Wednesday, January 21, 2015
The 49ers have gone stark raving mad. They're making boneheaded move after boneheaded move.
First they fire one of the best coaches in the sport, Jim Harbaugh, not because he's lost his ability to coach but because of personality conflicts with the top brass--CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke Then they replace him with an inexperienced nobody, their defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula. Not only does he have no significant head coaching experience, but he wasn't on any body's must-hire list. No other teams with coaching vacancies were interested. That's a monster red flag. Will he comfortably fill Harbaugh's shoes? No way. Not only is Harbaugh gone, but so is most of that great coaching staff. So Tomsula, while learning how to be a big-time head coach, has to recruit and break in a whole new staff--no easy task.
Which brings us to boneheaded move No.3.
Reportedly the Niners are considering replacing offensive coordinator Greg Roman, just hired by the Bills, with--and this is no joke--Lane Kiffin. There are so many reasons why this is a stupid move. First of all, if he's hired, he's not likely to stay very long. Inside the football world they've nicknamed him the jackrabbit, because he jumps from job to job. Kifffin is always looking for his next position. His current job, whatever it is, is just a stepping stone to the next one. He's had some great head coaching jobs--Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, USC--but left them all on bad terms. For a while, after he bailed out on the Volunteers, he was the most hated man in Tennessee.
Right now he's OC at Alabama. Head coach Nick Saban hired him last year to infuse some PAC 12 zip into Bama's stodgy offense, which he did. However, he and Saban were reportedly at odds because Saban felt Kiffin was mismanaging the running game. Bama, as usual, had a great season but you can't give Kiffin much credit for that. Any OC could have done that. Bama has a stable overflowing with some of the best players in college football. With all that talent, even an incompetent couldn't miss.
No question Kiffin is a whiz at game-planning and play calling. That's why he keeps getting jobs. But that's not all an OC does. He has to smoothly interact with players, coaches and fans, and Kiffin is notoriously awful at that.. He has limited people skills. Players and coaches tend not to like him because he's abrupt, self-absorbed, single-minded and a lousy listener. When he was at USC, one of his assistants punched him out at a bowl game. Wherever he is there's underlying animosity against him and behind-the-scenes melodrama. Yes he has high-level OC skills but they're far outweighed by all that baggage.
Is this the kind of guy--a known disruptive force--you want on a staff full of mostly new coaches guided by a novice leader, a situation that can easily plunge into chaos? Is this the kind of guy you want dealing with QB Colin Kaepernick, who's fragile after coming off a season in which he clearly regressed? Kaepernick needs a wise, stable OC to guide and retrain him. No way is that Kiffin.
Here's hoping the Niner brass wises up and doesn't make Boneheaded Move No.3.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:26 PM
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Peyton Manning is like Willie Mays. That's not a good thing.
While watching the Broncos' QB stumble through Denver's 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, center fielder Mays, one of baseball's all-time greats, came to mind. In 1973, he was 42 years old, a member of the New York Mets, pathetically stumbling through his last season. I recall seeing him in a game in New York, playing center, fielding a single, with a slow runner on second. Mays botched the play, taking forever to pick up the ball, bobbling it, and finally throwing a wobbler over the catcher's head. The runner lumbered home safely. In his prime, Mays would have routinely swallowed up that grounder and gunned down that runner at third base. In 1973, many years past his prime, he shouldn't have been playing.
Manning, one of the all-time great QBs, is ancient, broken-down Mays all over again. He's as sad and as painful to watch as Mays was during that pitiful last year, when he hit .211 and had a fraction of his phenomenal skills. Nearing 39, Manning has lost it. He and Denver are feeding us some line about him struggling because he's suffering from a torn quad. Hah! That's pure bull.
Manning's problem is obvious. His arm is dead. It has been that way since late in the season. His passes, once laser-like, now flutter. He can't throw long or medium-length passes with zip or accuracy any more. After an OK start, he slowly tailed off. His aging arm couldn't stand the wear and tear of a long season.
Defenders figured him out. They were no longer afraid of being burned by his long or medium-range passes, so they just crowded around the line of scrimmage, waiting for those dinky little passes and screens, which didn't pick up much yardage. Denver was forced to rely more and more on its running game. However, as the season wore on, it was tougher for chief RB C.J. Anderson to gain yardage because defenses were expecting the run. Once its strength, Denver's offense became a liability. Once Denver's strength, Manning became a liability.
That loss to Indianapolis was a factor in head coach John Fox being canned not long after the game. The blame for that loss is largely on Manning, who played badly. Now he's about as effective as a so-so second-stringer. The old Manning would have pulverized the Colts, who aren't that good. With little help from the offense, Denver's much-improved defense had to shoulder the entire load in that crucial game, which it wasn't able to do successfully.
Here's a message to Manning:
Dump that phony torn-quad excuse and get real. You'll never approach your old form again. Don't drag your team down because your ego can't stand facing the hard, cold, ugly fact that your arm is dead. It's never coming back to life. Deal with it. Don't be selfish. Don't stain a great career with a sad, stumbling exit. It's time to retire. Find a comfy rocking chair and settle in it. Whatever you do, please don't wind up like Willie Mays.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:42 AM
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Conspiracy theorists, you're barking up the wrong tree.
That ref's call in the Dallas 24-20 win Sunday was a travesty, but it wasn't part of a fix.
A controversy is still raging about a call on a third-down play in the fourth quarter that led to a Detroit defeat. With his team leading 20-17, Lions QB Matthew Stafford threw an incomplete pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who was mugged by Dallas' LB Anthony Hitchens, clear pass interference. An official walked off the penalty, which would have set up the Lions deep in Dallas territory. But, shockingly, ref Pete Morelli announced, with no explanation, that there was, after all, no penalty. It was a game-changer. Instead of keeping the ball and increasing their lead, the Lions, after a horrible punt, surrendered the ball to the Cowboys, who scored the winning TD. Many Detroit fans screamed foul, contending the fix was in, that the TV network preferred that Dallas advance, because its huge fan base would mean higher ratings.
But.according to two sources, both veteran professional gamblers, who know something about fixing NFL games, there was no way that call was part of a fix. Said one source, who we'll call Rex: "When a ref is fixing a game, the number one thing he does not do is make it obvious. Fixing a game is subtle. The refs look for plays that could go either way in crucial situations and then rig a call. That pass interference against Dallas was flagrant. A fixer wouldn't go near that play. Reversing it was insane. Reversing it without an explanation was more insane. You might as well be screaming, 'Hey look at me, I'm fixing the game.' When a ref is fixing a call, if it's done right, you don't know it. Refs who fix games are also watching out for league investigators. They have to be subtle. Nothing about that call in the Dallas game was subtle. "
Added another source, who we'll call Joey A: "First of all, there were too many refs involved in that call. You don't fix a game by committee. When a game is rigged, there's one guy working alone, looking for small windows of opportunity throughout the game. There were a bunch of people involved in screwing up that call. That's not fixing. No way."
Explained Rex: "Rigging for gamblers and rigging for networks are two different things. Refs working for gamblers are working against a point spread and usually work low-profile games. Rigging for networks is trickier and tougher because it's making one team win and it may be a high-profile game. When you're under a microscope in a high-profile game it's tougher to rig without tipping your hand."
Concluded Joey A: "The key to rigging is getting good refs in your pocket. Some refs are so good they can fix a game and you won't even have a hint of rigging. The refs in that Detroit game are clowns. They bungled that play. That was just rotten officiating, not rigging. People looking to rig games know which refs to trust. They would never hire those idiots. There's a list of bad refs. Some are downright incompetent and should be kicked out of the league. I haven't seen the list but I bet some of the crew that worked the Detroit game are on that list."
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 12:26 PM
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Mammoth Detroit Lions' defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, notorious for his dirty play, is usually the one who is stepping on people. This time he got stepped on, by the mighty NFL. Incensed, he cried foul.
Suh is usually in the wrong, but not this time. He'd gotten a raw deal. But justice eventually prevailed.
Here's what happened:
On Sunday, in the Lions' 30-20 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, Suh twice stepped on the leg of prone Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers after a fourth-quarter play. He was on the ground behind Suh, who stepped back twice to move out of the way of a crowd. Suh's movements could have been interpreted as accidental but, because it was Suh, they were deemed intentional. Rodgers, who took an angry swipe at him, definitely thought Suh had evil intentions. NFL official Merton Hanks, who judges such matters, agreed. So Suh was suspended for the next game, a playoff contest against Dallas.
A horrible decision. Suh is a crucial cog in the Lions' battering-ram defense. There's not a better defensive tackle in the NFL. Without him, the Detroit D slips a notch, maybe even two.
The Hanks' punishment far outweighed the crime. Watching the tape of the offense over and over, it's not totally clear that it was intentional. Even if it was, it's not the kind of violation that warrants forcing a player to miss something as important as a playoff game. Suh's behavior was borderline dirty but definitely not vicious enough to merit a one-game suspension.
Fortunately, hearings officer Ted Cotrell, after examining the appeal, overturned Hanks' decision, revoking the one-game suspension and replacing it with a $70,000 fine.
What's blatantly unfair is that, clearly, if another player had stepped on Rodgers, it would not have resulted in such a severe punishment. But because of Suh's reputation as a dirty player, the penalty was magnified. Over the years Suh has paid over $420,000 in dirty-play penalties. The NFL's policy is simple--if it's a Suh violation, it has to be dripping with malicious intent. No question, the league loves penalizing Suh.
Another element of the punishment is that it happened against Rodgers, one of the league's golden boys. If Suh had done the exact same thing to a third-string nobody QB, there's no way it would have resulted in a one-game suspension. The whole incident, in fact, would hardly have been noticed.
I'm not an advocate of dirty play. Suh is often in the wrong, crossing the line from tough play to dirty play. But nobody should be punished unfairly--even a perennial violator like Suh.
Glad the NFL got it right this time.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:41 PM
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Whoa Laker fans, Whoa!
You're reading a lot into their 115-105 upset of the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Yes it was the shocker of the NBA season. How often do you see one of the worst teams clobbering the best? But the Lakers didn't suddenly morph into the San Antonio Spurs. They're still a crummy team boasting a lone star--Kobe Bryant.
Few are looking at what really happened. This, for the Warriors, was the ultimate trap game. For them, the big game is the Christmas night national TV game, the NBA's showcase event, against their hated rivals, the rugged Clippers, in LA's Staples Center. The Tuesday Lakers game? A mere afterthought. Normally, the Lakers couldn't even seriously challenge the Warriors' second unit. As a road team, Golden State was a whopping 11-point favorite.
The big story of the game was that Lakers' coach Byron Scott had finally decided to rest Kobe who, lately, seemed to be suffering from fatigue. So the Warriors didn't even have to contend with the Lakers' best player. Minus Kobe, the consensus was that the Lakers were dead meat in that game. The Warriors shared that attitude despite, according to several sources, Warrior coach Steve Kerr's relentless efforts to convince his players that they couldn't relax, that they were walking into a buzz saw.
Kerr was on the money.
Treating it like an exhibition game, the Warriors' players had their heads in the clouds, bringing only their C game. They weren't mentally ready to play. They thought a casual effort was enough. It wasn't. Any coach will tell you that shifting gears during a game, from lackadaisical to intense, is nearly impossible. Once you go in mentally unprepared you're stuck with that attitude.
What the Warriors didn't count on was that the Lakers were sky high, determined to make a statement that they could be very competitive without Bryant. Usually he hogs the ball, forcing his teammates to stand around and watch him work for shots, which he usually doesn't make. So the first time this season he sits out a game they were anxious to show how they could play without him. The Lakers turned into a textbook team-game unit, passing constantly and sharply and waiting for the best open shot. Playing Spurs-style ball, they were able to bury a lazy Warrior team that was looking ahead to the Clippers.
But that's something that works just once. When Kobe returns, his teammates will, no doubt, retreat into their shell and passively defer to him. Once again, they will stand around and watch him work, watch him be his old selfish self. Also, opposing coaches, from scouring film of this game, will know what to expect when Kobe sits out games and how to combat the Kobe-less Lakers. They won't surprise any team again.
In other words, Laker fans, Expect your team to slink, rather quickly, back into mediocrity.
Tough, new, winning Lakers? No way.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 7:22 PM
Monday, December 15, 2014
In one of the most shocking events of the NFL season, 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick has spiraled down the drain, taking his team with him.
A super scrambler and supposedly an elite QB, he was recently overwhelmed by the awful Raiders and bested by their so-so QB David Carr. One of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Niners won't even make the playoffs. While they have a top-notch defense, thanks to Kaepernick, they have a putrid offense, which stunk, once again, in their loss in Seattle. Their offense is so bad, lately, they can't even score more than one TD per game. That's largely on Kaepernick.
The golden boy is severely tarnished. What happened? It can be narrowed down to five problems.
First of all, his confidence is shot. Second, he has two killer performance flaws--holding the ball too long and reading defenses too slowly. Third, he's playing behind a deteriorating offense line. Fourth, he's getting lousy coaching and is the victim of rotten play calling. Fifth, there may be substance abuse issues.
First of all, based on insiders reports, Kaepernick is clearly a mess of self-doubt. This is the same guy who used to ooze confidence. But he's lost his swagger. He's traded that I'm-the-greatest, can-do-anything attitude for a deer-in-the-headlights look. He used to be able to dance and dodge and skillfully elude blitzers. But now defenders know he's rattled and uncertain and have turned him into a tackling dummy, the most sacked QB in the league. No longer a skilled scrambler, he's just running scared.
Once a wizard behind the line, he has become maddeningly indecisive. These days, when he drops back to pass, he looks lost and confused. It's taking him a second or two too long to figure out how to attack a defense--even a mediocre unit like the Raiders.' Instead of throwing the ball away, too often he'll take a sack. Sometimes he has time to find a receiver but he'll squander much of that time and.wind up throwing an errant pass.
Kaepernick's descent to the NFL QB basement isn't all his fault. Some of the blame belongs to his offensive line. Once one of the NFL's best, one that gave him all kinds of time to dissect defenses, it's declined drastically, partly due to injuries that have caused extensive reshuffling. The middle, now manned by inexperienced centers, is particularly vulnerable. It doesn't help Kaepernick that the formerly fearsome running game, which used to be a staple, is now wildly inconsistent and more of a liability.
Given all the Niners' offensive talent, the coaches should be able to come up with creative adjustments, in formations and play-calling. But that hasn't happened. That's partly why head coach Jim Harbaugh and much of the offensive staff will be job-hunting in a few weeks.
Finally, the substance abuse rumors, which began as whispers early this year, have become a loud buzz. According to several sources, Kaepernick has been dabbling in assorted drugs, resulting in a slacker's mentality, which has clouded his game preparation. His work ethic, report the sources, isn't what it used to be. So part of his decline may be due to lack of hard work and focus.
One of the big questions in the NFL is who, next season, will be coaching the Niners, one of the league's premier franchises. Whoever it is, his No.1 project will be halting Kaepernick's skid and heading him back down a positive path.
Is it too late to resurrect Kaepernick? That's another big question.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 12:50 PM
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Thanksgiving Day, 2014. A day that will live in infamy for San Francisco 49er fans.
The Niners were stomped 19-3 by their nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks, an embarrassing whipping on national TV. But that wasn't the worst of it. This loss is a genuine monster, a game-changer, triggering big-time changes that will effect the team for the next few years.
Here are the wretched, far-reaching consequences: no playoffs, head coach out the door, offensive coordinator gone. And that's just for starters. No doubt, as a result of these key personnel changes, more heads will roll.
Most significantly, this loss will almost certainly keep the Niners out of the playoffs. They were tied with Seattle at 7-4. But now Seattle is 8-4 and the Niners slip to 7-5, trailing Seattle by one game and Arizona by two, with only four games left. For the Niners to make the playoffs, Seattle and Arizona would have to totally collapse, and so would the other teams chasing wild-card spots. That's just not going to happen.
For the last three years, the Niners have been a staple in the NFC championship game. For them to sink from that elite status to not making the playoffs is a bitter pill for Niner fans.
Even if the Niners win all their four remaining games, getting into the playoffs would be a long shot. There are no gimmes on their schedule. The Raiders, smelling blood from across the bay, will be tough. So will the San Diego Chargers, needing a win themselves to stay in playoff contention. So will division rivals Seattle and Arizona, who have already beaten the Niners. The next Seahawks game is in Seattle, where the Niners simply can't win. This time, they can't afford to lose. But the way Seattle manhandled the Niners on Thanksgiving Day, you can put a check in the Seattle win column right now.
Coach Jim Harbaugh's head has been on the chopping block all season, but not because he's a bad coach. In fact, he's taken the Niners to the NFC championship game for each of his first three years as coach, and to the Super Bowl in his second year. But he's been on rotten terms with management--general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York--all season. Another NFC championship game berth may have saved Harbaugh. Anything less and it's bye, bye Harbaugh.
So it's bye, bye Harbaugh.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is almost certainly gone too. Good riddance. Under his guidance, the offense was never great but it was at least passable. Now it's a joke. Scoring one TD per game is a struggle. The offensive line, once one of the best, has issues with injuries and integrating new members, but it's still a decent unit. The Niners do have the tools to generate more TDs but the offense is circling the drain. That's on Roman.
SF's recent three-game win streak is based on the skill of the defense, which hasn't been as strong this season due to the prolonged absence of greats Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. But offensive failures have pushed the defensive unit to the breaking point, with turnovers and a stream of three-and-out possessions..
Also, someone has to shoulder the blame for the startling regression of QB Colin Kaepernick, who has been mostly awful this season, looking lost, like he's getting zero coaching. Who else but Harbaugh and Roman? Reading defenses has become a real chore for Kaepernick, so he invariably holds the ball too long, leading to sack after drive-killing sack. It's no surprise that he leads the league in sacks. Against Seattle, on Thanksgiving Day, he looked totally overwhelmed.
Maybe one of the new coaches can salvage Kaepernick, who once seemed destined for greatness, and point him in the right direction.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 4:20 PM
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
LA Lakers' head coach Byron Scott is a chicken. His cowardly behavior is killing the Lakers.
He's to blame for the Lakers' epic, crappy, 1-9 start, the worst in franchise history. What's wrong with the Lakers is their limited, pitifully ineffective offense. It's been commandeered by Kobe Bryant, with his relentless, reckless, selfish, low-percentage shooting. Bryant hogs the ball, ignoring his teammates, often choosing to take difficult shots instead of passing the ball. No other Laker comes close to his total shot attempts. The other Lakers mostly stand around and watch him shoot the team out of games.
Where's Scott while this ball-hogging nonsense is going on? Is he yelling at Bryant, ordering him to play within offensive sets that require passing, sharing the ball and waiting for whoever is open to take the best shot? That's what he should be doing. That's sensible basketball, the kind other teams play, the kind that leads to wins. But that's not the Lakers' way these days. That's why they're on a course to only win 10-20 games.
The other Lakers clearly hate what Kobe is doing. Sources close to several players report the mood in the locker room is tense and gloomy, often just plain ugly. The players resent Kobe. They're frustrated with him. But they have no clout. Almost all are new to the team. They feel they're lucky to have a job. They don't want to make waves. They know that, in any battle with Bryant, they'd surely lose. So they keep quiet. They complain to outsiders and to each other. They sit in that toxic locker room and just stew.
But that may be changing. They are finally doing something. They're showing their anger and disgust by flagrantly not playing defense. In the loss on Sunday to Golden State, 136-115, the Lakers, at the defensive end, were just going through the motions. It looked like they were playing in an exhibition game or the All-Star game, where defense is an afterthought. It was embarrassing.
That game looked like a revolt, like the players were saying to Scott, "We're not going to be part of this crap any more." It looked like Scott has lost this team, even though the season has barely started. This has happened to Scott before. His teams usually bail out on him. It happened in New Jersey and Charlotte and Cleveland. That may be happening here.
It's his job to do what's best for the team, to install offensive and defensive sets that are geared to getting wins, sets that involve the entire team. If there's a ball-hog who's destroying team chemistry it's the coach's job to rein him in. But Scott isn't doing his job. He has chickened out. He knows what the other players want, what should be done, but he's not doing it. He's scared to approach Kobe and make him play team basketball. Do you think any of the top coaches in the NBA, like the Bulls' Thibodeau or the Spurs' Popovich or the Clippers' Rivers, would sit by and let one player selfishly force his will on a team, when the team is consistently losing? Of course not.
This is a bad team, a really bad team, with one star, Bryant, one third-tier star, Jeremy Lin, and a bunch of subpar hangers-on. But it could be better. If they played team basketball, put their energy into playing hard-nosed defense and smart, unselfish offense, they'd win some games. They'd also earn some respect, something they don't get now.
What Scott is doing, letting Kobe run wild and pad his offensive stats, is reprehensible. The coach is taking the coward's way out. When Scott was hired he must have made management think he could control Bryant. What a bunch of crap. It's Kobe who's doing the controlling. If the Lakers are going to do anything but be doormats this season Scott has to pave the way by first standing up to Kobe.
But I seriously doubt Scott has the courage to do that. I thought it was a big mistake to hire him. Looks like I was right.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:16 PM
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
San Francisco 49er fans, drop those crying towels. And those of you who programmed "Taps" as your ringtone, cut it out. Yes, it looks bleak but it's not over just yet.
You're still reeling from that shocking play in the Rams game Sunday, where butter-fingered QB Colin Kaepernick fumbled the ball at the goal line, turning an apparent victory into a crushing 13-10 defeat. What really lost the game, however, was the horrible play of the offensive line throughout.
It all started two weeks ago, when center Daniel Kilgore broke his leg in the Denver massacre. That meant untested rookie Marcus Martin inherited the position, which is a critical one because the center is the QB of the offense line, the one who calls the blocking schemes. He's also a force on inside run plays and the guardian against pass rushes through his area. In the Rams game, with inexperienced Martin at center, that became a disaster area. The Rams controlled it, constantly steamrolling the befuddled rookie. That had a domino effect on the line, which played miserably. Consequently, so did QB Kaepernick, who had no time to throw and no where to run. Coming into the game, the Rams had a season total of six sacks. At half-time they had five. In the second half they picked up three more. It was the Niner O-line's worst game of the year.
The most idiotic call of the game was sending Kaepernick on that QB sneak, with just seconds left, over center, the weak spot in the line. With the ball just a few yards from the goal line, coaches would normally call on RB Frank Gore. But they ignored him on those plays this time, showing little confidence in the run-blocking. Yet, on the most critical play, they gambled, trying to sneak Kaepernick into the end zone through the line's soft spot--and lost. The coaches' options were limited but putting the game on the shoulders of a struggling rookie center wasn't smart.
Sunday's game is crucial. If they lose to the Saints, they're 4-5, and in a deep hole, riding a three-game losing streak. That won't be an easy game. It's in New Orleans, where the Saints, on that fast indoor track, are tough to beat. The odds-makers think so too, establishing the Niners as a 4.5 point underdog. At 4-4, the Saints have been having an up-and-down year. They're certainly beatable. The Niners, though, will have to solve their offensive line problems and get a stellar effort from center Martin..
If you Niner fans want to look on the bright side, focus on the defense. It's still one of the best in the league. Against Denver it collapsed because the linebacking unit was wounded and couldn't cope with those talented Bronco receivers. In the Rams game, the offense may have been wobbly, but the defense was solid, holding St. Louis to 196 yards. But the Saints, who have a much better offense, will be a stiffer challenge.
The remaining Niner schedule is a bit scary. The only game you could chalk up in the win column is the one against the Raiders. Any of the others, including those against the Giants, Redskins, Chargers, Cardinals and two against the Seahawks, could easily be losses. Realistically, the Niners have to be shooting for wild card spots, with the division lead, currently held by Arizona, out of reach. It would help the Niners if some of their competitors stumbled, which is possible.
The Niners are missing three star defenders--Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Narvorro Bowman. They will all trickle back in the next few weeks, making a good defense even better. If this unit is completely healthy, that should take some of the pressure off the offense, which can get by scoring fewer points.
If the Niners lose Sunday they will be in big trouble. But, if they top the Giants the following week, which is quite likely since New York isn't playing well, the Niners will be 5-5. Then a 11-5 or 10-6 season is still possible. With either record, the Niners could sneak into the playoffs.
So Niner fans, don't panic just yet. Wait and see how these next two weeks play out. And remember, when you have a strong defense, there's always hope.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:50 PM
Friday, October 24, 2014
Brace yourself, PAC 12 followers, for an unpleasant reality. There may not be a team from your conference in the post-season playoff. The big problem is the PAC 12's national image. It's covered with mud.
These days, experts predicting which teams will make the playoffs mention the PAC 12 only in passing. Oregon, the big PAC 12 hope, is lumped in with tarnished candidates like Oklahoma and Texas A&M. One-loss Michigan State, whipped soundly by Oregon early in the season, its getting more love as a potential final-four team.
What a bummer.
And this following all the preseason hype about this being the best PAC 12 season in years and that the conference is, top-to-bottom, one of the nation's best and, most significantly, that the PAC 12 is as good or better than the SEC. Turns out none of this is true.
Those PAC 12 teams that were supposed to be final-four challengers, like UCLA and Stanford, were exposed as fatally flawed. Stanford has a marvelous defense but is saddled with a lame offense. UCLA's defense is burdened with a lame leader, Jeff Ulbrich. After an impressive opening win over Fresno State, USC has been wildly inconsistent. Three one-loss teams--Arizona State, Arizona and Utah--aren't mentioned in playoff conversations. For good reason. All will lose at least one more game. Even if one magically slips by with just one loss, neither of these teams has a strong enough national reputation to get into the playoff. A two-loss SEC team has a better shot at making the final four.
Once again, Oregon, at 6-1, has the weight of the PAC 12 on its shoulders. It's the lone conference team with a shot at making the playoff and the only one that can hang with a top SEC team. The Ducks, however, are tarnished. Not too long ago, this team was reeling. A few weeks ago, if Oregon was in the SEC, they would have been eaten alive by the top half of that conference. A three-TD favorite to trash Arizona in Eugene on Oct.2, the Ducks, shockingly, lost 31-24. The Ducks weren't all that collapsed. The PAC 12's positive national image crashed too. It still hasn't recovered.
The Ducks are back, but their image needs a makeover. Oregon is the only PAC 12 team in the AP Top 10 but, at No.6, it's still shut out of the Top 5. All that Oregon needed to snap out of that slump was the return of left tackle Jake Fisher, the team's MVP. He was out for a few games and the offensive line became a disaster area. QB Marcus Mariota didn't look like a Heisman candidate because he was constantly running for his life. The offense sputtered dramatically. When Fisher came back, so did the offense, which looked like its old powerhouse self against UCLA and Washington.
But that brief Oregon slump left an impression, mainly outside the conference, that Oregon is weak and, by default, so is the conference. Oregon can't lose again. Even if it runs the table and beats California, Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Oregon State, that may not be enough to impress the final-four committee. Other one-loss teams, no doubt some from the SEC, may be more attractive.
Oregon isn't out of the woods yet. Even with its offensive line back in shape, Oregon could still lose a game, particularly to Stanford or to hated rival, Oregon State. A two-loss PAC 12 team simply wouldn't get into the playoff.
If the Ducks get shot down again, the PAC 12's hopes of making the playoff go down too.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 4:04 PM