What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
I’ve learned in my two decades of attending professional sporting events that I have a tendency to inflate moments I witness. I’m sure Michael Jordan’s best playoff game wasn’t Game 1 in the first round against the Bullets in 1997, but because it was the first one I’d seen, it feels that way. When it comes to Colin Kaepernick’s performance in last year’s divisional round, which I watched from the Candlestick press box, I’m fairly confident my spot in the building didn’t skew what I saw that day.
The Packers were hapless, yes (hapless enough that they felt compelled to send their defensive coaching staff to Texas A&M to figure out the read option), but Kaepernick was also magnificent on his way to 444 total yards and a 49ers blowout.
With the way Kaepernick played last season, and with San Francisco’s trip to the Super Bowl, it doesn’t feel like the 25-year-old Nevada product has eight fewer starts than Russell Wilson. But he does. Kaepernick is only 10 starts into his career, but already, he feels like one of the more important assets in all of football. This is in part because he’s a high-caliber quarterback with a second-round price tag. But he already deserves evaluation independent of finances. His peers voted him the 81st–best player in a poll of players by the NFL Network. Let’s reiterate — that's based on six fewer starts than Ryan Tannehill has.
For the most part, the 49ers are positioned to continue the offensive success they enjoyed during Kaepernick’s limited stretch. Without Michael Crabtree, who played at a Pro Bowl level with Kaepernick under center, San Francisco’s passing game will likely hit some snags, but there are still plenty of pieces to fill out the 49ers offense. Kaepernick will be without his no. 1 target, but to go along with Anquan Boldin (who, the Niners are all too aware, has a little something left), Kaepernick still has the league’s best offensive line, one of its best tight ends, and a bevy of recently drafted weapons that are more likely to come into play this season.
Kaepernick’s performances following the win over Green Bay didn’t quite compare, but there was still something to watching him chew up yards and generally dominate on a postseason stage. He’s capable of plays only Robert Griffin III can match, and the idea of seeing it over a 16-game season should be enough to have anyone outside of Seattle looking forward to Sundays. There’s a chance those 10 games were the exception, but an offseason of Kaepernick taking reps as the starter and the Niners staff formulating game plans with him as the centerpiece should continue his success. Colin Kaepernick is likely here for the long haul, and by the end of this year, my guess is that we’ll all very used to it.
The NFL offseason is fundamentally about one thing: hope. The mantra of "Any Given Sunday" is expanded to "Any Given Season," and the new — new rookies, new facilities, new schemes, new management — is the stuff those dreams are made of. But the most powerful offseason story lines, both in depth and on-field potential, are ones of redemption. Alex Smith's impending trade to the Kansas City Chiefs to play for Andy Reid offers that chance for both men.
Smith's story is, by now, well known. A former no. 1 overall pick by the 49ers, he, like the rest of the organization, stumbled around for several years until Jim Harbaugh became the head coach before the 2011 season. That year, Smith flourished in a game-manager role as the 49ers won 13 games and were a few special teams miscues away from playing in the Super Bowl. In 2012, Smith was better in almost every statistical category — completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, an impressive 104.1 passer rating — until he got hurt … and never regained his job, as the young, fleet-footed, strong-armed Colin Kaepernick took over and led the team to the Super Bowl.
Smith isn't yet 30, and a marriage with new Chiefs coach Andy Reid's offense seems — on the surface, at least — like it has the potential for sustained success. Reid is a stalwart of the old West Coast offense, the one developed by Bill Walsh and then carried throughout the NFL by protégés like Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, and, of course, Reid, who spent the last 14 seasons as head coach of the Eagles. Smith seems like the model West Coast offense quarterback — smart, accurate on underneath throws, with good feet and quickness. The scouting report on Smith sounds a lot like one for another great West Coast offense quarterback — Joe Montana.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
I don't know if something as unabashedly macro as the Super Bowl could ever be considered a microcosm for anything, but here's what I'd say: It seems almost stupidly fitting, after a season in which the NFL's commissioner displayed an uncharacteristic surplus of political ineptitude, that the league could not manage to keep its own power on. And it seems just as fitting that one of the more entertaining NFL seasons in recent memory climaxed near the goal line, with a quarterback who represents the possibilities of the future ultimately in charge of the game's result. The NFL is great, and the NFL is dysfunctional. It lives in the light, and it lives in the dark. — Michael Weinreb
When I decided to count down the 22 most important players in Sunday’s Super Bowl, I didn’t imagine it was going to be all that hard. I mean, there are 44 total starters; picking half of them should be doable. Then I actually started.
Let me first explain what this list is actually supposed to represent. These aren’t the 22 best players in the Super Bowl or the 22 players I expect to make the biggest impact. This is my best attempt at figuring out which 22 players matter most, and that proved to be more difficult than I’d planned.
Even with some cheating (a few guys at similar positions are listed together, so actually there are 27 players. I'm not sorry), there are some notable omissions that I don’t feel great about. Jonathan Goodwin has been one of the best centers in football this year, but for the purposes of this list, he’s out. Not a single Ravens cornerback is listed, which isn’t to say that Corey Graham and Cary Williams won’t play a part; it’s to say that how San Francisco uses Michael Crabtree doesn’t make one side or area of the field more important than another. Dennis Pitta has been invaluable for the Ravens’ offense since Jim Caldwell took over, but I still think he’s been Joe Flacco’s third most important receiver in the playoffs. With all that in mind, here are the guys who actually did make the final cut.
"The running game in pro football has gotten so boring," former 49ers coach Bill Walsh remarked some years ago. "There's just four or five plays they can run. I think the whole thing is headed in the wrong direction, and it's really unfortunate." Even after his passing in 2007, Walsh’s observation had held true for some time. That is, until now. And fittingly, it's the 49ers leading the way.
The Pistol read option plays aside (we’ll get to those), the 49ers' multifarious running game uses many of the same blocking schemes Walsh taught for nearly four decades. Jim Harbaugh deserves much of the credit — the vision for these 49ers is certainly his — but the mastermind behind the 49ers' weekly game plans and the coach who deserves credit for taking Walsh’s criticism to heart is San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
The thought had lingered all weekend — for the past couple weekends, actually — but it took Matt Schaub’s trip to Foxborough for it to take hold. Houston had just completed another seven-yard pass on a third-and-8, and as it became clear that the Texans’ tailspin would end with nothing more than a death rattle, I wondered whether this was it for Matt Schaub.
This doesn’t mean I think Schaub’s time in Houston is over. Matt Schaub will be the Texans’ starting quarterback next season, and he probably should be. In every season in which Matt Schaub started 16 games, he’s thrown for 4,000 yards. He’s been to the Pro Bowl twice, the most recent trip being just last season. In the world, there are probably 15 men better than Matt Schaub at what Matt Schaub does. The problem for the Texans, and the problem for a handful of teams around the league, is that Matt Schaub’s competence may actually be their undoing.
Kevin Greene walked through the tunnel, hands in pockets, eyes fixed on his feet. As some players jogged and some players sulked, the coach of the Packers’ outside linebackers — a group tormented by Colin Kaepernick all night — kicked at the ground in front of him. He was halfway to the locker room when he finally looked up, took a breath, and exhaled.
The thought when Kaepernick became San Francisco’s starting quarterback was that where Alex Smith’s Niners were a safe team reliant on defense and error-free football, Kaepernick’s version was capable of delivering such a 45-31 bludgeoning. As the Packers left the field Saturday night, they looked like a team that had seen the business end of Jim Harbaugh’s vindication.
In case you were busy trying to concoct a homemade flu vaccine out of common household spices, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The San Francisco 49ers, led by second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat the Green Bay Packers, 45-31, in San Francisco to advance to the NFC Championship game. Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore combined for 300 yards rushing against an overwhelmed Packers defense. When told this stat after the game, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, "That's what it was! Run defense! I knew I was forgetting something. It was on my to-do list. I swear." McCarthy then pulled out a Palm Pilot, poked at it with a stylus for a couple of minutes, and then showed it to the gathered reporters. "Look, right here: 'Go over run defense.' It's always one thing you forget to do, am I right?"
The Seattle Seahawks rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to dramatically cover the spread against the Atlanta Falcons, 28-30. Russell Wilson threw for 385 yards and ran for 60 more, accounting for three touchdowns in the cover. After the game, when asked about his team's success, Wilson fought back tears, saying, "We fought so hard; we left it all there. I'm just so proud of my whole team. It's hard to put into words what happened tonight. But I still aim to come out even stronger next time we play." The Seahawks will again go for the cover next September against an opponent yet to be determined.
We're here: Week 16. For those of you lucky enough to still be around, there is boundless glory to be won. To help with the preparation during fantasy football's most sacred of times, we've compiled a short weekly schedule designed to draw from the good (and the bad) methods of readying yourself for the big time.
The Playboy parties, steakhouse dinners, and photo shoots can wait — today is a day for business, the final chance to improve your roster before Week 16. Celebrate your championship berth in style with these waiver-wire pickups.
QB: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (available in 45.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
RB: Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers (81.2 percent)
RB: Curtis Brinkley, San Diego Chargers (99.7 percent)
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (48.9 percent)
WR: Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars (39 percent)
TE: Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens (70.2 percent)
FLEX: Joe Morgan, New Orleans Saints (99.9 percent)
Congratulations, you won the five-day holiday war and the fantasy postseason remains a distinct possibility. Thanksgiving meant forced pleasantries as NFL guardians combined to pile on 202 points — the most ever scored on a Thursday. Black Friday was for second-guessing your lineup, reeling from Matthew Stafford’s big day. The weekend brought conventional stress. I’m sorry you had to keep tabs on the Eagles and Panthers, but the goal is still four more weeks of chaos. Office parties are for the weak-minded. Ice-skating and hot chocolate with lovers is an exercise for quitters. Vapid consumerism is for victims of manufactured consent and people that traded for Dwayne Bowe.
You are George Costanza in the bunker. Gather inspiration from luminary thinkers with their backs against the wall: Winston Churchill, Tom Landry, Lil Wayne: “All I have in this world is a pistol and a promise / A fist full of dollars, a list full of problems — I'll address them like P.O. Boxes.”
Sever ties with good luck charms like Randy Moss. Stop waiting for Antonio Gates to do something. Don’t be the contending force that eventually loses by standing pat when it most matters. Most leagues no longer allow trades, and that means the waiver wire has never been more important. With so many ripe prospects breaking, today’s claims are a critical guessing game. There’s so much intriguing talent available, in fact, that I’ve itemized these gentlemen into distinct A and B Teams.
With the ascension of Colin Kaepernick into the starting spot at quarterback for the 49ers seemingly complete, San Francisco is left with a very noticeable backup standing on their sidelines. Although Jim Harbaugh still described him as the starter, Alex Smith's apparent benching came about almost entirely due to his concussion, as his 70.0 percent completion percentage and 8.0 yards per attempt were both well above league-average. Kaepernick is averaging an unsustainable 9.2 yards per attempt so far, and because he's likely made more deep throws than Smith would under the same gameplan, his completion percentage (64.9 percent) is a decent spell worse, even if it's still above league-average.
The Niners were able to get Kaepernick work by integrating him slowly into the game plan, giving him about 15 percent of the snaps on most weeks by using the former Nevada star as a run-pass weapon in the Pistol or a standard shotgun. While Jim Harbaugh has maintained that he'll ride whichever quarterback has the hot hand, a slump from Kaepernick would bring in a cold Smith off the bench. In the same way that he found reps for Kaepernick without creating waves earlier in the season, is there a package with which Smith can get 15-20 percent of the offensive reps and stay warm?