MERRY CHRISTMAS! Welcome to the final regular-season edition of Aaron It Out. This week you’re getting a super-sized version of NFL opinions, previews, and picks because like many people, I’m going on vacation. I’ll be back shortly before the Wild Card playoffs begin.
Let’s get to it…
GOODBYE, GUS. We wish you the best, but also wish you had given us the best in Jacksonville.
Let’s get through the awkwardness of the situation. Gus Bradley got fired after the Jaguars lost to the Texans last week (which was a comeback-slash-end-of-game-breakdown that should not have happened), and was allowed to fly back with the team. That was definitely weird, but GM Dave Caldwell said he “couldn’t lie to Gus,” which I kind of respect – the writing had been on the wall, but since the decision had been made the week before, I guess some sort of conversation that had a theme of we’ll do better next week, right, and then yeah, but… happened. What else was weird was the news that Tom Coughlin picked up the phone and offered his services to be a part of Bradley’s staff (he is a great offensive coach), and Gus just straight up shut him out. When someone with a ton of experience offers assistance, and you don’t take it, something is wrong. Gus put Monte Kiffin on the staff but not Coughlin? Come on.
So the team finally pulled the trigger on The Firing We All Knew Was Coming, and it still seems like the mindset is one that is coddling Blake Bortles, because on Wednesday, Offensive Coordinator Nate Hackett was blaming Bortles’ issues at least in part on the offensive line. I have news for you: a bad offensive line has not stopped Bortles before.
Going forward for the Jaguars, two things (one specific to the team, and one in general to the league) stick out for me.
First, the team really needs to get this coaching hire, and their organizational structure, right. I say organizational structure because it seems like some sort of overture will be made to Tom Coughlin to come back to the team, somehow. Whatever that means is up in the air, but if he slots into a role in the front office instead of exclusively on the field, the structure needs to be solidified so there are no questions, like there were back when the Dolphins were in disarray. Dave Caldwell, Shad Khan, and company need to get this head coach hire correct as well. It needs to be someone with experience, and also someone who they will stick with. It’s okay, in my opinion, to say the wrong coach came in at the wrong time and there wasn’t a good situation for them – in Oakland, they made a similar change when Reggie McKenzie was hired as the GM, and they made a coaching change, and now the team is headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2002. But they need to support the coach with a very good roster and an ability to succeed – the case in point here is that each head coach that has been in Jacksonville for at least two seasons and then fired, has at least one Super Bowl ring with another organization (Coughlin, Del Rio). Caldwell needs to keep his ducks in a row (if he stays on the team), and support the new coach, who must be an experienced coach with a little more discipline than Gus. My ideal situation would be a return of Tom Coughlin. He knows how to put together a staff very well – the same basic staff he had last year in New York has engineered a playoff berth this year, and is the only team to defeat the Cowboys so far. There is a lot of talk with Mike Smith, who I don’t know a lot about but seemed somewhat effective in Atlanta. And finally, Josh McDaniels is a hot name – but if he were hired, I would prefer that he work under Coughlin (who would be serving in some sort of Executive Football VP role).
Second, and I just became guilty of this as well, is how much it is bugging me that all the “hot names” that teams will be pursuing, are interviews that will happen after the usage of the Rooney Rule, which mandates that a team interviewing for a head coach must interview at least one minority candidate. None of those names coming out are a minority and I feel for whatever coordinator may become the “token guy” who gets trucked around from team to team and interviews with no chance of actually landing the job. It bugs me that the league doesn’t more heavily enforce this, and not just drag some random assistant special teams coordinator through the process. I don’t know how to better do that, but considering we have a grand total of six out of 32 head coaches that meet those criteria right now (with likely one or two losing their jobs at the end of the season), something needs to change.
TURN OFF THE RADIO. Sports talk radio in Jacksonville has a grand total of one outlet. We can flip on the TV and go to 4 ESPN channels, 2 Fox Sports channels, specialized channels for each of the big four leagues, and more… but I think that we are all getting a little overexposed to the “talking sports heads” structure that networks have come to employ.
Unfortunately, that is the entirety of the format of sports talk radio, and about half of it varies from bad to painful. 1010XL, the local sports station that simulcasts on AM and FM, has programming that is pretty good in the mornings and then painful in the afternoons. The team on the morning drive show, which has been together for several years dating back to their time on the local NBC affiliate, is great, and so is the team on the specialized NFL show. I rarely have a problem with the things I hear there, and while they occasionally have bad takes, they do their best to back them up with logic and information that exceeds the “how I feel” or “what I think” mentality.
The afternoon and evening lineups, on the other hand, are pretty bad. There are two people that are being wasted there: Tony Wiggins, who although I do not know much about him is a talented giver of opinions and I believe he was a former player; and Brent Martineau, who is also the main sportscaster for one of our local TV stations and while he is a little “too nice” (if that is possible) with his opinions, does solid work.
The afternoon show has cycled through beat reporters who use the market as a springboard to other jobs, and the main host who is also the radio announcer for the Jaguars is a major college guy, emphasizes that far more than the Jags (even though that station is the “official radio station” of the team), and just has horrible takes. Like, actually making you cringe while you drive down the road because they are so bad. These takes are rarely backed up with anything other than his own “thoughts.”
There are also some of these folks who write for a fledgling college football site that basically regurgitates ESPN, SI, and Yahoo stories, and also has one of their thirty-something writers sending interview requests to high schoolers via Twitter direct message, which is not creepy at all.
How would I fix this station? Give the staff of Bench Points a job, first. (Sorry, had to put that in there!)
I would likely extend the Jaguars-and-NFL-centric show an hour, make the afternoon show a feature of Wiggins, Martineau, and another outside talent perhaps, and then in the late-afternoon/early evening put the I’m-sure-it’s-excellent-but-I’m-not-the-target-audience Helmets and Heels show on five days a week.
That’s a mega-dose of my opinion that should last you into 2017.
TOP FIVE ANIMATED TV CHRISTMAS SPECIALS
5. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
4. Prep & Landing
3. Frosty the Snowman
2. Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Here’s two weeks’ worth of GAME SUMMARIES!!!
GIANTS at EAGLES – This is a pretty awesome matchup for the final Thursday night game of the year. The Giants are riding high and are a basic lock to make the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Eagles nearly had a comeback against the Ravens last week and are going to be a powerful team come next season. However, the Giants must win this game, just like they really needed to win against the Lions. As such, I think New York will win a hard-fought game.
FALCONS at PANTHERS – The Panthers are rocking that Super Bowl loser hangover (although they are playing a very good spoiler role in some cases), and the Falcons are at the top of their division. Don’t expect that to change, and while I think the score will be close, Atlanta should come away with the victory here.
DOLPHINS at BILLS – The Dolphins aren’t going to wow anyone, but they are an efficient and well-coached football team that is going to make a playoff push. I think Adam Gase was the right coach to come in and get things moving in Miami. The Bills are probably looking at a coaching change, and although they beat the lowly Browns, I don’t see them outperforming the Dolphins here. Miami will get the win.
REDSKINS at BEARS – I could write a really long paragraph about how the Bears almost won against Green Bay, but I think that they don’t have a chance against Washington this week. The Redskins will get the win.
JETS at PATRIOTS – Unless Tommy pulls a hammy, the Pats will win.
CHARGERS at BROWNS – Oh, goodness. The Chargers don’t know where they will be playing in the next few years, or if they will even be named the Chargers, but one thing they can know is the Browns stink, and will go 0-16 this year, and unless Philip Rivers has to throw to himself, San Diego will win this game.
TITANS at JAGUARS – Remember how I said the Jaguars would lose out? I am going to call myself wrong on that, because I said that with the mindset that Gus would not be fired until the end of the year. I think the Jags get a spark from Doug Marrone, and finish the year with at least one more win under their belts. Could I be wrong? Yes, but another coach would have had the team consistent on their beatdown of the Texans last week. I think this is a revenge game for the Jags, and they will welcome the Titans to Jax with some punishing defense and a few flashes from Lee and Ivory.
VIKINGS at PACKERS – Minnesota won their first matchup this year, but a lot has changed since then. The Vikings are banged up and the Packers are trying to find a way to win their division. The Packers are playing lights-out football right now and I think the only team that can stop them is the Lions. I could be wrong, but with the way the Vikes got smacked around by Indianapolis, I think Green Bay will win this.
COLTS at RAIDERS – Spoiler alert! The Raiders have clinched a playoff berth, but the Colts are going hard after the AFC South crown. I think they can do it, to be honest with you, and it starts here. The Colts should not have won against Minnesota, especially with their patchwork o-line, but Luck was on point yesterday and so was that Colts D. I may be eating crow for Christmas Eve but I think the Colts will win here, they have more to play for.
BUCS at SAINTS – With the (expected) loss to the Cowboys, the Bucs need to win their last two games to make the playoffs as the sixth seed of the NFC. I think they will not have a problem beating the Saints again, even though they saw each other just a couple of weeks ago. The Saints looked great against the Cardinals, but it needs to be remembered that the Cards’ defense is not playing up to their potential. Tampa will win.
49ERS at RAMS – Uhhhh… the Rams?
CARDINALS at SEAHAWKS – The Cardinals certainly were able to put up some points last week, just not enough to win the game. They can be offensively efficient, they can be dangerous, but man, their defense is just straight up nonexistent. It needs to be better than that to stop the Seahawks because Seattle’s offensive line is in shambles, and their defense has lost a couple of leaders. I think that this is the last game Seattle could lose, but anything can happen in the NFL. I will take the safe bet and say that the Seahawks will win.
BENGALS at TEXANS – The Bengals looked a little rough against the Steelers, but then again, a lot of teams have looked a little rough against the Steelers this year. The Texans nearly got beat by the Jaguars, and a team with a competent quarterback and around half of a defense should be able to stop them. Well guess what, Cincy has both of those things in spades. If you ask me, I think this will begin a two-game losing streak for the Texans. Neither Tom Savage nor Brock Osweiler will be enough to beat the Bengals.
RAVENS at STEELERS – The Ravens nearly let the Eagles beat them, and the Steelers are on a winning streak. Who do I like here? Pittsburgh, and then some. I think the Steelers will definitely be able to hold off the Ravens, and jockey for the #3 seed in the playoffs. I’d rather have a rematch with Miami than have to face either the Chiefs or the Raiders the first week of the playoffs. Pittsburgh will win.
BRONCOS at CHIEFS – Denver seems to be imploding, with the offense and defense facing off with one another after last week’s loss to New England. Well, it’s not going to get much better if you ask me, and Denver is in Kansas City this week – while the Chiefs do seem to be able to lose at home, I don’t think Denver can generate enough offense to keep up with K.C. (I mean come on, Tyreek Hill is so fast he makes other dudes trip over themselves), and the Chiefs will win.
LIONS at COWBOYS – GAME OF THE WEEK – The Lions looked anemic against the Giants; the Cowboys have a similar if not as stellar defense and so I do not think Detroit will be able to do much against Dallas. However this may turn out, Jim Caldwell has done an excellent job up in Detroit, but also I do not see the Cowboys losing again in the regular season.
PATRIOTS at DOLPHINS – GAME OF THE WEEK – This is going to be a very, very interesting game – the Patriots almost always have an issue winning in Miami, and with the knowledge that the team has locked up a first-round bye and maybe the first seed in the playoffs, Belichick may give most of his starters the week off to get healed up. Right now, though, that is all theoretical. I still think that Miami has a bit more to play for, though, and the Dolphins will get a surprise win here (although it may not matter much in the postseason).
JAGUARS at COLTS – The Colts are at home against a divisional opponent that beat them in London. The Jaguars are looking to end the season as mercifully as possible. If this game had a Blake Bortles that looked anywhere near his 2015 form, I’d expect the Jaguars to win, but the Colts could potentially lock up the division with a win here, and they have Andrew Luck on their side. The Jags got beat by Tom Savage… and they have to play Luck in this game. I think the Colts will win and around 4PM or so the Jags will be talking to the remainder of their head coaching candidates.
PANTHERS at BUCS – This is a very interesting game because the Bucs need to keep racking up victories to get the 6th Wild Card spot instead of Green Bay. They have the defense to do it, even if their offense has been a little banged up. I see the Bucs D getting to Newton and keeping Carolina at bay. I’ll call this one for Tampa.
BEARS at VIKINGS – The Vikings have been bad and the Bears have been worse. So the people who are forced to watch this game will probably see Minnesota get the win and Chicago slotted into a number 3 or so draft pick.
BROWNS at STEELERS – Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that the Browns will lose? Yes, yes it is.
SAINTS at FALCONS – The Saints have plenty of offense, but no defense to go along with it. The Falcons have both and that is why they should win this game. Not much else to say, other than it could be Brees’ and Payton’s last game in black and gold.
BILLS at JETS – Do we care how this one ends? The Jets are playing for next year, and the Bills are praying for a coaching change (I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen). Tyrod Taylor is definitely a more talented QB than Bryce Petty, and also the Bills’ running game has quietly been amazing this season. Buffalo should win here.
COWBOYS at EAGLES – I think the Cowboys have a solid chance to win against Philly, but this game should not be a blowout. It’s not like the Eagles have been awful, they are just in a rebuild mode with a rookie QB. With his corps of receivers and running backs, though, Dak Prescott and the Dallas defense should end the regular season on a high note and get ready for the playoffs.
PACKERS at LIONS – The Lions lost to the Packers by a touchdown the last time they played, but both teams have been through a lot of changes since then. The Packers were not playing well and have gotten better, but the Lions have been through a lot and are finding ways to win games. I think that Detroit will find a way to win this one as well, and keep the Green Bay’s hopes tampered.
TEXANS at TITANS – The Titans are trying, very hard, to make the playoffs, although if they do lose against the Jags on Christmas Eve it will be more difficult. The Texans are willingly starting Tom Savage because they made a mistake with Brock Osweiler. With the injuries the Texans are dealing with, I think that Tennessee will come away with the win, and looking a lot better for next year. I doubt they’ll win the division, though.
GIANTS at REDSKINS – The Redskins are not doing very well, and the Giants are. I think that the Giants are one of the best teams in the entire NFL right now, and I think that they have the potential to make the Super Bowl. I think the Giants will keep their head of steam and their streak alive, and head into the playoffs with a win.
RAVENS at BENGALS – Baltimore is on the outside looking in with this playoff picture but this is a good rivalry that should provide at least some entertainment. The Ravens are definitely legit and should be a threat next year as long as injuries don’t set them back, and the Bengals are just having a disappointing year that may or may not end with Marvin Lewis taking a break from coaching. We’ll see what happens; in this case I’ll give it to Cincy as the home team.
CHIEFS at CHARGERS – The Chiefs need to keep winning to land themselves in the best playoff spot possible. The Chargers are not doing well, and may find themselves in the midst of a coaching change and a location change before long. I firmly believe that Kansas City will take care of business here, and solidify their spot in the playoffs.
RAIDERS at BRONCOS – This is a great matchup with major implications, and probably the determining factor between the Raiders being a wild card or a division winner. The Broncos haven’t been able to put up much offense to go with that awesome defense lately, though, and I think Oakland will power through and pick up the win here.
SEAHAWKS at 49ERS – The Seahawks should easily win this, unless Colin Kaepernick’s afro starts giving him superpowers or something.
CARDINALS at RAMS – I hope the Cardinals win and can come back looking better next year. They are very talented and very well-coached. The Rams, on the other hand, are not, and should lose this game.
PROJECTED PLAYOFF PICTURE
Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!