First and Ten
Carolina are for real. The Panthers have a defence that is mean, and a quarterback in Cam Newton who is fast growing up. In knocking off last year’s NFC Champion 49ers in a defensive slugfest, the Panthers have firmly announced themselves as a contender. Out of 26 clubs which played Sunday, only five scored less than the 19 points these two managed combined, all of them in losing efforts. One thing’s very clear. No one is going to much fancy seeing that D in the playoffs, and even though the Panthers have to play the Saints (twice) and the Patriots, 10-6 isn’t at all unrealistic for the 6-3 Panthers. They could do a bit better than that. I don’t see them as Superbowl winners yet but I don’t thing the best price 20-1 on them doing that will be available for much longer.
They should call it the Fumblebowl. There were eight of them in Jackonville’s surprise victory over the Titans. But the Jags recovered all three of theirs, and three of the five committed by the Titans. Which played a crucial role in their victory. Their offence was as torpid as ever with QB Chad Henne throwing two interceptions, against just the one by the Titans’ Jack Locker. The latter was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick after an all too brief return from injury. He showed a bit of moxie from where I was sitting.
Still, score one for the London Jags (with apologies to the City of Jacksonville). We’ll be seeing them for the next few years, and the Wembley crowd could have been forgiven for heading to the tube from midway through the second quarter after their derisory effort a couple of weeks ago.
Talk of an historically bad team emulating Detroit’s 2008 winless stretch is now just talk but it’s still hard to see where a second will come from, unless there’s another team that’s as fond as coughing the ball up as the Titans were.
Wembley will surely see a new QB in Jacksonville colours next year. It’s just a matter of which of the embarrassment riches from the college game they select with what seems sure to be the first or second pick in next year’s draft.
More blood among the quarterbacking ranks. Did Jay Cutler re-join the Bears too early? Sure looked that way after he threw 21 of 40 with a TD and a pick before leaving the game with an ankle problem. But it was worse for NFC North rival Green Bay, which lost back up Seneca Wallace early on leaving the Pack reliant on Scott Tolzien, just days after signing him from the practice squad. I watched a bit of him, and while he made a few throws, I doubt he’ll be given the same sort of run out the similarly undrafted Case Keenum is getting in Houston. Looks like old back up Matt Flynn may get another shot. After being beaten out by Russell Wilson in Seattle he was traded to Oakland where he was beaten out by Terrelle Pryor and then cut after a nightmarish start. Oh and then he was cut by the Bills. Bring me back home Green Bay!
Which brings us nicely into Monday night’s game. The Bully Bowl anyone? Winless Tampa Bay was providing one of this year’s unhappier off the field talking points. Remember the reports of coaches prowling the locker room looking for dissent followed by the leaking of (now ex) QB Josh Freeman entering the NFL’s drug treatment programme (he has a medical condition) with claim and counter claim about who was responsible. That all looks like a storm in a tea cup compared to what’s been going on in Miami in the wake of the bullying scandal that has made international headlines and resulted in the loss of two starting offensive lineman. Richie Incognito, whose obscene texts and voice messages aimed at team mate Jonathan Martin, featuring liberal use of the N word, gave his side of the story yesterday in an interview with Fox. You can see it here, although it doesn’t really shed much light on the situation.
Usually a mediocre Dolphins team against a winless Tampa Bay would be some way from must see TV. But with so much controversy swirling around both teams, this one’s a bit different. Tampa are 2.5 point underdogs. They have too much talent to remain winless and nearly clipped the Seahawks’ wings last week. Sometimes adversity can galvanise teams, but Miami has too much adversity and I’d be willing to take a punt that the Bucs can dine on Dolphin steak.
Back to School
One more year, shouted the Texas A&M crowd, but it seems a racing certainty that Johnny Manziel will enter the NFL draft. Has there been a more debated, or polarising, player since a certain Tim Tebow, now reportedly pursuing a career in broadcasting? Manziel’s the better passer. His personality is less shiny. All the same, while squeaky clean he ain’t, someone will take a chance on him.
Here’s hoping. In a game that stresses discipline and conformity, where penalty flags fly for even relatively modest celebrations, and quarterbacks are sometimes seen as corporate chief operating officers, Manziel provides a glorious splash of colour.
He was a thrill to watch on the Saturday, throwing, running, throwing on the run, making things happen in plays which should have been dead.
He completed 30 of 39 throws for 446 yards and five (count ‘em) TDs. Trouble is a third of those incompletions were interceptions and he already has more of those (11) than for the whole of last year (9). He’s still the best player in college football but may struggle to win a second Heisman trophy because he’s been a bit of a berk off the field.
The question is, how will his skills translate at the next level? A couple of those picks came from poor decision making. He tried to make something happen when he arguably should have thrown the ball away. The third, he just waited too long to throw. The message? Too much belief in your own ability to make magic can get you into trouble.
Much of Manziel’s production comes when plays breakdown and he has to improvise, which is does supremely well. But that’s harder to do against NFL defences, which are even less forgiving than those in the SEC. The reason Newton (see above) has got so much better this year is that he’s realised that. How long will it take the headstrong Manziel to learn the same lesson?
Florida football isn’t in a happy place outside of Florida State University. The best the pros from can do is those desperate Dolphins (see above). Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt Commodores were partying All Night Long (sorry, couldn’t resist a Lionel Ritchie Pun) after feasting on Gators on Saturday and as a result Florida is in very real danger of missing College Football’s post-season at 4-5. It has the aforementioned Seminole on the last day of the regular season (oh dear) and a 7-2 South Carolina team that still harbours hopes of wining the SEC East making up two out of the next three opponents. The banged up Gators are looking at a 5-7 finish if those games run to form. That’s not a problem for seven win Miami, but after an unbeaten start the U came back to earth with a bump after its beat down by the FSU. It followed that up with another kicking at the hands of Virginia Tech.
Flordia State, however, now a racing certainty to get to the national title game. At the moment, that’s against Alabama and if those two win out that’s it even if Ohio State (likely) and Baylor (harder to see but still possible) pull off the same feat. Christmas would be very happy if the powers that be managed to bring in a four team playoff a year early. It would also be extremely lucrative. C’mon ESPN. SHOW THEM THE MONEY!