4th & Inches: Week 17

4th & Inches is a weekly discussion during the NFL regular season, playoffs, and occasionally during the offseason of all things football – the good, the bad, and the Oakland Raiders. Some weeks all games will be discussed. Some games three games will be discussed. Topics will range from quarterback play to the dictatorship structure of the league to trending topics.

As a whole, the purpose of 4th and Inches will be exactly what the name suggests. As a team on the field often is in desperation mode when it decides go for it on fourth down and inches, these blog entries will be a desperate attempt to make sense of what is going on in the National Football League.

If you have any topics you wish to see discussed on 4th & Inches, or any comments at all, you can suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

The Greatness of Vinatieri

He was so close. One more made field goal attempt for the Colts in their final game against Tennessee and Adam Vinatierie’s name would be at the top of ESPN’s agenda as only the fifth kicker in NFL history to have a perfect season. Alas, whether it be from a slight gust or the damp conditions or fate, one final 46-yarder, a distance Vinatieri has covered countless times, couldn’t make it between the goalposts.

But final misses be damned.

Vinatieri was one of the most underrated players in 2014, and that’s due in large part to the fact that he is a kicker. Let’s face it, they don’t get much love or attention unless they’re being let go.

On the morning of 2014’s finale against the Titans, Vinatieri was 28-for-28 on field goal attempts, Vinatieri was perfect on PATs, and Vinatieri turned 42. It’s hard to decide which of the stats– concerning football or his age – is more incredible.

Alas, Vinatieri’s season ends 30-for-31 after Sunday’s miss from 46 yards, but that in no way mars the remarkably consistent season Vinatieri has had. Regarded by many as the most clutch kicker in NFL history (See: Super Bowls XXXVI & XXXVIII), Vinatieri became the first player in NFL history to score 900 points for two different franchises. He’ll end his season with a trip to the Pro Bowl along with four other Colts, but that game (exhibition?) will in no way be the end of a Hall of Fame Career.

Vinatieri has said he wants to keep playing after 2014, and why not? Considering how his age has correlated with his performance in recent seasons, Vinatieri is one of the most durable athletes in professional sports today. The oldest player currently in Canton to ever take the football field, George Blanda, hung up the cleats just prior to his 49th birthday. Who knows, maybe Vinatieri has another record in him?

So thank you, Vinatieri, for continuing to be an underappreciated marvel on the field. Congratulations on all your Super Bowl-clinching kicks that will go down in history, your phenomenal 2014, and all your success in the future.

vinatieri

 

Close to the very top of the Things We Never Thought We’d Say At The Beginning Of The Season…

The Dallas Cowboys have the most momentum going into the playoffs. Tony Romo has to be one of the most confident quarterbacks going into the new year and if the names Dez and DeMarco don’t strike a balance of fear and admiration in your heart, you haven’t been watching them enough this season.

The ‘Boys have been an absolute menace on both sides of the ball in December as Romo finally moved past his late-season ghosts (14-21 in December and January prior to 2014). Just look at that sentence and imagine how many of its components would sound comic a year ago. Jerry Jones’ faith in Jason Garrett ( has finally paid off after a couple of underwhelming 8-8 seasons, and he finally gets to see what his talent-infused roster gets to do in January.

Over the last month Dallas has outscored their opponents 165-79 while setting new franchise records in the process. Sure three of those teams aren’t going to be in the playoffs, but when routs become commonplace and expected that’s got to give you some confidence for when you play the big dogs.

Naysayers will say that Tony is setting up Dallas for “The Greatest Romo of All Time”, but that doesn’t have much legitimacy to it when their running attack and defense has been just as formidable a force in December. Heck, they would almost be shoo-ins for the Super Bowl if they resided in the weaker AFC.

Dallas won their finale against the Redskins 44-17 and finished a magnificent 8-0 on the road in 2014. As I’m typing this, if current scored hold, Dallas would have a bye through the first week of the playoffs.

They’re gonna need it to figure out their play at home, where they went just 4-4 this year. When that is your team’s biggest concern heading into the playoffs, you know you’re in a pretty good place.

Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

 

The Indianapolis Colts and divisional privilege

After a 17-10 victory over Houston in Week 15, Indianapolis clinched yet another AFC South title. Or, as a decade of singular dominance by Indy and unparalleled atrociousness by Jacksonville, Houston, and Tennessee has suggested it should be called, they won the Weakest Division In Football.

Divisional dominance can be deceiving.

The Colts have now won the South nine times in the division’s 13-year existence, and in 2014 they swept their division opponents. Which really isn’t that astonishing when you look at the combined record of those other three teams, which stands at 14-34 for at the end of 2014. Those teams in their current respective locations have won a grant total of zero Super Bowls, due slightly in part to the fact that they have zero appearances between the three of them.

I mean, let’s be honest, does it really strike fear when wehear the words Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans? The Houston Texans are getting there slowly, and by golly would have won the Worst Division In Football had Indy lost one or two games down the stretch. But in reality when it’s the Houston Texans we’re talking about, it’s usually J.J. Watt.

When examining the division more closely, it might do to place a big fat asterisk next to all the statements about Colts dominance and superiority in the division over the 2000s. They have been one of the most consistent franchises over the last 10+ years in the regular season, but when looking at how they have fared in the postseason – save for one Super Bowl victory in 2006 – does it really correlate with their play in the regular season?

Luck went 8-0 against the AFC South this season, but how impressive is that really?

Luck went 8-0 against the AFC South this season, but how impressive is that really?

To be sure, the Colts are remarkable for emerging the best team of four at the end of 9 out of 13 seasons. That is no small feat, no matter how bad the other teams perform. But when you compare the AFC South to a division like the NFC North, which has five Super Bowl victories between just two teams (the Packers and Bears) and has emerged as a deadly division in recent years, how much of a light is shed on the awkward lopsidedness of the AFC South?

It warrants thinking about, as the Colts win division title after division title while the rest of the division is seemingly stuck in eternal disappointment limbo.

 

Game 256

A playoff-picture-cementing matchup between the Steelers and Bengals earned the dubious distinction of being the final game of the 2014 regular season. The matchup is rightfully in primetime, and we all know what that means in 2014. 

On paper the Steelers should win this game, by about a score of  68-13, but the Bengals have been one of the more perplexing teams of the season. They’ve had a tendency to grind out must-win games against formidable opponents while doing the opposite against more meager teams, and that formula is in place for Game 256.

No matter the outcome of this game, the thing to pay attention to is the stars that have to align for a Steelers trip to Foxborough in the playoffs.

Just image the storylines surrounding that matchup. Two quarterbacks with what might very well be their last real shot at another Super Bowl to cement surefire Hall of Fame careers. Roethlisberger’s Steelers have emerged as the most balanced offensive attack in the league, while Tom Brady has had an MVP-worthy season.

Brady and Roethlisberger are a combined 28-12 in the playoffs.

Brady and Roethlisberger are a combined 28-12 in the playoffs.

With respect to the Broncos, their Super Bowl hopes rest on an early exit of the Patriots from the playoffs. As inconsistently as they have played in the latter half of the regular season, they aren’t the one team from the AFC that can beat Brady on his home turf.

The Steelers can, and I believe that a Brady-Roethlisberger matchup, headlined by two slingers with five Super Bowl rings between them, would result in a game for the ages.

I mean, something has to be there to halt the unstoppable force that is the Patriots in a season where the Giants miss the playoffs…right?

I think the Steelers are the one team that can do it and the team that will do it.

It begins tonight with Game 256, and the end of the regular season.

 

Just another MVP ballot

Last week I gave my take over why J.J. Watt won’t win the MVP – although he is truly deserving – and although finished his season by becoming the first player in NFL history with multiple 20-sack seasons, I stand by that.

That being said, the man had a damn fine season by any position’s standards, so he deserves some place on every ballot, which I present to you now, at the end of a season in which any of the listed players, and a few others, could win the award.

1. Aaron Rodgers,  QB, Green Bay

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England

3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas

4. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston

5. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh

And, because they impact their respective teams just as much, I present to you my ballot for Least Valuable Player.

1. Roger Goodell, Commissioner, National Football League

2. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

3. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago

4. Jim Harbaugh, Soon-To-Be-Ex Head Coach, San Francisco

5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta

 

Final thoughts on the 2014 regular season

  • How miserable a season it must have been for fans of the 49ers. Not only between having to deal with the wildly irrational play at times of Colin Kaepernick, but also with the never-ending speculation of where Jim Harbaugh will be coaching next year. This team is close to contending again, but that final piece might prove elusive.

 

  • As Peyton Manning sets new records in Denver, Andrew Luck surpasses him with smaller ones in Indianapolis. With an absolutely phenomenal 80-yard catch and run by Reggie Wayne on Sunday’s victory over the Titans, Andrew Luck set a new Colts franchise record for passing yards in a single season. Congratulations, Andrew. Now please get the turnover issue fixed for January.

 

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. That is all. Might be the sole reason Eli is still the starter in New York next season.

 

  • Roger Goodell has continued to dig himself a deeper hole, despite staying out of headlines the last few weeks, with how he handled the Rice case. Hard to imagine he’s Commish for much longer.

 

  • Major KUDOS to the NFL’s 32 teams for refusing to pick up Ray Rice.

 

  • My, what a three-year span it’s been for AP.

 

  • The Curious Case of Primetime Games…seriously, nothing about the 2014 season was more perplexing.

 

  • Denver just had an interception to end (finally) a 47-14 thrashing of the Raiders. If they return to the Super Bowl, it will be because of their defense.

 

  • Considering their situation(s), the Rams had to have had one of the most pleasantly surprising teams of 2014. Bradford is a healthy season away from leading them to the playoffs.

 

  • Johnny Manziel, you let us down.

 

  • Overreaction of the season: The Patriots are done for the season after a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs in Week 4.

 

  • Can’t remember the last time the choice MVP of the regular season was this muddled, and that can’t be anything other than good for the league. Parity is paramount.

 

  • Glad that Peyton isn’t seriously considering retirement just yet. The NFL isn’t quite ready for him to leave.

 

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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4th & Inches: Week 16

4th & Inches is a new weekly discussion during the NFL regular season, playoffs, and occasionally during the offseason of all things football – the good, the bad, and the Oakland Raiders. Some weeks all games will be discussed. Some games three games will be discussed. Topics will range from quarterback play to the dictatorship structure of the league to Gronk’s latest photoshoot with cats.

Kidding.

As a whole, the purpose of 4th and Inches will be exactly what the name suggests. As a team on the field often is in desperation mode when it decides go for it on fourth down and inches, these blog entries will be a desperate attempt to make sense of what is going on in the National Football League.

If you have any topics you wish to see discussed on 4th & Inches, or any comments at all, you can suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

This is rock bottom in the Bay Area

Everything was looking great for the 49ers. Up 28-7 at halftime on a team who may have been playing too desperately to play smart football in the Chargers. Kaep looked great. The offense as a whole looked great. The defense looked great. And for one half, the football world was reminded of why Harbaugh’s 49ers have been such a threat since he entered the league.

But then the second half began, and it would take two more quarters and OT for the 2014 49ers to pull the most 2014 49ers move of all – allowing the Chargers to storm back and win the game 38-35.

The 49ers aren’t just losing games now – they’re setting up their fans for heartbreak by essentially playing to be left out of the playoffs. In the process, they gave Philip Rivers – arguably the best active quarterback yet to win a Super Bowl – another shot as the Chargers took a huge step towards playing in January.

The 49ers have a minor case of the Chicago Bears. They simply have too much talent on both sides of the ball to be playing like they don’t give a damn. And who knows, with all the speculation about where Harbaugh will be coaching next year, maybe they don’t.

 
The J.J. Watt-For-MVP Conundrum

Deep down, you love J.J. Watt. If you like the sport of American football at all, you love the man.

Don’t deny it. You know it’s true.

Hell, I love J.J. Watt. And my Colts have to play him twice a year.

Here’s the thing about Watt and his electrifying, legitimate, rock-and-roll play as it concerns his MVP case.

It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. He can be scoring touchdowns in every way imaginable – and he has – but unfortunately that will never be enough unless he’s consistently throwing touchdown passes for Houston too. It’s not his fault. He’s a great player. But the way the sport is viewed and played and analyzed, Watt will not win MVP this season. Even though he deserves it.

There’s a precedent to this whole does-a-defensive-player-do-enough-to-be-MVP debate. Te’o – Manziel, the two consummate Heisman Trophy finalists in 2012. Do you like old-school football, where the game is dictated by rumble tumble, merciless, you-shall-not-pass defenses? You rooted for Te’o, his whole catfishing situation be damned. Do you prefer electrifying quarterback play, where you don’t know if a play will end in a 20 yard gain or an 80 yard touchdown run or a Hail Mary to win the game with 5 seconds left? Then you probably rooted for Manziel, off-field antics be damned.

Unfortunately it didn’t matter what the public thought. It was most likely not a difficult decision for Heisman voters. In the end, as in any sport at any level, it comes down to who scores the points. Points win games. Case closed.

In the NBA, the MVP is almost always the player with the highest points per game who took his team deep into the playoffs (Lebron, Durant). In the NFL of yesteryear it’s the player who sets offensive records by scoring, scoring, and scoring some more (Hi, No. 18).

In the MLB…ahh. It is an interesting case in major league baseball. In 2011, a starting pitcher won the MVP as well as the Cy Young. It happened again this season when the almighty deity that is Clayton Kershaw won the National League MVP.

How could that be? They don’t score runs, they do quite the opposite in preventing the other team from making it to home plate. And they play only every fifth day for crying out loud! Watt plays and makes an impact in every game, so what gives?

The difference is the amount of control Watt has in the game. Yes, he’s the heart of the Texans defense. Yes, he’s caught a few touchdown passes on offense. Yes, he impacts the game simply by lining up on the field and striking fear in the opposing quarterback. But this is football. And in the modern age of football, the player who has the control is the quarterback. In the end, it will always be the quarterback. Blame the quarterback. Praise the quarterback.

Going back to Kershaw: yes he only plays every fifth game, but when starting pitchers are on the mound, they control the game. It is in their hands. And as a result with Kershaw, mostly because of his filthy stuff, one or no runs will be scored when he’s on the mound. Because he controls the game.

Unless Watt is quarterback – which, let’s face it, it couldn’t hurt to try it – he won’t win MVP. He might not even be seriously considered. He deserves it, yes….but he won’t win it. Such is the nature of football.

 

Welcome to the NFC South, where the dreams of contenders go to die

There is a problem with the NFL playoff seeding, and seeding in sports in general.

Some years it works out where the problem isn’t evident. Other years, it is painfully obvious. It’s one of those years for the NFL.

The NFC South is a seething cesspool of underachievement, disappointment, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton, Brees, and Matt Ryan apparently all decided to have fluke seasons in 2014. “Nah guys, I don’t feel like playing in January. Let’s make it interesting for the league.”

And they have. Oh they have. The Panthers at 6-8-1, SIX EIGHT AND ONE, will face off against the 6-9 Falcons, SIX AND NINE, for not just the division…but also the opportunity to host a playoff game. The intrigue! The drama! The Battle of the Undesirables and Undeserving!

Meanwhile, over in the NFC East, the Eagles are 9-6 and will all but certainly stay home in January. What has the world come to?

The divisional structure of sports is The Way. It is the lifeblood. As hard as it is to believe, things would be even worse without the infrastructure of divisions and wild cards in the NFL.

The fact of the matter is that a team’s first goal has to be to winning as many games as possible to have a shot at the division. Sometimes that means having to win 12 games. Sometime that means getting off easy and finishing the season below .500. It isn’t right but it is The Way. Teams are expected to win as many games as they can, and in a perfect world the deserving teams will get a shot at The Big One by season’s end.

But if 2014 has showed us anything, the NFL is not a perfect world, and that holds true for seeding. The fact that the Eagles might miss the playoffs because of The System while the Panthers host a playoff game is unsettling. It’s fingers on a chalkboard bad. The Eagles have looked vulnerable at times, but they are arguably a much more deserving squad.

Sure things can be done to fix it. Sure. Sure, we can abolish divisions. Sure, we can give the six playoff tickets in each conference to the winningest records regardless of divisions and division winners. Sure.

But that is not The System.

The System is flawed, that isn’t more evident than this year. But teams like the 2014 Eagles will be sacrificed for the sake of the many. And the many in this case is any normal season for the NFL (an oxymoron, yes, but we’ll stick with it), in which The System succeeds despite its cloak-and-dagger reliance on some team, or two, in each division winning at least half of their games

There is a problem with NFL playoff seeding. The problem is that there is no problem. And we just have to live with that, as excruciatingly painful a fact as it is some years.

 

The Jets?

The Patriots are in a playoff state of mind, let’s make that clear. Their heads are already in January and their practices are probably that way as well. They know nothing truly rode on their game against the hapless Jets.

That being said, the Jets almost beat the Patriots. The Jets almost beat the Patriots. The Jets almost beat the Patriots, guys. They were doing so at halftime. The Jets were beating the Patriots.

Funny world, ain’t it?

There are upsets, and there are UPsets. Had the Jets pulled it off this would have been an upset of Olympian proportions, however obsolete a victory it may seem to New Englanders. It might have even been enough to keep Rex Ryan in New Yawk.

But the fact that they kept Brady scoreless for an entire quarter, the fact that they had a halftime lead – the JETS!!! – the fact that it was just a one-point game by the time 60 minutes were up…well you gotta feel pretty good for the Jets, dontcha?

Silver linings, New York. Enjoy the rest of your miserable season.

 

Super Bowl matchup prediction*

I’ve said Tom Brady isn’t going to another Super Bowl, and I stand by that educated assumption. That being said….

Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback. The Packers are a pretty good team. They’ll get this road inferiority stuff sorted out. And they’ll face off against a Broncos team looking to forget everything about February 2nd, 2014. Katy Perry will have a good night, too.

*subject to change

 

Meanwhile…in the sports netherworld….

In this final section of 4th & Inches I give my thoughts on other happenings in the wide world of sports. It’ll seem extremely non-sequitur, and that’s because of one reason: It is.

 

  • Kentucky is going to make things extremely uninteresting for one of the most interesting sporting events of the year in March. Have mercy, Calipari.
  • The Padres, who haven’t been relevant this century, are going all in for 2015. I don’t think it’ll end well. Primarily because I don’t think their marriage to Kemp will end will.
  • Unranked college basketball teams can have great games, too. NMSU-UNM last night came down to the wire after looking like it was done with ten minutes left. Impressive comeback by the Aggies. Better closeout by the Lobos. Great game, everyone wins.
  • There is officially no wider discrepancy in sports than the rift that just keeps getting wider and wider between the Western and Eastern Conferences in the NBA. Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks solidified that growing divide. Even Lebron can’t save it. The West is Peyton Manning to the Geno Smith that is the East.
  • Rondo to Dallas solidifies the Mavs as contenders for a deep, deep playoff run. Ridiculously early NBA Finals prediction: Mavericks – Bulls.
  • I think IU should be ranked.
  • Every day that passes without Ray Rice getting picked up, my faith in the NFL increases slightly.
  • 105 days until Opening Day 2015, guys. Hang in there.
  • As I finish revising this, Dallas scores their fifth touchdown of the day against Indianapolis. The Colts continue to be left on the plane when they are scheduled to play elite teams. Not good. For them or my fantasy team.

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.