Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eternal optimism in an age of supposed parity when two teams win five (and almost seven) of the last ten Super Bowls

Some observations from Sunday's game before going all Patriots batshit:

"Labor uncertainty" is the new "all-important third preseason game." Please set aside all non-NFL-related uses of this phrase until a labor agreement is reached.

How about Ben Roethlisberger? That's three horrible Super Bowl performances, and finally one the Steelers didn't win in spite of him. It's fun listening to Michael Wilbon say he would still take him over any other quarterback… and then criticize Pittsburgh's offensive game plan for "putting it all on Roethlisberger." What a pure goddamn fool he is. (Battery mate Tony Kornheiser called Jay Cutler "a top-flight NFL player" a few weeks ago. Why do I listen to this shit?)

Aaron Rodgers was on Letterman last night and admitted he didn't have much faith in his team's kick-coverage unit. That's exactly the kind of maturity you want in your Super Bowl MVP. On a related note, head coach Mike McCarthy will be out of a job in five or six years.

Even if the Steelers had won another title I would have maintained a certain satisfaction that they managed to avoid playing the Patriots yet again. Avoid isn't the right word, really, because it's not the Steelers' fault the Pats weren't good enough to make it as far as they did. But if Steeler fans can keep spending their unemployment checks on yellow towels then I can enjoy this petty victory.

Let's see, according to every writer in New England the turning point for the Packers this season was a game against the Patriots that they would have won if Rodgers played. So the realization they came to before ripping off six straight wins was: make sure your starting quarterback starts. Never mind that the actual reason they lost that one the way they did was not because of poor play from the backup quarterback but rather some horrible Andy Reid-esque clock management by a seasoned head coach who should know better. See item three above.

My favorite commercial was for BMW or Mercedes or whatever it was with the rich white guys breaking out of rich-white-guy prison. It seems no one in America is talking about it, which tells me I'm right. Also, "Cram It in the Boot" for Mini had me snickering like a fourteen-year-old. I had to rewind to make sure I'd seen what I'd just seen and yes, he slipped a huge hoagie dick into that boot. I suspect the spot will never air in this country again.

Google produces more than seven hundred thousand results for "national anthem fail." Christina Aguilera will somehow pull it together and continue to sleep on a big pile of money every night.

Joe Buck continues to sleep on big piles of conceit, self-righteousness and malaise.

That about covers things. It was a good game but I couldn't really get into it. Certainly not the same experience when your team isn't participating. Along those lines, all in all I think the Patriots are in a great spot for next season. Everyone, only now, is conveniently calling 2010 a rebuilding year and they're right, even if they waited until elimination to admit it. Anyway, here's a projection of September's forty-five-man game-day roster (plus eight inactives), with a mix of what I think will happen and what needs to happen. Not a lot will change—I'm looking for the youngsters to keep on keepin' on—but the players being replaced are some pretty big, established names. Offense comes first (like it has since 2007) and an asterisk indicates a starter. Apologies for not really knowing how many reserve offensive linemen, defensive backs, etc., teams tend to carry on game days.

Tom Brady*
Brian Hoyer
Jonathan Crompton (practice-squad eligible)/[Veteran free agent]

Hoyer is the well established backup. We haven't seen much of him, and he's surely young and has demonstrated that he can be rattled, but I think Belichick likes him. I do too. Then again, I was among the majority who thought Matt Cassel should have been cut in favor of Matt Gutierrez in 2008. The only difference is most of those lunatics are now wishing we traded Brady and signed Cassel long term. Patriots fans are idiots. As for the third "emergency" option (a position not included on the game-day roster for some time, possibly due to Julian Edleman's college experience), I think it will be fully manned by the practice squad's Compton or some journeyman veteran who may or may not have filled the roll on this team in the past. Brady is not prone to injuries but with some major recent surgeries—and encroaching (five yards!) middle age—I think it's time to employ more than one full-time backup.

Running Backs
BenJarvus Green-Ellis*
Danny Woodhead
Thomas Clayton

People around here are begging for a first-round, every-down back. I wonder why everyone wants to fuck with a formula that worked pretty well with Green-Ellis and Woodhead sharing the load. Much more important things to spend those high picks on. I see all three 2010 veterans either retiring—Kevin Faulk, a true gentleman and American hero who I hope becomes a coach on this team—or moving on—Fred Taylor, who could have been wonderful here if he wasn't repeatedly betrayed by his body, and Sammy Morris, possibly the most underrated member of the team the past few years (except for 2010). Fun group, but it is indeed time to get younger. I see Thomas Clayton moving up from the practice squad and getting a lot of special-teams experience the way Green-Ellis did, then maybe a third-or-so-rounder getting some carries later in the season.

Wide Receivers
Deion Branch*
Wes Welker*
Julian Edelman
Brandon Tate

Maybe a mid- to late-round pick to add to the mix, but I don't see much to change here. Local blowhards are demanding a Moss-like field-stretcher and seem to think we can pry a slightly disgruntled Larry Fitzgerald from Arizona for a bag of balls, proving once and for all that there is no bottom when it comes to the intelligence of people who follow the Patriots. The offense sucked in the Jets loss but, just like with the running backs, I'm not ready to ditch everything that worked so well in the regular season. The only wild card is Welker—weird year for him. He exceeded all expectations by returning so quickly and solidly from last season's injury, but despite more touchdowns than usual he dropped a shitload of passes and there's speculation that he's unhappy with his contract (I don't believe that based on recent comments). Edelman is an excellent receiver… when Welker is inactive. When Welker is in the game Edelman plays sporadically, consequently dropping passes or getting assaulted in the middle of the field, and often both. But when he doesn't have to worry about being benched he does a pretty convincing (and cheaper) Welker imitation. Very strange. I'm left wondering what he could turn into if Welker and his looming shadow were traded or released. I like Tate to continue to be a decent kick-returner, drop some passes and make the (very) occasional excellent offensive play. Second-year guy Taylor Price is the question mark: if he develops like some analysts anticipate he could morph into a reliable David Givens-type of possession receiver with added big-play potential. Exciting to see what he might do.

Tight Ends
Rob Gronkowski*
Aaron Hernandez*
Alge Crumpler

Gronkowski and Hernandez are locks, of course, but I really hope the team retains Crumpler. I see no point in discarding him in favor of a less-expensive veteran. He's a captain, he does amazing high fives with Gronkowski and I want him, Taylor and Branch to start a free-form talk show. They are the smoothest, most upstanding individuals around and I'd love to hear their level-headed realism regarding everyday things like the Verizon iPhone, Egypt and shoveling your sidewalk.

Offensive Line
Matt Light (LT)*
Logan Mankins (LG)*
[Draft pick] (C)*
Dan Connolly (RG)*
Sebastian Vollmer (LT)*
Ryan Wendell
Quinn Ojinnaka

I had some trouble here. Light had a good season but I thought, no matter what, it would be his last one here (he's a free agent). More on that in a second. Dan Koppen seems like a nice guy but he's a little undersized, and I think the team needs to spend one of their higher picks on a big athletic center. For that reason, and because Mankins might be gone (he'll likely be back if you ask me, but still; I know nothing about football), I don't think Belichick will want to have to replace at least two starting veterans with rookies or free agents. So I'd go with a rookie center in this year's draft and a rookie right tackle (Vollmer shifting over to the left side, unless some monster left tackle is available) next year. It pains me to leave off my man Stephen Neal—he is outrageously athletic when he's able to play and he's super-fun to watch on late-developing screen passes, but I think the most recent is one injury too many. He will retire. Too bad. Connolly—clearly athletic as well, with the amazing kickoff return against the Packers (maybe Rodgers wasn't so out of line)—will become the full-time right guard. And, if you haven't noticed, I have no confidence in Nick Kaczur as a tackle or a guard. He was penciled in at left guard last preseason (when it became clear that Mankins wouldn't be back) and then hurt himself before playing a down. This follows his right-tackle job being taken away from him two seasons ago by a German rookie. So suddenly he's a returning starter? At a new position? I don't see it. He'll be dealing drugs in Canada by October. [Edit: I added the Kaczur rant after realizing I neglected to explain my decision to leave him off the roster. (I admit to cleaning up the words but not the meaning of older posts when not writing shiny new ones.) I hadn't heard anything about the team's potential—and still unproven—decision to cut him. After this revelation, however, I would like to move my drug-dealing projection up to March.]

Defensive Line
Ron Brace (DE)*
Vince Wilfork (NT)*
Kyle Love (DE)*
Myron Pryor
Mike Wright
Gerard Warren

Weird year for this crew. Ty Warren goes down before the season starts and who knows what we can expect from him. I'd love to see him return to his dominant pre-injury self at right defensive end. Only thing, he was never a dominant player the way Richard Seymour was or Wilfork can at times be. I think Belichick sees what the young guys (Pryor, Brace, Love and Deaderick) can do around Wilfork, Wright and Gerard Warren (who admirably filled the Warren role but probably doesn't have the trade value and/or high contract of Ty). Wilfork finally displayed some three-down flexibility (as well as some excruciatingly boring interview skills… when he actually sucks it up and gives interview, like following huge wins where he plays well) and I think we'll see more four-man lines like we did this season. Unfortunately, too many injuries stunted a lot of potential 2010 development.

Rob Ninkowivh (OLB)*
Jerod Mayo (ILB)*
Brandon Spikes (ILB)*
Jermaine Cunningham (OLB)*
Gary Guyton
Eric Moore
Dane Fletcher

We need an outside rusher who can consistently pressure the quarterback and make awesome defensive-player-of-the-year type plays in the middle of the field. That man is not on the team right now. I don't know who or where he is. But I wish Belichick would just take a fucking chance for once and draft a guy who might make an immediate impact, even if he is a little shorter than some perfect-on-paper prospect. In other news, Tully Banta-Cain has been a nice player but he is fourth-best behind a converted long snapper, a serviceable second-round pick and a UFL player. Patriots All Access also did a feature this year on his side career as a shitty R&B singer. Sorry, TBC. You're cut. Maybe we'll see you again in three years. Again.

Devin McCourty*
Leigh Bodden*
Kyle Arrington
Darius Butler

Count me among the people disappointed—at the time—with last year's McCourty draft pick. Not because I thought he was a lousy player—I don't follow college football in any capacity—but because the first thing the "experts" on the NFL Network said about him was that he was a strong special-teams player. That wasn't what I was looking for in a first-round pick. But it turns out he is indeed an excellent special-teams player and an even better cornerback. I'm excited to see what he can do this year opposite Leigh Bodden, winner of the award for Least Talked-About but Most Defense-Crippling Injury of 2010. Arrington was OK but I liked it better when he was a strong special-teams player who occasionally played some defensive back. Butler is hanging on by a thread—he is just not that good. Even in the few times when he played perfect coverage—as in, not an Ellis-Hobbsian seven yards behind the play—the receiver would end up with the ball. Either he or Wilhite will be inactive on game day and then cut by the end of the year.

Patrick Chung*
James Sanders*
Jarrad Page

Now that Brandon Meriweather is a two-time Pro-Bowler I wonder if we'd be able to get a seventh-round pick for him. Good riddance. His contract is up after next season but I don't even want to wait that long. What a horrible, horrible player he is. If you meet someone who claims to be a Pats fan and you are wondering how carefully he follows the team, just ask what he thinks of Meriweather. If he says anything more flattering than "Substandard" then you are speaking with a fake fan or to Meriweather himself. Other than that, I like what I've seen from Chung and (in limited situations) Page and Brown. I think either Page or Brandon McGowan (returning from injury) will be back in that spy-Dallas-Clark type of role, but not both. James Sanders is a good player with a great attitude and his is the role the team will look to fill via the draft, either this year or next. Honestly, they can dump Meriweather and do nothing else with this crew and it will have improved.

Stephen Gostkowski (K)
Zoltan Mesko (P)
Matt Katula (LS)
Matthew Slater
Tracy White

Haven't read anything saying Gostkowski will not return at full strength. Then again, I don't read notable fucktards Mike Felger, Tony Massarotti or Dan Shaughnessy. I appreciate Shayne Graham and the fill-in job he did for us but I hope we don't need him, and that he succeeds on another team. Mesko was fine and another year of training camp should hopefully tighten up his mechanics. Katula did what he was supposed to do (the botched fake punt against the Jets was not his fault) in being totally forgettable so I don't see a point in drafting a replacement. (He also reminds me of Metallica's "The Call of Ktulu," which is the fine closing instrumental from the award-winning Ride the Lightning.) There are a lot of Slater-haters… and I'm one of them when he's on the field for anything other than kicks and punts (as a coverage/cover man, not a returner). But he rings up special-teams tackles and looks like an incognito superhero with his glasses on, so there's value there. He'll count as a never-used receiver on game day. Same as "linebacker" White, who will probably be back as a big-four special-teamer.

Taylor Price (for now)
Sergio Brown (for now)
Brandon Deaderick
Rich Ohrnberger
Jonathan Wilhite
Running back [Draft pick]
Cornerback/Safety [Draft pick]
Outside linebacker [Draft pick]

So there you have it: the uninformed ramblings of someone who has never played a down of meaningful football. Matter of fact I fractured the tip of my ring finger the last time I played a pick-up game—twelve or thirteen years ago—slamming it against the frozen Brighton tundra after whiffing on a Thanksgiving weekend tackle. Guess what, though: I played through that shit.