Solomon Wilcots has calling games for the NFL on CBS since 2001 and he will be working this season with Spero Dedes.
I caught up with Wilcots recently and we talked about the Giants, Tom Coughlin, the Patriots, and the Colin Kaepernick controversy.
Jason Schott: What themes do you see in the NFL this season?
Solomon Wilcots: In the AFC, we’ve been used to watching Denver, we’ve been used to watching New England, this Tom Brady/Peyton Manning sort of rivalry, and it’s no more. We need to step back and take that in, that this is the first time in almost 20 years we’ve played a season without Peyton Manning. I know he was out in 2011, but really with no rivalry. So with that being said, the AFC is going to shift a little bit.
The AFC South is wide open, we’ve got teams like Jacksonville ready to challenge. Indianapolis, they still have (Andrew) Luck, but they’re missing some pieces. Houston’s going to be there, they’re a good team, they’re going to be there, but we don’t know what (Brock) Osweiler’s going to do. So Jacksonville, just see that kind of balancing things out because they’re going to run the ball those games, so that’s a real good mix.
And is Oakland ready to come out of the dungeon? I believe they are. They have assets at the quarterback position, they have assets at running back, Latavius Murray was one of seven running backs to have 1,000 yards last year, but no one talks about him. They’re building a defense that can get to the quarterback. I think they’re ready to challenge in the AFC West, given that Denver, and we don’t know what you’re going to get at the quarterback position. We’re seeing a sort of shift of power in the balance of things. Yes, Kansas City is still going to be there in the AFC West.
Cincinnati, think about it, in the AFC North, you are almost always accustomed to seeing Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and yeah, Cincinnati might win a game. They’re the defending champion, and I still believe they’re the most talented team in the AFC North, which is a deep division, three teams deep, but I think they are the best of those teams. If you take a sample size over the past three or four years, they have beaten those teams with great regularity. You see what I’m saying, and they’ve gone to the playoffs the past five years. If you say, well they never win to the playoffs, but they’re getting there. How many other team do you think, in this league right now, other than the big ones, have gone to the playoffs, five straight years?
JS: Gotta be only New England and Denver.
SW: New England, Denver, Green Bay, there you go, so it’s not an easy thing to do, it’s a very difficult thing to do. I think their (Cincinnati) quarterback (Andy Dalton) continues to get better, they’re going to run the ball with great power this year because they have depth on their offensive line, and they have the best running back tandem of any team in the league, with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Go back, take a look at it, the numbers bear that out over the two years since they’ve been together, the most productive pair of running backs in the NFL.
So, what we’re seeing is sort of a shift in the landscape on the AFC side, with Manning and Brady, as I talked about. I think even the Patriots are going to be threatened because Brady is out the first four games. Look at the other three teams in that division, very strong on defense, Buffalo, Miami, with (Ndamukong) Su and Mario Williams, what they’re doing defensively, and then the Jets I think are strong. To me, the most significant part of the Jets is I love Darron Lee. I think he is sort of that Cam Chancellor, but he’s more athletic. In looking at the division, who’s going to run with the tight ends like a Gronk (New England’s Rob Gronkowski), Martellus Bennett, Charles Clay? This guy can run with them. I don’t know if he’ll come down with it, because Gronk’s a big dude, but Darron Lee and hit, run, and cover, he’s an athletic linebacker that can cover. So, I think it will be fun to see how (Todd) Bowles uses him in the defense. It’s going to be fun watching to see how that materializes.
Who can take advantage of the absence of Tom Brady? The last time they didn’t win the division, Tom Brady wasn’t around, 2008, Miami with their “Wildcat” and Chad Pennington, they were able to steal it away. Somebody’s got to take advantage of that. If I’m an owner, I’m saying, “wait a minute, Number 12 ain’t playing, okay, if we can’t win this year, then I guess we ain’t winning. What are we going to do here?”
JS: You’re right, because if New England starts 1-3 or 0-4 without Brady, he might have to run the table or go 11-1 to get them into the playoffs.
SW: This is a year where there’s a lot of shakeup here, and I think at the end, we’re going to be talking about some different teams, that makes the league more interesting, it really does.
JS: What do you think of the Giants and their new head coach, Ben McAdoo?
SW: I’m a huge Tom Coughlin fan. First, I don’t think he should have been fired, but I get it. Here’s what happens, like when Marty Schottenheimer left San Diego, they kept winning, but year by year the erosion of the discipline that he had laid down, the culture that he had built begins to recede, and the Giants need to be aware of that, and I think Ben McAdoo needs to be aware of that. This is his first time as a head coach. We know what Tom Coughlin is about, we know what Tom Coughlin teams look like, good enough to win two Super Bowls, great discipline, and they were red hot at the end of the year last year.
What is the identity of Ben McAdoo? What is his identity, what is his culture going to be like? I think that culture this year can carry over, it usually carries over one year. It’s like when Tony Dungy left Tampa, and I’m not taking anything away from (Jon) Gruden, but that culture wasn’t there before Tony Dungy went to Tampa. He built it, he made it, he created it. It doesn’t leave immediately after these coaches leave, it kind of carries and lingers over with those players, its ingrained in them. But sooner or later, it recedes. That new coach has got to infuse that team with his personality, with his beliefs he’s got to build his own culture.
The Giants will undergo a lot of that, and I don’t know what Coach McAdoo is bringing to the table. We knew what Coach Tom Coughlin brought there and what’s going to leave now that he’s no longer there, but it’ll be interesting finding that out because they’re in one heck of a division, one heck of a division.
JS: What do you think of the fact that the Giants fired Coughlin and basically kept everyone else on the coaching staff?
SW: Coach Coughlin is a wonderful man and a great teacher, and we all know that the drafts haven’t been maybe what they should’ve been, I’m not saying if they’re (jerry) Reese’s fault…they felt like somebody had to go. Tom Coughlin is such a great man, he walked out, sort of fell on his sword so that everyone else could survive. I expect that of a guy like him. But you look at it that way, there’s no way you’ll hear me saying that the problem is fixed since they replaced Tom Coughlin. He wasn’t the problem, not at least in this great majority, where you can feel like the panacea,the correction has replaced Tom Coughlin. I do not believe in that at all. But I do like (rookie wide receiver) Sterling Shepard.
JS: Do you think the Washington Redskins could repeat as NFC East champions?
SW: They’ve got to be able to run the ball, this Matt Jones, I’m waiting to see him step up. If they can’t run the ball, they can’t win it. Kirk Cousins is, I think he’s the real deal. I’m not saying he’s some great player, but he’s going to continue to get better and get better, and he was good enough to throw the fewest number of interceptions. He had the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in the league last year, and over 4,000 yards, and single digits in interceptions. That’s a formula for winning. He got most of that done in the second half of the season, but when you look at his career, the arc of his career. He was drafted the same year as RG3 (Robert Griffin III), and RG3 being Rookie of the Year in 2012, to have that pendulum swing the other way, where he was able to take the team, the town, and the locker room, and the ownership, win them over the way he did, saying “you like that, don’t you?” that’s challenging even the media, everybody, and he lived to tell about it. I’ve never seen a player drafted here (gesturing his hand low) and overtake the player drafted here (raising his hand) when that guy up here started off so red hot, won over everybody, but over time, Kirk Cousins did the right way. He earned it by the sheer force of his will, his personality, his leadership. So, what does that tell you what kind of player he is? It’s telling you now that’s what leadership looks like. When everyone else wanted Robert (Griffin III), he was the only one betting on himself. I like that guy, I think they have a good team around him. I think they’ve got real talent at wide receiver, tight end, man, the talent there is phenomenal.
The Redskins have the edge. Dallas, with the quarterback stuff and the health and their defense is atrocious, not seeing that. This is going to be a Redskins (division), and I don’t know if Giants or Eagles are going to be second. Dallas, I think, has got to score a lot of points to win games, just plain and simple as that. They’ve got the offense to do it, but they’re going to have to score a lot because they ain’t going to be able to stop a bloody nose.
JS: What do you think of the Colin Kaepernick situation?
SW: Well, you know, it’s a tough situation because we all have great empathy with what’s going on in certain communities in our country. But I was always raised that, and here’s what I know, when that National Anthem is playing, I’m thinking about the people that sacrificed their lives so that I could have the right to protest under the law. I live in a great country where I do have freedom of speech, but that freedom of speech comes with responsibility. When that National Anthem is been played, all of that politics subsides and I’m thankful. I could have been born in any other time and place, but no time or place would have been better than this time and this place, this country and right now, and I’m always thankful.
I tell my children the same thing, respect and support our military and those who serve our military because they are our heroes, not athletes. They are the unselfish ones who sacrifice so much. We just get to live our lives debating football. My biggest problem today is who’s going to win the Super Bowl, are you kidding me? People have died so I can have the opportunity to do that, and I appreciate that, and that’s what the Anthem is all about.
This is a great league that provides us a platform to do a lot of good in the world. There was a time and a place to do that. I just think when the National Anthem is being played, that’s not really the time to get political. That’s a time to be unifying, it’s a time of unity, it really is. Not a time of division, it’s a time of unity. You know what, part of being an American, too, is accepting other people’s identities and their rights to have a different opinion than I do.