Stats I think mean something.
1. In the most storied passing season by a quarterback ever, Peyton Manning could lose out in passer rating to a guy who was a second-stringer the first month of the season. Nick Foles has a 5.7-point lead (118.7-113.0) over Manning entering Week 17.
2. Denver, the presumptive top seed in the AFC, has four players with at least 60 catches and at least 10 touchdown catches. Seattle, the presumptive top seed in the NFC, does not have a receiver with 60 catches, and does not have a receiver with 10 touchdown receptions.
3. I agree the buck stops with the head coach, and Jim Schwartz is very likely to take the fall for the Lions’ going 1-5 down the stretch and falling out of the NFC North race they once owned. But Matthew Stafford has been awful down the stretch—undisciplined, not focused, clearly not as attentive to Calvin Johnson (four targets in five quarters against the Giants on Sunday) as he should be. Stafford’s being paid like a franchise quarterback, and he’s performing like a quarterback who should be benched for David Carr. In the five recent losses Stafford has completed 50.7 percent of his throws, with three of those games in the perfect conditions of Ford Field, and thrown 12 interceptions. The worst thing you can say about a quarterback is that he’s careless in the big moments. That’s exactly what Stafford has been.
4. Manning broke the touchdown-pass record Sunday against Houston, with Wade Phillips in charge of the Texans defense. Manning previously broke the touchdown-pass record held by Dan Marino in 2004 with his 49th against San Diego, with Wade Phillips in charge of the Chargers defense.
5. How times are changing (thanks to Elliott Kalb for reminding me of these): Seven years ago Manning led the NFL with 31 touchdown passes. Andy Dalton has 31 this year, with four quarters to play.
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Bruce Arians is one heck of a football coach
Coach of the Year is a mystery to me this morning. Bill Belichick is doing one of his best coaching jobs going back to being a $25-a-week gopher for Ted Marchibroda in Baltimore; 41-7 over the Ravens, Gronkless, in Baltimore? Amazing. And you know the other candidates, all good ones—Ron “Relevant” Rivera, Andy Reid, Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly, Joe Philbin. But Bruce Arians has to be on any list. The Cardinals, 58-0 losers at Seattle last year, broke the Seahawks’ 14-game home winning streak. Perhaps more important for the rest of the NFC, Arizona burst the bubble of Seattle’s Pacific Northwest invincibility. We all thought the Seahawks would breeze to the Super Bowl in New Jersey with two easy home wins. Now they’re not even guaranteed the top seed in the conference; two San Francisco wins and a Seattle loss at home to the Rams Sunday would make the Niners the top seed and Seattle No. 5.
Not likely, of course. But possible, because of the Arizona Cardinals.
“What I told the team this week was I didn’t care about the record, I didn’t care about winning the division,” said Arians from Seattle after the 17-10 upset of the Seahawks. “I cared about winning both lines of scrimmage in this game. And we did. The Seahawks and 49ers are both big, strong, physical teams on their fronts. They’re bullies. That’s football. And that’s what we have to learn to be. I think we showed today we can be big and strong and physical. We can beat the No. 1 seed in the league. We can beat the best team in our division. And we did.’’
I asked Arians about the odds his team faces to make the playoffs, and whether that has impacted the last two or three weeks. For Arizona to make the playoffs now, even at 10-5 this morning, the Cards must beat San Francisco at home Sunday and have one of two other things happen: The Niners must lose to 4-10 Atlanta tonight, or the Saints must lose to 4-11 Tampa Bay at home next Sunday. Not … likely.
“I stopped worrying about that crap about three weeks ago,” said Arians. “Once I learned we could get to 11-5 and we might still not make it, I said, ‘Screw it. Let’s just get to 11-5 and let the chips fall where they may.’ Whatever happens, we’re letting everyone in our division know we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
Arians is a funny play-caller. If Carson Palmer throws four interceptions, as he did in Seattle, Arians is going to tell him to keep firing. Down 10-9 at the Seattle 31 with just under six minutes left, the Cards wanted to isolate one of their receivers on cornerback Byron Maxwell, who just became a starter earlier this month. Arians called 81 Go, with three receivers running for the end zone, hoping to get one of them singled. On this play it would be Michael Floyd, on Maxwell. The Cards kept seven in to protect against the Seattle rush, Palmer had time, and, in Arians’ words, “If it was a fielder’s choice, I wanted Carson to take Floyd.” And Palmer did, throwing a beautifully placed ball into Floyd’s arms on the left side of the end zone. Touchdown.
“What’d you say to the team after the game?” I said.
“Not much,” said Arians. “ ‘Merry Christmas. Great team win.’ ”
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Variable ticket pricing could come to the NFL in 2014.
At the NFL meeting in Dallas earlier this month, a cadre of teams met to discuss something other sports have taken the lead on: pricing tickets to a team’s 10 games differently, depending on the quality of opposition and whether it’s a preseason or regular-season game. In the past week I’ve spoken to executives of three teams about it, and one told me: “I’d say as many as half the teams in the league are thinking about instituting it for 2014.”
I do not, however, see this solving the problem of the NFL charging full prices for preseason games. It is possible that a team charging, say, $750 for a full-season ticket (eight regular-season games, two preseason games) would still charge $750 next season. But the team could put a face value of $50 on the two preseason games, $100 on the most attractive two home games and $75 on the six remaining regular-season games.
None of this is set in stone. Team are still discussing it, and the NFL will not make a hard-and-fast policy about what any team does with tickets. But the way this was explained to me by a source with knowledge of several teams’ plans is that it would address the value of tickets on secondary markets like StubHub and Ticketmaster. A preseason game, rightfully, would have a lower base price than a decent game in November. And the best games would start from a price point much higher than preseason games.
Here’s the way it could work—and we’ll use Kansas City for an example. Let’s say a good Chiefs’ season-ticket costs $1,000 for 10 games in 2014. The Chiefs have an attractive home slate next year. They could take visits by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and the cross-state Rams, call them Tier 1 games and put a face value of $150 on those tickets. They could make the next four most attractive games Tier 2 at $100, and then call the final regular-season game and two preseason games Tier 3 at $50. (Those are my approximations, no one else’s.) This would really help teams with a lot of single-game tickets to sell. A team like Buffalo, for instance, could put a premium price on the Patriots game and a much lower price on a game involving a less desirable team.
“I think you’ll see teams experiment with different price points the next couple of years,” said one executive of a team that will likely change pricing next season. “Then I think you’ll see the real final product in two or three years, when teams find out from their fans what they want the most.”