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Explaining the NFL's craziness
That explains the unpredictability of NFL games week to week. That explains why the Cowboys whipped the Giants, the Broncos crushed the Chiefs and the Patriots shellacked the Steelers. That explains why we’re more than halfway through the season and no one has a clue which team is the Super Bowl favorite.
You can blame parity, the salary cap, free agency, officiating or even your bookie.
I’ll blame coaching.
Coaching an NFL team is quite possibly the hardest thing to do in sports, more difficult than playing quarterback or hitting .330 for the Kansas City Royals.
Football is a military sport. A coach leads his men into war. Just imagine if a significant percentage of General Patton’s soldiers had multimillion-dollar contracts and know-it-all agents chirping in their ears.
Further imagine there was a 24-hour TV network dedicated to second-guessing Patton and his infantrymen and all-talk radio stations located at every combat zone dissecting the day’s events. Suppose Patton’s savviest soldiers spent part of their day plotting how to build their brands in hopes of landing a reality TV show or a post-career broadcasting job.
It’s impossible to lead nowadays.
Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry and Chuck Noll had it very easy compared to Tom Coughlin, Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton.
Lombardi and Co. excelled during the era when a coach’s voice rang loudest, when a coach had all the power. A coach could be an absolute bully during the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. He could say and do pretty much anything he wanted. Players feared him.
Marvin Lewis fears Chad Ochocinco. Brad Childress fears his entire roster.
In the new millennium, there has been only one coach who has been able to build and sustain a hold on his football team week to week and year to year -- Bill Belichick.
His success in the postseason, his ruthlessness in regards to dismissing players and his relationship with Tom Brady have allowed Belichick to rule the way Lombardi, Noll, Don Shula and Bill Parcells once did.
Belichick’s competitors pull off an old-school imitation for a stretch of games or perhaps a season, but eventually they lose their grip on their football team. Even Belichick's team can still lose it -- look at the 34-14 loss to the Browns last week.
Mike Tomlin is a good coach. But his Steelers laid an egg in a high-profile, important football game Sunday night. They weren’t ready. They got smacked at home in the marquee game of the weekend.
Like Tomlin, the Giants' Coughlin has a Super Bowl title on his resume. For five weeks, the Giants looked like the best team in the NFC. Sunday, the Cowboys and their interim coach, Jason Garrett, embarrassed the Giants.
The AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs fell behind the last-place Broncos by 35 points. Chiefs coach Todd Haley has been trying to impersonate Parcells for two seasons. Sunday, when his team got exposed, Haley resorted to postgame whining and finger-waving because mean-old Josh McDaniels scored two second-half touchdowns.
It seems that every good NFL team has at least one head-scratching, let’s-reevaluate performance this season. There is no Super Bowl favorite. There are 10 to 12 teams that could win it all if they get on a roll.
It’s coaching. And I don’t mean bad coaching. It’s simply much harder to coach in this current era. It’s more difficult for a coach to sell and get players to buy into an overarching theme for an entire season.
There are more voices in a player’s head. Take the Cowboys. At one point, you had Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips and head-coach-in-waiting Garrett all leading the Cowboys.
Lombardi was the absolute final word in Green Bay. What he said was all that mattered. Now you have star general managers and team presidents and offensive and defensive coordinators.
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Plus, you have a commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has appointed himself as the league’s top cop. The players fear the commissioner far more than they do their head coach. Goodell suspends and fines players for their conduct on and off the field. Discipline/punishment used to come from the head coach. Now it comes from the commissioner’s office.
Punishment is a primary tool in leadership.
It’s impossible to lead nowadays, which makes it impossible to predict what will happen week to week.
I’m sticking with my preseason prediction that the Steelers will win the Super Bowl. They’re the most complete team.
I planned on ending this column ranking the 10 best teams. I can’t do it. It would just be a lot of speculation and guesses. In no particular order, the Steelers, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Ravens, Colts, Saints, Eagles, Packers and Falcons can all win the Super Bowl.