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Friday, 3 February 2012

Don’t Call it a Comeback

“The first rule is not to lose. The second rule is not to forget the first rule.” Warren Buffett

Ali -v- Frazier, Holyfield -v- Tyson,  Balboa -v- Creed, Tom -v- Jerry; everyone loves a re-match and the eagerly anticipated game on Sunday features the next instalment to join that vaunted list; Brady -v-  E Manning.

Strangely though it became clear very early on that the focus of Super Bowl XLVI was not so much on which team would emerge triumphant, but which of Brady’s or Manning’s legend would be best served by a victory on Sunday. This implies that the four quarters due to be played out in Indianapolis hold no intrinsic value in and of themselves; that the other 104 men striving and praying for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy matter not.    

Of course there are some very real questions and interesting debates surrounding both Brady and Eli, and some very knowledgeable and well respected commentators have lent their weight to the same. Whilst entertaining, all the postulation and in-depth statistical and historical analysis detract from what in essence is a simple question with no simple answer - how good are they?

The NFL landscape has changed dramatically over its storied history and has always been, and will always be, home to the best players on the planet. In turn it is only natural for those players who have distinguished themselves to act as measuring sticks against whom the next generation of stars will be judged. I am however an advocate of players being evaluated in the context of their time. Jim Brown ran the ball over a 14 game season and Deacon Jones was sacking opposing quarterbacks long before he coined the term. To say Adrian Peterson is not as good a back because he has 16 games in which to amass yards, or DeMarcus Ware any less a threat because all his sacks are recorded is short-sighted to say the least.

Regardless of the era or the rules and trends that dictate play, the NFL ultimately distinguishes players in two ways. The first occurs during a player’s tenure where he is asked to compete in order to win the Super Bowl. The second occurs after a player has walked away from the game where, should he be deemed worthy, he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the Hall of Fame it does not necessarily mean that you have won the Super Bowl and similarly sporting a Super Bowl ring does not guarantee you a bronze bust. Accordingly I take from this a very simple maxim, winning the Super Bowl means you’re good, being in the Hall of Fame means you’re great.   

In light of the above it is perhaps unsurprising that minds have wandered to topics beyond the simple question of who is going to win on Sunday. Both Eli and Brady have won the Superbowl so both are ‘good’ (well Brady is good3), but in truth a win on Sunday does little to further advance the case of either being ‘great’.

For the avoidance of doubt Tom Brady is guaranteed a place in the Hall of Fame; he has far surpassed the 6th round value placed on him, made his various supporting casts play better, broken records, filled the  trophy cabinets at Foxborough and helped establish a New England ‘Dynasty’.  Should Brady claim his fourth Super Bowl ring nothing much changes in reality. From the point he decides to walk away he will still have to wait five years to be fitted for a yellow jacket (winning four Super Bowls does get you time off for good behaviour) and it doesn’t even allow Brady to claim dominance over Peyton, the storyline of the past decade. As things stand its 3 -1 to Brady in the Super Bowl stakes, but the debate over who is better still looms large. Peyton’s impact on the NFL is not merely measured by wins and losses; let us not forget that even though the man has not put on a uniform ‘Peyton-talk’ has been in the background all season long, and his impending future is afforded almost equal column inches to the Super Bowl itself… oh and Peyton will have a yellow jacket of his own in due course.

Much has been made of Eli’s frustrations at being left out of the ‘elite conversation’ and I for one can’t blame him; in providing New York with a Lombardi Trophy Eli has lived up to his billing as the first pick in the 2004 draft and has been able to accomplish what the likes of Warren Moon, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino could not. Whether it is fair or not doubts still remain over Eli’s Hall of Fame calibre, doubts that a second Super Bowl victory will not abate. Much has been made of the potential travesty of Eli being able to laud one more ring over big brother Peyton (there he is again), but it is highly doubtful that Eli will suddenly be considered the ‘Main Man-ning’ with a win on Sunday. Though we will never know, Peyton was likely heading to Canton even if he went Super Bowl-less his entire career. At this stage, even with potentially two championships, Eli is by no means certain to claim a place amongst the NFL’s immortals.

With this in mind I am simply going to enjoy Sunday’s Super Bowl for what it is, one of the best sporting contests in the world, and suggest we all get back to the most important question – who is going to win?

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Story So Far… The Final Chapter

"Men, I want you just thinking of one word all season. One word and one word only: Super Bowl." Bill Peterson

It seems like an age has passed since we were all grappling with the very real fear of an NFL-less 2011, and now after this season of shifting powerhouses, surprising performances and newly emerging stars we find ourselves in in the throes of playoff-fever, mere weeks away from the ‘Big Dance’.

The first few tumultuous weeks of the 2011 season proved unsettling, with written off teams, comprising unheralded players, mounting dominant displays and amassing surprising wins against ‘good teams’ who suffered unexpected and deflating loss after loss. As the season has progressed the ship has righted itself to a large extent, however, in keeping with the theme of 2011, all the playoff pieces were not in place until the final play of week 17.

Some of the familiar protagonists have progressed to the upcoming divisional round of the post-season, however,  the teams who will victoriously emerge to represent the AFC and NFC in the Super Bowl are far from apparent. Clearly regular season performance is a strong indicator when determining a team’s probability of making it to the all-important game in Indianapolis, but nowhere is the old adage of ‘one game at a time’ more poignant than in an NFL post-season.

The upcoming NFC games, whilst entertaining,  offer perhaps the least opportunity for drama:

The 49ers are hosting playoff football for the first time in almost a decade (as predicted) and an outstanding rookie performance from Aldon Smith (14 sacks) has underlined an impressive defensive display, which has greatly aided the 49ers cause. The 49ers may even be able to contain Drew Brees early on in the game but it is doubtful to last. Alex Smith has still not entirely redeemed himself and not even David Akers’ leg, and the league’s fourth ranked defence, will be able to halt an explosive Saints offence (out for revenge for last season’s loss to the Seahawks).  

Yes, it is true, the Packers have shown that they can be beaten, but as it states in Proverbs, “a beautiful thing is never perfect”.  Any member of the 2007 Patriots will attest to the fact that a perfect season means nothing if you don’t get a ring at the end of it.  That of course is the same year that the Giant’s defence went on a rampage, dominating opposing lines and smothering quarterbacks, on their way to Super Bowl glory; that same dominance was on display last week against the Falcons. Eli Manning has put aside a lacklustre performance in 2010 and is playing like he wants to be included amongst the elite. Manning has also been helped by his willing and very able receivers, and also the fact that Brandon Jacobs seems to have remembered that he is bigger than most people trying to tackle him and is running with a purpose. However, the same system and group of players that has people talking about starting roles for Matt Flynn, will yet again flourish under Aaron Rodgers, who will lead this very talented team to victory.

Of the four games this weekend the most intriguing are those being played out in the AFC:


Texans -v- Ravens

In years past this would not have been regarded as any sort of contest for the Ravens. An experienced and well balanced offense would easily cruise to victory, reliant on a battle hardened and formidable defensive corps to crush the feeble attempts of an inferior opponent. 
Looking towards the upcoming game on Sunday, based purely on playoff-experience, the Ravens have the edge over the Texans, but that is not the whole story.

Undoubtedly the greatest beneficiaries of the Manning-less Colts are the Houston Texans, who for the first time in its 11 year history are still playing football in January.  Of course that is not to detract from the enormous strides the team have taken in the space of a year. Wade Phillips has overseen the transformation of the 30th ranked Defence (2010) into the second best in the league (the Ravens are ranked 3rd) and this was without the services of Mario Williams. This is hardly surprising when the Defensive nouse of Wade Phillips is fused with the personnel Houston has quietly acquired over the years, with playmakers at every level. Brian Cushing and JJ Watt displayed a boundless energy against Cincinnati, as they launched a search and destroy campaign for anyone unfortunate enough to be holding the ball. Assuming an opposing quarterback is not running for his life, Jason Allen and Jonathan Joseph have also proved an effective partnership at cornerback. Should Flacco have one of his trademark questionable performances, he will not have an easy ride. 

On the other side of the ball losing Andre Johnson for a large proportion of the season, and a string of quarterbacks, did not stop the efficient offensive unit from helping the Texans to its first division title. The backfield tandem of Foster and Tate is also more than capable of compensating for any deficiencies in the passing game.

Whilst the Texans have come far we cannot get carried away; winning at home against the Bengals is not the same as beating the Ravens on the road. When the two teams last met Flacco threw for 305 yards, Ray Rice ran for 101 yards and Boldin had 132 receiving yards. Foster and Tate were held to a total of 90 yards 0 TDs and Schaub threw for 220 yards. Of course the Texans will now have Johnson in the line-up, but he seemed to have suffered from stage fright against the Bengals, a far cry from the coming out party most were expecting.    

To put matters into perspective Schaub will not be under centre on Sunday, nor even Leinart; the Texans hopes of progression will rest on the unlikely shoulders of T.J Yates. To be clear NFL teams, including the Texans, felt there were 151 better players to take in the 2011 draft and 8 better QB prospects. When selecting Yates in the fifth round the Texans were picking up a QB who could develop into a solid back-up in time, not the man they would want to send out against the likes of Ngata, Suggs, Lewis, and Reed in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

The odds may be stacked up against the Texans,  but this is by no means an easy contest for either team. 


Broncos -v- Patriots

Statistical comparatives, performance history, ranking, rating, tradition, rational logic and common sense all dictate that Tim Tebow’s Broncos should not come within a sniff of a victory. Tim Tebow should not be able to best Tom Brady, at Foxborough, in the playoffs. Tim Tebow should not advance to the Conference finals. Everyone knows what should happen, but that in no way means that it will.

The Broncos’ path to Foxborough came by way of the league’s best defensive unit, no small feat for any team, or any quarterback. Detractors will be quick to point out that Tebow faced an aging, season-weary and injured Steeler team whom would have otherwise dismantled the growing Tebow legend. These of course would be the same detractors who, at the start of the season, would have picked a wheelchair bound Roethlisberger over Tebow. In truth, the Patriots owe a debt of gratitude to the Steelers, who demonstrated that teams dismiss Tebow at their peril. Tebow has to be accounted for and now, having shown himself capable of actually completing a pass, he is more of a match-up nightmare than ever.

Although Tebow appears as the focal point of the Broncos’ success this season, it is clear that a solid defence (greatly aided by rookie Von Miller) and McGahee’s stout running performances have all played a vital role. However, try as you might, there is no escaping the 'Tebow Factor' which has captured the attention of fans and non-fans alike, across the world. To date there has not been an adequate definition of the Tebow Factor, nor a breakdown or presentation of what exactly it encapsulates – but this is very much the point, it is not something that can be broken down or presented in a statistical or even rational manner.

I am sure to be berated and ridiculed for even mentioning the two in the same sentence, but when I think of the Tebow Factor, I think of Michael Jordan. Before you navigate away from the page and delete BritCoastOffense from your browser history hear me out... Michael Jordon was unique and transcended the sport that he mastered, I am not suggesting (and will never suggest) that Tebow displays the same dominance and brilliance on the gridiron that Jordan did on the court; where I believe the comparison lies is when a game is on the line.    

In the last seconds, of the last quarter of a game the four other players on the court and the entire Bulls side-line were comforted in knowing that the ball would be placed in Jordan’s hands. We as fans shared that comfort and ‘knew’ that Jordan would sink the basket. Tebow is not blessed with the mechanics of an elite NFL quarterback, but I believe the Broncos are comfortable with having the ball and game in his hands in the fourth quarter; they know that if there is a chance to win the game Tebow will do whatever it takes to capitalise on that, and Broncos fans 'know' that he will pull through. 

In a week that has seen members of the Jets openly criticise Sanchez’ performance, I believe this says more about Tebow than any stat sheet ever will. There is also no doubt that Tebow has been thinking of one word all season.... win.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

On the Wings of Eagles

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Dale Carnegie

It was after 4a.m. Monday morning, I had just witnessed the Eagles secure a much needed victory over a division rival but for some reason I couldn’t allow myself to fully savour the moment. Undoubtedly the fact that I was half-dead was a significant contributory factor, but I could not escape a deep and overbearing sense of trepidation as I immediately turned my attention to the remaining schedule facing my beloved Eagles.  

There are many that would simply dismiss my sentiments by calling into question my loyalty to, or faith in the team. However, I feel no guilt whatsoever in caring enough about the Eagles’ performance over the coming weeks to express concern; when evaluating the Eagles ‘doubt’ is the inescapable by-product of every fan’s internal struggle between perception and reality, hope and execution.

Before a single Eagle’s player had warmed-up for the first day of training camp the team were perceived as the favourites in the Beast, with an historic collection of talent poised for a deep playoff run. One perceived notion was that opposing receivers blanketed by DRC, Samuel and Asomugha would allow Babin and Cole to pin their ears back and go after the QB – the reality, unfortunately, is ever so slightly different. Asomugha, the most coveted prize of free-agency, has a total of 3 interceptions (0 TDs) and his longest interception return is for 6yds (his total is 10yds); that’s the same number of interceptions as Atlanta’s Thomas DeCoud (I’ve never heard of him either). Meanwhile Babin and Cole have combined for 15 sacks so far, which is a whole sack more than Demarcus Ware’s solo effort.

The hope was that the Eagles dominance on both sides of the ball would stand them in good stead to see off the Packers in the NFC championship game. However as a result of the Eagles’ inconsistent execution they are one of the 14 teams in the NFL with a losing record, their playoffs hopes hanging by a thread; a single defeat in the coming weeks will likely halt any chance of a playoff spot.

Entering Week 11 every member of the Eagle’s organisation, from locker room to front office, knew that they needed to win the remaining games of the regular season. There is not a doubt in my mind that that amount of pressure can take its toll on players; the knowledge that every play matters, that every snap, tackle, pass, reception, kick and run could mean the difference between winning and losing is a responsibility of such enormity that it is beyond the comprehension of us lesser mortals.

When I consider the game on Sunday night in this light, the knot in my stomach begins to unravel ever so slightly. Given the pressure, Vince Young’s ability to lead a calm, consistent and confident 4th quarter drive cannot be underestimated (nor the contribution of Babin’s sack which led to a fumble) and is a welcome contrast to the Eagles previous endeavours in the final 15 minutes of play. Looking back on the 2011 season it would be fitting if the Eagles’ revival was started by Vince Young, the architect of the cursed “Dream Team” moniker.

Tempting as it may be though I simply can’t fully convince myself all is well. The Eagles have been adept at toying with our emotions this season; the same team that obliterated the Cowboys were made to suffer defeat at the hands of a Skelton led Cardinals team. Accordingly the win on Sunday night does not necessarily mean that the ship has been righted.

It may well be that the team has finally fused together as a unit under intense pressure, like the emergence of a diamond from a lump of coal. It may also be the case that they are playing with a sense that they have nothing to lose and as such are loose and relaxed. Frankly I don’t care which is right, so long as they win games.

Standing in the way of the Eagles and the playoffs are the Patriots, Seahawks, Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins. As we often hear from players we just have to take it one game at a time; the Patriots are not the team of 2007 and have shown that they can be beaten, a high octane and consistent defensive unit can overcome anything Tom Brady throws its way, and the Eagles have the offensive tools to pick its way through a questionable Patriot Defence.

There is no escaping the fact that the Eagles playoff chances are still mathematically alive – so long as that is the case there is always hope.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Wild Wild West

"The breakfast of champions is not cereal, it's the opposition" Nick Seitz

AFC West Standings

If the season ended today Roger Goodell would have to break out the abacus and perform the myriad of complex calculations which have been formulated for the sole purpose of breaking a three-way division tie; if a winner does not appear after consideration of the teams’ win-loss percentage, schedule strength, combined ranking, jersey colour, mascot performance and cheerleader pep, its boils down to an unforgiving game of heads or tails, as in days of yore.

Thankfully for Roger Goodell, and those less arithmetically gifted, there are still 8 games left in the season after which, hopefully, a clear division winner will emerge. However, before we pack away our calculators Brit Coast Offense takes a look at the AFC West teams and the likely leader of the pack come week 17. 

We can safely assume, at a bare minimum, that 10 is the magic number of wins needed to seal a playoff spot and/or the division title. In order to reach this goal the Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders will have to post a 6 -2 record, and the Broncos 7 – 1, for the remainder of the season.  (This of course assumes that the AFC West doesn't mimic the 2010 NFC West, which sent the 7-9 Seahawks to the top of the Division). So which of the AFC West 'power-houses' marches to victory?

All to Play for

All four teams will face division opponents in three of their remaining eight games. If this was the pre-season the Chargers would be the consensus favourites to dominate their lesser Division rivals and come away with the best record. Unfortunately for Charger fans this isn't the pre-season, and with the high stakes involved in every snap of every division game no team can be assured of an easy victory.

Aside from week 13, where we can probably notch a win for the Chargers against the Jags, and similarly the Raiders against the Dolphins, the remaining schedule presents itself as a daunting  challenge, to say the least. Over the next 8 weeks the AFC West opponents include the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Jets, Bills, Packers, Lions, Vikings and Bears; talented teams that can hand anyone a loss in any given week, let alone when they are playing to secure their own footing in their respective divisions.

This further emphasises the crucial nature of the upcoming division match-ups, which are sure to entertain; perhaps, when the two next meet, we will witness a Rivers - Tebow showdown rather than beat-down . 

Tale of the Tape

According to the AFC standings the Chargers are ranked 4th and the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos are ranked 10th, 11th and 12th respectively. The Chargers have the best ranked Offense (6th NFL - 2nd AFC) and Defence (7th NFL/AFC), whilst the Chiefs have the worst Offense (24th NFL -11th AFC) and Raiders the worst Defense (27th  NFL - 14th AFC).

However this does not really reveal the whole story, nor shed any light on who will eventually come out on top:

Philip Rivers is without question the best quarterback in the division – Carson Palmer may not get the rust off in time to save the Raiders’ season and Tim Tebow may not get the ball off in time for the end of the season – meanwhile Matt Casell is so far the only quarterback in the league to have suffered a loss at the hands of the Fins. Unfortunately, as a result of Rivers' inconsistent play this season he hasn't really been able to distinguish himself amongst the group. Rivers leads the league with 14 interceptions thrown, say what you want about Tebow but he has only thrown one interception during his short time at the helm. Rivers has 11 TD passes so far, which is only two more TD passes than Casell, and five more than Tebow who was not the starter at the beginning of the season. 

Despite their modest rankings, Oakland and Denver can always rely on the running game of McFadden (614yds 4TDs) and McGahee (623yds 3 TDs)  to push them over the top, and with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates roaming the field the Chargers are only ever one pass away from a winning TD. On the other side of the ball the Chiefs are ranked third in the league in interceptions with 13, which is more than double the 21st ranked Broncos measly tally of 6. The Broncos have also amassed 20 sacks which is slightly more than the Chiefs 9 (Von Miller has amassed 6.5 alone).

In short it would appear that no team has the complete package - regardless of where they happen to rank in the Conference.

And the Winner is....

No idea - but its going to be an entertaining show as the rest of the season plays out. The smart money would always be on the late-blooming Chargers to limp their way into the playoffs, but if this season has taught us anything its that the smart choice can quickly be made to look stupid. Come week 17 one of the four teams constituting the AFC West will stand atop the pile; failing that we'll just toss a coin - I call heads.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Story So Far... Chapter 2

“Forecasting is the art of saying what will happen, and then explaining why it didn't” Anonymous 

With the ushering in of week 9 of the 2011 campaign, we now begin to approach the business end of the NFL season. As the weeks mount the playoff picture comes into focus and the pieces start to fall into place; every victory moves a team closer to a coveted playoff spot and every loss takes them that much further away.

However, at this stage of the season the picture is far from clear and there is still an uneasy feeling when stopping to think about what we really do ‘know’. Brit Coast Offense is prepared to go as far as saying that the Packers are good and the Colts are bad. This however sheds little, if any, light on which teams will be left fighting it out in January.

Brit Coast Offense was previously intrigued with the developing storylines surrounding the Colts, Lions and Vikes:

As intimated above the story with the Colts is not so interesting, they are just plain bad, very, very bad.

After decades of dissapointment Lions fans can hold their heads high and for once have rational expectations of their team’s success. In spite of this, the jury is still very much out on the Lions. Megatron is having a Pro Bowl season and is certainly in the conversation when discussing the best receivers in the league, Suh is always poised to reac havoc on opposing lines and quarterbacks and the team as a whole looks to have approached the 2011 season with renewed vigour. However, there are still a few hurdles to clear; after their week 9 bye the Lions face an unforgiving schedule with the Bears, Saints and Vikings all potential candidates to hand the Lions a loss, oh and they play the Packers... twice. Add to this the fact that Matthew Stafford, based on his short NFL tenure to date, is only ever one hit away from the IR list and Lions fans are still in with a chance of having their high hopes dashed.

As for the Vikings - well as predicted Ponder has been named the starter and looks comfortable under centre. The job is Ponder’s to lose; say what you will about McNabb, but there can be no question that he is the consummate professional, there will be no power struggles or distracting dramas in the locker room from No 5. The switch to Ponder also seems to have jolted the Vikes offence into another gear and may well prove to be the move that saved the Vikes their season, and Leslie Frasier his job. In other developments AP and Jared Allen have moved up to lead the league in rushing (798yds) and sacks (12.5) respectively. The Vikings have the pieces in place to be succesful, and a legitimate chance of a long playoff run - the only thing that can get in the way of the Vikings is the Vikings.

The remaining weeks of the NFL season present themselves as arguably the most intriguing for a while, as at this stage the permutations of playoff teams are vast. There are a few that Brit Coast Offense will be keeping a particular eye on.


Who Wins the Beast?

Presently the New York Giants (5-2) sit atop the NFC East but in the next five weeks they face the Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Saints, and Packers; there are going to be a few more additions in New York's loss column as a result. The opportunity to nudge ahead presents itself, but for whom?

The Redskins had some flashes of promise early on in the season but they soon settled into their losing ways, Beck & Co will not be leading the Skins to Superbowl glory. The Cowboys are enticing candidates, particularly when considering their talent-laden roster; but talent has never been their issue. The Cowboys have been too erratic this season and unless there inconsistent performances are promptly turned around they will miss out on the playoffs.  

That leaves us with the Eagles. As a proud citizen of the ‘Bleed Green Nation’ the Eagles have been considered with as much objectivity as I can muster. Their dominant performance over the Cowboys showcased the sort of Eagles team that everyone believed was assembled over the off-season. More importantly than proving the naysayers wrong, victory over the Cowboys would have shown the Eagles players what they are capable of. The hope is that the Eagles' win is the product of a late turn to form, which they maintain through the rest of the season, and not just the sprinkling of Andy Reid post bye week magic.


The Bay of Good Hope

Whilst the NFC West is home to two of the NFL’s most storied franchises, it has in recent years deteriorated; let us not forget we are only a year removed from the Seahawks clinching the division and a playoff berth with a losing record (7-9). However the success of the 49ers is not just a case of being the best of the worst, they hold the second best record in the NFC, tarnished only by a loss at home to the Cowboys (by a mere 3 points). 

With surprising victories at the Lions and Eagles, and the dismantling of the Buccaneers in week 5, the 49ers have seemingly emerged as legitimate contenders. At 6 -1 the team has won as many games as they did all last year, and as five of the teams' remaining nine games are against their lacklustre division opponents the 49ers are on the road to being crowned division champions. Whilst undoubtedly the team can rely on Gore’s production through the remainder of the regular season, come January the production that matters most is that of your QB. Do the 49ers make it to the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade? – sure why not. Does Alex Smith out-play Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick and Drew Brees? – not likely. The 49ers will be playing in January but Alex Smith will not be leading his team to the all-important game in February.   

Thursday, 27 October 2011

State of the Franchise

 "If you build it, he will come." Field of Dreams

Once the dust settled on the fifth instalment of the NFL International Series, I find myself dreaming of a time where I’m sat at Wembley cheering on the “London [insert appropriately ferocious animal here]” with fellow fans resplendent in the jerseys and colours of our players, our team, our franchise. A stark contrast to the sea of Viking Purple, Jet Green and Indy Blue at last Sunday’s game.

We all know that the NFL has committed its teams to the International Series until 2016, with talk of the UK hosting two regular season games. Clearly more football being played in the UK is a good thing, the NFL committing to more football being played in the UK is a good thing, but at this stage I think there is a mighty leap from International Series to UK franchise. The NFL’s most recent commitment is more akin to a testing of the waters, a dipping of the toe, rather than a whole hearted endorsement for a UK franchise.

As things currently stand this would appear to be the most prudent approach; whilst the crowd of over 75,000 at Wembley will represent one of the best attended NFL games this season, either side of the pond, there were still empty seats. I’m not overly convinced that the line being spun (shortened timetable as a result of the NFL lockout) is the root cause of tickets still being available right up to the game, and I would be wary of relying on this 'excuse' too heavily. An over-emphasis on the shortened timetable can back-fire; the message being that the UK needs a good few months in order to convince people to come to the game – not a great confidence boost. Add to this the fact that the Tampa Bay Cheerleaders and a squirrel occupy the most column inches in the UK press and NFL owners can be forgiven for wondering whether the International Series is merely a spectacle whose shine and gloss will fade over time.

Let us not forget that fans in the US are understandably miffed that they are already losing a home game to the International Series and are non-too thrilled about the prospect, as they see it, of the NFL being packaged up and exported. There are those who are also of the opinion that UK NFL fans would have no room in their hearts for a UK franchise, having already pledged their undying fealty to one of the 32 US teams.

In spite of the potential pitfalls, and the incredible amount of work that is needed to secure a UK franchise, I firmly believe that the next five years presents itself as a rare opportunity to the considerable NFL fan base in the UK. I love the NFL, love the Eagles, but if I was faced with a choice of sitting through and Eagles game, half-dead at 3a.m., or the opportunity to go and watch the “London Mosquitos” (top of the deadliest animal charts) live, beer in hand, I’m heading to Wembley. Were the NFL owners to find in the UK a real support base, real earning potential and the longevity of both, they would have all the incentive they needed to push through any of the innumerably daunting logistical tasks that accompany the creation of a UK franchise. Most importantly, if they build it I will come.  

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Race to Luck

“Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.” Vince Lombardi

As I have previously mentioned this season is not playing out the way it was ‘supposed to’; as such it would be premature, to say the least, for teams to be designing their superbowl rings or gathering in their war rooms to formulate a plan of attack in free agency and the draft.

However, once the clock ran out on the final game of week 6 we can say for certain that, based purely on the number of games won, the Packers are the NFL’s best team and the Colts, Dolphins and Rams share the accolade of being its worst.  

Bizarrely, and perhaps in response to the shock of the unknown, a “Suck for Luck” campaign has emerged  which has prompted commentators and fans alike to seriously moot the prospect of NFL teams purposefully losing in order to lay claim to the number 1 draft pick; or in other words secure the services of Andrew Luck. When last checked “Suck for Luck” had 86,500,000 results on Google and @SuckForLuck had over 1600 followers on Twitter.

I refuse to believe that any professional athlete would set out, commit or in any way hope to lose, and similarly do not accept that any real fan would will their team to defeat. Let us not forget that in order to be included amongst the 53 men on an NFL team’s roster, you are likely to have the sort of desire, will and competitive temperament to mean you care about coming first in an egg and spoon race, let alone hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It is also highly improbable that the worst team of 2011 magically transforms into the best team in 2012 merely by the addition of a rookie QB. A team is in the position to draft no 1 because a great many things have gone wrong, and that would not be remedied by virtue of the fact that Andrew Luck is under centre on opening day.

In spite of the above it would be foolhardy to ignore the fact that at the end of this season one team is going to be awarded the first pick in the draft, and the consensus number one pick is Andrew Luck. The interesting question is not so much who is going to get the first pick, but who would actually use it to get Luck?

At this stage in the season the most likely candidates for  the number one pick are the Colts, Dolphins or Rams, and this is unlikely to change any time soon. Looking ahead to week 7 it will be surprising if any of these under-performing teams go on to mark a notch in the win column.  The Colts play away to the Saints, whose high powered offence will look to make amends for the loss to the Bucs.  The Dolphins host a rested Broncos team, who have had time to prepare and adjust with Tebow at the helm; Tebow in turn will be motivated to cement his place as the starting QB. The Rams play away to the Cowboys and I can think of no better way for Tony Romo to keep his mounting critics at bay (for at least one week) than to beat up on the poor, defenceless Rams.    

Would any of these win-less wonders actually take Luck? The Dolphins, who have been in the market for a legitimate franchise QB since Marino, would almost certainly pull the trigger. The Colts cannot be ruled out of the equation entirely; securing the services of a viable replacement to the ageing, injured Manning would not be unwise. Failing that the Colts would most likely follow the Rams, who would trade the number 1 pick for gargantuan compensation - what a stroke of luck that would be.