Preseason Lowdown : Seattle Seahawks

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What’s the story? 

Some of us might still be a little bitter about what transpired between the Seahawks and the Packers on September 24th, 2012. Some of us will try to let that go for 30 minutes to write this post. But no guarantees.

That being said…the story with the Seahawks? It looks pretty dang good. The land of the 12th man has prospered under the direction of head coach Pete Carroll. They’ve found an unlikely franchise QB who took the NFL by storm last year and have some of the best players in the league on their roster – 6 of whom were elected to the Pro Bowl last year. They also have the greatest home field advantage in the league; it’s incredibly tough to win on the road in Seattle.

Leader and commander:

The aforementioned Pete Carroll, who would probably be best friends with rival NFC West head coach and former rival college coach Jim Harbaugh if they weren’t arch enemies due to their similarly over-the-top competitive natures. But it’s probably good that they aren’t best buds. All of that intensity in one space may cause the world to spontaneously implode.

New kid on the block:

Percy Harvin, who was traded by the Vikings to Seattle early in the offseason. The good news: the Seahawks need a talented wide receiver, and Harvin could potentially meet that need. The bad news: Harvin needed hip surgery late in the offseason, and there is no timetable for his return to the field. He may or may not see significant playing time this season; it all depends on how his recovery goes.

Last year was…

…a stunning success. The Seahawks improved on their 7-9 2011 record by going 11-5 (cough…10-6…) in 2012. They won their wildcard playoff game on the road against the Redskins and nearly won the divisional game against the Falcons the following week. Not too shabby for a team that hadn’t won a playoff game on the road in nearly 30 years.

Survey says:

How high is the ceiling for this unexpectedly successful bunch? How does #1 sound? That’s where ESPN has the Seahawks ranked in their preseason power rankings, and it’s hard to disagree with their assessment. Good offense + good defense + good coaching + unbeatable home field advantage, literally good enough for all 8 (cough…7…) home wins last season = huge opportunity to win it all.

Divisional Breakdown : NFC West Teams

Hello, NFC West Teams! Today we’re going to visit with you.

The Arizona Cardinals

History: The Cardinals are the oldest existing team in the NFL. They were founded all the way back in 1898 in Chicago. They’ve since moved to St. Louis (1960) and Arizona (1988). For reasons known only to the NFL, they remained in the NFC East Division until 2002. The Cardinals most recent success came with their Super Bowl season in 2008, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Current Players to Know: Kevin Kolb/John Skelton at QB. Skelton won the position in training camp but was injured in the first game and Kolb has taken over to great success – a 3-0 start. Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the history of the game; he can literally catch anything. Vonnie Holliday is a veteran defensive end.

Head Coach: Ken Whisenhunt

2011 Regular Season Record: 8-8

What to Watch For in 2012: The Arizona Cardinals are undefeated. And not by the grace of an easy schedule – they’ve beaten legit teams, the Patriots among them. And they don’t look like they’re about to slow down anytime soon. It will be interesting to see what happens when John Skelton is able to return from injury (any week now) – whether the Cards stick with Kolb or switch back to Skelton.

The San Francisco 49ers

History: The 49ers were founded in 1946. The name “49ers” came from those who flocked to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. They own the distinct privilege of winning every Super Bowl they’ve ever played in (five total). In the 80’s and 90’s they were a super power, home to iconic football figures Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice.

Current Players to Know: QB Alex Smith was the first player taken in the 2004 NFL Draft, but had yet to live up those expectations until the past two seasons under the mentoring of head coach Jim Harbaugh. Vernon Davis has also flourished under coach Harbaugh at tight end. Patrick Willis is a constant threat at Linebacker.

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

2011 Regular Season Record: 13-3

What to Watch For in 2012: The 49ers are good…a fact which, as a Packers fan, I know all too well. The 49ers beat the Packers decisively in the first week of the season. They trampled all over the Lions in Week 2, but were dealt a surprising loss by the Vikings last Sunday. Make no mistake, though – the 49ers are as good as they come, especially on defense.

The Seattle Seahawks

History: The Seahawks were founded in 1974 and played their first season in 1976. They were originally an NFC team, then became an AFC team in 1977, then switched back to the NFC in 2002. The Seahawks played in their first Super Bowl in 2005.

Current Players to Know: Russell Wilson is a surprise. He’s the shortest quarterback in the league (5’10”) and beat out the highly-sought-after free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job. Marshawn Lynch is a beast of a running back. Brandon Browner is troublesome at cornerback.

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

2011 Regular Season Record: 7-9

What to Watch For in 2012: The Seahawks just won a controversial game…which is a nice way of saying they were awarded a win for a game they had lost. But, controversial or not, the Seahawks are playing well this year, and they’re especially hard to beat at home. The continued development of Russell Wilson should be an asset for the Seahawks.

The St. Louis Rams

History: The Rams started out in Cleveland and lived there for about 10 years before moving to Los Angeles. They moved to St. Louis in 1995. In 1999 the Rams won the Super Bowl with “the Greatest Show on Turf” – a lethal combination of Hall of Fame talent: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Tory Holt among them.

Current Players to Know: Quarterback Sam Bradford was the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Steven Jackson could run through a brick wall…or ten. Danny Amendola is having a break-out year at wide receiver.

Head Coach: Jeff Fisher

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-14

What to Watch For in 2012: Coach Fisher had a long and successful tenure as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. This is his first season with the Rams, and all signs point to him having a better season than last year’s 2-14 record. The Rams are definitely in a rebuilding phase, but with Coach Fisher at the helm, they’re likely to improve quickly.

Controversy and Integrity in the NFL

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If you are here, reading this post, it might be because you are a fan of the NFL and read blogs about football. But more likely than not, you are here either because you are a) a friend who came over from the main site (thanks, guys!) or b) someone who is trying to learn more about football to make life bearable for the next 4 months.

To those of you in the latter group, let me assure you of something right from the get-go: What you have witnessed in the past 3 weeks IS NOT FOOTBALL. It’s a power struggle between the NFL owners and the NFL referees over a few million dollars – which is basically pocket change for a multi-billion dollar industry – being played out publicly and to the detriment of the players, the fans, and the game itself.

That being said, let’s try to learn something from this situation, both about the game and about life.

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I am not an objective voice to speak on this issue. The Packers are one of my greatest joys in life; I’m an unrelenting and irrational fan. As such, I am biased. I do not have a valid perspective on this issue.

But I do have eyes. And this is what my eyes saw last night:

1. M.D. Jennings, the Packers player who jumped highest, intercepted the ball in the endzone.

2. General pandemonium erupted on the field.

Let’s tackle the first issue first.

From a game-play perspective, let’s review what happened:

1. Golden Tate, 81, pushes off on Sam Shields, 37, before jumping up to try and catch the ball. That’s an Offensive Pass Interference penalty which should have rendered the play null and void. That penalty was not called. Mistake #1. (And let’s not even talk about the phantom Roughing the Passer penalty that put the Seahawks in position to take that shot at the endzone in the first place, or the also-phantom Defensive Pass Interference penalty on the other Packers interception a few plays prior.)

2. When M.D. Jennings, 43, and Golden Tate, 81, came down with the ball, one ref ruled it a touchdown and one ref made the call to stop the clock. The ref who ran to the endzone, looked at the pile, and ruled the “catch” a touchdown had the power to overrule the ref who ruled to stop the clock to review the play. Therefore, he should have taken the time to conference with the other officials before making his overarching decision. Mistake #2.

3. (This is important to know!) The play was reviewed by the replay official because all scoring plays inside the final 2 minutes of the game are reviewed. But, by rule, the ruling of a touchdown call can’t be overturned and ruled as an interception. As soon as the play was called a touchdown, the only “reviewable” action was whether or not the ball hit the ground/was controlled by the receiver. The replay official cannot determine possession. Because Golden Tate/M.D. Jennings did have control of the ball, the ruling on the field stood. The replacement ref making the touchdown call was the one who made the egregious error, not the official in the booth reviewing the play.

As we break this down from a football perspective, it’s an example of a bad call at the end of an entire game’s worth of bad calls. Clearly, I’m upset as a Packers fan. When you only play 16 games a season, every game counts. The Packers should be 2-1 right now.

However, bad calls are made in every game of every season by every referee – regular or replacement. It’s part of playing sports.

So let’s move on to the second aspect of the video: general pandemonium erupting on the field. And let’s take a life lesson from that: it’s never a good idea to make a decision in the midst of indecision.

The officials are clearly indecisive about which way the call should go. When you are in over your head, when you feel unprecedented scrutiny, when the fate of hardworking players and coaches and the sanity of diehard fans rests on your call…it’s not a good time to make a snap judgement. It would have been best to take a minute to back away from the action, talk to the other refs who had a better perspective on the play, and make a well-educated decision about the situation. That’s a lesson we can all apply to our own lives in one way or another.

But let’s go even further and step outside of this play in this game. Because even though it’s the worst error of the Replacement Ref Era of 2012, it’s far from the only error. This has been going on all season. And unfortunately, I think it speaks to the uglier side of the NFL, the side in which money and power are more important than the actual game of football.

I feel disheartened as a fan of the NFL. For an organization that has been so concerned with “player safety” and the “integrity of the game,” this screams hypocrisy. If you’ll allow untrained, inexperienced referees to officiate ineffectively – not for a game, not for a week – but for 3 whole weeks during which there have been constant and glaring deficiencies, none more glaring than last night, I don’t think you are actually concerned with player safety and integrity of the game.

To make matters worse, the NFL just issued a statement concerning last night’s outcome…supporting the outcome. They are effectively telling a bold-faced lie in an effort to save any remaining credibility. I can’t talk about it rationally right now because it makes my blood boil. It makes me feel like I’m living under a dictatorship in which I’m being fed falsehoods and expected to blindly support them for the good of the country.

But here’s the thing: you can’t establish credibility by promoting dishonesty and a lack of responsibility. To restore any semblance of validity to the organization, the NFL needed to man up and admit fault. What they did, instead, was further prove their lack of respect for the game and for the intelligence of those who participate – whether as a team member or a fan.

SI’s Peter King called last night, “one of the great disgraces in NFL history.” Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel rightly observed, “The game is a sideshow. The brilliant performances are an afterthought. The credibility is in question.” And Grantland’s Bill Barnwell hit the nail right on the head:

I recently read an argument suggesting that the replacement refs don’t really matter in the big picture. The evidence is that NFL ratings are still sky-high, which suggests that the fans who complain that poor refereeing is “ruining” the game are still watching. And it’s true, maybe they are still watching. But as the season goes along, if the games continue to produce terrifyingly false endings like Packers-Seahawks, I’m pretty sure that’s going to change. The easiest way to get people to stop watching is to make them think that the games they’re watching are illegitimate and irrelevant. With the continued employment of replacement referees, that is the exact path the NFL’s games are on. 

Sadly, that’s where we are right now. It’s hard to endorse a corrupt product. The outcomes of the games feel meaningless. The “just” nature of pure competition feels violated. It’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone who devotes time, money, energy, or enthusiasm to professional football.  And you’d be hard-pressed to find many people in this country who don’t devote some measure of time, money, energy or enthusiasm to professional football.

To close: much-needed perspective from Coach Lombardi:

After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.

Let’s remember what’s truly important. Let’s not allow ourselves to become cynical, but instead use this as a catalyst to lead by example and do with our lives the very best that we can. And please, let’s choose to encourage those within the organization who are exemplifying strength of character and true class rather than harshly demean those who are caught up in corruption.

There are good people who play football, even if the business behind the sport is not currently good.