All Process That is Due
The longer Bountygate dragged-out the more likely Paul Tagliabue does exactly what he did in his ruling on Tuesday: found middle ground.
At least that's how NFLPA is selling it to members. In truth, DeMaurice Smith and other union sharks hope their clients don't read too deeply and stick to the pro-player headlines, as Tags re-buffed the jocks in validating NFL's fact-findings (bounties existed & players participated) and then slammed Saints' coaches & cufflinks for "broad organizational misconduct" and "contamin(ing)" the bounty case ("Paul" / NFL.com Wire / 12-11)."
Roger Goodell comes out vindicated (though the extent of his "authority" to discipline in such cases, if and when they arise again, isn't all that clear), players get table scraps in having their punishments "vacated," Jon Vilma's def-suit should get tossed (he hopes), Drew Brees' tweet tantrums get front page ink and it's back to the business of football.
Fall of the North
What a difference a month makes. Northerners were ridin' high back in November, positioning to send two, maybe even three teams each to the post-season party. Now both North Division winners will be lucky to bring a friend to the festivities.
In the NFCN, Green Bay rebounds nicely (9-4 / 4-0D) after early stumbles, correcting in Texas but has feasted on easy-prey since, excepting yearly rough-up from NYG Wk-12. Vikes stave off elimination (7-6) and dug deep last week in mild upset over banged-up, fading-fast Bears (8-5), talented but snake-bit Lions (4-9) seem determined to find new way each week to lose a winnable game and only Pack likes its remainder.
Despite dire reports, Ravens (9-4 / 4-1) still team-to-beat in AFCN after booting a W in DC and then oddly cut their OC after the defense bungles late. Ben rallies in Chargers loss but shoulder hurts can linger, though Pitt's (7-6) remaining schedule is no scary tale. Like Ravens, Bengals (7-6) can't close vs Dallas and have mettle slate ahead while intra-State rival Browns (5-8) are learning to win (3-0) but given a tough row to rake rest of the way.
As reported this week in Time, Goodell has floated an NFL Rules Committee idea to replace kick-offs with a pre-set field position in the interest of reducing excessive danger. I'm more concerned with defender cheap-shots and NFLPA refusal to test blood (PEDs), but RG1's been consistent in his player-safety agenda and its apparent non-money motive. Upside: scraping k/o's eliminates football's weakest play, the on-side kick.
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
It's that time of year when baseball & golf hibernate, it's too early for b-ball & hockey to matter much and NASCAR, F1 & MLS have all crowned winners. And that means from November through early February, the NFL is king.
Andy Williams sang about the season, more specifically, Christmas time. He crooned one of Yuletide's most memorable songs in my title above ('63 / Pola & Wyle). It might grate on you after hearing it the 100th time in the shopping mall as your back aches and nerves fray, but it's still a gem. Williams died this fall at the age of 84 from bladder cancer (Wikipedia). He strayed into the bizarre his final years but gave us wonderful musical memories that will live on forever.
Cherry Picks Week 15
New York Giants (8-5) @ Atlanta Falcons (11-2) (12-16 / Fox 1:00)
NFL might just invite Pack and 49ers to join these guys and settle the whole NFC thing right then & there. Better still, get the old Tudor electric football game out and settle it with style. Brother Kev & I loved that game. A-bird's ticked, NYG's enigmatic, Falcons win.
Indianapolis Colts (9-4) @ Houston Texans (11-2) (CBS 1:00)
Colts are nice story in '12 and who knew? Not this writer. Indy 1st-dwn & TOP ratios are pluses, but don't be fooled by Texans' New England flop. Vet Schaub rebounds, HOU-D stuffs run (2), boxes (37S) Luck into misfortune (18 INT / 10 FUM) and Texans win.
Green Bay Packers (9-4) @ Chicago Bears (8-5) (Fox 1:00)
Not Packers' biggest rival (Vikes) but they're not telling. Even with Bears' losing teeth it's still historical high-ground. Monsters best shot for upset: alarm Aaron often and with all due speed. And of course, protect your own guy Jay. Not easy for Chicago. From Halas to Smith, only Ditka had GB's number (Papa won a few). Packers push on & win.
Denver Broncos (10-3) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-4) (CBS 1:00)
Rebound-effect flies-by CHI and makes stop in Poe country. Ravens bunged-up D lets prey get away in DC but need only heed FDR's advice that saved humanity: "(O)nly thing we have to fear is fear itself ('33)." Broncos feel their oats, look like the money-pick and Elway looks...wise. He did matriculate at Stanford. Pey-dirt looks sublime and O-line OK (19S). Rice is nice but GI Joe (good indicator) is key & needs time. Baltimore wins.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (7-6) (CBS 4:25)
Dallas plays through pain and comes up big vs talented Cincy crew. But Big Ben's back, tossing rust and moving in 2nd-half in SD loss. Should expect air-show as both pedestrian ground-games (24 / 30), and that's just when you feed 'em the ball (Dwyer / Jones?). Hurts hit Cowboys' key cogs (Murray / Bryant / Ware) while Roethlisberger (shoulder) needs shield (20S). Steelers win.
San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) @ New England Patriots (10-3) (NBC 8:20)
Team that should've faced Pats in SB46. Now new look under center. Kaep Krusader's #s last 3: W2-1, TD1-1. Remind you of anyone? Guy who should be under center (AS). San Fran bread & butter ball, solid all-around and even pass-D (26) maturing. But you know where this is headed. 49ers pan-out dry as Patriots looking good as gold. New England wins.
NFL Hunch Line