FRIDAY MORNING TIGHT END, WEEK 21
Week 21 is NFL Limbo. The slow build-up of Super Bowl hype mixes with the final arguments about year-end awards, the Senior Bowl gets the three-month draftathon underway, and the Pro Bowl this year reverts back to a 'meaningful' NFC vs AFC format. As much as the idea of watching the NFL's best players go against each other appeals, I've written many times before how the game itself has outlived its usefulness, just as the College All-Star game did before it. I suspect it will require a serious injury to a real star to drive the point home, and I do not wish for that. PRO BOWL: PICK NFC 101 AFC 98
Instead let's take a serious look at the All-Pro team. One of the odd things about the Pro Bowl is that each team gets three quarterbacks, although only one can play, but also, for example, three guards, although two play. They get only one special teamer, though of course ten of those guys surround the kickers. The current voting for all-pros gets weird as well, with two running backs even though no teams use two at once except as a gimmick, and various distinctions between interior linemen, edge rushers, and linebackers which saw Khalil Mack get picked as both a rusher and a linebacker. Sometimes they distinguish between left and right tackles, strong and free safeties, sometimes they don't. And they've added a 'flex' position (David Johnson, who I thought had a very strong case for the MVP) was AP's first team flex and second team running back, go figure. , which might be fine if this were fantasy football. As I pointed out one week in answer to the otherwise excellent Red Zone: the opposite of fantasy football is not 'reality football', it's 'football'!
The quarterback/MVP debate has been a fascinating one. Ryan has had a totally remarkable statistical season; Brady went 11-1 with a team whose offensive weapons don't fall into the all-pro voting; Rodgers engineered a brilliant run without a running back. You could take any of the three and think yourself correct. But boy would you hear arguments.
IRON MIKE'S ALL PROS:
QB: Matt Ryan, Atlanta
RB: LeVeon Bell, Pitts
FB: Kyle Juszczyk, Balt
WR: Julio Jones, Atlanta; Antonio Brown, Pitts; Odell Beckham, NYG
TE: Travis Kelce, KC
T: Joe Thomas, Clev; Andrew Whitworth, Cinn
G: Zach Martin, Dallas; Marshal Yanda, Balt
C: Travis Frederick, Dallas
DE: Khalil Mack, Oakland; Jadeveon Clowney, Houston
DT: Aaron Donald, LA; Fletcher Cox, Phil/Damon Harrison, NYG (tie)
OLB: Vic Beasley, Atlanta; Von Miller, Denver/Sean Lee, Dall (tie)
ILB: Bobby Wagner, Seattle; Luke Kuechley, Carolina
CB: Marcus Peters, KC; Patrick Peterson, Ariz; Richard Sherman, Seattle;
SS: Eric Berry, KC
FS: Devin McCourty, NE
PK: Justin Tucker, Balt (Tucker had a 1.77 score on my 'Cockup' kicker rating; the highest in about 8 years); Adam Vinatieri at 1.45 was next).
P: Jonny Hekker, LA
KR: Tyreek Hill, KC
ST: Matthew Slater, NE/Nate Ebner, NE (tie)
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick
Coordinator of the Year: Kyle Shanahan
It's also time to tip the helmet to the way Dallas' dynamic duo of rookies, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, led them to the very brink of the NFC championship game. If you go back to April, it was obvious Zeke was a rare talent who was likely to thrive behind Dallas' fine run-blocking line. It was less obvious that Dak was going to QB them to a 13-3 season. I was one of the few commentators high on Dak; I had him pegged top of the second round, ahead of Paxton Lynch, but even I didn't think that translated into playing right away. I did say then that he reminded me of Russell Wilson, and so it turned out.
Dak made one rookie mistake against the Packers, spiking the ball on first down as Dallas was on their game-tying drive. The loss of a down was far more important than the clock; in fact in an ideal world they wouldn't have left any time for Green Bay after scoring. Note Aaron Rodgers' clock management as he took the Packers 42 yards in 35 seconds, even after taking a 10 yard sack. There was a stranger mistake, at the end of the first half, when Cole Beasley fair-caught a punt and the Cowboys didn't take the free-kick which was available. I would have loved to see Dan Bailey with a run-up going for the posts!
It's a shame Zeke's season overshadowed Jordan Howard's which might have been good for rookie of the year in many years; running on a team with a limited passing attack Howard was a bright light for the Bears. So I've picked two running backs and only two wideouts, because no third wideout stood out from a group of about five.
IRON MIKE'S ALL-ROOKIE TEAM (draft round taken in parenthesis):
QB: Dak Prescott, Dallas (4)
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas (1); Jordan Howard, Chicago (5)
FB: Andy Janovich, Denver (6)
TE: Hunter Henry, San Diego (2)
WR: Michael Thomas, NO (2); Sterling Sheppard, NYG (2)
T: Jack Conklin, Tenn (1); Taylor Decker, Det (1); Ronnie Stanley, Balt (1)
G: Laremy Tunsil, Miami (1) Joe Thuney, NE (3)
C: Cody Whitehair, Chi (2)
DE: Joey Bosa, San Diego (1); DeForest Buckner, SF (1) Kenny Clark, GB (1)
DT: Chris Jones, KC (2); Javon Hargrave, Pitt (3); Michael Pierce, Balt (U)
ILB: Deion Jones, Atlanta (2); Jatavis Brown, San Diego (5)
OLB: Leonard Floyd, Chi (1) Emmanuel Ogbah, Clev (2)
CB: Jalen Ramsey, Jax (1); Eli Apple, NYG (1); Darryl Worley, Caro (3)
S: Keanu Neal, Atlanta (1); Karl Joseph (Oak) (1)
PK: Will Lutz, NO (U) P: Riley Dixon, Den (7) KR: Tyreek Hill, KC (5)
See you next week with the Super Bowl. I'll be down in Houston with El Chappo, Osi, and JBell on BBC1 Sunday, don't miss it!
LAST WEEK: 1-1 PLAYOFFS: 9-1