Top Games of the 2013 NFL Season

19 04 2013

 

Guest writer: Josh McSwain

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Fun Fact Friday

28 12 2012

The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will play this Sunday for the NFC East title. The future of this season for both teams is up for grabs. The past however, does not bode well for the ‘Boys from the Big D. Since 2000, the Cowboys have a 2-10 record in Week 17 – the worst in the NFL during that span.

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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

4 05 2012

The Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins will be starting their 2012 NFL season with new, young quarterbacks (Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III) obtained with the first two picks in the NFL draft. However, one of these franchises is much more adept at this process. Disregarding last season since Peyton Manning was injured, the Colts have started one man (Manning) at quarterback over the past 14 seasons. The Redskins have started 14 men at quarterback over the past 14 seasons.

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Redskin Robert Griffin III

10 03 2012

If there was any doubt about which division will be stand at the top during next year’s NFL season, a pre-draft blockbuster trade made the answer clear.

Jeff Fisher’s St. Louis Rams have already made a move – a major move. They have agreed to trade their second overall pick for three (repeat – three) Washington Redskins first round draft picks and a second round pick, according to a source close to the deal. This deal will not be able to become official until Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. CT.

In this deal, one of the picks the Rams will receive comes from this year’s draft (6th) and the other two first round draft picks will come in 2013 and 2014. The second round pick will come from this year’s draft, too.

The Rams made a good deal with this trade. Already having a solid starting quarterback and running back, they don’t need an Andrew Luck or a Robert Griffin. By trading away their #2 pick, they will be able to draft quality players to fill up many positions for Fisher’s new team. Fisher will have a lot to work with in his first year in St. Louis.

As many expect to happen, the Indianapolis Colts will most likely take Andrew Luck with the first pick. (If not, Peyton Manning will be one upset football player.) With this drafting, the Redskins’ new pick becomes very clear.

RG3.

What a move for this Redskins organization. Even though they seemingly gave up way too much for this one player, I think it’s worth it.

This team has been unable to establish a face for the franchise since Mark Rypien took this team to Super Bowl XXVI and won it all the way back in 1991. Since then, there have been an array of quarterbacks, coaches and big-time signings that didn’t pan out.

They have ended up with a losing record in seven of their last 10 seasons, but have been just close enough to .500 to be unable to get a high lottery pick – similar to the Dallas Cowboys, in fact, without the embarrassing late-season losses. This has also played a factor in the Redskins’ inability to establish a franchise player.

Drafting Robert Griffin III will change all of this. Jerseys will sell off the shelves. Catchphrases will instantly be created. The sports world will actually care about the team.

This will not only give the Redskins revenue and national attention, but I believe a competitive season.

Griffin brings more than simply highlight plays – he brings a high level of football intelligence. That’s what separates him from other quarterbacks that have had his type of strong arm and quick feet. Throw him in with any type of talent, and I have no doubt he will pick up a win or two on his own.

The only problem Griffin will have going against him is that he has to play in the hardest division in the league. No doubt.

The Giants will obviously be dangerous coming off their championship. As long as Eli Manning is under the helm during the fourth quarter of any game, that team can’t be counted out.

Even though the Cowboys have been a hard team to figure out, with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray on the field at the same time, anything can happen with that team – for bad or for worse.

Starting off to a slow start to the 2011 season, the Eagles finished off their season strong, winning their final four games. I have a gut feeling that this is the year for that squad to break out and have a dominant season.

With all of this competition in the NFC East, Griffin needs to remain patient when he arrives in Washington. He could possibly provide his new team with a winning season, but I’m skeptical with these three teams he will be facing two times each. No matter whether or not the Redskins win more than eight games this year, they will finally have a player to represent their team. They will finally have a player to help them compete. They will finally have a player to make the SportCenter Top Ten. They will finally have a player to bring energy to FedEx Field.

Get ready.

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NFL Nutshell: Week 15

19 12 2011

 

Green Bay 14, Kansas City 19

As the season is winding down, many pundits have been wondering if the Packers were going to go 16-0. An injury-plagued Chiefs team that just fired their head coach didn’t seem like much of a challenge, and this probably was not picked as the upset of the week by very many experts. But the Packers came out flat, and Aaron Rogers and company suffered their first loss of the year. Green Bay is still the NFC favorite, but some might begin to wonder if this team can maintain such a high level of play all the way through the Super Bowl.

 

Tennessee 13, Indianapolis 27

On the heels of the last undefeated team going down, the league’s last winless team finally found the “W” column on Sunday. Obviously the loss of Peyton Manning has devastated the Colts, but many have begun questioning the team’s heart due to some of the nature of their losses. This win showed that they do have some pride left, and they manage to avoid becoming only the second team to go 0-16. Ironically, the quarterback that led Indianapolis to victory was Dan Orlavsky who helmed the Detroit Lions in 2008 when they became the only team to achieve that dubious 0-16 record.

 

Washington 23, NY Giants 10

The Giants had a thrilling victory over their hated rivals last week and took command of the NFC East behind the arm of Eli Manning. Then just like that, the Cowboys won on Saturday night, and the Giants laid an egg back in New York with Manning throwing 3 interceptions. Washington looked like the playoff team with their defense preventing the Giants from scoring a touchdown until about 30 seconds left in the game. Next week the two New York teams square off against each other, and if the Jets come out on top, the Giants playoff dreams might be over.

 

New England 41, Denver 23

The most hyped game of the week ended up being a pretty strong statement game for Tom Brady and company. The Patriots went into the mile-high city and came out with a win and the AFC East division crown with the Jets simultaneously falling to the Eagles. New England actually came out flat and was outgained on the ground 167 yards to 4, but they seized momentum in the second quarter and didn’t look back. The Broncos lost for only the second time since Tim Tebow became a starter, although the QB sensation had a pretty good day throwing for 194 yards and rushing for 2 touchdowns. Denver still leads their division, but both Oakland and San Diego are only 1 game back waiting to seize the lead should the Broncos slip over the next two weeks.

 

Monday Night Football:

Pittsburgh vs. San Francisco – 7:30 p.m. CT

Finally – today will provide NFL fans with a Monday Night Football game that has some significance behind it. Both of these AFC teams sit at 10-3, but are coming from different places. The Pittsburgh Steelers stand as one of the four teams – the Colts, Patriots, and Raiders being the others – from the AFC to win their conference championship in the past ten years. Furthermore, the Steelers have won two of their three appearances in the Super Bowl, both with Roethlisberger at the helm. They have established themselves as consistent winners and the league respects this franchise because of it. This year, specifically, has been nothing short of the usual as Big Ben has done exactly what the team needs him to do while the top passing defense in the league carries the rest (most) of the load. The 49ers used to have the Steelers current reputability in the mid-90s, but haven’t had anything close since then. The last time they matched their current 10 wins and won the division was 2002 when they lost to the future Super Bowl champions – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – in the second round. But it’s looking like things are changing in California. Jim Harbaugh has formed this team into a defensive beast. They lead the league in points given up (14.0) and have one of the best red zone defenses I’ve seen in a while. Harbaugh also has provided 7-year 49er Alex Smith with the perfect role on the offensive side of the field as Frank Gore gives him help on the ground. So who wins this defensive struggle? With a game that has so much on the line and two teams that obviously are in serious pursuit of a high playoff seed, I have to go with the more experienced team. The Steelers have been in more of these types of situations than these 49ers, who aren’t used to this kind of pressure. San Francisco will have their first multi-game losing streak, and the Steelers will be knocking on the Patriots doorstep for the top seed in the AFC. Pick: Steelers

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 11

21 11 2011

 

San Diego 20, Chicago 31

This was a fairly evenly matched game with the score remaining in reach for the Chargers throughout the game. However, another Phillip Rivers’ interception in the red zone during the fourth quarter when the Chargers were closing in on making the deficit four points brought this game to a close. The Chargers’ 2-4 red zone efficiency could not hold up against the Bears’ 3-3 efficiency. Counting Rivers’ two interceptions from last night, he now sits atop the league with an alarming 17 total interceptions. These two teams couldn’t be headed in more different directions; the Bears have now won five straight games and are becoming a solid, balanced offensive club without Matt Forte having to do all of the work while the Chargers are on a five game losing streak and are creating doubt in the minds of all the San Diego fans as to whether this Norv Turner and Phillip Rivers duo has run its course (if you ask me, I say it has).

 

Buffalo 8, Miami 35

Buffalo actually had more total yards (247) than Miami (242). In fact, Matt Moore threw the ball 20 times and racked up only 160 yards. There are some glaring aspects to this game that explain why it was a 27 point blowout. To put it simply, the Bills could not make a play when the pressure was on. They were 0-12 on 3rd down, 0-2 on 4th down, and were a horrid 0-3 in the red zone. Fitzpatrick’s two interceptions occurred right in their own red zone, leading to easy Dolphins’ touchdowns. The Dolphins couldn’t have been more efficient. While the team was perfect in the red zone (4-4), Matt Moore almost matched that perfection, completing 70% of his passes, producing three touchdowns, and throwing no interceptions. To a lesser extent, these two teams are headed in directions similar to the Chargers and Bears. Even though the Dolphins are most likely out of playoff contention, their three game winning streak has allowed Reggie Bush to show his value and has given the fans a reason to show up to their home games. The Bills, on the other hand, continue to give us the impression that “they are who we thought they were.”

 

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT)

No matter where these two teams sit or when the game takes place, a Cowboys-Redskins match-up always finds a way to be a great game. With neither team gaining more than a seven point lead and an early fourth quarter field goal putting the score at 17-17, this game called for some clutch play from Romo and Grossman. Both men stepped up and made some big plays. Romo started it off with a great 59-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten, which is the longest touchdown reception of Witten’s career. That gave Romo his eighth touchdown in the last three games. Grossman wasn’t down and out yet though. The Redskins’ final drive started at 5:35 on the clock before Grossman decided to take his game to another level. He went 8-11, converted three third downs, and threw a perfect fade ball for Donte Stallworth to go and get. This left only 14 seconds on the clock and forced the game to go into OT. Overtime consisted of a Graham Gano missed field goal followed by a Dan Bailey just-made field goal to give the Cowboys their third straight win and the Redskins their sixth straight loss. The Cowboys now lead the NFC East with two easy Miami and Arizona games coming up, while the Giants have to take on the Saints and the undefeated Packers before facing the Cowboys on December 11th.

 

NY Jets 13, Denver 17

As an avid sports fan, I am continuously bewildered at Tim Tebow’s complete transformation when the last drive comes along. It’s not simply “clutch” play; he turns into an entirely different player. Tim Tebow was 4-6 with 46 passing yards and 50 rushing yards on the winning drive of this game. Prior to that drive, he was 5-14 with 58 passing yards and only 18 total rushing yards – matching Willis McGahee’s total rushing yards to finish the game. (That tells you something about the balance of their offense….) What happens when the Broncos face a team that puts up more than 13 points and Tebow has to play like he does in the waning minutes for the entire game? I don’t have an explanation for his baffling statistics, but Tebow and his Broncos are winning, which is all that matters in the standings.

 

Monday Night Football:

Kansas City vs. New England – 7:30 p.m. CT

It has been difficult to get a grip on where these two teams are headed. The Chiefs have a four game winning streak sandwiched between a bunch of losses. During those wins, they looked like the team that won the AFC West last year. During their five losses, it looked like they were regressing to their 2007-2009 football days. Matt Cassel has had as high of a passer rating as 138.9, but also as low as 38.3. The Chiefs’ main running back, Jackie Battle, has been the closest thing to consistency since his 119 rushing yard burst against the Colts. Even though the Patriots sit at a much better 6-3 and lead the AFC East, many questions are still revolving around this ball club. Tom Brady has put this team at the top of the league in passing yards per game (326), but the defense is counteracting that by being dead last in passing yards given up per game (308.9). When you have Golden Boy, many times simply out-throwing your opponent can be a reasonable option. However, this reliance on their offense might hurt the Patriots in the long run. Even though both of these teams come in to this conference showdown with their own problems, I can’t see the Patriots dropping a game like this. They are 13-5 on Monday Night Football under Bill Belichick and get to play on their own turf. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will go back to his early season form and attack the Chiefs 27th ranked rushing defense, while Tom Brady will… well, be Tom Brady. Pick: Patriots

 

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