With the Superbowl coming up, some questions about the NFL (with possible answers) for 2014 and beyond -
What is with the sudden talk of potential Friday night and Monday night playoff games in the future?
The idea of holding Wildcard playoff games on Friday night and Monday night has come up and it says to me that the NFL will expand to eight, as opposed to just seven, playoff teams per conference in 2015. Adding a third Wildcard team per conference would be easy to piggyback onto Wildcard Saturday and Sunday; they would become tripleheaders akin to regular-season Sundays and there would be no particular ratings need for TV. Two extra days for playoff games would be necessary if there were eight Wildcard games as opposed to six.
Is it a "good" idea? We've already heard the gripe about "diluting the regular season" and there's really no reason to buy it because it really can't; the best teams are going to the Superbowl and adding extra competition isn't a bad thing.
What's with Roger Goodell's desire to change the Point After Try?
It's his utter ignorance of the game at work again. PATs ostensibly aren't "exciting" enough yet they work fine as-is; there's no need for more "excitement" in the game and no need to take an eminently understandable game and make it harder to understand. Goodell's ignorance of the game first showed up with so-called "Spygate" and was exacerbated by his "Bountygate" witchhunt against the New Orleans Saints (where despite dishing out vicious punishments Goodell wound up the loser anyway) and then continued with his cowardly refusal to stand up to the concussion demagogues. A real commissioner would not have demagogued about the rulebook or about the physicality of a team's play (remember this is the same league that in the AFC Championship Game flagged the Patriots for clean pick-plays and refused to flag the Broncos for questionable at best hitting on pick-plays) and would see the accurate issue with concussions - it's the recovery time allowed for players after showing possible signs, not the hitting.
PATs are not a legitimate issue to change.
Are the Patriots finished as a Superbowl contender?
Not at all. The loss to Denver was an execution loss, not a loss based on any fundamental failures in the team's roster-construction philosophy or Tom Brady's quarterbacking competence. The Patriots do need to shore up the line of scrimmage on both sides, need reinforcement at the tight end spot, and still need bookend deep-threat receivers akin to the Randy Moss-Donte Stallworth-Jabar Gaffney periods - but these problems are not unfixable and the answers may already be on the roster. The Patriots have sustained success the way they have not only from having the best quarterback of this generation but also because the system does not trap itself with Names, as most other teams have so often done over the years (see the Ravens today) and thus is able to be reconstituted and still win - as happened in 2013.
Who if anyone will challenge the Patriots in the AFC East?
The strongest looking candidate is the Dolphins, though the flameout in the final two games of 2013 was a discouraging sign, especially as there remain major issues on offense in general and the line in particular; there is also the issue of how meddlesome team owner Stephen Ross either has become or is becoming, for he's become a disturbingly frequent presence in the discussion and so far he's shown zero competence as a team owner.
The NY Jets may release troublesome receiver Santonio Holmes but overall they look like the same old Jets - stumbling along trying to win the back page as opposed to actually building a program.
The Bills started over again in 2013 and it will be a few years before we see if it's truly working.
Some are already proclaiming Andrew Luck will make the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. Is he that good?
Yes and no. There is definitely a superior quality to him as a quarterback, but as his game is advancing we're seeing his strengths and also his weaknesses - he's won big, he's won in spectacular comeback fashion - but he's also lost bigger. His playoff comeback against the Chiefs was history-making; his two playoff losses were pretty ugly, especially to a Ravens squad in 2012 on the verge of faltering. I expect him to put up huge numbers and win plenty; I also think he will have losses that leave people scratching their heads. Overall there is good reason to expect him to make Canton.
Can anyone in the AFC South challenge the Colts?
Yes. Tennessee and Houston have changed their coaching staffs and I think both will have rebound seasons in 2014. Both have ample talent; Tennessee showed superior fight in 2013. The one coaching change I'm not confident in is hiring Romeo Crennel for Houston, for Crennel proved after leaving the Patriots that he is not a competent coach, with Cleveland or Kansas City.
Jacksonville started over with a new coach and had modest success; the Jaguars need a quarterback and would be a decent landing spot for one of the highly-touted rookies.
Will anyone coach the Browns?
Mike Pettine will, but the fact candidates avoided Cleveland very publically indicates there is something fundamentally wrong with that entire organization - and the issue of owner Jimmy Haslam's finances is a continuing issue that's curiously been overshadowed by other league news.
Is the AFC North a three-way fight?
Never say never for Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but entering 2014 they look stuck behind Cincinnati rather than poised to return to true division contention. The Steelers in particular have been a mediocre team since losing to the Broncos in 2011 while the Ravens have bigger issues after being crushed in their final two games last season.
Is the East the Least?
Yes. Only the Eagles show legitimate form and will only get better now that they have a workable program in place.
Will the Lions finally live up to their talent?
They have to. The Lions made major coaching changes and the talent on this team is too much to not break out.
Why did the Bears re-sign Jay Cutler the way they did?
Because they made the two dumbest analytical mistakes in pro sports - they fell in love with a Name, and fell in love with Volume Stats. Jay Cutler is nothing but a stiff; he's done nothing but prove it since debuting with the Broncos.
Some have said that the Cutler re-signing is because viable alternatives are not there. Is that the case?
Of course not. The Bears can draft a quarterback and have reason to feel he'll be better than Cutler. Developing quarterbacks is seen as harder than it necessarily is; what seems to be happening is some teams are foolishly more afraid of failing than of succeeding.
Will Atlanta and Tampa Bay be able to contend with Carolina and New Orleans?
I doubt it. Tampa Bay has fallen into a mess and the Falcons' collapse was huge despite still having ample talent. Hiring Scott Pioli won't help the Falcons because Pioli proved he can't handle personnel outside of the Belichick basestar's force field.
Will the NFC West become a real four-way slugfest?
I think so. All four teams look strong, though I'm a little surprised the Rams didn't take a step forward in 2013. Be afraid of the Cardinals as Bruce Arians is proving he is the real deal and then some, though Carson Palmer is not the answer there. One need also keep an eye on the Seahawks if Pete Carroll's players-coach history becomes an issue again.