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Eight Thoughts on a Bizarre Super Bowl

| February 6th, 2017

I couldn’t believe what I was watching. The morning after, I still can’t believe it. Eight thoughts…

  • The better team won this game. A lot was made of the adjustments made by the Patriots coaching staff as this game progressed but the truth is the Patriots were simply playing an awful game for the better part of three quarters. Brady missed wide open receivers. Edelman had a drop that was an easy 30-35 yard gain. Josh McDaniels couldn’t get a handle on things. When those mistakes stopped, the Pats scored at will.
  • After the brilliant Julio Jones catch, the Falcons are three kneel downs away from taking an 11-point, two possession lead and essentially ending the game. But what did Kyle Shanahan do? He went pass heavy. He went pass heavy!?!?!! Sack. Hold. For the second consecutive Patriots Super Bowl, their opponent lost their mind when the moment got too big.
  • The difference between 4-3 in the Super Bowl and 5-2 is night and day. The Patriots were staring down the barrel of being remembered as a slightly above mediocre Super Bowl team, with many pointing to luck (Pete Carroll) as the only reason they weren’t 3-4 in the Fantastic Football Foray. Instead, the coach and quarterback have five championships and lay claim to the label of the greatest ever.
  • Julian Edelman’s catch (pictured above) was poetic justice. For Tyree. For Manningham down the sideline. For the Welker drop in the open field. No, it didn’t happen against the Giants but there were few eyes not thinking of Big Blue when Edelman scooped the ball off the field of a Falcons defensive back. When that catch happened I thought, “this game is over”.
  • This was not the greatest Super Bowl of all-time. This was the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all-time. It’s hard to call a game great when one team completely folds. The Falcons didn’t sleep last night. They won’t sleep tonight. They won’t sleep tomorrow night. This is the kind of loss franchises have a hard time getting over and Atlanta immediately becomes the most fascinating team in the NFL in 2017. History and the odds will tell you this group will more than likely be sitting home next January.
  • How is James White not the MVP? His versatility and production were the number one key to the Patriots comeback. It’s always somebody you don’t expect with the Pats. This year it was White.
  • Shea McClellin, Super Bowl Champion.
  • The word I’d use for the game: surreal. I was texting with four different people over the course of the game. Here is a text from each one of them:
    • “Wow. This is just…wow.”
    • “I can’t believe this is happening.”
    • “Are the Falcons serious?”
    • “I can’t watch this.” (Jets fan)

One of the most memorable Super Bowls in history. And now the offseason begins.

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Super Bowl LI Prediction

| February 2nd, 2017

Honestly, I haven’t spent much time thinking about this Super Bowl. The NFL starts to drift from my mind moments after the conference championship games are concluded. (At this point, golf begins to take the leaves the lounge and comes into the showroom.) But having seen a boatload of both teams over the course of the season, here are five thoughts:

  • I don’t think the Falcons have enough in their secondary to handle the Patriots spread game. But Dan Quinn’s defense will need to do two things to keep Brady & Co. from piling up the points: (1) avoid the deep hit and (2) tighten up against the run inside the red zone.
  • Brady has lost two Super Bowls and both of them were not solely because of Eli Manning’s heroics. He lost those games because both of those Giants teams got after Brady with their defensive lines. Both of those Giants teams did not require blitzing Brady – which is schematic suicide – to pressure him into quick throws. While Vic Beasley led the league in sacks, the next guy on the Falcons had 4.5. They’ll need more than Beasley.
  • Is it safe to assume the Patriots will take Julio Jones out of this game when the entirety of the football universe believes the Patriots will take Julio Jones out of this game? If we all assume that, doesn’t Kyle Shanahan also assume that? And wouldn’t that mean there’s probably a healthy helping of Sanu and Gabriel and the two backs coming? I think Atlanta is going to have an easy time moving the ball.
  • This has nothing to do with Sunday’s game but I wonder where the Bears would be today if Phil Emery had listened to me and brought in Kyle Shanahan five years ago. I believed then, as I believe now, that Shanahan is going to be an excellent head coach in the league.
  • This game comes down to one player: Matt Ryan. He’s got a checkered playoff past but he has an opportunity to cement his legacy in the league Sunday and don’t think that hasn’t weighed on him the last two weeks. A Super Bowl title gives a quarterback a blank check for the rest of his career. Joe Flacco could write an essay for the Baltimore Sun denouncing the use of Old Bay seasoning and he’s still not going to be replaced as the Ravens signal caller.

The “expert” analysis seems to be moving towards Atlanta every day. I’m not going there.

New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 31

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Betting Super Bowl Sunday: Five Surefire Ways to Lose Money

| February 1st, 2017

Here are five bets for this weekend. Bet everything you have. Unless you have a problem. Then don’t bet anything. All odds from Paddy Power.

WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN: STEVE STRICKER FINISH INSIDE TOP TEN – 12:1

Several years ago I became the first person in Queens history to lose $1,000 on Super Bowl Sunday before the Super Bowl came on TV thanks to the fine efforts of Bubba Watson at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (A golf course I have played and loved.) It’s now become tradition for me to wager too much on this tournament, which often leaks through the opening kickoff and annoys many in the bar In which I’m watching.

Stricker is a very strange player. At his age and with his lack of consistent competition, he has two possible finishes. He’s either missing the cut by three shots or finishing something like T-4. I think he shows up this week and makes you a fortune.

COIN TOSS: TAILS

This is not a heads kind of game. Heads would be Steelers-Giants or Patriots-Cowboys. The Falcon presence on Super Bowl Sunday means tails will not fail.

FIRST TOUCHDOWN SCORER: TOM BRADY – 50:1

I had to double check these odds twice. Fifty to one?!? Listen, we know Brady isn’t exactly Colin Kaepernick but there are so many scenarios where I can envision Brady taking the ball into the end zone for the first score. And at this number, a $10 flier is winning you $500. So you root for a pass interference in the end zone on the Pats opening drive and you’ll probably get four tries to make magic happen.

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Super Bowl Preview Volume II: Why I Have No Problem With Greatness Prevailing

| January 31st, 2017

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I hate more than fluke champions. It devalues everything I long for from the Chicago Bears; everything that brings me to the keyboard each and every day. I’m not arguing the Atlanta Falcons would be a fluke champion should they win the Fantastic Football Foray. Far, far from it. But the most definitive reason why I have no problem with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady winning their fifth championship together is simple: greatness.

The Patriots of this era are the most brilliantly run organization in the history of professional sports. Don’t give me the heyday Celtics or late 70s Steelers or late 90s Yankees or Jordan Bulls or one of those hockey franchises that wins a bunch. Every one of those aforementioned runs had a talent advantage on the opposition. Their guys were better than the other guys. They won because they should win.

The Patriots operate at a time where championship continuity is seemingly impossible. They let solid veterans walk out the door and turn castaways into household names. Rob Gronkowski done for the year and maybe longer. Who cares? They lose their Hall of Fame quarterback and still win. They lose his backup and, guess what, they don’t lose.

The Patriots have Tom Brady. And Tom Brady is great. But how many times have the Patriots had the most talented roster in the conference, let alone the entire NFL? Their current defensive roster, the league’s best scoring unit, is nowhere near as talented as the reigning champs in Denver. Their skill players on the offensive side pale in comparison to the group they demolished a week ago from Pittsburgh.

But they are great because of Brady. And Belichick. And Ernie Adams. They are great and if they win their fifth championship Sunday, I will applaud them. They deserve it. Theirs is the success of which all fans should dream.

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Super Bowl Preview, Volume I: Why the Game Lacks Juice

| January 30th, 2017

“Super Bowl” is maybe the silliest name for a sporting event on earth.

What makes the game a bowl? (Bleacher Report traced the completely arbitrary origins.) Were the leaders of professional football in the late 60s so unimaginative that they just lifted nomenclature from the college game? The World Series is at least a series, even if the world has nothing to do with it. Play the game at The Rose Bowl every year if you’re going to keep the dumbo name.

And super? Really? That’s the adjective they decided upon? Even in the late 60s the word super was lame.

     Todd: Well, Jim, the game is gonna be really terrific.

     Jim: The Terrific Title Game. What do you think, Todd?

     Todd: Doesn’t pop, Jim. The name has to pop!

     Jim: The Fantastic Football Foray!

     Todd: Sounds too much like a burlesque show.

     Jim: The Super Bowl? I know it’s lame –

     Todd: Nailed it!

This Super Bowl lacks juice. Three reasons:

  • The best storyline is something that might happen after the game is over, with Goodell handing things to the New England hierarchy. People actually care about this? I don’t even watch the trophy presentation. And based on the way a majority of Super Bowls have gone, I probably won’t watch the tail end of the fourth quarter.
  • This NFL season was awful but the postseason has been a particular kind of grotesque. Outside of Cowboys/Packers, was there even an entertaining game? (Or don’t tell me that thing the Steelers and Chiefs did was entertaining.) As a huge fan of professional football, I’m hoping this season will merely be an anomaly. But I think it’d be foolish to expect this Super Bowl to save the season. Still, one can hope.
  • The Falcons. If this were the Cowboys, the game’s juice would be out of control. If this were Aaron Rodgers, the Rodgers v. Brady would make people salivate. But there’s something bland about the Falcons, even though they have the most dynamic offense in the league. I’ll be rooting for them Sunday but if they lose, it’ll take me about seventeen seconds to get over it.

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Weekend Show: Scott Wright of NFL Draft Countdown [AUDIO]

| January 26th, 2017

On this Senior Bowl Week edition of the Weekend Show:

  • Scott Wright sets the table for the upcoming draft, with emphasis on the quarterback position. Spoiler: He has Kizer as his top ranked QB. He also discusses Hooker v Adams, Solomon Thomas, a deep tight end class and how he’d proceed if he were running the Bears organization.
  • Reverend Dave on Mormons in Chicago.
  • Jeff warns there may not be a young, franchise QB available this off-season.

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Get a Quarterback, or Why I Could Give a Shit About the 3rd Pick in the Draft

| January 25th, 2017

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan put the Falcons up 24 on the Packers and nobody thought the game was over. Why? Because the Packers had the best quarterback in the sport not named Brady.

The AFC Championship game was played by two quarterbacks with 6 Super Bowl rings and 9 Super Bowl appearances – more appearances in the Terrific Title than every other quarterback in the league combined.

Let me make something clear, Bears fans. “With the third pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select Johnathan Allen, defensive end, Alabama” is not going to put the 2017 edition of the Bears into the postseason. The Jets have two of the best defensive ends in the game. Aaron Donald is a game-changing defensive lineman. Geno Atkins. Gerald McCoy. Ndamukong Suh. You know what those teams are all doing on Thursday April 27th? Picking shortly after the Bears. Sturdy defensive linemen are nice and all but they don’t move the needle. Pass rushers do. Playmakers on offense do. And, most importantly, quarterbacks do.

Before free agency, quarterbacks didn’t have to be great to win titles. They could be Jim McMahon or Mark Rypien or Doug Williams or Jeff Hostetler because the money was there to build a great team AROUND the position. Those days are a distant memory.

But Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have distorted the “franchise quarterback” conversation in the other direction because over the course of their careers, their divisions NEVER FEATURED ANOTHER GREAT QUARTERBACK. (Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is better than anything Brady and Manning ever consistently faced in the AFC East and South.) That’s why they are in the playoffs every year, with two of the three having limited success in the tournament. The other franchise-type guys: Eli, Flacco, Brees, Ryan, Rivers…etc. guarantee their teams nothing due to one primary factor: competition.

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The Stats Don’t Lie (or Say Much of Anything): Data Takes on the Senior Bowl

| January 23rd, 2017

I’m happy to be saying I’ll be doing a monthly offseason piece here at DaBearsBlog, helping fill the content void of the long offseason. Each one will be a numbers-crunching look at something Bears related in which I attempt to earn the “Data” moniker so kindly bestowed on me by the comments section regulars and, more importantly, answer a Bears question that I’ve been wondering about. If you have anything you’d like me to look into, let me know in the comments or email me at woodjohnathan1@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do.


I’m starting with a topic that I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about this week: the Senior Bowl.

John Fox and company will be down in Mobile, Alabama all week coaching around 100 draft-eligible players, giving them a first-hand look at their skills, mental makeup and attitude. This has many fans excited, as they dream of the surefire franchise-altering draft to come from this valuable knowledge.

So my premise here today is simple. I looked at coaches who coached in the Senior Bowl the last 10 years, how many players from that week they drafted, and how those draft picks panned out. Since Chicago is likely drafting their quarterback of the future this year, I also looked specifically at teams coaching in the Senior Bowl who drafted QBs.

Anecdotal Evidence

First, you should know that coaching in the Senior Bowl is no sure sign of good things to come. The teams that typically coach in the Senior Bowl are the teams with the worst record in each conference the previous season who retained their head coach. With that in mind, it’s not exactly inspiring to see that San Francisco and Jacksonville both coached in this game for three straight years at some point in the last decade. Clearly they didn’t gain valuable enough information to draft players who would stop losing the following year.

Those wanting to stay optimistic, however, would do well to look at San Francisco’s 2007 draft, when they spent 5 picks in the first 4 rounds on players they had just coached in the Senior Bowl. Those picks landed them Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, and Ray McDonald – each part of the core that made up one of the best teams in the NFL from 2011-13. I’m sure we’d all be thrilled if the Bears landed three high quality players like that from their experience this week.

Of course, the 2010 Miami Dolphins spent their first 4 picks on players they had just coached in the Senior Bowl and ended up with Jared Odrick, Koa Misi, John Jerry and AJ Edds. That’s not exactly a draft class that Super Bowl champions are made of.

Draft Frequency

Enough with the specific examples; let’s get into some hard numbers. From 2006-2016, teams coaching in the Senior Bowl drafted an average of 2.3 players from the Senior Bowl that year. This ranged from some teams picking no Senior Bowlers to a few who picked 5, making up most of their draft.

Two comments:

  • This is not a particularly high number. The Senior Bowl has about 100 players on average, and most of them get drafted, meaning that the 32 NFL teams draft roughly 3 Senior Bowlers on average each year. Perhaps there’s value in Senior Bowl coaches learning what players they don’t want on their teams?
  • These were mostly mid-round picks. 11 were from rounds 1-2, 10 in rounds 6-7, and 30 in rounds 3-5. So it seems those coaching at the Senior Bowl mostly look for players to fill out their middle rounds, though it might also be that those are the rounds where most Senior Bowl players get drafted (I don’t have the numbers on that).

General Draft Success

So in general don’t expect that the Bears’ 2017 draft will necessarily be full of guys from the Senior Bowl. Now the more important question: how successful are teams at drafting players they coached in the Senior Bowl?

It’s difficult to quantify draft success. The metric I used for the sake of simplicity – though I will admit this is far from perfect – is the number of draft picks who went on to make a Pro Bowl. Out of the 51 players drafted by these 22 teams, 9 made a Pro Bowl (so far, there’s certainly room for that to increase for some of the players from the more recent drafts). 9 out of 51 is a pretty good hit rate, as most teams would be thrilled if 18% of their picks became Pro Bowlers (typically about 100 out of 1600 or so players in the league each year). That’s especially impressive considering where those 52 picks were spent, with only 11 in the first 2 rounds of the draft. If you want to look at the list and make your own conclusions, feel free to do so here (http://bit.ly/2jsXLqg).

 It’s a tiny sample size, but worth noting that teams coaching in the Senior Bowl who draft Senior Bowl guys in round 1 do quite well.

 4 of 6 1st round picks made a Pro Bowl, though 3 of those 4 guys were drafted in the back third of the round.

 Most top 10-15 picks don’t go to the Senior Bowl for fear of dropping their stock through poor performance or injury.

 The official Senior Bowl site also likes to brag that 23 2016 Pro Bowl players (out of 86 total) were Senior Bowl alumni. Only 3 of those 23 players, however, were drafted by a team that coached them at the Senior Bowl, and only 2 of those three were still playing for the team that drafted them. 2 of 23 is not appreciably different from the 1/16th of the league that coaches in the Senior Bowl each year.

Quarterbacks

Now for the good stuff: did teams who coached in the Senior Bowl with an eye on finding their next franchise QB get what they were looking for? It’s a small sample size, but I think history here is actually quite encouraging. Since it’s a small list, I want to look at each instance one by one. That way we can examine the pick in context.

In 2006, the Titans had the 3rd overall pick. They took Vince Young, who was not at the Senior Bowl. They passed on Jay Cutler – who was far and away the best quarterback in that draft – after spending a week coaching him.

In 2011, the Bengals spent their 2nd round pick on Andy Dalton, who they had coached in the Senior Bowl. They couldn’t have made a better pick there, as Dalton is easily the best QB not named Cam Newton out of that draft and they had no shot at Newton.

In 2012 Washington traded up to the 2nd pick of the draft in the draft to select Robert Griffin III, who was not at the Senior Bowl. History has shown that to be a mistake, but Washington somewhat made up for it when they grabbed Kirk Cousins, who they had coached at the Senior Bowl in round 4. Of course, their best move would have been to wait and take Cousins, or grab Russell Wilson, another Senior Bowl QB that year. Apparently a week with Wilson was not enough to convince them he was a superstar in the making.

In 2013 Oakland spent their fourth round pick on Tyler Wilson, who they had coached at the Senior Bowl. Not exactly an inspiring selection, but at least the QB-desperate team avoided reaching for 1st-round Senior Bowl QB bust EJ Manuel. That entire draft was a wasteland for QBs, as the best ones so far have been Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley. So perhaps Oakland learned enough from that week to not waste a high pick on a bad QB just because they needed one.

In 2014, Jacksonville spent the 3rd overall pick on Blake Bortles, who was not at the Senior Bowl. The 2nd round of that draft saw Senior Bowl QB Derek Carr drafted, who has since blossomed into a superstar. Jimmy Garoppolo was also a Senior Bowl QB drafted in the 2nd round; there’s no saying at this point if he’s better than Bortles, but he looked very good in his brief stint earlier this year and could be a starter somewhere next year.

It’s starting to look like teams coaching at the Senior Bowl should avoid drafting QBs they don’t coach that week at the top of the draft. (Excepting, of course, Tennessee drafting Marcus Mariota 2nd overall in 2015 even though he wasn’t at the Senior Bowl.) I’d say that’s worked out pretty well for them so far.

Finally, both teams who coached at the Senior Bowl in 2016 drafted a QB they coached that week. Dallas grabbed Dak Prescott in round 4, and Jacksonville grabbed Brandon Allen in round 6. That worked wonderfully for Dallas, though to be fair they famously came out of Senior Bowl week wanting Connor Cook over Prescott. You can’t fault Jacksonville for a 6th round QB who doesn’t play as a rookie, but they also saw Prescott for a week and passed on drafting him 4 times.

Add it all up and what do you get? Of the 8 teams that coached in the Senior Bowl and drafted a QB that year, 4 found a solid starter or better. That’s pretty good, especially when you consider only 4 of those 8 were 1st round picks, right? Of course, 1 of those QBs wasn’t at the Senior Bowl, 1 was only drafted as a backup after trading the farm to draft a different QB, and 1 was only drafted because the guy they wanted was gone.

Summing it up

Overall, there aren’t a lot of hard and fast conclusions from this data. You can spin it to make it look good or bad, which means the main takeaway is this: coaching in the Senior Bowl might help, but it is no guarantee of either a successful draft or of finding your quarterback of the future.

So by all means pay attention this week. Watch, listen, and dream of the next Bears superstar who might be getting a head start under Chicago’s coaching staff, of the franchise quarterback who can lead them to the promised land. It absolutely could happen. Just don’t be shocked if that dream ends up being nothing more than a fantasy.

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