Lee's Locks No. 27
After correctly picking the Super Bowl match-up, Lee's back to weigh in a week before the big game.
The Observation Deck:
We should begin with a note of commemoration regarding the passing of college football legend Joe Paterno this past weekend. Paterno coached football at Penn State University for 46 seasons, compiling an unbelievable record 409 Division I wins. The board of trustees fired Paterno this past November for what was regarded as a lack of action pertaining the heinous allegations surrounding former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
I cannot and will not make light of those truly detestable allegations, but I also cannot discount all of the truly admirable things that Paterno accomplished in those four plus decades. He helped put PSU football on the national football map and undoubtedly fostered a work ethic and environment second to none and helped shape the lives of many players and people in a positive way. Joe Paterno succumbed to health issues at the age of 85, but he should be remembered on the absolute best of terms in a countless number of ways as State College will not be the same place without him.
Steelers fans may well remember that is was Paterno who was offered the head coaching job by the Rooney's that he turned down to stay at Penn State and that eventually led to the hire of Chuck Noll in 1969. I'd say it went pretty well for both locales.
When Bear Bryant died – the previous record holder for wins – there was a moment of silence held at the very next Super Bowl, and I wonder if that's what they will do, here. They should because it took into account on the field accomplishments and Joe had them.
Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke also died recently after an accident during a Superpipe practice run at Park City, Utah, and it was at exactly the same place where snowboarder Kevin Pearce sustained a severe brain injury in 2009. Burke was one of the promoters of the Superpipe event and was also a four-time champion in the Winter X-Games and would have been the favorite for the gold medal at the Winter Olympics set for Russia in 2014.
As fate would have it, The New York Giants and the New England Patriots will have a rematch of Super Bowl XLII in Indianapolis at the site of Super Bowl XLVI by way of their victories in each of the respective conference title games this past Sunday. Neither team looked convincingly super, but each earned the right to play for the coveted NFL championship.
This also means that the new head coach for the Nittany Lions, Bill O'Brien, is going to be rather late for work as he is the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-bound Patriots. It's nice to be both wanted and needed, I guess. His head likely rotates a full 360 degrees.
The Green Bay Packers are in some trouble. This past weekend, the Miami Dolphins hired former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin away from them to be their head coach and the Oakland Raiders previously tabbed former Director of Football Operations Reggie McKenzie to be their general manager. You can rest assured that the drain on that Packer's staff has only just begun as other assistants will likely leave and current backup quarterback Matt Flynn will also likely find many suitors for his services in free agency. Success does indeed come with its own unique set of problems.
The Oakland Raiders have hired former Denver Bronco's defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, who was previously the defensive line coach for the Saints and prior to that, the Falcons. He was a coordinator for John Fox for only one season. It's the first time in three decades that the Raiders elected to not choose an offensive-minded coach (last defensive coach chosen was John Madden - remember him?) to run their program.
Likewise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the final team to sign a new head coach and after failing to land Chip Kelly from Oregon, they did in fact sign Greg Schiano from Rutgers to take over. They seemed hell-bent on a collage coach, and they got a good one as Schiano resurrected a Scarlet Knights' program and brought them to respectability in his 11 years of coaching the team. He was also an assistant with the Chicago Bears for two years before heading off to New Jersey, so he did have some NFL experience on his resume.
Rumor has it that the Cleveland Browns are talking to former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress about their offensive coordinator position. Childress formerly held that same position with the Philadelphia Eagles with much success before leaving for the Twin Cities.
In Major League Baseball, the Detroit Tigers have signed free agent first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million dollar deal this week. This event will evidently move Miguel Cabrera to third base and bat Fielder in the number four spot behind Cabrera. Surprisingly, it's an awful lot of money for a defensively marginal first baseman. They are indeed going for it. Could you imagine seeing Fielder in Erie on a rehab assignment? Don't laugh because it's totally possible.
Quote of the Week:
"I just hope they put a thrashing on the Patriots, I really do,'' Pollard said Tuesday during an interview on a Houston radio station. "To lose to a team like that the way we played . . ." – Bernard Pollard, the Baltimore Ravens safety who is picking the New York Giants to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
Pollard was with the Kansas City Chiefs when he took out Tom Brady's left knee, ending the quarterback's season with a ruptured ACL and MCL in the first quarter of the season opener in 2008, was also previously with the Houston Texans and while preparing to tackle wide receiver Wes Welker, who then tore his ACL and ended his season in 2009 and finally with the Ravens, he rolled tight end Ron Gronkowski's ankle in the AFC Championship game while making a tackle this past Sunday. When he plays against the Patriots, you have to consider yourself lucky if everyone comes out of the game without season-ending injuries, so when he just runs his mouth after the game has already been played, it becomes monumentally insignificant.
The good news is, at this rate, Pollard will likely end up playing for most of the NFL's 32 teams, and at some point, he may be on one that actually wins a ring.
This past weekend, we had only two NFL games, but they were significant in that the eventual AFC and NFC champions were decided and are those who will represent each conference in the upcoming Super Bowl in February.
In the AFC Championship and first game, the two teams were significantly different coming in as one was all about offense (New England) and the other about defense (Baltimore). I went with the Patriots at home to take this one away from the Ravens based primarily on quarterback play. I was correct in my choice of team, but wrong in the prediction because Raven's quarterback Joe Flacco actually outplayed Tom Brady, and it was New England's defense that came up big in the game at the right times. New England downed Baltimore and the final was 23-20 when Raven's kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds, which would have sent the game into overtime.
The second and final game was the NFC Championship between the visiting New York Giants and the San Francisco Forty-Niners. This game did manage to get into overtime and was also decided by a field goal, although this kick was good. It was a defensive affair played under sloppy conditions and by two teams intent on imposing their will upon the other. Two costly miscues in the Forty-Niners punt return game by way of lost fumbles accounted for a Giants touchdown and then the final winning kick in extra innings. The final was again decided by a mere three points, with the Giants 20 and Forty-Niners 17. San Francisco's Kyle Williams may get the rap – and rightfully so -- for the two fumbles, but the Forty-Niners offense went 0-13 on third down, so I think maybe that contributed to their demise just as much, if not more.
There's 53 people on each team, so one guy can't lose it, I'm sorry.
That helped get me to 2-0 on the weekend and to 34-15 overall on the NFL season.
There are no picks this week because I'll hold off until the week before Super Bowl, and I plan to make my last selection then. This will give me an opportunity to evaluate the situation, injuries, look at tendencies, any recent or series history and so on before making my final NFL pick of the season, blah, blah, blah.
Even though I've already made my choice, that is.
And another thing:
In the NCAA, the Syracuse men's basketball team surprised everyone and jumped out to a 20-0 record and many were actually thinking they could go undefeated. Good grief. In fact, being the first time that this has ever happened at the university, they went out and printed up T-shirts exclaiming the amazing 20-zip start, which sold like hotcakes to the quivering masses. Unfortunately, no one mentioned this to Notre Dame who came in last Saturday and slapped down the Orange, handing them their first defeat, 67-58. T-shirts, are you kidding me, T-shirts?
The Indianapolis Colts, who were once a model of consistency and competitiveness, are now in complete disarray. Team owner Jim Irsay has cleaned house: Vice President Bill Polian, his son, GM Chris, and head coach Jim Caldwell -- which means the coaching staff in its entirety – are gone. Quarterback Peyton Manning is at the Colts facility on a regular basis while performing his rehab from neck surgery and wondering what the grand plan is. This is the house that Peyton built and you don't have any idea of what will happen next. It's essentially a week before the Super Bowl, of scouting the Senior Bowl, setting up your draft boards, performing vital team, staff, and player evaluations and all you have in place is a rookie general manager and a rookie head coach? That's right: they've hired Chuck Pagano, the former Raven's defensive coordinator to be their new head coach, but he's never held that position before and was a coordinator for only one year at that. Holy deflated footballs, Batman.
I don't pretend to be a football or even a sports program professional, but this does not look like a successful business model to me. It looks like the shots are being called by Larry, Moe, and Curly, and I'd get ready for another season of 2-14 and another period of ineptitude if I were a Colt's fan today. I just can't see them competing for the division title, can you?
If the program does not appear to be a winner, you really have to wonder if Manning will return and be the quarterback, but when faced with the March deadline for his $28 million bonus, it isn't a reach that Indianapolis will ask him to retire as a Colt. You can't tie up that much of your cap space on a player that won't take a snap before the bonus goes into effect. Besides, they own the first pick in the NFL draft, and you'd have to think it will be used on quarterback Andrew Luck. A first round pick at quarterback, an injured returning star quarterback with a giant cap number, and a new head coach who has experience on the defensive side of the ball only. Wonder where that leaves Mr. Manning? With the verbal sparring that's going on between Manning and Jim Irsay via the media, you could envision that if Peyton plays next season, there won't be a horseshoe on his helmet.
I just sincerely hope that he doesn't sign with the despicable New York Jerks and blowhard coach Rex Ryan.
One and Almost done:
This was supposed to be my final submission, but I didn't want a two-week gap between the end of the conference championships and Super Bowl XLVI on February 5, so I figured to get an extra column in to fill in that gap. With no picks, hey, I can't lose.
Have a great week and avoid intentional trouble at all costs.