As we move closer to the Super Bowl in a week and a half, we move closer to the end of the NFL season. This particular year, the end of the season brings with it more than the normal, “How will I survive my weekends without football to occupy my time” trepidation. The end of this season brings a question that should never be asked by a football fan: “Will there be football in 2011?”
I don’t want to spend any time on the how’s and the why’s of how America’s most successful and profitable professional sports business could come to a crashing stop. I don’t want to place blame on anyone, even if they actually deserve blame. No, I just want to quantify how the three likely scenarios (and the one, suicidal nuclear scenario) involving a lockout will affect the team I follow, the Atlanta Falcons.
In scenario number 1, the scenario that every single red-blooded American football fan prays for, there is no lockout. Sane men meet in the month of February and learn to share their millions in a way that is fair, that introduces a rookie salary cap (thus diminishing the power of certain men of low intentions), that boots the ridiculous idea of an 18 game season, and that allows all players to report to mini-camps and off-season workouts to prepare for a great 2011 season. I realize that this is second-least likely scenario to happen out of the four, but I can dream, can’t I? This scenario would of course have the minimum impact upon the Falcons. Or would it?
As made painfully obvious by their embarrassing playoff beat down at the hands of the Packers (at home), the Falcons have some changes they must make to their team philosophy. Basically, they need to become more aggressive in coaching offense and defense. Mike Smith needs to stop coaching scared. With a full off-season of work and meetings with the smartest GM in the NFL, Thomas Dimitroff, it would boggle my mind if Smith couldn’t be persuaded to change or adapt his football philosophy; to take the shackles off of Matt Ryan and the offense, and to allow Brian Van Gorder to coach the Falcons’ defense as he once did the Georgia defenses that dominated the SEC for the first few years of the 00’s. In that vein of thinking, this scenario would have a fairly large impact on the Falcons and how the team would look for the 2011 season. They would be similar to the 2010 team, but they would be more dangerous and more effective, and dare-I-say-it… more dominating (which, even with 13 wins, they never were particularly dominating). Dimitroff and Smith are smart football men, even though Smith seems far too stubborn for his own good. In this scenario, I could see the Falcons (if they decide to be more aggressive as a team) in a three-way battle with the Saints and Bucs for the NFC South title and making the playoffs at 12-4.
In scenario number 2, there is a lockout causing teams to miss all of the mini-camps, rookie camps, and off-season workouts, not to mention any free agent signing period, but the lockout ends just before the start of training camps. The NFL pushes back the start of the season by two weeks, giving all teams a week to sign free agents and an additional week of practices to get their rookies and free agents up to speed in the team’s playbook. In this scenario, I don’t see the 2011 Falcons from being much different than the 2010 Falcons in the beginning of the season. Thought it could go either way, I see the team continuing to play Martyball to the consternation of fans. Smith will continue to handcuff Ryan and not allow him to run the no-huddle offense any more than he has in the past, even though Ryan is almost as masterful in Atlanta’s no-huddle as Peyton Manning is in his. As the season progresses, the Falcons should be able to open up the offense more, but Mike Smith is a creature of habit as a coach, and that speculation is just that, speculation. In this scenario, I see the Falcons adding a few new wrinkles to their offense and defense, but finishing no better than a 10-6 team, battling it out for the wild card six-seed.
In scenario number 3, the lockout extends until September, and the free agent and training camp period are so compressed to bring the season in three weeks late, that the Falcons are not able to do anything different than they did in 2010. In this scenario, I don’t envision the team approaching the success in 2011 that they had this past season. I see 8-8 or 9-7 and no playoff birth. Playing Martyball simply won’t get it done anymore in Atlanta, and this is the scenario that hurts the Falcons the most, because it forces them to keep their philosophies intact, and doesn’t allow the coaching staff to take better advantage of their personnel (such as Harry Douglas on offense and Sean Witherspoon on defense) that could use more plays designed for their speed and skill. It is in mini-camps and training camp where coaches can really change and improve their team. Without that time, the Falcons are doomed. It goes without saying that they’re doomed anyway if Mike Smith proves intractable when it comes to adapting his team philosophy to better suit the modern NFL. I like Smitty. I want him to win a Super Bowl for the Falcons. I don’t want him to end up like this guy who refused to evolve, who was too stubborn to change; because that’s a road that Smith is in peril of treading.
And what’s the suicidal, nuclear option that’s facing the Falcons and the NFL if a new collective bargaining agreement can’t be reached with the NFLPA? Do I even have to say the words? I’ll just let you click on the links to this guy and this guy to remember what two idiots who allow their leagues to be shut down look like.
If the nuclear scenario goes into effect, NFL fans across the nation (and Antonio Cromartie’s 79 kids) will be the ones who suffer the most. Those of us who also love college football equally (or even more so) will suffer less, of course. Well, that is, unless you’re a fan of a college team coming off of it’s worst season in 15 years sporting an embattled coach and a fan and alumni base divided over the fact that the coach was brought back. Then it could quite possibly be the worst autumn of your life if that program isn’t restored to glory and there’s no NFL to soothe your pain. I’d hate to be that guy.
Oh, wait… crap.
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