Stop Showing Me The Money – 2011 NFL Season Preview

One of the more aggravating aspects of being a sports fan is the media won’t stop reminding you that sports are a big business.  Sports pages will use the dollar sign more than the financial section. Turn on ESPN  and they discuss how much a player made last year more often than how many touchdowns they scored. I understand lots of money is being made by team owners, players, and coaches, but what good does that do me?

Call me a purist, but I watch sports for entertainment. I turn on the games to see how far a football can be thrown, not to find out how many Bentleys the players can buy. If I wanted to know how much these players earned I’d ask my IT guy to hack into their bank accounts.

This past summer the capitalistic slant from the sports media went to overdrive with labor disputes in both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association. Once the NFL  players and management agreed on how to divvy up billions of dollars, the topic of conversation changed to the accelerated free agency season. Teams had a $120 million dollar salary cap under which they must assemble a roster and instead of analysis on how a player fit their new team, the media would instead focus on the terms of the players’ contracts.

But here I am being part of the problem ranting about the evils of money, when I should be writing about football.

Football has changed in recent years. When I was a kid the gospel was a team that could run and stop the run won the big games.  A combination of rule changes where not as much contact is allowed away from the ball and the freakish size and speed of defensive linemen turned the game into a pass heavy affair. A team is now only as good as their quarterback. Unfortunately the team I root for, The Miami Dolphins, have a terrible quarterback in Chad Henne. I will try my best to enjoy their mediocre season with minimal expectations.

The five best quarterbacks in the league are Peyton Manning, Aaron Rogers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Their teams have combined to win seven of the last eight Super Bowls. Barring another spectacular helmet catch  we must look at these five quarterbacks’ respective teams plus one other quarterback’s team (who might belong in their league) as this year’s likely Super Bowl champions.

Peyton Manning over the years has placed himself as the best pure passer in NFL history usurping my beloved Dan Marino. In his early seasons Manning could not figure out the rhythm of the game. His comeback attempts were always a yard short and a second late as he spent too much time between plays trying to outthink his opponents. But over the past couple years Manning turned himself into the most dangerous clutch performer in pro sports. If you are up by less than a touchdown and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts had the ball, you are in trouble. But during the offseason Manning had neck surgery which is taking him a while to recover and without him at full strength the Colts are a terribly ordinary team.

Last year Aaron Rogers took the Green Bay Packers to the elusive championship. He is quick, has a rocket arm and is as tough as they come, but it took a series of miracles for the Packers to even make the play-offs last year before they caught fire and won it all. No team since the 2004 New England Patriots has repeated as champions, and I doubt the Packers can reverse that trend.

It’s been two years since the New Orleans Saints won their championship based on Drew Brees precision passing offense. But this team depends on the speedy field their domed stadium provides. Throughout their history they’ve been a bad road team losing to the dismal Seattle Seahawks in last year’s playoffs. With their tough division I can’t see them having the top record in their conference forcing them to win a road playoff game which they have never done in their franchise’s history.

Big Ben Roethlisberger took his Steelers all the way to the Super Bowl last year which is a bad sign for the Steelers. Only one Super Bowl runner-up ever went on to win it the next year and that was your perfect 1972 Miami Dolphins. The Steelers are always contenders with their smart coaching and hard hitting defense, but history says if you didn’t win the big game your first chance, you’re not getting a second one.

Then we get to America’s favorite pet owner Michael Vick and his Philadelphia Eagles. Except for his stint in prison Vick has always been in spitting distance of being one of the league’s top quarterbacks. But his greatest strength, his insane athleticism can also be his downfall. His ability to run the ball at any time from anywhere makes him exciting to watch, but unlikely to make it through an entire NFL season with his health intact. The Eagles rounded out their team with impressive off-season acquisitions, but alas they are still coached by Andy Reid who will make the wrong calls at the wrong moment one hundred percent of the time.

The head coach is the second most important position in professional football (with third being the field goal kicker) and no coach is better than the New England Patriot’s Bill Belichick. He won three Super Bowls with his Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and when Brady missed a season the Patriots still won 11 games. In spite of losing in the playoffs, last year might have been Belichick’s most impressive season. Brady was surrounded by a bunch of no-names and they still had the league’s best record. This year they were able to add talented headcases like Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth who act up for lessor franchises, but under Belichick’s iron hand will only speak when spoken to helping the Patriots to their fourth championship.

But I wouldn’t bet on it. Like the NCAA I sanctimoniously claim to keep money away from football.

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