What to Know : After the Super Bowl

football, games, bowlIf we were hoping for a great game to end the 2012 season, we certainly got it.

To me, there are four defining moments that stick out from the game:

1. The Very First Play

Let’s set the stage for this conversation by noting that teams script their first 15 or so plays for every game in advance so that they go into the game with a plan of attack. Thanks to the two week layover between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, teams have an especially long amount of time in which to prepare. That first play for the Niners? It had to have been installed at least 10 days ago, and rehearsed a hundred times physically and mentally since then.

The play design was successful: a 20 yard gain by tight end Vernon Davis. The execution? Not so much. And not even because of a hold or a fumble or something that happened in the physical act of playing the down. It was an illegal formation (the tight end was covered up by the wide receiver (which means he was deemed illegible because they both lined up on the line of scrimmage on the same side of the field)) – a mental error. To have a mistake like that occur on a play that has been installed for well over a week – the first play of the game! – that would have resulted in a 20 yard gain for the offense was bad news for the Niners. They seemed unsettled from the get-go, and that first play only reinforced the sentiment.

2. The Blackout

I maintain that it was Jim Harbaugh’s intensity that blew a few thousand fuses and resulted in the second stadium blackout of his career. Be that as it may, the blackout seemed to swing the momentum from the Ravens to the Niners, who were all but momentum-less up to that point. But despite the fact that the Niners scored 17 unanswered points following the blackout, I thought the fact that they had 35 minutes to come up with a winning play call on 3rd and long and yet still didn’t convert was telling.

3. The Non-Call

Ok, this is the tipping point for SB47 controversy. During the Niners final drive in the red zone Kaepernick threw a fade to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith defended the route and there was mutual contact between Crabtree and Smith in what could have been called either holding or pass interference (you can watch the whole play and judge for yourselves here). But there were no flags on the play.

Forgive me, 49ers fans…I think it was a good non-call. For several reasons: 1. It was consistent with how the rest of the game was called. There was a LOT of physicality allowed and personally, I thought it was great. It’s the Super Bowl. The players should be allowed to play all-out for the win. 2. It wasn’t a catchable pass. Contact or no contact, that ball wouldn’t have been caught in-bounds. You can’t reward a bad play with a bad call – especially when it has the potential to decide the winner of the Super Bowl. 3. That there was contact between the two was undeniable, but isn’t contact legal in the first 5 yards? That would take care of the interference call, and to go back to the first point, the refs hadn’t called holding all night. It wouldn’t have been right to call it there, on a questionable play, and not call it in the other situations all night.

This will be rehashed relentlessly for the next weeks/months because we’re pathetic and have nothing else to talk about now that the season’s over, but I don’t think there’s any need. It was a good call.

4. The Safety

The David Tyree catch in Super Bowl 42 was probably the most dramatic ending to a Super Bowl that I remember seeing. But the Ravens intentionally giving away the safety to run out the clock and effectively win the game with only 4 seconds remaining? That has to be the weirdest, most genius end to any Super Bowl I’ve watched in my lifetime. It kind of summed up the Ravens season: it was never pretty, and it was never what you would have expected, but they always got the job done.

Well done, Ravens.

A few of my favorite takeaways from Super Bowl 47:

The beautifully commissioned chalk work showcased on the ESPN promos, the great history of New Orleans Super Bowls, the bursting-with-potential Sam Gordon, the feature CBS did with Chuck Pagano’s daughters, the HarBowlO.J. Brigance, the blackout, this NFL fan commercial, the safetyRay Lewis, Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith. And when I want to go back and remember the game later on when those memories start to fade, I’ll reread these articles from Peter King and Mike Tanier – both worth a read right now if you haven’t seen them yet.

What did you all think? Which plays and moments stood out to you?

What to Know : Super Bowl 47

football, games, bowlPeople, this is our final What to Know post of the season. Super Bowl Weekend has almost arrived, and with the joy comes the sorrow: this is the end of football for the next 6 months. (This blog, however, will remain active throughout the entire off-season. More details on that next week!)

However, there is a time to mourn, and a time to dance. And this weekend? We be dancin’, Mardi Gras style in New Orleans. Because it’s the BEST weekend of the whole year!!!

Here’s what you need to know about Super Bowl 47:

What to Know from History: These two teams have met before, and fairly recently: the first Harbowl was played two Thanksgivings ago, a 2011 game that the Ravens won. While there are plenty of lessons that can be learned from that game in anticipation of Sunday (a fairly sturdy one: expect more defense than offense), both teams are markedly different than when they met a year and a half ago. The Ravens have a new offensive coordinator (Jim Caldwell); the 49ers, a new offensive leader (Colin Kaepernick).

One piece of history that can’t be overlooked is the 49ers Super Bowl record: 5 wins, 0 losses. That’s a pretty impressive streak. The Ravens don’t have an L in their Super Bowl column, either. But they do have 4 less W’s. So, there’s that. But still, winning one Super Bowl > losing one Super Bowl > not even making it to the Super Bowl.

Another piece of history to note: a No. 2 Seed has double the chance of winning than a No.4 Seed does. Since 1975, eight No. 2 Seeds have gone on to win the Super Bowl – four No. 4 Seeds have won.

The Niners were the 2 Seed this year.

What to Know on Sunday: Colin Kaepernick will be making his 10th career start on Sunday. That’s insane. He doesn’t seem to scare easy (even though he seemed more than a little out of sync in the first half of the NFC Championship game) and he’s far from flying blind. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said this week that former starting QB Alex Smith, who was benched in favor of Kaepernick while playing the best football of his career, has been coaching Colin more than he has as a head coach.

That’s the epitome of character.

So Kaepernick doesn’t appear to be coming apart at the seams. The Ravens, on the other hand, might be fraying a bit. The Ray Lewis Deer Antler Scandal is one of the most mind boggling attempts at controversy in recent memory, but it’s a distraction nonetheless. (And just as an aside – is 2013 going to be the year of ridiculous animal-based sports stories? Catfishing? Deer Antler Spray? WHAT?) That might have been a passing storm, but Ed Reed’s comments yesterday about wanting to play for rival coach Bill Belichick might be the rumbles of an oncoming earthquake. It’s not that the Ravens are hopelessly derailed and doomed for failure. Not at all. But what’s preferable: trying not to be distracted by controversies, or not having any controversies to be distracted by in the first place?

But those are off the field issues fueled by the irrational level of hype surrounding Super Bowl Week. On the field? At this point in the season it’s pointless to talk about injuries: everyone is playing hurt. Justin Smith doesn’t seem to have been terribly hindered by the triceps that is only half as attached to the rest of his body as it used to be; ditto: Ray Lewis.

There are compelling arguments for how the teams match up and which players need to play best for each team to gain an advantage. I agree with Ben Muth’s thoughts about Michael Oher – he needs to have a great game for the Ravens running game to be successful. I also agree that for the Niners to win, their DB’s need to execute their complex schemes effectively to make it harder for Joe Flacco to throw and complete his signature deep bombs. If it comes down to a kick? Advantage: Ravens. David Aker’s 2012 success rate: 69%. Ravens rookie Justin Tucker: 91%.

I love reading about how teams match up against each other, but it usually comes down to this: the team that comes in most prepared and executes to the best of their ability wins the game. No matter how the teams match up on paper.

Who are you guys rooting for? I’ll be cheering on the Ravens, but I know that plenty of San Fran lovin’ friends who will be overjoyed if the Niners come out on top, so that would be fun too.

No matter who we want to win, I think we can all agree that Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, parents of Jim and John, are just about the best thing to happen to Super Bowl Week since…Super Bowl Week. They’ve been a light in a dark tunnel of media craziness. This transcript of their media day interview is absolutely worth a read, but at the very least, be sure to watch this video.

Ok, guys! I think that about covers it. I hope you feel ready to go! Enjoy Super Bowl Weekend!!!

Wait…What Just Happened? : The Pro Bowl

football, games, bowlThere are no real plays to break down today because yesterday was the Pro Bowl and complexity and controversy are not part of the Pro Bowl code. But that’s ok! Because we get 21 weeks of highly competitive football; we can have one week that is still competitive, but fun at the same time.

Just in case Roger Goodell decides that this is the end of the road, I want to remember this year’s game. Here were 10 of my favorite moments from yesterday’s Pro Bowl:

  1. The kids playing ukulele at the opening. Oh, my heart. 
  2. Brian McKnight should really sing the national anthem at every game for every sport. Including little league and Pop Warner. He did a phenomenal job.
  3. No Hawaiian shirts?! What’s up with that, Pro Bowl?! These people on the sidelines won’t make me laugh repeatedly for the next 3 weeks every time I remember them!
  4. One minute: scrolling through Twitter. Next minute: look up and see J.J. Watt on offense. It’s stuff like this that makes me love the Pro Bowl. When else are you going to see the (likely) Defensive Player of the Year take a snap at tight end?
  5. One minute: scrolling through Twitter. Next minute: look up and see J.J. Watt displaying some Halloween gore on his hands/face/jersey. Showing a ripped up finger to the camera as proof for the commish that this year’s Pro Bowl is being played hard? Well played, JJ. Nicely done.
  6. Getting to watch the last snap ever between legendary pair Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning was such a special moment. That’s reason enough to keep the Pro Bowl around, in my opinion.
  7. Ed Hochuli with the calls, and the commentary: “Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl.”
  8. Getting to see Larry Fitzgerald catch real passes for touchdowns (sorry, Arizona QB’s).
  9. A free play on a kicking penalty that ends with a punter chasing down and WWF tackling a safety; Phil Dawson’s backwards soccer trick kick; JJ Watt lining up for a second offensive snap which ended up getting picked: things you only see in the Pro Bowl.
  10. The wonder that is Peyton Manning, coaching players throughout the entire game, both on and off the field. He might be the best thing that’s ever happened to the Pro Bowl, and the most convincing advocate for it’s continued existence.

It’s never a bad day when the NFC puts on a dominate performance. Final Score: AFC 35, NFC 62.

Big surprise without the surprise: I really enjoyed the Pro Bowl this year. People can rip it and say it’s a joke, but it’s honestly something I look forward to every year. And it seemed like the players really made an effort this year; I’ll have my fingers crossed all offseason that it was enough!

How about you guys? Did you watch the Pro Bowl? Did you enjoy it?

What to Know : The Pro Bowl

football, games, bowl, The playoffs have ended and the Super Bowl is still a week away. Which means that on Sunday around noon, a general sense of panic will descend upon football-lovers everywhere.

What do we do?!?!

It’s a tough time in our lives.

But luckily, we know that the Super Bowl is right around the corner, and until then, we have a football-like entity to fill the void: the Pro Bowl.

Now, if you ask me, it’s the perfect buffer between life with football and life without it. The Pro Bowl eases us into understanding that we’re going to have to live without football in our lives every Sunday for the next six months (insert weeping here). It’s not a competitive game, but it’s not not a game either, so it’s kind of a slow transition into the offseason.

I’ll take whatever I can get.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the wonder that is the Pro Bowl, here are 5 things to know in advance:

1. It’s kind of a contradiction.

This is an all-star game, an honor bestowed upon players by colleagues, coaches, and fans, but it’s played like a preseason game. And often times…worse than a preseason game. The effort level over the past few years has really been wince-worthy – last year’s Pro Bowl being particularly ugly.  It’s this type of thing that has drawn the ire of fans and league officials alike, and the reason why the fate of the Pro Bowl is in jeopardy.

I can understand why players don’t give 100% after a grueling season when they are basically on vacation in Hawaii with their families and don’t want to risk getting injured. That makes sense. However, there still needs to be some measure of personal pride that makes you want to show up on the field for any game, especially one that should be an honor to play in.

Luckily, Peyton is back for his millionth Pro Bowl this year, and he wasted no time whipping this year’s crew into shape, setting high expectations, as always. So maybe this year, when the players know the future of the Pro Bowl is in their hands, it’ll be different.

2. You’re going to see a lot of screen passes. 

Like, a LOT of screen passes. It’s pretty much the only offensive play call.

3. You get to see Mike McCarthy and John Fox in Hawaiian shirts.

Likely two of the last guys (Bill Belichick might be the last guy) who would ever consider donning a Hawaiian shirt of their own volition. I don’t know why, but seeing an entire NFL staff in Hawaiian shirts never fails to bring me joy. It’s just so funny. This year’s NFC team will be led by the Packers’ Mike McCarthy and his staff while the AFC honors went to the Broncos’ crew. Fans can expect McCarthy to throw a few trick plays into the mix and Fox to not.

4. It might be an historic event.

As mentioned above, due to the fact that the level of play has been just shy of abominable over the past few years, the NFL is threatening to cancel the Pro Bowl if this year’s showing isn’t markedly better. And really, that would be a lose-lose for everyone. Fans would miss out on one more week with their favorite players, and, most of all, players would miss out on learning from the best in the biz and celebrating a huge accomplishment with their friends and families.

I understand that people get their panties in a bunch because the Pro Bowl isn’t a knock-down drag-out fight to the finish. But can’t we all take it down a notch? I love the Pro Bowl because of the atmosphere. It’s nice to see players get to relax a little bit and have fun on the field. And it’s one more week of football! What so bad about that?!

5. It’s your best bet.

Really, what else are you going to watch on Sunday night at 7pm if not the Pro Bowl? Let me give you your entertainment options: You’ve got 60 Minutes on CBS, America’s Funniest Home Videos on ABC, and Bob’s Burgers on FOX. Come on, now. Even if you don’t like football, the Pro Bowl might be the best option if only for the screen shots of Hawaii. It’s January, people. We’re desperate for this type of warm-weather programming.

Do you guys usually watch the Pro Bowl? Will you be watching this year? Why or why not?

The Basics : The Super Bowl

Just as the Super Bowl is the culmination of the football year, our Basics information is also coming to a close. This is our LAST Basics post!!! We made it!!! Next week we’ll have two more divisional posts and then…a final exam! Time to start hitting the books!

In the NFL, there are two conferences, the NFC and the AFC. There are four divisions within each conference (north, south, east, and west), and four teams in each division (resulting in 32 teams). Twelve teams make it to the playoffs, six from each conference.

To make the playoffs, a team has to place first in their division. During the 16-game schedule a team plays all of the other teams in their division twice: once at home, and once away. Example: the Packers will play the Lions, the Bears, and the Vikings once at Lambeau (home), and they will also travel to Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota to play each team at their own stadium (away). That accounts for 6 games each season. The results of these divisional games are especially important because a team needs to win their division to make it to the Playoffs. If two teams in the same division have the same overall record the team that has the best divisional record gets the playoff spot.

The remaining 10 games are played in an even split of home and away games on a rotating schedule against all of the other teams in the league.

The four teams that win their division from each conference are ranked (“seeded”) according to their regular season record. That results in 8 teams total. The remaining 4 teams are called “Wildcard” teams. These are the two teams from each conference who have the best regular season record. Don’t count them out just because they’re the last ones in – Wildcard teams can be dangerous in the playoffs! (2010 Packers, I’m looking at you.) (!!!)

The playoffs are a single elimination tournament played over the course of four weeks (one of which is a free week in between the conference championship game and the Super Bowl). At the end of the playoffs, one AFC team and one NFC team remain. The AFC and NFC Champions play each other in the apex of all that is good in the world: the Super Bowl.

And after the Super Bowl we mourn the offseason…the absence of football for an ETERNITY (or about 6 months).