We’re down to the final two in the NFL, and it was a hell of a way to get there.
It’s the last full week of January, meaning that we’re closing in on the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons punched their tickets to the big dance in Houston. The way each team reached the Super Bowl will be a major point of discussion in this blog, so stay tuned. I’m also going to touch on the ongoing Claude Julien saga with the Boston Bruins (again) and what’s wrong with Stat Tardiff’s favorite college basketball team.
It’ll be quite a hot take palooza this week, so I hope you enjoy. Catch up on last week’s edition before you start so you aren’t missing anything.
1. It’s impressive as to how inept the Pittsburgh Steelers are
Terry Bradshaw may have gone a little overboard with his criticism of Mike Tomlin earlier this year, calling him a “cheerleader” more than a coach, but I don’t think he was exactly that far off. Sunday’s AFC Championship throttling at the hands of the New England Patriots has to fall squarely on his shoulders.
Tom Brady entered that game with a 9-2 record against Pittsburgh. The Steelers consistently play a zone defense that Brady has routinely picked apart. In one loss to Pittsburgh, the Steelers actually switched up their defensive scheme to play man defense. As a result, the Pats faltered and Pittsburgh picked up a big win.
Just like how I knew that statistic, I’m assuming Tomlin and company probably knew the same. And yet, the fact the Steelers came out, with their season on the line, in the same zone defense that Brady has carved up is a pretty resounding showing of stupidity. Did Tomlin learn nothing from the Houston Texans the previous week? Houston switched up their schemes and played some man defense, along with bringing pressure up the middle. While the final result ended up being a loss, at least the Texans flummoxed Brady and forced him into some bad throws.
What did Pittsburgh do? They sat in a zone, Brady picked them apart thanks to Chris Hogan – he’s a former college lacrosse player, did you know that? – and pushed New England to their 9th Super Bowl in franchise history (more on that in a bit).
It’s baffling to me how Tomlin could justify going into that game with such a predictable gameplan. Brady time and time again knew exactly what Pittsburgh was doing, and audibled out of it into better matchups.
Tomlin may not be a cheerleader, but he sure is shit isn’t a great coach. His ass was served to him on a silver platter. What an ass-kicking.
Editor’s note: Football coaches probably have the biggest impact on the game of any sport. Baseball managers have an important role in setting the lineup and hockey coaches have to make changes on the fly, so it’s not a landslide. But this game is a perfect example of just how important coaching can be. The Steelers have a much deeper offensive arsenal, at least on paper, than the Patriots’ offered, but no matter—Belichick and his band of merry men found the holes that did exist in the Pittsburgh lineup, and exploited them to the tune of a boring, if highly important victory. That does not bode well for Falcons fans…
2. The Atlanta Falcons close out dome ball in the NFC
The Atlanta Falcons are good. Like really fucking good. They’re talented all over the place, can put up points in a hurry and so on and so on. They also play in a dome. That’s not an opinion, or an #alternativefact, that’s just a fact. In a lot of Super Bowl scenarios, teams that play regularly in a dome have trouble with the opposition, especially if the game is played outdoors.
But, with the Super Bowl being played at NRG Stadium in Houston (a dome) the Falcons will be right at home. It’ll be the Greatest Show on Turf 2.0, with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and the rest of the high-powered Atlanta team making the trek west for their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
It’s nothing short of impressive what the Falcons have done this year. Against banged-up secondaries in Seattle and Green Bay, Atlanta torched both teams. They’ve put up a multitude of points in the postseason, continuing on their scoring ways from the regular season. They’re scary.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the perfect weather conditions of the Super Bowl. New England scored just under 40 in both playoff games outdoors this year. Atlanta averaged right around 40 as well, both games played in climate-controlled conditions. It’s quite a showing from Dan Quinn in his second year with the franchise so the dome-home Falcons won’t be in familiar territory when they get to the biggest game of the year.
Editor’s note: I guess if Matt Ryan wins a Super Bowl, I really have to admit I was wrong about just how good he is—but to be honest I’m pretty much already there. Like I said on Monday, Ryan has been all but perfect in these playoffs, and Belichick or no Belichick, I no longer have reason to believe he won’t perform admirably, if not pristinely, in the Big Game. Matty Ice indeed.
3. How is Claude Julien still the coach of the Boston Bruins
I hate repeating topics in this blog, and I don’t really like focusing on my favorite teams every week. I feel like that can get pretty boring and even a little shitty for people who don’t live in New England. And yet, I can’t help myself from addressing the Boston Bruins coaching situation yet again.
How in the world is Claude Julien still the coach of this team? The struggles aren’t solely his fault. In 99.9% of all coaching changes, the team’s underperformance is largely due to factors outside of the coach. I think that’s the same thing in Boston. Claude makes some questionable coaching decisions – especially with younger players – but he’s still a damn good coach. When, not if, he does get fired by Boston, he’ll be hired again by some other franchise in a heartbeat.
The coach gets the ax because you can’t fire the entire team. Coaches get guaranteed money, so I usually don’t feel too badly for them. The Bruins have a flawed roster and a coach who has worn out his welcome. Julien has been here for 10 years. He’s been the coach in Boston for a decade! He’s the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, despite missing the playoffs for two straight years and winning only one Stanley Cup in that timeframe.
Firing Julien wouldn’t be the end-all answer for the Bruins woes, but it would be a start. Don Sweeney and Cam Neely have a lot of unanswered questions about the composition of this team. If they miss the playoffs for a third-straight season, heads could roll all over the franchise.
Julien might not be getting through to the players or whatever other sports cliche you want to use, but his time has come. He’s had a good run, but it’s time to part ways.
Editor’s note: I think my tweet from last week is really all I have to say on this:
4. Duke has gone from good and hateable to just hateable
The other night, Duke suffered a pretty ugly loss at home to NC State. Grayson Allen remained his asshole self, and the Blue Devils dropped another game. But don’t worry, the losses don’t count against Coach K’s record! Integrity at its finest.
In an earlier podcast, Brendan and I got into a solid back and forth about Duke basketball. Tardiff loves Duke for whatever reason. We hate them. But when Duke was good, they were the Yankees, the Patriots, the Canadiens – the team that everyone acknowledges is good and you hate them for it.
But this recent (enjoyable) demise has taken the good part out of the equation. Now, Duke is just hateable. Deadspin decided to have some fun with Grayson Allen and lookalike Ted Cruz the other night, and the Hogan-owned media site got put back in their fucking place. Duke has become the same thing. They talk a big game, carry the allure of having Duke across the chest, and are consistently getting beaten by mediocre competition. Cameron Indoor Stadium is no longer a vaunted destination for opposing teams.
Duke’s downfall has been greatly appreciated by me, and they’re still hateable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but that’s what it is. No more from Duke for the rest of this year.
Editor’s note: The good news is that this is all during Coach K’s very important and unexpected back surgery, so none of these losses count. And I’m not even being (entirely) sarcastic, that’s good news for college basketball. The may be devils, but the sport is better when they are wrecking blue havoc across the nation. I hate them, but I just can’t leave them alone. Come back, Duke, we need you.
5. Let’s all appreciate the history of the New England Patriots
I’m sure there’s a HUGE part of the population that hates the Patriots. I get it. But take a step back. Put aside the hate/jealousy/whatever else and just look at everything at face value. This will be the 9th Super Bowl in franchise history – an NFL record, not including pre-Super Bowl NFL Championship games – and 7th for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – also an NFL record.
Because of the age of each professional league in the United States, it’s pretty damn hard to break records in 2017. And yet, Belichick and Brady have broken what seemed to be one of the most untouchable records in NFL history. And, if the duo can somehow win their 5th title since 2002, then they’ll also sit alone on top of the NFL pyramid.
In 15 years, this duo has been in just about half of the Super Bowls. The NFL has never seen a period of excellence like this, and I doubt it ever will. Everything that has taken place in the past decade plus has been historic. Regardless of your feelings towards the franchise, it’s still impressive.
This approaches the old-school Canadiens, Celtics, and Yankees in terms of prolonged dominance. Division titles, conference/league championships, and overall win records continue to fall with the Patriots. It’s been incredible to watch. Don’t let the hatred blind fans about the history that are going on in front of your eyes. You might just miss it.
Editor’s note: File Duke next to the Patriots. I hate them with all my might, but the Yankee fan in me can’t help but give them a begrudging respect. All that said, I still hope The Falcons eat them alive come next Sunday.
6. Camel of the Week: Ben Roethlisberger
Getting beat down by the Patriots once again was a bad start to the week for Roethlisberger. But he compounded it by following Brett Farve in the long line of accused sexual criminal QBs in setting up a retirement soap opera this week.
In case you’ve been living under a rock over the past couple days, Big Ben went on a local radio program and implied that there may not be the next season, leaving Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers as the last standing QB’s from the 2004 draft.
If there are anything football fans do not need or want in their lives, it’s another will-he or won’t-he, out and back again drama queen/possible pervert dominating headlines. It’s embarrassing, it’s silly, and to be honest, it’s pretty uninteresting.
Ben, if your indeed time has come, then do us all a favor, be decisive and clear, and ride off with a little grace, and act like a two-time Super Bowl champ, instead of a white trash chump. That image looks a little better on you anyway.
That’ll do it for me. I’m still the leader in the clubhouse in the CMP Playoff Pick’Em. Suck it Murray, Tardiff, and Dragani. Sad!. Follow Tim on Twitter@culvey13 and Brendan @murraysporttalk for more.