BY: ZACHARY KRUEGER
Road to Super Bowl LI on Boulevard of Broken Legs/Dreams
The NFL regular season hasn't even officially ended yet, but with a lot of fantasy seasons having already been wrapped up, over half of the playoff picture being set and a myriad of injuries to some of the leagues most exciting players, is anybody really ready for the playoffs?
Knowing that the AFC portion of the playoffs alone is now going to feature quarterbacks named Matt McGloin, Tom Savage, Ryan Tannehill/Matt Moore and Alex Smith is borderline depressing. The only way a team featuring one of these quarterbacks could even remotely become exciting is if they happen to manage an upset of either the Patriots or Steelers in the weeks to come.
God forbid we even get something as respectable as Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton and the hapless Colts in the postseason.
Maybe it isn't even the lack of quarterback play that has me upset, but rather the loss of a new threat coming out of the AFC to challenge Tom Brady and the Patriots. If we even want to begin cheering for a "legit threat" in the AFC to de-throne the Patriots, the most likely to do so isn't exactly a new horse in the race either.
Pittsburgh has had their fair share of championship runs, and if you're reading this article, chances are you don't even care about that. You just don't want to be reminded of the fact that their even in the playoffs. Much less how they got there...
...but we will be reminded. For at least the next year. Sorry folks. Anyhow, back to the point.
The only hope for an AFC Super Bowl contender that didn't feature a player named Brady or Roethlisberger was the Raiders, whose playoff chances were all but snapped in the fourth quarter of a blowout win in Week 16 against the Colts. That was when their third-year, Pro Bowl caliber, MVP candidate quarterback suffered a broken fibula on a sack by Trent Cole, where David Carr's foot got rolled under the body of the collapsing 270 pound lineman.
Carr knew it was broken. You could read his lips as he told others on the field around him.
If the Raiders are even going to remotely have a shot at making a run this postseason, it will have to be from their now featured, three-headed attack at running back. Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington will now have to shoulder the load for what will otherwise be a run-heavy team in a a pass-happy league.
The Raiders (12-3) aren't even guaranteed a bye week during the wild card week of the playoffs, as the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) are 5-0 in the division, and could clinch that coveted bye week with a Raiders loss on Sunday.
The Raiders did boast a dynamic rushing attack on Sunday against the Colts, taking 33 carries out of the backfield for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Granted, it was against the Colts, who have struggled with stopping the run all season, but for a team that will now have to hope for a few more performances like that going forward, it was encouraging.
There is still a chance we could find an interesting playoff narrative out of the AFC, but there's no doubt that the race got that much more boring with the pending quality of quarterback play we are about to witness.
Just as a side note, for a brand that has struggled with viewership this season, the NFL has got to hate the injuries that took place on Sunday as the playoffs near. If playoff ratings tank during the wild card and divisional round, particularly for the AFC games, it will be interesting to see what new steps will be taken in regards to...player safety.
Snap, Back to Reality, So Long to Fantasy
Chances are, that fantasy football season you were looking forward to since last December is probably over for most of you now, if it hadn't been weeks before. If it's still going on, best of luck to you, especially if you've been relying on guys like Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, or anybody else who no longer has anything to play for this year. A la Tom Brady, Zeke Elliott, etc.
The real question is how do you cure that fantasy football hangover you're about to go through? Once the Super Bowl ends, your fantasy life will be reduced to nothing more than things like trying to figure out if Tony Romo will be fantasy relevant in 2017 with his new team.
What could you possibly do to move on from the euphoria that fantasy football has brought you all year long? Here are a few ideas for you:
- Brainstorm new ways to improve your league. New incentives, scoring settings, league expansions, etc. Chances are, your league isn't perfect, so work out those kinks in the off-season, just like your favorite pro team is doing.
- Find another league/up your game. You've probably milked that one work league dry for years now. The competition is lagging, and while stealing money from your co-workers is nice, the fun just isn't there. Take a look at some other leagues out there that offer more in the way of competition, and monetary value.
- Fantasy football podcasts. They're out there, and some are absolutely excellent. They're also free, and in your average league that consists of real-world adults with other things to do besides dwell on fantasy all day, it's something to take advantage of. Here are a few to get you started.
It isn't humanly possibly to just move on from fantasy football season, right? That's why some people join in on keeper/dynasty leagues, just so the off-season news that breaks throughout the season holds some kind of importance to the team they've worked so hard to construct.
If you're in a re-draft league, hate podcasts and don't run a league, your next best bet to survive the fantasy football off-season will likely be getting out and shoveling snow, cutting the grass, or finally getting on that home improvement project you've been putting off for so long.
Either way, you'll survive it, and we'll be back with draft prep and analysis in no time!
Is Harbs Really on the Hot-Seat?
It can't actually be possible right? The coach with a career record of 85-58 in the regular season, and 10-5 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl victory is actually going to be on the hot seat?
It has been uphill sledding for Harbaugh and the Ravens since their miraculous 2012-2013 Super Bowl run. The Ravens have failed to make the playoffs in three of the last four seasons since, and have struggled to a 31-32 record in the regular season, with one game still to go in this year's campaign.
Coaches will always be the first to blame, and the first to go. Just look at how Jim Harbaugh was let go in San Francisco, despite his excellent coaching resume leading up to his dismissal.
Is it really fair for the Ravens to place Harbaugh on the hot seat though, following his team's recent performances?
The Ravens haven't been a great football team, but they have been far from awful. Not to mention, what is a team to do with a quarterback who is one of the highest paid players in the league, while one of the more average contributors to his team's success?
I'll always support Flacco and want to see him succeed, but anybody who wants to put him in the same class as the top five, maybe even top 10 quarterbacks in the league is fooling themselves.
For a quarterback who has never thrown for 30+ touchdowns, or 4,000+ yards (prior to 2016) to be paid as high, or higher than those who have is a bit absurd, and the struggling roster around him proves it.
It isn't Harbaugh's fault that his quarterback is getting paid the salary he is. It also isn't Harbs' fault that Ray Rice was suddenly suspended/released following his 2013 season, and that recent draft picks haven't quite come along as hoped (Terrence Brooks/Breshad Perriman/Maxx Williams/Javorius Allen/etc.).
There have been a lot of big tasks placed on young players in Baltimore over the last few years, and it hasn't worked out quite has planned.
It also wasn't planned that the Ravens would suddenly be without the best offensive coordinator they've possibly ever had (Gary Kubiak), after just one year with the team. Kubiak, who was brought in to replace offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell after he left for Detroit following the 2013 season, hung around for only one year before heading to Denver in 2015.
It was in Denver where Kubiak won a Super Bowl in his first year with the franchise, while Harbaugh and the Ravens struggled with Marc Trestman/Marty Mornhinweg at the helm of the offense.
If anything, maybe Harbaugh's problem is good coaching. Coaching that was good enough to dismantle what the team has been trying to do offensively in two of the last three seasons leading up to this year.
We've seen it in the past before with multiple teams that go through offensive coordinators at a high rate. Just ask former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, who could never seem to keep an offensive coordinator long enough to even be on a first name basis.
The difficultly of experiencing going through multiple offensive coordinators is amplified that much more when you are trying to work new rookies into the mix with a veteran quarterback. Offenses need time to gel with one another, which doesn't always happen in one season.
Sometimes it takes multiple seasons for an offensive unit to run at a productive clip, and now we are asking rookie offensive players, players new to the team, a new offensive coordinator and a veteran quarterback to all be on the same page after a full season together, or less (Mornihweg)?
The notion just doesn't seem fair, to go along with the expectations.
While the lack of postseason play over the last few seasons is a concern, it's that much more concerning that the only consistent thing the Ravens have going for them, Harbaugh, is now being viewed less as a commodity and more as a hindrance.
Perhaps Harbaugh should be on less of a hot seat, and be analyzed for his full body of work, and the fact that his dismissal won't lead to more cap space for the roster, or the hiring of a top offensive coordinator.
Just remember, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."
Follow Zachary Krueger on Twitter at @CentralBirdland