Aaron Rodgers May be The Greatest Ever

Aaron Rodgers has been playing the quarterback position at the highest level of anyone [of all-time] through the last seven weeks. The best part about his historic stretch is that he called his shot [saying that the Packers would “run the table”] and backed it up. The last six weeks of the season, Rodgers compiled the following stats while carrying his team to a division title; 15 TD’s and 0 INT’s while completing over 70% of his passes. By the way, he finished the season with 4,428 yards, 40 TD’s and 7 INT’s; and there’s still a debate about who’s the MVP?

Last week in his first round playoff game against the New York Giants, Rodgers torched the highly touted (many believed they were the best in the league) defense for 362 yards, 4 TD’s and 0 INT’s. He completed this feat without his top receiver [Jordy Nelson] who was knocked out of the game with an injury in the first quarter. The Packers went on to win the game easily, 38-13.

Rodgers’ historic run has given me pause to my initial title of “greatest quarterback ever”, which was held by Tom Brady. Let’s break this down, shall we? If we’re talking about the most accomplished quarterback of all-time, there’s no question it’s Brady. 6 Super Bowl appearances and 4 Titles (2 Super Bowl MVP’s), there’s no question he’s the most accomplished. However, the talent side of the argument is a different story. For my money, I’ve never seen a more talented quarterback than Rodgers.   He has a rifle for an arm, throws with accuracy (over a 65% completion percentage for his career) and is deceptively mobile in and out of the pocket.

This year alone, Rodgers has carried a team with a horrific defense (although they’ve been playing better as of late), no running game, and a depleted receiving core. Everyone loves to give Brady and [Peyton] Manning credit for doing more with less; it’s time to start appreciating what Rodgers has done; especially this season.

The popular sports talk scenario is if you had one game to win, which quarterback would you chose (I’ll answer this question in depth in a future post). So for arguments sake, if I had one game to win for my life, with everything equal (i.e. receiver, coaching, defense, etc.), I’d take the following quarterbacks in this order:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Tom Brady
  • Joe Montana
  • Johnny Unitas
  • Peyton Manning

Disagree with me if you will but one thing you can’t deny is this; what we’re seeing from Rodgers is something not just special, but historic. Standing in his way this weekend is the first place Dallas Cowboys, who beat Rodgers and the Packers in the regular season. This time around is going to be different (with or without Jordy Nelson) and the Packers will move on to the NFC Championship game.

Aaron Rodgers may not go down as the most accomplished quarterback in history [that’ll be Brady], but he sure as hell will be remembered as the most talented and/or possibly the greatest to ever play the position.

 

Follow me on Twitter : @lavalleech

 

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A Promising Beginning for 2 of the NFL’s Young QB’s

On April 30th 2015, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were the first two overall picks and like so many great quarterback classes before them, they will be forever linked. Winston was taken number one overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Mariota was selected second overall by the Tennessee Titans.

Heading into the draft, many speculated over who would be the better pro, and the majority believed it was Winston; given his strong arm, size and natural throwing ability. Mariota looked great entering the draft in his own right however, many pundits questioned how complete of a passer he was, after coming out of Chip Kelly’s run-and-gun college style offense.

Winston: 2015 Stats – 58.3 comp %, 4,042 yards, 22 TD’s, 15 INT’s, 84.2 QBR.

2016 Stats – 61.3 comp %, 2,900 yards, 22 TD’s, 11 INT’s, 89.7 QBR

Career Stats – 59.6 comp %, 6,942 yards, 44 TD’s 26 INT’s, 86.6 QBR.

12-15 Overall Record (As a starter)

Mariota: 2015 Stats – 62.2 comp %, 2,818 yards, 19 TD’s, 10 INT’s, 91.5 QBR.

2016 Stats – 64.3 comp %, 2,998 yards, 25 TD’s, 8 INT’s, 101.9 QBR.

Career Stats – 63.2 comp %, 5,816 yards, 44 TD’s, 18 INT’s, 96.8 QBR.

9-15 Overall Record (As a starter)

When looking at the numbers [almost two full seasons in], it seems as though Mariota has put up better statistics; however, Winston has had the better win/loss record. Both teams [surprisingly] are in the playoff race within their own division(s) and both look as though they have a real shot at making their first postseason starts.

It’s been my belief from the beginning that Mariota was/is going to be the better of the two; still not sure if I’m on the right side of that opinion. The numbers so far are leaning in my favor; however, I’ve learned not to count my chickens before they hatch (shout out to Blake Bortles). Either way, It’s clear that the future is looking very bright for these two young promising quarterbacks.

Prescott + Elliot are Leading America’s Team back to Prominence

America’s Team is back. The Dallas Cowboys are making a charge towards the playoffs that their fans [and the rest of the league] haven’t seen in 20 years. 

They’re sitting atop not only the NFC East but currently hold the best record in all of football. Yes, that’s right; the Cowboys (statistically speaking) are the best team in football. In a year when NFL viewership has at a surprising low, arguably the league’s most popular and recognizable team has finally surged to the top of the pack; and not a moment too soon.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago touting Matt Ryan as my MVP; and as the season continues to unfold, that pick doesn’t look as good as it once did. The more I’ve watched the Cowboys, the more I see the inevitable truth; the Cowboys have the two best players in the NFL [both rookies] who are the MVP frontrunners. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot have taken the NFL by storm and in a way that I don’t believe anyone forecasted. Even the most diehard Cowboys fans didn’t see this type of start for the franchise’s new dynamic duo.
The statistic’s that these two are putting up is just silly. Through 11 games Prescott’s stats are; 67.9 CMP%, 2,835 yards, 18 TD, 2 INT’s, with a 108.6 QBR; not to mention the fact that he overtook [an injured] Tony Romo as the starter, and has solidified himself as the best quarterback on the team. Elliot’s stats are; 243 ATT, 1,199 yards, 11TD’s which gives him [an absurd] 4.93 yards per rush; the Cowboys haven’t had a running-back that talented since the great Emmitt Smith. These are rookie’s mind you and they’ve continued to play like veterans; specifically showing up on the [biggest] primetime stage(s).
It’s extremely rare to have a season in which there are co-MVP’s; in fact it’s only happened twice (1997 – Brett Favre + Barry Sanders & 2003 – Peyton Manning + Steve McNair), and this year should be the third. What Prescott & Elliot have done is not only special but historic, and while it’s odd to make teammates co-MVP, there aren’t two players playing at higher level this season then these two. Furthermore, these two have not only taken the NFL by storm, but together, they’ve brought the Dallas Cowboys from irrelevance back to prominence.
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NFL MVP is Matt Ryan’s to lose 

It’s finally happened. After 9 years of waiting and hoping that he’ll emerge as the “next” great quarterback in the NFL, Matt Ryan has finally come into his own. Following last night’s near flawless performance against the [division rival] Tampa Bay Buccaneers (344 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT & 144.7 QBR), Ryan has inserted himself as the top choice for league MVP.

Skeptical as many may be due to Ryan’s knack for starting out strong and crumbling down the stretch, this year feels very different. He’s already registered a 500 yard passing performance along with throwing at least 3 touchdowns in 5 out of the 9 games he’s started this season.

The Falcons record doesn’t exactly blow anyone away at 6-3; however, 2 of those 3 losses came at the hands of Atlanta’s defense who have become allergic to holding 4th quarter leads.

There are two other players of note that deserve to be at the top of the MVP discussion along with Ryan; the first being the golden boy himself, Tom Brady and the other is Oakland’s Derek Carr. Brady has arguably put forth the best four game stretch ever by a quarterback; 73.1 completion percentage, 12 TD, 0 INT & a 133.9 QBR. Carr has been very impressive himself; completing 66.3 percent of his passes and throwing 17 TD’s to only 3 INT’s. I’m not trying to take anything away from their exceptional performances so far this season; I just believe Ryan’s body of work has been more impressive. 

Now, Ryan doesn’t need to win MVP to make this a successful season; however, he does need to continue to perform at this high level as the season progresses. If his play begins to decline as the season winds down, as it did last year; his reputation is going to take a major hit and one that I don’t believe he’ll be able to recover from. He’ll be put in that “good” but “not great” category which is way beneath his skill/talent level. 

Ryan has always been in the conversation as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league, but this could finally be the year that he reaches that elite level. He has talent, hell he’s always had the talent; know it’s just a matter of finishing what he’s started.
  
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Kaepernick’s Protest Highlights Our Cultural Divide

Over the weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, was the main topic discussed on the Sunday morning edition of SportsCenter. Most sports topics usually last a day, maybe two at the most before something new hits the wire and becomes the new hot take. Needless to say I assumed that this would fall under that category; I couldn’t have been more wrong.      

Kaepernick’s protest has started a fire storm throughout the country that I didn’t think was possible. People from both sides of the aisle have weighed in and it hasn’t been pretty. If there were people who believed that the race relations in this country were starting to turn around for the better, this movement by Kaepernick certainly exposed the unfortunate truth; that they may be more divided than ever.  

We’re doing such a disservice to ourselves and others by acting in the manner we have over this past week. Regardless of everyone’s political ideology, whatever happened to having a respectful discourse with another person? Unfortunately, one of the huge negatives to social media is that it has created this “bulletproof” arena where ignorant jackasses type away and spew some of the most disturbing and vile thoughts imaginable. This topic has become so polarizing that there is no middle ground; it’s either you’re completely behind Kaepernick or you’re not.   

As a society we need to make up our minds regarding whether or not we want athletes to speak out on social issues. One minute we’re upset because they’re not saying enough and then a minute later we’re roasting them for taking a stance that “we” don’t agree with. Just like most things in life, we can’t have our cake and eat it to. There were many that championed LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony for their speech prior to the beginning of the ESPY’s in July; but there’s been an outcry for what Kaepernick did. I understand that many have used patriotism as a justification to for why they don’t support Kaepernick but in the end, he’s doing the same thing but in his own way. 

The greatest positive that can be taken from Kaepernick’s protest was that it was peaceful. He did something to show the country how he felt about race relations in a non-violent manner. Shouldn’t we be commending and not condemning him for that? You don’t have to like what he did but you should at least appreciate that he did it without harming anyone. In a time when violence is at an all-time high, let’s appreciate that someone [in the public eye] was able to reach out to [and touch] so many in a peaceful manner. 
If you like what you’ve read, you can find me on Twitter : @lavalleech

The Mount Rushmore of My Generation

What makes sports such an enjoyable medium are the [sometimes] healthy debates that arise from them. Every couple of years or so, the “Who’s on the Mount Rushmore of [insert sport]” comes up and intense debating begins.  Given how in last week’s post I wrote about how my generation was losing its athletes to retirement left and right, that this would be a good time to create a Mount Rushmore for my generation’s (I’m 28) top athletes in major sports.

Two quick points of order:

  • Michael Phelps would be on this list but swimming isn’t a major sport.
  • Jordan doesn’t qualify because he retired when I was in grade school.

My Mount Rushmore picks are:

Tom Brady

Tim Duncan

Derek Jeter

Tiger Woods

Brady is the most decorated (active) football player in the NFL. His 4 Super Bowl’s and 2 Super Bowl MVP’s are unmatched by any quarterback of my era. While Peyton Manning owns almost every passing record and won 2 Super Bowl’s in his own right, he never eclipsed Brady when it came to clutch performances. Since Brady became the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2001 (15 seasons), the team has missed the playoffs twice (2002 & 2008); and in one of those years, Brady only played in 1 regular season game. He has an absurd postseason record of 22-9 (most wins all time) and has thrown for 56 postseason TD’s; which is a record that might never be broken. At the end of the day, if I had to pick one quarterback to win me a game, there’s no way I’d choose anyone other than Brady.

Duncan [Mr. Fundamental] is one of a handful of greats who have played every game of their career in one uniform. He just finished his 19th (and possibly last) season with the San Antonio Spurs, where he helped lead his team to a regular season [team] record of 65-13. Given the fact that San Antonio is in a small market within NBA circles, Duncan has been one of the most overlooked superstars ever, in any sport. It’s a damn shame too, given all that he’s accomplished. In 19 seasons, Duncan is a 5-time NBA Champion, a 3-time NBA Finals MVP and a 2-time NBA MVP. Now, I know that there will be plenty of believe that Kobe Bryant should be on this list over Duncan; and while I understand the argument for Bryant, I believe that Duncan has not only been more consistent but has found ways to make his team/teammates better. For my money, Duncan is easily one of the 10 best players ever and the best power forward to ever play the game.

Woods was the best golfer on the planet for over a decade and arguably surpassed Jack Nicklaus as the best of all time. I’ve never seen another athlete dominate his/her sport more than Woods dominated golf. Woods didn’t just dominate; he became his own brand, and made the sport relevant. Golf has never seen as a major player in the public medium in the same manner as baseball, basketball and football; that is, until Tiger. What he’s accomplished on the golf course is incredible; 79 PGA Tour wins (2nd all time), 40 European Tour wins (3rd all time), 14 Majors and was awarded PGA Player of the Year 11 times. Now with him [way] past his prime, commentators are constantly searching for the “next” Tiger. It’s a futile search because what he did, will never happen again.

Jeter [The Captain] spent his entire 20 year career with the New York Yankees where he won 5 World Series Championships, a World Series MVP (2000), and recorded 200 postseason hits (most all time). From 1996-2012, the Yankees never missed the postseason. In his career, Jeter played in only 1 game in which the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. He set the Yankees all-time record in hits with 3,465 (6th most all time), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), times on base (4,716), plate appearances (12,602) and at bats (11,195). There’s no doubt that there have been better all-around players than Jeter; but in my lifetime, there has never a more iconic, marketable or likeable star in the game than Jeter. He’s one of the few athletes that were not just a spectacular player on the field, but a respectable ambassador off of it.

Honorable Mentions:

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James

Peyton Manning

 

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Brady vs. Manning; The Finale

Championship Sunday is only two days away and once again we’re privileged to another heavyweight fight between Tom Brady & Peyton Manning.  These two are the Magic + Bird of our era; displaying greatness and memorable moments within every match they’ve played.  However, this year’s game will be very different from all the rest; for one, this will be the final battle between the two [assuming Manning does the smart thing and retires at the end of the season] and secondly, the Patriots are facing a skill depleted Peyton Manning who is practically playing on one leg.

Anyone who’s watched [or listened to] Manning’s play this season will admit that he’s not what he used to be; not even close.  The old adage of Father Time being undefeated has once again proven true and it’s been very painful to watch.  Manning has never had a ‘strong’ arm (like Elway or Marino) but he’s always been able to get the ball where it needed to go with pinpoint accuracy.  Now when you watch him, his throws flutter and in some cases, are up for grabs to anyone in their vicinity.

Yes, Manning’s career is nearing it’s inevitable end; but will it end on the highest of highs or will he once again succumb to the playoff demons that have haunted him throughout his illustrious career?

Manning’s my favorite football player and I’ve followed his career since his rookie season.  Living in New England hasn’t been easy being one of the few [if not only] Manning fan in the area; especially given the unprecedented success that Brady and the Patriots have had against Manning along with the rest of the league.  Even still, I don’t regret my fandom for a second and I’m hoping [and praying] that Manning can turn the corner and defeat Brady one last time.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Manning being able to pull off the miracle and beat Brady this weekend.  As great as the Broncos defense is, you have to be able to score whenever you’re facing Brady; and I don’t think Manning’s going to be able to do that.  I hope like hell I’m wrong, but if last weekend’s game is any indication, the Broncos offense is going to have to rely heavily on a running game that has been anything but consistent; not to mention their facing the best coach in the league at taking away your best offensive weapon(s).  I’m taking the Patriots 21-17.

The Brady vs. Manning matchups (rooting interests aside) have been exciting to watch.  As football fans, we’ve had the opportunity to witness two of the best who have ever played, go head-to-head (so to speak); and it’s been an honor and a pleasure to go along for the ride.

The 49ers Won Big By Hiring Chip Kelly

The San Francisco 49ers made a splash yesterday when they hired Chip Kelly as their new head coach.  Kelly was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago after a disappointing year in which the team went 6-9 and missed the playoffs.  The 49ers made a great hire regardless of what many in the media want you to believe.

Kelly came to the NFL from college where he turned the pedestrian [at best] Oregon University football program into a national powerhouse.  He signed on as the Eagles head coach in 2013 following the team’s horrific 2012 season in which they won only four games.  Kelly made an immediate impact going 10-6 in his first two seasons, including a playoff appearance.  In January of 2015, Kelly became head of football operations and made significant changes to the roster; which was met with mixed reviews from Eagles fans and the mainstream media.  From that point on, it seemed like Kelly’s days in Philadelphia were numbered; and anything less than a playoff run would end with his dismissal.

When Kelly was fired by the Eagles, you would’ve thought he was the worst coach in the history of football given the reaction around the sports world.  Media members and fans were blowing up the national airways excoriating this man as fraud and a bust as an NFL head coach.  The popular opinion became that Kelly is only good at the college level and his offensive ‘genius’ doesn’t belong/work in the NFL.

Objectively speaking, if you’re a football fan and your team is looking for a new head coach, and you read the following resume’ on SportsCenter; are you really not going to consider this man as a qualified candidate?

College Coaching Record: 44-5, 2-2 in Bowl Games, 2x Pac-10 Coach of the Year  

NFL Coaching Record: 26-21 [10-6, 10-6, 6-9], Playoff Appearance, Turned a 4-12 team to a 10-6 playoff team in his first season.

It’s absurd that so many people have chosen try and negate everything that Kelly’s done in three years in the NFL.  While I think he made a mistake (that many have made before him) by taking on being the head of football operations, that doesn’t change the fact that he turned around a struggling franchise in one season.  The man made Nick Foles into a decent starting quarterback within his system; how’s Foles looking in St. Louis without Kelly’s tutelage?

The 49ers front office made the right call by hiring Chip Kelly.  Kelly’s offensive ‘genius’ is going to rejuvenate a putrid offense along with the team’s struggling starting quarterback.  Colin Kaepernick is going to have a fresh start next season and that’s in large part because he’s the best quarterback to fit Kelly’s offensive system.

Ignore all the ignorant mainstream sports media members out there; the San Francisco 49ers will be legitimate playoff contenders next season, and it will be because of their new head coach.

Russell Wilson Deserves Some MVP Consideration

The MVP discussion around the NFL for the first half of the year wasn’t much of a conversation.  It had been well established that Tom Brady was running away with the award with Cam Newton nipping at his heels.  A few weeks ago, following the Patriots first loss of the season, Brady was no longer the consensus choice and Newton began to gain significant ground.  As we enter Week 14, it’s safe to say that the award is Newton’s to lose.  However, there’s a dark horse candidate that not many are talking about but someone who I believe deserves some MVP consideration.

Very quietly, Russell Wilson has become my dark horse MVP candidate.  Wilson’s overall statistical numbers might not jump off the page [68.8 completion percentage, 3,289 yards, 26 TD’s, 7 INT’s]; however, his numbers over the last four games are pretty damn impressive.  He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions while averaging a little over 300 yards passing per game.  In two of those four games he threw for 5 touchdowns while completing over 70% of his passes.

It’s understood that the MVP award is given for a player’s season long statistics, not just what he’s done over the course of a few games.  Again while Wilson’s statstics might not blow anyone away, it’s important to keep in mind that he’s been playing with a back-up running back and a mediocre receiving core.  Not to mention, he’s had to overcome some deficiencies that have plagued the vaunted Seattle defense which has blown four 4th quarter leads so far this season.  Part of the knock on Wilson (which I have taken part of) was that he’s been a decent quarterback who’s been carried by his elite defense and excellent running game.  If nothing else, Wilson is proving to be a rising star and has all the skills to be considered a top tier quarterback in the years to come.  

If the Carolina Panthers are undefeated at the end of the regular season then there’s really nothing to discuss; Newton deserves the MVP award.  However, if the Panthers lose a couple games down the stretch and Wilson continues to play at this level, I believe that he deserves some strong consideration and love from the voters.

 

The Patriots & Their Fans Need to Reflect Before Playing Victim

The New England Patriots are the latest victims of the referee debacle that has summed up the current NFL season.  There were roughly three [maybe four] borderline calls that impacted the outcome of the game.  While I sympathize with Patriots fans for getting hosed by the refs, especially given that they were in the midst of an undefeated season.  However, they’re not the first team to be victimized by the horrible officiating and certainly won’t be the last.  However, if you listen to New England sports radio (or watch any of the Patriot homers on ESPN or FOX Sports) you’d think the NFL has it out for the Patriots.  That couldn’t be further from truth and frankly that narrative is weak and extremely pathetic.

There isn’t another team in the NFL that has gotten the benefit of the whistle more over the last 15 years then the Patriots.  What many Patriots sycophants are quick to forget is their golden boy quarterback’s legend originated on a made-up call (the tuck-rule) that saved their season and screwed the Oakland Raiders in the process.  In last year’s playoffs against the Ravens, the Patriots got the benefit of a few calls which helped them overcome a deficit and win the game.  There have been coaches and players who have griped over the years that the Patriots were getting the benefit of the doubt on game changing calls, especially in Foxboro.

It’s hard to have sympathy for a team that’s been caught cheating [more than once], who’s benefited more times than not in officiating calls, and is the first to complain the moment anything doesn’t go their way.  In addition, it’s even harder to garner sympathy for them because their fans are some of the worst in all of sports.  Every fan base is going to bias towards their team, but Patriots fans take it to the next level.  Just like their team, they’re the first to bitch when things don’t go their way but have selective amnesia when they get the benefit of many calls.  They’re the true force behind this whole victimization crap that’s been streaming through the airways all week, and it just goes to show you how sad and pitiful the fans of New England can be.

The New England Patriots during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick tenure have mostly benefited from officials calls, Sunday night they didn’t.  The narrative that the NFL has it out for the Patriots is simply untrue and needs to be put to bed.  Given their history, the Patriots and their fans need to reflect on the past before continuing the charade of playing the victim.