The NBA playoffs are about to reach the finals. And in recent years, it has become clear that the key to a team winning a championship is having a "Big three." This may have been somewhat true for decades. But ever since the Celtics assembled Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce and won a championship, it became a formula for NBA success.
Those Celtics are facing off against the Miami Heat in game seven of the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat took the "Big Three" formula to a new level. Because while the big three in Boston were formed by the GM and the organization, the big three in Miami was arranged by the players themselves.
Dwyane Wade was already in Miami and he convinced LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come there and form a juggernaut and instant championship team. Thus far, it has proven to be just that easy. They made the finals in their first season together and could be headed to another.
The NFL doesn't quite work that way. Because while in the NBA there are no more than five starters, the NFL has as many as 26 starting positions on offense, defense, and special teams.
So, if one wants to find a big three in the NFL, one must find the big three in one of those areas.
On offense, the Raiders have Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden, and... I guess if you go by stats alone, you would say Darrius Heyward-Bey. Although, he may not even be the number one receiver on the team this season-that goes to Denarius Moore. But Denarius Moore hasn't quite earned the right to be part of a big three type of guy just yet.
So how about the defense?
The one Pro Bowler is Richard Seymour. Then Tyvon Branch is the franchise player and the most consistent performer. Then who? Matt Shaughnessy has shown the potential to be the third guy here but he hasn't earned it yet. After that there are some middle of the road possibilities like Tommy Kelly and Michael Huff. But no one who could form that third piece.
Then there's special teams.
There is little doubt the Raiders have the best kicker and punter duo on all of football. Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler have the strongest and most accurate legs the NFL has seen in a while. And as for Lechler, the strongest it has ever seen. Add in Jacoby Ford as kick returner, and you have a strong big three.
And time the game turns to special teams, the Raiders are in good shape.
Janikowski routinely leads the league in touchbacks. He also has tied several NFL field goal records including the longest in history (63 yards) which he did last season.
Lechler has the best net punting average in NFL history. Add to it that the former high school quarterback can also execute a fake punt like no other punter in the NFL, and you have a dangerous combination.
Ford is a threat to take it the distance on every kick return. He had three return touchdowns in the second half of his rookie season and while only being healthy for a few games last season, had another return touchdown.
The unfortunate thing about these three are they are never all on the field at the same time and between them, they are on the field for a very limited amount of plays. Actually, whenever you see them, it is not usually very good news. It usually means they either stalled on a drive or gave up a score to the other team.
But there is no doubt teams who do not perform well on special teams are destined to fail. It was proven in last season's AFC and NFC title games. The 49ers looked to be primed to head to the Super Bowl until Kyle Williams fumbled a punt. Then the Giants got the ball and kicked the game winning field goal. The Ravens were in a similar position except their kicker, Billy Cundiff, missed a chip shot field goal that would have sent the game to overtime versus the Patriots.
Two games decided by a fumbled punt return, a field goal, and a missed field goal. The Ravens' big three on defense of Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed could only stand and watch as their fate was put in the hands of their kicker. And the 49ers big three of Patrick Willis, Carlos Rogers, and Justin Smith could only watch as their fate was in the hands of a punt returner and then the Giants' kicker.
So, the answer is yes-The Raiders have a big three-Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler, and Jacoby Ford. And despite their limited time on the field, they are all extremely important positions which can and often do make or break a team.