We didn’t go to Pittsburgh to beat the spread. We went there to beat the Steelers
Failure in that task now means even five straight victories might not be enough. Here is the stark math: with five games to go the Packers are four games out of the division lead, and three games behind (factoring in likely tie breaker scenarios) a wild card playoff berth.
Which team is more likely to lose three of their next five, Carolina or Atlanta? Because if one doesn’t, Green Bay is cooked already. And that’s the most unlikely of their necessary assistance. Seattle also needs to lose two of its next five and Detroit one of its next four. All of those things need to happen (in addition to the little detail of the Packers winning all five—including upcoming match-ups with Carolina and Detroit).
Staring at these standings and eyeballing the odds will cause human beings, like our man on the beat Tom Silverstein, to describe the playoffs as an “outside shot” even if we run the table again.
But the interconnected scenarios of these many looming results are simply too numerous for mere human minds. The New York Times has run twenty thousand simulations of the more than one septillion possibilities, ranked them in likelihood by Las Vegas-like standards, and concluded that—if the Packers run the table—their chances of making the playoffs are 89 percent.
That means they can stop worrying about the rest of the league and focus on the task at hand: the first of nine straight games they will need to win to bring the trophy home again.
SCOUTING TAMPA BAY
But before we lock in on the 2017 Buccaneers, can we pour some out for their 2010 squad? They finished 10-6 that year, as did the New York Giants, but neither made the playoffs, thanks to the fifth tiebreaker down the list, which allowed the Green Bay Packers to continue playing football.
This season, Tampa Bay already has seven losses, so they won’t be playing past New Year’s Eve, but they will be playing all of their remaining games against teams that might. That’s right, these Bucs are spoilers, so after we beat them Sunday noon, we must hope they run their own table against Detroit, Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans. If they do and we do, our playoff chances are 97 percent.
Going into this Sunday, Tampa has two bad options at the most important position. Seven weeks ago their starting quarterback, #3 James Winston, sprained his AC joint and hasn’t been right since. Yet even before his throwing shoulder started hurting every time he reaches, the head coach was having conversations like this with the #1 overall draft pick from 2015. “We don’t need you to lose a game for us,” Dirk Koetter awkwardly explained back in August, when the QB was still able to grab things off high shelving. Despite this careful advice, Tampa immediately lost six of the eight games Winston started this year.
His replacement, journeyman Harvard math major, #14 Ryan Fitzpatrick, is really good at standardized tests but not so good at throwing footballs. True, the team did win his first two starts this season, but that was against one of the McCown brothers and a tag team of Jay Cutler and Matt Moore. If you watch the tape of those “victories”—along with the other game and a half he’s played so far this past month in losing efforts—you will notice a throwing motion made more for a flat frisbee than an oblong pigskin.
It’s no wonder the Bucs have been loading up on double and even triple tight end formations with the wobbly sidearmer under center. He is an embarrassment to pro football as the New York Jets can testify to, along with several other NFL players who have watched tape of him trying to play their game.
And yet, Bob McGinn talked to two NFL scouts this week who said the Bucs are better off with Fitzy than Jameis. That says more about Winston’s reckless style and broken wing than it does about Fitzpatrick’s ability.
We might not know until kickoff which QB the Bucs will start, but as of Wednesday we knew for sure that two of their starting lineman are done for the year, and their swing backup, former Packer #62 Evan Dietrich-Smith, is in the concussion protocol. That means there will likely be at least two lineman with almost no 2017 snaps playing on Sunday.
All of their running backs are healthy, but the fact that they keep giving carries to four different guys indicates that none of them are special. #34 Charles Sims specializes in third downs, and he’s more of a threat to catch check downs (26 on the year) than take a handoff (just 13 carries). Because the Packers’ defense should force a lot of third downs against this depleted line, he’s probably the backfield jersey to most worry over.
Their top two wide receivers, tall #13 Mike Evans and fast #11 DeSean Jackson, are both legit NFL talents, but it is hard for them to get consistent looks given the mediocrity in the middle of the field.
At tight end, #80 O.J. Howard was picked 19th overall this May, but so far has only 20 catches in 11 games. Fitzpatrick did start looking for him in the second half last week, but his preferred seam target remains, unsurprisingly, his fellow Harvard grad, #84 Cameron Brate. All those opportunities might not just be Ivy League-bias, however, as even Florida State Seminole Winston was more likely to find Brate than the other tight ends.
The strength of Tampa’s defense is at the linebacker level, where they play three hats pretty far back in their standard 4-3 base formation. Weak-side #54 Lavonte David and middle-backer #58 Kwon Alexander are serious threats to thread gaps and make tackles for losses in the run game (both run sub-4.6 40s). Strong-side #51 Kendall Beckwith, meanwhile, is a fierce hitter who gets his 243 pounds to the boundary with momentum if not speed.
In front of these three up-and-comers the older lineman hold up well against the run, but do not generate much pass rush. The guy to look for is #93 Gerald McCoy, an 8th-year tackle with five Pro Bowls already who is leading the team in sacks (5) and pressures (20). He was also the star of this year’s Hard Knocks series on HBO, demonstrating incredible range. Here he is singing with his daughter then sparring with his son, dancing before his Friday workout, and deliberately provoking Ed Hochuli with his thighs and face.
The secondary is full of question marks. Left corner #24 Brent Grimes is the most consistent performer. Rookie safety #21 Justin Evans had a breakout performance last week even though he got beat bad on this trick play. At the other safety position old Bear #23 Chris Conte got benched for #43 T.J. Ward, and injury fill-in #29 Ryan Smith has been just OK at right corner.
HOW THE PACKERS MATCH UP
The last five games have taught us that elite cornerbacks are Brett Hundley’s kryptonite. Fortunately, there will be none on the field this Sunday. That, plus the very limited pass rush from the down lineman should mean that we can pass the ball. Even if their fast linebackers and veteran lineman fill the holes and contain our pedestrian running backs, the Buccaneers are the worst team in the league at stopping third downs.
If our defense cannot get good pass pressure going against this injury-riddled protection, then we are truly hopeless. However, both quarterbacks are shifty in the pocket and not afraid to scramble, so gap integrity will be important.
Assuming Kevin King’s left shoulder can stay in its socket, his match-up with Mike Evans (who has an inch and a half on our 6’3″ corner) will be one to watch. Morgan Burnett should be able to neutralize one of their tight ends, and Damarious Randall may often be in charge of the other one. Lately our formerly ginger nickel back is not afraid to mix it up in the run game, and that will probably be necessary again this week.
WHO ARE THE SEMINOLES AND WHY TWO WARS?
Three days past Christmas, 182 years ago, more than a hundred federal soldiers were six days’ march from Fort Brooke, an 11-year-old fortification built on a site that would, 14 years later, become the city of Tampa.
According to a major stationed at the fort who watched the march begin on December 23, 1835, their actions were “constantly observed” by “a negro named Harry” who “controls the Pea Creek band of about a hundred warriors, forty miles southeast.”
It was fifty miles to the northeast, however, where the march would meet its bloody end, likely partly as a result of scouting that Harry provided his Seminole allies along the Withlachoochee River. At the point where the road to Fort King (present day Ocala) crossed that river, the U.S. soldiers were fired upon by Seminole held Spanish rifles, which shot further and straighter than the 18th century muskets carried by the federal troops. Only two would survive.
Thus began what is now known as The Second Seminole War, or sometimes The Florida War. According to George Klos’s 1989 analysis of the conflict’s causes, this war was unique. “Unlike Indian removal in other parts of the United States,” he wrote, “land was not the main issue.”
Frank Laumer finished that thought in a talk he gave seven years ago at the Tampa Bay Historical Society. “The Seminole War was unique among the Indian wars,” he said, “in that it was the only war fought in order to take an entire land from one race in order to enslave another.”
Indeed, our country didn’t really even want Florida then, especially not its swampy muggy southern sections, which weren’t popular for orange production until the great freeze of 1894-95, nearly six decades after those rifle bullets were fired. What the United States wanted was an end to an egalitarian neighbor. Slaves escaping the cotton and sugar plantations of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina were “welcomed by the Seminoles and simply treated as people,” explained Laumer.
Many histories of that era claim that the so-called Black Seminoles were also slaves, just with new masters, and that the resulting conflict was thus over disputed property. The facts contradict that theory. “A Seminole was more of a patron than a master,” writes Glos. “The Seminole slave system was akin to tenant farming. Blacks lived in their own villages near Indian villages and paid a harvest tribute, a percentage of the yield from their fields, to the chief. Blacks, an Indian agent reported, had ‘horses, cows, and hogs, with which the Indian owner never presumed to meddle.'”
Not only weren’t the Seminoles masters, they also weren’t even landlords, as unlike the later so-called sharecropping system, they didn’t charge rent as debt. More like tax collectors, they took merely a percentage of the yield. “Basically,” summarized Laumer, “the Seminoles treated them as equal people, as indeed they were.” And there was intermarriage between blacks and Seminoles, meaning that some, like Harry of the Pea Creek band, could rise up the social ladder.
Seen through this lens, we can see why Grant Foreman wrote that “the war in Florida was conducted largely as a slave catching exercise.”
This slave catching exercise would eventually cost the United States over 30 million 1835 dollars, and 1,500 of the 60,000 mobilized federal troops would die in the six years and seven months it spanned. It is is thus often described as the longest and bloodiest of the “Indian wars” but really it was the opening salvo in the Civil War fought to preserve slavery and white supremacy. Or, viewed even more broadly, it was another “spectacular chapter in a long war that was declared when the the first Africans were brought chained to American shores,” a phrase from page 63 of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book.
When those troops were ordered, just before Christmas 1835, to march northeast from Tampa Bay toward Fort King, the majors and generals had a pretty good idea they wouldn’t make it. It was, like the Rio Grande in 1846, the Maine in 1898, the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, and the weapons of mass destruction in 2003, a contrived provocation. Economic interests (in this case slave plantation owners) wanted war, and politicians and generals were willing to trade lives for profit.
At the end of this seven year war all but 300 of the once 7,000 Florida Seminoles were either killed or marched to Oklahoma or—if they were dark enough—chained and sold into antebellum plantations.
Who were these Seminoles? Well, their name is not indigenous, derived instead from the Spanish “cimarron” meaning “runaway.” They were running away from the English invasion of their lands to the north. When later runaways joined them, they were welcomed. Of course, those attempting to chain rather than assist these escaped slaves were runaways themselves, having left their native Europe not long before.
“Applause for your verbiage” said Bob after he heard the game call from last Sunday brought to you by Nik and Keith at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. Bob is not long with his compliments, so tune in below to hear why he liked hearing all four of those touchdowns re-explained all over again. Jeff was on the call, also, and then Sonny, the Locker Room Poetry, Curious Over the River, Wildcat Mark, and Jim From the South Side, too.