Kit Talks (At Length) About Football
The Fair Hooker Memorial All-Silly Name Team for 2014

Some notes before we begin:

  • No 2014 rookies were included because of the limits of the Pro Football Reference Positional Search. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix will have to wait until next year.
  • Players must be on a roster as of today.
  • Offensive Lineman, Defensive Lineman, and Defensive Backs were picked without regard to individual positions.
  • Fair Hooker was a reciever for the early 70s Cleveland Browns whose name almost gave Don Meredith a fatal laughing fit on Monday Night Football.
  • The New York Jets, befitting their misfit culture, have the most goofy names with six. No other team had more than three representatives.

QB: McLeod Bethel-Thompson, San Francisco 49ers
RBs:  Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons. Fozzy Whittaker, Carolina Panthers.
WRs: Juron Criner, Oakland Raiders. Kealoha Pilares, Carolina Panthers
TE:  Justice Cunningham, St. Louis Rams.
OL:  Gosder Cherilus, Indianapolis Colts. King Dunlap, San Diego Chargers. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets. Breno Giacomini, New York Jets.  Guy Whimper, Pittsburgh Steelers.
DL: Leger Douzable, New York Jets. Tevita Finau, New York Jets. Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens.  Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers.
LB: Tim Fugger, New York Jets. Joplo Bartu, Atlanta Falcons.  Ja’Gared Davis, New England Patriots.
DB:Chykie Brown, Baltimore Ravens. Ras-I Dowling, New York Jets. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota Vikings. Mistral Raymond, Minnesota Vikings.
K: Ryan Succop, Kansas City Chiefs
P: Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots. [note: wiki page redirects to Zoltan Mesko, Hungarian Nazi Collaborator]

AFC Roundup (again, do not add up the projected records, they probably aren’t going to make sense):

AFC North:
Bengals
Ravens
Steelers
Browns

AFC South:
Colts
Texans
Titans
Jaguars

AFC East:
Patriots
Bills
Dolphins
Jets

AFC West:
Broncos
Chargers
Chiefs
Raiders

Wild Cards: Chargers, Ravens

NFC Roundup (Don’t add up the projected records from before.)

NFC North:
Packers
Bears
Lions
Vikings

NFC South:
Saints
Falcons
Bucs
Panthers

NFC East:
Eagles
Cowboys
[REDACTED]
Giants

NFC West:
Seahawks
49ers
Rams
Cardinals

Wild card teams: 49ers, Bears

Seattle Seahawks: World Champions

There was no doubt after Sunday who the champion of the NFL was. There was no room for Denver fans to complain, no turning point they could point to. They were beaten, and well beaten. There was no question that the Seahawks were the best team that day. The only question is whether we saw a crowning, or a coronation.

I tend towards the latter. This is a young team, a great team, and a team that can throw more than one look at you. This is a team that dominates while going against accepted practices; the Seahawks were one of five teams that ran more than they passed. They’re a young team that locked up its biggest components for years. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas both got big money extensions, and they are doubtlessly the best at corner and safety, respectively. They’re a team with flair, and with the best collection of nicknames since the 1970s Raiders. I can’t be the only person who isn’t yet sick of shouting “Legion of BOOM” every time Kam Chancellor pushes someone’s nosebone into their brain.

This is still a salary cap league, and you can’t keep everyone. Some hard decisions are going to be made; some already have been made, as Golden Tate was sent to the Lions. The moment of cap reckoning will come when Russell Wilson comes out from under his absurd rookie contract—Wilson is making 900k this year, probably the lowest of any projected starter, and with the market for quarterbacks his deal is unlikely to be a cap-friendly one. Decade spanning dynasties are a thing of the standard-definition past, but for the next two or three years, I can’t see anyone getting past this Seahawks team.

Projected Record: 14-2

Next Year’s Highlight Title: WORLDSTAR

San Francisco 49ers: Farewell Candlestick

I hate the thought of Candlestick Park not existing anymore. The gentrification of sports staidums is not even close to the most important thing about the way cities are pushing out their less photogenic residents, and isn’t even the worst thing about San Francisco’s gentrification specifically at the current moment. But now the Niners have, instead of the rowdy, weird-looking, unpredictably windy, confines of Candlestick, the pristine, safe, ergonomically designed, state of the art, free from the potentially violent underclass, Levi’s Stadium, which isn’t even in San Francisco proper, but rather Santa Clara. It is envrionmentally sustainable, and can also double as a security bunker for the Yorks and DeBartolos should the coming class wars ever come to pass.

But away from the twin downers of nostalgia and radical Marxism we must turn. The 49ers have been built by human cartoon character Jim Harbaugh into a powerful force very quickly. It’d be easy to ascribe this to sheer personality, and Harbaugh is probably the only man on Earth whose outsized personality could make such a claim plausible. Harbaugh’s mind is also a strategic one, and no one active has a broader understanding or a more chimeric approach to the game. Take the way that Harbaugh can go from staid pocket passing Alex Smith to Weapon of the Future Colin Kaepernick without the offense missing a beat. Take the way keys to the defense like Takeo Spikes and Dashon Goldson can leave and only hurt their own stock. Harbaugh might have a mstery of more concepts, both offensive and defensive, of any coach since Tom Landry.

Coaching matters in the NFL more than in any other sport. A manager’s decisions affect at most five games per year in baseball, and a good coach in basketball is mostly a masseuse of egos. Football is heirarchical and has been since the Paul Brown Coaching Classroom opened its doors in the late 1940s. As proof, I cite the 2013 Divisional playoff, and the 2013 season opener, both against the Packers. After putting the quietus on the Kaepernick read-option for four weeks, Harbaugh unleashed it with fury against the Packers with record-setting results. That offseason, Dom Capers took the Packers defense to Texas A&M over the summer, where they practiced against the Johnny Football zone read. They had it down in lock-step; every alley was patrolled perfectly, which was no help as the ball went sailing over their heads, and Kaepernick had the best passing day of his career. Harbaugh outclassed Mike McCarthy, who is no slouch himself at coaching, so thoroughly that they may as well have not played. If we follow the football-as-chess metaphor, that makes Jim Harbaugh Garry Kasparov, playing six people at once for the hell of it.

Projected Record: 12-4

Next Year’s Highlight Film: Deep Gold

A Comprehensive History of Mediocre To Bad Quarterbacks With Postseason Appearances, Part The First: 1970

Virgil Carter, Cincinnati Bengals. Virgil Carter was an emergency measure after Greg Cook was decommissioned with a career-ending shoulder injury. Offensive Coordinator Bill Walsh found himself out of necessity shortening all the deep routes in his playbook to accomodate the noodle-armed Carter. Carter had a respectable completion percentage, but in 1970 he averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, 21st out of 24 qualifiers. This suggests that his completions weren’t exactly difficult ones. The Bengals made the playoffs with an 8-6 record and were shut out by the Colts in the first round, but the West Coast offense was born by the banks of the Ohio River. Carter was supplanted by Kenny Anderson the next year, and signed with the World Football League in 1974.

Greg Landry, Detroit Lions. Landry was an unpredictable scrambler with problems with injury proneness and accuracy. There is nothing new under the sun. Landry was in an eternal controversy with the more boring but not necessarily more reliable Bill Munson for the majority of his career. The Lions lost their first round game 5-0 to the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round. That scoreline stands on its own. Landry never made it to the playoffs again, and eventually constant injury took away his mobility.

Gary Cuozzo, Minnesota Vikings. Cuozzo was a career backup thrust into the starting role for the Inter-Fran period of Vikings history. He went 16-4 in two-ish years as the Vikings starter, despite a completion percentage below 50%. I am so glad this happened in the days before the ESPN “Embrace Debate” era, because Skip Bayless would go to bat for this guy like they were in the Sacred Band of Thebes together. The Vikings rode on the Purple People Eater defense, and most people were just along for the ride. Cuozzo was shipped out in 1972 when Fran returned to his kingdom, and after a disastrous year with the St. Louis Cardinals he retired to pursue his love of orthodontics. Sure, okay, whatever, bye.

Craig Morton, Dallas Cowboys. It’s slightly unfair to group Morgan in with the Gary Cuozzos of the world; he was a competent quarterback. In 1970 he put up a 15-7 TD-INT split, respectable in any era. Morton’s problem, historically speaking, is that he was the guy who kept the seat warm for Roger Staubach. In 1970 Staubach was still an unbroken colt, chucking eight picks in three games, and was regarded as an undisciplined freelancer. Morton could be counted on to execute Tom Landry’s complicated playbook without improvising, almost to a fault. Sometimes passes fell incomplete because he threw to where he expected his first reciever to be, rather than observing how the play had actually unfolded and checking down. With Duane Thomas in the backfield and Doomsday lining up opposite, Morton did not have to do much to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl against the Colts, in what was probably the worst Super Bowl of all time.

Arizona Cardinals: Team Is What It Takes

The NFC West is split into the Haves and the Still Haves, and life is difficult for the Still Haves. Everything broke the Cardinals’ way in 2013, and they still missed the playoffs by a game. One would assume that the upward swing of last year would be sustained, if one subscribes to the Great Men Of History theory and trusts in Bruce Arians. Arians had an impressive first year as head coach, but much tougher challenges remain.

The biggest problem with assuming that the new coach updraft will continue is a simple one: just because the coach is new doesn’t mean all the players revert to rookies. The Cardinals are old, and have managed to get older this offseason, adding Antonio Cromartie and asking Larry Foote to step up to a starter at linebacker. Both are the wrong side of thirty, making them two of seventeen Cardinals 30 or over. Their quarterback, Carson Palmer, is 35, but that’s okay because his surgically repaired knees are only five and nine years old, respectively.

Despite that bit of shade I just threw at Palmer, he had a surprisingly good year last year, and has a very good offensive line in front of him. The defense is led by Patrick Peterson, in the conversation for best corner in the league, and have surrounded him with Cromartie, a ballhawk who is an ideal second corner, Tyrann Mathieu, whom you may know better as The Honey Badger, and new safety Deone Bucanon. This is not an entirely feckless team. It’s just going to look that way for at least six games.

Projected Record: 4-12

Next Year’s Highlight Title: We’ve Seen Worse

St. Louis Rams: Gateway to Greatness

By my unscientific reckoning (seriously, don’t add up the projected records, I’m certain they don’t add up), The Rams would win two divisions, and would finish second in four others. They would be in a fierce three-way dogfight in the NFC North. But in this timeline, the darkest timeline, they are stuck behind Seattle and San Francisco, and the distance between them might as well be the literal physical distance between the cities involved. At a macro level, success in this league is more timing than anything else.

The strength of St. Louis lies with their defensive line, which is simply uncontainable. Robert Quinn was unbelievable, pacing the league with 19 sacks, and when you look at the unofficial stats it gets even more incredible: he was credited with a hurry 43 times, unofficially second in the league and drew seven offensive holding penalties, which are as good as a sack in most situations. Chris Long at the other end contributed nine and a half sacks, Rookie Aaron Donald joins third year pro Michael Brockers as the starting defensive tackles, and possibly picking up snaps as a situational pass rusher is Michael Sam, some guy who was in the news for something or other. This is an overwhelming front four, one that can be counted on to generate envy, despair, and appearances by backup quarterbacks.

This is not to say that the Rams are without weakness. Good teams build from the lines out, as the maxim goes, but it’s not exactly clear to what purpose the Rams offensive line is blocking. Sam Bradford has not lived up to his number one pick billing, and has to be thanking multiple Gods that he has the last rookie contract from before the current CBA, which put a cap on rookie contracts. Some would call him a thief, and they’ll be happy to know that Brian Schottenheimer’s terribly frightened and conservative playcalling has him in handcuffs. I’ll let the great Mike Tanier extrapolate more on that. The Rams have the ability to win a lot of 13 to 9 games, but they also are at risk for losing many more 16 to 13 games.

Projected Record: 10-6

Next Year’s Highlight Title: Why Can’t We Be In The East?

Denver Broncos: From Denver to New York Via Omaha

Jesus wept, this is the worst title yet, I almost don’t want to do this anymore. But there are just five teams left. I must see this out. I must be strong.

I was in the envious position this Super Bowl of having a fondness for both teams. But when the game played out, I was left disheartened, because all I could think was “Jesus, they’re never going to shut up about him now.”  A debate about Peyton Manning’s legacy was about to make the rounds, the most ridiculous extended debate in our history. Talking with someone about whether or not Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is like talking with a 9/11 truther. You’re not going to convince them of anything, but you still need to shut them down just in case any undecided people are listening. Stop saying Peyton Manning isn’t clutch. Stop it. That isn’t even a thing. Stop it right now. He’s a singular talent that could play in any era in the league’s history. It was so odd to me when his OMAHA cadence fakeout went viral; didn’t people notice that he did something similar almost every game? Manning calls his own plays at a time when no one else does and is basically his own offensive coordinator. No player carries that much value.

Manning is so good that it is liberating to have him; if you have Peyton Manning, you no longer need to invest quite so heavily in receivers, since he creates his own, like Marvin the Martian’s instagrow minions.  With an alchemist on the offensive side able to make receivers out of flan, Denver was free to invest heavily in their exposed defense. Aqib Talib came in to give the secondary a boost; he is one of the best in the game, although he does occasionally let his emotions get the best of him.. The big get was DeMarcus Ware, a surefire hall of famer who came into camp six inches thinner and fifteen pounds lighter. Losing six inches off your waist usually means losing a lot more than fifteen pounds of fat, so that means that this weight loss is more a matter of redistribution. We’re about to see DeMarcus Ware at the strongest he’s ever been, and that might be enough to get Denver to repeat in the AFC.

Projected Record: 13-3

Next Year’s Highlight Title: Seriously, Who Are You People That Watch Football And Don’t Know What Peyton Manning Is About

Kansas City Chiefs: A Ground Shaking Season

This Chiefs team is essentially the same as the one that went 11-5 last year, which was more or less the same as the team that went 2-14 the year prior. Baseball statheads like to shout “SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!” at anyone who’s having too much fun, but in the NFL all we have are small samples; the biggest they get is sixteen games against thirteen teams. There’s a lot of room in there for things to go crosseyed and seasons to be unrepresentative of their contributors. While this group is definitely not a group deserving of a 2-14 record, 11-5 might also be inaccurate.

Andy Reid was able to make a huge contribution just by being alive, a marked difference from Romeo Crenell, who actually died in the TWA 800 disaster of 1997. The question now becomes if he can get this team over the hump. The team he has constructed in roughly a year looks an awful lot like his Eagles teams, which could be spun in either direction. A defense functioning on the chaos theory gives breathing room to an offense powered by a do-everything running back. While I certainly don’t mean to equate Alex Smith with Donovan McNabb, Dwayne Bowe could start signing his autographs with “James Thrash” and no one would even notice.

The Chiefs’ schedule this year looks prohibitively tougher this year as well. The difference between playing the NFC West and the NFC East can be measured in astronomical units. And even though this year’s Chiefs seem on paper marginally weaker, last year’s team would still have been given fits by the Seahawks and 49ers, and even the Rams and Cardinals. This year will give the Chiefs a sensible picture of just how far they have to go to become a true contender, and they need to keep the big picture in mind and not panic when the record shows a step back. Sample Size.

Projected Record: 8-8

Next Year’s Highlight Title: We’re Still Louder Than Seattle So Eat It