SB 51 FEATURES HIGHEST SCORING TEAM VS. STINGIEST TEAM

For The Record- Joe Kazmar

I’m hoping that Sunday’s Super Bowl is not as disappointing as the 2017 National Football League playoffs have been so far.
Only two games were exciting until the final play and coincidentally they were the only ones of the entire three playoff rounds that were categorized as bona fide upsets. In all of the other games, the team that was favored won and covered the point spreads.
Our Dallas Cowboys were favored by four points to beat the Green Bay Packers and were upset 34-31 on a game-winning last second field goal while the Pittsburgh Steelers visited 2½-point favored Kansas City in an ice storm and defeated the Chiefs 18-16 without scoring a touchdown.
However, both the Packers and the Steelers were soundly thrashed by the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, respectively, in the Conference Championship Round. And as a result, the high-scoring Falcons will play the Patriots, who have surrendered the fewest points. So there still is hope the playoffs will end on a high note.
Fans who just casually pay attention to NFL football must understand that these aren’t the same Atlanta Falcons they’ve seen in the past few seasons when they were occasionally only focused on wide receiver Julio Jones.
For example, the seven games this season that Jones was held to fewer than 60 yards, or sat out with an injury, the Falcons went 7-0 and averaged 34.6 points per game. That just proves the Falcons have many more offensive weapons that just Jones.
Whenever New England head coach Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for a team, he usually comes up with a game plan to stop a prolific offense. Belichick’s plan generally focuses on taking away the opponents’ biggest strength—which in this case should be Jones—with double teams and tighter coverage. He won’t let Jones beat him.
But the Falcons are so dynamic it will be difficult for Belichick to focus on stopping just one weapon. What about quarterback Matt Ryan–who should be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Saturday night—and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman? Knowing Belichick, he’ll probably devise a plan to stop them all.
I believe that Ryan and Jones are the most dynamic quarterback-receiver combination in the NFL. There are comparable to Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, Tom Brady and Randy Moss, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin and Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison just to name a few.
Jones has been playing with foot and toe injuries that cost him two games and still had huge numbers against Green Bay. He finished with nine catches for 190 yards and made outstanding plays on both touchdowns, showing no signs of the injuries that kept him out of practice that week.
Jones should be much healthier Sunday if he practices this week, and although the Patriots led the league in points allowed, they are not as good as the traditional statistics imply. New England doesn’t have much of a pass rush, so Ryan should have time to sit back and pick apart the Patriots’ secondary.
The fans attending NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday are expecting a shootout between Ryan and Brady and probably will get it.
Both quarterbacks are playing at a very high level and neither defense can be categorized as truly elite, although the Falcons defense has played better lately.
But when Belichick and Brady have two weeks to study a defense that isn’t all that creative, they should come up with a successful game plan.
I still like Atlanta and the three points, but I’ve been burned too many times going against Belichick.
The only reason I would like New England to win is to watch NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sheepishly hand the Lombardi Trophy to Brady and give him a meaningful handshake after handing out his four-game suspension that he thought should have been much longer.
I don’t like the final score of New England 43, Atlanta 41, but I will win with my three points!!!
KWICKIES…Denver Broncos president John Elway told ESPN Monday that he realizes his team desperately needs a seasoned and experienced quarterback and that the Cowboys’ Tony Romo would fit the bill. But Elway also added that he wouldn’t take Romo UNLESS he becomes a free agent. And for that to happen, the Cowboys would have to release him from his humongous contract and gobble up the cap money.
According to data compiled by the NFL, concussions decreased by 11.3 percent in the league during the 2016 season. The NFL had 244 reported concussions in games and practices during the regular season and preseason, a dip from 275 in 2015. In 2014 there were 206 reported concussions and 229 in 2013. The league attributed the overall increase in the last two years to players being more inclined to report concussions with symptom awareness growing.
Clemson’s national championship paid nice bonuses to Head Coach Dabo Swinnney and his staff who earned $2.8 million in bonus money. Swinney led the parade with $1.45 million with each of the nine assistant coaches earning $95,000 in extra pay as did the strength coach and the associate athletic director for football administration.
The San Francisco 49ers last weekend announced the hiring of Fox sports analyst John Lynch as the organization’s new general manager. What’s strange about the scenario is that Lynch, who was an excellent free safety in the NFL for several years, has zero experience as a coach, scout or front office administrator and yet was awarded with a six-year contract.
Jon Rahm, a 22-year-old Spaniard, made two eagles over the final six holes Sunday to win the PGA-Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines by three strokes over Charles Howell and C.T. Pan. In winning, Rahm became the youngest champion of this tournament, replacing Phil Mickelson in that category. He also became the first player in 26 years to win his first PGA Tour title at Torrey Pines.
JUST BETWEEN US…I guess I’ve been fortunate to have covered the West Orange-Stark football fortunes since the two schools merged in the late 1970’s. I’ve watched and written about them over the years and can tell you that this 2016 state championship team has been the best I’ve seen by far, even though I spent most of this year’s playoffs in the hospital recovering from surgery. Besides going 16-0, the Mustangs also steamrolled the opposition to the tune of 811-69, outclassing their District 12-4A Division II 222-7 foes and outscoring playoff opponents 290-39. The Chain Gang defense was stingier than any other in the state, allowing opponents 125 yards a game and 2.3 yards per carry. I hope Head coach Cornel Thompson and his fine staff can duplicate last year’s performance and THREE-PEAT IN 2017!!!