NFL 2014 Week 15: That Giving Time of Year
The more things change, the more they stay the same; this could be the official motto of the National Football League. Each year we see Super Bowl contenders coming into view only to watch them crash and (sometimes) burn as the season ends. This is because of the League’s commitment to parity, the idea that any team no matter how lowly can soon reach the postseason. As some teams suffered unexpected losses this week, the way was opened for a possible repeat champion. Now to see if that team can avoid a letdown.
For much of this season, one of the League’s strongest Super Bowl contenders has been one of its most successful franchises. The Green Bay Packers started with a loss but then settled into a winning rhythm: an explosive passing attack led by Aaron Rodgers, widely considered one of the best if not the best of NFL quarterbacks, and a rejuvenated defense. For some time now the path to the Super Bowl for the National Football Conference looked to run through Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
That concept looks a bit shaky after the Pack’s stunning 21-13 loss in Buffalo. Rodgers threw two interceptions (he only had three for the season before the game). For a team that has used its cold-weather weather to its advantage over the decades (Lambeau is known far and wide as “The Frozen Tundra”), the Packers looked like the team freezing up Sunday. On the other hand, the Bills showed by their solid game that they have a decent chance of making the playoffs still despite a less-than-scintillating campaign so far.
Green Bay’s loss put the Detroit Lions back into the driver’s seat in the NFC Northern Division. The Lions won a close, hard-fought contest against the Minnesota Vikings 16-14. Although both teams are likely to make the playoffs, a week 17 matchup at Lambeau should be exciting still.
Another surprise loser was the Philadelphia Eagles. In a faceoff for the NFC East lead, the Dallas Cowboys beat Philly by a surprisingly easy 38-27 score. The Cowpokes stand as an excellent example of parity in action. Although owner Jerry Jones lives (and runs his team) larger than life; the one-time America’s Team has not been good in recent years. This season started well for the Cowboys and they kept pace with the Eagles. Dallas usually loses late-season matchups for the division championship (in recent years to the Giants, Redskins and Eagles) but not this time. The loss will make it much more difficult for Philly to make the playoffs.
The week’s biggest loser may be on a team already noted for losing. The Cleveland Browns, suffering in the throes of a losing streak that wiped out the team’s once-bright playoff hopes, finally caved to fan pressure and stared rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. “Johnny Football,” as Manziel is known, demonstrated a scrambling, improvisational style during his Heisman Trophy-winning days at Texas A&M, immediately made his coaches regret the change at QB. In a cross-state showdown with the rival Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns crapped out 30-0. While one game does not a flop make, Manziel will have some distance to go to win the hearts of Browns fans, let alone games.
In the midst of these disappointing showings, there has to be a team that looks to exceed expectations. Surprisingly, the current Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks look more and more like that team. Suffering through injuries that lessened the strength of the punishing defense that steamrolled the NFL last season, the Hawks stumbled in the shadow of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. No longer after Seattle’s second crushing of the San Francisco 49ers in two weeks. The 2013 squad looked to be back in form, the defense smashing and quarterback Russell Wilson continuing to look like the skilled game manager he was last season. A Sunday night showdown with the Cardinals in Arizona will tell a lot as to how good these Seahawks are, but the prediction here is: pretty good.
Another favorite off-the-field topic of conversation flared up this week: the NFL status of Los Angeles. The Rams played in Southern California for over 40 years, including becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home town when they played Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. When the Rams abandoned the Coliseum to move down the road to Anaheim, the Raiders moved south from Oakland to replace them. In 1995, both teams left, the Rams for St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland.
Every year since, there has been a predictable surplus of hand-wringing over the lack of pro football in L.A. Even worse for the NFL, Angelenos have gotten used to this state of affairs and the demand for another team is barely a whimper. For many years, franchises across the League have used the threat of moving to Southern California (or north, in the case of the San Diego Chargers, another team eyeing the City of the Angels to get new and improved stadiums. That threat has seemed to run its course because so many teams now have new stadiums, so the talk has shifted to which teams might be looking to lay claim to this massive market. Unsurprisingly, the Rams and Raiders figure prominently in the discussion as both play to row-upon-row of empty seats at home games. For now, it’s all rumors, much like any other year.
Someone needs to tell this to CBS’s studio crew. The Eye Network decided a few years ago to field a dumber hosting crew than the loudmouths currently on Fox’s pregame show. As others have wondered in talking about the CBS crew, what are they laughing about all the time? This network seems determined to make people supposedly knowledgeable about the sport sound like ignorant callers to sports talk radio shows. Even getting rid of Shannon Sharpe, who may know football but was in painful need of diction lessons, the team leaves something to be desired in the analysis department.
This Sunday, they latched on to the NFL to LA talk like a dog gnawing a ham bone and refused to let go. Several minutes went by as they discussed the ramifications of a Rams and/or Raiders relocation. The meaning of both teams moving was considered and chewed over like an exceedingly tough steak. Only one thing was missing from this lengthy discussion: the fact that it was all based on rumors. No matter; it was all grist for the team. In light of this foolishness, so bad it stands out from their usual idiocy, the CBS crew (Boomer Esiason, Bart Scott, Bill Cowher, Tony Gonzalez, and host James Brown) win the highest honor this site can bestow. Collectively, they are the NFL WOW (Weasel of the Week). Wonder how long a segment they will have to discuss the meaning of this award? If we’re lucky, they will forget to fit it in.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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