It’s that time of year where I revive the On The Mark sports blog with some closing thoughts as we get ready for 2020.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are preparing for their 11th straight year in the playoffs and 16 of 17 overall with the outlier being when they went 11-5 after Tom Brady got injured. Belichick is currently third all-time with 273 wins, 45 behind George Halas and 55 behind the allegedly immortal Don Shula. However, many Miami Dolphins expressed their frustration that Bill Belichick could be mentioned in the same breath as Shula because according to two-time Super Bowl champion Manny Fernandez “I just think it’s a shame that a guy who constantly gets caught cheating is even there because — I don’t know — his moral character leaves me kind of questioning.”
Manny, let me tell you what leaves me questioning. It’s how overrated Don Shula was. He coached for 33 years and after winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972-73, Shula’s teams didn’t win another over the final 22 seasons he coached. His teams only made it to two other Super Bowls and his playoff record all-time was barely above .500 at 19-17. Shula was a good coach, but his longevity is a big part of his success, more than his strategy and development of teams. Reminds me of how Carl Yaztremski’s records are somewhat inflated due to his longevity, but I digress. In comparison, Belichick has seven years he didn’t make the playoffs, and five of those were in his first six years of coaching the hapless Cleveland Browns. He is 31-11 in the playoffs, won six championships across two different eras and has maintained an unprecedented 19-year run of success in the salary cap era.
Belichick is flawed. Has he crossed lines…yes. With that said, there are countless stories of how teams long before and since Belichick have gained an edge by exploiting rules or lack of rules. So Manny, you can have your choir boy Shula, and I’ll take the evil Bill Belichick when it comes to motivation, team-building, strategizing and maximizing talent. By the way, Andy Reid is currently seventh all time and in 21 seasons has a 12-14 playoff record and one Super Bowl appearance.
While we are on the topics of comparisons, I thought it would be interesting to compare two pairs of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. I was motivated by all the accolades Brees has been getting for his being first all time in touchdowns. I compared four of the greatest QB’s of all time based on two guys that played most of their career indoors (Brees and Manning) and two guys that didn’t in Brady and Rogers. In researching Drew Brees, he has arguably had the cushiest schedule of all time for elite quarterbacks. Of the 16 games he plays every year, eight home games are in a dome, the Atlanta road game is in a dome, and the two other division teams Tampa Bay and Carolina, are warm weather teams. So out of the gate, he has 11 cushy environments to play in. As a sample size, I looked back Brees last six seasons, and he never plays more than two outdoor road games against teams in the cold and even then, most of those games against teams like the Giants, Eagles, Packers have been in September and October. Manning played most of his career with the Colts where he always had minimum half his season indoors and division rival Houston was also indoors so nine of 16 were guaranteed to be cozy. His last four seasons in Denver, he had to brave the elements, but he had compiled most of his stats prior.
Now when you look at Rodgers, playing in the elements of Green Bay, his stats are that much more impressive including only 83 interceptions in 180 games despite two road division games indoors. Brady has one cushy warm weather road game in Miami, and has an easy division, but has arguably played the toughest non-division opponents of the four due to their sustained excellence of the Patriots and the weighted scheduling the NFL does. Rodgers is an astonishingly bad 42-46 on the road and 9-7 in playoff games. For reference, Brady is 97-44 on the road and 30-10 in the playoffs. Peyton Manning was 85-48 on the road and 14-13 in the playoffs. Brees was 74-62 on the road and 8-7 in the playoffs.
Brees is a great quarterback and a great guy for that matter who I am actually a fan of. However, he greatly benefits from playing indoors and on turf. For people who argue Brady has been more successful because the Pats have had a defense and the Colts, Saints, and Packers really haven’t, that works both ways. When you have a defense and you are ahead most of the time, you pass a lot less. The Saints, Colts and Packers over the years were often in high scoring games, so their quarterbacks needed to keep passing and scoring. So when we consider the greats of all time, let’s make sure we consider the elements. Get it! ?
I am convinced Brady will not be back with the Patriots next year. Belichick was ready to move on two years ago, and may have if Robert Kraft didn’t step in and force his hand by making him trade Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady has taken discounts for most of his time with the Patriots and I believe he will be asked to again and he won’t this time. The only way he stays is if Kraft insists on buying the groceries again.
Since I was a kid, the two other teams I liked were the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers. The Vikings have vastly improved with a great running game and rebuilt offensive line, in spite of Kirk Cousins who simply wears me out with his ineptness in big games. He is now 5-14 in prime-time games, 0-9 on Monday Night Football, 12-23-2 on the road and get ready for this…7-28 all-time against teams with a winning record. So if you need a QB to beat the Lions, he is your man. As for the Chargers, Philip Rivers needs to retire. I feel bad he never won a Super Bowl and it will be an injustice because he had a fabulous career, but he has been downright awful this season.
Pistol Pete Carroll has done an outstanding coaching job this year leaving me pumped and jacked and ready to ferociously chew gum. With that said, I like the Niners Sunday despite a multitude of injuries and can’t see the Seahawks winning a playoff game on the road. If I’m the Chiefs, I want nothing to do with the Titans in round 1 if they make it. Not only did the Titans already beat them, but they are well-coached are balanced offensively and Tannehill looks like a different guy.
Lastly, on a basketball note, what an awesome Christmas Day game between the Clippers and the Lakers. I’ve been saying from Day 1 the Clippers are the better team simply because they are so talented defensively and Paul George can adequately cover LeBron. The final four minutes of that game were another example of why LeBron not only should not be mentioned with Michael Jordan, but not Kobe either. He had an open 3-pointer with 3:38 remaining and deferred and had a drive to the basket a few minutes later and inexplicably kicked it out to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope instead. This doesn’t even get into his key missed free throw or turnover in the closing seconds. Jordan and Bryant would have never deferred in those situations. It’s a good thing Kyrie Irving and Ray Allen hit the championship-winning shots they did, or LeBron would be 1-7 in the Finals.
Happy New Year everyone!