I should have Frank Sinatra crooning in the background this morning:
“And the days dwindle down, to a precious few…”
Today is the Final Football Friday; it began in August; it went on hiatus for a couple of weeks; and today it goes into hibernation until next August. Two weeks ago, the picks in the Six-Pack were El Perfecto. Those picks went 4-0-0 bringing the season totals to:
- Overall: 49-32-4
- College: 20-9-1
- NFL: 29-23-3
College Football Commentary:
Last week, LSU named Bo Pelini as their defensive coordinator. Pelini is known for his “rough edges” – in terms of intensity and in terms of language – from his days as the head coach at Nebraska. Pelini arrived at Nebraska in 2008 replacing Bill Callahan who had the temerity to post 2 losing seasons in 4 years in Lincoln. From 2008 until he was fired in late 2014, here is a rough overview of Pelini’s teams:
- Cumulative record: 66-27-0
- Bowl game appearances in all 7 seasons – – including the one where he was fired
- Ranked in the Top 25 in 4 of the 7 seasons.
Husker Nation was not satisfied with that; after all, Pelini’s teams lost 4 or 5 times a year and that was unacceptable. So how have things gone in Cornhusker Land since they rid themselves of “Boorish Bo” Pelini:
- Cumulative record: 28-34-0
- Bowl game appearances in 2 of the 5 seasons
- No Top 25 rankings at all.
Things will not be calm and serene on the LSU sidelines next season. Nonetheless, LSU has acquired a competent football coach. He may not be the kind of person who behaves in a way that you think is a role model for children – – but he can coach football.
Each year – as a silent protest to the needless “dark weekend” between the Championship Games and the Super Bowl – I do not mention the Super Bowl game in any of the rants for those two weeks. Now that we are within 60 hours of kickoff time, I’ll pay attention to the game that should have been played last Sunday.
If you recall, the NFL season began on a Thursday night in early September; the Packers and the Bears got things started with a game that ended 10-3. It was an interesting game because it was the first one of the season and because it was close all the way to the end, but it lacked any sort of “adrenaline factor”. If a Super Bowl game were to end up 10-3 such that every possession during the game had the potential to change the lead or double the lead, it would be exciting. Also exciting would be a 48-45 game where the teams moved up and down the field like a basketball game. Personally, I am hoping things skew toward the 48-45 scenario on Sunday.
I want to take a moment to consider the two teams that lost two weeks ago thereby missing this week’s game.
- The Green Bay Packers have two areas in need of improvement. The offense needs an upgrade at WR; it appears as if Davante Adams is the only one on the roster who can get open quickly. Do not look at the stats from the Packers/Niners game and be deceived by the Packers’ passing yards; most of those yards came as a desperate attempt to play catch up. In the first half, the Packers’ pass offense produced a net of only 65 yards.
- The Packers’ first half offense was miserable all around – – not just in the passing game. Here are how the Packers’ first half possessions turned out: punt, punt, punt, turnover, turnover, punt. Just to be clear, that stinks.
- The Packers also need to shore up their run defense. The Niners had even fewer passing yards in the first half than did the Packers (only 48 yards) but the difference was that Raheem Mostert had been running the ball down the Packers’ throats for half the game. In the first half he had 160 yards rushing and scored 3 TDs.
- The Tennessee Titans may have major roster moves foisted upon them due to salary cap constraints. Derrick Henry will be a free agent and he is going to cost a lot more than he cost last year. Henry is an important part of the way the Titans play offense, but RB is a position that comes with uncertainty. Two years ago, the Rams spent big for Todd Gurley and now have an expensive RB with “knee issues”; last year, the Jets opened the wallet and signed LeVeon Bell and got decent – but hardly season-changing – production from him.
- Also, the Titans have two QBs on expiring contracts. Ryan Tannehill played his way into a payday last season; Marcus Mariota will not cost nearly as much but did not produce nearly as much either. There are significant financial decisions that the Titans’ front office will need to make.
- The team’s most pressing need would seem to be speed in the secondary. I know that the Chiefs offense is predicated on speed, but some of the open receivers two weeks ago were almost castaways out there…
Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this observation about the Titans’ loss to the Chiefs two weeks ago:
“The most-relieved coach to lose a playoff game in NFL history?
“That would be Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel, after 6-month-old video resurfaced of him vowing to cut off his own manhood if the Titans won Super Bowl LIV.”
One of the most trite and meaningless phrases used regarding football teams is tossed about whenever a new coach takes over. He is there to “change the culture” – as if this is a microbiology lab where they need the little beasties to grow more quickly. In most cases, it doesn’t mean a damned thing and produces even less in terms of results. However, the Niners may just be the exception that proves the rule.
Things got very “testy” in SF at the end of the Jim Harbaugh regime. Coach Harbaugh and GM, Trent Baalke probably could not have agreed that the sun came up in the east on any given morning; the owner, Jed York, dithered and let that simmering pot boil over and then chose to side with Baalke in the dispute. Harbaugh was ushered out of town and the organization went through a futile search for a replacement coach.
Coming up dry, the team hired Jim Tomsula who was on the staff already and who – despite being a decent position coach – was totally unprepared to be a head coach. He lasted one year on the job and went 5-11. [Remember, this team was only two seasons removed from one that had been to 3 consecutive Conference Championship Games and a Super Bowl game.] Even the discombobulated front office of the time recognized that a coaching change was needed, and they started a search again. By this time, the organization had not descended to the same level of dismissal as the Cleveland Browns but lots of folks looked askance at all the intrigue and all the drama that permeated the team. That next coaching search landed Chip Kelly who was fresh off being fired by the Eagles. That was an even worse time for the Niners; Kelly’s team went 2-14 and Kelly was out of a job after one year.
Then came the “culture change” – but it really didn’t come about with a new coach or a new GM. The “culture change” came from Jed York who is the exec that owns/runs the team. York made a decision to hire the tandem of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to rebuild the franchise and then Jed York took an important step:
- He stepped away and let the two guys he hired to run the team run the team.
That may not sound like a decision that arose from a Nobel-Laureate thought process, but it is a decision that some less-than-fully-functional teams seem incapable of making. Might this be a lighthouse in the fog recognized by the likes of:
- Jimmy Haslam in Cleveland
- Woody Johnson in NY
- Danny Boy Snyder in Washington [Kyle Shanahan was on the Skins’ staff don’t you know…]
- Dean Spanos in LA?
Somehow, I doubt that is going to happen…
But that decision by Jed York produced a Super Bowl team with a 2019 record of 13-3 that had only won 10 games in the previous 2 seasons combined. Moreover, the Niners had the second worst record in the league just last year yielding the second pick in the Draft only 9 months ago. Things changed in SF – – but the change started at the top and not with the new coach.
Speaking of Niners’ coach Kyle Shanahan, he is making his Super Bowl debut this weekend and he will be half of the first father-and-son tandem to be the coach of a Super Bowl team. His father, Mike Shanahan was the Broncos’ coach in the mid-90s when the Broncos won back-to-back Lombardi Trophies. [Interestingly, Mike Shanahan has a third Super Bowl Ring because he was the offensive coordinator for the Niners when they won the Super Bowl in 1994. The ‘90s were good times for Mike Shanahan…]
Andy Reid has been to the Super Bowl once before as coach of the Eagles. His team lost to the Patriots in that game and lots of people think that Reid needs a win here to assure his inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I happen to disagree; I think Andy Reid should be in the Hall of Fame even if he loses this weekend and decides to retire and never coaches another game. But that’s just me… Reid has the Chiefs in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970 when the Chiefs beat the Vikings just before the merger of the NFL and the AFL. To put that in some sort of historical perspective, the last time the Chiefs were in the Super Bowl, Apollo 11 had landed on the moon only six-months before…
Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – had this observation regarding the Chiefs return to the Super Bowl this year:
“I just hope now Kansas City Chiefs fans don’t get cocky and expect to make it to the Super Bowl every 50 years.”
[Aside: Another fun fact here is that 50 years ago, Jack Buck did the TV play-by-play for the Super Bowl game; this year, his son, Joe Buck, will be doing the play-by-play for the game on FOX.]
As is too often the case, the main focus for much of the hoo-hah leading up to the game has been on the two quarterbacks – as if they will ever be on the field at the same time playing against one another. There are plenty of similarities:
- They are both young; Garoppolo is the “old guy” at age 28.
- They are both playing in their first Super Bowl.
- They are both good on the microphone as well as on the field.
Moreover, they have another similarity that was pointed out to me by Bob Molinaro with this entry in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“In passing: For what it’s worth, neither Patrick Mahomes nor [Jimmy] Garoppolo were even four-star recruits out of high school. Mahomes was a three, Garoppolo a two.”
So much for high-school rating systems…
SF vs. KC – 1.5 (54.5): The spread opened as a “pick ‘em game” but moved to this level very quickly and then stabilized here. The Total Line opened at 51 points, jumped to 54 points rather quickly and then has risen another half-point in the last two weeks. I think there are four key questions that will decide this game:
- Can the Niners 4-man pass rush get to Patrick Mahomes? As Steve Young has pointed out several times in the past two weeks, the Niners ability to get pass pressure with only 4 pass rushers is a critical ingredient in their pass defense that drops 7 people into coverage. That factor is even more important here because Mahomes can run and the Niners may need to “spend a defender” to spy on Mahomes in some situations.
- Can the Chiefs recover against the Niners defense from an early deficit? In both playoff games this year, the Chiefs have fallen behind early and then came roaring back. The rally against the Texans was surprising only by its magnitude; the Titans’ defense is better than the Texans’ defense, but it was still exploitable by the Chiefs with their speed. The Niners’ defense is better than either of the Chiefs’ prior opponents.
- Can the Niners’ defense deal with the overwhelming team speed of the Chiefs? To some measure, the answer here is closely related to Question #1 above. If Mahomes has time and the chiefs’ WRs have time to motor downfield, the Niners’ excellent defense may be in a significant bind. However, do not dismiss the speed factor of the Chiefs in their running game and in their return game; they have some flyers there too.
- Can the Chiefs’ defense force the Niners out of their run-first offense? If they cannot, I think the Chiefs will lose the game. They need not shut down the Niners’ run game to something absurd like “less than 50 yards for the game”, but they cannot allow the Niners to drive the field and consume 8 or 9 minutes per drive unless the Chiefs are perfect on offense all game long.
I am not going to go through the umpteen prop bets that are available out there to look for ones to put in this week’s Six-Pack. In fact, there will be only two selections there – coming soon. However, if you are a trend bettor, there are two props out there that might entice you:
- Will there be a score in the final 3:30 of the game? Yes = minus-190. No = +160. There has been a score in the final three-and-a-half minutes of the last 5 Super Bowl games. In blowout games you might see nothing happening at the end as both teams just play out the string. If you see this game as a tight one, there could be plenty of incentive for both teams to score late in the game.
- Will there be a 2-point conversion attempt? Yes = +140 No = minus-130. Believe it or not, there have been 2-point conversion attempts in 8 of the last 10 Super Bowl games. I was surprised to run across that stat…
I’ll put the Niners plus the points in the final Six-Pack of the season and I’ll put the game to go OVER 54.5 points in the Six-Pack as well.
I think the game is a toss-up; the teams are evenly matched and by taking the Niners with a point-and-a-half I get the protection against them losing by a single point. I think the Niners will score on the Chiefs defense and that the Chiefs will make a bunch of big plays to keep up. That will send the total score OVER 54.5 points. [Aside: I do not expect this game to be the highest scoring Super Bowl ever; that honor belongs to the 1994 game between the Niners and Chargers where the Niners won 49-26. That was the game where Mike Shanahan was the Niners’ offensive coordinator, by the way…]
For those who are interested in trends:
- The Chiefs are 7-0-1 in their last 8 games against the spread.
- The Niners are 6-2-1 in their last 9 games against the spread.
Good luck drawing a conclusion there…
Finally, Football Friday will go into hibernation as of today only to re-emerge next August. However, let me close with an observation based on a hiring decision made by an NFL team this week:
- The Cincinnati Bengals announced the hiring of Dan Pitcher as their QB coach. Now, if only they can find someone named Sam Catcher to serve as their wide receivers’ coach…
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………