NFL: 5 Stories to Watch for During the 2011 Season
The lockout will end soon and the NFL will resume as usual. A while ago I wrote that I thought these histrionics were more of a show than a showdown and we’d back to our regular scheduled programming come September 8th.
I still believe that.
But with all the mind-numbing lockout headlines, it's worth wondering what regular season headlines will grace the sports pages. Here are five stories to look forward to this coming NFL season.
A Mike Vick and Kevin Kolb Quarterback Controversy
Vick is going to start the season. No questions there. But here are four factors to consider:
1) Teams will have “had a year.” I understand that’s vague, but when coaching staffs have an offseason to review tape and plan for better spies and D-line stunts, things change. Those sorts of adjustments are tough to make when you only have a week to prepare; and no one was expecting Vick to turn into some sort of quarterbacking cyborg last season anyway. Now they’ve had time to prepare.
2) A “sophomore slump” per se. Obviously this isn’t Vick’s second season. But it’s hard not to see the parallels between a rookie breakout campaign and an, um, prison breakout campaign. Big Mo was carrying him last year. With an offseason writing a book and jettisoning his celebrity back to (respectable) household status, Vick will have a tough mental road to hoe in order to do it again.
3) Over 98-career games (including last year) Mike Vick’s QB rating is 80.2 and his completion percentage is 55.3%. Last year it was 100.2 and 62.6%. The Eagles’ receiving core is certainly more impressive than the Falcons’ was…but, well, just sayin’...
4) Kevin Kolb is 26. Mike Vick is 31. You don’t have to be a student of NFL history to know that players that take hits (mobile quarterbacks) have shorter shelf lives than those who don’t. It’s silly to say someone “will get hurt” but Vick has only played a complete season once in his career.
Personally, I’m not entirely sure why the Eagles love Kolb so much. But they do and seem to believe he’s worth keeping around. The Eagles loved Vick’s story last year as much as anybody, but if he shows any signs of regressing to the mean, Andy Reid will call Kolb’s number quicker than you’d expect.
Terrelle Pryor and a Whole Lot of Crickets
Terrelle Pryor’s story and rumblings of hype is vintage fallout from the offseason and belabored (read: extremely boring) lockout headlines. Commentators have had few reasons to fire up game film and offer their thoughts on rookies since the draft coverage subsided in mid-May; Pryor’s declaration is that excuse.
The problem is that each evaluation ends with a deep breath and “Well, the kid is a phenomenal athlete, but he has a lot of work to do.” Doug Farrar at Yahoo put together a concise evaluation and concluded with a pro comparison of Tavaris Jackson. Ouch. Not even Vince Young?
Pryor’s window of opportunity closed to a peephole when the NCAA handed down a five-game suspension for 2011 for selling his autographed memorabilia; then the window shattered all together, when Jim Tressel resigned (was fired).
Basically, it was now or never. Why not have the auxiliary draft headlines to yourself and hope the hype baits a team into paying decent money?
Unless he’s immediately converted to a receiver (then who knows), June/July of 2011 will be the last time Terrelle Pryor makes headlines (for legitimate football reasons).
A Coach’s Playcard Is Captured on Film and Uploaded to the Internet
I don’t mean by one of Bill Belichick’s staff; I mean by a fan.
I predicted this a while ago and I’m saying it again. Telephoto lenses and digital communications are too good. Many NFL stadiums jam cell phone signals to prevent people from being extremely annoying during games, but even if the photo is uploaded later, it’ll cause a stir when a team’s entire game outline is there for the masses to pick apart.
My early money had been on Mike Singletary to be the first one caught; his playcard apparently only said “1) Frank Gore Left, 2) Frank Gore Right, 3) Frank Gore Middle.” But now I’m changing my thinking and picking Rex Ryan. When you talk a lot, you attract attention—and not always the kind you want.
Darnell Dockett Replaces Chad Ochocinco
Cardinal’s defensive lineman Darnell Dockett probably won’t shed any of his 290 pounds to make better cuts on pass routes. But he does seem to be an early contender for Chad Ochocinco’s “Wait, are you funny and endearingly loony or annoying and extremely distracting?” mantle.
This offseason Dockett has already made headlines by live Tweeting and ripping on the cops during an oddly elongated traffic stop and attempted-search of his car.
A few days later an alligator almost bit him as he traipsed through the Everglades; later that day he bought one and named it Nino.
But perhaps his Twitter profile is all you need:
@ddockett SOMEWHERE STEALING CABLE!
CEO of I don't give a f*ck records. I have a midget addiction. Charlie Sheen's my homeboy. I eat ants. I got a sex tape called Oprah on the Nine-Oh coming soon!
(The Commish must be chomping at the bit to “have Darnell into his office for a chat.”)
Countless Lists of “Who Decided to Slack off During the Lockout?”
You know they’re coming. As soon as leaders and workhorses falter, pundits will start reviewing the player’s offseason.
My frontrunner for poster boy is Joe Flacco. The Baltimore Ravens quarterback already stole some headlines with a surprise wedding this offseason, plus countless jokes on his wedding registry (CBS topped their list of gift recommendations with a tea bag squeezer). And it didn’t help that the articles were often accompanied by a picture (above) where he was either trying to look like Brüno or The Situation. His new wife (and longtime girlfriend) Dana Grady is gorgeous. In other words, writers and pundits won’t have to explain why she’s “distracting.”
In addition, fewer teams are going to suffer more from the “Okay guys, put up or shut up” headlines than the Ravens. They play in a two-team division (Orange is not a winning color these days.) and have put up double digit wins in two of the last three seasons. In that same period the Steelers have owned the upper hand (six wins, to the Ravens’ two; in addition to the Steelers’ two Super Bowl appearances and one victory, to the Ravens’ respective goose eggs). The Ravens are dangerously close to permanent Little Brother status, a la the Colts to the Patriots before 2006.
In addition, the Ray Lewis Retirement Clock is ticking louder and louder. The biggest hole RayLew won’t be able to fill is the one he’ll leave in the locker room.
And who knows how Flacco will respond to the pressure of a contract extension.
All that stacks up to a lot of rocks in Joe Flacco’s backpack. If he cracks a little (His reaction to Lamar Woodley’s comments was amateur if not whiney. Brush it off and move on.) or shows signs of regressing (The majority of his crucial quarterbacking stats have trended upward over his three seasons; yet last year did sorta feel like a ceiling.) he’ll get a hail storm of “What the hell were you doing during the lockout?!”
Other Future NFL Headlines with Far Less Support
And a few other headlines to consider. These have far less grounding in reality than the previous.
"One Week Passes Without A Terrell Ownes Headlines; No One Notices"
"More NFL Fans Know Rushing, Passing and Receiving Leaders, Than Know What Team Leads The League In Wins"
"49ers Acknowledge Alex Smith Is Nice Guy But Terrible at Quarterback, Resign Him"
"Troy Poloamalu Revealed to Have Chosen All Three: Be Invisible, Ability to Fly or Strength of 1000 Men"
"Everyone Finally Realizes That The NFL Network's Top 100 List Really Wasn't That Big A Deal"
"Archie Manning Apologizes For Giving His Sons Such Dweeby Expressions When Something Doesn't Go Their Way"
"NFL Player Tweets, Media Reacts"
"Couple Files for Divorce: Wife Cites Fantasy Football Obsession"
"Documents Leaked Indicating Lockout Was Needlessly Extended, Could Have Concluded In March"
"Bill Belichick Turns Lemons Into Lemon Flavored Rocket Ship"
"Retired NFL Players Finally Realize That Neither NFL or NFLPA Care That Much About Them"
"Lions Defense Gives Up NFL Record Number of Screen Passes"
"Season Remains In Tact, Preseason Cancelled, Everyone Fine With It"
"Carson Palmer Returns to Cincy, Throws for 600 Yards"
"Roger Goodell Silences Critics By Putting Them To Sleep When Speaking"
"Tiki Barber Realizes You Can't Juke Linebackers With Television Smile"
"Mike Vick Buys A Cat; Animal Rights Groups Totally Confused How to React"