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Mayfield and Griffin lead storylines from the 2018 NFL draft

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The 2018 NFL Draft came to a conclusion Saturday night when former SMU wide receiver Trey Quinn was selected by the Washington Redskins with the 256th overall pick. Traditionally, the draft’s storylines belong to early-round picks, but Quinn, 2018’s Mr. Irrelevant for being the last player chosen in the draft, is not as irrelevant as his title might suggest. As a 12-year-old, Quinn grabbed national headlines by throwing a no-hitter at the 2008 Little League World Series in Williamsport.

At the other end of the draft, the Cleveland Browns, who went 0-16 last season, took Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick. Becoming the first draft pick, or even an NFL player, was not always something expected of Mayfield. In fact, out of high school, he was only offered a football scholarship by four FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools – Florida Atlantic, Rice, New Mexico, and Washington State.

When asked by Sportingnews.com how the other 119 FBS schools missed a talent like Mayfield, Hank Carter, Mayfield’s coach at Lake Travis High School, responded, “People wanted him. They just didn’t want him soon enough.”

Mayfield chose to reject his four scholarships and begin his college football career as a walk-on at Texas Tech. In Lubbock, Mayfield impressed his coaches from the minute he arrived on campus, becoming the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to start a season opener at a BCS school.

However, after a successful season in which he was named to the Freshman All-American honorable mention team, Mayfield was not offered a scholarship to remain at Texas Tech and decided to transfer to the University of Oklahoma. At Oklahoma, Mayfield again excelled on the field, finishing in the top four in Heisman voting three years running and twice being recognized as a first-team All-American.

Although no one disputed Mayfield’s football talents, prior to the draft, there were lingering concerns among many NFL executives about Mayfield’s emotional maturity. This past season, Mayfield was captured by cameras grabbing his crotch and yelling “F–k you!” at the Kansas sideline after they refused to shake his hand during the pregame captains’ meeting. He also planted the Oklahoma flag on the Ohio State logo after defeating the Buckeyes. Reportedly, his actions were in response to an argument with drunk Ohio State Fans. Most troubling, Mayfield was arrested in February 2017 for public intoxication and fleeing the scene after being involved in a early morning fight in Fayetteville, Ar.

Mayfield’s off-field antics have led many commentators to compare him to Johnny Manziel, another former Heisman Winner and Cleveland Browns quarterback whose troubles with drugs and alcohol led the Browns to release him after only two years in the league.

One NFL scout told Mary Kay Cabot, “Baker has a pattern of disrespect. Off-the-field, he’s Johnny Manziel.”

An NFL personnel executive echoed this sentiment, stating, “He [Mayfield] has not shown anywhere near enough emotional maturity to handle what’s coming his way. … A lot of Manziel characteristics.”

However, at the NFL Combine, Mayfield reportedly aced his interviews and alleviated most of the concerns about his character, allowing the Browns to take a chance on Mayfield at No.1.


Despite being taken first in the draft, Mayfield is not guaranteed the starting quarterback job in Cleveland. Over the offseason, the Browns acquired veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is expected to start the season as the starter. However, having gone 1-31 over the past two seasons, the Browns will likely have Taylor on a short leash, and Mayfield will surely be ready to stake his claim as the franchise’s quarterback of the future.

Another noteworthy storyline coming out of the 2018 draft is that of linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who was taken 141st overall by the Seattle Seahawks. At age four, Griffin was forced to have his left hand amputated because of amniotic band syndrome, a prenatal condition. Having only one hand did not stop Griffin from competing in sports alongside his twin brother Shaquill, and in 2012, both were offered scholarships to play at the University of Central Florida.

After struggling to find playing time during his first couple years in the program, a coaching change provided Shaquem with an opportunity.

Writing for The Players Tribune, Griffin stated, “Coach [Scott] Frost came in and brought me back into the light … He gave me the opportunity I had been waiting for ever since I first arrived at UCF. And I took advantage of it.”

In his first year as a starter, Shaquem was selected as the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Defensive Player of the Year and continued that success into his senior year, during which he was named to the All-AAC first team and in which he won the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl.

Despite his success at UCF, Shaquem only received a late invitation to the NFL combine. Again, he took advantage of the opportunity, posting the fastest 40-yard dash for a linebacker since 2003, in addition to completing twenty 225-pound bench press reps using a prosthetic arm.

He now joins his twin brother on the Seahawks, where he hopes to impress and earn a spot on the team’s final roster. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will not be cutting Shaquem any slack because of this story, telling reporters that although he is impressed and inspired by Shaquem’s accomplishments, “it will come down to football.”

Overall, there were a few clear-cut winners and losers of the draft. On top of drafting a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the Browns obtained a shutdown cornerback in Denzel Ward to work well within defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive blitz schemes. Cleveland also drafted talented tackle Austin Corbett to replace future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, who retired at the end of last season, in addition to one of the best running backs in the draft class, Nick Chubb.

The Arizona Cardinals also had a successful draft day after taking former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen with the No. 10 overall selection. Rosen is the most NFL-ready of any of the draft class’ quarterbacks and will fill a void left by the retiring Carson Palmer and the injury-prone Sam Bradford. Rosen easily could have gone No. 1, and in his blunt post-draft press conference, he told reporters that he believes he is the best player in the 2018 draft class.

“There were nine mistakes made ahead of me. And I will make sure over the next decade or so that they will know they made a mistake.”

Unfortunately, the Buffalo Bills were not as successful as the Browns and Cardinals in their quarterback selection. The Bills selected Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick. Last season, during his third year at Wyoming, Allen completed just 56.3 percent of his passes and only threw for 1,812 yards. Mayfield, by comparison, completed 70.5 percent of his throws for 4,340 yards in 2017. Allen especially struggled against high level competition.

Football Outsiders wrote, “Allen’s performance against top opponents was brutal. He threw two picks with no touchdowns against Iowa, with just 4.35 yards per attempt. He completed just 9-of-24 passes with 64 yards and a pick against Oregon. He completed 44 percent of passes with two picks and only 131 yards against Boise State.”

Allen has a strong arm and loads of potential, but I do not know whether his raw talent will translate to success in the NFL, especially given his lack of success at a mid-major school like Wyoming.

It is too early to know how the 2018 draft class will fare next season, but I expect Josh Rosen to finish as Offensive Rookie of the Year, while on the defensive side, Roquan Smith, the Butkus Award winner for the best linebacker in college football, is my prediction to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

NFL Season Update and Potential Playoff Picture

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The 2017 season has been full of twists and turns, from the entire kneeling saga, to the recent benching of New York Giants franchise quarterback Eli Manning, to the issues concerning head injuries. There was also the stellar play of rookie Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, whose season was tragically cut short by a torn ACL. Injuries have plagued the season as many stars have faced season ending injuries: Odell Beckham Jr., J.J. Watt, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, David Johnson, and Julian Edelman to name a few. Despite these ugly storylines, there has been a surplus of intrigue and entertainment that every NFL season provides.

Several teams have had shockingly fantastic seasons this year: the Eagles are 10-2, shattering my earlier prediction that Eagles fans should have somewhat reserved expectations for the year. The Minnesota Vikings are 10-2 as well, the Los Angeles Rams are 9-3, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are 8-4, three teams who have not had strong seasons in a while. Currently, the playoff picture is pretty surprising, for fans and NFL analysts alike. As many expected, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are at the moment the first and second seeds, respectively, in the AFC. However, the Baltimore Ravens are doing quite well at the sixth seed, and the Tennessee Titans are exceeding expectations at the third seed. The most surprising outcome so far are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who currently sit at the fifth seed in the AFC.  Despite being the laughingstock of the NFL along with the Cleveland Browns for the past five or six years, the Jags are sitting pretty at 8-4. This is 3 more wins than they have had in the past six seasons; the Jags went 5-11, 2-14, 4-12, 3-13, 5-11, and 3-13 from 2011 to 2016. This allowed them to consistently get high draft picks and develop a young, talented team. The Kansas City Chiefs round off the current AFC playoff picture at a meager 6-6, despite such a strong start to the season.

In the NFC, the playoff bracket is much stronger than the current teams in the AFC playoff picture. No team in the NFC bracket has less than eight wins. The Vikings and Eagles are currently the 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. The Rams have done well in their first season in Los Angeles at the 3 seed, the New Orleans Saints are a strong 4 seed, and the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks bring up the rear with 8-4 records. It is unlikely that in the remaining four weeks of the season that much of this bracket will change. Some teams may shift seeds, but I predict that the previously mentioned teams will all make the playoffs.

I used the ESPN 2017 NFL Playoff Machine Generator to make my predictions for the playoffs. I believe that all teams currently in the playoffs will make it, with the exception of the Kansas City Chiefs missing out, with the Los Angeles Chargers taking their place. In the AFC, I believe the Jaguars will defeat the Titans but will lose to the Patriots in the next round, and the Ravens will beat the Chargers, but lose to the Steelers in the following round. The Steelers will beat to the Patriots in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship and head to the Super Bowl. In the NFC, I believe that the Vikings will beat the Panthers, and the Eagles will reach the NFC championship. The Seahawks will beat the Rams but lose to the Saints, who will go on to defeat the Vikings in the NFC championship. The Saints will then lose to the Steelers, who will win their seventh Super Bowl. These are just my predictions, and obviously a lot can change in these next four weeks, but I believe these are the most likely scenarios. In my opinion, Pittsburgh fans should be very optimistic about their team’s chances in the playoffs this year.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the NFL season plays out. There have been so many great stories this year, like Carson Wentz’s quarterback play, the Saints surprising rushing attack, and the play of the Los Angeles Rams. The playoffs are the most exciting time of the year, and I’m sure it’ll be full of surprises, just like this season so far. Until then, all we can do is enjoy the drama in the remaining weeks.

The Eagles’ red-hot start exceeds expectations

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The Philadelphia Eagles have shocked the world with an 8-1 start to the 2017-18 NFL season. Even the most optimistic of fans would have never predicted a start like this which has placed the Eagles at the top of the league. After ending the 2016 season with another subpar record of 7-9 and finishing last in their conference, the Eagles had a lot to work on coming into 2017. But, with an impressive list of rookies and free agent additions, it became increasingly clear the Eagles were to exceed expectations come the start of the season.

The key to success for the Eagles began in the offseason where they successfully filled holes with a handful of blockbuster trades and key signings in the free agency period. Supplementing the Eagles’ receiving core was an area of emphasis that executive Howie Roseman, owner Jeff Lurie, and head coach Doug Pederson wanted to key in on. The team started their offseason strong by signing San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith. The Eagles then picked up Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery from the struggling 3-13 Chicago Bears. Jeffrey, now in his fifth year, is a freakishly explosive athlete with big play capabilities that he has consistently shown in his time in Chicago, as well as this season so far. He is undoubtedly a top-10 wide receiver in the NFL whose ceiling is sky high. Additionally, the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount from the 2016-17 Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots, who boasted a league-leading 19 rushing touchdowns in the Patriots’ title-winning season. This signing diversified the Eagles run game with Blount’s hardnose physical running style supplementing the speed of Darren Sproles. These key additions, along with the signing of DE Chris Long, DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Sidney Jones, and CB Rasul Douglas, gave the Eagles a great advantage coming into the 2017 season.

So what sparked this extraordinary start for the Eagles? To begin, Carson Wentz, now in his second season in the NFL, has exceeded all expectations every time he has stepped on the field. He’s been an extremely efficient passer and runner of the ball so far. This, in addition to an impressive touchdown to interception ratio (23-5), has made Wentz the clear favorite for MVP of the NFL, something that no NFL fan expected just two years ago when Wentz was drafted out of North Dakota State University. Wentz has received praise and admiration for his play from coaches and players across the league, including analyst Jon Gruden. “He’s throwing the ball at a high level. He’s seeing the field well. He’s making changes at the line of scrimmage. And he’s making plays – and making plays in critical situations, third down. When you’re No. 1 in the NFL on third down, that says a lot. So he is making a rapid ascent, no question.” said Gruden on a Monday Night Football broadcast.  It is amazing to see Wentz leading his team to victory after victory at such a young age. Wentz has formed great chemistry with tight end Zach Ertz, and they have become one of the best tight end/quarterback duos in the NFL. Ertz has snagged six touchdowns so far this season and continues to impress in his 5th NFL season. This duo, along with many other influential players, are the reason the Eagles’ offense ranks so highly across the board. The Eagles, offensive line, led by Lane Johnson, have been performing above expectations after future hall-of-famer Jason Peters tore his ACL and MCL against the Redskins in week 7.

While the Eagles’ offense has been outstanding this season, the defensive side of the ball is where the Eagles’ have especially excelled. The Eagles defense ranks sixth for most sacks, fourth for interceptions, and first in stopping third down conversions. This defensive success starts with the defensive line, where Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Vinny Curry have been terrorizing quarterbacks and running backs alike all season. The linebacker corps took a hit when young star Jordan Hicks tore his achilles against the Redskins, but the duo of Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham have been able to successfully manage since. Cornerback Ronald Darby will return after the bye week which will help bolster the Eagles’ secondary.  

With such promising play on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, is it too early to start talking about the playoffs? The Eagles’ next game is against conference rival Cowboys, who have been struggling so far this season and now look even weaker with linebacker Sean Lee expected to be out. The Eagles are sitting comfortably in first place in their division and are now working towards a first round bye in the playoffs. Although there are still many games left to be played, Philadelphia is in peak form and will look to push deep into the playoffs later this season. It is not too wild to think that the Eagles are well on the path to their first super bowl; their potential is limitless.

The Kneeling Saga

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To kneel or not to kneel. That is the question. As the 2017 football season plows on, seemingly everybody has an opinion about players who have decided to kneel instead of stand during the pre-game playing of the national anthem. In recent weeks, this issue has captured national attention, so much so that before every major sporting event, people wait with bated breath to see who will kneel and who will stand during the anthem. There are many sides to this controversial topic, one being that players should be allowed to kneel and practice free speech that condemns institutional racism in the United States. Another side states that kneeling during the anthem is extremely disrespectful and should be prohibited. Opinions aside, there is no disputing the prominence of this issue in America.

Most players who kneel during the anthem before games are doing so in protest. It is important to note where and when this protest originated. Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, first sat down (as opposed to kneeling) during the anthem before a preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016. His reasoning was, “I’m going to stand with the people that are being oppressed … When there’s a significant change, and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing the people it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

Kaepernick stated that he wasn’t kneeling for himself, but those who are “dying in vain because this country isn’t holding up their end of the bargain of giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.” Kaepernick also said that he has “great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” and that these people “fight for freedom” and “for the people.” In fact, Kaepernick changed his protest from sitting to kneeling after talking with former veteran and NFL long snapper Nate Boyer. They believed that this would “not take away from the military” but “still keep focus on what the issues really are.”

Kaepernick’s protest and the words that followed set off a tidal wave of events in the year that followed. Many NFL players began kneeling during the anthem. Some raised fists. Some athletes not associated with the NFL, like Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, knelt. Several other groups of players in different sports knelt as well, including some high school athletes. However, the issue rose to national attention during Week Three of the 2017 NFL season.

In a rally for a Senate candidate in Alabama, President Donald Trump exclaimed that NFL owners should fire players who “disrespected the flag.” However, Trump used a rather obscene word in place of players that many athletes took great offense to. In fact, over 100 more NFL players knelt the following week. Many players who didn’t kneel demonstrated support by placing hands on kneeling players shoulders or by locking arms. Some NFL teams like the Titans, Seahawks, and Steelers planned team protests that had players remain in the locker room. Other teams, like the Ravens, all knelt together before the anthem, enduring boos from their own fans.

During this slew of events, one thing has remained unchanged: Colin Kaepernick is still a free agent. He has not been signed by any NFL team since being released by the 49ers on March 3, 2017, a couple months after his original protest. Many people say this is due to him being the “leader” of the anthem protests. Others attribute his unemployment to the animosity that many NFL owners may feel towards him, particularly as an African-American male. They say that a league of all-white owners are afraid of a minority who is outspoken on issues such as institutional racism. Some claim that owners are hesitant to sign a player with such a controversial reputation. However, other people say Kaepernick’s unemployment is simply due to his mediocrity as a quarterback. This is a yet another subject of dispute in this nationwide issue.

Countless veterans and families of those who have served in the military have spoken out on this issue. Some condemn the protests, some support them. Recently, a player who served in the military for four years, Alejandro Villanueva, was the only person to come out of the Steelers locker room for the anthem. He stood. Afterwards, Villanueva spoke out about the situation: “People die for the flag. There’s no other way to put it. I wish I could stay at home. I wish we could all play ‘Call of Duty’ and not go to war … When I see the flag on the mission on the shoulder of a soldier, that reminds me that guy’s with me. That’s what the flag means to me, that’s what the flag means to a lot of veterans. I think my teammates respected this thoroughly; it was just not communicated and the plan did not allow them the chance to go out and support me.” The last statement is a reference to how Villanueva did not plan to make his “team look bad” by being the only person to stand outside the locker room during the anthem.

The way the situation panned out, it happened that Villanueva was the only Steeler present for the playing of the anthem. Despite his entire team staying in the locker room, Villanueva stated that he still respects their right to protest: “I can’t tell you I know what my teammates have gone through, so I’m not going to pretend like I have the righteous sort of voice to tell you that you should stand up for the national anthem. It’s protected by our constitution and our country. It’s the freedom of speech.”

Opinions vary across all platforms. Players kneel or don’t kneel for different reasons. Some interpret the act of kneeling during the anthem as direct disrespect for the armed forces, and some interpret the act as a way to raise awareness about systemic racism and police brutality in the United States.

Recently, Vice President Mike Pence left a Colts game after players knelt during the anthem. There were murmurings that this was simply a political stunt, but it is also possible that Vice President Pence was genuinely upset. Mike Pence has been a Colts fan for much of his life, and attended this game to honor legendary quarterback Peyton Manning’s induction into the Colts Hall of Fame.

However, he quickly departed after about twenty players knelt during the anthem, and said afterwards in a tweet: “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem …While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem.” The White House spoke on the ordeal as well. According to the White House, Pence’s attendance at the game was long planned, but the walk-out was not.

Obviously, a person’s background and experiences impact their opinion on whether or not kneeling during the anthem is an acceptable form of protest.  So to speak, there is no “right answer,” simply because this issue is so much more complicated than one that is either “right” or “wrong.” One thing it seems most people can agree on is that kneeling is a peaceful act. Either way, it is certain that kneeling will be in the spotlight of the sports world for weeks, maybe months, to come.

The rise of the NBA superteam: Carmelo Anthony

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This past week, former third overall pick and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This blockbuster trade included Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and the 2018 Bulls second-round draft pick in exchange for 10-time all star Carmelo Anthony. This trade has major implications for not just the teams involved, but the NBA as a whole. Last year, the NBA season concluded with the Warriors easily handling the Cavs in the Finals. Since then, the NBA has seen many blockbuster trades that have completely changed the landscape of the league.

The Thunder, now with Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams, join the Warriors and Cavs as the three modern day “super teams” in the NBA. Recently, it seems practically normal for super teams to be assembled, but when did all this start? Was it in 2010 when Lebron “took his talents to South Beach” and won two championships with the trio of himself, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh? What about in 1982 when Moses Malone teamed up with Julius Erving and the 76ers? I would argue that you have to travel all the way back to 1968 when Wilt Chamberlain joined the Los Angeles Lakers to answer this question. A team is typically dubbed “super” when they have 3 or more superstars. Some would think that these teams would be so dominant that no one could compete, and in the Warriors’ case, they have been so far. But over the years there have been countless super teams that have turned out as complete busts. We can look at the ‘09 Lakers with all-stars Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Ron Artest, and Kobe Bryant. Going into the season the Lakers were a shoo-in to compete for the title, if not win it all. The team had three future hall of famers in Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and the legendary Kobe Bryant, but struggled throughout the year and eventually fell short of the elusive title. The problem they experienced and what other super teams have experienced in the past is that superstars often have conflicting personalities and team chemistry doesn’t always come together. This can result in a few skilled players not meshing well together, and actually detracting from the overall team play.

Why do super teams only seem to form in the NBA and not the NFL? Apart from the obvious difference in roster size and people playing at a time, there are a few key reasons why you will never see a an NBA-like team in the National Football League. First, when building their teams, NFL general managers side with the belief that roster depth is more important than having a few superstars. Think of the “Big Three” in Miami. With Bosh, Wade, and Lebron in the starting line-up surrounded by nine role players, the Heat were dominant until Lebron left to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.  

In the NFL every single position is one-dimensional. Receivers catch passes, lineman block other linemen, running backs run the ball, etc. All 11 players are doing 11 different things that all contribute to a successful play. For example, since 2012, Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt has been the NFL’s best defender. That being said, in the last 5 years, with Watt on the roster, the Texans’ defense has finished in the top half of the league only once. This shows how little of an impact a star player has in the NFL compared to the NBA. In the NBA, one-on-ones happen all the time, but there is no one-on-one equivalent in football, which makes every position extremely important.

With the recent signings of Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder and Dwyane Wade to the Cavs this NBA offseason was definitely one for books. The new salary cap in the NBA has changed the landscape immeasurably, as it is much easier for general managers to attract multiple superstars to one team. With 3 super teams now in the league, it will no doubt be a season to remember.

 

Taking the NFL by Storm: The Cowboys Saga

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What comes to mind when you think of the Dallas Cowboys? For me, it’s “chokes in the playoffs.” Over the past 10 seasons, The Cowboys have played in six playoff games, winning twice, and both of those wins came from wild card games prior to losing in the next round of the playoffs. Tony Romo, the Cowboys starting quarterback for the past 10 seasons, is objectively one of the best quarterbacks currently playing, if not in history. His passer rating, a measure of one’s efficiency and quality as a passer, is the fourth highest in NFL history higher than NFL Hall of Fame locks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Somehow, however, he’s never been able to break that last barrier of getting a Super Bowl win. Perhaps that’s why he’s gotten so much criticism over the years, being called overrated and unable to perform in high pressure situations. In the words of sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, “If you want to mention overrated, then throw him out there.”

         This season may not be helping his reputation, but it’s sure looking good for Dallas.  Dallas is standing atop the NFL with an 8-1 record just over halfway through the season, all without Romo as quarterback. Romo fractured a vertebra during the preseason, and he only last week returned to the team, albeit in a backup role. In the minds of many Dallas fans, that may well be a blessing. Rookie phenoms Dak Prescott, a quarterback drafted in the fourth round from Mississippi State, and Ezekiel Elliott, a running back drafted in the first round from Ohio State, have led the team to the top of the standings. Prescott began the season by throwing 176 pass attempts without an interception, the most pass attempts without an interception to begin a career. He now has the fourth highest quarterback rating in the NFL. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards, averaging over 100 yards a game, and he is making a legitimate argument to win both Rookie of the Year, which he will almost certainly win, and Most Valuable Player. The Cowboys are the best team in the NFL right now. So who’s on their heels?

           ESPN rankings of the best teams in the NFL currently put the Seattle Seahawks as the second best team in the league, with the New England Patriots just behind them. I  would disagree with that order, but perhaps I’m just a biased fan of the Patriots. It comes down to the fact that the Patriots lost a home game this weekend to the Seahawks. By that measure, the Seahawks are a better team than the Patriots, but I don’t think that one game paints the full picture for either team. The Patriots started the season with their star quarterback, Tom Brady, suspended for his alleged role in Deflategate, a scandal involving alleged football deflations by Patriots staff. Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady’s primary backup, took over for the first game and a half, and he stood out. However, he injured his shoulder in that game’s second half, and the quarterback role fell to rookie Jacoby Brissett, a third round draft pick from North Carolina State. Even without Brady, the Patriots managed to reach a 3-1 record in part because of their stellar scoring defense. For the four weeks after Brady returned, the Patriots torched the NFL, putting up huge point margins. This whole season, they’ve shown a very balanced team with a good passing game, a good running game a rarity for them, and a decent defense. The Seahawks road to last Sunday’s matchup was not quite as easy as the Patriots’s. The Seahawks have been known as having one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL with highly mobile quarterback Russell Wilson and, previously, running back Marshawn Lynch. This year, Seattle is third-to-last in the NFL in rushing yards per game, in part because of knee and ankle injuries to Wilson near the beginning of the season. Maybe they’ve shown just how tough they are in coming back from a mediocre start to the season, losing to the Los Angeles Rams, a team in the bottom half of the NFL. The Seahawks and the Patriots both have relatively easy schedules remaining, except perhaps for a Dec. 18th matchup between the Patriots and the Denver Broncos, which is always a tough and entertaining matchup. As things stand at the moment, however, it will be the Patriots and Cowboys that finish first in their respective conferences and will hold the one seed going to the playoffs.

           We’ve talked about the best, so we should leave some room to talk about the worst. The Cleveland Browns are 0-10, their worst start to a season in franchise history. I believe the Browns have used six quarterbacks this season, although it could be more. It’s hard to keep track of all of them. They started off the season with Robert Griffin III, the former Heisman Award winner, awarded to the best player in college football. He didn’t last a full game before injuring himself. The merry-go-round spun and landed on Josh McCown. He suffered an injury in his first start. On came Cody Kessler, who actually lasted for a couple of weeks before going down with a shoulder injury. Then, it was Charlie Whitehurst, but he injured himself in the same game as Kessler. Kevin Hogan, a rookie quarterback out of Stanford, came off the practice squad to quarterback for the team for a few weeks until Kessler was healthy enough to start. They’ve even had Terrelle Pryor, a wide receiver, serve as a quarterback a couple times. At least they’ll have their choice of quarterback in this year’s draft, having practically locked in the first pick in the draft already.

           The Carolina Panthers played in the Super Bowl last year. This year, they’re one of the worst teams in the NFL. They’re 3-6 and last in the NFC South. Their pass defense is atrocious after having let one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Josh Norman, leave after last season. The turnaround is honestly remarkable. This is a team that had a shot at winning the Super Bowl, and they’re now playing like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a perennial non-contender. Actually worse than Tampa. They’re almost certainly not making the playoffs this season, and they’ll be looking at a pretty high draft pick. They better do something good with it.

           The NFL season is more than halfway through, but there are a lot of teams still battling for a playoff spot. Key matchups this Sunday include a game between the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles and another between the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Ravens. It should be a great start to the second half of the season.

Patience in Sports

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It seems that patience is slowly dying out in our current instant gratification society. Why make this rather obvious, somewhat philosophical observation in a sports column? Well, in my view at least, this societal trend has become particularly noticeable within professional sports. It has become dangerous for team organizations to be patient because of fans, sponsors, and pundits who constantly clamor for results in the present. As a result, teams are constantly pressured to throw around money in hopes of providing immediate entertainment, and are sometimes forced to prioritize that over long-term development.

There are certainly many examples where these short-term approaches have led to the desired results. However, there are also teams who’ve been patient, stuck with a plan no matter how hard things got, and eventually found a level of success that made the wait worth it. Which way is better? It’s worth seeing some real examples to figure this out and see if there’s a good answer.

I’ve actually experienced both ends of this patience spectrum during the last year or so from teams that I follow. On the patient end, there was the New York Mets this year. Up until then, they had gone nine seasons without a playoff appearance. In 2010, they had hired a new general manager, Sandy Alderson, and manager, Terry Collins in hopes of restoring success. However, they failed to go above .500 for many years. During its losing years, the team dropped many former star players and instead opted to strengthen its farm system.

Despite the years of mediocrity, the organization stuck with Alderson and Collins partially because of the promise of impressive prospects in the farm system who would eventually be able to help out the team. Gradually, these prospects came onto the scene and did not disappoint. The pitching staff in particular got stronger from year to year, beginning with the team’s “Dark Knight” Matt Harvey. Mets fans were used to mediocrity, and had no problem dealing with it during those years with the hope that the promised improvements would come to pass.

In 2015, the Mets’ patience finally paid off. Their pitching staff, although one of the youngest, was also amongst the best in the MLB. The team grinded out wins and, before they knew it, had a solid 90-72 regular season and rode its momentum all the way into the World Series before the Royals finally stopped them. All of us Mets fans who had spent years in misery suddenly had nothing bad to say, as our team showed the league what all of its potential could amount to and that they had now become one of the teams to beat. There have been few seasons from any of my favorite teams I’ve enjoyed more, and it would have never happened without the intelligent moves and the patience of the Mets organization.

On the impatient end, though, I had the New York Jets. Just before the 2015-2016 season, they had fired head coach Rex Ryan, who had been with the organization for six seasons. His first two seasons saw immediate success, with the Jets ending both just one win away from the Super Bowl.

From there, things began to spiral downwards for Ryan and the Jets, who found themselves unable to pull off a season above .500. The team stuck with Ryan through that time because of his strong relationship with and support from the players. Furthermore, with his booming personality and defense-focused approach, Ryan seemed to have the potential needed to give the Jets what they needed to be winners. Unfortunately, the Jets became somewhat of a laughingstock throughout the NFL for many mistakes they made (most notably Mark Sanchez’s “butt fumble”) and never realized their potential, leading to Ryan’s firing after a 4-12 record in 2014. I was initially very frustrated with that decision, because I felt that he had proved, during his first two seasons, the success he could have if he had the tools needed. It felt to me that the Jets cut him off before he could fully develop those tools to make the team truly special.

However, during the most recent season, the Jets went on to go 10-6 and just barely missed the playoffs under new head coach Todd Bowles. Suddenly, the atmosphere around the team became much calmer, which seemed to help Bowles focus and make the most use out of the admittedly mediocre resources he had on hand—pushing a slightly above-average quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick to break many franchise records was no small feat.

So now we seem to have two contradictory situations. The Mets, after waiting through many miserable seasons and developing their younger players, now have a successful team that looks strong for years to come. On the flip side, the Jets benefited from losing their patience and finding someone who could make the most of the somewhat mediocre set of players the team currently had. Is there a point to all that deliberation?

The key seems to be that patience is a path to success only if it is done right. Patience, by nature, requires people at the helm who can slowly develop a system without building up pressure. Collins and Alderson have these traits; both are quiet, uncontroversial guys who create few problems and maintain calm presences in the organization. Ryan, however, constantly predicted almost every year that the Jets would be contenders for the Super Bowl, had an overly strong media presence that always put the spotlight on the Jets for the wrong season, and made the Jets into a bit of a circus. Bowles was able to come in and calm things down, which seemed to be the best course of action for the Jets in the end.

Patience is still a good thing for teams to practice. It provides a sense of stability, and can make for some longer-lasting success if the team is willing to deal with failure along the way. All teams might not have the ideal atmosphere to do that, but those who do and can pull it off certainly earn more respect from me. Perhaps the only way to make it common would be if all fans could respect patience within teams; maybe then patience could finally become something that everyone recognizes as worth working towards. For now, though, all that I can do is just sit and hope that others learn from teams like the Mets and try to emulate their patient approach. In the long-run, the anticipation as you wait combined with the excitement when the desired goals are reached really can make sports more fun to follow.

National Football League sued for trademark infringement

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

National Football League sued for defamation and trademark infringement

Santa Clara— The Northern Fowl Legion (NFL), a global non-profit organization invested in the conservation of rare birds and raptors, plans to sue the National Football League on grounds of defamation and trademark infringement. The NFL claims their annual Superb Owl festival has been overshadowed by the similarly named football championship known as the “Super Bowl.”

“We’ve been sitting on this lawsuit since 1967, when that other NFL, the National Footgame Lollygag [sic] or what have you, decided to hold their annual festivities at the same time as our grand celebration of the Superb Owl. We are a peaceful organization of bird watchers and bird feeders, and we didn’t want to meddle in their footgame. But this year, it was all too much,” said NFL spokesman Vincent Schiavelli, nicknamed Pigeon Man for his proclivity to feed pigeons on rooftops in an aviator costume.

The NFL plans to file a lawsuit against the National Football League on the bases of libel and a violation of trademark agreements. They claim the political opinions associated with the National Football League’s “Super Bowl” event held on Feb. 7 could damage the reputation of the NFL and the Superb Owl. The NFL’s slogan, #OwlLivesMatter, celebrates all owl species, including those of the snowy, barn, and northern spotted varieties. Twitter users began to use an aurally similar slogan, #AllLivesMatter, after Beyonce Knowles’ halftime performance at the National Football League’s Super Bowl made a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement. The NFL believes the #AllLivesMatter slogan is both visually and phonetically similar to their copyrighted phrase, #OwlLivesMatter.

In an interview with The Phoenix, legal representative for the NFL Annalise Beaking called the case “something worth crowing about.” Beaking said the plaintiff will be “killing two birds with one stone,” and explained the NFL’s allegations: “The NFL and the National Football League came to terms over a contractual agreement in 1967 after the sports organization infringed upon the NFL’s Superb Owl trademark. The NFL graciously agreed to allow the National Football League to use their initialism and to imitate the Superb Owl name, but their association with a slogan that is so similar to #OwlLivesMatter definitely breaches the agreement and puts our reputation at risk. The National Football League will be leading a wild goose chase if they decide to take this to court, so we’re going to try to settle. The NFL is a peaceful organization; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so we’ll take what we can get.”

The NFL is willing to drop all charges should the National Football League and their supporters choose to rescind the #AllLivesMatter slogan and revert to Knowles’ use of #BlackLivesMatter. The NFL says that #BlackLivesMatter sounds nothing like #OwlLivesMatter, and the group supports the anti-gun connotations of Knowles’ performance. “Every year at the Superb Owl, we reserve the twenty minute slot after the Trumpeters of the Swan and Flamingo Dancers perform for an informative discussion of gun violence,” said longtime NFL member and Cornell University ornithologist Dr. Hamsa Raj Bulbul. “A majority of the endangered birds in our aviary were brought in after being injured by reckless hunters who couldn’t tell a bobwhite from a blue-footed booby if their lives depended on it. Here at the NFL we fully endorse gun-control legislation. If someone could calculatedly murder an innocent and beautiful creature for sport, imagine what a police officer having a bad day could do to humans with the pull of a trigger! It’s a logical fallacy to claim that the hunter didn’t know any better, or is protecting herbivore chicks by killing an already endangered bird of prey. Do you see what can happen, ornithologically, when someone with power is given a gun?”

Marcy Whitaker, a 37-year-old zookeeper and avid birdwatcher commented on the NFL’s Facebook page, “The politics associated with #AllLivesMatter go against our beloved motto, #OwlLivesMatter. The National Football League clearly just twisted the NFL’s words. I’m disappointed in this bastardization of an old American pastime. Bird watching has been in this country for centuries, and heck if I’ll let those pigskin cronies change that!”

The NFL plans to grant Ms. Knowles a prime membership to their organization and will officially change the name of the Alcedinidae or Kingfisher species to ‘Queenfisher’ in her honour. They plan to donate proceeds from this year’s Superb Owl to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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