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Draft King Analysis
November 8, 2013
Lou Pickney,

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Just when things couldn't get worse for the Jacksonville Jaguars, including its fanbase finding out late last month that it won't get to see the Cowboys in person next season (with the Dallas game being exported to London), they learned last week that they had lost star wide receiver Justin Blackmon for the rest of the season due to a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Now there are reports that Blackmon is going to rehab, so time will tell what happens there. But it certainly increases the likelihood even more of the Jaguars landing the #1 overall pick.

There were plenty of people who jumped off the Marcus Mariota bandwagon last night, even though Oregon was one more onside kick recovery away from him having an opportunity to lead Oregon to an improbable comeback from a 26-0 fourth quarter deficit on the road against Stanford. Never mind that this started after at least one of his teammates was seen openly crying on the sidelines and with Mariota playing with a partially torn MCL in his left knee, which just came to light today.

The reality is that Mariota remains a strong NFL prospect (22 TDs vs. 0 interceptions in 2013 as of this writing), and while I am still inclined to keep Teddy Bridgewater ranked ahead of him, dropping Mariota down considerably as I've seen a few suggest is, in my estimation, a mistake. I am one of many who like Florida State QB Jameis Winston better than any of the 201 draft-eligible prospects, but since he's not on the table it's immaterial to the argument absent players who might be less inclined to return to school one more year hoping to be the top pick in 2015.

The debut of the Mini Playoffs can't arrive soon enough in I-A/FBS college football, but it has been amusing to me to explain to some novice football fans who cheer for Ohio State why they might not get a crack at the BCS national championship even if they go unbeaten again. Trying to make sense of the senseless to those who haven't been conditioned to accept the status quo of I-A/FBS' horrible post-season system is an exercise in futility, though at least I can do it now without the underlying anger about it continuing. One more season and then we get Fun Size Playoffs. It's not the full 16 team tournament we deserve, but it's an upgrade that is decades overdue.

I'm not sure that there's much I can write about the sordid situation surrounding what happened with Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito in Miami that hasn't been expressed elsewhere. But if the claims that Incognito was encouraged by Miami brass to cajole Martin into participating in a supposedly voluntary workout, the organization could face potential liability, even if they didn't tell Incognito to say some of the horrible things that have been attributed to him.

But the reality is that the NFL is to hazing what casinos are to indoor smoking -- the last bastion of a dying tradition. Liability concerns in this ridiculously litigious modern American society have forced most high schools and colleges to end even mild hazing, ditto for fraternities (though it still goes on there in certain circles on the kayfabe tip), and it seemed strange to me that the NFL never did anything to stop overt displays of it.

Bruce Irvin sacks RG3
Seattle at Washington was a thrilling, if not brutal, playoff game last season.
(Brad Mills - USA TODAY Sports)
Remember the crazy haircut that Tim Tebow was given as a rookie in Denver in 2010? The headline is as blatant as it gets: "Broncos vets haze Tim Tebow." And I get it that there is value in new members of an organization showing respect to those who were already there, but with many anti-hazing laws on the books, it surprised me that this was tolerated from a risk management/lawsuit aversion standpoint.

As far as the draft goes, we're still far away from having anything close to resembling a solid order, but the playoff picture (and thus the 21-32 grouping) looks like this to me right now.

AFC: Broncos/Chiefs, Colts, Patriots, Bengals, eight-way tie for the #6 seed
NFC: Seahawks/49ers, Saints/Panthers, Lions/Packers/Giants, NFC East team

You can make a pretty strong argument for Denver and Kansas City getting two of the spots repping the AFC West, Indianapolis as a two-game lead in the AFC South, New England is doing Patriots-type things in the AFC East, and Cincinnati appears the strongest of the bunch in a weaker AFC North. And while I was joking about the eight-way tie, I can imagine a Week 17 list of teams in range for 9-7 with plenty of "and/or" type scenarios in play. You know, that time of year when the phrase "win or tie" is said more in one week of sportscasts than in the other 51 weeks of the year combined.

Things in the NFC are cloudier. Seattle as a #1 seed with home-field advantage would be fascinating to see play out as a neutral observer. I can see either them or San Francisco hitting the road as the #5 seed taking on whichever team pops out of the mystery machine known as the NFC East, much like the Seahawks did against the Redskins last season. New Orleans went from smooth sailing in the NFC South to having serious competition looming from Carolina, and the NFC North is a three-team race that became much more interesting with Aaron Rodgers' injury this past Monday night. And, much like in the AFC, I can foresee there being a logjam of teams vying for that #6 seed in the NFC as well.

I love the NFL's playoff system and I hope that they don't fix what isn't broken and meddle with it by expanding it. If you want to change something, go back to the double bye system of the early 1990s, expand the season by one week (still 16 games per team -- don't get greedy) and make your extra scratch that way. There is enough of an opportunity for teams to improve quickly and become playoff contenders to give hope, and like I've written many times before, hope sells tickets. But if you go from 12 to 14 teams in the playoffs, at that point nearly half the league gets in there and you take some value away from the regular season, at least in my estimation.


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