The Super Bowl Mailbag

Why Big Ben v. Brady likely will open the 2015 season. Plus thoughts on Johnny Manziel entering rehab and answers to your questions about Roger Goodell's future as NFL commissioner and Darren Sharper's chances for the Hall of Fame
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Picking up the pieces after a great Super Bowl and an eventful day of follow-up news:

Opening day is 31 weeks away, and the world will come to Foxboro. As is nouveau NFL tradition, the Super Bowl winner opens at home Thursday night on NBC on Sept. 10. (The season seems late this year because Labor Day is late, Sept. 7, and the NFL season always starts the Thursday after Labor Day.) Because the Patriots’ home schedule is particularly weak next year, the NFL probably won’t have much of a choice for its marquee game. New England’s home slate in 2015 shows these possibilities, with 2014 record in parentheses:

• Likeliest—Pittsburgh (11-5) or Philadelphia (10-6). The Steelers or Eagles are most likely, because they’d be competitive offensively.

• Next level, but a stretch—Buffalo (9-7) or Miami (8-8). Probably too big a risk to book the Bills because of the chance of a blowout, despite Buffalo’s good defense. Wild card: The first game of Rex Ryan’s Bills’ career, as he goes to Foxboro to kiss Bill Belichick’s ring, might be tempting. Miami? Meh.

In Defense of Darrell Bevell

On the infamous play call, Seattle had the right look for the slant to work. Andy Benoit writes the interception that clinched Super Bowl 49 was more a function of the Seahawks' limited personnel.


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• Not happening—New York Jets (4-12), Jacksonville (3-13), Tennessee (2-14), Washington (4-12). No comment necessary.

That is one lousy home slate. On the road, other than division teams, the Pats have Denver, Dallas, Indy, the Giants and Houston. The NFL wouldn’t think of switching the Patriots to the road, by the way. The only reason Baltimore opened on the road after winning the Super Bowl two years ago is that the Orioles were home at the same time in downtown Baltimore.

My guess is Pittsburgh. Tom Brady-Ben Roethlisberger is a pretty promotable game.

Vegas actually needs to look at the slate of games—and the division. Not saying Seattle won’t win the Super Bowl next year, but having the Seahawks 5:1 and New England 7:1 doesn’t take into account the schedule. Look at New England’s, and tell me how the Patriots, if Tom Brady stays upright, won’t win 12 or 13 games. Now look at Seattle’s: The Niners and Cards and Rams twice (so the division is tougher), a significantly tougher slate at home (Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Carolina, Cleveland) and maybe slightly tougher on the road (Green Bay, Dallas, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Minnesota).

The Seattle secondary needs some rest and surgery and rehab. With the news that Earl Thomas may need surgery, Richard Sherman will have ligament-replacement surgery in his elbow and nickelback Jeremy Lane has a compound fracture of his arm (a gruesome injury), the Seahawks will need all of the nearly six months before the start of training camp to be sure their vaunted secondary is healthy for opening day.

Johnny Manziel (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Johnny Manziel (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Hoping the best for Johnny Manziel. I think Johnny Manziel achieved so much greatness early in his life that he stopped being a worker bee, which is what you need to be if you’re going to succeed in the NFL. No quarterback today, even one who enters the league immensely talented, ever lasts long without being a worker, and Manziel wasn’t ready when he got his chance to start for the Browns late in the season. That’s on him. It’s clear he’s been too concerned with having fun, and however he’s had it, it’s a good thing for him that he entered rehab for a substance-abuse issue last week, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The only way he’ll have a chance to win the Cleveland starting job in 2015 is to devote everything he has to it, and this is the first step. I know him a little, and he’s a likeable guy. I wish him the best.

He Hate Me. At the risk of making this all about me, I’m going to make this all about me. Last week, I was the pool reporter for the Pro Football Writers of America covering Seattle Seahawks practices. I was standing on the sidelines of practice Friday, inside the Arizona State University football practice bubble, when, after a play was run, Doug Baldwin strode over to me until he was right in front of me. He was not happy. He said angrily: “You’re into this mediocre receiver s---, right? I read your s---."

What? Huh? I truly didn’t know what he was talking about.

Baldwin had anger in his eyes. “You’re one of them!" he said. “I read your s---."

With that, he walked back to practice. Here’s a starting NFL receiver, during a Super Bowl practice, interrupting his role in this workout to come over to a sportswriter to rip him.

This is apparently what Baldwin was referring to, from last week’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, after Baldwin had lost a fumble, dropped a pass, and caught six balls in the NFC Championship Game win over Green Bay. I wrote: “Stop, just stop, Seahawks, with the we-don’t-get-no-respect rants. It’s unbecoming. Doug Baldwin, you’re a good player. But that stuff gets old. Very old, particularly when you and Jermaine Kearse miss balls early, make some plays late, then somehow get motivated against the doubters. Whatever all that means."

Baldwin did something so distasteful after scoring in the Super Bowl that NBC wouldn’t even air the complete replay of his catch and “celebration."

He should spend less time finding phony ways to motivate himself and more time learning what adulthood is like.

Now onto your questions:

I wrote some about Belichick in my column and basically made the point that he prepares not only his players, but also his coaches. Before the players' meeting Saturday night at the team hotel, Belichick had a one-hour meeting with his coaching staff and told the coaches, essentially, to make sure during the game that they were willing to adjust and make changes during the course of the game if they saw things that were wrong. But you’re correct. Belichick is the greatest coach of this era, and, as his old mentor Bill Parcells used to say, it’s not close for second. He continually makes massive roster moves each year and has his team ready to play at a high level fairly early in the season. This year, after a 2-2 start, Belichick’s patience and teaching paid off, and the Patriots were the best team in football for the last four months of the season. He deserves all the praise he gets and certainly will get a lot of it from me.

WILL OWNERS ACT ON GOODELL? What unique skill does Roger Goodell bring? Can we get a commish that doesn't make fans shudder with disgust when he appears on TV?

—Aaron, Nashville, Tenn.

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While the media obsesses over quiet players and PSI, the biggest problems in football go unnoticed. Arizona Cardinals DE Darnell Dockett shines a light on the league's rampant hypocrisy, from concussions to contracts.


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I think we’re reaching an interesting point in Goodell’s tenure. The public and media disdain for him is not going away. Even a situation such as the one he is lording over now, Deflategate in New England, has engendered nothing but criticism and anti-Goodell rhetoric. What happens with the owners if the torrent of criticism doesn’t end? Let’s say he is still getting blasted from all corners by next football season. How long will the owners continue to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of all the negativity surrounding Goodell?

SHARPER HOF CHANCES.You can't possibly envision a scenario under which Darren Sharper is even considered for the Hall of Fame at this point, right?

—Jim, New Orleans

I certainly could. If you’re asking me if I think it’s logical, the answer would be no. But Darren Sharper  will be considered on his football merits alone. That is all that we are allowed to consider when cases of players are brought before our committee. [Sharper, who played 14 seasons for three teams, has been indicted on multiple rape charges in California, Arizona and Louisiana.] I know the public doesn’t believe that we separate someone’s ugly personal life from his football life, but that is what our bylaws tell us to do, and I know at least that is what I do. I think Sharper is probably a borderline candidate anyway, but I included him in the group who'll be eligible in 2016 in yesterday’s column because he is a six-time All-Pro and had several outstanding years in Green Bay and New Orleans.

FUTURE FOR BEVELL.How does Darrell Bevell’s terrible play call that cost his team a Super Bowl victory affect his chances in getting a head coaching position in the near future?

—Dave B., Olympia, Wash.

I doubt he will get one. I didn’t hear his name mentioned very much this year. His window may have closed. I think it will take a lot for him to overcome what happened Sunday. It’s not impossible. If the Seahawks turn into an explosive offense and it’s clear he’s the reason behind it, owners can forgive a bad call. I just wonder if a guy whose chances seemed remote this year will be able to revive his hopes for a head-coaching job in the near future. I know Bevell, and I think he’s a very smart offensive coach. I truly hope he does not have a Bill Buckner-type stigma going forward. But he might, and it’s very hard to shake that.

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