Fun Fact Friday (NFL Edition)

5 11 2012

 

Prior to this Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin had 543 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the season. All of that has now changed. Martin rushed for a franchise-record 251 yards along and four touchdowns in the Bucs’ 43-32 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Along with rushing for the third-most yards by a rookie in NFL history, he became the first player ever with three touchdowns of more than 45 yards in a single game.

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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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NFL Nutshell: Week 13

5 12 2011

 

Kansas City 10, Chicago 3

I don’t think the city of Chicago has ever longed to see Cutler on the field as much as they do right now. Caleb Hanie had a 23.8 passer rating on 11/24 passing, 133 passing yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. This game epitomizes one team losing the game rather than the other winning it. The second-string quarterback is a piece of a football team that can be completely useless or unexpectedly vital. The Bears’ management has some heated seats right now with the way their back-up plan is going. In addition to these dreadful stats, Matt Forte left the game in the first quarter to an MCL sprain. With the red-hot Broncos up next for the Bears, this season might end much sooner than last year’s NFC championship run.

 

Oakland 14, Miami 34

If the Dolphins didn’t have such a dreadful start to their season, and Reggie Bush didn’t wait so long to begin playing, Miami might be one of the scariest teams in the league right now. The Dolphins pounded the ground with 209 rushing yards led by Reggie Bush with 100 of his own. The Raiders could only manage 46 rushing yards; since Darren McFadden got hurt, Michael Bush handled the load for a couple of games, but now he looks to be unable to sustain any form of consistency. With the Broncos charging quickly from behind, the Raiders look destined to be overcome by those Tebows for the divisional lead.

 

Denver 35, Minnesota 32

Maybe I need to give in to the fact that Tim Tebow might just be a young Ben Roethlisberger with much more hype. Tebow did complete two-thirds of his passes, but he only had to throw fifteen times. Christian Ponder played a solid game with 381 passing yards and three touchdowns, but one of his two interceptions cost his Vikings the game. As long as Willis McGahee doesn’t mind receiving little credit for the Broncos success (111 rushing yards and a touchdown in their victory yesterday), John Fox’s plan to rely heavily on the run game while sporadically letting Tebow pass has them on a five-game winning streak and sitting atop the AFC West. After playing a riddled Bears squad next week, the Broncos will finally face a legitimate NFL squad – the New England Patriots.

 

Atlanta 10, Houston 17

Last week I made the point that T.J. Yates would not work for the Texans as they make a push for a deep playoff run. Well, today both Yates and Gary Kubiak proved me wrong with a game in which Yates was used just enough to snatch a win against the off-and-on Falcons. The Texans ran the ball 44 times, with Arian Foster collecting 111 rushing yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. As long as Houston can hold off the Titans, who are two games behind them, I believe Kubiak would be deserving of Coach of the Year with the way he has handled all of his major injuries. Matt Ryan has been a reflection of his team and how they can look like a contender one week and an Andrew Luck bidder the next. If Ryan doesn’t get his act together, I expect either the Lions or Giants to pass Atlanta for the wild-card spot.

 

Green Bay 38, NY Giants 35

16-0? The only team that will stop these Packers from reaching this goal is themselves. Even though you can point out that the Packers’ defense allowed 35 points or that the Packers struggled to finish off this shaky Giants team, they are doing the one thing that matters in the standings – winning. With his 369 yards and four touchdowns, Aaron Rodgers has now had a 100+ passer rating in every game this season so far. I feel very good about this team making it all the way to 16-0; furthermore, if they can just get Ryan Grant going, then I will have complete faith in these Cheeseheads. As the Giants continue to fall in the standings, if they end up missing the playoffs again this year, I don’t believe this Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin tandem will last much longer.

 

Dallas 13, Arizona 19 (OT)

Icing your own kicker is seldom seen in the football world. It’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind Jason Garrett’s decision… but he just added his name to the “C’mon Man” segment of Monday Night Football with his timeout that prohibited the ‘Boys from defeating the Cardinals 16-13 in the waning seconds of the game. With two last second wins against the subpar Redskins and Dolphins and now a loss to the Cardinals, the NFL nation needs to be wary of putting their eggs in this team’s basket. Kevin Kolb decided to hook up with not Larry Fitzgerald but with Andre Roberts, who collected 111 receiving yards – easily his career-high. Even though the Cardinals’ season is all but over, Kolb is providing the Cardinals’ management with his own argument that he can possibly turn his play on the field around and be their franchise quarterback.

 

Detroit 17, New Orleans 31

If there is one thing to take from this game, it’s this: the Lions are young. Even though the Lions provide a lot of excitement and are very close to a playoff spot, they are immature and still have a lot of growing to do as a team. They pick up a lot of penalties out of frustration that elite teams just don’t do. The Saints, on the other hand, showed poise throughout this game, holding the lead wire-to-wire. “Gunslinging” depicts this game perfectly as these teams combined to rack up 750 passing yards compared to only 187 rushing yards. Darren Sproles has to be the unsung hero for the Saints because he truly does it all. Specifically in this game, he rushed (28 yards), received (46 yards), returned kick-offs (74 yards), and returned punts (13 yards). He leads the league in total yards and will be an integral part of this team as they look to make another deep playoff run.

 

Monday Night Football:

San Diego vs. Jacksonville – 7:30 p.m. CT

Looking over this match-up, I find it difficult to pick a team that will decide to win this game. Phillip Rivers has picked up a lot of yards throughout this season, but he has matched that with a league-leading 17 interceptions. San Diego’s defense sits at the bottom of the league, giving up 25 points a game. The only positive for this 4-7 ball club is Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 137 yards in last week’s loss to the Broncos. The Jaguars have only one positive this year, and that was a 12-7 Monday Night Football victory over the Ravens. (I still don’t know how that happened.) Other than that, they have no quality wins and eight losses. Blaine Gabbert – as many expected – has a lot of potential but just isn’t ready to lead an NFL team yet. Maurice-Jones Drew still has found a way to pick up a good amount of yardage during this season, but just can’t seem to find the end zone as he has only crossed the goal line five times all year. This could be bad red zone blocking or bad calling, but either way, he isn’t finishing off drives. When it comes down to who will win this battle-of-the-bads, I think I have to go with the quarterback that has more potential to have a break-out game and more years in the NFL under his belt. The Jaguars do not have the firepower to keep up with this Chargers team. This will be a pride win for Rivers, who might need to hang his hat on many of those as a ring looks less and less likely. Pick: Chargers

 

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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 7

24 10 2011

 

St. Louis 7, Dallas 34

Not only did Dallas have their first game in which the final score had a greater difference than 4 between the two teams, but DeMarco Murray made many fantasy owners ecstatic with his 253 rushing yards, breaking Dallas’s single-game rushing record previously held by Emmitt Smith.

 

Green Bay 33, Minnesota 27

In a game in which many suspected a blow out, Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson made a valiant effort to hand the Packers their first loss, but the Packers defense held tight when the game was on the line (even though this was their smallest margin of victory in the season so far).

 

Kansas City 28, Oakland 0

The Oakland Raiders threw two new quarterbacks on the field – Kyle Boller and recently acquired Carson Palmer – but unfortunately, they could not establish any sort of rhythm with their offense, each throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns, while the Chiefs have now matched their season-beginning 3-game losing streak with a 3-game winning streak.

 

Pittsburgh 32, Arizona 20

Ben Roethlisberger had his best game of the year with 361 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 121.8 while Larry Fitzgerald continues to second guess his preseason request for Kevin Kolb to be his quarterback.

 

Seattle 3, Cleveland 6

In a game that had less total yards from both teams than the Saints had by themselves, Charlie Whitehurst and Colt McCoy struggled to move the ball down the field, but Phil Dawson made one more field goal than Steven Hauschka which was just enough for a W against an offensively bottom-of-the-barrel Seahawks team.

 

Atlanta 23, Detroit 16

Even though it isn’t completely clear how the Lions reacted to Matt Ryan’s injury, it is clear that this young Lions team is going in the wrong direction with their second straight loss and needs to prepare for meeting a fired up Broncos team next week.

 

Houston 41, Tennessee 7

Standing at 3-3 and not even contending in this past game, the Titans are a difficult team to figure out, unlike the Texans, who with a dynamic duo in their backfield – Ben Tate and Arian Foster – and with a recovered Andre Johnson, could be very dangerous.

 

Denver 18, Miami 15 (OT)

Even though he played horribly for 57 minutes and had to create a dramatic ending to defeat the dreadful Dolphins, Tim Tebow still must be given credit for scoring 15 points in the last 2:44 of the game and showing he really does “have a knack for winning.”

 

San Diego 21, NY Jets 27

Sitting at 3-3, the Jets listened to their coach when he said this was a pivotal game for their season, and even though they didn’t lead until the fourth quarter, they played a solid game on all parts of the field and are now 4-0 in division play.

 

Chicago 24, Tampa Bay 18

Matt Forte has now tallied up 553 rushing yards in his past four games, and yesterday, his Bears defense supported him by forcing four interceptions out of inconsistent Josh Freeman.

 

Washington 20, Carolina 33

With this Redskins loss, it is now anyone’s call as to how this NFC East will end up; on the other hand, Cam Newton leaves no doubt that he knows how to throw the football and gain a lot of stats (he currently sits 4th in the league with 2,103 passing yards), but his ability to win games is still in doubt.

 

New Orleans 62, Indianapolis 7

There were no surprises in this match as Drew Brees threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns, and Indianapolis fans continue to write “I Miss You” letters to Peyton Manning (or “Welcome” letters to Andrew Luck).

 

Monday Night Football:

Baltimore v. Jacksonville – 7:30 p.m. CT

The Jaguars have not won a game since their week 1 victory over the Titans while the Ravens have not lost since week 2 against the Titans. I expect each of these streaks to be preserved as Blaine Gabbert will continue to look inexperienced (the Jaguars are dead last in total passing yards), while Ray Rice will build off of last week’s 100+ rushing yards performance. Pick: Ravens.

 

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Raider Resurrection?

19 10 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s Back.

During this past off-season, Carson Palmer threatened to retire if the Cincinnati Bengals would not trade him. Being headstrong and commanding, Mike Brown did not give in to Palmer’s threat and started the season with rookie Andy Daulton at the helm. Palmer watched from his couch.

Before you could say “another struggling USC quarterback,” #9 was sent to ‘da Raiders. The trade consisted of Carson Palmer for a Raiders 2012 first-round pick and a conditional 2013 second-round pick that could be bumped up to a first-rounder if the Raiders make it to the AFC title game in either of the next two years.

Oakland coach Hue Jackson has high hopes for Palmer since he already coached him at USC and was an assistant coach during Palmer’s early years in Cincinnati.

By the way Mike Brown discussed this topic before the season started, it seemed as though there was no hope a Carson Palmer trade would ever get done; however, because of the exceptional play from Daulton and the Bengals 4-2 start, Brown was more willing to search for a trade.

From the other side of this trade, Oakland became desperate for a quarterback once Jason Campbell went down with a collarbone injury – lasting up to eight weeks – during Sunday’s win against the Cleveland Browns. Being left with two inexperienced quarterbacks (Kyle Boller and Terrelle Pryor), the Raiders had to find someone to fill Campbell’s shoes, especially if they want this season to finish as successfully as it’s started.

I understand that Hue Jackson is all about “the time is now” for his ball club, but I tend to disagree with the moves he’s made of late.

Not only were two very high picks given up for this quarterback that has a huge question-mark over his head, but Oakland had already given up their 2012 third-round pick during the supplemental draft for Terelle Pryor (someone with an even bigger question-mark) and their 2012 second-round, fourth-round, and seventh-round through trades.

With a running back in Darren McFadden that is showing the ability to carry this team for years to come, why push for all these trades for “now?” He has shown he can be a staple for the organization, and being only 24-years-young, there is no stopping him anytime soon. Having picks in only the fifth and sixth round next year, they’ve shot any chance of improving their ball club through this draft. Why? Because Jackson is fixated on “now” when there are pieces on this team for the long haul. On top of this dearth of picks, because a multitude of players re-signed this past off-season, Oakland is towards the bottom in regard to financial stability, so making any big trades or free agent pick-ups is unlikely.

Even though there are these negatives about the trade, Carson Palmer could make us all forget about any downsides to this trade. For many years, he has made it clear that he wanted out of Cincinnati, and this trade might be just enough of a change to bring back the Palmer that once looked to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Who knows, Darrius Heyward-Bey might be Palmer’s new Chad Johnson! (Or is that really a good thing….) However, speculation will soon come to a halt as Carson Palmer will get to put on the black and white this coming Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs come into town.

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NFL Nutshell: Week 5

10 10 2011

Philadelphia 24, Buffalo 31

What a terrible weekend to be a sports fan in Philadelphia. On Friday night, the Phillies, who had been built to win the World Series, were knocked out in the divisional round by the Cardinals. Then, on Sunday, the “Dream Team” Eagles came up just short again and fell to an unthinkable 1-4. Michael Vick threw four interceptions, and the Philly defense was having all sorts of trouble. To cap off their turnover-filled defeat, Juqua Parker had a critical offside called against him on a 4th-and-inches for the Bills that sealed the deal. Who knows if it’s the coaching or if it’s just lack of focus from the players, but this Eagles team just doesn’t know how to close out games. Meanwhile, this is a good bounce-back win by Buffalo after last week’s tough loss to Cincinnati. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson have been consistent through these first five games and look to be confident in themselves and in their teams.

NY Jets 21, New England 30

The Jets are another team that had a lot of preseason hype but aren’t living up to expectations. (I recall someone in that organization saying they were the only team that could beat the Patriots….) After starting 2-0, New York has now lost three in a row. Mark Sanchez avoided costly mistakes but only accounted for 166 yards in the loss. Furthermore, the Patriot defense outperformed the Jet defense holding New York to 255 total yards (compared to 446 for New England). The Patriots finally had a strong running game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running for 136 yards and two touchdowns. If Ellis can provide Brady with anything close to this type of run support, the Patriots are going to look very scary.

San Diego 29, Denver 24

Every week the Broncos have a home game, the crowd chants Tim Tebow’s name as they are tired with the current direction of their team. Well, this Sunday, John Fox finally listened to them, pulled the ineffective Kyle Orton, and put in the Heisman winner. Denver still came up short, but this guy really excites the fans with his style of play. However, if efficiency does not become a consistent characteristic to Tebow’s game, we might start hearing Brady Quinn chants from the stands. On the Chargers side, the two big stars were Nick Novak who kicked 5 field goals, and Ryan Matthews who rushed for 125 yards. Matthews having a game like this is most likely very exciting for the city of San Diego, who has lost LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles each in the past two years.

Oakland 25, Houston 20

Oddly enough, the Texans out gained the Raiders 473 yards to 278 yards and almost had the ball an entire ten minutes more than them, too. The Raiders fell into a hole early but battled back to take the lead in the second half. Michael Huff intercepted Matt Schaub in the end zone on the last play of the game to preserve the victory. Furthermore, the Raiders were able to pull off this victory with only 51 yards from Darren McFadden, showing they don’t solely rely on his play. Whenever a tragedy befalls a sports organization, the next few games are usually full of emotion. Al Davis was a key component of the Raiders organization and the NFL itself. His legacy can’t be denied and won’t be forgotten.

Monday Night Football:

Chicago vs. Detroit – 7:30 p.m. CT

Ironically, the last time the Detroit Lions lost a football game was on December 5, 2010, to the Chicago Bears 24-20. This loss created a five-game losing streak. Since then, they have bounced back and won eight games in a row. During their 4-0 start to the 2011 season, they have created a resilient nature to their play. After taking care of Kansas City 48-3 in week 2, they came back from a 20-0 deficit to the Vikings and a 27-3 deficit to the Cowboys. I don’t care what team you’re playing (even though the Vikings like to stop playing offense in the second half), to come back two weeks in a row from that far behind shows determination and heart. Period. Someone I believe that has gone unnoticed on this squad is kicker Jason Hanson. Not only has he made every single field goal and extra point he has attempted, but he has also made three 50+ yard field goals. I doubt the Lions would be where they are right now without his sturdy foot. Even though they are 4-0 and are receiving loads of praise from the media, they do have an aspect of their game they can improve on – running the ball. They are dead last in total rushing yards (298), even with potential-filled Jahvid Best. If they can help him get more than only 3.2 yards per carry, the Lions will be running on all cylinders. Now the Bears are still working the kinks out. They have two losses to some high-quality opponents – New Orleans and Green Bay – and two wins against some sub-par teams – Atlanta and Carolina. This is the epitome of being mediocre: beating those you’re supposed to beat and losing to those you’re supposed to lose to. Even with this decent 2-2 record, I don’t like what I’m seeing with this ball club. In addition to the team being in the bottom third of the league for total passing yards (24th), total rushing yards (23rd), opponent total passing yards (30th), and opponent total rushing yards (25th), ex-Cowboys Marion Barber and Roy Williams have been unable to provide any sort of spark whatsoever. This lack of offense has lead to running back Matt Forte having a phenomenal season yet carrying too much of the load, both in running and receiving the ball. He has 49 more rushes and 14 more receptions than the second-highest producing Bear in each of those fields. This reliance on one guy won’t work when stronger teams show up to play. Adrian Peterson is a prime example; he had two strong games with a lot of carries to start the season but was unable to get anything going against the Lions in week 3. Furthermore, I feel as though this Cutler-era is coming to a close (similar to how Kyle Orton – the player he was traded for – is becoming unwelcome in Denver). He doesn’t seem very motivated on the field, and Chicago doesn’t seem very motivated to help him out. With the surging momentum in Detroit and this static state the Bears are in (once again), I see this as a game in which Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson continue their dominance on the offensive side of the field, and Ndamukong Suh and his defensive squad shut down Forte on the ground. The Lions will become 5-0 for the first time since 1956, and they will do so with dominance. Pick: Lions.

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