In an off-season interview, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3rd-year head coach Raheem Morris was asked about his team’s attitude heading into the 2011 season. He responded by saying his group of young and talented players are “youngry” after missing out on the playoffs in 2010 despite winning 10 games. At the time Morris just thought he was being clever. Little did he know he was launching a movement.
While Raheem Morris’ Buccaneers may be the OY (Original Youngry), they are not the only youthful team making a push for success in 2011 success. In fact, the 49ers, Lions, Bills, and Bengals would actually be on the inside looking out at the Buccaneers if the season ended today. Nipping at their heels is Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, only two games off the pace. There is still a lot of football to go, but right now exactly half of the teams holding on to playoff spots were not in last season.
As it stands, the makeup of the upcoming playoffs looks to no longer be exclusive to veteran laden squads. Young teams like those mentioned in this post, who perhaps don’t know any better, are forcing their way into the party. Like the rookie sent in as a pinch hitter to break up the no-hitter, they do not understand the gravity of the situation they are in. And that is their advantage.
A bunch of young bucks running wild through the NFL playoffs, fighting the establishment and refusing to go quietly, like Sean Astin and Wil Wheaton in Toy Soldiers, could be trouble for the No Fun League. Or exactly what it needs.
The most important question that remains is, who will be the Youngriest?
Let’s take a look at who is playing youngry and who is getting their fill.
San Francisco 49ers (Offensive youth: 3rd; Defensive youth: 5th)
At 6-1 with the NFC West schedule lying ahead of them, San Francisco is in great shape to make a run deep into the playoffs, even if they are relying on a couple of oldsters playing youngry. The defense is gobbling opponents up, led by youngsters (see what I did there) Aldon Smith, Navorro Bowman and a still youthful Patrick Willis. Of offense, Frank Gore (28 – retirement age for RBs) and Alex Smith (27, 7th year in NFL) look like they’re having fun out there.
Besides, the 49ers have by far and away the youngriest coach in the NFL. We’re talking about you Jim Harbaugh, just take it easy with the handshakes would you.
Detroit Lions (Offensive youth: 32nd; Defensive youth: 8th)
Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson is arguably the best QB-WR combo in the NFL. Without question the best young combo. The age of the offensive line and some supporting players (Nate Burleson) belies the fact that the Detroit Lions have one of the best young nucleui in the NFL, on both sides of the ball. If you have watched Ndamukong Suh play just one snap all season you can sense his appetite. Pair that with Nick Fairley and you have the Assembly Line of Destruction, rolling out Model Ts of Pain.
Only Stafford’s health (ankle this time) could be an obstacle in making Detroit relevant for the first time since Barry Sanders left town.
Buffalo Bills (Offensive youth: 19th; Defensive youth: 15th)
Harvard, Coe College and Kentucky. Not the first schools one thinks of as churning out All-Pro NFL talent but that’s where Buffalo found them. Newly coined multi-millionaire Ryan Fitzpatrick toiled in bad situations in St. Louis and Cincinnati before landing in Buffalo. But the late-blooming quarterback is playing youngry, and with a chip on his shoulder — a good news for long suffering Bills fans.
If anyone is starved for winning, it’s this guy. Oh and did I mention they are going it in the AFC East. Nuff said.
Cincinnati Bengals (Offensive youth: 2nd; Defensive youth: 13th)
Andy Dalton, the forgotten man in the 2011 QB, er rather NFL Draft, has the Bengals only a half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers after seven weeks. The Bengals continue to defy the odds with a rookie quarterback and a rebuilt team that boldly rid itself of three big name greybeards.
QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green are proving to be a tandem to deal with and a top-five defense doesn’t hurt. If they can hang out through the end it’ll be Ickey Shuffle time before you know it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Offensive youth: 1st, Defensive youth, 1st)
The Original Youngry. The Bucs are dealing with the heightened expectations from last season and the promise by head coach Raheem Morris that they would be a playoff team in 2011, but QB Josh Freeman has to keep the offensive profile they previously built by limiting the turnovers. The young and talented DL has to put more pressure on the QB. Currently they are 29th in the league in sacks. Getting running back LeGarrette Blount back (at his 2010 levels) will put them back in the playoff chase.
Carolina Panthers (Offensive youth: 7th, Defensive youth: 2nd)
Cam Newton continues to play amazingly well for a first-year QB. Newton’s startling play aside, coach Ron Rivera must be pulling his hair out over all these close losses. Carolina is 2-6, but has only been outscored by 20 points total this season. Raise your hand if you thought through eight games Cam Newton would be this good. Is your hand up? Now call yourself a liar and leave the room.
While his team may not be, Cam might be the youngriest player of the lot. Question is will his talent and his appetite be enough?