Who takes over after Brady?

I hate to break it to you Patriots fans, but Tom Brady can’t play forever. The legendary New England quarterback is in his 16th year in the league, and while he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down, at age 39, you have to think he will be looking to hang up those cleats in the next 2-3 years.

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Brady surpassed Peyton Manning’s record of 200 career wins this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

With Brady being the undisputed (or as close as you can ever get to undisputed in sports) best quarterback in the league, his eventual retirement will open the door for someone else to take that crown.

Brady represents the end of a very dominant era, where he and Peyton Manning rewrote the record books practically every year. They squared off in some of the most memorable games of the last decade and consistently drew in viewers whenever the two matched up. Manning is already gone and with Brady set to follow in the near future, who exactly will step up to fill the void.

It is kind of hard to say. The iconic 2004 draft class of quarterbacks featuring Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers likely still have a few more years in them. However, Rivers turned 35 today, Roethlisberger will be 35 in March and Eli Manning turns 36 in January. That group likely won’t be around for a whole lot longer to constitute an era or start an awe-inspiring rivalry. Most of their time in the league will be remembered as part of the legendary Brady-Peyton era.

Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has an MVP award and a Super Bowl ring to his name since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. (Wikimedia Commons)

You next look to Aaron Rodgers, who joined the league in 2005. Rodgers just turned 33 last week, so he might be able to hang around a little longer than the three I just mentioned. However, he might have already started showing signs of slowing down with his rocky start to 2016. I could see Rodgers having a three-year run as the unquestioned top signal-caller. He might be the best-suited to succeed Brady in the short term. Keep in mind that even though this is his 12th NFL season, Rodgers did not start his first three years in the league, so he might have a bit more left in the tank than we think.

After Rodgers, well I’m kind of stuck. Drew Brees is a Hall of Famer, but approaching 38, I’m not expecting him to take over. Carson Palmer is on his way out as well. As will Alex Smith.

There is an interesting crop of three quarterbacks that offer some intrigue. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton all bring a lot to the table. All three of them are 28 years old or younger, all three are rather mobile and all three have the ability to take over a football game.

The major knocks against Newton are his ball security and his completion percentage. For his career, Newton sits at around 59 percent through almost 6 seasons. While he may be a huge asset with his legs, he is prone to fumbling and trying to do too much with the ball, often leading to mistakes. Another big red flag is that despite tossing 35 touchdowns in 2015, it is the only season he has thrown more than 25 scores. This year, he has just 14 through 12 games. Those numbers don’t exactly scream elite.

Luck was named the heir apparent to the NFL quarterback throne around his junior year of college. He started with two solid campaigns, followed by an outstanding 2014, only to fall into a weird funk for the last year and a half. 2015 was a lost season for Luck as he only played 7 games and likely played all of them hurt. The big knock against him has to be his lackluster completion percentage, which is only fractionally better than Newton’s. He also has a tendency for interceptions, with 63 picks in 66 career games. Part of that is due to the amount of pressure he faces. Luck is the most sacked quarterback in the league despite missing a game already this year. Luck is actually trending up after the last few weeks we’ve seen him play. Even though he has a poor supporting cast, Luck has failed to live up to Manning-sized expectations laid on him back in 2012.

Russell_Wilson_with_Lombardi_Trophy
Wilson has already played in two Super Bowls, winning one. (Wikimedia Commons)

Then there is Wilson. He already has a Super Bowl ring. Point all you want to a great run game and defense, but that’s a good chunk of why Brady got his first three rings. Of these three, he seems the most poised to take the throne. Wilson has only 39 interceptions in 72 career games. He is closing in on his second consecutive 4,000-yard season and his career completion percentage is around 65 percent. However, when Wilson is off, he is really off. In Seattle’s three losses this year, he has thrown zero touchdowns, three picks and has a yards per attempt average under 6.5. If I had to pick someone long term when it comes to taking up the quarterback mantel, it would be Wilson. He already has that championship background and I could see him getting more.

And he might just have a West Coast rival to deal with as well. There are a number of intriguing young quaterbacks in the league right now in Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Long term, we might see a really fun rivalry between Prescott and Wentz, both being in the NFC East. However, there is one young quarterback that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Derek Carr
Carr was the fourth quarterback in the 2014 draft, but looks to be the best one selected that year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Derek Carr is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. At only 25 years old, Carr has been lighting up NFL defenses all year long. He launched 32 touchdown passes a year ago, in just his second NFL season and threw for just shy of 4,000 yards. This year though, Carr is set to break that 4,000-yard mark and throw for close to 32 touchdowns again. What is more impressive though is the increased completion percentage and absence of turnovers. The young Raiders quarterback has only thrown five interceptions this year and raised his completion percentage four plus points to a healthy 65.5 percent. This is just one year for Carr, but based on the jump he has made in each of his first two seasons, I am beginning to think that this kid is for real.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Ryan in this conversation. Ryan is in the midst of a career year at age 31. He is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and yards per attempt as well as set a personal best for fewest interceptions thrown. If Carr is considered an MVP candidate, Ryan certainly has to be in the mix. He currently sits second in passing yards and passer rating, third in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and leads the league in yards per attempt. Given that he has a host of offensive weapons and a young offensive line, Ryan is set to play at a high level for the next several years. The tough thing is figuring out if 2016 is an anomaly based on his normal level of play or a sign of things to come. Also, if Brady hangs on for three more years, Ryan will already be 34 himself and running out of time to capture the league’s attention.

The world without Brady is kind of hazy and there is no telling if we will ever see the type of rivalry we saw between he and Manning. The league seems to be running out of elite quarterbacks, but we will have to wait and see who steps up to the plate in the next few years.

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In sports, hate is respect

There are some people in sports that you just hate. You hate seeing them have win awards or titles. You hate seeing them make a spectacular play. You just hate seeing them have success in general.

I talked about it the other day, but there are all kinds of hate. There is the hate for Alex Rodriguez, Sepp Blatter and Roger Goodell, which is based on their character and decision making. However, there is also the hatred of a player because he or she is really good at what he or she does.

USA Canada 2010 Gold Medal Game
Crosby scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the US. (Wikimedia Commons)

This version of the word is reserved for a only a few in sports. There are many that hate LeBron. Plenty despised Manning. Crosby is a someone hockey fans love to hate. Messi and Ronaldo are two of the most hated players in the world.

This kind of hate is usually personal. For me, I’ve always hated Brady and Kobe, as well as Crosby, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I never wanted to see them do well and it pained me when they did. That was a problem cause they were successful a lot.

In sports, hatred is the highest level of respect a fan can have for a player. That might sound odd, but when you think about it, it adds up. You despise these athletes because of how good they are at what they do. It is nothing to do with who they are as a person in this case. Instead, it focuses on their accomplishments, which means that you have acknowledged their success.

Kobe Bryant
Bryant retired third on the NBA all-time scoring list. (Wikimedia Commons)

It took me a very long time to realize why I hated some of these guys so much. It was because they were really good. I hated these players like Brady, Crosby and Kobe because they continually did things that most other athletes could not and I didn’t want to see it happen. I truly hated them solely because they were good at what they did.

Eventually, that kind of hatred turns into respect. I can’t stand Kobe and his constantly isolation, but I recognize that he is one of the top ten players to ever lace them up. Crosby cost me $10 in a bet when I was a kid and cost the United States a gold medal in hockey at the Olympics. I resented him for that, but I know it’s because of how skilled he is as a player.

Tom_Brady
Brady is tied for the most Super Bowl wins as a quarterback in league history. (Wikimedia Commons)

And Brady, man, I don’t know if I can put into words how much I hate Brady. He has tormented the Jets for as long as I can remember and I mean that quite literally. I’ve watched him hold up the Lombardi Trophy four times. Each time has felt like a gut punch. However, I accept the fact that he is arguably the best quarterback in NFL history.

It is hard to admit these things to ourselves, much less to other people. You always want to maintain that those players are not as good as everyone else thinks they are. Eventually, you give up the fight though and begin to respect them.

That doesn’t mean you hate them any less, you just understand that your hatred is more than justified because of all the success they have accrued over the course of their respective careers.

Do I still hate these guys? Absolutely. But do I respect that they are great athletes that I am lucky to be watching. Yes, I just might not like to admit it.

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Why I am defending Tom Brady

Let’s establish something right now, I am not and never have been a Patriots fan. In fact, I am completely the opposite. I am Jets fan. I hate the Patriots. I despise Bill Belichick for spurning the Jets all those years ago. I hate Tom Brady. I can’t stand Ty Law. Randy Moss in a Patriots uniform makes me sick. The fact that Danny Woodhead was so successful in New England drives me crazy.

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Brady’s suspension forces him to miss the first four games of the 2016 regular season. (Wikimedia Commons)

I digress though because I am actually here to defend Tom Brady. The New England quarterback had his suspension reinstated on Monday following a new decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Brady is now set to miss the first four games of the 2016 season.

In most cases, that would make me really happy. I love seeing Brady upset or ticked off. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him get battered in the AFC Championship game against the Broncos. I relish his post game press conferences when he loses to the Jets. So naturally, Brady missing the first four games of the season should make me happy right?

Roger Goodell
Goodell’s annual salary is thought to be around $43 million. The NFL is not required to release his salary. (Wikimedia Commons)

Well not exactly. While Brady missing the first four games hurts the Patriots, something I enjoy, it also reinforces a bigger issue. Roger Goodell is still in charge of player discipline and more often than not, he makes decisions regarding player punishment without any rhyme or reason.

Based on the evidence found against Brady, the league really only had grounds to punish him for personal misconduct and refusal to cooperate. His destroying of his cell phone certainly made him look guilty and definitely underlines his lack of cooperation.

However, that is about where the hard evidence ends. Scientifically, the Patriots explained away any differences in the air pressure of the footballs in question from the 2015 AFC Championship against the Colts. The NFL essentially had nothing on Brady or the Patriots.

The issue being debated now in court is over the commissioner’s ability to assess discipline as he sees fit. I think that is a major issue. I’ve been saying for a while now that Goodell should not be in charge and that the league needs to change how it handles player punishments. Removing Goodell from the equation is a good first step.

This is a man who has continually botched situations like the Ray Rice incident and has shown his true colors. Goodell is a sexist, egotistical executive whose sole objective revolves around revenue.

Now, as I have said before, I hate Brady. With a passion. I have tried to set that aside when viewing this situation. I hate Roger Goodell even more, and I will be honest, I have made no effort to set those feelings aside when critiquing him.

Jimmy Garoppolo
In Brady’s absence, the Patriots will likely start second-year quarterback Jimmy Garappolo. (Wikimedia Commons)

The reason for that is because the type of hate I have for Brady and the type of hate I have for Goodell are fundamentally different. I hate Brady because he is really good at what he does and because his success often goes against what I would like to see happen as a sports fan. I hate Goodell on the other hand because he is terrible at what he does and I do not believe that he deserves to be in power. There is a very distinct difference in the reason why I hate each of them.

Brady has become the unfortunate center of the NFLPA’s challenge to Goodell’s power. He likely doesn’t deserve a four-game suspension. He is also not definitively guilty. But this is no longer about proving Brady guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is about establishing the power of the commissioner to suspend and fine players at his discretion. A power that I hardly think he deserves.

So yes, I am defending Brady. Not because I like him, or even think that he is completely innocent of all wrong doing. I am defending him because his opponent is Goodell, and I will never be on board with supporting that sycophantic, corrupt, greedy, misogynistic dictator who has continually brought shame to the sport that I love to watch on Sundays.

I hate Brady, but I know when to draw the line.

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The NFL continues to hound Brady

You know in the movies where there is a relationship that fails but one of the people involved continues to cling on, in hopes that maybe they could salvage something. It’s usually the guy and he usually has no way of fixing things or proving that he can make it work. Right now the NFL is that guy.

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Brady led the Patriots the AFC Championship last season.

CNBC just tweeted that the U.S. Appeals Court reinstated Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension in relation to his involvement in Deflategate. You remember Deflategate, the only thing ESPN could talk about last summer where the New England Patriots were accused of cheating en route to a Super Bowl victory.

Just when we all thought it was finally coming to a close with the NFL Draft coming up. It would definitely be talked about as the Patriots forfeited their first round pick in the upcoming draft due to the allegations of Deflategate. After that, it seemed like we could all put it behind us. Clearly, that isn’t happening.

I have a feeling that the Patriots are not going to stand for this decision, and rightfully so. Because this, according to ESPN, was the ruling from the U.S. 2nd Circuit Appeals Court.

“We hold that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness.”

Roger_Goodell
Goodell has maintained throughout the process that Brady deserved his suspension.

Well there you go. This all traces back to the one man that is single-handedly ruining the NFL. Roger Goodell once again wields his unchecked and disproportionate power.

What this means is not that Brady was guilty or that the NFL found some new evidence. It just means that Goodell has the power to do this. And that is a problem.

I’ve been saying for years that Roger Goodell needs to be replaced atop the NFL’s hierarchy. (I’ve also been saying the league needs to change its player discipline process since July). He is unreasonable and has let his power go to his head. However, this also shines a light on an organizational issue for the NFL.

The fact is, the court is right. Goodell has the power to make these kinds of sweeping, grandiose decisions. That needs to change. There has been talk for some time about the league taking the power of player punishment out of the commissioner’s hands and delegating it to a third party. That way, the league could avoid situations like this and the commissioner could focus more on the future endeavors of the league, rather than how much he can fine James Harrison in a given season.

So yes, Goodell still needs to go. If you need examples, see Rice, Ray or Hardy, Greg. Either one will demonstrate why Goodell is not fit to be running the league. But this is also an institutional problem, where the NFL has given one man entirely too much power. It is similar to FIFA with Sepp Blatter in the way that the NFL as an institution is thought of as solely Goodell. (For a fun article about those two clowns, click here).

As for Brady’s situation, did he cooperate as needed? Probably not. Does the NFL have the evidence necessary to suspend him for four games? Definitely not. At most, Brady should receive a fine for disorderly conduct. And then that should be the end of it. There is no reason that Jimmy Garappolo should be playing the first quarter of the season for New England.

Unfortunately, it seems like this nightmare just restarted. Only time will tell if this new ruling holds up. Maybe some good will come out of this. Maybe the league will finally realize the flaws in how it lets Goodell govern and begin limit his power. Fingers crossed on that one.

NFL Playoff Preview: Championship Sunday

Welcome to the final four. The conference championships. There is nothing quite like it. The Super Bowl is always a great spectacle, but often these games are even more exciting to watch. Today we will get to witness all three MVP candidates on display, the best rivalry in football over the last 15 years and some of the most dynamic defensive playmakers the game has to offer. And all of it comes with a trip to Santa Clara on the line.

New England vs. Denver

Peyton_Manning
Manning has a career record of 12-13 in the playoffs. 

When you think of NFL MVP, it is hard not to think of Peyton Manning. The Broncos signal caller has won the award more times than anyone else in history, with five such distinctions. However, he is the only quarterback in Sunday’s games that isn’t in contention for this year’s award.

 

Tom Brady on the other hand is right in the thick of anpther MVP-caliber campaign. Even with some of his top weapons missing time this year, Brady managed to steer New England to a first round bye and has them playing some spectacular football yet again.

This game is being billed as yet another class Manning-Brady matchup but in reality, this is more a battle between Brady and the Denver defense. The last time Denver and New England met it was Week 12 at Mile High. The Denver defense did not do much to contain Brady that day, as he threw for 280 yards and three scores. However, the Broncos knocked Brady around a lot, hitting him on nine occasions, three of them being sacks. The Patriots also had no running game to speak of, as LeGarrette Blount led the way in rushing for New England with a measly 27 yards on the ground. Brady also struggled to find the mark in that game, completing only 54.7 percent of his passes.

Tom_Brady
Brady is 11-5 in his career against Manning, but is only 2-6 in career playing in Denver.

Today is guaranteed to be different though as New England has a different cast of characters in place. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are back healthy, after not competing in their previous contest with Denver. However, Blount and now middle linebacker Jerrod Mayo will not be suiting up for this one, as both are on season-ending injured reserve.

 

The most interesting wrinkle though is that Manning will be starting this game. In that Week 12 showdown, Brock Osweiler started and defeated the Pats. He had a lot of help from his running game, as Denver amassed 179 yards on the ground at a clip of 5.6 yards per carry, but Osweiler took a beating. If the Pats generate the same amount of pressure on Manning, I think he will either be forced into some mistakes or be knocked out of the contest.

In the end, I don’t think The Sheriff has enough left in the tank to outduel The Golden Boy one last time. I think it will be an extremely close game that goes down to the wire as both defenses win the day. I think even with a depleted arsenal, Brady will work enough magic to eke out a win and earn his first career playoff victory in Denver, 24-21. Sad day as this will also probably mark the end of an era.

Arizona vs. Carolina

Even with the 17th edition of Manning-Brady in store for us, I think this is the game of the weekend to watch. This game is equal parts high-flying offense, dynamic defense and attitude.

Cam_Newton
Newton suffered his last home loss on November 16, 2014. He is 12-0 in Charlotte since.

Enter Cam Newton into his first ever NFC Championship game. He is the front-runner for the MVP award this season with his ability to deceive and out-think defenses. Newton is a supreme athlete and always has been. However, this season saw SuperCam evolve into a much better quarterback. He set a career-high in touchdown passes with 35 and even slightly cut down on his turnovers. He also set new marks for Total QBR and passer rating. All of that culminated in his dominant performance against Seattle last week.

 

He has still kept his athleticism as an often-used weapon. Newton racked up 636 yards on the ground and scored 10 times when he kept it himself. Couple that with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert; suddenly, this Carolina ground game is very difficult to stop.

The Panthers will need to control the clock as much as possible in this game as well, mainly to keep Carson Palmer off the field. Palmer struggled a little against Green Bay last week, but that should not discount the MVP-like season he had.

Editor’s note: It was really difficult to think of other ways to describe Palmer and Newton as they both have a lot in common. Both are first number one overall picks and both won Heisman trophies in college. 

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This will only be Palmer’s fourth career playoff game.

Palmer was downright lethal this year, completing nearly 64 percent of his passes while throwing for a career high in yards. The 36-year old was beyond effective when throwing the ball this season as well, posting a league-high 8.7 yards per attempt average. Palmer tossed the same number of touchdowns as Newton this year too. He also piloted an Arizona offense that led the NFL in yards per game and was second in scoring only to Carolina. In short, we could be in line for a shootout.

 

And we probably would be, if it wasn’t for the defenses lining up across from these quarterbacks. Carolina has four Pro Bowlers on their defense and Arizona has three of their own. These two defenses ranked fifth and sixth in yards per game allowed and sixth and seventh in scoring.

One of the great matchups of the weekend will be Larry Fitzgerald against Josh Norman. Fitzgerald is coming of a worldly performance out in the desert while Norman developed into one of the league’s premier shutdown corners. Past Norman though, this is a Carolina secondary that could be vulnerable to the spread offense Arizona will run. Seattle exploited the Panthers’ lack of depth in the divisional round. I think the Cardinals will do the same, getting the ball to John Brown and Michael Floyd early and often.

Between that and the overall speed of this Cardinal defense, I think Arizona will be heading to Santa Clara. Cardinals upset the Panthers at home, 27-21.