The NFL has changed a lot over the years.
Goalposts used to be at the front of the end zone. I bet that was fun for everyone (see right!)
Helmets used to be made of leather and had no facemask.
Some guys only had one bar for a facemask.
And you thought you only saw pictures of him wth a broken leg.
Penalty flags were white at one time. Now they're yellow, of course, except for one game last week, which was pretty cool:
Real zebras use pink!
Building winning teams, strategy, and the formula for winning championships has changed, too. Up until a quarterback renaissance of the early 1980s, most teams that won conference championships and contended for the Super Bowl were built on a solid run game and a very physical defense. Then the Jim Kellys, Dan Marinos, John Elways, Warren Moons and Brett Favres (among others) of the league came along. They competed for titles, but it took a while for any of them to win one. That's because - at the heart of it - the league was still a run-and-stop-the-run league. From an offensive standpoint, run the ball well and you'll almost always be among the league's best. To win a Super Bowl, you HAD to run the ball well. No exceptions. Then something funny happened on the way to Lombardi.
Colleges were first to start spreading the field with more athletes, putting their QBs in the shotgun on a semi-permanent basis, and then letting them dictate the game with their arms (and often their legs, too). Defensive coordinators couldn't keep up and had to scramble to find ways to combat the new style of offense so many teams were using. It was too hard. The game became much more about which QB can throw for more touchdowns - and faster - than which running game could smash you in the mouth the hardest.
It took a while, but all this led to NFL coaches finally allowing these QBs to do what they were most comfortable with - and good at and prepared for. Then, the NFL changed some rules to help the offenses, and specifically the passing game, even more. It wanted more scoring and more entertainment. And got it. And we got a big change. The results so far, but hardly the end result because this is still evolving at both levels of play - is the undeniable fact that you simply don't have to be good at running the football anymore to win a Super Bowl. Does it help? Of course. Being good at anything always helps a team succeed. But it's not imperative anymore. It used to be. Now, as long as you can throw the ball and get it into the hands of your athletes and playmakers, you'll score points and ultimately, have a better chance to win a championship.
Here's the proof. The following is a list of the past 22 Super Bowl winners. It's remarkable the change from the first 11 to the most recent 11 when it comes to the importance of running the football to their success:
Rushing offense rank
From 1990 - 2000, every single Super Bowl champion was a top-11 run offense. And all but three were in the top-6 in the entire league.
From 2001 through last season, only four Super Bowl champs were better than 13th running the ball.
The average rank of a SB Champion's run offense:
1990-2000: 5th in the NFL
2001-2011: 17th in the NFL
And this is not a small sample size. It shows twenty-two years of champions. Eleven on one side of the pendulum, then eleven swung to the other side.
The Bills play the Texans Sunday. Both teams are very good at running the football. Buffalo is 4th in the NFL. Houston is 6th. That looks great on the stat sheet and can help you win games. But to be a champion in this league, it's just not as important as it once was. Having the quarterback who can make the throws and get the ball into his playmakers' hands is far more essential now.
More on this game in a bit, but first……..
3 Other Must-See NFL Games For Week 7:
Dolphins at Colts: "if the season ended today……." Don't you just hate when people say or write that? Well, guess what? If the season ended today, the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts would BOTH be in the AFC playoffs. Raise your hand if you had that happening this season. Now put your hand down because you're obviously lying. No one would have thought both of these teams would be 4-3 at this point, playing each other for the right to be 5-3 and take a nice firm grip on an AFC wild card spot at the midway point of their season. A lot can still happen. Both teams can fall apart. After all, each has a rookie QB who's never had to go through a 16-game NFL season. But as of right now, this week, this game means a two-game-over-.500 record for the winner and a big blow in the first tie-breaker column for the loser. The Colts have won three in a row in the series, but Miami has won five of the past six at Indy and is playing very well on the road this season, looking for their 3rd straight win away from south Florida.
Steelers at Giants: All fans of any AFC team other than Pittsburgh need to root for the G-Men in this one. That's because with a win, the Steelers will go to 5-3 and - along with the winner of the game above - start to separate a bit from the pack looking for wild card berths. The Giants need to keep pace with the Falcons, Bears, and 49ers in the NFC if they want to play at home in January. The Super Bowl champs are very good, but often play like they're disinterested. They play to the level of their competition and let bad teams hang around with them too often. If they don't come out to play right away in this one, they'll get beat. And something's gotta give. Mike Tomlin is 16-6 vs. the NFC, but Eli Manning has won eight in a row vs. the AFC.
Please never wear these again, Steelers.
Eagles at Saints: The reason this game is a "must-see" is because there may be 200 points scored! The Saints are 6th in the league scoring over 27 points per game, and although the Eagles are only at 17 per game, the New Orleans defense would have trouble stopping the Sweet Home Panthers. Michael Vick has had a terrible season protecting the football. This may be his last chance to save his job. But considering he's facing the Saints defense, and the game is in a dome - on a fast track where weather won't be an issue at all - he has a great shot to save his job. At least for another week.
NFL Fact Hopefully Not Only I Find Interesting:
Talk about some Fantastic Finishes. Through Week 8, there have been 31 NFL games in which the winning points were scored in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Of those 31 games, 10 have been decided in overtime and 11 have seen the winning points scored in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter.
Still Barking with the Big Dogs!:
I had my FOURTH 3-0 “3 Dog Saturday” in week eight. That's undefeated in half of the weeks played in the NFL season so far. If you listened to the selections on Sports Talk Saturday last week, you know I had the Dolphins (+2.5), Browns (+3), and Falcons (+3). Not only did all cover, each of them won the game outright on the field! That puts me at 16-8 on the season (66.6%) and hopefully helping you make a little money with your "short-term investment planner." You can hear the picks every Saturday during the 1pm hour of the show.
3 College Games Worth Your Time:
Alabama at LSU: SEC 8-0 vs. SEC 7-1. A rematch of the national championship game from a year ago (21-0 Alabama win) which was a rematch in itself from earlier in the season (9-6 LSU overtime win). The way things are looking now, there's no way these two teams will meet a second time this season for the national championship. Maybe one can sneak into the BCS title game with one loss, but not both. With Kansas State, Oregon, and Notre Dame all still undefeated and ready to pounce into the BCS championship game, this is essentially a do-or-die game for both these teams, as far as getting that invite. Neither team is as good as last season when it comes to overall talent on the roster, but LSU seems to have had a bit more of a drop-off. That doesn't mean they can't win this one. They can. It's at LSU and it's at night when they are incredibly tough to beat at home. Nick Saban may be the best coach in college football but Les Miles is a witch. He always seems to have something up his sleeve for special occasions and games like this. And considering his team had last week off and he had an extra week to prepare for this one, don't be surprised to see the Tigers try some interesting things. The two teams have split the last four regular season contests, 2-2.
Clap your hands if you've won a national championship.
Oregon at USC: Not a chance anyone thought USC would already have two losses by now. How about three after this week? That would have seemed to be a joke headed into the season, but now it's a real possibility. The Ducks are good. Really good. And don't be fooled by their defensive numbers. Sure, they give up at least 20 points almost every week, but that's because they're usually ahead by four or five touchdowns by halftime and then rest their starters and let guys deeper on their roster get some valuable experience. Think I'm kidding? Other than a 23-19 and a 13-0 game, here are their halftime scores the season: 56-0; 43-7; 35-7; 35-6; 35-7; 50-10. Overall, through eight games, they are averaging a score of 36-7. AT HALFTIME! The Trojans have the athletes to match up with Oregon more than most teams do. But they just can't seem to put full games together like they were supposed to headed into the season. In their two losses, they gave up 417 yards to Stanford and an incredible 588 to Arizona. Conventional wisdom says Oregon will have to beat USC twice (Pac-12 championship) to get to the BCS title game. The two teams have split the last six meetings.
Clemson at Duke: Yes, I know Duke got drilled by Florida State last week. And, no I can't believe I'm listing the Blue Devils as a "must-see" game, either. Trust me, I know this is a football and not a basketball blog. But Duke is still having a good season and still very much in play for the ACC Coastal Division title. They're 3-2 in conference play and 6-3 overall. Plus, they're 5-0 at home and beating opponents by an average score of 42-20 in those five games. Of course, this is Clemson they're facing. One of the top programs with some of the best talent in the nation. The Tigers are 7-1 overall and still fighting for the ACC Atlantic Division title. But remember what happened to Clemson last season when it all seemed so promising heading into November. They were 8-0 and ranked 6th a year ago at this time. Then they lost three of their final four regular season games. They're ranked 10th in the AP poll right now. Duke has lost 46 straight against ranked teams. This would be one of, if not the biggest win in program history. Unlikely given the circumstances and opponent, but they match up better now than they have in a long time with the top schools of the conference.
Wait. Something's wro......wait.
Come meet CJ Spiller and Arthur Moats (and me!):
Each week, I co-host the TV show "Out of Bounds" with Bills linebacker Arthur Moats. We tape the show on Monday nights and it airs on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel Saturday at 10:30pm and Sunday at 11:00am. Arthur always brings a different teammate to the program to talk about the last game, the next game, and the season in general. This week, it's running back CJ Spiller! We'll be taping the show at JP Bullfeathers, 1010 Elmwood Avenue, in the heart of the Elmwood Village in Buffalo. The taping starts at 7pm Monday evening. The players will stay after the show to take pictures and sign autographs. Please get there early if you are coming. It’s definitely a fun time for everyone. Hope to see you there and to say hello!
Meet CJ Spiller!
NFL Fact Hopefully Not Only I Find Interesting Part II:
Since 2000, 29 NFL teams have reached the halfway point of their season with a .500 or below winning percentage and proceeded to the playoffs, including at least one in each season since then. Of those 29 teams, five have advanced to the Conference's Championship Game, and one won the Super Bowl. The 2001 New England Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVI).
The Bills are guaranteed to be at or below .500 (4-4 or 3-5) after Sunday. That brings me to…..
Bills at Texans:
If you're looking for some sort of edge - any edge - anywhere - for the Bills in this one (and we all are), it's in special teams.
The Texans are not having a good season in that third of the game. They're currently 30th returning kicks, with only an 18.4 yards-per-return average. They're also near the bottom of the league in covering kicks (allowing 26.4 yards per return, ranked 23rd) and covering punts (10.4; 24th). The Bills are the best team in the NFL at returning both kicks and punts. In fact, they're averaging an incredible 24.0 yards per punt return. The next-closest team to them in that department is Cleveland at 14.5! Returning kicks, Buffalo is one of only two teams in the NFL averaging over 30 yards per return (Minnesota is the other) with a league-best 30.8.
Give special teams coach Bruce DeHaven a a lot of credit. He's done a great job with these units and has given them a chance to be successful even when the offense and/or defense is struggling.
To pull the kind of upset the Bills would need to pull off over the Texans - a 10 1/2 point favorite - it's going to take a few bounces to go their way, a couple turnovers, and probably a big special teams play or two. Well, that last part just might happen. This could be a game where Leodis McKelvin takes one to the house. He already has one punt return TD and had another called back by a penalty. McKelvin is tops in the NFL with a 24.0 yard average on punt returns (not counting two guys who have one return each to their name). Or maybe Brad Smith can score for the second game in a row. Smith is 3rd (34.6) and McKelvin 4th (32.0) in kick return average for all players with more than five returns.
Leodis and the Bills special teams have a chance to be special this week.
So there's the Bills advantage. But here's the problem. They simply (and obviously, knowing how poor the defense is) don't force enough punts. They are 2nd worst in the NFL in actual punt return attempts (not counting fair catches and out of bounds punts) with only nine. So, to take advantage of the advantage, the defense will have to do something it hasn't been very good at this season - stop the opposition! Especially on 3rd down. The Bills are dead-last in the NFL at getting off the field on 3rd down, allowing a terrible 47.25% conversion rate. And guess where Houston is as a 3rd down offense? (gulp) 4th in the NFL, converting at a 45.19% clip.
So, that's the formula for the Bills Sunday if they want to pull this one off. Take care of the football, force a couple turnovers, and make a couple big plays in the special teams department. Do-able, but much easier said than done. Especially when you look at the other side of the ball and see guys with the names Schaub, Foster, Daniels, and (Andre) Johnson on the back of their jerseys.
If they do take care of the ball, the Bills should have a better chance to move the ball and score points against the Texans defense than most would expect. Yes, Houston is 3rd in yards-allowed-per-game and 6th in points-allowed-per-game, but they haven't played the most daunting of offenses in the league. The offenses they've faced are ranked (in yards) 23rd, 32nd, 3rd, 24th, 27th, 21st, and 16th. Against the two teams most would consider as having the best offenses of their opponents, Denver and Green Bay, the Texans allowed 25 and 42 points, respectively. They also allowed those offenses to throw for over 300 yards on them. Of course, Denver has Peyton Manning and Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers. The Bills have Ryan Fitzpatrick.
So, I see this a little close than many others because I think the Bills can move the ball and score some points and maybe even get a special teams score along the way. But, of course, they still have to play defense….. Texans 34-27
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