliver an MVP-worthy performance in the big game, essentially wiping his sordid off-the-field history in fell swoop (this is a nation that forgives anything in the name of success).

Baltimore Ravens

This is perhaps the most difficult team to find a reason to celebrate or hate. The networks could go with the emergence of Joe Flacco or the immortality of Ray Lewis, but those stories are barely worth a five minute segment before a regular season slate of games. Only fans in Cleveland can hate this team with an unquestioned passion, everyone else (outside of Baltimore) is going to have to spend quite some time rationalizing a reason to care.

Tennessee Titans

Vince Young and Chris Johnson. This is a reason to watch and root for the team. Young is coming back from an emotional roller coaster ride and Johnson is simply one of the best backs in the league. The franchise’s struggle is a tough sell since the team moved from its original playing grounds in Houston. The player angle, especially the triumph of Vince Young and the pure excitement of watching and waiting for Johnson to break an 80-yard touchdown run is reason enough to celebrate the Titans and a potential Super Bowl win.

Indianapolis Colts

Can Peyton Manning finally put all the doubt of his performance in the postseason to bed? This is going to be the story throughout the playoffs and will be the dominant story if the Indianapolis Colt reach the Super Bowl. The chance to for redemption after last season’s fourth quarter debacle will be the second lead.

Which NFC Team’s Fans Should Be Expecting Super Bowl Tickets This February?

One look at the NFC standings and I wonder if any of these teams truly deserve Super Bowl tickets to Cowboys Stadium as players or fans. The list of teams more than two games over .500 is short, just four teams. This is quite embarrassing compared to the plethora of AFC teams meeting that criterion – eight teams. Of those four teams with the best early season chances, which is most likely to survive the remaining 10 weeks of the NFL schedule?

Least Likely

 Tampa Bay Buccaneers(4-2)

Should I be giving the Buccaneers some respect? They are 4-2 and have a few fourth quarter wins under their belt. Certainly, I do not want to give Josh Freeman the chance to win the game with two minutes left. But, this is the same team being outscored by 30 points over the course of the season.

How is this possible? Well, the wins have been stomach churning affairs. They won in Week 1 by three games, Week 2 by 13, Week 5 by 3, and Week 7 by 1. The losses have been nothing less than utter devastation. I tried to find the appropriate word to describe the 25 points loss in Week 3 and Week 6 and all of them – annihilation, cataclysm, catastrophe, decimation, holocaust, annihilation, genocide, carnage, slaughter, massacre – seemed germane.

What’s more, the wins have come against a field of teams (Browns, Panthers, Bengals, and Rams) with a collective 8-18 record. The wins have against teams (Steelers and Saints) fielding a combined 9-4 record. Basically, it appears the Bucs a slightly below average team surviving against terrible teams with quarterback problem.

The Bucs have some major offensive issues of their own. Although Freeman likes to play the role of 21st century Captain Comeback, he can hardly be praised for being dangerous all game long. His total quarterback rating is 82.8, the 22nd best in the league. He has issues with completion percentage (58.8 percent, 24th) and yards per pass (6.31, 27th). There is no turmoil at this position, that upheaval is coming at the running back position.

Cadillac Williams is averaging 2.5 yards a carry and has gone from the feature back to splitting time with LaGarrette Blount to the verge of being little more than a third down and goal line back. I believe the Buccaneers season is in Blount’s hands. If he can become an effective feature back and allow Freeman to do little more than have to make big throws using the play action, then the Buccaneers might actually be a dangerous team.

The schedule is stacked from Week 12 on, with Baltimore beginning the sequence of potential playoff ending opponents. Until then, the Bucs can feast on the likes of the Cardinals, 49ers, and their second division game against the Panthers. The Falcons will be a reality check in Week 10. If this ends in another 20-plus point blowout, I expect Tampa to end the season on a 0-6 run.

Just Barely Better Than the Bucs

Seattle Seahawks (4-2)

When I say I do not know what to make of the Seattle Seahawks, I do not mean I do not know if they are a good team or a great team. I mean I do not know if they are a mediocre team or an average team. Luckily, they play in the NFC West, where mediocre is average and average is king. So far they have gone 2-1 against division opponents and I expect them to finish the 2010 season at least 4-2 in the division. Outside of the division, they have an identical 2-1 record, winning against teams on the verge of implosion (Chargers and Bears).

Really, the only thing this team does well is stop the run. They have the second best run defense in terms of yards surrendered and the second best yards per carry allowed. If I was going to do one thing well, I guess stopping the run would be the aspect of football to specialize. You build on defense around stopping the run, so this is a good place to start. Why do I say that and why is this is a major part of the reason the Seahawks allow just 17.8 points a game (5th)? Well, run defense plays a major role in stopping other teams from scoring when the field becomes much shorter in the red zone and it is more difficult to spread the field with passing routes.

I also have to give the Seahawks some credit at quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck is not the perennial near-Pro Bowl caliber player he once was, but he is still an experienced quarterback that knows how to win. Think of it as muscle memory, and some of that memory has survived the countless concussions. Now more of a game manager, I still have confidence he could lead a rally in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, a position he will likely be in thanks to the stingy defense.

If I were a Seahawks fan I would feel significantly better about the offense if new number one running back Marshawn Lynch could run for near 4 yards a carry. He and Justin Forsett may work well if they split time and punish the oppositions defensive line. Basically, I would rank the Seahawks as an average team if they could control clock and limit the run. If they can only stop the run, then this team is nothing more than a slight notch above mediocre.

That slight notch could be good enough to win the division, but they are going to see some competition from a lucky Rams team (the lone division team to beat them). Looking at the schedule, the Seahawks play three teams capable of ending their perfect season at home at Qwest Field, the Giants, Chiefs, and Falcons. I only see one away game completely out of reach for Seattle, the Week 11 game with the Saints. Oddly enough, I can see the Seahawks ending the season with 10 wins, but fully expect a first round loss.

The Real Contenders

Atlanta Falcons (5-2)

The Atlanta Falcons are on top of the standings in the NFC South, arguably the best division in the NFC. They have the 14th best passing offense, the 6th best running offense, average the 12th most points, have the 8th best run defense, hold the opposition to the ninth fewest points, and are tied for the fifth most takeaways in the NFC. In fact, the 11 picks offset the fifth worst pass defense. This is as complete a football team as there is in the NFC and maybe the NFL. This is an elite team with a realistic shot at playing in Super Bowl XLV.

Why do I like this team so much, apart from the stats? They are young with a third year quarterback quickly maturing into a top tier player at his position in Matt Ryan, a wide receiver who might be the best in the NFL in 2010 in Roddy White, a couple of running backs with yards per carry averages greater than 4.0 in Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, and the token veteran leader in TE Tony Gonzalez.

I am not 100 percent sure this is “the” team in the NFC though. Why backtrack after lauding them in the past two paragraphs? Well, apart from covering my own butt, I took a look at the schedule. They lost in Week 1 in overtime to a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger. They lost badly in Week 6 to an Eagles team with Kevin Kolb starting in place of Michael Vick. They barely beat the struggling Saints and the a Bengals team stuck in purgatory.

Luckily, they play four more games against the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Bucs, a team I fully expect to breakdown in the second half of the season. This means four more wins. This puts them at 9 wins with five more games to play. I believe the Falcons will draw a first round bye, giving their players a weeks rest after nine straight weeks of playing this physically brutal sport and giving leaving them a home game away from the NFC Championship.

New York Giants (4-2)

Despite the letdown out of the NFC East (Isn’t this an annual occurrence? A big letdown in the first half followed by redemption and insanity in the second.), the New York Giants are leading the way with a 4-2 record. They have Top-10 rankings in passing yards (9th), running yards (4th), passing yards allowed (2nd), and rushing yards allowed (3rd). The Giants average the 8th most points in the NFL (25) and are tied for forcing the third most turnovers in the NFC (16). It appears the only thing that can beat New York and end their Super Bowl aspirations is team itself.

There is an old football adage proclaiming the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. So far, the Giants have amassed 21 turnovers while just taking away 16. This is the biggest concern for New York Giants fans. Even scarier is the fact it is equally the fault of running backs and special teams as the inconsistent Eli Manning. The team has 11 fumbles and 10 interceptions.

Another question that must be raised is: Is the NFC bad enough that a team tortured by its predilection to loose the football can win the conference? The Giants still force turnovers and still force opposing quarterbacks out of the pocket and into terrible throws. They still have a stifling run defense. They still have a very capable running game. They still have a quarterback with the ability to win games in spectacular fashion. They still have a pair of receivers in Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks who may rank amongst the best duos in the NFL. They still have everything, including that one fatal flaw.

They also have the backing of a fan base excited by the potential to open the first season at a new stadium with a Super Bowl run. At the same time, they have a demanding fan base expecting a Super Bowl run after seven weeks of the NFL season.


I look forward to watching Falcons play the Giants at the Georgia Dome for the NFC Championship. I feel bad for the Falcons though, since quarterback experience matters in these games, and Manning already has a Super Bowl ring to guide him.

First Sign of the Apocalypse: No NFL Season in 2011

I have not seen the new movie Legion, but I have seen trailers and read reviews and the big-budget apocalyptic thriller is by all accounts a disaster. Similarly, I have not seen the backroom collective bargaining agreement (CBA) discussions between the NFL Players Association and the team owners, but I have seen trailers (the three debacles known as the 1994-95 MLB strike, the 1998-99 NBA strike, and 2004-05 NHL lockout) and have read the reviews (Tim Graham’s February 1st ESPN column) and am pretty sure it would be a disaster of actual biblical proportions.

It is sad that this has come up on the eve of what I have hyped in mind to be the best Super Bowl of all time, but I fear that the league will be ending its era of domination among professional sports leagues soon and the harbinger of doom is Bob Batterman. Batterman is representing the NFL owners as part of the powerful law firm Proskauer Rose. Batterman famously represented the NHL owners in 2004 and brought the wrath of a lockout season (the first major sport to actually go through with this threat) and pretty much devastated the league until Sidney Crosby can become a star recognized by all sports fans.

The worst case scenario is that the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) balks at the owners demands and all the rules that made the NFL the one league that thrived in a system that promoted parity are out the window. This will be decided March 5, 2010, 33 days after the Super Bowl. This is the first sign of the NFL Apocalypse, and unlike in the Bible in which there are seven, there are only two signs before all the ground the game has made in the last decade is lost.

From the owners’ point if view, they were reamed at the last negotiations in 2006 and now they want to establish a more hospitable economic climate for themselves, which means they want a bigger chunk of that $8 billion dollar machine known as the NFL (mind-boggling isn’t it?). They currently get 40 percent of that total amount, with which they have taken all the financial risk. They build the new stadiums, fund the renovations, and keep the practice facilities up to date (well, actually they cover the difference that our tax dollars do not fund). They want more, much more.

They want NFL players to accept an 18 percent rollback for salaries. That may just be a beginning point, but even the compromise would be a huge pay cut. I fear that the players may be willing to roll the dice faced with a possible double digit reduction in pay. They, after all, take the physical risk in simply taking the field. All that money they make in a relatively short athletic career goes to paying for a house, a car, supporting a family, paying what the insurance will not for the aftereffects of previous concussions, and, of course, lewd boat trips in Minnesota.

If the players do make some concessions or the owners maintain a hard line then the 2010 NFL regular season will be the beginning of the end. There will be no salary cap, which means no enforced maximums or minimums and no financial penalties of any sort for teams. For some players, the lack of an established minimum has to be terrifying. For others with longer, bigger guaranteed contracts the lack of salary cap rules is terrifying because it would allow teams to simply cancel contracts without any monetary penalty.

For my part, I feel more sympathy for the typical NFL player. They are most likely spending their 3.5 year career on the bench, hurtling their body down the field on special teams and occasionally stepping in for a starter. They make closer to the league minimum than the fan realizes and most likely will have to take up some career after their short professional football career is over. How many of these guys saved wisely? How many of these guys actually paid attention in their college classes? How many of these guys actually have a real job skill other than sacrificing their body for millions of sports fans? How would the insurance industry handle such an influx of agents?

It is these players that will lose big in 2010 and these players that will lose even bigger on March 5, 2011 if the two sides have still not reached an agreement. Batterman could convince the owners to enact a lockout, ending the 2011 season before it even began. These bench players would suddenly have lost a year of that short-lived career and would most certainly be replaced by cheaper younger talent from the new college class. They essentially would lose a third of their life-time earnings as a professional athlete.

Of course all that is all theoretical right now. All we know for sure is and that the NFL is now a passing league, that the Super Bowl is this Sunday, and that Tim Tebow will not get as much tail as an NFL utility player as he did as a college quarterback in Florida.

An NFL Franchise in London – No Shipoopi for those Silly Nannies

The Monday after the NFL conference championships the football news is pretty scarce. There is some analysis of the Colts victory (they looked bored until the Jets scored their second touchdown, at which point they outscored New York 24-3) and the Saints overtime win (they struggled to win despite winning the turnover battle 5 to 1). In other news, the Pro Bowl replacements have been announced for the four players playing in the Super Bowl. Then, there was a little ditty about the league canceling a second game in Britain next season…and possibly expanding the league with a team in the UK. That’s right; the NFL is publicly championing expanding American football to a country whose sports fan base is upset that we call their version of football soccer.

In the PR world, this statement came as a story to downplay the league’s impending financial disaster with collective bargaining talks coming up and the general uncertainty that the current fan base has the disposable capital to transplant their ass from the couch to a seat in an NFL stadium. Sure they are cancelling a second game in the UK since the owners and league operators are worried that there could be some serious financial issues next season and there could even potentially be a strike, but they are optimistic that at some arbitrary date in the future “American” football could be played eight Sundays a year in London.

Of course, with the Pro Bowl a week away (a schedule alteration that should have come years ago) and the Super Bowl the week after that (I am insanely excited about an Indianapolis Colts–New Orleans Saints game), I’d rather let my mind ruminate on something less depressing than a possible football strike- the absurdity of American football co-existing alongside European football in England

The ramifications of the cultural differences between the two sports must be considered. To pretend that there is no animosity between football fans and soccer fans (or American football fans and Football fans depending on the point of view) is a huge mistake.

Many fans here belittle the “World’s Most Popular” sport and many soccer fans deride our own version of football. I personally think this is the silliest sports argument of all time.

The entire conflict is based on the sports names. It is like two guys despising each other because they are both named Tom. The sports are the antithesis of each other. American football is more physical game with lots of stops that allows the players to use there hands (though I suspect the league will soon be discussing only allowing defensive players to run into the quarterback with their hands tied behind their back to protect commodities like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning) while European football is a game that does not stop the clock and does not allow the use of the hands by any other player than the goalie.

Nonetheless, there is a palpable hate in the air. NFL fans celebrate the Super Bowl while soccer fans mock them and scorn Super Bowl parties with rebukes mentioning the world-wide popularity of the World Cup. NFL fans say soccer players are weaklings that would not last two plays in a football game while soccer fans call football players fat, out-of-shape athletes that could not last two minutes in a soccer match.

The criticism and bickering goes back and forth (though I think fans over here win since we had the gall to renamed their sport completely while they just diplomatically added an adjective in front of football), and until there is some fundamental peace between the two camps any discussion of American football as anything more than a fringe sport with club leagues in England is ludicrous (like the annual predictions that the MLS will really take off here, ever).

The NFL may pound their chest and roar, announcing that the past three NFL regular season games at Wembley Stadium in London have attracted more than 80,000 fans. However, this is an exhibition game played by physical freaks (our offensive linemen are typically over 300 pounds and are called athletes!). ESPN and the NFL network can talk to the extremely biased club players that believe our football has a real chance there, but the evidence (both factual and anecdotal) is too powerful to ignore.

NFL Europa, the last re-branding of a minor football league that began as the World League of American Football, folded in 2007. By the end of the league’s existence, the league had six teams remaining, with one in Amsterdam and five in Germany. There were no teams from the UK left. The London Monarchs folded in 1998 and the Scottish Claymores shut down in 2004.

It seems quite ludicrous to think that the success of a single exhibition game is really representative of the potential attendance of an entire eight-game schedule after two teams failed so miserably. The Monarchs could not draw more 6,000 fans toward the end and the Claymores were unable to average more than 11,500 fans a game over their franchise history. Those numbers are more telling than a single experimental game every season.

Anecdotally, I love sports and love talking sports with people from Europe. Believe it or not, there are quite a few English nationals in Chicago, or at least that was my impression after working/living over/drinking at a faux-Irish/British pub. They loved soccer and were simply confounded by the popularity of American football. The major factor that turned them off was the time factor. In soccer, the clock does not stop, and in football the last three minutes of a close game take 30 minutes in real time.

This is a very valid point. In America our football has plays, while in Europe, and the rest of the world, football is played. Both games employ strategies, but it is how these strategies are enacted that makes a difference. Soccer fans (native soccer fans at least) are accustomed to enjoying a football game in constant motion while football fans are used to the many breaks that we have come to learn to ignore.

We have simply learned to watch our prospective football games differently. Expecting each side to completely immerse them in the other sport is to expect them to relearn how they have grown accustomed to enjoy our sports. Until this little bit of learned behavior has been overcome and both camps have been able to learn to respect each other’s football and even enjoy it, I have a hard time imagining there being a place for NFL tickets in London for eight games a season.

The Best Super Bowls Come Down to the Final Minutes of the Fourth Quarter

It seems fitting that Super Bowl XLIII came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The best games build tension until the final minutes when a few memorable drives define whole careers. This season’s 27-23 victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals will go down in history as one of the best in history. It had two momentum changing drives in the final three minutes and a safety to boot.

Prior to those final minutes the game had a cold, uncomfortable lull. The first quarter was dominated by the Steelers, who held the ball for over 12 minutes for the quarter but only managed to score a field goal on its opening drive. In the second quarter the Steelers and the Cardinals showed some life.

Both teams ran one in from one yard out. Arizona’s score came after Pittsburgh built up a 10-0 lead. To close the half the Cardinals took an interception from a tipped ball to the one yard line. The Cards could have had the lead or have a tie going into halftime, but instead a bad read by Kurt Warner put the ball in James Harrison hands.

Harrison returned the pick 100 yards for a touchdown and seemingly single-handedly ended the Cardinals Cinderella postseason. Despite the two interceptions and the longest play in Super Bowl history, the overall failure by both teams to establish meaningful drives made me worry that this was going to end up being a huge dud.

The third quarter did not help. Arizona began to move the ball, but they abandoned their prolific offense for runs up the middle and dump offs to the running back. The quarter ended with a mere field goal by Jeff Reed to give Pittsburgh a 20-7 lead.

Then it happened. Everybody at Raymond James Stadium was waiting for it. Pittsburgh fans were dreading it and Cardinals fans were expecting it. Warner came out and led a passing attack that re-established itself by finding ways to get the ball to the best receiver in football, Larry Fitzgerald.

With 7:33 left, Warner capped off a 3:57 drive that found him hitting targets all over the field with a lob to Fitzgerald to the right side of the end zone. Fitzgerald jumped, reached over the defender, and pulled in his sixth postseason touchdown while falling to the ground. After a failed drive that ended with fourth and long the Cardinals were force to punt with time quickly winding down. The punt put the Steelers at their one yard line.

Arizona crowded the line and stuffed a run up the middle, nearly tackling the running back in the end zone. Then Roethlisberger threw a quick pass that was dropped by the receiver. The Roethlisberger seemed to end the Cardinals season by converting on third down with a long pass over the middle.

All was lost. Time was running out and the Cardinals were about to be forced to waste their precious timeouts just to give Warner some time to put together a drive. But, time was not lost. A holding call in the end zone nullified the completion and gave Arizona two points for a safety and the ball back.

With the ball and a four point deficit Warner took over at the Arizona 36. On the second play of the drive Fitzgerald ran into the end zone and the record books with a 64 yard touchdown sprint after catching a slant pass over the middle. The two safeties the Steelers had playing deep all game long to avoid the big plays left the middle to cover the receivers on the sidelines and the poor single safety defending Fitzgerald was left on an island with a wide out with size and speed.

The Cardinals had completed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history with 16 unanswered points. They were two and a half minutes away from ending their franchises unprecedented suffering. Then Roethlisberger became Big Ben.

Big Ben went to the huddle on his own 22-yard line with two time outs, the two minute warning and 2:37 left to go. The first play seemed to spell doom with yet another holding penalty (there were 18 flags thrown for 162 yards total in the game). Big Ben kept the drive going with two passes to Santana Holmes for 27 yards. An 11-yard pass to Nate Washington, a four-yard run by Roethlisberger, and a 40-yard pass to Holmes landed the Steelers at the Cardinals six for first and goal.

Holmes could have won the game on the next play, but the ball sailed through his hands as he leaped after tight roping the back of the end zone. The same play to the other side of the end zone found Holmes triple covered, but a high arcing Roethlisberger pass landed in Holmes grasp and Santana was able to drag the tips of his toes along the grass to make an incredible catch in bounds that gave Pittsburgh the lead 27-23.

A desperate Arizona Cardinals drive with half a minute left ended with a fumble after Warner tried to by time in the pocket but had the ball knocked out of his hands by LaMarr Woodley, a fumble that defensive end Brett Keisel recovered.

The Super Bowl is the second heart stopping thrill ride in two seasons. The game had history. The game had an underdog. The game had huge defensive plays and amazing offensive highlights. The game had everything. The game in 2010 has a lot to live up to after two amazing endings that have served the NFL well.

Battle of the Big Play Maestros, Warner and Roethlisberger, This Super Bowl

Super Bowl!!! After this incredible season in which the chi of the year was changed with the injury of Tom Brady, the NFL season has come down to a game between the 14-4 Pittsburgh Steelers dominating defense and the 12-7 Arizona Cardinals tremendous passing attack. To end it all, I have a few predictions to make.

The Steelers defense is simply incredible. In a league that has more teams playing a “bend but not break” style, Pittsburgh brings a “break the leg so it cannot bend” D to Raymond James Stadium.

Looking at the Cards, they have shown they can play defense in their first two playoff wins against the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers. However, the most telling game is probably the Eagles game. Arizona held the rushing and the short passing game and simply tried to keep the big plays by Donovan McNabb out of the end zone. The result was a 32-25 victory.

The Pittsburgh offense is based on a strong run game and support by Big Ben and his big throws. The team has averaged 29 points a game this postseason and averages over 300 passing yards a game as well as over 100 rushing yards.

The Cardinals offense has averaged 31.7 points a game in the playoffs with 362 passing yards and 111 rushing yards a game. The rushing yards are the surprise here. Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower have been able to shock the three opponents by coming out and establishing a run game before Kurt Warner tore apart the secondary.

I do not believe that the Cardinals will be able to get any kind of run game going against this 3-4 Steelers defense. James Harrison, James Farrior, and everybody else will probably make James remember that he is 30 and Hightower has been less than impressive this postseason. However, Troy Polamalu cannot guard three exception wide receivers and none of the linebackers can keep up with Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston.

I think the Arizona Cardinals will manhandle Willie Parker and Antonio Smith will be able to put enough pressure on Roethlisberger to make the game interesting. In the end I am looking forward to game of big hits, more than enough sacks, and big plays as Roethlisberger and Warner duel like modern day gunslingers. The Steelers will win in the end. I pick Pittsburgh to win 34-28 over the Cardinals, and really wish I had Super Bowl tickets to watch what I think will be one of the more entertaining marquee games in the last few years.