The League

POSTED AT 11:08 AM ET, 02/ 9/2011

There will be no work stoppage

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After accurately predicting a Packers victory in the Super Bowl, I'd like to take some more stabs at forecasting the future.

I predict that The King's Speech will win the Oscar for Best Picture, and Michelle Williams will win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Blue Valentine.

I predict that Carmelo Anthony will be traded before the NBA trading deadline ... but not to the Knicks or Nets.

I predict that tonight will be "Taco Night" in my household.

And, despite all of the dire predictions from other quarters, I hereby predict that there will be no work stoppage in the NFL. None.

I make this prediction not only as a football fan and contributor to the League, but as a management-side labor and employment lawyer.

Let me say it again: there will be no work stoppage.

Why?

Because Commissioner Roger Goodell is too smart to let that happen.

And NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith is too smart to let that happen, too. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that Smith is a law school classmate of mine. I didn't know him long or well, but knew him long enough and well enough to say that he knows what he's doing.)

Labor negotiations are about positioning, and both Goodell and Smith have played their hands well so far.

Both have come across as savvy and reasonable, which is twice as many savvy and reasonable people as you sometimes see at the negotiating table.

Goodell has proposed extending the season to 18 games, which is sheer genius. The proposal gives him an artificial bargaining chip in the upcoming labor negotiations. He can make it appear that he is giving away something tangible if he agrees to keep the season at 16 weeks, when of course he is giving away nothing at all should he do that. And he is doing well in the arena of public opinion by saying he wants a deal done quickly, and that he will work for $1 in 2011. (If that occurs, don't cry for Goodell. His 2010 salary was $10 million. If he works for $1, his average salary for the two years will be $5,000,000.50. I'm sure he'll find a way to get by.)

Like a consummate chess player, Smith has matched Goodell at every turn. He's never appeared panicky or over-eager. He warned the players on his first day in his new position that he expected a lockout, encouraging them to save their money. It was a brilliant opening move. In so doing, he has created a situation where, at worst, he will be correct if there is a lockout and, at best, he will be a savior if he can help avoid it. He's played in the injury card in opposing an 18-game season, as he should. And he's offered to work for less than Goodell's proposed $1 salary if a deal isn't worked out.

At some point soon, the two will sit down and figure out a way to keep from killing the golden goose. The details will take some time, but look for them to reach some compromises. They might include:

1) Expanding the season to 19 weeks, but keeping a 16-game schedule, meaning that each team will get three bye weeks. This compromise would mean several weeks of additional TV revenue for the league and the players, while addressing the very real concern about player safety by giving them a few weeks off to rest and recuperate. That's called a win-win.

2) Setting a rookie salary cap. That will allow more money to be funneled to veteran players without increasing the overall pool. That's a win-win for the owners and player. A loss for incoming players, who have no one looking out for their interests as they aren't members of the union yet.

3) Some tweaking to the overall salary cap, which no one understands anyway. Don't be surprised to see the "franchise" player designation going away.

4) A renegotiation of players' compensation for merchandise and video game sales.

5) New uniforms for the Cincinnati Bengals. I know this is well outside traditional labor negotiations, but something really needs to be done. It's embarrassing for grown men to wear those things. Maybe after Goodell and Smith have worked everything else out and sit back to share a few drinks, they can do something about this.

When all is said and done, the 2011 season will kick off as planned.

If I'm wrong, we will have plenty of time to replay the Super Bowl on our DVRs next fall, watching Aaron Rodgers step out of the shadows of the last guy who played quarterback for Green Bay (I've already forgotten his name), watching karma catch up with Ben Roethlisberger, and watching Christina Aguilera mess up the lyrics to the national anthem.

As for me, I plan to rewatch the beautiful sight of fighter jets flying over the stadium as part of the pre-game festivities. Flying over a stadium where the roof was closed, mind you.

BY Michael Kun  

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POSTED AT 1:10 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

That was it?

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Outside of being told how the ending play outs, there's nothing worse than when someone hypes up a movie before you've seen it. Because you know it doesn't stand a chance to live up to the hype.

This year's Super Bowl was easily the best matchup I've seen in recent history. As long as you weren't a fan of a rival team, it was hard not to get excited for Steelers-Packers. Both teams are rich in history, both could move the ball offensively and both were stout defensively. The game really had the makings of something great.

Then it played itself out and after two weeks of hype, I was left thinking to myself, "That was it?"

If this was the last game before a lockout wipes out all of next season, Super Bowl XLV should not be remembered for how it didn't live up to the hype. It should be remembered for the way the Packers did the impossible by overcoming injuries during the regular season only to barely make the playoffs, run over three very good teams in their home stadiums and then beat a Steelers squad that had won two of the last six Super Bowls.

XLV should be remembered for the way Aaron Rodgers outperformed Big Ben. It should be remembered for vindicating Ted Thompson, who absolutely made the right decision committing to Rodgers when Brett Favre was doing his annual retirement dance in 2008. It should be remembered for the way Dom Capers did some of the finest second-half coaching we'll ever see. (The guy lost two of his top three cornerbacks but didn't allow that to be his excuse as to why the Packers didn't win.) It should be remembered for the way the Packers battled adversity to the bitter end and yet still emerged victorious.

That's what Super Bowl XLV should be remembered for. But I still can't shake the fact that it was a lousy game.

Packer fans don't want to hear the game described that way because in their eyes, it tarnishes their victory. But using the term "lousy" doesn't mean that I think the Packers weren't deserving of victory or that the Steelers lost more than Green Bay won. On the contrary: I'm glad to see that the Steelers lost considering they didn't deserve to win based on how they played. I'm glad to see that Rodgers won the MVP because he was clearly the best player on the field. I'm glad to see that the coaching staff that made better decisions and adjustments won and the staff that didn't lost.

But in the end, no, it didn't live up to the hype. The drops and turnovers made the game extremely choppy and there was absolutely no flow throughout. Pittsburgh's two best players on both sides of the ball (Big Ben and Troy Polamalu) saved their worst performances for the biggest game of the season and it was crushing to see Rodgers' near-perfect outing go up in smoke because his receivers couldn't hold onto the ball. Some fans will say that because the game was close throughout and was high-scoring that it was exciting. But you're kidding yourself if you think that was a well-executed performance by either team.

Throw in Christina Aguilera's issues with the National Anthem, a set of weak commercials and Studio Magic's (sorry, the Black Eyed Peas') performance at halftime and you had the makings of a disappointing Super Bowl experience this year.

With a lockout looming, I know I was left unsatisfied.

BY Anthony Stalter  

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POSTED AT 1:02 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

One to treasure

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This year's Super Bowl should be remembered for showcasing two of the finest franchises in sports. Everyone at NFL headquarters in New York is, no doubt, jumping for joy over the close game and record ratings. But it isn't just a fanatical diaspora of fans or even the collective championships of the Packers and Steelers that made this Super Bowl such a marquee matchup.

What I enjoyed seeing most was two teams, with quality coaches and great front office people, have their patience and vision rewarded with a spot in the final game of the season.

Few sports can boast the level playing field that exists in the NFL. Green Bay is the smallest market in the NFL. Pittsburgh - with apologies to my Western PA family - isn't a glamor city like New York, Chicago, or Dallas. Both cities are certainly thankful for the structure of the league and revenue-sharing that exists.

But in this era of high-priced free agents, knee-jerk reactions, and armchair quarterbacks second guessing every play and acquisition, it was the NFL who was thankful it could feature two examples of first-rate management as much as first-rate players.

Soon to be forgotten from this Super Bowl will be the Texas snow (and the even worse weather response by the City of Dallas), the travesty of fans not getting seats for the game, and the exorbitant prices for just about everything ("thank you Mr. Valet, I can park my own car").

But I hope, what people remember is that it featured something that isn't tracked as closely as QB rating or yards from scrimmage.

It truly featured the Best in Class of the NFL, with an emphasis on the class.

BY Jason Maloni  

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POSTED AT 11:04 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

A deal will get done

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Super Bowl XLV was the last game of the 2010 NFL football season. Will it be the last game for quite sometime? Only the NFLPA and Owners have that answer.

Either way, the game was not as thrilling as many thought it was going to be. For all the prestige and hype surrounding the game it was very sloppy with dropped passes all over the place. Ben Roethlisberger didn't live up to his Big Ben hype either.

Most of all this last game of 2010 shall be remembered as the first game for Aaron Rodgers as an elite quarterback. Also, it should be remembered as the game where he defeated the ghost of Brett Favre and became the reigning light heavyweight champion of Titletown.

If this doesn't seem like a somber, get-all-choked-up post with a hint of impending doom of a labor lockout, that's because it isn't. There will be football in 2011, and it will be played on time. The owners and NFLPA know that football is at a premium right now in this country. There is too much money to be lost with a labor lockout. Both sides now this, and a deal will be done, no later than June 1st. Mark my words (as I trot off to eat breakfast with my Broadway Joe finger in the air).

BY Richard Boadu & Claude Clayborne  

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POSTED AT 10:54 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

Rodgers emerges

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For fans of the Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl 45 will be something they remember for the rest of their lives. But will it be remembered by the non-team fanatic? I have gotten into so many conversations this week, where we try and remember who even played in the Super Bowl in a particular year. With all the pageantry, and frankly all the drinking and trips over to the same friend's house year-after-year, they can sometimes blend into one another. I get confused whether the Steelers played the Seahawks or the Cardinals in their last Super Bowl. Maybe this one will be more memorable because it's the first for the Packers in almost 15 years.

This particular game might be memorable for some as the Steelers fought back from an early 21-3 deficit. They got the score as close as three points before the Packers increased it with a late field goal. Not a classic game of back and forth, just a major opening barrage by one team before their opponent could rally. But for the average fan, a big reason to remember this game is the emergence of QB Aaron Rodgers. He joins a short list of active NFC quarterbacks, along with Drew Bress and Eli Manning, who now can be referred to as a Super Bowl winning quarterback. That's an amazing accomplishment, and he'll be a deadly player for years to come.

Of course the problem now is that the owners are expected to lock the players out in early March. While I was in Dallas, I had the chance to listen to Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones. They didn't seem likely to back down from the 18-game schedule and Jones even compared the current bargaining agreement to the recent Wall Street financial crisis. They want it now before it's too late for the league's financial future, or so said Jerry Jones.

On the other hand, the NFL Players Association does not want the 18-game schedule, and by their own calculation, their share of total revenues may be dipped below fifty percent. It sure sounds like a lockout is coming in 2012. Whether it leads to the cancellation or postponement of the 2011 season is only a guess. But if there is no 2011, while it might have not been the most dramatic Super Bowl win in recent years, it will at least have left Packer fans with a warm, winning feeling as we brace for the cold reality of an NFL lockout.

BY Brandon Benson  

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POSTED AT 10:35 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

In the top 5

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I rank Sunday's Super Bowl among the top five ever. I just hope it's not the last before the owners and players turn one of the dumbest labor disputes in sports history into a work stoppage that kills the 2011 season and messes up pro football's future.

Even before it started, the Packers-Steelers game was going to be remembered anyway given the matchup between two historic franchises.

That it wasn't aesthetically perfect made it better. Mistakes are part of football and this game had almost everything: some spectacular offensive plays, some good ones on defense (think Clay Matthews' strip of Rashard Mendenhall that turned the game) and a remarkable performance by Aaron Rodgers. His perfect strike in the fourth quarter to Greg Jennings between Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu is one of the best passes I've ever seen thrown. Anywhere at any time, let alone in a Super Bowl, the antithesis of my other favorite Super Bowl pass: Eli Manning to David Tyree -- a broken play that will forever remain in the history books (or rather the history tapes.)

Most of the great games are recent.

My favorites have always been the Giants over the Bills in 1991 and the Rams over the Titans in 2000, just for the endings: a missed field goal and a play that came up one yard short of a tying touchdown. Until the final quarter (Manning to Tyree), Giants-Patriots was a snoozer, though the ending makes it a classic. And Steelers-Cardinals two years ago is up there too -- a 100-yard interception return, then a pendulum swing in the final minutes, capped by a last-minute game-winning touchdown pass by Ben Roethlisberger, who provided a lot of moments Sunday, both good and bad.

-- An interjection --

Immediately after Sunday's game, the networks, notably ESPN and the NFL Network started throwing around the "L'' word, "L'' as in "legacy.'' I don't want to hear it. Ever again. It was invented by the folks at the so-called "worldwide leader'' and is applied to every star in every sport --- in this case to Rodgers, a starter for all of three years; Roethlisberger, who is 2-1 in Super Bowls, and even Brett Favre, the quarterback Rodgers succeeded in Green Bay.

I'm not quite that old, so I don't remember what they were saying about Babe Ruth around 1933, but I'm sure the "L'' word wasn't involved.

On to the other "L'' word, labor.

Every week this season, we've gotten e-mails announcing that the NFL has set another ratings record: on CBS, Fox, ESPN, even "THE NETWORK.''

A couple of weeks ago, the league agreed to a $2 billion a year contract extension with ESPN.

So when someone from the NFL says they have to fix the "business model,'' my eyes glaze over. When DeMaurice Smith says, with a reporter present, that the union and owners are "at war," I wonder why he's trying to inflame an already delicate situation. No, I know what he's doing -- rhetoricizing (if that's a word.) a dispute that will go into the spring and disrupt the free-agent period. Then maybe into the summer.

Then I suspect they will finally do what they should be doing now: settle in time for an abbreviated training camp in which players will hastily sign contracts, hastily get into shape and play a sloppy half-season.

And that's if we're lucky.

No, this wasn't the last Super Bowl.

But...

Please get the thing done. You're both making tons of money. All your greed is doing is angering the fans. And they're the ones who pay the bills.

BY Dave Goldberg  

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POSTED AT 3:35 PM ET, 02/ 4/2011

Go out with a bang

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Millions of people who can't locate Green Bay on a map or spell Pittsburgh without Google will tune in, Sunday, to watch what may be the last NFL game ever. If not ever, then the last game in a long time. How long is anyone's guess. With a March 4 lockout looming, Super Bowl XLV might the last chance to catch America's favorite sport in the form we know it.

Remember what the strike did to MLB in 1994? Remember what the strike did to the NHL in 2004?

Advertisers have been gleefully tossing money, $3 million for 30 seconds, at Fox, the network broadcasting the big game. With a CPM (cost per 1,000 views) around 30 bucks it's a deal they'd be crazy to pass up, even with two small market teams playing. The opportunity to reach a captivated audience, the majority of which pay more attention to the commercials than the game, is unique to the Super Bowl. This may be the last one.

Who is going to win? If Vegas knows anything it's going to be the Packers in a squeaker. But bookmakers aren't wasting their prayers trying to cover the spread. They're asking God to prevent an NFL work stoppage that some estimate would cost them a billion dollars.

Then there are us sports writers. We stare, grown children on the sidelines, paid to holler about a game we love. But will the masses really miss us when the bread and circus disappears?

Who's going to win Sunday? I can't say but let's hope it's a classic, because who knows if the NFL will ever be this great again?

BY Emil Steiner  

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POSTED AT 12:58 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

A Super Bowl of Super Bowls

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By Aaron Stern

Analysts like to deride low-scoring games by saying the two teams involved just set back offensive play by so many years. This game could end 3-0 and be a masterpiece that advances the game years ahead. For football purists, who wins is irrelevant.

Packers-Steelers is a showcase and celebration of what makes pro football great, and it's hard not to slather on the hyperbole: Blue-collar teams hailing from gritty, all-American towns. Crushing defenses, power running attacks, rifle-armed, cold-blooded quarterbacks.

But it's better than that. It's not just two old school teams battling it out in old school ways. It's old school and new school all in one. Offensively, the Packers are as high-flying as it gets, yet they've cobbled together the fourth-ranked rushing offense with a smattering of no-name runners. In Rashard Mendenhall the Steelers have one of the best pure tailbacks to come along in years - big but nimble, fast, aggressive - but are balanced by a deceptively potent passing game.

Aaron Rodgers may be about to create a Green Bay legend bigger than Brett Favre's and cement his status as one of the league's elite passers, but Ben Roethlisberger may be the most undervalued quarterback in the league (being universally regarded as a sexual assault waiting to happen will do that to your playing cred).

But it's the defensive side of the ball where the real magic is in this game. Dick LeBeau is the best defensive coordinator of this generation; Dom Capers isn't far behind. The two once worked together, popularizing the 3-4 attack, and revolutionizing defense with the zone blitz. Neither panned out as a head coach but both have carved out niches as feared tactical masterminds.

The rest of the league is once again falling in love with their creations, rushing to install 3-4 defenses of their own (even if they, say, have to scrap a perennial top-10 4-3 defense to do it, and without any of the personnel to boot... but Super Bowl week is hardly the time to talk about the Redskins).

LeBeau and Capers have moved on: The 3-4 may still be their base alignment, but both men are now running something else altogether - the 2-4-5. And they're doing it with a mix of top draft picks and undrafted players alike - the Packers, in particular, would be nowhere without less heralded players like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. The defenses are complicated, constantly shifting, and depend upon players who sit behind veterans, marinating in the schematic complexities before they get a chance to make their mark.

You'll hear a lot as you watch the game about the physical battle being waged on the field - and you might hear a little about the growing and troubling body of evidence that these men are doing permanent damage to themselves - but you'll hear less about the incredible strategy behind it all. But it will be there, evolving from play to play, blossoming across the field in increasingly intricate machinations as two defensive masterminds attempt to confound two of the best quarterbacks in the game - and to outdo one another.

So enjoy it: A game like this comes around a lot less frequently than just any old Super Bowl.

BY Richard Boadu & Claude Clayborne  

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POSTED AT 12:17 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Packers will take flight

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As a huge Green Bay Packers fan, I'm a believer and I expect that they'll win. But the more I think about the upcoming Super Bowl, the more convinced I am that it will be a close game. The Pittsburgh Steelers are too good to get blown out by the Packers.

The biggest stat discussed this week is that the Packers are second in scoring defense, and the Steelers are number one. While that's really good, it's also one of several stats showing how closely matched these teams are. The Steelers defense is number two in yards allowed per game, and the Packers are number five. So the Steelers have the slight edge on defense under those two categories.

But on offense, it's the Packers offense that is number ten in scoring offense, while the Steelers are number twelve. And the Packers offense is number nine in yards per game, while the Steelers are number fourteen. Now it's the Packers turn to have that slight advantage.

Even the strength of schedule is similar. Both teams played against the toughest AFC East teams (Patriots and Jets) and both played the Falcons. Even their conferences provide a similar strength of schedule with two top teams (Packers, Bears vs. Steelers, Ravens) and two teams somewhere in the middle (Vikings, Lions vs. Bengals, Browns).

The only clear advantage may be on special teams. While the Steelers are currently on their second string field goal kicker and punter of the season, including former Packers punter Jeremy Kapinos, they also have the most dangerous return man in the game for either team, Emmanuel Sanders. In a game this close, field position might become the most valuable commodity. If the Steelers have a key punt or kick return that could flip the field position battle, it might give them the edge to pull away in the game.

Another school of thought is that with teams this evenly matched, the one with the best player will win the game. While I'd pick Aaron Rodgers over any other quarterback in the league, Ben Roethlisberger is very good too. Overall I'd give the advantage to Rodgers, but this is only one game, and it depends entirely on the opportunities these players will find themselves in as each play unfolds.

As important as defense is to win championships, I've recently wrote at The League on the reasons why the most important weapon in the modern NFL is the pass offense. In a matchup between two equal teams, the advantage the Packers gain from having Aaron Rodgers and their passing attack will be the difference in the game. Packers Win!

BY Brandon Benson  

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POSTED AT 9:50 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Which team will win Super Bowl XLV?

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POSTED AT 9:39 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Let's try overtime

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Super Bowl XLV is a museum piece of a football game. The Green Back Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers bring nine Lombardi trophies into the game. And in case we forget, the guy the trophy is named after had some sort of historical affiliation with one of the teams.

But as the cliché goes, you don't play the game in a museum... or on paper. Instead, it will be played in Dallas, home of America's 6-Win Team. And while either of the participants in Super Bowl XLV qualify to be called "America's Team"," both would rather be called "champion."

As I pondered what's gonna happen in Super Bowl XLV, it became clear to me that America deserves a great football game. So that's the first thing. Expect one for the ages. By the time the Lombardi Trophy is awarded and I am into my ninth bowl of chili, I expect to turn to my friends and declare, "I am satiated."

The teams are evenly matched. Both quarterbacks are excellent in very different ways. Aaron Rodgers is a classic gunslinger with a deadly accurate arm. Ben Roethlisberger is about the size of Mean Joe Greene, and he plays with a lineman's ferocity. Plus he is incredibly opportunistic.

Both defenses are also opportunistic, and nasty. An early Troy Polamulu interception wouldn't surprise me. And Roethlisberger will have his own problem with long-haired defenders.

The Packers will probably be leading by halftime. But it will be so close that I imagine, in a sports bar in heaven, Curly Lambeau and Art Rooney nearing fisticuffs and the only thing to stop it is when Paul Brown tells a joke about the Dallas Cowboys 2010 season. Or when the commercials come on. FOX is sure to have a new show promoted incessantly as the next best thing.

While defense should rule the first half, it could be be even more difficult to score in the second half. The Steelers can get one score to tie it up. But everything about the game, including the historic nature of the franchises, points to one conclusion: it's time to test the new overtime rules.

I see the game tied at 17 at the end of four quarters.

The Steelers are going to get the ball first in overtime. They will drive the field but Roethlisberger will not be able to get the ball in for a score. The Steelers will kick a field goal, in a decision that will be talked about forever. New rules say that Aaron Rodgers will get one more chance to drive down the field and get his team six points. I think that's exactly what's gonna happen.

The Packers win 23-20 in overtime.

BY Brian Tarcy  

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