The Schein Nine  

 

Setting the record straight: Playoff seeding fine; Packers' D is OK

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It's the middle of December, and the rapid-fire "hot takes" are flying as the 2014 NFL regular season winds down.

Not so fast, folks.

In this edition of the Schein Nine, let's evaluate -- and debunk -- nine popular notions wrongly taking root in the league.

1) The NFL needs to reconsider playoff seeding

Yes, this year's NFC South has been one of the worst divisions since realignment, with the 5-8 Falcons currently "winning" the race for the top spot -- and the home playoff date that comes with it. But the overreaction to this blip drives me nuts.

In the offseason, I wrote a column saying the division would be the most competitive and field four good teams. In the preseason, I predicted the last-place team would win seven games. Nobody batted an eye. All four squads were variously picked by different pundits to win nine or more games.

The New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers are all underachieving in the same year. They could all easily bounce back next year, with the right kind of offseason. This situation isn't representative of the norm, and the format shouldn't be changed.

Divisional rivalries are among the most intense in the NFL. There's a reason all but two of the games on Thursday night this year (the season opener between Seattle and Green Bay and Cowboys-Bears last week) are divisional bouts. Teams draft to beat the others in their division; divisions create the most drama in the league.

Sure, it would be painful to be a player, coach or fan of a 10-win team that misses the posteason while a six- or seven-win squad hosts a playoff game. But, to quote the great Bill Belichick, "It is what it is." The benefits of the current format outweigh the one negative.

Remember 2010, when nobody thought the 7-9 Seahawks could beat the 11-5 Saints in the wild-card round? Well, it happened, and the Seattle upset added to that playoff experience.

It isn't ideal that a bad team will be rewarded with a home game in the playoffs. But it's a fluke. The system works.

2) A wide receiver will be the Offensive Rookie of the Year

You can make a very intelligent argument that this is the single greatest rookie receiver draft class in NFL history, and you can base that argument upon the sheer volume of neophyte pass catchers who have stepped in and made an immediate impact. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews and Brandin Cooks (who, unfortunately, is now on injured reserve) have all been fantastic. Guys like Jarvis Landry and Davante Adams have been strong. Evans has incredible numbers. Beckham has been consistently dominant lately, while putting up highlight-reel circus catches.

But the best offensive rookie this season doesn't play a glamour position or help your fantasy team. Barring anything unforeseen, I will be casting my vote for Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin.

Yes, the guy Stephen Jones helped convince his dad to select over Johnny Manziel last May has been the elite player in a stellar class of first-year offensive pros. Martin's domination from Day 1 has buttressed running back DeMarco Murray's sensational season, while also giving Tony Romo time to throw. Martin has been the best, most consistent and most important rookie on offense this year.

3) The Packers' defense was exposed Monday

Are you kidding me? The fact that this sentiment took hold in some circles following Green Bay's 43-37 win over the Atlanta Falcons is ridiculous.

At halftime, the Packers were up 31-7. The game was over. Green Bay's play-by-play voice, Wayne Larrivee, characterized a first-half touchdown as a "dagger" -- and he wasn't being outlandish. The Packers took their feet off the gas pedal and the Falcons took advantage of the lack of aggressiveness to come back. Forget the final score; this was a blowout.

And if you think Green Bay's defense isn't improved and legit, you missed the Week 13 win over the Patriots. Save the nonsense for someone else.

4) The loser of Cowboys-Eagles will miss the postseason

I think Dallas and Philadelphia will both be playing in the postseason, regardless of what happens in their NFC East showdown Sunday night.

If you saw how the Colts had to fight to sneak past the Cleveland Browns last week, you can easily conjure a scenario in which Dallas beats Indy in Week 16. Philly, meanwhile, finishes with Washington and the Giants -- two gift wins.

I think Detroit has a greater chance of slipping than the runner-up in the NFC East.

5) Jadeveon Clowney is a bust

This notion makes me crazy -- and it really does the same to Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien. Appearing last week on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," O'Brien rushed to Clowney's defense, citing the No. 1 overall pick's work ethic and love of football. Clowney's injuries were real, as evidenced by the fact he had to go on injured reserve and have microfracture surgery on his knee.

His availability at the start of the 2015 season is in question, but I think Clowney, who is a special athlete, will work his way back. It's way too premature to write him off.

6) Pittsburgh is steaming toward the playoffs

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The Steelers notched an impressive win against the Bengals last week, but I'm not ready to hand a postseason berth to Pittsburgh quite yet. The Steelers finish with the Falcons in Atlanta and the Chiefs and Bengals at home. Will they go 3-0? 0-3? Anywhere in between?

I do think Cleveland beats Cincy on Sunday, which will help the Ravens' cause if Baltimore -- which finishes with the Jaguars, Texans and Browns -- runs the table. Pittsburgh has a chance, but we should pump the brakes when it comes to printing playoff tickets.

Suddenly, by the way, the final portion of the Chargers' schedule -- against the Broncos, Niners and Chiefs -- doesn't look so daunting. I expect the Bolts, currently in line for a wild-card spot, to make it.

7) Marc Trestman is a dead man walking

If the Chicago Bears put up another prime-time no-show in Monday's game against the Saints, Trestman should be cooked. The Bears' play and lack of interest this season has been pathetic.

But history suggests Chicago will give Trestman one more year, regardless of the outcome this week. I think the organization would like to see this through -- though if the Bears keep losing, anything is possible.

8) The Saints need to prioritize taking a quarterback high in the draft

Drew Brees hasn't played well at all this year. And I haven't received any nasty tweets from Saints fans like I did last winter, when I went through my groupings of quarterbacks and didn't call Brees elite. But rather than putting a new signal-caller atop its wish list, New Orleans must prioritize fixing its defense, in addition to finding a new defensive coordinator. The Saints also need to address the offensive line and figure out what to do with resurgent running back Mark Ingram -- whose contract runs out after this season -- before talking about a young gunslinger.

9) Players don't scoreboard watch

Yes, they do. And they should.

I talked to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Thursday's "Schein on Sports," and Flacco quipped that "of course" he watches the scoreboard. Actually, he specifically cited "NFL RedZone," which he uses to track the Steelers, Bengals and Browns.

Welcome to the beauty of the AFC North. And thanks to the red-hot Flacco -- who, as I hinted above, will lead the Ravens to the playoffs -- for being honest.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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