Monday, February 8, 2021 01:00 PM

Maybe Tom Brady is that good after all?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

I've been a vocal "hater" of Tom Brady (and the New England Patriots) for many years. In fact, ten years ago, I wrote a post about how seeing the Colts playing without Payton Manning (who had been sidelined with an injury) proved that Manning is a better quarterback (and more valuable asset to the team) than Tom Brady. In the meantime, I've continued to maintain that the Patriots are just a very well-run and well-coached football team that would still be very successful even without Tom Brady. But Brady has now gone on to win four more SuperBowls since then, and yesterday, he did one of the things that we haters said would be one of the few things that would change our mind: he won a SuperBowl for a team other than the New England Patriots.

With his seventh SuperBowl victory yesterday, it's becoming increasingly hard to argue that he isn't the "G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All-Time). He is certainly the most accomplished player in NFL history. Despite this SuperBowl win, and despite Brady's success and accolades, his career is still loaded with "yeah buts".

Tom Brady has now silenced many of his doubters by winning a SuperBowl with a team other than the Patriots.

The best team in the worst division of football

First and foremost, he spent his entire career playing in the worst division in football. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills have consistently been among the worst teams in the league through the Patriots' 20-year dynasty. The Jets had a couple years under head coach Rex Ryan in which they were considered SuperBowl contenders, but their failures exposed them as more pretenders than serious contenders. It is only now in 2020 that the Bills are suddenly good, and the Dolphins almost put together a playoff-worthy record. And it just so happens that AFC East teams becoming good is the very year that Brady jumps ship from the Patriots.

Is Brady finally out of Belichick's shadow?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had a sort of "John Lennon, Paul McCartney" thing going on, in which people argued about whether they are as good on their own as they are together. Well now we finally got to see Belichick fail miserably at coaching a Brady-less team, and got to see Brady win a championship for a team not coached by Belichick. It's easy to see this as vindication for Brady (and many do see it as exactly that), but I'm still not entirely sold.

First and foremost, I point to 2008, when Brady was sidelined with injury, and Matt Cassel had to start the rest of the year. Cassel played exceptionally well, the Patriots went 11-5, and only missed the playoffs because they lost tie-breakers to the Dolphins (for the division title) and Ravens (for a wildcard spot). Cassel became the hottest free agent in the NFL that following offseason, and largely flopped at every team he played at since. The Patriots without Tom Brady were still playoff contenders.

Matt Cassel looked like an all-star and almost
lead Patriots to the playoffs in 2008.

We also saw the Patriots perform well during Brady's four-game "Deflategate" suspension in the 2016 season. The Patriots won 3 of those 4 games (convincingly) en route to a comeback SuperBowl championship against the Falcons. We've seen the Patriots be god without Tom Brady, multiple times.

We didn't see a Brady-less Patriots team again until 2020, which, of course, was the year of COVID. It's hard to really judge anything that happened this season because the whole thing was so topsy-turvy. The pandemic was disruptive to many teams' training camps, as it limited team activities. Almost every team had players opt-out of playing in the season altogether. Because of these disruptions to activities and rosters, it is very likely that otherwise good teams may have underperformed. One of the hardest-hit teams might have been the New England Patriots, which had to make due with six players opting-out, including two defensive starters and a starter on the offensive line. Furthermore, positive COVID tests for players (including elite defensive back Stephon Gilmore) caused further disruption to the Patriots' game and practice schedules. Despite all those problems, the Patriots were still only a couple games out of wildcard contention!

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Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they sure as heck haven't been making a simulation football game since at least 2011). Other companies were apparently free to purchase an NFL license for "non-simulation" football games, and last year 2K announced that they would, in fact, begin production on one (or more) NFL-licensed arcade games. It wasn't the triumphant return of ESPN NFL 2k that we had been waiting 17 years for, but we'll take it!

EA is [finally] returning to college football games!

Well yesterday, we got another bombshell announcement. EA will be producing a college football video game. Currently, EA does not have the NCAA license or the rights to player likenesses, so the game is to be titled "EA Sports College Football", instead of continuing with the NCAA Football moniker of past. However, EA does have the rights to "over one hundred" schools. There's 130 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, so a team count of over 100 implies that most, if not all, D-I FBS schools will be present, with their respective logos, uniforms, stadiums, and so forth. My understanding is that EA also does not have the rights to the conference names, so in addition to making up randomized rosters, they will also have to make fake conferences for the schools. I haven't seen anything yet that clarifies whether EA will have rights to bowl games or the College Football Playoffs and Championship. But this game is still 2 or 3 years out from releasing, so a lot can change in the meantime!

EA could bypass the NCAA and secure the rights to player likenesses, but they've opted not to do so. It's a shame, but I do understand that without a single players' union (like the NFL Player's Association for the pros), securing the rights to hundreds or thousands of player names and likenesses individually would be a huge logistical and legal nightmare. I would also have to assume that if EA is not pursuing player likeness rights, then they probably won't include the easy roster customization and sharing features of NCAA 13 and 14, as that would likely land them in the same exact legal troubles that caused the series to get canceled in the first place. I would prefer if EA could use player likenesses and pay the athletes royalties from game sales, especially since that would stick it to the NCAA, which for so long denied college athletes the ability to get paid while simultaneously cashing in on those same athlete's names and performances. Since it didn't license its brand, the NCAA will not be getting any money from this game (as of the time of this writing).

Team and player customization is what caused the cancelation of NCAA Football to begin with,
so I doubt that such features would return in EA Sports College Football.

EA Sports College Football will not be releasing in 2021. A 2022 release is possible, but unlikely. So we'll probably have to wait until the fall of 2023 to see what EA will be offering up for this game, and if it will live up to the standard set by NCAA Football 13 and NCAA Football 14. The fact that the game will not have the NCAA license, conferences, or team names will likely put the new game at an immediate disadvantage, since it won't have those real-world images and names to lean on.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:20 AM

Is Chicago's Nick Foles experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan
Chicago Bears alt logo

When I wrote earlier this year about the Bears benching Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, I said that I was surprised that Trubisky had been named the pre-season starter, that I expected Foles would eventually have the starting job, and that I was still surprised that Trubisky was suddenly benched in the middle of the week 3 game against the Falcons. It all seemed so indecisive. Trubisky had supposedly earned the job in training camp, was playing well, had lead a comeback victory in week 1 against the Lions, but was benched after a single mistake.

From my position as an un-informed spectator, the whole thing made no sense.

Then Foles came in and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard either. Foles lead the team to 2 victories, and it almost looked like the decision to change quarterbacks wouldn't hurt the team. Then the Bears' offense started playing far worse with Foles as starting quarterback, dropping the next six games straight. Granted, most of those 6 losses were against solid good offenses, such as the Saints, Packers, and Titans, and the Bears struggled to keep up. But Foles just wasn't looking good, and he wasn't helped by a stagnant run game while Tarik Cohen has been sidelined with injury. By the time of the week 10 matchup against the Vikings, I was starting to expect that a switch back to Trubisky probably should happen.

Mitch Trubisky has re-taken the starting job from Nick Foles. But was it too late to save the season?

That switch waited a few more weeks until the week 12 game against the Lions. The Bears still lost that game with Trubisky playing, but the offense did put up 30 points. The offense has also gone on to score more than 30 points in the Bears' 2 wins since, including a victory over the Vikings this past weekend that moved the Bears up to the top slot for playoff runner-up. The Bears are now 1 game behind the 7-seed Cardinals with 2 games left to play. They're also 2 games behind the Buccaneers and Rams, but only have a tie-breaker with the Buccaneers. Their victory against the Vikings puts them 1 game ahead of the Vikings (who are the only remaining team eligible for a wildcard berth). The Bears basically need to win both their remaining games (including a week 17 rematch against a Packers team that embarassed the Bears at the end of November), and then also hope that the Buccaneers, and/or Cardinals lose their last 2 games.

The most likely path to a playoff birth is if the Cardinals lose both their remaining games, and the Bears win both. That would give the Bears a 1-game lead over the Cardinals. The Cardinals' remaining games are a home matchup against the 49ers (coming off an upset loss to the Cowboys) and a road game against the Rams. Both are tough matchups for the cardinals, but very winnable ones. The 49ers also have nothing left to play for except pride and the satisfaction of maybe playing spoiler to a division rival.

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This past weekend's college football match between Vanderbilt and Missouri wasn't much of a football game. Missouri trounced Vanderbilt 41-0. There was never a contest to be had here, and Missouri had comfortably covered the 14-point spread by halftime -- then went on to cover it by a factor of 3. This otherwise un-noteworthy game did, however, make headlines. That is because this game saw another breaking of the glass ceiling for women in football. In this game, Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play football for a Power 5 conference.

Sarah Fuller is a senior goalkeeper for Vanderbilt's soccer team -- a team that has performed much better than the football team, going 8-4 and sweeping the SEC tournament. She was recruited onto the football team as a place-kicker after COVID-19 contact-tracing forced much of Vanderbilt's special teams roster into quarantine.

Sarah Fuller kickoff for Vanderbilt to start the second half,
and became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football conference game.

Vanderbilt's offense couldn't do anything all day, so sadly, Sarah never got a chance to kick a field goal or extra point. Her only play in the game was the second half kickoff, which she squibbed to the sideline for no return. She didn't get to score any points, but she did play.

Her kick was the only Vanderbilt highlight worth sharing, and it was shared on social media by the school and by multiple sports media outlet, where it was subject to lewd comments and ridicule by pathetic men -- because of course it was. Men criticized the kick for being squibbed for only 35 yards, completely failing to recognize the context in which the kick was made. The team was coming back from halftime, down 21-0. It is not uncommon for a team to squib a kickoff in such a situation in order to prevent a return for touchdown. It was a (for lack of a better word) "workman-like" kick.

Besides, even if the distance wasn't impressive, her placement of the ball was. It landed within a few yards of the sideline without going out of bounds. This is probably exactly where the coaches wanted her to put the ball. A ball so close to the sideline might discourage the returner from attempting to field it in the hopes it would go out of bounds, result in a penalty, and give the team even better field position. If unfielded, the ball would be live, and could be recovered by the kicking team. I would not be surprised if this was a designed kick with the hopes of tricking Missouri into giving up a turnover and put some spark into Vanderbilt's offense. Unfortunately, the kick bounced and was downed by a Missouri blocker, leaving Vanderbilt with no chance to recover the ball. All the men criticizing Sarah's "weak" kick, possibly only served to highlight their own weak knowledge of the sport of football.

And that was it. One play, and now Sarah Fuller's name is forever enshrined in college football history.

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UNLV Running Rebels logo

The Raiders may have already played home games in Allegiant Stadium, starting with a victory on a Monday night against the Saints on September 21. But the Raiders have so far played without any fans in the stands. Allegiant Stadium opened its doors to the first fans this weekend when the Nevada Wolfpack came to town to play the UNLV Rebels football team.

Back in the summer, the Mountain West conference had announced the postponement of the football season until next spring. For a while, it seemed like UNLV would not be the team to open up Allegiant Stadium after all. However, after the NFL, SEC, and a couple other college football conferences began play in September with strict social distancing protocols in effect and a [thankfully] relatively low number of incidents, the Mountain West decided to reverse course and move play back up to the end of October. The Raiders may have played the first game there, but it was still UNLV who opened the stadium to fans.

Photo by: Isaac Brekken via Associated Press.
The Raiders played their first Las Vegas home game in an empty Allegiant Stadium.

Unfortunately, despite the new head coach and the new stadium, UNLV is still the same old Rebels. The team has been completely unable to produce offense in its first two games, gaining a measly total of 25 yards in the entire first half of the opening game against San Diego State, and finishing the game with only 6 points (due to a missed extra point), while also rotating between three different quarterbacks. Coach Marcus Arroyo seems to have settled on Max Gilliam as the starting quarterback going into the game against Nevada, and the offense performed better, putting up 348 total yards on offense and 19 points in a 37-19 loss.

Marcus Arroyo was the offensive coordinator for an explosive Oregon football team in 2019, so the hope was that he would bring that explosiveness to UNLV, allowing the team to keep up in offensive production and scoring with its high-powered Mountain West opponents. So far that has not panned out. The season is still young, and it's unclear if the disappointing start is due to Arroyo failing to live up to his promise, a lack of talent on the team, the disruptions of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (and lack of training camp and other team activities), or some combination of the above. I'm not going to condemn Arroyo after two games, least of all in this miserably, topsy-turvy year of 2020.

Photo by: Rudy Garcia via Las Vegas Sun.
UNLV was the first team to host fans at Allegiant Stadium.

That being said, I was not impressed with Arroyo's play-calling in that San Diego State game. He repeatedly called screen passes to wide receivers, despite San Diego State being on top of those plays each and every time. Either San Diego State knew those plays were coming and specifically prepared for them, or UNLV's offense telegraphed them far too clearly for them to work. The fact that Arroyo kept calling them, and didn't have some counter play prepared in case they didn't work made me worried about how he's scheming this offense. With San Diego driving on those screens every time, I would have liked to have seen an early pump fake to the screen, followed by a deep shot down the field. This would either catch the defense overreacting to the screen, or to force the defense to have to play back a bit and give those screens a bit more room to breath. I don't recall seeing such a play call in that game.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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