Super Bowl 51: The Patriots vs…Roger Goodell?

As I was driving into work the other morning, I was listening to a sports talk radio show broadcasted out of Philadelphia. Instead of talking Philly sports as usual, they were discussing the upcoming Super Bowl match up between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. I was hardly paying attention, mostly because I was dreading going into work (a cold and lack of sleep will do that to you) and daydreaming about going back to bed. I pulled into my parking spot and was just about to turn off my car when one of the hosts said “Do you think the Patriots are preparing to play the Falcons or are they playing Goodell? I mean, the whole year it’s been ‘Brady vs Goodell’. Are we finally gonna see this play out?”

Had I not been running late for work, I would have listened to what the other commentators had to say. That idea really stuck in my mind all day: Are the Pats playing the Falcons on February 5th or are they playing to get back at Roger Goodell?

After Patriots QB Tom Brady served his four game suspension for the whole Deflategate saga, it seemed as though The Tom Brady Revenge Tour started. Really, with one of the easiest schedules in the NFL and with the future Hall-of-Famer QB at the helm, it is easy to see how some might think Brady and Co. went on a “revenge tour”. In reality, they just played like they usually do. The whole time, though, you knew they were playing with a little extra fire in hopes of giving Goodell the ultimate middle finger: a Super Bowl championship. The whole media world is waiting for that awkward moment when Goodell has the hand the Super Bowl MVP trophy to Tom Brady. It’s every New Englander’s wet dream.

It all sounds well and good, but we are forgetting about something and that something is the Atlanta Falcons.

In all of the “Brady vs Goodell” hubbub, the poor Falcons are not getting a whole lot of love, which is a darn shame. The Falcons have had one of the best offenses, if not THE best offense, in the NFL. And their defense, mind you, is nothing to scoff at. Matt Ryan has had an MVP-caliber season and should be the MVP this year. I’m sorry, but as good as Brady has been, he missed four games. Matt Ryan did not miss four games and he has played lights-out football all year. With Ryan at the helm, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu at WR, and Devonte Freeman at RB, the Falcons offense has been nearly unstoppable this season.

The Falcons have passed every test this year. Unlike last year, they stayed hot all season. They did not collapse like everyone thought they would. Everyone was waiting for a collapse similar to what we saw in 2015, but it never happened. In the playoffs alone, they tore through the “Legion of Boom” and blew out the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round. Not only that, but they throttled the hottest team in football (the Packers) and the hottest quarterback in football (Aaron Rodgers) in the NFC Championship game. The way they picked apart the red-hot Green Bay Packers left little doubt that the Falcons are a force to be reckoned with.

And yet no one is talking about them.

Look, I understand why everyone is talking about Brady vs Goodell. Deflategate was a big deal (whether it should have been or not) and people want to see the big, bad Commissioner brought to his knees by the handsome, talented Tom Brady. People want to see the man with the ultimate power submit to the man he unjustly punished. They want to see “The Man” lose.

But New England isn’t playing against Roger Goodell. They are playing a damn good Falcons squad who would love nothing more than to end The Tom Brady Revenge Tour in a spectacular fashion. It would be foolish for the media, fans of the Patriots, Pats owner Robert Kraft (who, after the AFC Championship game, delivered a seemingly inebriated speech that subtilely egged on the Brady vs Goodell narrative), and even the Patriots themselves to forget who they are ACTUALLY playing.

If the Patriots are distracted, even for a moment, you better believe this Falcons squad will tear them apart.

It’s going to be up to Tom Brady to stop the Falcons. In a way, it will be a final test for him after two tumultuous years, but he can’t let the distractions of sticking it to Roger Goodell damage his focus. If the match up between the Patriots and Goodell creates even a minor distraction to the Patriots players, they will lose and they will lose in an embarrassing manor. All year the Patriots have been assumed the winners of the fifty-first Super Bowl, but people are forgetting that they will have to prove themselves against a very good Atlanta Falcons team.

This isn’t the Patriots vs Roger Goodell. This is the Patriots vs the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will be ready, but will the Patriots be ready for the Falcons?

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Johnny Comeback?

I’ve made it clear before and I will say it again: I kinda like Johnny Manziel.

I know, I know, I’m deeply ashamed, but what can I say? Call me a sucker for bad boys, but I like the players who shake up the status quo a little bit. I loved it when he started using the “money” gestures during his Texas A&M days and I appriciated how outspoken he was about the unfairness of the NCAA system. I liked that he had a little bit of swagger and I was excited to see how he was going to translate that to the National Football League.

We all know how that turned out.

Alcohol, parties, models, violence, probably drugs, and many bad choices have led Manziel down the path of unemployment and a one-way ticket to football purgatory. He became a headline grabber for all the wrong reasons. His former girlfriend has a restraining order against him. For much of 2016, he looked sickly and ill. He became a lesson you tell the high schoolers who are aspiring to be college or pro athletes: “See Johnny? Don’t be like Johnny”.

Near the end of 2016, athletes and advisors began reaching out to him, most notably Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Quality human beings instead of groupies began to offer him advice, council, and probably a few reality checks along the way. On January 20th, Manziel sent a letter to ESPN, saying that he was sober, wanted to make a comeback in the NFL, and that being clean felt great. He wrote “I refuse to let my entire life of sports from the age of 4 be squandered by partying. I just got sick of it. One day I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror and realized I could really help people in the position I’m in. I love sports, I love football and when you take something away from yourself you realize it the hard way. The happiness from doing it sober has been ASTRONOMICAL. Beyond my wildest imagination and once that continued other good things started happening in my life and it just clicked.”  (thank you EPSN.com for the quote!) He also noted how he wants just one team to take a chance of him, to invite him to workout – anything, really. Later on in the day, it was discovered that an independent football league offered Manziel an invite to play, an offer that was extended to other players, such as Ray Rice and Vince Young. The “Spring League”, as it is being called, is not affiliated with the NFL, but you can bet that NFL scouts will be there.

The only problem I have with all of this is that we have heard this from Manziel before. We thought he turned things around when he entered rehab back in 2015 after his rookie campaign ended. We thought we would see a change after he was released by the Cleveland Browns in 2016. I have heard this song and dance from him for years and frankly, I’m tired of it. Would I like to see him create a comeback story worthy of an ESPN 30 For 30? Darn tootin’ I would! But first, I want to make sure Johnny Manziel is the healthiest, happiest, soberest man he can possibly be. I want him to be serious this time. I want to believe that he can do this.

And what team would want to take on that kind of risk? It would be a publicity nightmare for sure – who thinks the savage world of sports media would be kind to any team that even gave Manziel a workout? Could he even still play? And if he can play, will it be the level of play we saw at Texas A&M or will it be more similar to what we saw with the Cleveland Browns? There are so many questions that will more than likely go unanswered.

If (and it’s a big “if”) Manziel is able to somehow come back into the game of football, he would have to be with a team with a zero tolerance policy for stupidity. For example, he needs a team like the Arizona Cardinals, who cut Michael Floyd one day after he was arrested for Extreme DUI. They’ve taken in risky players (Tyrann Mathieu, anyone?) and forced them to prove that they can be playmakers without being distractions. I’m not saying the Cardinals are the only team who would be structured enough for Manziel or should even take a chance on him, but he would have to have an environment like theirs. He would have to be a team where the coaches, management, AND players keep him accountable. Also, he’d probably need a babysitter. Like, maybe a nun or something.

I’d love to see Johnny Football back to doing Johnny Football things. But more than that, I want to see Johnny Manziel healthy and sober. I want to see him commit to being a better man. I want him to make me proud, and I want him to want to make people proud. I want him to prove himself off the field before he even thinks about proving himself on the field.

I want Johnny Manziel to have that 3o For 30 – worthy comeback, but first, he needs to prove that he can be a better human. Being a good human is far better and far more important than being a good football player. And being a good, sober human being is the best thing Johnny Manziel can possibly be.