What ‘Fireman Ed’ means to me

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You might look at the title of this post and wonder, as a UK based fan, what on earth I could have to say about the impact of Fireman Ed and the JETS chant considering the biggest influence is (or was) felt by those at MetLife Stadium week by week.  However, as I tweeted already, it was that chant, led at that time by Fireman Ed himself, which first made me first feel like a Jets fan. I’ll admit, on that warm August night at Met Life Stadium in 2010, I had not a clue what was going on beyond that the Jets were playing the Giants but nevertheless the atmosphere and experience was enough to captivate my interest. Then, not long into the game, something started, something which sparked life around the whole stadium. J….E….T….S…. (you all know the rest). By the second reprise I was standing, wearing my crisp new white Mark Sanchez t-shirt purchased for the occasion, shouting ‘Jets, Jets, Jets’ at the top of my voice. There was something about that moment, the way the chant galvanised the fans in one voice, that completely swept me up in a wave of Jets mania, which I haven’t jumped off since. From then on, Fireman Ed was an integral part of the Jets for me (much as Rex Ryan was), appearing from time to time during TV coverage much to my excitement, until he hung up his helmet in 2012. Completely understandably, due to the abuse he frequently suffered from so called fellow fans, but nevertheless a huge loss to the Jets family.  When I visited Metlife again last year, the chant was still there (the Jets ran a competition for other fans to lead it each game) but it wasn’t the same. Ed was the face, the voice and the driving force and somehow some of the passion was lacking. The fact his stepping down was reported nationally is indicative of his impact. Having listened to him speaking so passionately on ‘Lets Talk Jets’ (@talkjetsradio) podcast about his love for both the Jets and the tradition of the chant, I got thinking about his importance, not only to myself, but to the wider Jets community.

British sports fans are familiar with the concept of the chant or song sung by fans of a particular team and for most English soccer teams, the singing of these is central to the game day experience. Some are less than polite in their content but it’s hard not to be moved by unified Liverpool fans singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ or ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ ringing around Twickenham, even if you root for the other team. As I child I stood behind the goal at Elland Road singing, or more accurately, shouting along to ‘Marching on Together’ and had a whole repertoire of other chants, mostly in the anti-Manchester United genre. So for me, the J.E.T.S chant seemed a familiar part of a sporting event. What all these have in common is their unifying effect on the fans of a team. In some way they bring everyone together in a common aim, even if that is being less than complementary to the opposition.  Around the NFL, from what I’ve witnessed, most fan interaction seems more focused on what is happening on the field (important too); making noise when defending third downs and cheering first downs, penalties and touchdowns. Of course there is the ‘Who dat?’ and the ‘Who dey?’ and various other chants around the league but as a Jets fan hearing ‘J.E.T.S’ has the same effect as ‘We hate Man U’ had for me as a mini Leeds fan. It brings us together.

It’s ironic really that someone trying to do something to unify the JETS fan base was effectively forced out by the very people he was trying to galvanise. Yes, he is a divisive figure but for me the value of fans unified by a common call can’t be underestimated. I truly hope that the ‘Bring back Ed’ petition (@firejohnidzik) is successful, but even if Ed himself decides not to come back, let’s hope that the Jets do something to keep the tradition alive properly.  Listening to MetLife regulars speak of their disappointment in the current game day experience and holding up what is done at other places such as Seattle as a gold standard seems sad considering that we have that special and unique thing. One thing I know for sure is I can’t wait to proudly scream ‘J.E.T.S Jets Jets Jets’ at the top of my voice at Wembley in October and I hope that the next time I get over to New Jersey, the chant has been bought back to life, whether the man in the fireman’s hat is leading it or not.

Marshalling the Jets forward

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Over the last few weeks my blog has been rather quiet mainly because there has been lots of Jets chatter but a dearth of Jets news. This time of year in the NFL is equally exciting and irritating. Exciting, especially this year, because of the number of elite level players hitting free agency and the big changes we know are just around the corner, but irritating because at the end of day only the GMs, coaches and scouts know what they are planning and the endless speculation surrounding it becomes a little tiresome. What I do enjoy is that when real news does come, it’s often nothing like the suggestions that have been bandied about in the previous weeks.

Friday was a day of actual news from Florham Park with the headline grabbing trade with the Bears for Brandon Marshall and a new contract for David Harris.  Jets fans are understandably excited by the Marshall trade as he provides the Jets with a true number one receiver, allowing Eric Decker to take up a more suitable role as number two. A quick look at his stats show that Marshall has consistently shown star quality across a career with 773 career receptions for 9,771 yards and 65 touchdowns in nine NFL seasons. He has had seven straight years of 1,000 or more receiving yards, only ended by injury in 2014. Having played under him in 2010/11 with the Dolphins, Marshall is also familiar with head coach Todd Bowles. All signs suggest a good move.

I’m intrigued by this trade mainly because Marshall is an interesting guy who has certainly had a roller coaster of a life and career. His NFL films’ ‘A Football Life’ gives a great insight into his world both on and off the field. Drafted in the 4th round in 2006 by Denver he has been a controversial and outspoken figure as well as a pro-bowl calibre receiver. His relationship with Jay Cutler (also drafted by Denver in 2006) shows both his loyalty and also how he has not been afraid to rock boats. After unexplained outbursts (Cutler said at times it was like a switch flipped and he ‘didn’t know who this was’) and off field controversy, Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and has since championed mental health issues, using his spotlight to draw attention to this and encourage openness and discussion. Marshall is both a passionate and intelligent man and football player.

Looking at the wider impact, the Marshall trade is particularly interesting, not least because it casts some possible light on the direction the Jets will go with Percy Harvin. I have always believed that Harvin will be released (and NFL insider reports Friday suggest this will happen) due to his price tag. Although there is the money in the coffers to keep him should they wish, with the number of other needs, that $10+ million would be better spent elsewhere. A trio of Harvin, Decker and Marshall would clearly be a force to be reckoned with, but without a solution to the quarterback situation it would be akin to have a box full of bullets but no gun. Geno Smith threw a lowly 219 completions in 2014 and by the end of the year the offense was skewed firmly towards the run because of the high interception rate. At this point, without a consistent passing game, spending so much on a receiving corps seems a waste. Now the Bills have traded with the Eagles for LeSean McCoy, CJ Spiller could become a possible and highly realistic target for the Jets in free agency to help Bowles create the more ‘balanced’ (and workable) offense of which he has spoken recently.  Of course there is still the QB to sort out and time will tell how this goes. Developing the OL will at least alleviate some of the pressure on Geno but there is still much to do. Brandon Marshall is the first of hopefully many big moves but is a positive indicator of the way Maccagnan and Bowles are thinking.  The next few weeks will be interesting.

Bowled away at the Combine – press conference takeaways

Todd BowlesIt was a refreshing air of change that hung over the New York Jets pre-combine head coach and general manager press conferences in Indianapolis Wednesday. Sure, there was none of the bluster of Rex Ryan (for that, see Buffalo Bills presser) but a certain calmness and measure of control was tangible. Based on reactions on social media, Jets fans were pleased with this new, more measured approach, seeing the changes as a positive basis on which to build what will still surely be a challenging future. For me, common sense was the order of the day and both Bowles and Maccagnan, despite not oozing charisma à la Ryan, made all the right noises. Here are some of my takeaways on the performance of our new HC and GM.

  1. Bowles is a tape guy. He wants to see what these guys can do outside the confines of a couple of days in Indianapolis where nothing happens in football conditions. He talked about ensuring that the ‘intangibles’ were in place, putting stock in the interviews and the tape and I believe him. Purely in the way he comes across to the press he doesn’t appear to be the type to be caught up in any sort of furore or song and dance without doing the due diligence first. Sure, these are all combine clichés, but Bowles sold me on his insistence on a deeper understanding of our draft picks.
  2. Our new head coach doesn’t seem to care too much about Bill Belichick’s rings. Bowles wants to beat everyone, he was clear on that. He isn’t just about beating New England a couple of times a year and that was a refreshing message to hear. We all know that Rex liked the big headline and much of what he made of the Jets/Pats rivalry in the media was just that, but I’m not sure that the franchise is in a state at the moment to narrow the focus, even if it is only in the media. Bowles seems aware of the enormity of the job at hand.
  3. When discussing players, both Macc and Bowles were unwilling to make any sweeping comments which as this point seems sensible. Both acknowledged the need to get to know Geno, but also that they were meeting both Mariota and Winston. This may seem like sitting on the fence, but is an honest interpretation of a situation which will continue to be fluid.
  4. Maccagnan’s assessment of the Mo Wilkerson extension talks could have come across as a little lacklustre, considering for many, including myself, that Big Mo is one of brightest lights in the franchise. However, once again, taking common sense into account, I’m not sure there is cause for concern. Both Macc and Bowles have been in the job for just over a month, they are getting their heads round it and it’s clear neither are going to jump into making huge assertions; they just aren’t that type. But they do know football, there is still plenty of time to sort a Wilkerson deal and there are many more things to think about besides. If Macc game out all guns blazing about this, I’d have been concerned that his eye wasn’t on the bigger picture.
  5. Being humble is an easy label to attach, much less to prove and has been something the New York Jets have somewhat struggled with over recent years (Santonio Holmes against Miami 2012 season). It’s a narrow tight rope to walk; too humble and you get pushed over, too arrogant and you lose credibility, especially if it’s unfounded. I was impressed with the humility of both our HC and GM. Maccagnan was happy to admit that in terms of who reports to him, the job was further ranging that he maybe anticipated. Bowles spoke passionately about how his less than successful time at the Eagles with Andy Reid made the biggest impact on his career. Later, Reid, reiterated mutual respect for Bowles in his own Kansas City presser. Neither seem to be push overs, but they are also aware of the challenge they have faced and will continue to. This seems like a good balance.
  6. They are building a team who are pushing forward. Bowles spoke enthusiastically about appointments at offensive and defensive coordinator and the breadth of different experience this brings.  Maccagnan made no bones about the intention to make splashes in free agency and to make the most of the favourable cap situation. Both seem to be clearly on the same page, which should translate to the wider staff and players.

Understandably, the takeways from the Jets are not huge footballing headlines such as came from Washington or even St Louis and I’m sure other people will see differently.  However, as a fan looking forward to what surely must be  more positive 2015 my number one takeaway was ironically the intangibles (as he said!), particularly of Bowles. Balance is the word which springs to mind; both in his offensive strategy (not an unexpected response to that question) but also in his approach and personality. There is a lot to sort out at Florham Park in the next few months, not least the QB situation but watching both Maccagnan and Bowles deal with the press, it seems that hopefully the ship is being sailed by much steadier hands and at this point, that’s what we need.

You’re a Jets fan?!

As it’s the offseason and everything at the moment is really just speculation, I thought I’d use my blog to address some slightly different NFL based topics. To start with, to answer a question I’ve been asked on Twitter by a number of people; how on earth did I come to love the NFL so much and to be a fan of the New York Jets? I guess it’s a fair question, considering that for many people in the UK, American Football is still seen as a niche sport and the fact that I’m female which puts me amongst an even smaller group of fans. The Jets are probably not the most obvious choice of team either.

Firstly I’m a sports fan in general. Growing up in Yorkshire, you couldn’t help but be. Leeds United and Yorkshire cricket were my first sporting loves. In fact my first taste as a sports fan was at the ripe old age of 8 when Leeds won division one in 1991-92. Sadly, in terms of success on the part of teams I’ve backed, it’s pretty much gone downhill from there. I get drawn into every Olympic games, athletics championship, tennis tournament and even from time to time Open Golf or darts. I watch everything from diving to dressage.  I’m also not content with knowing a little, if I get into something, I make it my business to learn as much as I can about it.

By the time American Football came into my life, when I met my future husband (a 49ers fan from a young age) in 2007, my love affair with soccer was well and truly over.  To be honest, I was (and still am) fed up with the culture of the game, had enough of the attitude of many fans at games, having to pretend I’m not English in Cardiff and the sheer intimidating atmosphere created at many Premier League grounds. As a new inductee to the NFL, I needed to choose a team, and it sure wasn’t going to be the 49ers!

NFL fans in the UK choose their teams in very different ways without the luxury of the local allegiance our US counterparts have, NFL UK even have a random team selector for those new to the game. Many were lured to the 49ers, Steelers, Cowboys and Raiders by their successes in the 1980s and 90s, chronicled on Channel 4. Recently the Patriots, Colts and Saints have seen a spike in UK support due to their Superbowl successes and the much wider TV coverage.

A 'green' Green and White fan in 2010

A ‘green’ Green and White fan in 2010

I’d like to say that my choice was based on much research and a deep sporting compunction but in fact my decision was a little more random, in fact I’m slightly embarrassed to say it had nothing at all to do with football. In some respects it was a simple choice; New York has long been my favourite city in the US (in fact, the world) and I never looked beyond the Big Apple teams. So the choice was Jets or Giants. After booking a honeymoon stop in NYC I found out that the both teams were scheduled to play the first ever game at what was then the ‘New Meadowlands’ stadium, in August 2010, at the exact time we were there. Knowing nothing about the NFL, least of all how to get tickets, I decided to email both teams to find out. Only one replied; the Jets, and as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been Green and White since.  I surprised my husband with tickets to the game as a wedding present (great wife points!) and we took the trip out to New Jersey to watch the Jets. I’ve been hooked since despite them losing that day! The personality of Rex Ryan and what he inspired, the successes of the following two seasons and the general bombastic attitude of the team meant that over the following years I  have become completely obsessed with my Jets despite the recent ups and downs. If you ever see me at Wembley, I’m the one who looks like a Jets merchandise stand exploded on me, and I’ve taken a fair amount of stick for it across the last few years! Sure, I’m yet to savour the taste of true Jets success but I’m confident that the day will come and I’ll keep wearing my wings with pride.

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Safe to say, back in 2010, I had no idea what was going on but since then, 6 trips to Wembley, a Sky Sports subscription, numerous podcasts and a trip back to NYC in 2014 to finally watch a regular season Jets game, I’d like to think my knowledge and more importantly my love for my team and the game has come on somewhat!

Sadly, I’ve never seen my Jets win so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that will change at Wembley in October.

Reflections on the 2014 season

Another season is in the books and barely without a pause for breath the chatter has switched to free agency and the draft. But it wouldn’t seem right to move onto next year without a thought back to what has been a tumultuous but riveting season in the NFL, literally right down to the last seconds.

Superbowl XLIX

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Having just about got over my Sunday night / Monday morning sleep hangover, it seems right to start by reflecting back on what some are calling the Greatest Superbowl Ever. Indeed, for the neutral fan, the game had everything you would want in terms of nailbiting excitement and entertainment. Obviously as a Jet’s fan it had everything I didn’t want: a win for the Patriots.

Although it was a close game throughout, by the beginning of the fourth quarter, it certainly looked like Seattle were going to win their second Lombardi trophy in two years.  Marshawn Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and the Pats struggled to contain him. Despite Russell Wilson not completing a catch until the 19th minute of the game and only completing 12 in total (compared to Brady’s 37) the Seahawks convincingly led by 10 entering the last fifteen minutes. Jermaine Kearse caught a mind boggling, juggling catch from a Wilson deep ball and an unlikely hero emerged in former practise squad WR Chris Matthews who had not caught a catch prior to this game but took 4 grabs for 109 yards and a touchdown; a possible MVP if….

…things had not changed. Throughout the game, as the stats suggest the Seahawks had struggled against Brady’s pass. They weren’t helped by the early exit from the game of Jeremy Lane with an excruciating broken arm gained on the first of 2 Brady interceptions. New England were always coming knocking, but Seattle seemed strong enough to hold the door closed even with a weakened secondary. Then came 14 straight Patriot’s points in the fourth quarter from Edelman and Amendola and the momentum swung New England’s way. But there was still a chance, until Pete Carroll made that call to pass the ball from the 1 yard line, a pass which was intercepted and took away any chance of snatching what could have been the game winning TD.  Much has been made of this mind boggling decision, not just because he had Beastmode lined up in the back but also it was only 2nd down. They would still have been just enough time to try again on 3rd if the play hadn’t resulted in the TD. Of course, this is all history now and Belichick, Brady and Kraft can go back to Boston, hand in hand, clutching the 4th Lombardi trophy of their collaboration and Gronk can jump back on his party bus and drive off into the sunset.

The biggest surprises

Although the big game ended up being contested by both number one seeds, there were several surprises this year, both positive and negative. On the positive side the Dallas Cowboys, even with a banged up Tony Romo, provided their fans with the most successful season in years, despite being widely predicted to completely flop. Instead the trio of Dez Bryant, offensive player of the year Demarco Murray and Romo ended up at the 5th highest scoring offense and the 2nd best rushing team in the league. With exceptional rookie Guard Zach Martin amongst others, the offensive line were also able to effectively protect Romo, helping them to the divisional round of the playoffs. After a very close game against Green Bay which, including the spectacular ‘non catch’ from Dez Bryant, ended the Superbowl dreams of the Cowboys, the unexpected run of success meant a new contract for HC Jason Garrett was not far away.

On a more negative note, the New Orleans Saints, who had been tipped by some to make it to the Superbowl, failed miserably in the particularly weak NFC south, finishing 7-9. Although the offense led by Drew Brees put together some decent numbers, the defense were amongst the worst four teams for points and yards allowed. Although this wasn’t overall by any means the worst performance by a team in the league, the fact that such high hopes were pinned on the Saints before the season meant their mediocre performance stands out as an unexpected surprise.

The woes of a Jets fan

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This could be a whole blog post in itself. It’s pretty galling to think that apart from a surprise victory against the Steelers and last gasp of energy against Miami the only other wins came against the  equally awful Titans and Raiders. In all honesty there was a lot of embarrassment, not least in some of the shocking QB play from both Vick and Geno, not to mention the hoopla that surrounded it. Taking a trip to NYC in October to watch the Jets play was in itself an amazing experience; having only previously watched a pre-season game at Met Life stadium, but the quality of play, particularly from Geno, illustrated the distance the Jets had to go. The latter part of the season was peppered with ‘Fire John Idzik’ campaigns and rumours that Rex was on his way out; which it turns out, he was. The few rays of sunshine came again from the defensive line, who provide a solid foundation for Todd Bowles and his new team to build on. A Patriot’s Superbowl win felt like a nail in the coffin, but at least from here the only way is up!

Offensive players of the year – in the other sense of the word

Sadly for the NFL, this year was dogged by major controversy which bought the attention of world wide media. Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Josh Gordon (twice) and Aldon Smith are just a few of the players involved. The fact that it wasn’t just the actions of the players but also the reaction of the league that was bought into question cast a long shadow over what was a great year of football; especially in the playoffs. Particularly with the Ray Rice case, the handling of the seriousness of the incident, specifically about their awareness of video which later became public called into account the integrity of the league in general. Even now the season is over, Johnny Manziel is in rehab and Green Bay defensive tackle Letroy Guion has been arrested for felony possession. Roger Goodell, in his pre Superbowl  press conference, was noticeably emotional regarding the trials of this year, both personally and for the league as a whole but will need to act on promises made to ensure future seasons are not marred by such mishandled allegations and incidents.

Heartbreakers and standout moments.

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It would be impossible to describe all big stories of the of the 2014 season so briefly here are five of the defining moments.

  • The emergence of Odell Beckham Junior and that one handed catch.
  • Seattle vs Green Bay in the NFC championship game. Russell Wilson throwing four interceptions had one of the worst games of his career against the league MVP Aaron Rodgers but still Seattle found a way to win; a captivating game, with a heartbreaking ending for Green Bay.
  • Peyton Manning beating Brett Favre’s all time touch down record with 530 career TDs.
  • The Arizona Cardinals making it to the playoffs despite losing their first and second string QBs. A testament to excellent coaching by Bruce Arians (once again coach of the year), the wild card game was just one step too far.
  • The biggest name heading up to and out of the 2014 draft ‘Johnny Football’ not actually making any impact on the league at all and now, sadly ending up in rehab, not a great moment, but a major talking point nevertheless.

On to the next…

Now that (at least I) have some closure on the 2014 season it’s time to look ahead to 2015. As a Jets fan, there are many reasons to be optimistic; a new coaching staff, opportunities to make the most of a decent salary cap situation in free agency and a high draft pick. As an NFL fan, it’s sure to be another year of excitement; bookies are already putting the Seahawks as 6-1 favourites to win Superbowl 50 but let’s hope there’ll be less off the field controversy to overshadow it.  The great thing about the NFL is that there is no offseason and so I’ll be continuing to write a mixture of news and my views on what’s going on as we ramp up for the new season. I’m also planning to write some differently focused posts about the NFL in general and how I came to be so obsessed with it. If you enjoy reading my blog and have any suggestions about topics for the offseason, leave me comment, or drop me a line via twitter @nych83 – thoughts always welcome.

Thanks for reading so far and onto the 2015 season…

Superbowl XLIX – Too close to call

Who will win in the desert? Seattle Seahawks or New England Patriots?

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With one day to go, it’s the million dollar question –and one I’ve been avoiding trying to answer. This is one of a closest matchups in Superbowl history and after watching, reading and taking in as much of the build up as possible it seems that everyone has come to the same conclusion: it’s too close to call. With explosive offense on both sides there is sure to be some decent scoring action so I’m predicting a high scoring game with few points in it. Which way it goes is anyone’s guess, but personally, it won’t surprise you that I don’t want the Patriots to win, therefore by default I’m rooting for Seattle. However, I have a niggling suspicion that it will go the way of the Brady Bunch, but only by a hair, albeit a well-coiffured one.

In all honesty, for the (sort of) neutral, it’s going to be the potential quality of play which will make this a great game to watch. Across all three phases of the game, both sides have exceptional depth and talent and the winner will have to find and exploit the few weaknesses presented by the opposition. It will likely come down to who plays better at key positions; Brady or Wilson, Sherman or Revis, Lynch or Blount.

All teams who have previously won back to back Superbowls have had extremely strong leaders at QB (Montana, Elway & co) and Wilson is no exception to this rule but don’t forget Brady has achieved that feat already. He has led the Patriots since 2000 and the way his ex-teammates such as Willie McGinest talk about him leaves you in no doubt of his leadership capabilities. Wilson, despite having less experience in terms of years in the league, shows extraordinary confidence and leadership even at the lowest points, as evidenced in the NFC Championship game, proclaiming to his team on the sideline that ‘we can still win this’ even with a 16 point deficit. In terms of play, Wilson is more mobile than Brady, with the ability to throw the sexiest of deep balls although Brady has made more plays from outside the pocket this year than previously and continues to put together long scoring drives. Wilson’s strength is in his versatility but you can never count Brady out.

Both teams have many stand out playmakers on offense but Rob Gronkowski and Marshawn Lynch are likely to make the biggest impact. Stopping these two will be of prime importance to both defenses. Lynch’s performance with the media shows he intends to do his talking on the field and will cause problems for the Pats run defense, which although recently improved, is not as strong as it could be. With LeGarrette Blount , New England have recently scored well on the run but the Hawks run defense is a formidable opponent. Throughout the season, tight ends have been kryptonite for the Seahawks defense. Gronk is currently the best in the business at that position and is at the top of his game. With none of injuries that have dogged him previously, a big game is expected.

Despite Seattle being famed for its boom D, both defenses will cause problems for the quarterbacks. Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will ensure Wilson is consistently under pressure but of course Brady won’t escape the ‘legion’. In the secondary, Sherman vs Revis is an important comparison. Wilson was dogged by turnovers in the NFC Championship game and will need to avoid a repeat of this. Which side allows the most completions to receivers will be important, especially if they manage to slow the run. Sherman is on top form but Revis, taking his island to it’s first Superbowl, will also want to prove a point. Kam Chancellor will be tasked with diminishing Gronk’s impact on the game. Although he is more than qualified for this role, with a reported injury sustained at Thursday practice, he will have to be at his best to avoid a ‘Gronking to Remember.’

The coaching match up in this game is fascinating too. Belichick and Carroll are very different in their approaches but both have a great respect for each other as was clear in Friday’s press conference. In terms of game management and decision making Belichick is more level headed and organised, making well timed decisions, such as the Edelman/Amendola trick play against Baltimore. Carroll is more openly passionate and is supremely confident in his players, playing football in a simple, but effective form. Several games in these playoffs have come down to the grit of the coaches and with everything else so closely matched, a miscalled play or a stroke of innovation could make the difference.

Putting aside match ups and speculation, a good story is one of the key reasons that sport in general is so alluring and captivating. This matchup is full of potential great narratives which NFL films can exploit for the forthcoming ‘America’s game’ regardless of who wins. Pete Carroll was fired by Robert Kraft after the 1999 season to be replaced by Bill Belichick. There would be some kind of sweet symmetry if he could put one over on his very successful replacement. Similarly, the last team to win back to back Superbowls were the Patriots in the 2003/4 seasons; a bit more symmetry there. On the other side, Belichick and Brady are in the hunt for that elusive fourth ring to cement the Patriots dynasty after losing at the last opportunity against the Giants in the 2011 season. This game is an opportunity to right that wrong and to continue to make NFL history as the most successful HC and QB combination. Of course, there has been speculation that Belichick’s uncharacteristic cheeriness this week might signal his intention to retire if they win; the idea that it would be ‘job done’. This would be music to Jets (and the rest of the AFC) fan’s ears as well as a spectacular conclusion to the season if it proved true. Then there is Revis in only his first SB appearance of his 8 year career which arguably hasn’t provided as much success as his level of play has deserved.

You could write a novel about this game and still not be able to draw a decisive conclusion, which is why it’s so exciting. For now, it’s time to get in the beers and snacks and wait for it all to unfold.  Let’s hope it lives up to the hype and our high hopes are not deflated.

The Superbowl Circus

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This week feels special, a bit like the week before Christmas. You get overly excited, the TV is taken over by related programming and everyone is trying to work out whether everything will go to plan on the big day. When it actually comes, its over in a flash, everyone has a good time and you wonder why we all got so worked up in the first place. But regardless of the fact this happens every year, I am once again well and truly caught up in the whirlwind of hype that is Superbowl week. Now that media access to the players has drawn to a close, it got me thinking about the importance of this build up.

If I’m honest some of the happenings of this week are pretty alien to me as a reserved Brit, especially if you consider the way that major sporting events are built up here. We tend to play everything down, even put a negative spin on it, just in case it doesn’t turn out too well; “Andy Murray isn’t good enough to win Wimbledon” or “London transport can’t cope with these Olympics” When it comes to major annual finals, such as the FA Cup, you may get a couple of yesteryear documentaries but the coverage is little more than for a regular 3 o’clock on Saturday game. Yes, the NFL does most coverage with more razzle-dazzle than British sports, but the Superbowl build up takes it to a whole new level.

Media day is probably the most far removed from anything we see here. You’d be unlikely to see Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourinho sitting on a podium for 60 minutes answering questions from small children about their favourite stuffed animals. In fact, after watching both the Seahawks and Patriots sessions in the zoo, we mainly learnt the following:

  1. Gronk can’t sing, but he does know some Katy Perry songs.
  2. Bill Belichick says the Patriots need to ‘play well in all three phases of the game and score more points than the Seahawks’…in case you weren’t aware of that.
  3. Marshawn Lynch was ‘only there so I don’t get fined’ and therefore gave a great example to his young fans on how to behave in public.
  4. Earl Thomas has a snappy hat and cool shades.
  5. Russell Wilson appears to be an ambassador for Microsoft; he really likes the Surface tablet and even uses it in his day to day life.

In addition, there was a man dressed as a barrel, correspondents from media outlets with little or no interest in football and much discussion about Tom Brady’s hair.

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Considering all this, you could be forgiven for wondering what the point is. However, media day isn’t to get in depth dialogue about strategic direction, game planning or whether Sherman or Revis will have the better game. It serves a different purpose and that is to make it all seem that bit more real and crank up the hype just one more notch for everyone; players, coaches, fans, media. It’s the first opportunity for the teams to set out their stall, saying ‘we are here and we mean business’.  And both teams did, showing passion, intensity, excitement and a genuine pride to be there; in their own inimitable way. The Seahawks were more guarded than last year, giving less away about their approach to the game, showing an awareness of just how close this match up will be. Belichick even cracked more than one smile.

And it doesn’t stop there. Although the press conferences of the proceeding days are more traditional in approach, we are still hearing more about Marshawn Lynch’s five minute timer than what we are possibly going to see on Sunday. Maybe that is because this is one of the closest SB match ups for a long time, but also because that is just what gets us going. That’s not to say that the importance of the game is trivialised by all the media circus and furore, but instead it builds the feeling that this is something special, that we are about to see the greatest show on earth. It gets people talking, tweeting and debating. Maybe us Brits could learn a thing or do.

Back in Arizona, the players and coaches will surely be glad that it’s all over so they can now refocus on the real reason they are all roasting in Phoenix. Apparently Vince Wilfork breathed an audible sigh of relief after leaving the podium and it’s not hard to glean Beastmode’s views on the subject. We can now all look forward to Sunday and just like the teams, focus back on the the nitty gritty of the game. Media day and the rest has set the tone but the real questions will be answered on the field. I for one, cannot wait!

Green Bay heartbreak and Brady’s Balls

 mcarthy

For the last two weeks in a row the NFL has had me going to bed Sunday night feeling completely gutted for a team I don’t support.  First, it was the Cowboys and last weekend; Green Bay. The feeling on this one was less of anger but more of complete disbelief and shellshock. This one will surely haunt Aaron Rodgers long after he takes the steps in Canton; the Superbowl that could have been.  And how close they got. Considering the Seahawks, as home team and number one seed, were favourites going in (a fact which clearly had escaped Doug Baldwin), the first three and 4/5 quarters  suggested an upset was on the cards. Even a number of Seahawks fans left early, certain that a second SB in two years had escaped them. But how things changed…and quickly.  To be honest, it wasn’t just Bostick’s drop of the onside kick (cue British super-glue related jokes) that lost it for Green Bay. Or the fact they allowed Wilson to take the extra point following the TD which followed the recovery of that kick. Green Bay set themselves up for a loss from the first quarter where Mike McCarthy did not display the guts to go for it on fourth and short – twice. They settled for 6 points rather than the possible 14. It’s all conjecture and speculation now, but with that kind of scoreline, the craziness of the dying minutes would have been a moot point. What seems most surprising here is that the lack of trust displayed in Aaron Rodgers, it’s not like the QB was Geno Smith.  Or maybe McCarthy assumed it was too early for such plays but it cost Green Bay dearly when they made mistakes later. You have to play to win from the first second, especially in the Championship game and not assume that it’s early days and that the big plays will happen at the end, because in this game they did; for the other team. Russell Wilson had one of his worst games ever, stats wise, but it still resulted in one of the greatest victories of his career. The Seahawks do seem to have some intangible confidence that comes from their siege ‘nobody likes us’ mentality. They played to the dying seconds, taking strength from Green Bay’s mistakes. They were lucky with the coin toss giving them possession in OT, but with a hobbling Rodgers going three and out with two incompletions in the last drive of regulation time (resulting in the game –tying field goal) by this point the momentum had shifted.  Thank goodness for Mason Crosby’s 48 yard field goal; without which the game was lost already. All in all, this was a heartbreaker. Sure,  Green Bay still have a great team, the probable league MVP and a great chance next year but this was still ‘the one that got away’.

So the Seahawks will be taking the trip to Glendale, Arizona to face up to Tom Brady’s Patriots in the Superbowl. The Pats hammered the Colts  45-7, with the 38 point difference being New England’s largest margin of victory in any postseason game. Luck struggled with little support and it was clear from the start where this one was going, sadly. I will be certainly be a ‘12’ for the day next Sunday.

deflate-gate

Obviously…there is something else to talk about here, which I feel loath to mention as it has completely overtaken my twitter feed and podcast library for the last week and to be honest is getting a little boring. However, it is not possible to discuss the outcomes of this game without some mention of ‘Deflate – gate’. As a Jets fan, it wouldn’t be unsurprising for me to be ranting about how Belichick and Brady are evil villains and cheats but here are my thoughts in brief, then no more.

  1. The balls did break the NFL rule, the NFL are investigating and will come to a conclusion. If they decide to punish the Patriots then they will, possibly with a minimum fine of $25,000 and a loss of draft pick. It is serious, because the rules have been broken, but it will be dealt with. Then we can deal with who is to blame; whether that is Brady, Belichick or some lowly kit manager.
  2. Belichick has a history so has to accept that this is going to be made into a big deal regardless of who is found to be at fault, if anyone. After ‘Spygate’ he was labelled as at a least a one-time cheat. That is life, you can’t cheat and then moan when people assume you’ve done it again. Even if everyone else was doing it, during Spygate, they got caught. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you can’t get caught. The way he deals with the press and how Brady initially laughed off the claims doesn’t endear them to the baying masses either.
  3. As much as it pains me to say it, I can’t see that deflated balls had a massive impact on the outcome of the game. It seems that the influence of deflated balls is most likely to positively affect the passing game for Brady. As was predicted before, this was a big game for the run too; LeGarrette Blount had a career-high and Patriots record 30 rushes, with 148 yards and three touchdowns. Andrew Luck completed 12 out of 33 attempts for less than 150 passing yards. Without any passing touchdowns, the Patriots still win. Even Colt’s players have said this wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game.
  4. The number of double entendre jokes relating to Belichick and Brady’s balls has been entertaining: it’s true.
  5. It’s the Superbowl next week; after that we have no football for several months. Let’s just enjoy the build-up and deal with this once conclusions have been drawn.

In other news, as a Jets fan, I was cautiously optimistic following Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan’s first press conference this week and the subsequent coaching appointments. The future is starting to take shape.  Read what I  wrote about this for UK endzone at : http://ukendzone.com/2015/01/22/what-has-changed-for-the-new-york-jets/

The Road to Arizona – Divisional look back and Championship look ahead

 

As it was rather a long time ago now (life has taken over somewhat this week), I won’t waste too many words on last weekend’s divisional clashes.  My actual predictions were far more accurate this week; although I probably took the safe option going for all home wins. I’m not too disappointed with 3-1 though as the Colts were one team I really wanted to win; I just didn’t think they would.

AFC recap

Andrew Luck showed his class once again, becoming the first QB in league history to pass over 250 yards in his first 5 preseason games in Indi’s 24-13 win over the Broncos. There has been much talk this week about Peyton Manning’s future, especially as he himself was non-committal about playing next year in his postgame interview. With John Fox gone as head coach, the winds of change are blowing through Denver.  The other AFC showdown was an exceptionally close fought battle, with New England coming off better in their 35-31 victory over Baltimore at Foxborough. As expected, Joe Flacco came out all guns blazing and after the first quarter it looked like the Ravens might cause an upset, but after twice coming back from a 14 point deficit, Tom Brady with 367 passing yards steered his Patriots to the 9th Championship game of his career. The Julian Edelman trick play to Danny Amendola resulting in a 51 yard TD pass was a highlight of the game and showed the confidence Belichick has in the versatility of his offense.

NFC recap

Seattle, as widely predicted, proved too powerful for Carolina and the stronger team are rightly through to the NFC championship game with a 31-17 victory. Which leaves the Green Bay/ Dallas game.  While I always had an inkling that Brady would clinch the Patriots victory one way or another, I genuinely thought that Dallas were going to upset the apple cart in (not as cold as expected) Lambeau.  DeMarco Murray was once again able to run for over 100 yards and Green Bay had to come back from an 11 point deficit to clinch the win 26-21. Some might call it karma but once again a refereeing decision became the biggest discussion point of this game; with Dez Bryant’s spectacular ‘non catch’.  -cfe5cb4993cbfcc9Considering I don’t have any particular attachment to the Cowboys, the fact that I was still fuming about this on Tuesday morning suggests the utter craziness of the rule that in my mind spoilt the game. Yes, by the letter of the law it wasn’t a catch, but you tell me Dez was meant to fall to the ground without putting his hand down to break his fall. And since when is lunging for the goal line not a football move… anyway, I can’t get started on that again.  Just don’t let rules ruin good sport!

NFC conference championship game: Sunday 18th January, 20:05 GMT

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Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

This is a game where the stats illustrate how close it will be.  It’s a matchup between two QBs with the first and second best passer ratings in the league. It also features the number one scoring offense in the NFL (Green Bay with an average 30.4 points per game) against the number one scoring defense in the league (Seattle allow an average of 15.9 points per game) . Which will prevail this weekend remains to be seen.  On the side of Seattle, against Aaron Rodgers, QB Russell Wilson is 2-0 on previous playoff meetings. Green Bay looked weaker against the run last week and with Marshawn Lynch, Seattle will look to exploit this further. Wilson is also much more mobile than Romo, who Green Bay found difficult to deal with in Lambeau, therefore posing an even wider threat. Of course the Seattle defense needs little explaining and Rodgers will need to look more spritely in and out of the pocket than he did when he limped around last week.  By all accounts however, the calf injury is feeling much better. Rodgers of course has his weapons too; maybe TE Andrew Quarless will be his most valuable red zone target this week as 65% of the few TDs  Seattle allowed this year were to tight ends. Eddie Lacy will also need to be back on his best to make the most of the run game.  My gut instinct is that this one will go to Seattle who will book themselves a trip to the desert. However, with two consistently outstanding and fearless QBs, explosive defense and closer than close match ups, it could go either way. Let’s hope it doesn’t hinge on another disputed catch.

AFC conference championship game:  Sunday 18th January, 23:40 GMTbrady-luck_0

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Running the risk of sounding like a stuck record (or a bitter Jets fan), I of course would like the Colts to win in Foxborough on Sunday. However, in his first Championship game Andrew Luck faces a stiff challenge and he will have to repeat the form of the last 2 weeks, whilst contending with the strong patriots D to put the Colts on the road to Arizona. Historically Luck & the Colts do not have a great record against New England; as the Boston Globe pointed out, the Patriots have won the last three games against Indianapolis  by an average score of 48-22 and Luck is 0-3 against Brady. Last time they met, the New England defense held star Colts receiver TY Hilton to a season low 24 yards receiving.  A win for New England would also see Bill Belichick break the record for the most postseasons win by any head coach in NFL history. That’s not to say it can’t be done. Running back Daniel ‘Boom’ Heron is having a great postseason spell, with 18 receptions in the last 2 games, compared to 21 across the whole of the regular season and let’s not forget the Colts have the number 1 passing offense and number 3 total offense in the league. The key for their defense will be to stop the run game; the Patriots had a total of 480 rushing yards in their last 2 matchups and will look to repeat that success here. Of course, I’d like to see Brady & Belichick crash and burn on Sunday but this game is sure to be close, exciting to watch and will need coaches and players alike on both sides to be firing at their absolute best.

Divisional playoff weekend

PLAYOFF

January is not my favourite time of year so the NFL playoffs are a little ray of sunshine in what would otherwise be a pretty depressing time of the year. As a UK NFL fan, the fact that there are games on Saturdays too is an even bigger bonus, as staying up till the early hours isn’t quite so bad when there is no work the next day.

Last week’s Wildcard post shows that predicting games is not one of my strengths (0-4 and a fiver lost). I can’t stray away from who I want to win rather than who I think will. Whatever the stats, or sometimes logical reason, I like to cling to the idea of a good story; especially if I have no personal bias towards the game. So this week, before I jump into a quick look at each of the games, I’m going to make two sets of predictions, what I’d like to happen and what I think probably will!

Wishlist Most likely
Baltimore @ New England Baltimore New England
Carolina @ Seattle Seattle Seattle
Dallas @ Green Bay Dallas Green Bay
Indianapolis @ Denver Indianapolis Denver

Saturday – Baltimore @ New England – 9.35pm GMT

As a Jets fan its unsurprising that I am holding onto the hope that Joe Flacco has once again found his unstoppable playoff form and will completely wipe the floor with the Pats at Foxborough. I have to admit (and this isn’t easy), that after watching Bill Belichick’s ‘A Football Life’ I slightly warmed to him, but his grumpy  press conferences this week just remind me why I dislike the Patriots.  Just answer the question about the weather Bill! Anyway, in reality, looking at the bigger picture it seems that the Patriots may put a stop to the Raven’s post-season run this year as Tom Brady has the best at home, cold weather stats in the league. Although this is likely to be a close game, with Flacco coming out all guns blazing as he always done in the playoffs, the strength of the Patriot secondary is likely to be a much larger test for Baltimore than Pittsburgh’s last week.

Sunday morning – Carolina @ Seattle – 1.05am GMT

This is the one game where my wish matches what I think will actually happen. Seattle are just too strong for Carolina, despite them making a lot of changes recently making them pretty different to the team which started out the year in poor form.  Its not just on D that Seattle are powerful, they have a top 5 rushing offense and Russell Wilson continues to make great plays, despite limited options at wide out. Once again Seattle seem to have peaked at the right time.  With Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvine on fire on the defense in the last few weeks, Cam Newton is going to be under much more pressure this week and although they have  great weapons such as Jonathan Stewart, the ‘12s’ factor is sure to compound this already  difficult task for the Panthers. Whether or not it will be a shut out remains to be seen but I can’t see there being an upset in Seattle in the early hours of tomorrow, which is good, as it probably means I won’t need to stay up until 4!

Sunday – Dallas @ Green Bay – 6.05pm GMT

Now THIS is the one I’m looking forward to; ‘The IceBowl’. Lambeau Field is looking chilly this week on NFL network although unlike some of the other frozen tundra in the NFL such as Chicago, the field is heated. This should mean little difference to the play on the field (it won’t be hard as a rock) but a difficult one for those on the sidelines, especially those with recurring back problems….or healing leg injuries….

Out of all the games this weekend this is the one I really want to go to the underdog. It will be hard for Dallas though. Aside from the home advantage for Green Bay  and the fact their quarterback is the likely league MVP,  Dallas are facing more strong offensive weapons in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Their secondary did manage to mainly neutralise Megatron and Golden Tate in  last week’s game against Detroit and may look to do something similar with  Nelson and Cobb this week, however Aaron Rodgers does have a wider arsenal of plays which may cause more of a problem for the Cowboys safeties and backs. On the other side, the Green Bay secondary is not water tight and will have to cope with both Dez Bryant and Jason Witten (who had a big game last week). If DeMarco Murray can get moving this week, it may be a close call.  Most commentators are going with Green Bay on this, although Rodgers is untested since his injury. Whatever happens, it’ll be a good watch.

Indianapolis @ Denver – 9.35pm GMT

The best analogy for this game I’ve heard all week is the comparison to Star Wars; Peyton ‘Obi-Wan’ Manning, vs Andrew ‘Anakin Skywalker’ Luck. However, I think Peyton is more like Qui-Gon  – a little old but still got it, and Luck is Obi-Wan – skilful and wise before his years. I also don’t think Luck is likely to turn out evil! Whichever, this could be the weekend that the apprentice schools the Master, and I hope he does. The problem is that Peyton is not out yet, yes, people have been starting to notice a dip in his arm strength but the Broncos were still dominant on both sides of the ball across the season. If Julius Thomas is back, he will cause difficulties for the Colts as when they met earlier in the year.  I’m hoping that Luck will have a repeat of his play against the Bengals last week and that Chuck Pagano  will see fit to use Moncrief and ‘Boom’ Heron (great name) in a similar way. The defensive challenge which the Colts face this week will be greater than last week and the Mile High home advantage could also play into Peyton’s hands. This is a ‘Hollywood’ style match up which hopefully will live up to its billing with plenty of spectacular QB play.

You can watch all the playoff games in the UK on Sky Sports. Grab a beer (or a G&T like me and enjoy!