Football is back in action this weekend. Alright, we still have a solid 5 months until we see Peyton Manning don the skirt of a new team this NFL preseason as he embarks on his comeback. And Eli Manning and the New Jersey Giants are still 6 months away from kicking off the NFL regular season as they attempt to defend their Super Bowl Championship. Hell, the NFL hasn’t even released the schedule yet for the upcoming season. But if you are a gridiron junkie just dying to see some sort of football action then you may be interested to know that the Arena Football League will be kicking off a new season this Friday when the Pittsburgh Power visit the Orlando Predators in a game televised on the NFL Network. The AFL doesn’t feature a Tom Brady or an Aaron Rodgers but it does have a Tommy Grady and an Aaron Garcia. So here is a look at the elite skirt wearers of the Arena Football League.

Aaron Garcia – San Antonio Talons
41 year old Aaron Garcia is a long time AFL Veteran. This will be his 18th season in the league and his first with the San Antonio Talons. He is the AFL all-time leader in TD passes with 1,078. Last season he led the Jacksonville Sharks to victory in Arena Bowl XXIV with a game winning TD pass in the final seconds.

Nick Davila – Arizona Rattlers
Davila is entering his 3rd season with the Arizona Rattlers. In 2011 he led the league in TD Passes and Passer Efficiency and was named the league MVP while leading the Rattlers to a 16-2 record. The Rattlers advanced in the postseason to the championship game where they lost in the final seconds to the Jacksonville Sharks.

Tommy Grady – Utah Blaze
This will be Grady’s second season with the Utah Blaze. In 2011 Grady ranked 3rd in both TD passes and Passer Efficiency

The New Orleans Saints organization finds itself in the cross hairs of NFL Grand Poobah Roger Goodell for running an organized Bounty System said to award defensive players for applying big hits and even injuring opposing players. In my opinion the reaction from the league is a bit over the top. The league is just using this as an example to try to show they really do care about player safety. The reality is that the league is really more concerned with legal culpability than truly caring about player safety. The bottom line is NFL players deliver hits with bad intentions regardless of whether or not they stand to gain a few extra shekels from their teammates for doing so. And it isn’t like these bounty systems are some new thing in the NFL. Teams have been doing this forever. It is part of the culture of the NFL. I understand the NFL is trying to change that culture. And the Saints obviously implemented a bounty system much more extensively than what should be accepted. It is one thing for Jonathan Vilma to take a guy out for a nice steak after a big game-changing hit, but handing out thousands of dollars for a hit that injures an opposing player is going over the line. The involvement of assistant coach Gregg Williams in fostering the program is also more than a little distasteful. Williams deserves a stiff penalty. But mostly this scandal is just a bunch of posturing by a league trying to protect itself from further lawsuits.

Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman went all Nostradamus on us in a recent interview by predicting the eventual fall from grace for the NFL. Aikmans’ concerns are that the NFL is becoming an over saturated product and concussion concerns will affect participation in youth football and thus erode the feeder programs that create NFL players. Aikman went so far as to say that if had a son he isn’t sure he would let him play football. That is a very powerful statement. I like Aikman a lot. I think he is one of the better color analysts in all of professional sports. He is obviously a smart guy and knows what he is talking about. I agree with hime on both counts. The NFL should not be expanding its Thursday Night football package. Many fans applauded the decision when Roger Goodell announced prior to the Super Bowl that next season the slate of Thursday Night NFL games will run from week 2 thru week 15 next. Personally, I hated the decision. I can’t get enough of good NFL football, but week night games just aren’t as good. Limited preparation and little time for players to recover from the normal bumps and bruises associated with the rigors of an NFL game often result in sloppy bad football in Thursday Night match ups. Thursday games should be reserved only for special events such Thanksgiving and Opening weekend. What separates the NFL from other sports leagues is that each game each week is an event. Too many offerings dilute the product and make the events seem less important.

The concussion issue is a much stickier problem to deal with. I’m against many of the safety rules the NFL has instituted because I feel they change the essence of the game. But I understand the need for the sport to be reasonably safe for players of all ages. If the cost of lawsuits and insurance becomes too great then amateur programs at all levels will struggle to exist. The NFL needs to do more to stem the litigation against football programs starting with their own. They need to fess up that mistakes were made in evaluating and advising players to play through concussions in past generations. They need to take better care of retired players. Would Tony Dorsett and Jim McMahon be suing the NFL if they didn’t feel the league was trying to cover up for their negligence on concussions. I don’t believe concussions can be eliminated from football but they certainly can be dealt with better. The NFL needs to be a leader in stringent guidelines for dealing with concussions. The NFL has made strides in implementing new protocols for evaluating concussions on the field and removing players from action. Unfortunately it took the heavy criticism of the handling of obvious injuries to Kris Dielman and Colt McCoy for these new protocols to be instituted. The NFL cannot continue to let embarrassing moments force needed change. They need to get in front of these situations. Players should be forced to sit at least one game after a concussion no matter if they pass their baseline tests or not.

Here we go again. Super Bowl XLVI consists of Tom Brady and The New England Patriots vs. Eli Manning and The New York Giants in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII. When these teams met in the Super Bowl four years ago the Patriots were heavy favorites that were attempting to cap off an undefeated season. No one really gave the Giants much of a chance yet they stunned the Patriots by beating them 17-14. It was an epic game that ruined The Patriots perfect season. This time around things are bit different. The Vegas odds makers have installed the Pats as mere 3 point favorites, but clearly the National Media has jumped on board the Giants bandwagon. The Giants were a pretty mediocre team much of the season but they got hot when it mattered and they have put together an impressive postseason run. They are healthy now, they have a strong pass rush, and Eli Manning has been playing lights out. The talking heads from ESPN and NFL network have bought in on the Giants. The consensus among the league analysts is that this is the Giants game to lose. I am not so sure about that. I see both these teams as having some big holes on defense. The Giants have certainly improved defensively during the postseason and they have the big names like Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, but the Patriots defense has also become more formidable in post season play. The Patriots pass rush sacked Joe Flacco three times in the AFCCG and the Ravens boast a stronger Offensive Line than the New York Giants. Neither of these teams have very good secondaries. If these QBs get adequate protection they are going to put up some gaudy passing stats. This game is going to come down to which of these teams can protect their elite skirt wearing QBs the best. I have a hunch that with Rob Gronkowski limited with a high ankle sprain the Patriots may use him more as a decoy and an extra blocker. The Patriots have enough other weapons that they can still exploit the Giants secondary even if Gronkowski is assigned as a body guard for Brady. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez will get their catches, but this may be the game where Chad Ochocinco finally becomes a prominent part of the Patriots game plan. I just have this feeling that Bill Belichick has some huge surprise in store for the Giants. Most teams dust off the old game plans and change little from week to week. But the Patriots aren’t like most teams. Because of the wrinkles they roll out they are hell to game plan for. So I don’t believe the Giants four man rush can simply take over this game like most of the network talking heads do. I think the Patriots will have the answer for it. So if The Giants are to win in the House that Peyton Manning built they will need little Brother Eli to have a big game and outplay Tom Brady. Eli is more than capable and he has some great weapons. The Pats secondary is going to have their hands full containing the Giants receiver core. I fully expect to see Victor Cruz doing his salsa dance in the end zone at least once this weekend. But ultimately I think this game will be decided by which QB has the ball last. I think that will be Tom Brady. My prediction: Patriots 34 – Giants 30.

The NFL season is just about finished. All we have left is the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. For me Championship Sunday is the last real football weekend of the year. Superbowl Sunday is mostly glam, glitz, and hype with a little bit of football mixed in. Championship Sunday is all about the games. As much as I hate predicting NFL games I feel compelled to do so. So I will take this opportunity to peak up the skirts of the remaining four QBs and tell you what I see for the games this weekend.

NFC Championship Game: 49ers vs. Giants

This game offers some nostalgia for fans like me that grew up in the 80′s. These were the two dominate franchises of the late 80′s. Of course the roles have been reversed now. The Giants are now the team with the lethal passing offense led by a big game QB while the 49ers feature a dominating defense. I continue to question whether Eli Manning is really a Manning. Either he was adopted or the clutch gene skips siblings. There is no questioning now that Eli Manning is an elite QB. Right now he is playing the best football of his career. Defensively the NY Giants have turned a complete 180 degrees. They don’t even resemble the unit that stumbled through the entire month of November. After two straight dominating performances against the Falcons and the Green Bay Discount Double Chokes they now face an offensively challenged 49ers team. The 49ers have struggled most of the year in the red zone. They’ve played a safe ball control offense all season and let their defense carry them. The formula worked so well that San Francisco went 13-3 in the regular season. But in their Divisional Round Playoff Game versus the Saints last week they needed to find another way. And find another way they did. QB Alex Smith flipped the script on his dismal career by bringing the 49ers back twice on long drives to regain the lead in the final minutes. It was a signature win for a career that until this year had lacked many wins of any variety. Last week Alex Smith played out of his friggin mind and I simply don’t expect that to happen again. You don’t struggle for 7 years and all of sudden become John Elway. My prediction: Giants 24 – 49ers 17

AFC Championship Game: Patriots vs. Ravens

Joe Flacco is in his 4th NFL season. Each of those seasons he has taken the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs. Each of those seasons he has won at least one playoff game. That is a record folks. Joe Flacco accumulates the most important stat for any player. Wins. Despite his winning ways Flacco has played great in ZERO postseason games. For the most part he has benefited from the Ed Reed and the Ravens defense drawing some fortunate playoff match ups. When the Ravens have needed Flacco to be more than just an average QB he has let them down. That can’t happen this week if the Ravens are going to upset Tom Brady and the Patriots. The Ravens defense has given Brady problems the past few seasons including a 33-14 whipping in the playoffs two seasons ago, but I don’t believe they can dominate this game like the previous time they hooked up in the postseason. The Ravens have not played well on the road this season and they have not pressured opposing QBs much of late. If you don’t get pressure on Marsha Brady she will carve you up. Even if the Ravens pass rush does get some heat on Brady it is hard to imagine the refs allowing it. Brady gets more protection from the officials than any player in the league. And he knows how to sell it to get the calls. There is a reason he is a two time best actress nominee…errr….I mean two time MVP. I expect Tom Brady will get to ball to his monster tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez who pose huge match up problems for Baltimore. The Patriots are going score some points in this game and I don’t think Flacco has what it takes to keep up. My Prediction: Patriots 34 – Ravens 24

In the first quarter of the Divisional Playoff Match up between New Orleans and San Francisco, defensive back Donte Whitner of the 49ers laid a crushing helmet to helmet hit on Saints running back Pierre Thomas. The hit jarred the ball loose and knocked Thomas out of the game. To the credit of the officials they correctly ruled the hit to be legal. It is exactly the type of bone jarring hit that helped Football explode in popularity throughout the 70′s and 80′s. Yet the immediate reaction of sports fans was one of shock that a flag had not been thrown. It was clear as day to everyone that watched this game that it was a helmet to helmet hit. Helmet to helmet hits are illegal, or so most fans are led to believe. But that really isn’t the case. In an effort to try and make the game appear safer the league has outlawed helmet to helmet hits in certain situations. Unfortunately due to the ambiguous nature of NFL rules and the inconsistent enforcement of these rules by NFL officials it is next to impossible for fans to differentiate between what is legal and what is not. This has created an atmosphere in which every game has numerous plays shrouded in controversy. And it is not just limited to helmet to helmet hits. Inconsistency with pass interference calls has conditioned fans to expect a flag on nearly every passing play. The NFL Rulebook has been bastardized so much in the Goodell era that it puts millions of people in a state of confusion every time they tune into an NFL game. How long the NFL can get away with this is anybody’s guess. Record numbers of people are tuning into the NFL but with so much controversy attached to so many games the integrity of league is coming into question. The Rules need to be clear cut. 100 million viewers of the NFL demand it.

It is absurd that a league that is followed as widely as the NFL is governed by a rulebook that is so poorly written that no one can understand it. It is apparent to everyone that watches the NFL regularly that the refs are struggling to officiate the game in a consistent manner. Perhaps that is understandable given the speed of live NFL action. But even on further review it seems not even the individuals with the most intimate knowledge of the game can come to a consensus on many of the on field rulings that occur every week in the NFL. A case in point is the 80 yard TD pass by Tim Tebow on the final play of the Broncos vs. Steelers Wild Card Playoff thriller last weekend. A keen observation by Daniel Willis of the Bay Area News Group noted that the Broncos had only 6 players on the line of scrimmage. The formation is in violation of NFL Rule 7, Section 5, Article 1 which states that the offensive team must have at least 7 players on the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. When Mike Pereira the former Vice President of NFL Officiating was asked about the legality of the play he stated that the formation Denver used was good compared to many and that NFL officials are not technical in the enforcement of this rule. Currently Pereira is a rules analyst for FOX and for many fans he serves as an authority on NFL rulings. He is very interactive with fans on twitter and I commend him for attempts to help clarify the rules to the masses. He also calls it like he sees it and often disagrees with the on field calls by officials. It should be noted that Pereira did not declare that the play was legal. He simply stated NFL officials are are not technical in officiating this rule. Which begs the question what does constitute an illegal formation penalty? I’ve seen flags thrown for this before. Why is it arbitrarily enforced? Do some officials just do not look for it while others do? Or is the rule so ambiguous that NFL officials struggle to enforce it uniformly? If you believe what the NFL had to say about this play then none of these questions are even pertinent. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello released a statement that the Tebow TD pass was a perfectly legal formation. This stance obviously differs a bit from Mike Pereira’s. In the end this is just another rule that leaves fans scratching their heads. We don’t know the rules and neither does the league that makes them up. They are ambiguously written and arbitrarily enforced.

The final week of the NFL 2011 regular season is upon us and there are still three playoff spots up for grabs. Four skirt wearers will face the pressure of a win and they’re in scenario.

  • Andy Dalton and The Bengals will host the Baltimore Ravens at half empty Paul Brown Stadium with a chance at claiming the final AFC Wildcard. The Ravens have much to play for too as a win will clinch a playoff bye.

  • Eli Manning and The NY Giants take on Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys in a winner takes all battle for the NFC East division crown. Romo has a bruised throwing hand and is a perennial December choke artist so the safe money says the Giants should win this one.

  • Tim Tebow, The Holy Spirit, and The Denver Broncos can take Tebow Mania into the playoffs by beating the Kansas City Chiefs. The infidel opposing Tebow is Kyle Orton who would like nothing more than to get revenge on his former team by spoiling Denver’s playoff push.

With two weeks to go in the 2011 season the Dallas Cowboys sit atop the NFC East but have yet to secure the division. Once again it is December and they control their own destiny. This is familiar territory for the Cowboys and their skirt wearing QB Tony Romo. Romo is just 10-14 in his career in the month of December and the Cowboys have had several late season collapses during Romo’s tenure as Quarterback. On Christmas Eve this Saturday The Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that already throttled them 34-7 earlier this year. The Eagles have had a disappointing season to date but they have surged as of late and they still have a mathematical shot at winning the NFC East Division. Of course for that to happen they need to beat the Boys this week and hope Romo and the Cowboys also spit the bit next week against the Giants. That isn’t out of the realm of possibility given the amount of choking Romo has done in past Decembers.

USA Football, The official youth football development program of the NFL and NFLPA, selected its 2011 NFL All-Fundamentals Team which features four players that are repeat offenders of player safety violations. The All-Fundamentals Team represents the players who exhibit exemplary football techniques for youth players to emulate. Honorees are deemed to be the most fundamentally sound players at their respective positions. The team was selected by a five-person committee that includes former NFL head coaches Herman Edwards and Jim Mora, former NFL general manager and current USA Football chairman Carl Peterson, former player and current ESPN Analyst Merrill Hoge, and FOX analyst Charles Davis. Four players that received the honor are repeat offenders that have been fined by the league on multiple occasions for NFL player safety violations. The players with repeat violations that were selected to the All-Fundamentals Team include DT Haloti Ngata (4 violations for roughing the passer), DT Justin Smith (2 violations for roughing the passer), SS Eric Weddle (2 violations for helmet-to-helmet hits on a defenseless receiver) and CB Charles Woodson (1 violation roughing the passer, 1 violation punching an opponent). It is not my intention to criticize these players. I agree with the selections. Ngata, Weddle, Smith, and Woodson all display fundamentally sound techniques and are deserving of the honors. But what does it say about the safety rules implemented by the NFL when the players deemed to be the most fundamentally sound at their positions cannot avoid being flagged for these infractions? In his zeal to turn professional football into a non-contact sport Grand Poobah of the NFL Roger Goodell has created a set of rules that are impossible for even the most fundamentally sound defensive players to adhere to. If the players that the NFL is telling youth football programs to emulate cannot play within the guidelines of the rules then what player possibly can?

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