With Monday night’s shellacking in the books, we now have a rough sketch of the NFC playoff picture. The Seahawks need something biblical to derail them from home-field advantage, Detroit’s win over Green Bay (and the Bears’ loss to the Vikings) gives the Lions a clear path to the NFC North title, and Philadelphia’s win over Arizona gave the Eagles a leg up in the NFC East and the Cardinals a knock down the wild-card ladder. New Orleans and Carolina still play each other twice, and with the Panthers refusing to slow down, that division is still very much in question. But for the most part, we have a pretty defined idea of what our six or seven playoff teams/seeds will look like:
2. Carolina/New Orleans
5. New Orleans/Carolina
6. San Francisco
Of all those teams, San Francisco seems to be the one no one’s excited about. Detroit has Calvin Johnson; Philadelphia has Nick Foles. The Niners are just a team that a year ago seemed poised to annually challenge the Seahawks for NFC supremacy but instead have taken up residency among the conference’s also-rans. With Arizona dropping a game in Philadelphia, even a loss to Seattle would leave the Niners as the likely final team into the playoffs. But for a team one play from the Lombardi Trophy, that finish is nothing less than a disappointment.
You know how players like Jason Pierre-Paul and Dion Jordan were lauded as DE/OLB hybrids when they left college because they were strong enough to match up against left tackles, but agile enough to drop into coverage? Well, you're reading the fantasy football analysis equivalent, a Week 12 review/Week 13 preview hybrid, the first of its kind. The Thanksgiving holiday called for some consolidation, and now you’ve got the Barkevious Mingo of blog posts on your screen. Treat it with care.
Commemorating Week 12's most elite fantasy performances with some phenomenally prestigious honors.
• I Survived Brandon Weeden, a Stranger-Than-Fiction Tale by Josh Gordon: If I were an NFL wide receiver, here’s how I'd react to Brandon Weeden suddenly becoming my quarterback in the middle of a game:
• Politely ask the officials to pause the game
• Cry it out for a good two-to-four hours
• Head to the market to purchase a carton of eggs and an American flag as large as a football field
• Egg Weeden’s house without regard for his artfully arranged holiday decorations
• Return to the playing field and wrap Weeden in the gridiron-size flag. (Don't worry, that's Weeden’s natural habitat. Sadly, years of deforestation have forced him onto our football fields.)
In the preseason, any qualitative analysis of a game — or even a practice — will hopefully begin with one sentence: “No one got hurt.” Training camp and the month of faux games in the leadup to the regular season are useful for teams with new coaching staffs or a significant turnover in personnel, but even for them, the most important aspect of August is getting through it with the roster intact. The more significant training camp injuries began with Dennis Pitta and Jeremy Maclin, and they haven’t slowed. Nearly every team has one or more players likely to miss at least some of the regular season, and this time of year, it can get a little tough to keep track of who’s lost whom.
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.
In case you were busy concocting an elaborate theory in which the film The Faculty exists as a prequel within the Fast & Furious universe, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
LeBron James had a triple-double and scored the game-winning layup as time expired in overtime as the Miami Heat fought off a ferocious effort from the Indiana Pacers to win, 103-102, and take Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals. I may be in the minority here, but I think the question remains, when will James really prove his greatness? Here's the supposed greatest player of all time, and he hasn't even quit the NBA to pursue his dreams of playing professional baseball? Gimme a break! Michael Jordan made it all the way to Double-A; that's two A's, which is already the highest grade that you can get in college, which LeBron James didn't even attend! No BA, no AA, no GOAT.
Bryce Harper scored both of his team's runs and made a game-saving catch as the Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giant, 2-1, in 10 innings at AT&T Park. I may be in the minority here, but I think the question remains, when will Harper really prove his greatness? Here's the supposed best young player on his team, and yet he has never once been rested in the postseason to avoid long-term injury ramifications? Gimme a break! He was left in this game even after reaggravating a minor knee injury? If Bryce Harper wants to show he's the best young player on the Nationals, he needs to play less and rest more at the end of the year, when it really counts. No DL, no DNP, no GOAST (greatest on a specific team).
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.
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.
Anquan Boldin: Hall of Famer?
Anquan Boldin has not made a Pro Bowl since leaving the Arizona Cardinals at the end of the 2009 season. He has not had a 1,000-yard season in Baltimore, and the beast who caught 11 touchdowns in 2008 has been limited to a total of seven touchdowns in his past two seasons. Up until these playoffs, Boldin had mostly fallen off the casual fan's radar — if your interactions with the NFL come mostly from highlights, fantasy, and Red Zone, you might have even forgotten that Anquan Boldin was still in the league.
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.