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.

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