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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Stropolo: The Ref That Cheered

18 09 2012

 

Just when you thought officiating from the NFL replacement referees couldn’t get any worse, one referee added a new storyline that only hurts their current image.

When the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers played this last Sunday, Brian Stropolo, a replacement referee, got to do what he really wanted in watching “his team” play rather than determining the outcome of the game. After the league discovered multiple photos (including the one above) on Stropolo’s Facebook page that clearly showed him as a Saints fan and even tailgating at a preseason game this year, they quickly removed him from the game. His Facebook account has since been disabled.

He is currently under full investigation by the league and will be unable to return as an official until the league decides what action to take.

Now, I understand that 99.99 percent of referees are sports fans and most likely possess a passion for their respective sport, giving them the reasoning to start this career path. It would be foolish to think every single one of these men are completely unbiased and have as much emotion as Hayden Christensen on a movie set.

However, what should be expected from these men is to be smart and understand they are in the spotlight. Just as is the case with any athlete, actor or politician, you are always under scrutiny. If you mess up and get caught, the consequences are not your only punishment; you must also face the media’s scolding.

In Stropolo’s case, he shouldn’t be chastised for liking a sports team – again, he is not alone in his profession. The fact that he had many photos of himself in Saints gear and at Saints games is the truly baffling part of this fiasco. He should have realized we live in a society where anything and everything put online can somehow, someway be found by the millions of bloggers and tweeters that inundate the social media world. All the man had to do was keep those photos to himself since he was an NFL referee for the 2012 NFL season.

But he didn’t. And now he will be the face of a group of replacement referees that are struggling to live up to the standards left by the previous referees holding out for more money. Hopefully all the “Likes” and Comments” made it worth his permanently tainted image.

 

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NFL Preview 2012: NFC

5 09 2012

Co-writer: Josh McSwain

 

NFC east

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

Offense — (B+).       With a healthy Michael Vick, they clearly possess one of the most lethal and deep offenses in the league. The problem is this is an enigma of a request; he is hurt a lot of the time, missing several games in the last two seasons. He may be praised for his diverse skill set that always keeps defenses scrambling, but it always seems to hurt his team in the long-run with his absences. LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the game – he is a scoring machine. Last season he led the league in touchdowns with 20, failing to score a touchdown in only three games. DeSean Jackson returns healthy and motivated – we think – this season to lead a deep receiving corps with Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and tight end Brent Celek. The issue is, as it was last season, how will the offensive line perform, which is even more important now with the season ending injury to Jason Peters, their all pro left tackle.

Defense — (A).      Don’t let what the media said about this defense early last season fool you. This is one heck of a unit with multiple playmakers. Jason Babin and Trent Cole form the best 4-3 pass rushing duo in the league, and the DT position was fortified with the addition of Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans gives them a legitimate rock in the middle of the defense, but he has had issues with injuries throughout his career as well. Outside Akeem Jordan, Brian Rolle and others will compete for the starting spots, solid players and depth will be there. That’s the key here that many others don’t have – depth. This could prove to be a huge advantage as they should be able to fight off any form of adversity. In the secondary, Asante Samuel is gone, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha form a very good duo of cornerbacks. These two should be put in more man coverage rather than zone, which they struggled with last season. Safety Kurt Coleman will be able to hold his own and Nate Allen is rapidly becoming one of the best safeties in the league. This secondary could become very opportunistic similar to the Saints defense from their championship run a few years ago.

Special teams — (B).      Chas Henry had a decent year in year one as he took over the punting duties, averaging 42.9 yards per punt. Alex Henery replaced David Akers about as well as anyone could, making 24 of 27 attempts last season. DeSean Jackson is always a threat to take it back while returning punts, but the kick returner spot is still up for grabs.

 

2. New York Giants (9-7)

Offense — (B).      Eli Manning has finally cemented his status as one of the top QBs in the game, and he has a bevy of weapons at his disposal with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, rookie Rueben Randle and his tight ends. Finding a running game will be the challenge. They were the worst in the league at running the ball last season – but obviously found a way to win when it mattered most… to the extreme. Ahmad Bradshaw will return to carry the load, with David Wilson, the first rounder out of Virginia Tech, contributing as well. The aging line is another concern that could hold these Giants back from respectfully defending their title.

Defense — (B-).      Their defense was among the worst in the league during the regular season last year. Outside of their pass rush, most of the unit was pretty dreadful. Getting CB Terrell Thomas back from an injury that kept him out all of last season will help, and the continued development of Prince Amukamara could give them not just a duo but a good trio of corners. They will need that to be successful in a division with three talented quarterbacks. The safeties are still subpar, and the LBs are patchwork with Mathias Kiwinuka, Michael Boley and perhaps Keith Rivers starting.

Special teams — (A).      Lawrence Tynes is one of the more efficient kickers in the game, and Steve Weatherford is one of the most unhearlded punters. With Domenik Hixon and Jerrel Jernigan as options at returner, they will be fine there.

 

3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Offense — (B+).      If they stay healthy and all get on the same page, they could be a dangerous team. However, that has been the case since Romo began his time in Dallas, and that has only produced one playoff win. DeMarco Murray showed that he can be great when he is healthy and be the opposite of Marion Barber by picking up substantial yards per carry. Durability has always been his achillies heel, dating back to college. Tony Romo is a fine QB with bad luck. Last year, he had the fourth best passer rating (102.5), third best passing percentage (66.3) and a joke of a reputation. While he has come up small in some games, they don’t compare to all the games in which he plays well. His luck is already turning against him this year, with Miles Austin and Jason Witten having injuries and Dez Bryant having embarrassing off the field issues. Losing Laurent Robinson will hurt as well. He was Romo’s go to guy last year, so it is unknown who will be getting the majority of the throws early on this season. But over all of this, the most glaring problem is the front line. Will they finally protect Romo and give him the time any elite quarterback needs? We will soon find out.

Defense — (B-).      Not sure exactly where to rank this D. If they play up to their potential with a defensive coordinator like Rob Ryan, they could be one of the better units in the conference – maybe even league. I have a feeling a lot of this will depend on Morris Claiborne. They traded up to get the former LSU shutdown corner, and brought in Brandon Carr from Kansas City to be their No. 2 cornerback. What might have been a weakness last year now may be a strength, and since Ryan does his magic best with quality cornerbacks, it could be a huge strength. But who will play at safety alongside Gerald Sensabaugh is still a question. Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Marcus Spears are a relatively good line, and DeMarcus Ware has clearly established himself as a force at rushing the passer year in and year out. Getting Anthony Spencer to play up to his potential is key. This team has been waiting for that to happen. Sean Lee looks as if he will be taking on more of the leadership this year and will be solid on the inside.

Special teams — (C-).      Dan Bailey had a good year last year, but when was the last time any Dallas kicker had any sustained success? The fact that the Cowboys practically let long-time Cowboys punter Mat McBriar simply walk over to the Eagles is foolish. Just because the punter doesn’t get much attention doesn’t mean he can’t play an integral role in the team’s success. Now, the team has Chris Jones – an unproven punter. Who will take care of the returns? Felix Jones? Dez? They need to find a guy they can rely on. Soon.

 

4. Washington Redskins (7-9)

Offense — (C).      RG3 is a name. While he already seems like a professional, it will take some time for him to get used to the pro game just as is the case with almost every college quarterback. But the guy has all the talent in the world. Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and TE Fred Davis give him a lot of options. Unfortunately Davis is suspended for 4 games, as is OT Trent Williams. Their line is weak. RG3 better be ready to run.

Defense — (C+).      I feel like they could be better than this, but for now I just don’t see it. Not until they prove everybody and their perception wrong. Barry Cofield is a solid NT in their 3-4 defense, and Stephen Bowen will be a force. DE Adam Carikker has been a bust at the pro level which isn’t looking like it will change anytime soon. They better hope Jarvis Jenkins grows quickly and can replace him. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are as good as they come with 3-4 outside rushers, but they need to be utilized more often. Their secondary remains an issue with DeAngelo Hall still giving up as many big plays as he makes, and Brandon Merriweather making as many dumb penalties as big hits. Josh Wilson should be respectable and Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams, whomever wins the job at the other safety spot, is just a stopgap.

Special teams — (B).      Their kicker situation is a nightmare. Graham Gano needed to be replaced, but Neil Rackers wasn’t good enough, so they settled for Ravens castoff Billy Cundiff. Somehow I don’t see that ending well. Saverio Rocca is a serviceable punter. Finding return guys will be their biggest concern, something that shouldn’t simply be ignored.

 

 

NFC west

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)

Offense — (B).      All the pieces are in place. Alex Smith must show he can deliver. He doesn’t have to be a superstar quarterback; he just needs to fit into Harbaugh’s system. They have an SEC like stable of running backs with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon. Wow. At WR, Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, and first rounder A.J. Jenkins will give Smith his best group of wideouts yet. On top of all of them, they have the best TE in the league in Vernon Davis. This guy has the power and speed that any QB would want in his TE. He is simply a monster when he gets the ball in his hands.

Defense — (A).      What a unit. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga and others lead a DL that shuts down the run and still can apply pressure on the QB. Aldon Smith was a terror his rookie season, and Parys Harrelson complements him very well. Inside Patrick Willis is second to none, and Navarro Bowman is a wrecking ball. Their secondary was the only chink in the armor last season, with Tarell Brown being exposed at times. Carlos Rogers was a pro bowler at the other corner, though. At safety, DaShon Golston and Donte Whitner form a very good duo. There is no reason this defense that didn’t allow a rushing touchdown in the first 14 games last season shouldn’t be commanding once again.

Special teams — (A-).      David Akers and Andy Lee are the two best at their position in the NFC. Kyle Williams likely won’t be back returning punts again. Hopefully for them, Ginn stays healthy and they can have a very good returner for punts and kicks, as he does both.

 

2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)

Offense — (C+).      They have all the pieces to be a very good offense except the most important one – QB. While I have believed for a long time that John Skelton (5-0 at home last season) was better than Kevin Kolb, particularly in the leadership department, and will start, it looks like the coaching staff is finally starting to see it. He will have the luxury of throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. He is the best in the league at making any QB look better than he is. With Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams in the back field, they will have a very good run game that they can rely on. Finding a LT is crucial, particularly with Levi Brown potentially out for the season with injury.

Defense — (B+).      They were one of the pleasant surprises of the second half of the season. Darnell Dockett is still an excellent player, and Dan Williams from Tennessee will come back from injury this season, and Calais Campbell is 6’8″ of hell. O’Brien Schofield and other LBs really were what drove the sudden improvement. The secondary is fine with Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Patrick Peterson and Greg Toler starting.

Special teams — (B+).      Jay Feely had a down year, kicking under 80% last season. Dave Zastudil has a huge leg and should be just fine at punter. Patrick Peterson is always a threat to take it all the way back, and Larod Stephens-Howling has made his share of highlight returns.

 

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)

Offense — (C).      Marshawn Lynch is a great back who has really taken off since coming over from Buffalo. They will need to lean on him big time again this season because they are running a who’s who of WRs, with Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and others competing for time with an inexperienced quarterback in Russell Wilson. The offensive line will need some time to gel. Unger, Okung, Moffitt, Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy are all young and talented, but need to develop chemistry and an understanding of each others strengths.

Defense — (A-).      One of the most underrated units in the league – no doubt.  Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and others lead a no-name secondary that rivals the best in the league. Earl Thomas will be great – the next great safety after Ed Reed is gone. Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Chris Clemons and first round pick Bruce Irvin lead a deep and formidable D-line.

Special teams — (B).      Leon Washington is a premiere return man. He doesn’t get quite as much attention as some of the other guys like Peterson, Hester or Cribbs, but is still always a threat. Steven Hauschka is a serviceable kicker but nothing special. Jon Ryan is a good punter, averaging almost 47 ypp last season.

 

4. St. Louis Rams (6-10)

Offense — (C).      They could have a really good offense if Sam Bradford can stay upright. Danny Amendola comes back from injury, and Steven Jackson is still Steven Jackson. The problem remains with the offensive line. Roger Saffold needs to step up at LT and protect Bradford’s blind side. With this type of protection, Bradford has the change of leading this team have a more respectable season. Jason Smith was a bust on the right side, so they sent him away for a guy who looked just as bad in Wayne Hunter; he will battle Barry Richardson for the job. The interior of the line is decent with journeyman Quinn Ojinakka, ex-Packer Scott Wells and the road blocking Harvey Dahl.

Defense — (C+).      Chris Long is a great, young talent. When put beside Robert Quinn, those two form a good pass rushing duo. However, the interior of their line is weak and teams gauged them with the run last season as they ranked second to last in rushing yards given up (2433). They will need to hope Michael Brockers and free agent acquisition Kendall Langford can fix that. James Laurinitis is a serviceable linebacker, but they need to improve around him. Rocky McIntosh could do just that. Adding Cortland Finnigan will help the secondary, but around him the rest of the secondary is uncertain. Quintin Mikell is not what he was in Philadelphia, Darian Stewart and Janoris Jenkins are young guys they are hoping do well. This team had the chance to add some quality defensive pieces in the NFL draft, but kept trading down and missed many opportunities.

Special teams — (C).      Greg Zuerlin comes from Missouri Western University all the way to the big stage. Johnny Hekker is a rookie from Oregon State who takes over the punter spot. Danny Amendola returns from injury and Isaiah Pead is an explosive rookie who can help out the return game.

 

 

NFC north

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

Offense — (A).      Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the league (along with the fantasy league), and has excellent WRs at his disposal. Jennings, Nelson, Finley, Cobb, James Jones… I think I’ve made my point. Donald Driver has most likely reached the end. Adding Cedric Benson could be one of the more underrated pickups of the offseason if he runs anything like he did in Cincinnati. He gives them a tough runner that can get them 1,000 yards. After an embarrassing loss at home in last year’s playoffs, this offense and team will be ready to establish themselves as the best team in the league once again.

Defense — (C+).      They upgraded their unit with a defense heavy draft, getting Nick Perry to upgrade the pass rush, Jerel Worthy to upgrade the line (a steal in the second round) and Casey Heyward to upgrade the secondary. Charles Woodson will shift to safety, but either way, they need to upgrade a secondary that was historically bad last season, being dead last in passing yards given up (4796). Getting another pass rusher to go alongside Clay Matthews (hopefully Perry can provide that) will certainly help. If they want to get back to the Super Bowl, some solid defense will need to come along with them.

Special teams — (A).      Mason Crosby has a very strong leg, and Tim Masthay has gotten better ever since he started for the Packers two seasons ago. Randall Cobb is another guy who can take one the other way at any given moment.

 

2. Chicago Bears (12-4)

Offense — (A-).      With Brandon Marshall finally giving them a true #1 receiver, they will be good. Considering Marshall has previous experience with Jay Cutler in Denver, they already have the experience that will make them lethal early on. That would be enough to carry some teams to the top of their division. But then opposing defenses have to deal with Matt Forte, one of the best multi-purpose running backs in the league. It will undoubtedly be a handful. As long as the offensive line holds up, they could be one of the best offenses in the league and make some noise once the playoffs roll around.

Defense — (B+).      They are getting older, but they might have one last run in them. Urlacher and Briggs can still hold their own, and Peppers can still rush the passer with the best of them. They might not be in their prime, but they certainly know this system and how to turn this into one of the top defenses. The key will be how well the DTs, led by Stephen Paea, Henry Melton and others, play. The secondary, led by veteran corner Charles Tillman, will need to play better than 28th best if they are going to try to slow down Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. Tim Jennings, Major Wright and Chris Conte will be under the microscope this season.

Special teams — (A).      Hester is still great, and can flip field position at any time. Robbie Gould, who made all six of his field goal attempts from 50+ yards last season, has been one of the most underrated kickers in the NFL for years. Adam Podlesh is a solid kicker, averaging 44 ypp over each of the last 2 seasons. The fact that this team has a solidified special teams could be the difference in how far this team can go – which is far.

 

3. Detroit Lions (7-9)

Offense — (A-).      Matthew Stafford was great last season, but he needs to prove that he can stay healthy over the long haul. This has stunted many young quarterback’s growth early on and could be the case with Stafford.  They still need a running back. Jahvid Best has not stayed healthy, Kevin Smith is nothing special and Mikel LeShore needs to find a way to lay off the drugs. Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew are two of the best at their position in the league. But can Johnson avoid the Madden Curse? Can the line hold up? Questions still linger for this unit as they could very easily head in the wrong direction this season.

Defense — (C).      Ndamukong Suh had a sophomore slump last season (at least by his standards), and an embarrassing moment where he couldn’t seem to control his emotions on the field. He needs to be sure that he can get back to the level at which he played during his rookie season. They have a great defensive line with Suh, Corey Williams, KVB, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and last year’s first rounder Nick Fairley. Their back seven are somewhat of a concern. The linebackers are serviceable with Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant, but they are going to need a makeover in the secondary to compete in this pass happy division. Louis Delmas will need to stay healthy for that to have any chance of happening.

Special teams — (B).      Jason Hanson isn’t what he used to be, but he is still a solid kicker. The Aussie Ben Graham is a solid punter, averaging over 44 ypp. Stefan Logan and Titus Young will split the return duties, and both are explosive.

 

4. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)

Offense — (D+).      Christian Ponder looked very average last season, though, with all due respect, he didn’t have anyone to throw to besides Percy Harvin. Kyle Rudolph is a young TE who has potential to grow, and John Carlson will be an upgrade. Adrian Peterson will have to get back, but in the meantime Toby Gerhart will carry the load. He is a solid runner. Matt Kalil will improve the line, and the line needs to improve if Ponder is to have any chance of not becoming the next David Carr. This team might be fighting for the top pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Defense — (C-).      They long had one of the premiere D-Lines in the NFL, but without Pat Williams and Ray Edwards, those days are over. They did lead the NFL in sacks, with Jared Allen being the sole owner of 22 of them. Nearly half. Nobody else had more than eight. Jasper Brinkley has now taken over for E.J. Henderson, and Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson on the outside form a solid trio. But the secondary remains an issue, as it has been for years. Winfield is continuing to get older, and with Chris Cook gone, things only figure to get worse. Raymond and Sanford need to get really good quickly to give them any chance.

Special teams — (B-).      Rookie Blair Walsh takes over for the departed Ryan Longwell. Chris Kluwe has long been a solid punter, averaging almost 46 ypp. Harvin is another one of the guys in the NFL that could take any kickoff back the other way.

 

 

NFC south

1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)

Offense — (A).      All around, this is one of the most explosive units in the league. Matt Ryan has always been a solid QB, and now there are no more excuses for him not to win a playoff game. The weapons are there. He has deep threat Julio Jones, good all around receiver Roddy White, one of the best TEs of all time in Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner in the backfield. The line is still a work in progress (as seems to be the case with many elite teams), but it should hold up well enough for Matt Ryan to take that long awaited next step and win a postseason game.

Defense — (B).      I think they are better than most people give them credit for. Jonathan Babineaux is one of the most underrated DTs in the league. But they need for Ray Edwards to become the complementary rusher they need alongside John Abraham. Kroy Biermann is a good third end, and they better hope is doesn’t have to start by default. Sean Weatherspoon is a rapidly improving LB, and Stephen Nicolas and Akeem Dent are serviceable starters. They have a very good trio of CBs with Grimes, Robinson and Samuel. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are good safeties and veteran Chris Hope will provide leadership as well.

Special teams — (B).      Matt Bryant is one of the best kickers in the league, missing only two FGs last season, but Matt Bosher struggled in his rookie season, averaging less than 43 ypp. Losing Eric Weems may hurt their return game, but Jacquizz Rogers and Harry Douglas have what it takes to make up the difference.

 

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

Offense — (B-).      Josh Freeman looked like he had arrived in 2010, as did Mike Williams. But they both regressed in 2011. Freeman should be better this season, and with Dallas Clark in the fold it helps Freeman that much more. Vincent Jackson gives them the necessary deep threat they have lacked for so long. Now they can take advantage of Freeman’s big arm. Picking up Doug Martin in the draft to push LeGarrette Blount for playing time. Losing Davin Joseph along the offensive line will certainly hurt. But they should be a much improved unit.

Defense — (C-).      These aren’t your dad’s bucs. Ten years ago they were led by Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, and others. Among those others is the only player still on the team from the Super Bowl 37 team, Ronde Barber. But they have used a lot of early draft picks on defense over the last three seasons, with Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers (if he ever plays), Mark Barron and Lavonte David. Those guys need to stay healthy, and come of age quickly. If they do and the offense performs up to their potential, they could be yet another NFC south worst to first.

Special teams — (B-).      Connor Barth is a fine kicker. He made 26 of 28 FGs last season, almost 93%. Michael Koenen was an expensive free agent acquisition at punter before the 2011 season, but he averaged 45 ypp. Preston Parker averaged almost 10 yards per punt return and 22 yards per kick return. Those numbers need to be better.

 

3. New Orleans Saints (7-9)

Offense — (A-).      Drew Brees. One of the best QBs of this generation. But without the play calling of Sean Payton, how will Brees be affected? Will there be a major difference? Little difference? No difference? I think it will be at least somewhat of a factor that Payton isn’t there. I do imagine Brees having a very good season though- mainly because they will be behind a lot and have to throw a lot. He has very good weapons with Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, etc. Remarkably, they do have a running game, even without a #1 RB. But they get it done.

Defense — (D+).      They are really going to struggle this season. The negative stigmas hanging over the team will affect them, and losing the QB of the defense, Jonathan Vilma, for the year, will do them no favors. Steve Spagnuolo will take over this unit, but I don’t know if he will have the talent up front to duplicate the success he had with the Giants, particularly with Will Smith out for four games.

Special teams — (B).      Garrett Hartley is an average kicker. He only made 80% of his attempts last season. Thomas Morestead though, is one of the finest punters in the league. Darren Sproles is one of the most consistent returners in the league, not as explosive as guys like Hester, but very consistent and versatile.

 

4. Carolina Panthers (7-9)

Offense — (B).      Cam Newton had an excellent rookie season, but will he be able to avoid the sophomore slump? That remains to be seen. With him, Stewart, Williams and Tolbert, they have four productive runners. Unfortunately, they only have one ball. Also, will Steve Smith have the same production this year? Newton will struggle throwing if he doesn’t. For an again WR with his injury history, I wouldn’t bank on it.

Defense — (C+).      Getting Jon Beason back from injury will be a tremendous boost. Adding Luke Keuchly in the draft to hold down the middle so Beason can play outside will also help the unit as a whole. But questions still remain if the linemen can play at a high level. Charles Johnson needs to play better to live up to his contract, and they need to find a solid second starter, whether than be incumbent Greg Hardy or someone else. The secondary is led by Chris Gamble, and they need to play better themselves to make the team championship level.

Special teams — (C).      They are not looking good in this area. Justin Medlock failed in KC after being drafted relatively high for a kicker, and Brad Nortman is their new punter. Will they have beginners luck or become a liability for the team?

 

 

 

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Fun Fact Friday

13 07 2012

Not only has he put up astounding numbers on the field, including the single-season record for most passing yards (5,476 yards) that he set during the 2011 season, but he has also been a spark of motivation and hope since Hurricane Katrina placed a permanent mark on the city. Brees came in the the following NFL season after the disaster struck. After Friday, this man now holds an NFL-record $60 million guaranteed in his fresh five year, $100 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.

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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 12

28 11 2011

 

San Francisco 6, Baltimore 16

You shouldn’t pick on your little brother, but John Harbaugh did just that by means of his football team. The Ravens’ defense was stifling, to say the least, holding the young 49ers to only 170 total yards. Alex Smith and Frank Gore were never able to get into a solid rhythm as the Ravens continue to battle the Steelers and Bengals for the top spot in the AFC North.

 

Miami 19, Dallas 20

The Cowboys have indeed won four straight and look to be one of the hottest teams in the NFC, but their ability to play up or down to their opponent’s level is worrisome. To add to that, they really enjoy playing close games for some odd reason; if you take out Weeks 7-10, the Cowboys are winning or losing their games by a net average of 2.8 points a game. If they truly are a 7-4 ball club, I feel as though a Dan Bailey last second field goal in each of the wins against the Redskins and Dolphins should not be happening.

 

Green Bay 27, Detroit 15

Aaron Rodgers is usually the sole reason for the Packers’ victories; however, in this Turkey Day showdown, the defense’s addition of three interceptions heavily influenced the Packers’ ability to stay undefeated. Ndamukong Suh’s ejection in the third quarter for simply a dumb move on his part also helped the Packers rack up 17 points once he was removed. The Lions looked immature and frustrated during this game, so we’ll see how they bounce back against the New Orleans Saints next week.

 

New England 38, Philadelphia 20

Even though Vince Young had his career high in total passing yards with 400 yards through the air, the Patriots’ 17-point blitz in the 3rd quarter all but dashed the “Dream Team’s” playoff hopes. Tom Brady has been lights-out during the Patriots’ current three game winning streak; he has thrown for 308 yards per game, connected on eight touchdowns along with no interceptions, and holds an average passer rating of 120.73.

 

Denver 16, San Diego 13 (OT)

Tim Tebow did in fact lead his team to this overtime win to give the Broncos their fourth straight win; however, the defense has played an even larger role during this streak, holding their opponents to only 12 points a game the past three games, which has given Tebow the opportunity to win the game on the last drive.

 

Chicago 20, Oakland 25

In a game in which quarterback play was subpar from both sides, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski made a lot of fantasy football owners happy by converting 6 of 6 field goals to give the Raiders this odd win where they only had one touchdown but 25 points. The Raiders will need to continue to win to keep the charging Broncos away from the divisional lead.

 

Carolina 27, Indianapolis 19

Standing all tied up at ten points apiece in the second quarter, it was conceivable that Indianapolis could finally pull off a win; the Colts had even scored their first touchdown of November. However, Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams pounded the ball on the ground for three rushing touchdowns combined to keep the Colts on track toward a 0-16 season.

 

Buffalo 24, NY Jets 28

Ryan Fitzpatrick has had some problems during the Bills’ recent struggles, but yesterday’s loss was not on him; he finished with 264 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a 111.5 passer rating. However, his defense was unable to contain Sanchez, who threw four touchdowns, three being for more than ten yards. With Tennessee (6-5), San Diego (4-7), Miami (3-8), and Denver (6-5) next on the Bills’ schedule, they have one last chance to salvage any hope of a playoff spot.

 

Houston 20, Jacksonville 13

The two Matts (Leinart and Shaub) standing on the sideline, one in a sling and one in a boot, epitomized this injury-derailed football team. Texans’ 152nd pick, T.J. Yates, finished this game off (luckily it was only the Jaguars he had to deal with) and will have to stay at the helm unless something changes. Sitting at 8-3 and first in the entire AFC, the Texans have a huge opportunity to do something substantial this year. Maybe Skip Bayless isn’t that crazy with his idea to (make sure you’re sitting down for this) bring back… Brett Favre.

 

Monday Night Football:

NY Giants vs. New Orleans – 7:30 p.m. CT

These two teams have solid records, but they have been difficult to figure out thus far. The Giants have big wins against the Bills and the Patriots but bad losses to the Redskins and Seahawks. The Saints handed Houston one of their three losses and defeated the Bears, but they let the Buccaneers beat them and allowed the Rams to pick up their first win of the season. However, if the Giants continue with their inability to get anything on the ground as in the past two games, Eli Manning will be hurt because he needs a solid running game to have a chance to play efficiently. Drew Brees will throw for over 300 yards, collect three touchdowns, and the Giants will continue to be pushed farther away from a divisional championship. Pick: Saints

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 10

14 11 2011

 

New Orleans 26, Atlanta 23 (OT)

This was the Falcons’ game to lose; they had 12 more first downs, 26 more plays, 118 more total yards, and 6:29 more possession time. However, Drew Brees and his Saints got the one stat that counts: the win. Their defense had a big stop against Michael Turner on a 4th-and-1 in overtime which set up the game-winning field goal. With no help from his running game (only 41 total rushing yards), Brees threw the ball 43 times, completing 30 of those passes for 322 yards. He has now thrown the ball a total of 379 times this season, which is by far the highest number in the league. Comfortably sitting atop the NFC South since the three other teams in their division lost yesterday, the Saints definitely need to allow Drew Brees to give his arm a break during the team’s bye week.

 

Buffalo 7, Dallas 44

Wow. Those Cowboys continue to confuse fans as to how good or bad they truly are. Two weeks ago, the ‘Boys seemed completely lost as the Eagles easily sent them to a 3-4 record. Now, they have taken care of Seattle and not only took care of, but destroyed the falling Bills. Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant were all at the top of their game today. Romo was 23 for 26 with 270 yards while throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. DeMarco Murray continued his rookie outburst with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown. Dez Bryant caught six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. Watching these three studs perform at the level they were playing at made me realize this team can be extremely dangerous if all three threats are playing up to their full potential. On the other side of the field, Ryan Fitzpatrick no longer has the poise he once had early on in the season (especially during his three interceptions), and this Bills team is looking more and more like an early season tease.

 

Denver 17, Kansas City 10

In a crucial divisional match-up, Kansas City went for it on 4th down as many times as Tim Tebow completed a pass…two times. I understand Tebow played a major role in both touchdowns (throwing for one and running for the other), but to be able to win on such poor quarterback numbers leads me to believe that the defense played a much greater role than the offense in this game – and they did. Denver held the Chiefs to only 258 total yards and forced Cassel to be 13 of 28 passing, even though four of those passes were dropped balls by Cassel’s receivers. So, the defense was in fact the larger contributor to this Broncos’ win, but the media will find a way to talk about the fact that the quarterback who completed fewer passes than Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky is now 3-1.

 

Washington 9, Miami 20

Following seven straight losses to start the season, the Dolphins have now put together two solid wins in a row. Furthermore, this is Miami’s first home win since game 1 of the NBA Finals – oh wait, that’s the LeHeat. The Dolphins haven’t won at home since November 14, 2010. Reggie Bush continues his push for relevancy, scoring both of the Dolphin’s two touchdowns. Even though Matt Moore had no touchdowns and one interception, he did throw an efficient 69%. Rex Grossman continues to tempt Mike Shanahan to pull his John Beck card out…again. Grossman has now thrown zero touchdowns and six interceptions in his past two games. That’s simply unacceptable. It’s hard not to feel bad for Shanahan, who has had nothing but problems since having to part ways with John Elway in 1999. The Redskins’ 3-1 start to the season can most assuredly be called a fluke, since they have now lost five in a row and sit at the bottom (yes, even behind the Dream Team Eagles) of the NFC East.

 

New England 37, NY Jets 16

The Patriots and Jets both came into this game sitting at 5-3 overall and 2-1 in divisional play. The winner of this game would, for the time being, sit atop of the AFC East with Buffalo’s loss. However, the Patriot’s two “kowskis” didn’t allow this game to even be competitive. Tight End Rob Gronkowski had an outstanding night with eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He has the second most receiving yards by a tight end, sitting behind Saints Jimmy Graham. It’s amazing how quickly Belichick (or Tom Brady) implements new pieces into his offense and fits them into the system perfectly. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was another major contributor, tacking on three field goals, including a 50-yarder. Tom Brady just did his normal thing with 329 yards, three touchdowns, and a 118.4 passer rating. Even though New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 2004, this is a team you always have to consider dangerous and a legitimate contender.

 

Monday Night Football:

Minnesota vs. Green Bay 7:30 p.m. CT

8-0. Aaron Rodgers. Lambeau Field. Enough said. Pick: Packers

 

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