Ahh, the offseason. Time to wonder about what might have been in the past season and daydream about what will be in the upcoming year. And, in what's becoming an annual ritual, it's also time for people to come out of the woodwork to complain about the officiating at NFL games.
Well, don't count me among those who think that the NFL needs to make major changes in the way it handles its officiating.
In the 2005 regular season, the 32 teams in the NFL combined to run well-over 37,000 plays. This includes kickoffs, runs, passes, punts, field goals, safeties, and plays lost due to penalty. 37,000 plays.
That's a whole lot of football.
Now, even if you factor in that there are approximately 20 plays per week of the regular season where a penalty was called and shouldn't have been or a penalty should have been called was not, it becomes obvious that the officials are getting the play called correctly 99% of the time.
In statistics, that's called three standard deviations - an absolutely unbelievable rate. In fact, that sort of accuracy is unheard of in almost every other manual quality checking system. Given that, you can’t tell me that the zebras do a bad job.
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I have had it with this season's TV commercials.
For starters, while I like John Mellencamp, the "This is our country" line of commercials Chevy has been running caused me to stop watching Sunday Night Football. And not that I was ever going to consider buying a Dodge Nitro, but the "so dense that they will fall through the center of the Earth" commercial and the "blow up other car when providing a jump start" commercials have caused me to consider crashing into them while I'm driving and I see one.
Of course, the worst of the car commercials had to be Lexus' "December to Remember" commercials. Maybe I just run in some low-brow circles, but I don't know anyone who's going to buy someone a brand-new $40-50K car for Christmas. But what really makes it worse were the the two masculinity-challenged neighbors trying to passive-aggressively convince each other that the new car with the big red bow on it is theirs and not the other guy's. It just makes me want club the two of them to death with a spiked club.
Regardless, at the top of my list of commercials that I never want to see again are the damn CitiBank Rewards commercials with the obnoxious Russian guy and his Teller-esque little lackey. I would pay CitiBank just to watch the two of them be dumped into a tank full of hungry piranhas and eaten alive.
As you are aware, there have been a few coaching changes since January 1st.
Arizona: The Cardinals fired Denny Green after 3 miserable seasons and 1 very memorable press conference explosion. (While a lot of people are aware of Green's little tirade, what I haven't seen is a lot of people giving him credit for being right.) Green's replacement will be former Steeler offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, a creative play-caller who stresses the fundamentals.
My take: Whisenhunt is being brought in to rebuild an offense that is loaded with talented skill position players who cannot seem to get it together. He has to rebuild his offensive line, but if he can do that, he should be able to convert this team into the new class of the NFC West.
Atlanta: Arthur Blank fired Jim Mora after 3 seasons of less-than-expected performance and 1 joke using very poor judgement. While no one can deny the fact that Mora's team collapsed with a 2-7 finish this year, the fact is that he's been set up to fail because too many people (including the Falcons' owner) have the utterly ridiculous expectation that this team should secure a perennial Super Bowl berth simply because Mike Vick is the QB. He'll be replaced by Bobby Petrino, who was lured out the University of Louisville for about $5M a year.
My take: Since the end of the 2000 season, the last 4 college head coaches to opt for the limelight and prestige of the NFL -- Steve Spurrier, Butch Davis, Dennis Erickson, and Nick Saban -- have all won National Championships (well, Davis would have, if given the chance in 2000) and have all met with categorical failure. I don't care how good Petrino thinks he is, he's going to fail. Part of it will be the difference between college and the pros and part of it will be working for the second-worst owner in the NFL.
Miami: Completing what started as an insider's leak and grew into a full-blown media circus, Nick Saban quit as head coach of the Dolphins in order to return to being the head coach of the University of Alabama. Aware Dolphins fans will tell you that this is actually a blessing as it had become increasing obvious that Nick Saban the GM was no better than either of his predecessors (Dave Wannsted or Rick Spielman). He will be replaced by San Diego offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
My take: In Miami's 11 years post-Shula, the franchise's 4 head coaches have all had defensive backgrounds. One thing that quickly became apparent in Miami's coaching search was that they were looking for new a head coach with an offensive background. Cameron comes to Miami with experience fixing all the things that are broken with the Dolphins (QB & offensive line) and he has more talent at the skills positions than he had in San Diego. Once he fires Daunte Culpepper, he'll have Miami back in the playoffs.
Oakland: When Al Davis rehired Art Shell, he said it was a mistake to have fired him in the first place. When he announced that Shell would not be returning for a second season as head coach, you had to wonder whether Davis, at 77, should still be running the day to day football operations of his team. Currently, Oakland has not hired a replacement.
My take: Word on the street is that Al Davis will probably hire Steve Sarkisian (USC's 32-year old passing game coordinator) as the next head coach. Believe it or not, that's probably the best thing option for the Raiders. Historically, this team has done it's best when coached by young guys (Madden and Gruden built some pretty good teams).
Pittsburgh: As expected, after 15 seasons, 10 trips to the playoffs, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and 8.956 billion drops of spittle sprayed, Bill Cowher called it quits to a good run in Blitzburgh. In doing so, he forced the Steelers to begin only their second such endeavor since Chuck Noll was hired in 1969. Currently, the Steelers are still without a head coach.
My take: I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the old expression: "You fire the coach because you can't fire the players." Dan Rooney once said "When you fire the coach because you can't fire the players, the next guy usually comes in and fires the players. We feel that it's not worth getting rid of a good coach just to get rid of the players." That tells me that the Steelers are going to be in the market for a guy who can be the head coach of their team for the next 10+ years. I think that Ron Rivera will be that guy.
- Since leaving Oakland, CB Charles Woodson has lost a lot of weight and is playing some of the best football of his career. He's faster and his improved speed is really allowing his instincts take over and let him make plays.
- If Brett Favre comes back next season, it will be for one reason and one reason only: to break Dan Marino's TD record. I don't care what he says, that's his only reason. Now, for those who care about comparitive numbers, in 242 games as a starting QB, Marino threw 420 TD passes and 252 INTs. In 241 games, Favre has thrown 414 TD passes and 272 INTs.
- Mike Vanderjagt, cut after 11 games this year. Who saw that coming?
- I think LaDainian Tomlinson's 31 TDs this year is an amazing statistic. When you stop to think about it, whoever breaks his record will average 2 TDs per game.
- Hmm, in his contract year, Asante Samuel led the NFL with 10 INTs. Who do you think will grossly overpay for his skills next year?
- I might be the only one, but boy do I miss ESPN's NFL Primetime. NBC's recap show just does not interest me. As far as I can tell, it's Sterling Sharpe and a slew of morons.
Since the dawn of the current millennium, the NFL's management has perennially raised the issue of parity within the league (and continued to pound that drum with the zeal of a toddler) and used the premise of "maintaining competitive balance" to defend any and all attempts to eliminate the pro-longed, dynastic regimes that have been a hallmark of other sports (such as baseball and basketball).
Well, I would like to show you some facts that might surprise you because they point to a different picture of reality that the one the NFL would have you believe.
Over the ten season span from 1996 through 2005, three teams made it to their respective conference championship game 4 times. Those would be the New England Patriots (1996, 2001, 2003, and 2004), the Philadelphia Eagles (2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1997, 2001, and 2004, 2005). Two more teams have made their respective conference championship game 3 times. Those are the Carolina Panthers (1996, 2003, and 2005) and the Denver Broncos (1997, 1998, and 2005). These five teams account for 45% of the available conference championship game berths during the last ten years.
You can't tell me that those numbers indicate parity to you, can you?
However, in the interest of being fair, I should mention that 8 teams have made it to their respective conference championship game twice (Atlanta, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee) and, of those 8, only the Packers have appeared in back to back championship games. Also, there are 6 teams (Baltimore, Indianapolis, NY Giants, NY Jets, San Francisco, and Seattle) who have made their conference championship game once.
All in all, 19 franchises have made it to a conference championship game, which represents around 60% of the teams in the NFL, and 13 franchises have not (although, two of those teams, Cleveland and Houston, haven't existed for all of the past ten seasons).
That said, the NFL's results at "parity" aren't remarkably different from Major League Baseball's results. Over the same span of time, 17 baseball franchises have advanced to their respective league championship series while 13 franchises have not. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in advanced mathematics to realize that roughly the same number of baseball (17 of 30) and football (19 of 32) franchises have been in positions to compete for a championship over the past 10 years. (However, I will admit that 3 baseball teams -- the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, and St. Louis Cardinals -- account for 43% of MLB's championship series berths since 1996.)
Basically, what it all comes down to is that all of the tinkering and tweaking that the league makes is still not as important as the management in charge of each individual franchise. Good management produces good results while poor management produces poor results.
Since I already mentioned that I find NBC's "analysis team" to be inferior, it raises a question in my mind: If you were starting a football show on TV, who would comprise your dream team of football analysts?
Remember, these aren't the in game announcers, these are the talking heads who sit in the studio and babble (often inanely) before, during, and after the games. Please feel free to email me your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While you're at it, please feel free to submit your "nightmare team" (a list of analysts who should never again be allowed to speak in public) too. Next month, I'll post my "dream team" and "nightmare team" as well as provide a recap of all the responses that I receive.
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