2013 NFL Preview
History Lesson: The Curse of Wade Phillips continues: Buffalo has not made the playoffs since 1999, when Phillips poked the football gods in the eyes by benching Doug Flutie in favor of Rob Johnson. What did Flutie do to deserve the benching? Simply guide the team to 11-5 and a playoff berth. Johnson played serviceably during the Wild Card duel with Tennessee, but with 16 seconds to go the Titans scored on a famous game-winning kickoff return.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: As the only team to play in the state of New York, the Bills will stick it to the Jets and Giants by winning the Super Bowl on their home field in New Jersey.
Karmic reason they won’t: When you start cheating on your fan base with Toronto, you’re asking for another 14 years of amateur football.
History Lesson: The 1972 Dolphins, owners of the NFL’s fifth and last undefeated season, finally were invited to visit the White House, per tradition. The visit was postponed in 1973, presumably because Richard Nixon was busy trying to decide what to erase on his private tapes. To this day, the ’72 Dolphins remain the most obnoxiously arrogant team in NFL history.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The city of Miami needs an NFL trophy to balance out the vitriol it has endured from back-to-back NBA championships.
Karmic reason they won’t: The Dolphins gave into temptation and revamped their uniforms and logo. The dolphin on the helmet has been stripped of its own little football helmet. Now it’s just a dolphin. What fun is that?
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
History Lesson: The Patriots are one of three teams (Dallas, Pittsburgh) to have played in at least seven Super Bowls, and the only one of the three with a losing record (3-4) in the big game.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Beleaguered major league Boston teams have won a scant seven championships since 2001. They’re due.
Karmic reason they won’t: The gruesome Aaron Hernandez saga figures to be a Ben Affleck-written and -directed film by 2016. You can’t have a Super Bowl win capping off a story like that.
NEW YORK JETS
History Lesson: The Jets are the last NFL team to have played in New York City, and the last pro team to have won a championship game in New York City. Why shouldn’t they be the first to win a Super Bowl on its home turf?
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: When the highlight of your season is a comedic internet GIF with near-universal recognition, you’ve got some good karma coming.
Karmic reason they won’t: They pissed off God by barely using Tim Tebow, then releasing him, opening the door for him to sign with the rival Patriots. Bill Belicheck has a way of rubbing these things in at the right time. Oh, and this…
History Lesson: Last season was the Texans’ best in their short history. Yet they STILL haven’t defeated the rival Colts in Indianapolis.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: This is Houston’s year to get over the hump and finally prove… wait, don’t we say this every year?
Karmic reason they won’t: Matt Schaub Fever may have run its course.
History Lesson: It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 30 years since the Colts last called Baltimore home. Prior to 1984, there were three NFL teams in the state of Indiana: The Evansville Crimson Giants (1921-22), the Hammond Pros (1920-26), and the Muncie Flyers (1920-21). Hammond was one of three early teams coached by Fritz Pollard, the NFL’s first black head coach.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: They have a head coach (Chuck Pagano) who survived cancer and a quarterback named Luck.
Karmic reason they won’t: Riddle time. Indy had the NFL’s Coach of the Year last year, who then left them for Arizona. However they still retain the same head coach from last year. How is this possible?! Bruce Arians went 9-3 in Pagano’s absence while the latter battled leukemia. He is the only interim head coach to win Coach of the Year. It’s not really a karmic reason, so much as a logical one: Arians was offensive coordinator under Pagano.
History Lesson: The Jaguars are owned by Shahid Khan, who hails from Lahore, Pakistan. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Khan is the first Pakistani to own an NFL team.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Khan is the epitome of the American immigrant success story. He moved to the U.S. at age 16, staying at a YMCA and studying at the University of Illinois. He worked at an automotive manufacturer out of college, then started his own company making car bumpers. Khan then bought his former employer, merged the two, and grew it into a $2 billion-a-year venture. Upon becoming uber-rich he bought the Jaguars. Since the NFL itself was conceived in an automobile showroom in 1920, Khan’s hardscrabble origin story should net the team plenty of karmic rewards.
History Lesson: The things one learns researching football…Nashville has a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in one of its parks, and its nickname is The Athens of the South. I always presumed Athens, Georgia was the Athens of the South, but Nashville holds the moniker, owing to its 24 institutions of Plato-like higher learning. (Athens, GA has three. Pfffft.) This Greek influence sheds new light on the franchise’s choice to be named “Titans” upon moving from Houston. I always figured it was just a nod to the Jets’ former nickname, nothing more. And hey – the team’s stadium was originally called Adelphia Coliseum! “Adelphia” of course is Greek for brotherhood. It’s all coming together n… wha? Oh, Adelphia was a telecommunications company that owned the naming rights. It’s since gone the way of the ancient Greeks, who in 146 BC were annexed by Time Warner.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Head coach Mike Munchak has been with the organization continuously since 1982, when the team (then the Houston Oilers) drafted him. The football titans (gods) love throwbacks. Also, in a nod to the Twelve Labours of Hercules, running back Chris Johnson raced a cheetah last month.
Karmic reason they won’t: Who am I, Yale University professor of Greek history Donald Kagan? They’ll probably lose a lot because of a negative passer rating differential.
History Lesson: Since the Ravens have only been around since 1996, it’s hard to talk about pro football history in Baltimore without mentioning the Colts, both the NFL and AAFC versions. But how many people remember the Baltimore Stallions, who played in Memorial Stadium from 1994-95? Probably a few north of the border readers––the Stallions were a Canadian Football League team, existing during a brief period of CFL expansion into the U.S. This included CFL teams in Sacramento, Shreveport, Las Vegas, Birmingham, San Antonio, and Memphis. Most of these teams fared poorly, but in football-starved Baltimore the Stallions drew well and performed well. They lost the Grey Cup game (that’s the CFL’s Super Bowl, people) to British Columbia in 1994, and actually won it in 1995, beating Calgary. It’s amazing that nobody ever talks about this––except perhaps in Baltimore and Canada. In any case, all the U.S.-based teams folded after 1995, with the Stallions moving to Montreal. The CFL doesn’t have the same continuity as the NFL, so the Alouettes do not consider the Stallions part of their history.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: After losing several savvy veterans in the offseason, including Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Anquan Boldin, the Ravens have every reason to think that nobody believes they can repeat. Quarterback Joe Flacco will also want to back up that huge contract he signed.
Karmic reason they won’t: Joe Flacco cannot possibly back up that huge contract he signed.
History Lesson: The Bengals’ finest moment as a franchise was in the 1981 AFC Championship Game, a.k.a. The Freezer Bowl (actually played on January 10, 1982). The temperature was minus 9 with a minus 59 windchill; the Bengals endured a 97-degree swing in temperature that week after winning in balmy Miami in the previous round. The visiting San Diego Chargers never stood a chance and were downed 27-7. Cincinnati’s head coach was Forrest Gregg, who had coincidentally played in the famed “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay a decade and a half earlier.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has led the team since 2003, making him the second-longest-tenured with one team after Bill Belichick of the Patriots. The Bengals have shown unusual dedication to Lewis, who has a 79-80-1 record in Cincinnati. That includes four playoff berths and two division titles. By comparison, Belichick has 11 playoff berths, 10 division titles, five conference championships, and three Lombardi Trophies.
Karmic reason they won’t: The Bengals successfully conned Hamilton County (of which Cincinnati is county seat) into one of the most lopsided publicly-funded stadium projects in sports history. Paul Brown Stadium, built in 2000, sucked up more than 16% of the county’s budget in 2010. Now the team is “asking” the county for a new $10 million, high definition scoreboard. The Bengals’ lease requires new technology to be implemented in its park if it exists in at least 14 other NFL arenas, according to this article at Cincinnati.com. The county is still finding its way out of the budgetary woods, and may not have the money, which means it might have the audacity to ask the team to chip in.
History Lesson: Are there any Browns fans in Connecticut? A little-known fact about Cleveland and northern Ohio was that it was once part of the Nutmeg State. After the Revolutionary War, Connecticut laid claim a vast strip of land shooting west from its border, at one point all the way to California. It ceded lands in Pennsylvania, but the strip in what is now northeastern Ohio was then referred to as the Western Reserve. Eventually Connecticut sold the land to the federal government in exchange for war debt forgiveness, but the Western Reserve lives on in a few examples, including in Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The city of Cleveland is doing nothing but building up sports karma. At this rate they’ll win between 10-15 football, baseball, and basketball championships beginning some time around 2040.
Karmic reason they won’t: Browns owner Jimmy Haslem is hinting at changing their classically ugly uniforms. Don’t do it! Too many uniform designs aim for sleek, market-researched-to-death banality. Football is a brutal, muddy, ugly game and the Browns’ uniforms appropriately reflect this. Change what’s on the field, Mr. Haslem.
History Lesson: When the Pittsburgh Steelers––then called the Pirates like their baseball brethren––began play in 1933, they played their first four home games on Wednesdays. This was due to puritanical blue laws on the books in Pennsylvania, which barred athletic competition on Sundays. The laws were repealed in the November general elections of that year.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: When the Steelers are down, they don’t stay down long. They missed the playoffs after an 8-8 season last year, but have shown remarkable resilience and usually bounce back from disappointing seasons, thanks to solid drafting and excellent coaching.
Karmic reason they won’t: They’re in a division with the defending world champion Ravens and the suddenly consistent––if not yet intimidating––Bengals. Even a wild card berth will be a struggle.
History Lesson: Here’s a tale of good old fashioned home field advantage. On November 11, 1985, in a Broncos-49ers game at Mile High Stadium in Denver, San Francisco was in position for a 19-yard field goal – practically a gimme. The ball was snapped, but holder Matt Cavanaugh was suddenly distracted by a snowball that landed in front of him and seem to have come from, er, the stands. He bobbled the snap, then threw a desperation pass to no one that fell incomplete. The Broncos took over on downs and eventually won by a 17-16 margin.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Nobody in the crowd threw a snowball at the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones as he reeled in a late game-tying pass in January’s AFC Championship Game.
Karmic reason they won’t: Your outside linebacker is suspended six games because his urine drug test becomes bad slapstick comedy.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
History Lesson: The Chiefs wound up with the first overall draft pick in the 2013 draft, something they’ve never “accomplished” before. Previously the highest they’d drafted was second overall. That most recently happened in 1988, after they finished the ’87 season 4-11 (one game was missing due to a players strike). The Chiefs selected defensive end Neil Smith, one of their finest draft picks ever. Proving that one player cannot turn around a team by himself, the Chiefs improved by the smallest possible increment in 1988: They added a tie, going 4-11-1 in a complete schedule.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: All kidding aside, it was a devastating year for Kansas City, as linebacker Jovan Belcher committed suicide on the team’s campus after killing his girlfriend. He took his own life in front of then-coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli.
Karmic reason they won’t: Head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith, 20 yard line, a minute fifteen remaining, down six. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment, KC fans.
History Lesson: Since getting blown out by the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII, Oakland has posted a 49-111 record, with zero playoff appearances. Every Super Bowl runner-up since has qualified for the playoffs at least once after losing the big game.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: After showing proper respect and tribute to late team founder Al Davis, the Raiders have begun purging in earnest everything Davis ever touched in the organization.
Karmic reason they won’t: It could take decades to work off the bad mojo of Al Davis.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
History Lesson: The Chargers finally fired head coach Norv Turner after an underwhelming 7-9 finish in a weak division. Getting rid of Turner always seems like a good idea, but beware! The Redskins fired Turner and started the 2001 season 0-5, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs. The Raiders fired Turner and subsequently went 2-14 in 2006. Luckily for San Diego they’ve hired neither Marty Schottenheimer nor Art Shell, but a budding former assistant named Mike McCoy.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: When a team comes out of the Norv Turner wilderness after six seasons, it must be like Tom Hanks returning to civilization in Cast Away. Attention San Diego Chargers: We now have a black president! Second term!
Karmic reason they won’t: The Chargers must have done something terrible to have gotten bilked out of both Mannings.
History Lesson: The Cowboys might like playing in the Canadian Football League, whose season culminates in November. Since Tony Romo took over as starting quarterback, Dallas is 14-23 in games played in December and January. Last season the Cowboys were 8-6 before losing their final games and finishing out of the playoffs.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: It’s make-or-break time for head coach Jason Garrett. In 2 1/2 seasons in Dallas, his Cowboys have finished in 3rd place and out of the playoffs each season.
Karmic reason they won’t: In 2012, Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones proclaimed, “There’s no way that I would be involved here and not be the final decision-maker on something as important as players, and that is a key area.”
NEW YORK GIANTS
History Lesson: Former Giants head coach Bill Parcells was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. His record in eight seasons with the Giants was 77-49-1. He went 8-3 in the playoffs, including 2-0 in Super Bowls. Current Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has spent nine seasons in New York, going 83-61 in the regular season, 8-3 in the playoffs, and 2-0 in Super Bowls. Coughlin was an assistant on Parcells’ staff in 1990 when they won Super Bowl XXV. So was Bill Belichick, against whom Coughlin has won both of his rings. Next in line for Canton?
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Nothing like a quiet postseason to keep things humming along. Even the one drama––the Victor Cruz holdout––got settled easily. Big Blue doesn’t always make the playoffs, but they’ve finished .500 or better every year since 2005.
Karmic reason they won’t: Super Bowl story lines that are too colossal to happen: Eli vs. Peyton in Super Bowl XLVIII in New York; Giants vs. Jets in Super Bowl XLVIII in New York; Giants vs. Patriots in Super Bowl XLVIII in New York; and really the Giants winning Super Bowl XLVIII in New York. Also: An NFC East team defeating the Giants in the NFC Championship Game in New York, then winning the Super Bowl there. In each of these scenarios, the East Coast sports media would collapse upon itself, become a black hole and suck down the whole country plus parts of Canada.
History Lesson: There are fewer stadia in sports lore with a worse reputation than old Veterans Stadium in Philly. Home to the Eagles from 1971-2002, and baseball’s Phillies from 1971-2003, Veterans was built during the cookie-cutter multipurpose ballpark era, when they were built in brutalist fashion and their fields were carpeted with Astroturf. The turf at the Vet was so low quality that it sunk in around the infield where cutouts were used to cover up dirt. Ravens head coach Brian Billick once refused to play an exhibition game there after inspecting the turf, and Bears wideout Wendell Davis blew out both knees catching a pass there when his cleats got stuck. (This ended his career.) The locker rooms contained a chest full of porn shared by the Phillies and Eagles, and holes in the wall for peeping at undressing cheerleaders. A team of roaming cats was employed to take care of the stadium’s rat and mouse infestation. And, famously, the Vet housed a holding cell and court for patrons arrested for misdemeanors – or worse. It’s one saving grace was that it was not the site of Santa Claus’ booing by Philadelphia fans. That happened at Franklin Field in 1966.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell says: “I felt very strongly, and still do, that our only chance for that to happen is with Mike Vick at quarterback playing at his 2010 level. There simply is no other way we can score enough points to be in the race all the way.
Karmic reason they won’t: Ed Rendell, again: “Despite my natural optimism, all year long, I’ve felt pessimistic about our beloved Eagles… When asked by Birds fans how I thought we would do this year, I replied 7-9, and I’m not sure I really believed we would even do that well.”
History Lesson: The Redskins franchise has been around since the 30s, originally playing in Boston as the Braves. As you may have noticed, early NFL teams often adopted the same nicknames as the local baseball teams, looking to capitalize on that sport’s immense popularity. When the football Braves switched to Fenway Park, they changed their name to Redskins, keeping the Native American theme while borrowing the “red” in Red Sox. Unofficially, the franchise was resurrected twice from the vestiges of defunct teams, first the Duluth Eskimos/Kelleys, then the Orange/Newark Tornadoes. The NFL does not, however, consider it a direct line, as there was a period of dormancy between each “move.” (The “remains” of the Newark franchise was sold to a group in Boston two years after it played its last down.)
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: With a season under his belt and the full trust of his teammates and coaches, this looks to be a breakout year for the exciting and versatile Dr. James Andrews.
Karmic reason they won’t: I’m all for individualism, especially in the No Fun League, which polices uniforms and apparel on the sidelines for any trace of nonconformity. Nevertheless, as a grammar nerd, it drives me a little crazy to see Robert Griffin III running around on Sundays with the name “Griffin III” stitched on his back. NFL jerseys place surnames on the backside; when two players of the same team share a surname, a first initial is used to distinguish. In any case, “Griffin III” is not his last name. The family name is Griffin, and “the third” is a generational title to distinguish the Roberts Griffin in his own family. I suspect the cachet of having such a unique name is great for selling jerseys, which is probably why the league lets it fly. I’d love to see this boundary pushed further: How about Geno Smith add “Esquire” to his name? This is what I want to see––thousands of Jets fans wearing jerseys that read “Smith Esquire” on the back.
History Lesson: It ain’t easy being a Falcons fan. With five consecutive winning seasons, this is arguably a golden age for this franchise, and yet it’s been maddeningly stuck in playoff neutral. Last season’s end, a loss at home to the 49ers in the conference championship game, represented progress; the Falcons hadn’t been out of the divisional round during Mike Smith’s tenure. Prior to Smith’s arrival, Atlanta had never even put together back-to-back winning campaigns, and its moments of glory read like blips on a radar screen: 1980, 1991, 1998, 2004… Yet here the Falcons sit, in a period of sustained success but no rings, like the Milwaukee Bucks teams of the 80s. Maybe this is the year.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The Falcons went for a youth movement in their backfield, releasing 31-year-old Michael Turner and signing 30-year-old Steven Jackson, late of the Rams, who continued to defy the odds by squeezing out 4.1 yards per carry last season.
Karmic reason they won’t: In spite of its string of winning seasons, Emory University ranked Falcon fans next to last in a study of “fan equity.”
History Lesson: In their 18-year history, the Panthers have finished with a 7-9 record more than any other record, if that makes sense. They’ve finished with 7 wins, 9 losses, seven times. The Panthers have always seemed to me like one of the more successful expansion teams, probably because they fell just short of the Super Bowl in their second season, and had a little run of success a decade ago. In fact, Carolina has only finished four seasons above .500 and enjoyed four playoff berths.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Cam Newton, over-hyped to under-hyped? All of a sudden he’s the forgotten young quarterback, amidst the early successes of RG3 and Russell Wilson and the read option craze. Flying under the radar can be a good thing.
Karmic reason they won’t: Fans voted the Panthers’ uniforms to be the “Greatest Ever” in an online poll at NFL.com. This is as good a reason as any to put a halt to fan voting in the Pro Bowl. Maybe also to eliminate electoral democracy.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
History Lesson: All pro sports teams are born of politics, but none more so than the Saints. When the NFL and AFL agreed to merge in the mid-60s, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had to sell the idea to Congress in order to ask for an exemption to antitrust laws. Two influential Louisiana Democrats, Senator Russell Long and Congressman Hale Boggs, served on a joint committee that would put an important stamp of approval on the process. In a blatant quid pro quo, both men asked Rozelle to put an expansion team in New Orleans. The system works!
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Head coach Sean Payton is back on the sidelines after his season-long suspension following the bounty scandal.
Karmic reason they won’t: Same reason.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
History Lesson: It seems weird today, but the Bucs spent their inaugural season of 1976 in the AFC West, battling Denver, Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego. Well, they battled their way to 0-14 and last place. Fellow expansion team Seattle spent that year in the NFC West; the two would switch conferences in 1977, with Tampa Bay moving to the NFC Central. That made a little more sense but still forced some strange “rivalries” with Green Bay, Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago. Realignment in 2002 moved them again, this time to the NFC South, with its more natural geographic rivalries.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The Bucs were 7-9 but lost a few close ones, including three games by two points or fewer. I know, horseshoes and hand grenades. If the defense can improve, the Bucs might be knocking on the wild card door.
Karmic reason they won’t: When your head coach sanctions nonsense like plowing through a kneeldown, your team loses respect and becomes a target for retribution. The kneeldown incident could be viewed as an aberration, rookie head coach hubris, but Greg Schiano has long been regarded in NFL circles as an arrogant prick. While at Rutgers, he treated pro scouts with disdain, and once refused to move his team from the field so the Navy Brigade of Midshipmen could perform its customary pregame march. It’s unlikely he’ll make an effort to ingratiate himself at this point.
History Lesson: Indoor football arenas are common in 2013, having sprung up first in the late ’60s and early 70s in Houston, Detroit, and New Orleans. But the first indoor football game, played that way due to inclement weather, happened way back in 1932. That’s when the Bears took on the Portsmouth Spartans in Chicago Stadium in the very first NFL playoff game. Long a home to the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks, Chicago Stadium wasn’t big enough for a 100-yard football field. The gridiron in this unique game was ten yards narrower than normal and just 80 yards long; teams that crossed midfield were “penalized” and moved back to their 20 yard line. A gathering of 11,198 fans braved the subzero temperatures and blizzard conditions to see the Red Grange haul in a touchdown pass as the hometown Bears shutout Portsmouth, 9-0.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Is new head coach Marc Trestman the man to shape and guide quarterback Jay Cutler? Trestman has a long career in which he’s coaxed solid seasons from various quarterbacks as offensive coordinator. He got good numbers out of Bernie Kosar first at the University of Miami, and a few years later in Cleveland. He’s coached decent seasons out of guys like Jake Plummer and Scott Mitchell, and ran the offense for the 2002 Raiders and MVP Rich Gannon. In the mid-90s he ran a prolific 49er offense, and he also led Montreal to two Grey Cup wins. It’s worth noting that this will be Jay Cutler’s eighth season and we’re still looking for someone to “develop” him.
Karmic reason they won’t: A .563 winning percentage, a Super Bowl appearance, a two-game improvement and a 10-6 record in 2012… and Lovie Smith was shown the door. It’s a cutthroat business, and it’s easy to see that the Bears were stuck on a treadmill. Still – a lot of teams would kill to average 9-7 over nine years.
History Lesson: Those Portsmouth Spartans mentioned above went on to become the Detroit Lions. The Spartans played in little Portsmouth, Ohio from 1929-1933 before moving to Motown. Their former home, Spartan Municipal Stadium, is still used by high school teams today. The last surviving Portsmouth Spartan was a man named Glenn Presnell, a halfback out of Nebraska. In 1933, Presnell led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and scoring, and in 1934 (the team’s first season in Detroit) he kicked a then-record 54-yard field goal. But Presnell supposedly influenced the Lions off the field as well. After signing his contract in Detroit, he was asked by team owner George Richard to pick the Lions’ new team colors. Presnell later recalled, “Mr. Richards, the owner, the day I was up there and signed my contract, he said: ‘There’s a table out there in the next office covered with uniforms. Why don’t you pick out the colors you like?’ I went out. My wife was with me. We saw this Honolulu blue and silver and we fell in love with it.”
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The Lions have won one playoff game and lost ten in the Super Bowl era. These things are supposed to turn around sooner or later, right?
Karmic reason they won’t: Head coach Jim Schwartz’s team seems undisciplined. But in 2012, it ranked just 13th in penalties. That included just one Roughing the Passer, zero Personal Fouls, and nine Unnecessary Roughnesses. By contrast, Baltimore’s respective tallies were five, three and seventeen, and the Ravens were second in the league for little yellow flags overall. And they won the Super Bowl. Maybe the Lions have too much discipline.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
History Lesson: The Packers will wear their much-maligned throwback uniforms against Cleveland in Week 7. It is current media groupthink that these uniforms are objectively ugly, but consider this writer in the minority that thinks it’s the current Packer uniforms that are an eyesore. While the throwbacks look a little silly by remaining true to the original design (including a “leather brown” colored helmet and beige pants), with some modifications they would be a vast improvement and befitting of a team with such a storied history. Team founder Curly Lambeau, who attended Notre Dame, chose their iconic colors of blue and gold as the Packers’ original colors. As the Fighting Irish do, the Packers switched green in and out on occasion. It wasn’t until the 1950s that hunter green and “taxicab” yellow became entrenched as team colors. (The Packers were dreadful then, and once wore yellow jerseys that matched the Rams’ shirts in a desperate attempt to confuse the better team in a 1952 contest. Green Bay quarterbacks wound up throwing five picks in a 45-27 loss.) Again, as with Notre Dame, the scheme would at least be better with a metallic gold in lieu of the ballpark mustard yellow. Add to that the inane “G” helmet logo – so it just stands for “Green”? – and you’ve got a terrible looking outfit, in my opinion. The problem, if you could call it that, is the franchise has won seven championships with variations of this scheme, during the era of skyrocketing NFL popularity and the rise of televised games. There is so much iconography and emotional investment in the design, any attempt at change would be met with serious backlash.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The Packers had one of the most frustrating winning/playoff seasons in 2012. They suffered the indignity of the Fail Mary game in Seattle, blew a lead and the game to the #Chuckstrong Colts, got blown out of the Meadowlands in an over-before-it-began loss to the Giants, couldn’t find an answer to the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, and bookended the season by being dominated by San Francisco. It’s rare to think of a team as “bouncing back” from 11-5, but that seems to be the Packers’ mindset.
Karmic reason they won’t: Green Bay seems content, year in and year out, patching together an offensive line that’s mixed-and-matched with underwhelming players. With $110 million invested in Aaron Rodgers and some new talent at running back, it will be disappointing if the line cannot get leverage and push this season.
History Lesson: The Vikings have never won an NFL championship, except the time they did (how’s that for a Yogi Berra-ism?). The ’69 Vikes were a team on the ascent, going 12-2 with a good offense and outstanding defense. Minnesota dropped 50+ points three times, once against the terrible Steelers but also versus very good Rams and Browns teams. Opponents averaged 9.5 points per game against Minnesota that year. In the playoffs, the Purple People Eaters edged the Rams, then dominated Cleveland in the NFL Championship––yes, Championship––Game.
So what the hell? Well, 1969 was the third season of the Super Bowl era, and though the leagues hadn’t yet merged, their respective champions were facing off in January in that nascent title game. As such, Minnesota ran into a powerful Kansas City team, with perhaps a better defense, and lost 23-7. The Super Bowl was being marketed as the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” and it should not be understated that losing to the junior circuit meant something. Just ask the ’68 Colts, who were upset by the Jets the year before. Retroactively, we consider the Super Bowl winners as the league “champions,” even though from 1967-69 the two leagues operated independently and produced their own champions. It’s just the luck of the Minnesota Vikings and their fans that their only technical NFL Championship still confers on them runner-up status. The team was even chronicled on the America’s Game: The Missing Rings TV series as one of the best teams never to have won a Super Bowl.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Adrian Peterson, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, continues to see his talents wasted by a team that cannot seem to locate a professional quarterback.
Karmic reason they won’t: Speaking of those old 70s Vikings teams… The Vikes will play at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, while they await the construction of their new indoor stadium. The Vikings played at TCF in 2010 following the roof cave-in at the Metrodome, and on that late December, Monday Night game against the Bears they looked like the Vikings of yore. Viking owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have agreed to put up half the billion-dollar cost of the new park, but plans are currently on hold while the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority checks out the two brothers in the wake of being found to have committed fraud and breach of contract in an old court case. In any case, we can enjoy watching the “throwback” Vikings playing outdoor home games for a couple of years.
History Lesson: The Cardinals have a history that predates the NFL, starting out as the Morgan Athletic Club in 1898 and playing in Chicago city leagues off-and-on during the next two decades. When they moved to Normal Park on Racine Avenue in Chicago, the team called itself the Racine Normals, but switched to the Racine Cardinals upon donning faded-maroon uniforms that looked cardinal red. They were charter members of the NFL in 1920, and in the league’s first two seasons still played as the Racine Cardinals. Only when a team from Racine, Wisconsin (the Legion) joined in 1922 did the Cardinals switch to their name to Chicago Cardinals to avoid any confusion, though the misconception still exists that the Cardinals once played in the city of Racine.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Let’s go back to the end of Week Four in 2012. The Cardinals are 4-0! They’ve beaten the Seahawks and upset the Patriots in Foxboro! They’re the team to beat in the NFC West! And then they were beaten, and again, and again…In one huge gut punch to fans, Arizona finished 5-11. They need payback.
Karmic reason they won’t: New running back: Rashard Mendenhall (already sidelined with a knee injury). New quarterback: Carson Palmer. Picture him throwing against the Seahawks and 49ers defense this fall… twice each.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
History Lesson: Imagine a team today winning the Super Bowl and then relocating a month later. That’s what happened almost 70 years ago, when the Cleveland Rams won the 1945 NFL championship over Washington on December 16. A month later, owner Dan Reeves pressured the league to allow him to move to the 92,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum, which after some resistance the NFL allowed. While it may sound like the first of many gut-punches to Cleveland sports fans, the city didn’t miss a beat as it welcomed the newly-formed Browns (of the rival AAFC) in 1946. That team won the first four AAFC championships, then three more after being absorbed into the NFL in the ’50s. Coincidentally, the Browns lost the ’51 title game to the Rams, which you may remember watching on the DuMont Network.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: The 49ers and Seahawks have sky-high expectations and they’re due for a letdown! The Rams also upgraded their O-line, bringing in left tackle Jake Long.
Karmic reason they won’t: It seems like this is a once-glorious franchise that’s in a rebuilding rut, but upon further review that “rut” has been a playoff drought of eight years and no winning record since 2003. Those glory years only lasted from 1999-2003. It’s possible the Rams move back to LA before they win another Super Bowl.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
History Lesson: The 49ers lived large off the read option formation in the postseason, surprising many a team in the stodgy NFL with its new take on an old trick. Offensive tinkering is nothing new, of course. In fact, the Niners were innovators of the now-common shotgun formation, implemented by coach Red Hickey in 1960 as a variation of the double wing “B” formation. Hickey used it to protect quarterback John Brodie from fast pass rushing teams like the Baltimore Colts, to considerable success. The formation was later revived in Dallas by Tom Landry, and is today a staple of every offensive playbook.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: With an athletic, accurate young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, a fast, hard-hitting defense, an aggressive head coach, and the bitter aftertaste of Super Bowl defeat, San Francisco seems to be everyone’s favorite to hoist that trophy.
Karmic reason they won’t: With Michael Crabtree sidelined until November, the Niners appear thin and aging at wide receiver. (They traded for soon-to-be-33-year-old Anquan Boldin in the offseason.) Though they do have a dynamic tight end in Vernon Davis. That’s it. I don’t really see a problem with this team.
History Lesson: The first head coach in Seahawks history was Jack Patera, who went 35-59 with the newly-founded expansion team. Patera is the older brother of former Olympic wrestler and WWF star Ken Patera, a longtime “heel” and nemesis to Hulk Hogan.
Karmic reason they’ll win it all: Like San Francisco, Seattle has a talented stifling defense, an exciting young quarterback, and a head coach who’s easy to hate.
Karmic reason they won’t: Cosmic payback for the Fail Mary. There, I said it.