Top Games of the 2013 NFL Season

19 04 2013

 

Guest writer: Josh McSwain

 

15. Minnesota at Green Bay — Week 12
Good old fashioned rivalry game, but the reason it makes the list is because Greg Jennings will make his return to Lambeau Field. They booed Brett Favre when he returned in purple. Jennings will get booed for sure.

14. Carolina at San Francisco — Week 10
This game features two of the most dynamic dual threat QBs in the game. Cam Newton has been brilliant at times and not shaky at others through his first two years, he must become more consistent to get Carolina into the playoffs. Who better to see him against than a top defense? Colin Kaepernick is out to prove last year was no fluke and that he’s the man in San Francisco.

13. Kansas City at Philadelphia — Week 3
Pretty simple on this one. Andy Reid returns to Philadelphia after fourteen years and numerous playoff appearances. We also will get to see Chip Kelly‘s new offense.

12. Washington at Minnesota — Week 10
Simple star power here- RG3 will be healthy by this time (assuming he doesn’t get hurt again), and Adrian Peterson for Minnesota. Both of those guys have suffered recent ACL injuries. ACL bowl?

11. Denver at New York Giants — Week 2
Pretty simple here- Manning Bowl III.

10. Atlanta at San Francisco — Week 16
Rematch of the NFC title game, on Monday night in a game that could be crucial in determining playoff position.

9. Green Bay at Detroit — Week 13
How does Detroit get up here? Well, it is a Thanksgiving game, and the Lions have this guy, who’s kind of a big deal. I also think Detroit will be much better this coming season after having a down year in 2012.

8. Dallas at New York Giants — Week 12
This could be a pivotal game in the NFC east. Not to mention these two have developed a pretty intense rivalry in recent years, and the Romo-Eli comparisons will never end.

7. New Orleans at New England — Week 6
If you like passing offense, this one is for you. Two bad secondaries and two loaded passing attacks. Kicker here- Tom Brady could tie Drew Brees‘ record of 54 straight games with a TD pass if he throws one in this one (assuming he throws TDs in each game until this one).

6. Houston at Baltimore — Week 3
Ed Reed coming back to Baltimore will be the headline in this one. But these two teams are powers in the AFC and this game could have early playoff implications.

5. Atlanta at New Orleans — Week 1
The rivalry in the Deep South should be enough to get it on this list. But think about the rest this game has to offer. It’ll be Steven Jackson‘s first game in a Falcons uniform. It’ll be Sean Payton‘s first game back from suspension and Rob Ryan‘s first chance to trot out his reconstructed defense.

4. Denver at New England — Week 12
Peyton vs. Brady again, and now Wes Welker is going to be catching passes from the former instead of the latter. Not much needs to be said.

3. San Francisco at Seattle — Week 2
Forget the big markets on the East Coast, these two staged the signing war of the offseason. Seattle added Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield, among others. The 49ers countered with Anquan Boldin, Glenn Dorsey and Nnamdi Asomugha among others. The 49ers also likely remember the beatdown they took in Seattle late last season. Early chance for some revenge.

2. Baltimore at Denver — Week 1
I don’t care that the Ravens lost a ton of guys. This is the season opener, a rematch of one of the best playoff games ever, and a chance for the Ravens to show that they will still be a contender this season. This would be number one, except for…

1. Denver at Indianapolis — Week 7
The Sheriff goes back to the house that he built. I don’t think there will ever be a warmer reception than the one he will get on that day. For the first time Peyton will get to play against the guy who Indianapolis chose over him in the 2012 offseason.

 

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Fun Fact Friday (NFL Playoffs Edition)

5 01 2013

The Houston Texans defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 in Saturday’s AFC wild-card playoff game. This loss kept a very unfortunate streak alive. Since 1990, the Bengals haven’t won a single postseason game while every other team in the NFL has at least one playoff win.

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Fun Fact Friday

23 11 2012

Even though many are trying to explain how the Houston Texans are not as good as their 10-1 record shows, Andre Johnson is as good as his numbers show. After his nine-catch, 188-yard performance in the Texans’ 34-31 OT victory over the Detroit Lions, Optimus Prime now has 23 receptions and 461 yards in the last two weeks, giving him the most receiving yards in back-to-back games in NFL history.

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Houston, We Have an Answer

1 10 2012

Even though we have found ourselves in the middle of many NFL stories that have had a negative connotation to it, whether related to the referees or not, there is one team out there that has simply gone about their business in the most methodical manner without complaining about any aspect to the game.

The Houston Texans are currently the best team in the NFL. Sorry Atlanta. This team has strung together a 4-0 start that doesn’t just show off four wins but four dominate wins. Not only can this be represented statistically by the fact that they have the largest margin of victory in the league (17.5) since they rank second in points per game and first in points given up, but also by the way that they go about playing the game.

When you watch this offense go to work, the balance of Matt Schaub’s underrated decision-making to go along with Andre Johnson’s flawless skills and Arian Foster’s pure athleticism never allows the opposing defenses to force them into playing a certain way. While the most recent prolific offenses (Green Bay, New Orleans, Detroit) have played pass-heavy with the hope that they can throw their way to victory, head coach Gary Kubiak has clearly shown he will have none of that. He has established an offense ready to attack in whatever way the defense allows them to, which has Schaub off to the most efficient start (105.3 passer rating) of his career.

CurrentThe defense has played just as much of a factor in the Texans’ commanding start to the season. Even though Wade Phillips turned out to be a complete fiasco as a head coach for the Dallas Cowboys will a lack of pretty much every quality you want in head coach, he has settled back into the place where he excels as defensive coordinator. Coming in three years ago, Houston had two defensive backs in Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin that were considered to anything short of abysmal. All Phillips has done is get the absolute most out of them – which is a lot – and bring in Danieal Manning and Johnathan Joseph by request. This core gives up only 182.8 yards per game, ranking them second in the league. Phillips has done wonders for this defense in the past few years, but he must give a big thank you to J.J. Watt for the success so far this season.  This man may not have Clay Matthews’s hair but he certainly has the same amount of intimidation. The second-year Texan has exploded onto the scene with 7.5 sacks, which included two big ones in Sunday’s 38-14 victory over the Titans. If he keeps up this level of play through 16 games, he will be a favorite for defensive player of the year. (It should also be noted that the departure of Pro-Bowl Defensive End Mario Williams has had little effect on the defense, proving the strength of the entire team’s defense.)

Since this team finally made it into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history with their first double-digit win season a year ago, they took the necessary first step all elite organizations must take. No matter how hot a team may be in the regular season, playing in the postseason – and winning at that – is invaluable in becoming a regularly dominant force in any professional sports league. The Texans now have that.


More than any statistic that can be calculated to show their success, this team has an attitude that can only be described as “winning.” The way this team lacks any sort of drama on or off the field, the way this team handles the press, the way this team seems to be on a distinct mission. They possess all the qualities that every coach dreams of. It is as if they are attempting to become the San Antonio Spurs of the NFL; that is a huge compliment.

Let me repeat: this is the best team in the NFL. There have obviously been teams in the past that have been the clear-cut No. 1 team in the league, but in the past decade, we have never seen the No. 1 team be so dominate on both sides of the ball. Packers? Not a chance. Patriots? Nuh-uh. Saints? No. Colts? Nope. This team will be able to make a lot of noise once the end of the season comes to a close and the playoffs are just around the corner. Even if Schaub has difficulty hearing this noise, the rest of the league will certainly be able to hear it.

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NFL Preview 2012: AFC

5 09 2012

 

 

 

Co-writer: Josh McSwain

 

AFC east

1. New England Patriots (12-4)

Offense — (A).      With a great line and a bevy of offensive weapons, they are primed to put up a lot of points again. The question remains in the backfield though. Who will be the starter a running back? Stevan Ridley has impressed the most so far, but fellow 2011 draft pick Shane Vereen and the versatile Danny Woodhead will also contribute. Brandon Lloyd will also be an x-factor for them. Can he be the guy that stretches the field for them? No matter what roles are taken on by which players, this will surely be another dazzling year for Tom Brady.

Defense — (B-).     They got aggressive in the draft, trading up for Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. With Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and a host of others up front, such as Trevor Scott and Kyle Love, they should be passable up front. The secondary is the question mark. They allowed Joe Flacco to look like an All-Pro quarterback in the AFC title game, and once again allowed Eli Manning to beat them. With the names they have back there – Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington – they should have played better. With a much lighter schedule and only one All-Pro starting quarterback going up against them, we’ll see if a this new season provides a boost.

Special teams — (A-).      Stephen Gostowski is a solid kicker, and Zoltan Mesko has been respectable ever since breaking the starting lineup 2 years ago. Woodhead is a decent return man, but I imagine Jeff Demps will be taking over in that department this season.

 

2. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

Offense — (C+).      Kind of a work in progress. But with Fred Jackson carrying the load in the backfield, they will be fine. They really missed him after he got hurt last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the big question mark. He was Dr. Jekyll during the first part of last season and Mr. Hyde at the end. Injuries to the line and receivers certainly played their part in that though. As long as he takes care of the football, they should be just fine. The line has improved, and they got a steal with Cordy Glenn in the second round. He’s going to be a fine player.

Defense — (A-).      They were awful last year, I realize. But with Kyle Williams returning from injury, they have a front that can rival any in the league. Mario Williams will command attention. You can only double one of them. After those two, you have to deal with Marcel Dareus. And when you think you’re done, you have to deal with 10-sack man Mark Anderson. At linebacker, they have a solid core with Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Arthur Moats, with depth with veteran Kirk Morrison. Adding Stephon Gilmore to the secondary will help. Aaron Williams and Gilmore will form a good duo for years, and Jarius Byrd and George Wilson are solid at safety.

Special teams — (A).      Brian Moorman is a very good punter, still as good as ever, and Rian Lindell is still a solid kicker. Leodis McKelvin averaged almost 20 yards per punt return, and Justin Rogers averaged almost 30 per kick return.

 

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Offense — (C+).      Ryan Tannehill is raw and ordinarily would not be ready for the NFL, but playing in his college coach’s system will certainly decrease the learning curve, though it will still be there. It also doesn’t help that his receivers are absolutely awful. Davone Bess, their slot guy is their best receiver. Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Legedu Naanee? They leave a lot to be desired. By the end of the year B.J. Cunningham and Jeff Fuller, Tannehill’s college teammate could be starting. The only constants on their offense are Jake Long and Reggie Bush. Mike Pouncey and Jonathan Martin are both young linemen that could be pretty good.

Defense — (A-).      They have a very good unit here. Paul Soliai anchors a 4-3 line that also features Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. Karlos Dansby is a very good ILB, and Kevin Burnett and Koa Misi are a solid group of LBs. Trading Vontae Davis will hurt their secondary, but they do have a good group back there still with Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll at the nickel, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons at safety.

Special teams — (A-).      Dan Carpenter has been up and down in his 3 NFL seasons, kicking with a 89% accuracy rate in 2009, regressing to 73% in 2010 and improving back to 85% last season. Brandon Fields is one of the best punters in the league. Rookies Marcus Thigpen and Lamar Miller will fight it out for the kicker returner spot, and Davone Bess anchors the punt returner duties.

 

4. New York Jets (5-11)

Offense — (D).      They have a recipe for disaster. Sanchez is a competent but not confident QB, and Tebow is an unorthodox quarterback that is going to be hemmed into a box when he takes over the starting job (you know he will unless Sanchez lights it up). It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if McElroy finished the season, and wouldn’t surprise me if he did well. But they have lots of other issues than the QB spot. Shonn Greene has not been anything spectacular at running back, their WRs are very lackluster, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and whomever else they have at WR won’t scare anybody. They have to hope Dustin Keller has a pro bowl caliber year. Right Tackle is another problem. The rest of the line is solid with Ferguson, Mangold, Moore and Slauson. But they have to find a starter out of Vladimir DuCasse, who though listed at guard could slide over, ex 2nd overall pick Jason Smith who failed epically in St Louis, Austin Howard and Paul Cornick.

Defense — (A-).      They have always been very good and hard-nosed on this side of the ball. Starters Mike Devito, Muhammed Wilkerson and Quentin Coples, their first round pick, will wreak havoc, and Sione Pouha is a solid anchor at NT. They need to find an edge rusher. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are not that guy. But David Harris and Bart Scott are a good duo. Their secondary is good, with Revis Island leading the way. But the injury prone LaRon Landry will be a liability, particularly in coverage. Yeremiah Bell and Antonio Cromartie are both solid players back there.

Special teams — (C).      Who will be the kicker? Nick Folk? After you brought in Josh Brown? What does that say about Folk? TJ Conely is a serviceable punter, and they do have some spark in the return game with Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley.

 

 

AFC west

1. San Diego Chargers (10-6)

Offense — (B+).      Rivers had a down year last year, but he will bounce back this season. Vincent Jackson is gone, but he is very overrated. He’s great one week and terrible the next. Gates needs to stay healthy, and hopefully for them, Robert Meachem will be more consistent than Jackson. But Rivers is a superstar QB who has shown he can play at a high level no matter who is around him. Ryan Mathews needs to step up though. He finally passed 1000 rushing yards last season, but he needs to take the next step forward. After losing Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman, they will need to work out the kinks of their offensive line, but they can get those worked out.

Defense — (B).      They regressed under Greg Manusky last season, but under the leadership of John Pagano, they should rebound. They need to find a duo of rushers. Shaun Phillips, Larry English, first round pick Melvin Ingram and Antwan Barnes are all vying for that spot. Barnes had 11 sacks last season. Phillips had 11 in 2010. They need to all get on the same page to have success. Jammer is a solid corner, but is getting old. Cason is young but has broken in well. Weddle is a great safety. Is Atari Bigby the answer beside him? We’ll see.

Special teams — (B).      Kaeding is the most Jekyll and Hyde kicker in the league, being great in the regular season and terrible in the playoffs. Mike Scfries is a phenomenal punter. Eddie Royal will spice up the return game, and Richard Goodman will compete for returns as well.

 

2. Denver Broncos (8-8)

Offense — (B+).      Though Manning will turn their passing game upside down and make the true talent of their receivers come out, he will hinder the run game, which was tops in the league last season. Willis McGahee also figures to not have as good of a year. The offensive line will have to adjust from all the run blocking to a lot of pass blocking. The level of rust Manning has will be the ultimate determinant of how well this season goes.

Defense — (C).      They kept them in a lot of games last season. But can Tebow’s energy boost that made them play over their heads last season be preserved this season? They have a great pass rush with Ayers, Dumervil and Miller, but after that they have a primordial secondary and weak interior.

Special teams — (B).      Prater is a good kicker, and Britton Colquitt is a solid punter who will be very good in time, particularly in the thin air in Denver.

 

3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

Offense — (C).      Even with Jamaal Charles coming back, they still have issues on this side of the ball. First, Matt Cassel. He is not and never will be an NFL starter. He is merely a good backup who looked good in the Pats system the two years he was in it. They thank the Lord every day they have Dwayne Bowe, a top 5 NFL receiver. That guy is a monster. They need Baldwin to step up and be a #2 guy. Tony Moeaki returns from injury, which will also help at least some. Peyton Hillis brings a good bruising back to complement Charles, and they will carry the ball a lot this season.

Defense — (A-).      They have a chance to be an excellent unit. They need more out of Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey though. But Tamba Hali is great. Derrick Johnson is great. Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry lead a good secondary. But losing Brandon Carr will hurt. Kendrick Lewis stepped up last season when given the chance, and they need him to continue this season.

Special teams — (B+).      Ryan Succop is a serviceable kicker. Dustin Colquitt is a fine punter. Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas are both threats to take the ball back all the way every time they touch it.

 

4. Oakland Raiders (7-9)

Offense — (B-).      Carson Palmer is a gunslinger. He resembles a lesser form of Brett Favre… now you have the picture. He will throw for a lot of TDs, may even lead the AFC in TDs (yeah, I said it). But he may also lead it in ints, and he will accumulate seemingly good stats because of the fact their defense is so bad and he will have to throw a lot. If McFadden gets hurt, then he will have to throw even more. If McFadden stays healthy, they could have one of the most lethal offenses in the league. But without Michael Bush, if he goes down they don’t have a reliable backup.

Defense — (D).      They are simply awful. They have too much talent to have been as bad as they have over the last few seasons. Tyvon Branch is good at safety, but Michael Huff has not lived up to his draft spot, and their corners are a big question mark. LBs are another concern, and while the DL can rush the passer, they do need to stop the run better.

Special teams — (A).      They have the best punter in the AFC, if not the league, and the kicker with the strongest leg. They set the standard. Whether they will get the chance to play a part toward winning football is still to be determined.

 

 

AFC north

1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

Offense — (B).      Joe Flacco proved he can be counted on to win in the playoffs last season. Ray Rice is a great back. But they have below average receivers and OL. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are both coming into their own right now at TE. Unfortunately, they are average at best at the WR position. Boldin has struggled to stay healthy, and Torrey Smith was kind of a feast or famine player last season. The offensive line has also been nothing spectacular. They used to have one of the best in the league, but now Ben Grubbs is gone, Birk is old, and Oher has played nothing close to his level of fame. Yanda is great at RG, and Bryant McKinnie has shown he has a little left, but how much will he have this season?

Defense — (A).      Even without Suggs, they have a loaded unit. Ngata is the scariest DL in the league, and Terrance Cody and Pernell McPhee are both excellent. Ray Lewis is still solid, Courtney Upshaw was a steal in the second round, Jameel McClain is solid, and Paul Kruger is a solid fill in who will move back to a situational rusher when Suggs comes back. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are a great duo of corners, and Ed Reed is still a ball hawk, even though he is declining. Bernard Pollard is a good run defending safety.

Special teams — (B).      Justin Tucker, the rookie from Texas who has shown off an impressively strong leg in the preseason. Sam Koch is one of the most underrated punters in the league, never gets much credit because of Shane Lechler’s stranglehold on the AFC pro bowl spot.

 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

Offense — (B+).      They have a one of a kind QB that can make plays that no other QB in the NFL can. He is the toughest QB in the league, and has played through all kinds of injuries. With Mike Wallace, the league’s premiere deep threat and up and coming star Antonio Brown in the fold, as well as the solid handed Heath Miller. Finding a runner will be one concern. Can Isaac Redman carry the load? Will Jonathan Dwyer be able to contribute? Chris Rainey has looked good so far, and will certainly make some plays this season. Getting Mendenhall back for the stretch run will certainly help them. Having David DeCastro would have made their offensive line a lot better, but unfortunately they have lost him for what we presume is for the year. But, as they have proven in the past, they can win without a great offensive line.

Defense — (A-).      They have undergone a lot of change this offseason, but they are still the Steelers. No matter who is out there, they put out a successful unit. James Harrison needs to come back quickly though. He is a guy who absolutely scares the crap out of people. He and Lamarr Woodley are both players to fear. With James Farrior being released this offseason, Larry Foote slides into the starting lineup. He is on the tail end of his career, but if they can get any sort of leadership out of him he has done his job. Timmons and the outside guys are the playmakers. On the line, Hampton and Keisel are certainly getting up there in age, while Ziggy Hood is only 25. Cameron Heyward provides good depth. Troy Polamalu is still one of the ultimate playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in the league. He is the MVP of the defense. When he is out due to injury, they aren’t the same. Ryan Clark is serviceable at FS, and Ike Taylor is still solid. Keenan Lewis has a lot on his plate on the other side, and should get plenty of attention this season.

Special teams — (C).      The Achilles heel of this team if there is one. Shaun Suisham has always been a very inconsistent kicker, and they cleaned house at punter, going with undrafted rookie Drew Butler. Emmanuel Sanders held the return duties last year, but Rainey will certainly push him for those jobs. I expect him to take them at some point.

 

3. Cincinnati Bengals (5-11)

Offense — (C).      I think they overachieved last season. Andy Dalton has a very low ceiling at QB, and was the most NFL ready QB in his class of QBs. For all those who expect huge things out of him, they will be disappointed. A.J. Green is a phenomenal receiver, but they need a #2 guy. They drafted Mohammed Sanu for that (twice, by some estimates). Jermaine Gresham is a fine tight end, arguably one of the ten best in the league. But they went 9-7 with one of the easiest schedules in the league last season. I think they will get knocked back to reality this season.

Defense — (B).      A solid unit under Mike Zimmer, they have been one of the best in the league in the 2009 and 2011 seasons. They were roasted by injuries in 2010. They have a who’s who of corners with Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Nate Clements, Jason Allen, Terence Newman and first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are one of the better DT duos in the league. Those are the two strongest points of the unit.

Special teams — (C+).      Mike Nugent comes back from injury at kicker, and Cincinnati Bearcat turned Bengal Kevin Huber is a serviceable punter. Brandon Tate is not as spectacular as others, but he can get it done returning the ball.

 

4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Offense — (D).      Brandon Weeden is a gunslinger at QB, and because Cleveland will be behind a lot this season, he will rack up the interceptions this season. Unfortunately, with only Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi and others at WR, the TDs don’t figure to come easily. Trent Richardson was a wasted pick at #3. He may end up being good someday, but they could have picked up a good runner later. They could have had Justin Blackmon at #3, or traded down for more picks, because they have a lot of holes.

Defense — (B).      One of the more well coached units in the league under Dick Jauron. Joe Haden, DTs Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, D’Qwell Jackson are the best players on the unit. Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker are two decent rushers off the edge, but won’t give offensive coordinators sleepless nights. But give Sheard time and he could be great. T.J. Ward is a big hitter at safety, and newcomer Eric Haag will be good.

Special teams — (C).      Phil Dawson is not what he used to be, missing 10 kicks over the last two seasons. Reggie Hodges has been a journeyman punter, and missed all of last season with injury. Don’t expect much from him. Josh Cribbs – he used to be a big factor in the return game, but not as much anymore. He hasn’t returned a kickoff for a TD since 2009 and only one punt return for a TD in the last two years. Returners never seem to be great for that long.

 

 

AFC south

1. Houston Texans (12-4)

Offense — (A-).      Their only real weaknesses are a lack of a #2 WR, which is a problem because of the fragility of Andre Johnson, and the health of Matt Schaub. Can they really depend on him to lead them to a title? He has always been solid when healthy, but he has not played in a playoff game his whole career. Assuming they make it back to the playoffs and he can stay healthy, how will he react? Will he be the same guy? We may find out this season. The offensive line is terrific, but losing Eric Winston was a difficult blow. I have no doubt they can adequately replace him, but there will be a drop off. Owen Daniels is another fragile player that is a great threat over the middle when he is healthy.

Defense — (A-).      They were one of the best defenses in the league last season after having terrible defenses ever since the franchise began a decade ago. Personnel wise, there is not much fault you can find with them. Antonio Smith, JJ Watt and Shaun Cody are terrific, Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and rookie Whitney Mercilus are a QBs worst nightmare, Brian Cushing is great inside, and Johnathan Joseph leads a good secondary. My questions for this unit are as follows- will Wade Phillips finally sustain success? And will complacency ever get into their heads? They need one more year before I give them an A grade, as I did with the Ravens, because the Ravens have been a dominant defense for years. The Texans have the ability to be that good, but will they?

Special teams — (B).      Shayne Graham and Donnie Jones are both journeymen. Trindon Holliday is an electrifying return man, but health must be a concern moving forward because he is so small.

 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Offense — (C+).      This is a very conditional grade. I always thought Gabbert would improve this season because of the fact he had an offseason and got a competent offensive coaching staff. In the preseason, he has improved for sure, but still has a ways to go. Justin Blackmon will help get him there. Anything they can get out of Marcedes Lewis is a bonus. Even with all the talk about MJD, he will be there this season. He has nothing to gain from holding out. As long as the offensive line holds up, they could be a sneaky productive offense.

Defense — (B+).      They have a fundamentally solid unit, but the injury bug has always hit them hard. Particularly in the secondary. Mathis is over the hill and Cox needs to stay healthy. But they have a front 7 that can rival most in the league. Terrence Knighton is one of the best DTs in the league that nobody has ever heard of. But Tyson Alualu needs to start playing like the 10th overall pick he was. Upgrading the pass rush is also essential. Maybe Andre Branch will be the guy who can complement Jeremy Mincey.

Special teams — (A).      Josh Scobee is one of the best kickers in the game, very underrated. Bryan Anger was picked extremely high, but he can really boot it. Experience doesn’t mean a whole lot at the punter spot. Finding a return man is a must. I would think they could use MJD on returns a little bit now that their offense can throw more, and with Jennings and Toston taking carries it can free up some touches for MJD in that way. Otherwise Cecil Shorts and others will be duking it out for those spots.

 

3. Tennessee Titans (6-10)

Offense — (C-).      Jake Locker. A bad pick at #8 two years ago. He was never a very accurate QB at Washington, and he won’t be in the NFL. He does have intangibles and can run, which basically makes him much like Tim Tebow. Without Kenny Britt, who is constantly in legal trouble, he has a bunch of #2 guys like Nate Washington, Damian Williams, etc. to throw to. Jared Cook at tight end will have a break out year this year. He could be in the pro bowl. He’s a big target with freakish athletic ability. But the key is Chris Johnson. Can he get back to his 100+ ypg form? That will be the key to the season.

Defense — (B-).      With former first rounder Derrick Morgan and free agent addition Kamerion Wimbley, they could have a good pass rushing duo. Dave Ball is a good third end as well. But after that it gets a little shaky. Jurrell Casey and Sen’Derrick Marks are two young DTs that need to get stouter inside. Akeem Ayers had a decent rookie season, but he should be better in his second year. Colin McCarthy and Will Witherspoon are decent starters as well. In the secondary Michael Griffin and Alterraun Verner lead a decent group, along with Jordan Babineaux and Jason McCourty, who had a great rookie year but lost the form last season.

Special teams — (B-).      Rob Bironas is a great kicker, has been for years. Brett Kern struggled the last two years punting in Tennessee. He had his best numbers in Denver. Darius Reynaud is slated to handle the kickoff and punt returns, after missing last season with an injury.

 

4. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

Offense — (C+).      I think Andrew Luck will gel with his new players fairly well, though it might take some time. Knowing Coby Fleener from college will certainly help him. Dwayne Allen is another playmaking tight end, and having Reggie Wayne stick around will help Luck immensely. Donald Brown showed flashes of brilliance last season, and he figures to be the permanent solution there. Putting a line in front of Luck and Brown will be the challenge.

Defense — (D+).      This could be a long year for the defense, which switches to the 3-4. Longtime starters Freeney and Mathis move to pass rushing OLBs. Cory Redding follows former coordinator to Indy to play for Chuck Pagano. Antonio Johnson and Fili Moala round out the D-line. Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner start inside, and they both are good players they will just need time to adjust, as will much of the unit. Vontae Davis will be an upgrade at corner, starting alongside Jerraud Powers, Antoine Bethea and another ex Raven, Tom Zbikowski.

Special teams — (A-).      Adam Vinateri is still there kicking FGs, and still great. Pat McAfee has blossomed into one of the better punters as well. LaVon Brazill is a rookie taking over the return spots, along with fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton. This will be a long rebuilding process, but after last year’s lost season, anything will be an improvement.

 

 

 

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Wild Card Weekend

9 01 2012

Atlanta 2, NY Giants 24

Key Player: Eli Manning. Standing as one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league, Manning worried the New York fans. Many didn’t know what they would see from the one-time Super Bowl Champion. The Giants go as Manning goes – for better or for worse. On Sunday, Manning came up huge for the Giants, connecting on 71.8% of his passes, racking up 277 passing yards, and completing three touchdowns. He played very efficient football, putting the ball right where his receivers wanted the football. It is difficult not to notice the similarities with Manning’s current play compared to his play during his 2007 championship run.

Key Play: Giants hold the Falcons on a 4th-down attempt – twice. Both of these stops epitomize what it means to make a big play. With the score still at 0-0 after the 1st quarter, the Falcons faced a 4th and 1 at the Giants 24-yard-line. They could have kicked a reasonable field goal and taken the first lead of the game. Instead, the Falcons called Matt Ryan’s number and called him to run a QB sneak, which the Falcons stuffed right at the line. Midway through the 3rd quarter, the Falcons had Deja Vu as they faced a 4th and 1 at the New York 21-yard-line. With the deficit standing at 10-2, a field goal would still keep the Falcons a touchdown away from taking the lead; however, a game in which points were scarce (since a safety put the team’s only points on the board) suggested to the Falcons coaching staff that a field goal should be attempted. Mike Smith didn’t think this way and went for it again. The finally healthy front line for the Giants stopped the Falcons yet again and established themselves as one of the strongest defenses in this year’s playoffs. Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora  will both play a crucial role as the Giants try to recapture the magic that led them to a Super Bowl victory against the undefeated Patriots.

 

Pittsburgh 23, Denver 29 (OT)

Key Player:Do I even need to say his name? Even though he completed less than half of his passes, the throws he did complete were huge. Ginormous. Averaging 15 yards per throw, he racked up 316 yards, 2 touchdowns, and had a 125.6 passer rating. During regulation time, Tebow ran for one touchdown and passed for another. Both of these touchdowns came within 3 minutes of each other in the second quarter, but it was enough to push this game to an eventual overtime. Once the Broncos won the toss, Tebow decided to toss the football for an 80-yard winning touchdown. Wow. It doesn’t what happens the rest of these playoffs, Tebow should (for now) not be considered an unconventional quarterback. He should be considered a clutch quarterback. No matter whether you like the kid, the way the media reacts to his play, or think it is odd that he had 316 passing yards – the number he writes under his eyes – Tebow’s will to win cannot be denied.

Key Player (Honorable Mention): Ike Taylor. This 9-year veteran looked like a Dallas Cowboys secondary player with all the chasing he went threw. Taylor’s face being posterized as he was stiff armed by Thomas on the game-winning touchdown gives a good picture of how his (and the rest of the Steelers secondary) entire night went. This slant route wasn’t intended to be a big time play for the Broncos, but because of Taylor’s inability to keep up with the Denver wide receiver(s), he gave the Broncos their destined victory.

Key Play: John Fox’s challenge in the 2nd quarter. Yes, I know – how could I not choose the play that will be plastered on televisions for the next week? I believe the less flashy challenge on Big Ben’s 52-yard bomb played a huge part in the Broncos win. If this play had not been challenged, the Steelers would have gone all the way to the Broncos’ 28-yard-line with the deficit only being 7-6. A field goal or touchdown seemed very likely after this pass. Momentum obviously would have been in favor of the 2011 NFL Champions. However, Fox and his staff made a great decision to challenge the Mike Wallace catch and reverse the play. The Steelers went on to go three-and-out, punt the ball, and eventually fall behind 20-6. Pittsburgh did find a way to tie the game up by the end of the game, leading to Tebow Time in overtime, but without this challenge, the clock might have struck twelve before Tebow even had a chance to step up for his moment.

 

Cincinnati 10, Houston 31

Key Player: Arian Foster. With Matt Schaub’s Lisfranc injury placing him on the injured reserve after Week 10, Foster immediately became even more vital to the Texans success from there on out. Because of a nagging hamstring injury, the 25-year-old fantasy football beast was inactive for the last game of the regular season against the Titans – which they lost, giving them a three-game losing streak to finish the season. How would Foster respond after all this in the Texans first playoff game? He provided Houston with 153 big-time rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a 42-yard touchdown run that showed off both his quickness and strength. Having a prolific running game eases the quarterback pressure from the defense, and with T.J. Yates’s recent subpar play, including against the Bengals, the rookie quarterback will need Foster’s excellent play as they moved on to the next round.

Key Play: J.J. Watt’s 29-yard interception return for a touchdown. In a fairly back and forth game up to this point in the game, the 6-5 rookie leapt up at the line for a athletic interception. (Elias Sports Bureau made this interception even bigger by informing the NFL fandom that Watt became only the fifth defensive lineman in the last 30 seasons to return an interception for a touchdown.) After this play, the Texans never looked back, scoring the rest of the game’s points. When lineman can make huge plays such as this interception, it adds another dimension to the defense that puts the entire team on a different level. The Texans will need solid defensive production next week when they travel to face Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.

 

Detroit 28, New Orleans 45

Key Player(s): Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory. This match-up consisted of two quarterbacks that collected over 5,000 passing yards during the 2011 NFL season. Everybody knew bombs would be thrown and points would be put up. The way the Saints got an edge came with their running backs on the ground and through the air. Other than Kevin Smith’s 21 rushing yards, no Lion had double-digit rushing yards. Thomas, Sproles, and Ivory provided the Saints with 164 combined rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Thomas, specifically, averaged a whopping 8.3 yards per carry, including a 31-yard burst in the first quarter. Already having an abundance of wide receivers to throw to, Brees connected with Thomas and Sproles 10 times through the air for 89 yards. If the New Orleans Saints can get this kind of versatile production from their running game throughout the playoffs, I see them as a very difficult team to take down – no matter if they’re in the Superdome or not.

Key Play: Darren Sproles 3-yard run on 4th down. With the Saints holding a slim 24-21 to start the fourth quarter, it was still either team’s game. Sean Payton faced a difficult decision sitting at the Lions 40-yard-line. Punting doesn’t really do much good and a 57-yard-field goal is a little bit out of reach. So, as Payton has shown year in and year out, he took a risk and called on Sproles. Sproles pushed the ball outside and as blocking did effectively their job, Payton looked like a genius yet again as the 5-6 running back picked up the vital first down. If New Orleans had been unable to convert this 4th down, there could have been a completely different finish to this game and Calvin Johnson might be receiving a little more attention for his monster game (211 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns). The Saints would go on to score, putting the lead at 31-21 – a hole too much for the Lions to climb out of. For the Saints to be successful for the rest of January and possibly February, New Orleans will need more of these risky, but crucial calls from Sean Payton.

 

*Every single divisional winner won this weekend, marking only the third time for this ever to occur.

*The Atlanta Falcons became the first team in NFL history to score only 2 points.

*Tim Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas is the longest overtime touchdown the NFL record books have ever recorded.

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 14

12 12 2011

 

Houston 20, Cincinnati 19

Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates drove the Texans down the field at the end of the fourth quarter, and with 2 seconds left, he threw a touchdown which gave his team the win and sent the franchise to the playoffs for the first time ever. Houston is in a relatively weak division this year, but major injuries have made people question how they might fare the rest of the season. A win like this will go a long way toward boosting their confidence.

 

Chicago 10, Denver 13

Well, Tim Tebow and the Broncos aren’t only making a habit out of winning, they’re making a habit out of winning in the most dramatic fashion possible. Kicker Matt Prater was the star of the game as his 59-yarder sent the game into overtime, and his 51-yarder gave his team the victory. The Broncos have now won 7 of 8 since Tebow became a starter, and interesting QB decisions are going to have to be made in the mile-high city when this offseason comes around.

 

San Francisco 19, Arizona 21

On Arizona’s third play from scrimmage, QB Kevin Kolb took a blow to the head and had to leave the game. Backup quarterback John Skelton took his place and actually ended up having a decent day throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Even though he accounted for three turnovers, he did his job well enough to help his team to victory. The Cardinals started off the season a dreadful 1-6, but have now won 5 of 6 and are almost back at .500. Also, during the game, Larry Fitzgerald passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 6th time in his NFL career.

 

NY Giants 37, Dallas 34

In a game that went back and forth all night, the Giants ended up grabbing the win, and the Cowboys still have yet to beat their hated rivals in Cowboys Stadium. Tony Romo had a terrific night throwing for 319 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions, but the Dallas defense was porous giving up 510 yards, 400 of which came from Eli Manning’s arm. Jerry Jones couldn’t even swallow this loss as he refused to talk to the media for the first time all season. Excluding the Philadelphia game, the Cowboys’ losses have been by 3, 4, 4, 6, and 3 points. Both the Giants and Cowboys have problems, but now the season ending game in the Meadowlands might determine who is going to the playoffs.

 

Monday Night Football:

St. Louis vs. Seattle – 7:30 p.m. CT

In the second straight MNF game between two teams below .500, this match-up has little significance for the end of the NFL season. However, there is a lot at stake for one Seattle Seahawk – Tarvaris Jackson. Seattle picked up the 28-year-old this offseason in hopes that he might blossom when he is put on a team where he isn’t constantly being thrown in and out of the starting lineup because of Brett Favre’s ability to constantly get injured. However, as I suspected, Jackson has shown an inability to lead his squad. Completing drives with touchdowns hasn’t happened that often for the 6-year-veteran, and he has also been prone to interceptions. (Jackson has thrown 12 picks compared to only 10 touchdowns.) Unless he changes his act quickly in these last few games of the regular season, the Seahawks will most likely call Charlie Whitehurst’s number or search for another starting quarterback next season. The Rams have had an even worse season – only picking up two wins so far – but should have an asterisk by their record. A team filled with hype prior to this NFL season has had the injury bug all year and just can’t seem to get any type of rhythm going with the constant injuries. Two men, specifically, have unavoidably hurt the team’s chemistry because of their injuries: Stephen Jackson and Sam Bradford. When one of the best running backs in the league – Jackson – has to be taken out of an offensive game plan, struggles are bound to occur. Bradford missing games due to injury obviously brings tribulations since he led this team back to an 8-8 record last year with his stellar play. This will be the second week in a row where Bradford and Jackson finally get to play on the field at the same time. However, the other Jackson will be getting the victory in this game. The Seahawks had a huge Thursday Night Football win over the Eagles two weeks ago, and Marshawn Lynch pounded the ground for 148 yards along with two touchdowns. Momentum will be a huge contributor to a Seattle win tonight as Lynch will carry (literally and figuratively) this team to a victory. Pick: Seahawks.


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