September 3, 2013

HOROWITZ | Ready for Kick-Off

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Other than baseball, professional sports fans have had little to watch over the past three months. NFL coaches and executives have spent over six months scouting and drafting, signing and releasing. Now that the lazy summer days are ending, the long-awaited beginning of the NFL’s regular season is less than a week away, and football fans have much to be excited for.

A Week Two matchup between Eli Manning’s Giants and Peyton Manning’s Broncos should be an epic contest . It will be the first time the two brothers, both elite NFL quarterbacks, will face each other in an NFL game. Eli has two Super Bowl rings compared to Peyton’s one, but this certainly does not indicate that Eli has nothing to prove. Many NFL commentators look at the raw stats and conclude that Peyton is the better quarterback. (As a heavily biased Giants fan I’d take the guy who twice beat Tom Brady to win it all.) However, Eli leading the Giants to victory over the Broncos could change many minds on how to correctly rank the Manning brothers.

The Packers and the 49ers start the season off with a bang in a Week One contest between two NFC heavyweights. The 49ers and Seahawks will play two tough contests to assert control over the NFC West. The Broncos and Patriots will face off in a classic Manning-Brady matchup in the end of November. In an NFC Championship rematch on Dec. 23, the Falcons and 49ers will meet in a game that could have serious playoff implications. On Oct. 20, the Colts face the Broncos in a golden opportunity for the Colts to assert a renewed elite status post-Manning, this time under the leadership of Andrew Luck.

The Colts’ Luck, the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III  and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson are all entering their sophomore seasons after terrific rookie campaigns. All three highly talented quarterbacks lead their respective teams to surprise playoff berths in 2012. Will they elevate to even greater success this year or suffer from a classic sophomore slump? Will a new class of impressive rookie quarterbacks take the stage?

There are also familiar storylines. It’s make it or break it in Dallas, again. Michael Vick has a new head coach and offensive coordinator to help him lead the Eagles back to the playoffs (hopefully not). Rodgers’ Packers, Brady’s Patriots, Kapernick’s 49ers and Ryan’s Falcons are sure to be in the playoff picture. And Joe Flacco, fresh off a Super Bowl Championship and a new contract extension, is poised to lead a dangerous Ravens team to a repeat championship run.

Watch out for some sleeper teams, who may exceed expectations and make the playoffs.  Cincinnati, Houston, Chicago and Detroit are all on my radar to potentially beat the odds. They have been on the brink of playoff spots for a while, and any one of them could break out with a deep playoff run. Coach Sean Payton is back with Drew Brees and the Saints, ready to reignite their powerful passing offense and return to the playoffs.

But not all stories are as pleasant. Tim Tebow was recently released from the Patriots roster because his chronic inconsistency in the passing game failed to improve. In an almost tragic story of a humble and likeable player whose rare exciting moments of success raised expectations beyond his actual capabilities, Tebow is now without a team, with no obvious suitors in sight.

Aaron Hernandez’s suspected murder charge certainly reflects poorly on the NFL and its players. Matt Russell, directly under John Elway in the Broncos hierarchy, was arrested along with fellow Broncos executive Tom Heckert for driving under the influence of alcohol earlier in the offseason. We all hope that players and team staff will be on their best behaviour throughout this season. No cheating, no off-the-field crime.

Enough of the negative. The thrilling football fun of the 2013 season will culminate in Super Bowl 48 at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, the first time a super bowl will be played in an outdoor, cold weather, stadium. Assuming the notorious meadowlands wind doesn’t combine with various forms of precipitation to inhibit the players’ ability to play at their best, it should be a memorable contest. Hosting the game in New York will lift the games’ nationwide and worldwide appeal to new heights, in addition to the increased revenue that the NFL will gain by holding it near one of America’s biggest cities. But before then, we’ll have five months of highly entertaining football action. The players and fans are ready to go. It’s kick-off time!

Original Author: Ben Horowitz

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