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Seahawks on verge of luckiest Super Bowl ever; end with biggest choke job ever

This was the greatest Super Bowl ever. The ending was stunning in so many ways, from Tom Brady leading a fourth quarter comeback against the Seattle defense, only to be followed by another miraculous catch that seemed to spell doom again for the Patriots, to what can easily be described as the worst play call in NFL history.

Here are some thoughts with some real time tweets mixed in:

– I’m not a Russell Wilson fan, and I wasn’t looking forward to eating even more crow had he managed to win his second straight Super Bowl. Still, there’s no way I can blame Wilson for the last interception that cost Seattle the game. We can pick apart his throw and the decision (some are explaining you have to throw that ball low at the goal line), but this all comes back to Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell making that asinine play call. Also, looking at this shot below, you can see why Wilson threw the ball and just how brilliant Malcolm Butler was as he broke to the ball to make that play:

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Bizarre Percy Harvin trade

The NFL world was pretty shocked yesterday with the news that Seattle traded Percy Harvin to the Jets. It started to make more sense, at least from Seattle’s point of view, when reports started to surface that Harvin was a cancer in the clubhouse. In fact, the move seems brilliant all of a sudden from their point of view. Pete Carroll has established himself as one of the best football coaches out there, and he doesn’t tolerate players that don’t buy into his culture. When you have references to “anger management” issues connected to Harvin, it’s no surprise that Seattle decided to move him. The Seahawks have some issues this year as the rest of the NFL seems to be figuring out that you need to punch them in the mouth if you want to beat them. Carroll obviously concluded he didn’t want to put up with Harvin’s bullshit.

Still, even though Harvin’s production wasn’t that impressive, just having him on the field posed a real problem for defenses, and even as a decoy he was extremely valuable to an offense that relies heavily on scheme and misdirection. Let’s see how this affects Russell Wilson’s production going forward.

Turning to the 1-6 Jets, this deal seems to make a lot less sense. Does adding a talented player who has trouble getting along with others make any sense for a bad team? Sure, Idzik has taken heat for not giving Rex Ryan enough weapons, but this seems like a desperation move.

Perhaps Harvin will react better to the Rex Ryan atmosphere over the intense Pete Carroll approach. Also, if you look at the schedule for the rest of the year, the Jets should be in every game. Maybe this sparks a turnaround? It just seems like a move that bad franchises make. Getting a couple more wins in a season where many expect Rex Ryan to be fired seems pointless, and Harvin has a ridiculous salary for a player who has been dumped by two franchises for being a malcontent. The circus in the New York media won’t help much either.

At the very least we have a story worth following for the rest of the year.

2014 Super Bowl XLVIII Free Pick

Super Bowl XLVIII: Broncos vs. Seahawks, 6:30PMET
Whether it’s because of the overreaction to Richard Sherman’s outburst following the NFC title game or the fact that Peyton Manning can see the light at the end of his career, the Broncos have become “Joe Public’s” team for Super Bowl XLVIII.

It’s hard to blame the betting public for wagering on the Broncos at a near 70-percent clip. Teams have a difficult enough time beating Manning when he has six days to prepare for them, let alone two weeks. Denver also is a matchup nightmare for any defense thanks to Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, and John Fox and Jack Del Rio has the defense playing as well right now as any point in the season.

Do you feel a “but” coming on?

I like the Seahawks. I’d shop around until I found the line at 3 or bet it up to a field goal, but it wouldn’t shock me if Seattle won outright. The team with the No. 1 defense in the regular season has often fared well in the Super Bowl, going 12-4 straight up over the history of the game. Not only did Seattle have the best defense in the league this year, the referees often “let ’em play” in the Super Bowl, which benefits the physical nature of the Hawks’ back seven.

It’s not easy, but the way to beat Manning is to disrupt his timing with his receivers, just like the Colts did to Denver in Week 7. Indianapolis won that game in large part because its defense forced three turnovers and Andrew Luck played mistake-free football, but the Colts’ cornerbacks also got their hands on the Broncos’ receivers at the line of scrimmage and often re-routed them off the ball. That flustered Manning and while he still threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns, it was a enough to send Denver to its first loss.

The Seahawks play “Cover 3” better than any team in the league thanks to Pete Carroll. Outside of Week 2 when he shadowed Anquan Boldin (and subsequently shut him down), Sherman doesn’t “travel” a lot but he and his fellow cornerbacks know Carroll’s system perfectly. The Hawks like to funnel everything inside to where all-everything safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor can make plays between the hashes. K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin can also be a handful to deal with in coverage from their linebacker positions.

Carroll is also multiple with his fronts, meaning that half of his defensive line will play one-gap while the other half or at least some personnel will play two-gap. That can also cause confusion for an offensive line, especially one like Denver that uses a zone blocking scheme. It doesn’t happen often, but if you can confuse Manning and/or his offensive mates, that’s another way to beat the Broncos.

Speaking of Carroll, he’s likely to do something in this game to steal a possession or take a shot down field in order to come up with the big play. Fox, for as solid as he is, often plays things conservatively and I think in the end that could cost him. We saw what happened the last time Manning was in the Super Bowl and Sean Payton rolled the dice with an onsides kick. In the battle of Carroll versus Fox, I’m siding with the coach that’s going to roll the dice.

On the other side of the ball, there’s no question that Seattle’s offense is a concern. They haven’t been right in over a month. But hopefully Darrell Bevell has discovered something over the last two weeks and realizes that he has neutered Russell Wilson to the point of diminishing returns. When the handcuffs were off Wilson in the second half of the NFC title game, he delivered. While the offense still runs through Marshawn Lynch, Bevell needs to allow his young quarterback to make plays. And while Wilson is a Super Bowl virgin, he’s also one of the more poised young signal-callers in the league. Having Percy Harvin back should also help, if nothing else than to make Denver be aware of him.

In the end this is one of the best Super Bowl matchups we’ve seen in quite a while. Nothing would necessarily surprise me although the only true value in this game is taking the points with a Seattle team that should thrive in the underdog role.


Sportsbooks set early odds for NFL Final Four

After a typical NFL season with all sorts of surprises and countless ups and downs, we end up with four teams left standing who many would list as the four best teams in the NFL. New England pounded Indianapolis with the running game as LeGarrette Blount ran wild for 166 yards and 4 touchdowns, giving the rest of the NFL the blessing of not having to listen to Jim Irsay any more this season. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning and the Broncos took care of business against upstart San Diego last night to set up another Peyton Manning/Tom Brady matchup for a trip to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, on the NFC side, San Francisco took care of Cam Newton and the Panthers while Seattle won a slugfest against Drew Brees and the Saints.

Anyone looking forward to next week already can check out the early NFL odds at online sportsbooks as Denver is a 5-point favorite at home versus New England and Seattle is a 3.5-point favorite at home versus San Francisco. Not only do we have 4 excellent teams, but we have some serious rivalries as well which makes these games even more interesting and also complicated to pick. We have the Manning/Brady matchup, though now Manning is wearing Denver orange. Can Tom Brady and the Pats take another championship run away from Manning in a season where Manning shattered the record books? Does New England’s new-found running game alter the analysis here?

Also, with Seattle and San Francisco we have one of the more physical and bitter rivalries in the NFL, with a deeper rivalry between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll as well that’s been going on since their Stanford/USC days. Seattle has owned the 49ers in Seattle and has frankly overpowered them. But San Francisco has improved dramatically from early in the season with Colin Kaepernick playing much better. Also, Russell Wilson hasn’t been playing quite as well, and look for the 49ers to stack the box and dare Wilson to throw deep. We’ll see which young quaterback emerges this week.

Regardless of the results next week, we should have an epic Super Bowl on our hands with contrasting styles, as the AFC has two traditional teams with classic drop-back passers while the NFC teams feature younger, more mobile quarterbacks. This should be fun!

Let the Russell Wilson hype begin . . . again

Bill Barnwell takes a look at the big four rookie quarterbacks from 2012 and tries to project out to 2013 and beyond. He offers up some interesting statistics and comparisons that contribute to any conversation about the future prospects of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Yet while he addresses how Andrew Luck had little to work with in Indy, he then brushes that off when deciding which of the group has the biggest upside. Like many NFL writers he obsesses too much about the stats and spends less time discussing what he actually sees on the field.

Andrew Luck was the single factor that drove the Colts. Plus, he did it as a classic drop back passer. Sure, he’s big and strong and he can scramble, but he didn’t rely on the trickery of the read-option to open up the passing game.

RG3 showed tremendous passing ability, but he’s the best runner at the quarterback position since Michael Vick, and the Shanahans milked that for all it was worth until the “geniuses” outsmarted themselves and almost destroyed Griffin’s career. Griffin is a rare talent with a golden arm, but now he’ll probably need to rely more on that arm without the same threat posed by his legs. His numbers from last year mean much less in that context.

Kaepernick and Wilson also benefited from the threat posed by their running ability, but both of them had the luxury of playing for teams that were loaded with talent. Both teams had excellent defenses and two of the best running games in football. Alex Smith looked like a pro-bowler in the same 49ers offense before Kaepernick took over. So it’s hardly fair to compare their stats to Luck’s stats without taking that into account.

Wilson definitely showed me a lot last year, but he’s also playing a dangerous game when he runs out of the pocket. At least Pete Carroll isn’t as reckless as Mike Shanahan, but I’m still not completely sold on Wilson being an elite quarterback. That said, he gets another weapon this year with Percy Harvin, but I suspect NFL defenses will adjust to his game.

I’ll take Andrew Luck over all of them, any day of the week.

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